Festival: Jorvik Takeover
Venue: The Barbican, York
Dates: 19th-21st February 2020
Promoters: Descended From Odin
Disclaimer: These are my own personal views on the event, and are not influenced by any band or promoter. I was kindly given guest list for this event by Descended From Odin (website, Facebook, Instagram), but all opinions are my own.
Photographs: Out of respect for the venue requests, I did not take any photos during the festival. There were professional photographers on site, and Descended From Odin did take some photos and videos from the crowd. Please check out the various Descended From Odin and band social media for photos of the event.
The three-day festival was held at The Barbican which is a venue more know for its snooker and theatre events than its metal shows, so it was going to be interesting to me to see how this kind of show would work out. There was a £3 cloakroom which was only accessible from outside of the venue, and two bars, where the drinks prices were higher than average. At the start of each night, you were allowed to enter the venue before the doors to the main room opened, and there were a few stalls, and a merch stand for the bands playing that evening. A one way system was in operation for the standing area of the main room to allow fire regulations to be followed, and there was also an upstairs balcony area with seats. The seats were tiered so you had an uninterrupted view of the stage even when someone was sitting directly in front of you (I ended up spending most of the festival up there so I could see the full stage performances).
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t amazingly excited for the first night of bands at The Jorvik Takeover. If I had just seen this lineup on a poster for a one night gig, I might not have bothered to purchase a ticket. But as it was a part of the festival, I decided to go. It was a little tricky to get my guest list tickets, but it was well handled by the Box Office staff, and there was still plenty of time to look at the stalls before the doors opened to the main room. Everything was running to time with the bands, and there were exceptionally quick turnaround times.
The opening band for this festival was NYTT LAND. A two-piece acoustic pagan band from Russia, there were a fantastic start to this festival, and indeed to the evening. For this set I was down in the crowd, but the lack of attendees at that time meant I could easily see the stage and both performers.
There were some backing tracks to add to the atmosphere of the performance, but the majority of the work was performed live. Their stage presences were almost hypnotising, particularly the female vocalist who had a fantastic costume and white contacts which looked like sclera lenses to make her look like she was in a trance or possessed by a spirit, and her movements on stage reflected this. The music itself started out simplistic, but increased in complexity and pace as the set continued. It was like a ritual which was building up to the final conclusion. Both male and female vocals worked well together, with the low guttural throat singing in amazing contrast to the higher notes.
The characters of the performers were only broken when they ended their set, bowed, and thanked the crowd. And the crowd definitely deserved a thank you. Despite the smaller numbers, they did not hesitate to make as much noise as possible for this excellent performance. (9/10)
Check out NYTT LAND music and merch, Spotify, Facebook
If you’ve read my reviews before, you will know that long, epic sagas of songs are not my favourite thing in the world to listen to, particularly when I’m listening to music in my own time. Live, however, it seems to be a different story. Especially when I had moved to the balcony area of the venue and had an uninterrupted view of the stage and how the band members were moving around an interacting with the crowd and each other. I did notice a bit of feedback on the guitars, but this may have been where I was sitting, as others in the standing area commented that they did not hear this.
The drummer was like a human drum machine, despite some of the more technical rhythms and many, many sets of blast beats, this guy didn’t seem to break a sweat, and it certainly didn’t look like he was phased by the amount of work he had to put in. Their fiddle player was incredibly enthusiastic, getting the crowd going and headbanging away when he wasn’t playing. The mix (apart from the feedback I could hear) was perfect, and the fiddle could clearly be heard. A big shout out to Martin who had filled in for Saor, with only 3 days to learn the setlist!
There were moments during the performance where I became lost in the music, and almost had to shake my head to come back to reality. When there’s a live performance that can send you away from reality, that’s the sign of an incredible live band. (9/10)
Check out Saor music and merch, Spotify, Facebook, website
After the magnificence of Saor, Winterfylleth had a really, really high bar to reach as headliners, and unfortunately for me, they didn’t quite hit that mark. That isn’t to say they were bad, but Saor gave them an impossibly high standard to try and match.
Coming onto the stage with a calm intro, this was soon contrasted with some hard hitting, powerful tracks. Winterfylleth, from my vantage point, were also plagued with a bit of feedback, but again this may simply been where I was sitting. They had some very fast and heavy tracks, but between each track was a calm instrumental interlude, which was almost like a breather between tracks after being carried away with the music. The lighting was great during the set, and there was some group vocals which I always love, but for me, there was just that “something” missing, I just can’t put my finger on what it is. (8/10)
Check out Winterfylleth music and merch, Spotify, Facebook
For Day 2 I was joined by my partner Jamie, who was a little obsolete in this case for review work as I was not taking photos. Timings were running a little behind but there were still incredibly quick turnarounds between sets which was great. We decided to sit upstairs for the entire evening.
Local paleolithic pagans Wyrdstæf kicked off the evening’s proceedings. Although modern technology failed them at first to start their ritual with fire, a kindly audience member helped out, and their ritual had begun.
This, I believe, was the largest stage Wyrdstæf had ever graced, and they made full use of it all. It suited them. Furs and bones covered the stage and the performers, and a perfect mix of hammering blast beats, crushing riffs, guttural vocals and ancient instruments. They could command the stage without words and the crowd really responded. In fact, after their set I heard comments from audience members wishing that the set was longer, so hopefully we’ll hear some more from Wyrdstæf in the near future. (9/10)
Check out Wyrdstæf merch, Facebook
Gaahls WYRD was a band I was not quite sure about seeing, because I’ll be the first to say that I’m not a massive fan of black metal at all. The entire set was so well put together though, even the lighting was spot on, with strobe lighting making it look as through the figure on the backdrop was moving. The guitarists and bassist were moving around the stage, headbanging and getting the crowd riled up. When Gaahl came onto the stage, his demeanour was quite different, he seemed to wander slowly across the stage. At first I thought this was a bit strange and not really how a black metal vocalist should act on stage, particularly with the speed of the instrumental (I don’t know how the drummer could keep up for the entire set). However, as the show went on, it became more and more apparent that Gaahl’s movements were deliberate, and the contrast definitely worked. His vocals were also incredible, he went from harsh to clean vocals seamlessly, without any effort.
There were some elements to the performance that were a little unexpected for me. First of all, there were a lot of synchronised guitar movements and headbanging, and then we also had a “twiddly” (technical term) guitar solo, which is certainly not what I expected from black metal at all. By the end of the performance I was definitely fully invested into it. I definitely came out of that performance wanting to see Gaahls WYRD perform again which, for me and my general (dis)like of black metal, is certainly an achievement!
A final point which I really respected and appreciated, was that Gaahl personally thanked and shook the hand of the sound guy as he left the stage. The technicians behind the scenes definitely do not get enough credit for the work they do. (8/10)
Check out Gaahls WYRD music and merch, Spotify, Facebook, website
It seems like when I really get into a performance, particularly when I know a lot of the tracks, and am already a fan of the band, I tend to not write as many notes down, so this segment is a little shorter, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – there weren’t many faults I could find!
Ex-guitarist Terji was back for this show, and it was good to see him back, even if it wasn’t permanently. Right from the off, Týr were tight as a band and the tracks were performed incredibly well. I still forget how many Týr tracks I know until I see them perform live! There also seems to be a steady progression of being less serious on stage. The exception to this is Gunnar, who is the happiest instrumentalist I have ever seen, let alone the happiest bassist. I’d be amazed if his face didn’t hurt from all the smiling on stage! I’m sure if he told you he was about to murder you in some horrific way, you’d be happy about it!
The set had a full range of tracks from old to new, and slow to fast. We also saw the first pits of the week, with a couple dotted around, mainly from people jumping around rather than more violent push pits. As always, the group vocals (particularly without any instrumental accompaniment) gave me chills.
I always love seeing Týr live, and it won’t be too long before I see them again because they’ll be playing Hammerfest next month! (9/10)
Check out Týr music and merch, Spotify, Facebook, website
All too soon, it was time for the final day of the festival. This was the only day to sell out, and it was soon apparent when we arrived at the venue just how many people “sold out” meant. The doors were already open when we arrived, and there were many people sat upstairs already. Luckily we still managed to get seats in the central block of seating so we still had a great view of the stage.
For this night, there were quite a few pro photographers, and particularly for this night, there are a lot of professional photographs flying around the internet which will do a far better job of showing you the evening than any distant stage photos I could have taken.
I would also like to take this opportunity to praise the security and medical staff who swiftly attended to a crowd member who collapsed shortly before Heilung were due to start. The start of the performance was slightly delayed due to the incident, but from what I could see on the balcony the staff attended to the person as quickly as they could, the crowd kept parted for as long as necessary to allow the staff to do their job, and everything seemed to be handled as well as it could be.
Thank you to all the security and medical staff who were there to look after us.
Three seats covered in white fur greeted us on the stage, and then three robed figures came out onto the stage. Armed only with drums and a few ancient instruments including a tagelharpa, Seidrblot started the night of folk and ancient music. There was a mix of throat singing and clean chants, and the simplicity of drums and vocals was extremely emotive, there were definitely a few “lost in the music” moments while they played. One particular highlight for me was the use of a log and hand axe to create a deep, echoing beat. It’s something I’ve never seen before, but when I think about it, it would make sense as a way of creating beats during a ritual when instruments require more skill to create.
Seidrblot also have great skill in fading out songs live, again something I’ve never seen before. They were able to quieten their vocals and their instruments towards the end of tracks completely synchronously, and end at the same time. Definitely an act I would love to see again, though perhaps on a smaller stage, simply because there was too much dead space around them, and I feel that they would definitely suit a more natural and intimate setting. (8/10)
Check out Seidrblot music and merch, Spotify, Facebook
There is pretty much nothing bad I can say about Jo Quail. She is probably THE most humble performing musician out there, and can own a stage no matter how big it is, and this last-minute performance at the Jorvik Takeover line-up was certainly no exception. The crowd welcomed her completely.
There was a rollercoaster of emotion throughout her performance; happy, sad, unnerved… And her second to last track could easily be the soundtrack to a sci-fi show, the electronic style noises she was creating were incredible, and didn’t sound like they were coming from a cello, but they were!
This woman can do things with a cello I never thought could be done, she uses every element of her instrument to produce various sounds to build up a full orchestral track, and live she cannot make mistakes as she live loops her sounds. She can even create a sound that sounds like waves crashing on shore. On stage, it is Jo Quail and a cello, nothing more, nothing less. And it is incredible. (9/10)
Check out Jo Quail music and merch, Spotify, Facebook, website
As soon as Jo Quail left the stage, there was no interlude music. It was the sounds of nature, a sure sign that Heilung were next up. As soon as Heilung began to walk out on stage, the atmosphere completely changed. What I didn’t realise seeing them previously was just how much was happening on stage, how every movement had a purpose, every sound and every pause. This wasn’t a show, this was a ritual. The sage burning at the beginning and end of the performance brought the correct atmosphere, and made sure (almost) everyone was captivated by the stage.
As with the first time I saw Heilung live in London in 2018, the ritual sped you away to a different realm. You almost forget you’re in a theatre venue in York while they are on stage. The performance was hypnotising, and it was very easy to fall into a drum trance. I don’t know how long I was clapping my hands for during the final track Hamrer Hippyer, but somehow they didn’t hurt afterwards.
There was so much performing on stage; the slaughter of a shieldmaiden and her subsequent resurrection, fire performance, nudity (though not sexual), and a battle between light and dark. Every opportunity I get, I will see Heilung live. I don’t think there will ever be a group that do what Heilung do, and certainly not as well. It was a perfect finale to the Jorvik Takeover, and left me with a deep sense of spirituality. (10/10)
Check out Heilung music and merch, Spotify, Facebook
I don’t think I could have expected much more from a first event on this scale. The Barbican was a slightly unusual venue but it worked really well. Stage times were adhered to, and changeovers between acts were slick and professional, there had clearly been a lot of work behind the scenes to set everything up before the crowds came in. I was a little disappointed at the turnout for the Wednesday and Thursday, but these are “school nights” and with many still working during the week, the late nights may not have agreed with them.
Every performer gave it their all, the staff at The Barbican as well as the security and medical staff were welcoming and helpful (although I do wonder what they thought of some of the performers on stage at times!), and the crowds, even though small at times, gave 100% of their support to each and every band on that line-up, and I hope this left all performers with a great impression of York as a city to play in.
Descended From Odin did an amazing job setting this up, and I owe them a big thank you for providing both myself and my partner Jamie with guest list tickets. I hope that they will be hosting another event like this next year, as it was certainly a highlight of the Viking Festival weekend for me, even though the festival was not directly linked to the main festival in the city centre.
I hope this three-day festival paves the way for some larger acts to consider York as a stop on their tours in the future, and I hope it puts York on the map as a place to come to for metal and folk music.