Northern Darkness Open Air Festival

@ Fell Foot Wood
8-9th October 2021
Review by Demitri Levantis

Day One:

Cumbria, a county on the north-west area of England, home to Lake Widermere one of the biggest and most famous lakes in the Lake District, a land of valleys, forests, and, for one weekend of the year – black metal.

Some would say: “Why pick such an area for a metal festival?” let alone a small one my friends and I trekked over the hills to get to. Well, for those in the know on the most controversial yet intriguing metal sub-genre, a setting in the woods is perfect for a black metal festival.

Northern Darkness Open Air; a new project set up by Paul “Hrafn” Gibson, whose past ventures include The Blackwood Gathering, another black metal festival held in Fell Foot Wood on the shores of Windermere. Now, following the problems brough upon by the last year and a half, a small yet loyal festival of metalheads gathered together on this wooded ridge to enjoy the happiness and festivities of the music that shapes their lives.

I was one of those metalheads and here I was to enjoy my first festival since the November before last, and no better setting could I think of as I admired the rolling woodland around the quaint yet homely site nestled near the infamous lake.

After pitching camp and sampling some of the local ales provided by the site’s owner, Barry Houghton, it was time for the music to begin and first on the bill were Blasfeme – all the way from Bristol and ready to tear a new hole in the hearts and minds of my friends and I.

I’d seen these blokes only a fortnight prior at the Nahemia show at Nambucca, but they had only two members then. Now, as a trio, Blasfeme were armed and ready for their audible onslaught.

Said onslaught went well with the drums and guitars nice and tight with vocalist Moord screaming about the impending dooms and violence that the world has witnessed and might expect in the future, whilst entertaining the crowd between songs with his mildly theatrical speeches.

Overall, not the best I’ve seen of these Bristolians but a very good starter that had a good share of drums and raspy guitars to set the scene for what was to come.

Up next were a melodic outfit all the way from Manchester. Argesk, whose fusion of symphonic black metal and catchy melodies made them a fun opening act for those who simply love their black metal on the more melodic end of the spectrum.

Argesk

It would be an understatement to call these guys ferocious as vocalist Matt IH had the power to scream and growl in a manner similar to early Cradle of Filth or Emperor that had the crowd in the palm of his hand once the tunes blazed from the amps.

Belting out tune after tune from their debut album “Realm of Eternal Night”, Argesk offered a dark and horrific journey into the most awful realms of the human psyche where darkness and sorrow reigns supreme.

Though it should be noted that the band’s keyboardist, Leth Fourr made some humorous statements between tracks which had a fair share of the crowd laughing, including myself. Nice to see a band who know what they’re doing and have a sense of humour too.

We’d had regular black metal, symphonic and melodic black metal, and now it was time for something reminiscent of the old school.

Up next were Master’s Call, a Wolverhampton outfit whose clothing and style reminded me a lot of the earliest purveyors of the genre like Venom, and those who pay tribute to the old days such as Nifelheim from Sweden.

Master’s Call

Master’s Call had certainly answered the call of British metalheads when they cried out for a damn good show once gigs resumed. I knew this to be a fact as this was a band who pulled no punches, in fact they punched more into the crowd than any of the previous groups just by bashing out excellent tunes of misanthropy and hatred.

This group were something of a supergroup in terms of the black metal scene today as their line-up consisted of members of Trivax and Funeral Throne, so having realised that I knew this band would be tighter than anyone could have anticipated.

Having only seen this band once before, I certainly came away thinking Master’s Call were on the road to new and better things and I simply cannot wait for them to release their debut album. Great show, boys.

The night was now in full swing and it was now time for the festival’s organiser Hrafn to showcase his many talents for the raw end of black metal’s musical versatility.

Nefarious Dusk

Nefarious Dusk, on the road since 2007 spreading strong and fun anti-religious anthems to all corners of the UK. It seemed once again that the many issues raised by the pandemic had not made these guys mellow in any shape or form.

From the get-go we were treated to jagged, raspy and bone-crunching pieces from a band who have taken all the darkest and most evil elements of themselves and their surroundings and put it to music.

It is fair to say that Nefarious Dusk represent the most horrific elements of Cumbria’s natural beauty by screaming about the mythologies and harsh sides of what they see in the world around them in this neck of the woods.

Hrafn proved to be a master of the black metal scream alongside the machine-gun blast beats of Ader Black and the hefty bass of Antichrist. This was a trio who knew what they were doing and shredded a new level of anger and testosterone-fuelled energy from the crowd which had now swelled to its full capacity of over 100 people.

Now it felt the night was in full swing as Nefarious Dusk exited the stage to prepare for a band who brought black and death metal volatility from a part of the world the average joe wouldn’t expect to have a metal scene.

Trivax

Trivax, a trio who began in the city of Tehran in far off Iran took to the stage with all the might and anguish one would expect from some angry middle eastern men who use black and death metal as a means of expressing their true inner selves.

Featuring vocalist, Shayan of Iran and bassist Sully from Syria, Trivax upped the levels of menacing vibes in the crowd as they screamed and growled through a series of blackened tirades composed with phenomenally good musicianship.

To say this band pulled no punches and meant all they said to the crowd would be an understatement. I was particularly convinced this was a band that would never falter in terms of excellence in their live shows, especially when Shayan spat whisky into the crowd.

It is great as always to see bands who have come from far and wide to share the universal love of metal, as seen here by a group of men who escaped the horrors of their homelands and now express themselves through the universal language of black metal. Fantastic show, Trivax.

The night had now fully set in, and the stars were bright over the treetops, and it was time for the last band of the night – one who has caused a good deal of interest across the UKBM circuit of the last 12 months.

Ninkharsag

Ninkharsag, hailing from Liverpool and named after the Sumerian goddess of mountain fertility, came to the stage ready to revitalise this mountainside with a fertile injection of excellently produced black metal vibes.

As had been seen with all bands so far this night, Ninkharsag simply tore into the crowd like a whirlwind of blades slicing into an unarmed mob of innocent souls. Unlike other though, this band had the power to send the crowd into a vile yet happy mosh pit – the first I’d seen in nearly two years.

Even though I was not in the said pit, this was the moment where I felt the party had reached its peak and the revellers were as drugged up on the music as I have seen at all the best festivals I’ve been to around the world in my time as a music journalist.

Ninkharsag blew away the merry mob of fans who applauded and screamed in approval as they fired barrage after barrage of excellent songs about ancient history and occult magic. No better way to end the night, which was met with all the right applause and cheers.

Once the applause had died away, the crowd and I trooped towards one of the glades where the site’s owner, Barry was performing one of his famous rituals. It consisted of pouring water from a local pond over the heads of revellers who wanted to be “initiated” into the spirit of the forests, very fitting for a b festival of ritualistic music.

It was a tad challenging to get back to the campsite without a torch, but having found my way through the trees I lay down in my tent that night enjoying the tranquillity of the forest and the echoes of happy metalheads celebrating their love of all things a festival can offer.

However bad a pandemic can be, I knew from this night that the spirit of metal cannot be broken, however long it might prevent festivals from happening.

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