Gig Review – Byker Grave’s Northern Darkness 2 – Brominion 2023

Review by Olivia Matthews

After months of excitement in the running to Dominion fest, we had received multiple assurances from the promoters confirming that the festival would be taking place. The promoters were meant to be appearing on our podcast and all was looking good. Accommodation and 4 hour train journeys were booked. Furthermore, at this point in time Hornthrowers is a passion project that we both contribute a lot of extra time and money into, at a loss to ourselves financially. Hundreds of pounds between the two of us had been spent, so the news that they cancelled with two weeks to go was near soul destroying. Putting aside the money we had spent already, I had been looking forward to photographing one of my favourite bands in Blind Guardian.

The Facebook post cancelling the festival seemed to have come completely out of the blue. We were perplexed at how a festival was still announcing bands having sold less than 5% of tickets with only weeks to go. However, from the ashes of Dominion fest comes along the heroes of the hour, the absolute legends, that are Byker Grave! They swooped in and created a four day lineup of amazing bands that had been let down by the festival. We managed to get tickets for both the Friday and Saturday which were taking place at the amazing Anarchy Brew Co.

Fast forward to the Saturday, Day 2 of the self titled Brominion, we journeyed from Durham to Newcastle and found our way to a strange gate at the side of where we’d left the metro train. It looked like the set of a low budget sci fi horror, seemingly leading to nowhere. After turning the corner we realised that we were on an industrial estate. Anarchy Brew Co was just ahead, a big building with a sea of band shirts and patch jackets stood in the smoking area next to the Two J’s Wood Fired Pizza van.

We entered the venue about 2/3 songs into Spartan Warrior’s set. The Sunderland outfit were celebrating the 40th anniversary of their album ‘Steel N’ Chains’ and as tribute played the album in full. Spartan Warrior set the tone for the rest of the evening with their classic NWOBHM sound. Rob managed to make his way to the barrier during the set and was in good company as Jake from Visigoth was up front having a whale of a time.

When it came time for the Seven Sisters set we both made sure to get front and centre. This was the second night that the band had played, having been at the Little Buildings the night before along with Riot City and High Spirits. I had only discovered the band after hearing Phantom Spell, the side project of Frontman Kyle McNeill earlier last year but the band have quickly become a favourite of mine. I have had ‘Shadow Of a Fallen Star, Pt. 1’ on repeat since hearing it, so it was great to hear them play tracks such as ‘Beyond the Black Stars’ and ‘The Artifice’. The band also mixed it up by throwing in tracks from their previous records. All in all this was a great set and the band sounded amazing and I will definitely be seeing them again as soon as I am able. I also managed to grab some great merch so that was a plus!

Riot City were next on the roster and took the place by storm. Both Riot City and Seven Sisters had been on the road together for some time at this point and the former also played Little Buildings the night before. Riot City are a band that we have played on the Hornthrowers radio show quite a bit (which airs at 10pm – 1am GMT on Calon FM so check it out).

‘Burn the Night’ and ‘Eye Of the Jaguar’ tore through Anarchy Brew Co sending the crowd wild. Jordan Jacobs dynamic vocals and face melting falsettos were matched buy the technical wizardry of the soaring guitar melodies. Again, this is another band that I was excited to see and they left me wanting to see more which is always a great thing in my books. To make things better, we got to talk to Jordan Jacobs after the set and grab a quick photo.

Next up were High Spirits, the last of the 3 bands who had played the night before. This was a band that I had not come across before so was unsure of what to expect. My expectations however were blown out of the water and the band became my highlight of the weekend. I went from not knowing who they were to singing along to their set the next night.

High Spirits played into the fact that they were on a 3 day run in the northeast by playing the absolute banger that is ‘Another Night in the City’ each night! ‘Full Power’ and ‘High Spirit’ got the crowd singing along and showcased how great these guys are at writing amazing choruses that just make you feel great no matter what! Friday was the only day that the band played ‘Midnight Sun’ which again got the crowd going. After the set had finished I was instantly looking forward to the Saturday night lineup so that I could experience the pure dopamine injection that is High Spirits.

Finally, we get to Friday night’s headliners, the almighty Visigoth. Again, I managed to get myself to the front of the barrier for this one with my camera in hand. The band opened with the anthemic ‘Steel and Silver’ followed by my personal favourite of theirs ‘Blood Sacrifice’. ‘Mammoth Rider’, a version of ‘Iron Brotherhood’ where some of the lyrics are changed to include sister, making the song more amazing than it already was, and the Iconic ‘Dungeon Master’ got the crowd singing along. Visigoth’s brand of trad metal showcased everything that is great about the genre with its amazing guitar work and incredible choruses. Finally, the encore of ‘The Revenant King’ rounded off what was an incredible evening.

The set was also a bit chaotic, a few songs into the set someone decided to try and start a fight with several people and caused a bit of a commotion. Jake immediately intervened and told people that ‘Metal is love’ and that there is no place for violence at a Visigoth gig, sentiments I’m sure that everyone can get behind. At some point, everyone was told to move backwards as unbeknownst to myself the barrier had almost completely collapsed onto the stage. I had been oblivious as I was trying to capture as many good photographs as I could and didn’t seem to notice why I was getting closer to the stage.

After the set had finished we managed to catch up with Jake for an interview. Despite having lost his voice whilst pushing himself to the limits on the last date of their tour he still made time for us. Our interview with Jake should be up on our YouTube channel soon and was a great chat which lasted around half an hour. Unfortunately my camera decided to break halfway through the interview, meaning that the video has some technical difficulties and my photography for the weekend had come to a halt.

All in all, despite the death of my camera, this Friday night of music at Northern Darkness 11 – Brominion was incredibly enjoyable and for me more than made up for the horror show that was Dominion. Bring on day the day 2 (or should I say day 3) .

Unfortunately, we arrived back in our hotel at around 5am after staying out for a while and taking a long Uber journey back to Durham. Due to lack of sleep and having to travel back into Newcastle, we unfortunately missed the Crowley and Kylver sets.

When we did arrive however, we caught up with Simon from Dawn Ray’d and managed to find a quiet spot to film a quick interview. Having had him on the podcast before their latest release, it was great to have a catch up and discuss it.

You can watch our interview with Simon below:

Before Dawn Ray’d took to the stage we managed to catch some of the high energy set by Calligram, which again was a surprise as they were a band that we had not yet discovered. They are however a band that we will have a deep dive into after being impressed by their great stage presence and black metal riffs.

As Dawn Ray’d began to play, we were again front and centre. I decided to borrow Rob’s camera as a one off so that I could get some photos of the RABM titans. The set that they played was pretty much the same as it was at their album release show in the White Hotel in Manchester a month or two prior. This was comprised entirely of songs off of ‘To Know The Light’, played in chronological order with a few select songs absent.

They opened with ‘The Battle of Sudden Flame’ and instantly got the crowd going with the closing sentiment of that song. ‘Sepulchre (Don’t Vote)’ was a highlight for me with its almost punk edge and gutteral low growled section before the insane violin solo. As it was when we saw them earlier in the year, my favourite song of the set was ‘Go as Free Companions’. Before playing the song, Simon gave a speech about how the solidarity and community are the best way to deal with the hard times we all face. Seeing this song played live draws a big emotional reaction from me with its themes of solidarity and hope, which cements the tack as one of my favourites of theirs.

Unfortunately we missed the next set by Weedpecker as we hadn’t eaten at all that day. Luckily for us the Tandoori Naan Hut was outside the venue serving great food! One thing which I will say was a plus about the two days of the festival we managed to attend, the quality of the vegan options available was really high.

Finally, the set that I had been waiting for since the night before! High Spirits were again outstanding. Playing a very similar set to the previous day including the songs ‘Another Night in the City’, ‘Full Power’ and ‘High Spirit’, this time however I found myself singing along to the choruses having learned the lyrics. Another thing that I noticed was the attention to detail that the band put into their stage show from the moment they all stop and point at the drummer during his solo to the small things like kicks at a certain part of songs. High Spirits again exclaimed how great it was to play Newcastle, the birth place of so many great metal bands. This rounded off their 3 day run with style and left me feeling like I had discovered a new favourite band.

Mars Red Sky were the penultimate band in the lineup. They brought their signature style of progressive psych rock along with pedal boards the size of tables. The deep red stage lighting matched the atmosphere that band managed to create. Mars Red Sky worked well at delivering a stark contrast to the high energy rock n roll of High Spirits which summed up the Saturday’s lineup as a whole.

Finally, a band which I had been excited to see for a long time, the incredible Green lung. Having already seen them at Damnation, I was worried that Rob was maybe hyping them up a bit too much as it was my first time seeing the band. I now believe that it is impossible to overhype the band as they delivered an absolutely phenomenal set which was a great conclusion to the night. They opened with ‘Woodland Rites’, ‘Leaders of the Blind’ and ‘You Bear the Mark’. One thing that I realised whilst halfway through the set was just how many iconic tracks the band have despite only being two albums into their career, which just goes to show why the band have become so popular. The set ended with ‘Graveyard Sun’, a perfect way to end the set.

As is alway the case, after the pantomime chants from the crowd, the band re-emerged for their 3 song encore. Before playing ‘May Queen’, vocalist Tom Templar made reference to the coronation and started off chants of word ‘guillotine’. ‘Old God’s’ and ‘Let the Devil In’ rounded off the encore with style. Having already been a fan of the band, witnessing Green Lung live was an incredible experience.

To sum up my final thoughts of Northern Darkness 11 – Brominion, I would have to say that in some ways this was a far more enjoyable experience than Dominion would have been. The venue that we saw the bands in was unique and had a great atmosphere, the size of the venue also helped in creating a more intimate show than outdoor festivals are capable of. Something else that Rob made me aware of afterwards was the lack of security at the events as opposed to gigs we usually go to. This was testament to the friendly atmosphere of the whole weekend. Byker Grave did an amazing job at creating something incredible from the worst situations and are a great example for gig promoters throughout the rest of the UK to follow. The Hornthrowers team and co will definitely be heading back up to Newcastle in November for the Byker Grave Festival!

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