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The Adventures of Indiana Man

Adventures of Indiana Man: HRH Vikings Festival (Dec. 1st & 2nd, 2018, Sheffield, England)

HRH Vikings is the first encounter I’ve had with an HRH event. HRH (Hard Rock Hell) are a business that I can’t find much information on, but they have magazines, a radio station, apps, hotels, and a series of large-scale themed metal events. There are commonalities between these events, such as regular sales on tickets, and a number of “free” winners of tickets, which still require that you pay convenience fees. I was one of the aforementioned winners, so even with the convenience fees, which made my free ticket 10 pounds (that’s about $13), it was still well worth the price for a two-day metal event. I was especially interested because Turisas was one of the headliners, whom I had seen once before and found to be an extraordinary amount of fun live. Besides that, as a resident of Indiana, a folk metal festival is a far cry from anything that I’d had the opportunity to experience back home, so I thought that it’d be a worthwhile and very European cultural experience to attend. I’m a death metal fan first and foremost, so that’s important to keep in mind as I am not an expert on folk metal, so here are my impressions of two days of (mostly) folk metal performances.  Many of the smaller, opening acts were more local and of other subgenres, so I was excited at the possibility of discovering new music and bands. After all, I used to love attending shows back at The Fifth Quarter Lounge in Indianapolis regardless of my familiarity with the bands, which introduced me to a lot of local bands that I love now, such as Lucifist from Lafayette.

Vikings prepare for battle!

The atmosphere is like how you would expect from a festival with this name. Many fans have their faces painted in war paint (especially the red and black similar to what Turisas wear on stage), they were adorned in faux and real furs, and many drank from horns.  Many women and men were dressed in regalia that would have been equally appropriate at a Renaissance Festival. In mosh pits, it didn’t take long for dozens of inflatable swords and axes to appear. All throughout the festival, bands demanded walls of death, so I regularly witnessed mock battle scenes as the two opposing sides of each wall of death charged one another with faux weapons.

Freda & Olli of Isarnos

As for the setup of the venue, the 02 Academy in Sheffield, it was large and comfortable. It had an intimate, small, and frequently overpacked stage upstairs, but on the ground floor was the massive main stage that never felt crowded regardless of claims of the show being sold out. They also had a vendor inside all weekend selling hot dogs, which made for some cheap meals if you had a tight budget like I did. Props to the venue for possibly being the only multi-day metal event I’ve attended that had toilet paper stocked in all of the bathrooms – even on the last day! There was plenty of merchandise, including jewelry and drinking horns.  Some of the shirt prices, however, seemed outrageous to me. For instance, a t-shirt from Turisas or any other headliner came to 30 pounds, which is nearly $40. When I see stuff like that, I remember the last time I saw Bolt Thrower in Chicago, who sold their shirts for $15, so I can’t bring myself to ever pay such an unreasonable amount for a t-shirt, especially when these bands sell the same shirts for significantly less on their respective online stores.

Now, on to the music…

Here are a selection of bands I saw and some thoughts on them. I’ve focused on bands that I think are worth keeping an eye on and that especially moved me one way or another (positive or negative). I did miss one of the headliners, Týr, due to a tight bus schedule, but I had seen them prior, and if you’re a fan, you should find much to love. The sound quality for this fest was consistently good, so thankfully none of the bands were horribly brought down by bad sound quality… none of the bands that I’ve mentioned below, that is.

Footprints? In my custard? It’s more likely than you think.

Opener Isarnos was the perfect folk metal band to kick off a Viking themed fest.  Frontman Olli delivered all kinds of flute performances between vocals, and additional vocalist Freda churned away at a Hurdy-Gurdy throughout the set, which might have been the first time I’d seen that instrument used live. Their music and performance was energetic and varied, alternating between heavier parts with harsher vocals and more beautiful, melodic passages. I don’t believe they have anything released yet, but I look forward to picking up their debut album once it is released.

Check them out here.

Footprints in the Custard were a last-minute replacement band, but ended up being one of my favorite acts of the fest – and certainly one of the most fun. To say that this is a goofy party band doesn’t quite cover it, so I’ll explain further.  Halfway into their set, they (grown dudes) stripped down to revealing skirts and played a number of songs with ridiculous themes. For instance, they had one song about King Arthur sending Merlin the wizard into the future to kill Hitler, which was appropriately titled “Merlin in Berlin.” Another song was about peeing: “Willies are for Weeing.” Before ending their set, for the final song, they demanded a specialized form of a wall of death that involved humping – a wall of humps, if you will.  During this aforementioned humpwall, they went into a heavy version of The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men” to close their set.  Their music maybe isn’t something you’d want to jam all the time, but definitely go and see them live if you get the chance.

You can check out this video to get an idea of the goofy insanity that was one of the highlights of HRH Vikings:

Check them out here.

Atorc were a band that really caught me by surprise. They were a good, energetic folk metal band, but the real highlight was hearing the vocals by Helbard. He had the best range and vibrato control of any vocalist on the fest, and I was really delighted that I was able to experience their performance live. Visually, the band wear robes, faux fur, and blue war paint, while the stage is adorned with blue banners featuring some kind of bird. Expect songs about shield-maidens and battle. I just wish their studio recordings had the thicker mix and bottom end of their live show.

Check them out here.

Sellsword were cheesy and fun, and another highlight of the fest for me. Based on their banners and the fact their microphone was a sword in a stone, I’m pretty sure the lyrical content is about knights going out and slaying things. The frontman was a goofy guy who was entertaining to watch throughout the show.  Sometimes it seemed even his bandmates didn’t know what to make of him. Also worth noting was the presence of a miniature catapult, which failed to operate properly – repeatedly – leading to humorous results.  Check them out for some quality, cheesy, power metal.

Check them out here.

Blood Oath look the part of a death metal band, with tattoos, dirtied black clothing, and battle vests – and they sound like a death metal band, but they suffer from what I feel most UK death bands do: they lack something that sets them apart. They don’t tap into anything especially emotional, brutal, melodic, atmospheric, or intense. Everything just feels somewhere safely in-between. Their brand of thrashy death metal is mostly mid-tempo, and their breakdowns never slow down enough to hit you with as much punch as they could. Even their name is shared by two other bands older than themselves. It was refreshing to hear some live death metal during the fest, but this band could really use some tempo variety. They’ve only released a debut album, so I hope they can find their own voice come album number two.

Check them out here.

Obscurity are a band I don’t really get. There seemed to be a separation between the frontman and the rest of the band. They all wore matching shirts, except for the frontman, who had his sleeves removed, revealing his tattooed arms, and a graphic on the front of his shirt. He looked and sounded like he belonged in a heavier band than the melodeath band that he was playing with.  his perception might be due to my ignorance in not being familiar with Obscurity since they’ve been around since 1997 and have released a remarkable eight full-length albums since then. There’s nothing wrong with this band or their performance, there’s just nothing that sets them apart from the thousands of other melodic death metal bands out there (which is a genre that I’m admittedly not a big fan of unless you count Vehemence). They’ve been working hard at this for a long time, though, so if you’re into melodeath and haven’t heard them, check them out.

Check them out here.

The bit I caught of Finsterforst was entertaining before I had to catch my bus. This band utilized more theatrics than many other bands at the fest, not just in terms of the war paint that so many other bands also had (this time in the form of dirtied and bloodied faces and clothing), but also in their use of smoke geysers, which the frontman regularly positioned himself in to dramatic effect. Even if I’m not the biggest fan of folk metal, Finsterforst put on an engaging show that won me over.

Check them out here.

Turisas are as polarizing a band as any. On album, they’re criticized for a lack of elements that separate them from other bands, and their later albums are often seen as lacking the magic of their first two. I’m not going to try to talk you one way or another into your opinions of their recordings, but based on their appearance at this festival, and the first time that I saw them live, I think that they’re a superb live band that must be experienced. Their energy is infectious, and their catchy and sometimes epic battle anthems translate much better live than on album. The one major difference from this time and when I saw them on Paganfest America alongside Ensiferum, Týr, and Eluveitie is that they sadly no longer have an accordion player on stage. Frontman Warlord Nygård commands the stage, while energetic violinist Olli Vänskä infects the crowd with enough energy to compete with any frontman’s antics, including Nygård’s. They churned through a longer headlining set packed with sing-alongs like “To Holmgard and Beyond,” “Battle Metal,” and their infamous cover of “Rasputin.” This set was also worth noting for their performance of their somewhat longer epic “Miklagard Overture,” which is a song they can’t play when they have shorter set times to work with.  Even their newer songs, like “We Ride Together,” which I don’t enjoy as much on album, were a lot more enjoyable in this live setting. This show reasserted my love for Turisas’ brand of Finnish folk metal, and I look forward to the next time I’m in a crowd of their fans that are covered in red and black face paint, ready to go to war with hundreds around me, clad in furs and inflatable swords and axes. Yeah, these events are cheesy, and probably reek of patchouli oil and body odor, but sometimes it’s fun to let go and have a goofy good time!  I’d say the first HRH Vikings was a great success, even if the acts varied greatly in quality.

Check them out here.

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