Live report: Northern Darkness II – ‘Brominion’ (Part II, Riot City, High Spirits, Visigoth)

written by Daniel Leons-Marder

Canadian speed metallers Riot City were a band I was not hugely familiar with prior to this show. They and Seven Sisters are currently touring together and had played another show in Newcastle, also promoted by Byker Grave, the night before. Despite the two bands having played in the city so recently, there was still huge buzz for both. Riot City open their set with “The Hunter” and immediately you are struck by frontman Jordan Jacobs’ incredible high notes, which are woven into every song and are spectacular to hear someone pull off so well live. A few brave souls in the audience try to sing along with him. “Beyond the Stars“ features some of their best solos, in a set that is stacked with them in every song. Seven Sisters had compared touring with Riot City to driving around in a van with five Labradors in the back, and you can definitely see why – their performance is uninhibited and endearing.

Their 40 minutes on stage is, as you may expect, blisteringly fast, with the bridge of “Tyrant“ being the one of the only times where the tempo slows. In a 40-minute set halfway through a lineup of 5 bands, this actually works very well. It is worth mentioning that frontman Jacob seems genuinely touched to hear the crowd chanting along with the instrumental sections in their first few songs, and with the quiet echoes of an Iron Maiden gig in the back of our minds whenever that happens, it isn’t hard to see why. Next up is “Burn the Night“, the title track from their debut album with its intense, memorable riffs. They close with “In the Dark“, where each member puts in their best performance, mixing the melodic guitar harmonies with the vocal excellence and precise and furious speed from Justin and Jake in the rhythm section. At this point, not only have I already started to lose my voice, but the audience is extremely pumped up and the energy is palpable. 

High Spirits have the distinction of playing 3 consecutive nights in Byker Grave’s ‘Brominion’. Despite having played a long set the night before, there is no indication that anyone in the room is anything other extremely excited for their performance. High Spirits’ style is hard to pin down, with many tracks having a classic heavy metal backbone, but with definite elements of punk, AOR and radio rock. It’s a gripping mix, and it provides a significant contrast from the rest of the bands playing, and from what I typically listen to, but they make for such a fun live experience that one’s ordinary tastes become less relevant. Pretty much every song has a chorus that has the crowd singing along, notably the eponymous “High Spirits“ as well as “Thank You“ and “Another Night in the City“. Main man Chris Black embodies his band’s name in his stage presence, relentlessly positive and with a smile across his face for most of the set. A defining feature of their set is the vocal harmonies, which are present throughout and are executed perfectly, adding melodic depth that is sometimes missing live.

There is a slight delay before Visigoth come on stage, and the start of a bit of a panic in the crowd as the mics seem initially to not be working. Finally, “Steel and Silver“ plays and it is like being reborn. Me and everyone around me are belting each word. Now would be a good time to mention that Jake had been out amongst the crowd for the other bands, singing along with beer in hand. For us mere mortals, singing along through multiple sets at a gig results in a very hoarse voice within the hour, but not for Jake; his voice is defined, powerful and authoritative, and remains that way throughout the set. 

Every band tonight spoke of how indebted they felt to Byker Grave and Visigoth were no different. Greeting the audience, Jake spoke of his affinity for playing in the UK before the band play “Blood Sacrifice“. The slow start before the furious eruption makes “Blood Sacrifice“ an intense song to hear played live and every member of the band interacts with the crowd during the song, with even Mikey managing to make eye contact from behind the kit. 

The crowd was so energised during “Blood Sacrifice“ that there was some discomfort by the barrier, which unfortunately leads to some confrontation at the front as the song finishes. Jake intervenes quickly by saying there should be no fighting at a Visigoth show. Jake’s message was clear and echoed what he had said throughout the tour: heavy metal is love, and as a scene we should stand united regardless of background. The whole band, and Jake in particular, exude genuine warmth, both on stage and in person, which itself is a unifying force and they do a great job of creating an inclusive space in our scene with their approach. Thankfully, their message is heard, and nothing in the crowd escalates. The band plays “Mammoth Rider“, which I enjoy even more knowing I have my brand new Mammoth Rider t-shirt stuffed inside my jacket pocket. 

“Outlive Them All“ was a personal highlight of the night. The song showcases the best qualities of every member, with Jamison and Leeland performing their fierce, note-perfect solos whilst grinning into the crowd, all whilst Jake and Matt manage a duet on the bass. The rhythm section of Matt and Mikey don’t put a foot wrong all night, but their excellence in this song exemplifies their ability to hold Visigoth’s music together with such precision. The chanted vocal line of ‘the cosmic fire burning silver and gold’ is one of the most epic moments I have experienced at any gig, and probably the loudest I’ve ever pushed my voice; it was well worth the journey up from London, the lost voice and the overnight stay just for that moment.

They next play “Creature of Desire“, where Matt shows off some of the best bass work of the night. This is one of the band’s most classic sounding songs, and they lead into “Abysswalker“, a track that typifies the band’s ability to write anthems that get everyone singing. Alongside great solos from both solos, Mikey’s fills are exquisite in this song. As soon as Jake speaks once again about the unity that should characterise heavy metal, it is clear that they will now play “Iron Brotherhood“. Songs about the brilliance of heavy metal and our community are something I always enjoy, but they have an extra resonance when you enjoy them live, surrounded by metalheads and united by our common passion – very little can beat that feeling. The band also replace ‘brothers’ with ‘sisters‘ in all but the first chorus, which is a welcome intervention in a night where unfortunately, as is all too common, every band member across all of the acts performing is male. 

After the conclusion of “Iron Brotherhood“, Jake gleefully remarks that he spotted someone in an Elden Ringshirt in the crowd earlier, as he explains that the next song is about another game that is very dear to the whole band, and which has given them countless hours of creativity and connection with their friends. The song is, of course, “Dungeon Master“, and it is another fan favourite. The long bridge section is epic live, with its gradual build up to the final chorus. The bass lines are much more audible live than on the records, and it’s great to hear the incredibly busy shift that Matt puts in on this song.

Now comes a major deviation from the rest of tour’s set list. Jake dedicated the next song to Byker Grave’s Stu (to echoes of ‘Stu‘ from the crowd), who apparently hates the song in question: “Salt City“. It is a massive change from the rest of the set, and a song that is unique in Visigoth’s discography. All around me people go from fist pumping to dancing. It’s a strange change of pace, and so is what is to follow, as Jake reiterates that whilst the evening had been about love, they will end with a song about hatred and betrayal. “Traitor’s Gate“ may be one of my favourite songs of all time, and is one of those songs that will spark an instant love for heavy metal for many newcomers in years to come. However, it is even better live, with the backing vocals scarcely needed with the huge contribution of the crowd. The quieter parts of Visigoth’s songs have all been resonant and effective, and none more so than the intro to “Traitor’s Gate“, which is dominated by Jake’s incredible vocal delivery. The final vocal line that closes the song is one of the high points of the set. After leaving the stage, the band return to play “The Revenant King“, the first Visigoth song I ever heard, with its amazing hooks and unrelenting riffs. The band let the crowd fill in the ‘immortal blood’ in the final chorus of the night. The reaction from the audience is beyond enthusiastic and reflects the status of Visigoth’s as one of metal’s greatest torchbearers of the past 20 years. 

This night was announced with great deal of pessimism hanging over it. Many took the cancellation of Dominion Festival and similar events as a sign of the decline of our scene. Whilst this anxiety is understandable in a genre which is over 50 years old, it is ultimately misplaced. Aside from the huge number of great bands that are emerging now, there is still clearly a huge appetite for heavy metal, with Byker Gravedeservedly selling out their events on four consecutive nights, and with us all eagerly awaiting the next time Visigoth do battle on our ancient shores.

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