The times when bank holidays were reserved for family are over. More and more festivals are being organized in this specific weekend, which makes our tradition to be out and about on a festival during Easter both more difficult and easier, given the choices. A bit on a time constraint, powered by (delicious) burgers, overpriced beers and gin tonic, yours truly traveled to Norway to get a taste of the renowned Inferno Metal Festival. A first time ever for this e-zine. Also, with a line-up of Emperor, Satyricon, Dark Funeral, Shining, Necrophobic and many more, it was (too) hard to stay away.
The cold, snowy surroundings of the not so idyllic Norwegian capital Olso – also appearing post armageddon-like abandoned this weekend – is the setting for Inferno every year. The festival is held in the venue Rockefeller (capacity 2.000 persons) and John Dee venue (capacity 400 persons). The event was nearly sold out, which definitely had its downsides this weekend. Moving from one venue to the other proved only possible when being on time and during the set of the headliners, it was very difficult to see anything at all.
Inferno does not only offer music, but also the opportunity for music business professionals, journalists and interested people to join in on the Inferno Music Conference, spanning from Thursday to Friday. The first panel of the conference was on the identity of music festivals, where representatives of Midgardsblot (NO), Brutal Assault (CZ), Roadburn (NL), With Full Force (DE) and Eistnaflug (IS) would discuss the typical traits of their own festivals. A couple more pressing topics were also brought to the table, like the position of women in metal and politics in music. The second panel that yours truly visited proved very useful for musicians in the audience, as they were given some tips on how to approach professionals and or the media.
Local (hailing from Drammen, Norway) symphonic black metal band Odium had the honor of opening Inferno on Thursday. Even if it was still a bit early, the group could count on quite a crowd. Musically the band reminds somewhat of (old) Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth, with a similar, slightly theatrical look. It might not have been the most groundbreaking show or set, but it was a perfect opener to calmly start the festival with, while hanging around with a drink.
Erimha from Canada was the first band in the John Dee venue. The band was one of the lesser known on the billing, but the melodic black/death metal formation still played for a decently packed crowd. Towards the end of the show the metalheads started to become enthusiastic, increasingly responding to the tunes. The overall mix sounded a bit thin, so in the end, the performance would probably have been more convincing with a fuller, more bombastic sound.
The Swedish band Naglfar is one that is hard to catch live. The number their performances on a yearly basis is limited, so whenever they play the band instantly gathers a crowd to eager watch. Even if the band does not perform so often, the band members show a natural interaction on stage and a grateful, energetic attitude towards the crowd. The musicians are like a solid black metal machine on stage, which made the concert of Naglfar a pleasant one to watch.
One of the Dutch representatives Dodecahedron proved that the sound in John Dee actually could meet the standards of the playing bands. Thankfully so, since otherwise the (post) black metal of these musicians would have hardly come across as it should. At the start of their show, the band did not attract a large crowd and the response seemed a bit tempered, but later on the audience warmed up to the intricate and abstract music.
I might not be the biggest Shining fan around, but I was more than positively surprised by the show of the Swedes today. With a promise ‘to ruin everything for you’ vocalist Niklas treated the audience with an intense performance and a lot raw energy, varying from spitting into the audience to screaming out his tortured clean vocals to a degree you’d almost feel it. In the end, the show was impressive and changed my views a bit.
Ever since the release of Where Shadows Forever Reign, Dark Funeral has been a guest at festivals often, either with a set from this record, or an old school ‘Secrets Of The Black Arts’ set. Today the crowd at Inferno was treated with a varied mix, from “Unchain My Soul”, to “Where Shadows Forever Reign” to “The Secrets Of The Black Arts”, and all of the sorts in between. Performance wise there is hardly anything to comment on, as the Swedish band has their routine nailed down to the cross, without it looking dishonest.
Uada, is a name that has been buzzing and therefore the John Dee venue was filled to it’s full capacity in time. The American black metal band managed to get the crowd enthusiastic from the first moment onward and the first few rows of people started headbanging endlessly. The sound was again far from perfect, yet Uada did not fail to impress with their scorching riffs and guitar melodies.
US death metallers Obituary gave one of the best shows of the festival. While looking at the line-up, they felt a bit out of place among this (predominantly) collection of black metal bands at first, but I was proven wrong. Very wrong. Vocalist John Tardy was greeted on stage with a lot of loud cheering and it didn’t take long before a true headbanging inferno was unleashed, both by the band, but also by the audience, on each of the three floors of Rockefeller. The truly unequaled show ended with “Slowly We Rot” and it would have people talking for the next two days.
The Inferno Music Conference today would open with the interesting debate on globalization in metal, discussing the development of when booking agents, promoters are becoming international/global players and how that could affect a local market. In the end the discussion was not limited to that, as other markets were discussed, as well as how booking agencies and band representatives/managements would are positioning themselves in this changing field.
Opener on the main stage Mephorash was probably the most surprising band of the day. With no expectations (and prior knowledge), their Batuskha/Schammasch like appearance (clad in black robes, the stage lit with candles) defintely spiked the interest of the people who were watching. With the aforementioned bands and Behemoth as inspiration, it might not be the most new thing in town, but still worth checking out if you stumble upon them.
The second representative from the Netherlands was the technical/avant-garde death metal band Ulsect (sharing band members with Dodecahedron) playing the John Dee venue. Alike their black metal counterparts, the abstract groove caught on with audience a bit later into the show, even if the songs from the self titled album were flawlessly played. All in all, both bands represented the Dutch metal scene quite well in Norway.
After the success of their last album Farvegir Fyrndar, Icelandic black metal formation Audn have a frequent guest at festivals all around Europe. Much to my personal liking, as this record was one of my favorites of 2017. Having not seen a bad show to date, Audn’s performance today would not be one either. With a strong and thought out presence on stage, a lot of positive feedback from the fans, this show was nothing less of powerful and just generally damn good.
Belgian black metallers Wiegedood are on the verge of breaking their new album: De Doden Hebben Het Goed III. Being picked up by Century Media and getting raving positive feedback from all corners of the metal scene, they’re a sure thing to watch. More people were aware of this, since the band was programmed back to back with Audn, yet the smaller John Dee venue was still packed. With good reason I might add, as Wiegedood’s assault of distorted riffs and unfriendly strobo lights resulted in an atmosphere of raw energy and no compromise.
As Obituary had already proved, a bit of death metal amidst a mainly black metal festival is a welcome change. Today it was up to US tech/death metallers Origin to provide for that diversity. Their technical death metal is probably the kind that you either hate or love. Still, as far as personal tastes goes, it cannot be denied that Origin is one of those bands that somehow always pulls it off in a live setting, however layered and tricky. The show at Inferno was no exception.
Seeing a legendary black metal band like Emperor in the native lands of Norway is a true blackpacker’s dream. Unfortunately, cold hard reality definitely crushed that dream for a few. With Rockefeller sold out, it was impossible to watch Emperor from anywhere, unless you’re really tall or if you we able to conquer and hold your spot early on the evening.
Apart from the main venue being overcrowded (to overcrowded), a show of these black metal titans in Norway was indeed worth the while. The response of the crowd was overwhelmingly positive and even with about 2,000 people there, the atmosphere was intense and almost intimate. The set featured the entire Anthems album, with which Emperor has been touring and the encore of “Curse You All Men”, “The Majesty of the Nightsky”, “I Am The Black Wizards” and “Inno A Satana”.
On a related note, visual artist Costin Chioreanu had a small exposition in the festival hotel, a Twilight Vision on “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk”. Each song of the album was represented in a work of art. Having missed the official opening of the exposition, I went to check it out during the day. The pieces were hung in a lounge that had little visitors, and even when distinctively looking for these paintings, it was hard to discover them. I’m all for side programming (in the form of art, lectures, panels and so on), but in this case, there should have a better, more notable spot.
Necrophobic started when the last notes of Emperor died out in the big venue. The Swedes recently released a killer catchy album, Mark Of The Necrogram, which today at Inferno also proved to be worth losing your shit over live. The Swedish musicians, especially vocalist Anders Strokirk, are an expressive bunch by default. Combining that with the refrain of “Tsar Bomba” and “Mark Of The Necrogram” (among others), you’ll find yourself in a show setting where it’s hard to stand still. And you shouldn’t. So, to no surprise, long hairs were flowing around and necks snapped.
The Italians from Fleshgod Apocalypse dragged out their dramatic stage outfit to Norway, to end this day of the festival. Having seen the band a couple of times before, I always feel like it’s a bit difficult for them to convey their tracks to the stage. This time however, it seemed like the musicians did exactly that. Mainly songs from the latest album were played, from crusher “Healing Through War”, to the dramatic “Cold As Perfection”.
Already my last day at Inferno, even if the festival would continue another day with performances of Carpathian Forest, Schammasch, Nadra and Tsjuder. After two full days of bands, panels at the Inferno Music Conference, a meeting or two, the overall pace was a bit lower today and there was a bit more time to check out the other things going on at Inferno. Even if limited in space, the festival still offers everything a metalhead could want: a merch market with a couple of vendors and festival merch, Another area was reserved for signing sessions, tattoo artists and visual artists. The tattoo artists seemed occupied quite a bit, but the visual artists looked a bit forgotten, with only every once in a while a lost visitor who would inspect the paintings and drawings. The food stalls on the roof garden provided for limited options, and even though the quality was (very) good, a diet of burgers is not ideal for three to four festival days.
One of the first things happening today was the guitar clinic from Ihsahn, which attracted a lot of interest from fans and guitar players alike. Ihsahn did his best to explain and answer questions about both Emperor and his own work in a kind and extensive way. The feedback on the guitar clinic was good, as many of the people present were still discussing it afterwards in the hotel lounge.
On to the bands, as old school death metal band Memoriam from the United Kingdom would be up. The fairly new band, founded in 2016 after the passing of (and dedicated to) Bolt Thrower drummer Martin Kearns), released a new record on March 23rd, The Silent Vigil. Despite the new name, the musicians are from from inexperienced and have performed with Bolt Thrower, Benediction, Napalm Death and more, which you can instantly see on stage. As experienced performance, the four piece sought out the audience and each other for interaction and the big smile on the face of vocalist Karl Willets did not fade for a second.
One day after an impressive performance with Emperor, front man Ihsahn would return to the stage with his progressive solo project. Quite a bit different from the sometimes primal tunes of Emperor, Ihsahn and the backing band were showing off pure technical prowess today. The music that the Norwegian musician is indeed a departure from his black metal roots, yet in all of the material you can find a certain rawness. Not limiting that to the solo project, but also to Pecxatum and Hardingrock. During two songs, a guest saxophonist joined the band on stage and gave the performance a bit extra. Ihsahn’s new album Ámr will be released on May 4th and I have to say that because of the performance at the festival, I’m getting my hopes up.
Funeral doom band Ahab playing the small John Dee venue proved a bit too challenging. The masterfully written, yet dragging tunes created a dense atmosphere. The German band does not shy away of a bit of a dramatic stage presence, which added to that atmosphere. Still, Ahab does play the kind of music that you need to be in the mood for, and high on life and Inferno is not that. Another time, another chance, which they most definitely deserve.
The third night of Inferno would end early with a show of another legendary Norwegian black metal band, Satyricon and a surprise was even promised. The band has been extensively touring with the latest record ‘Deep Calleth Upon Deep’ and naturally, the setlist contained a fair few songs of this new record, among them “Midnight Serpent”, “Deep Calleth Upon Deep” and “To your Brethren in the Dark”.
Having seen the band only two weeks earlier in the Netherlands, I knew this was going to be a good concert, as Satyricon already proved to be in top shape only a matter of days ago. As it turned out, this evening was even better. Fuelled by the energy of the crowd, Satyr and cohorts played an impressive long set, with of course a couple of classics as well, “Mother North”, “K.I.N.G”, “The Wolfpack” and “The Pentagram Burns”. A perfect way to end an already great festival.
Aside from the bankruptcy that you will feel after visiting Inferno, it is a festival that manages to celebrate extreme metal in all forms and shapes, as was proven with this year’s line-up, also the conference proved to be a valuable addition to the event. The sometimes queuing in front of John Dee and the overcrowded-ness were perhaps a bit of a minus, but that is what happens when you have limited space to work with. All in all, Inferno Festival is well worth a visit as extreme/black metal fan and we’d love to see more of you there next year.
As founder of Metal-Exposure, I'm a bit of a jack of all trades: first and foremost I'm a writer/freelance journalist. I also run this blog and I do some concert photography. You can find me at a lot of metal festivals/gigs, where I show off my disco moves, sing Monty Python songs and proclaim my faith in the number 42.