Inferno Festival 2022
Rockefeller/John Dee, Oslo Norway
14-16th of April 2022
Report by: Wouter, Ingrid and Tal
Pictures by: Ingrid and Wouter
It took three years, many lockdowns – both in a physical and mental sense – but here we are: Inferno 2022! Get ready for some cream of the crop extreme metal performances. Both new, old and troll ages alike. With bands like Vreid, Gorgoroth, Kampfar, Sylvaine, The Great Old Ones, Benighted and many more, I was positively excited. And last, but not least: Inferno is a great place to have a party, meet people and explore the many metal pubs Oslo offers.
This year’s arrival was again smooth. The festival hotel (Clarion – The Hub) offers – besides the best breakfast around – great hospitality. After a quick check-in it was time to head to Salt for the warm-up bands. Situated on the lovely harbour front of Oslo, east of Akershus Festning, Salt was hosting the Indie Recordings Label Night, with Glosson, Agabas and Nordjevel. The concert of Agabas fell within the hit or miss category: if you like jazz infused death metal, this might have been more to your liking. Nordjevel however really kicked it, with their black/death metal blasting open the Easter weekend and switching Inferno on.
As this was my (Tal) first visit to Inferno as well as my first city festival, I did not really know what to expect. Once inside, under the main stage, my eyes were everywhere trying to absorb all these new impressions. When we were standing in line at the Rockefeller stage to get beer, I heard Djerv play. Or to be more precise: I heard a woman scream. I was sold immediately, said bye to my people and ran off to the stage.
I’m not even ashamed to mention: I stood there with my mouth open and a tiny teardrop in my eye, listening to this insanely powerful, freaky and mysterious creature. Singer Agnete Kjølsrud looks like a combination of Cindy Lauper, The Mad Hatter and Gwen Stefani. It must feel so amazing to scream it all out – whatever it is that is haunting you. I would summarize Djerv as beastly and enchanting.
When I had gotten over the fact that I was listening to my new favourite witch, I saw the background of the stage. One piercing set of eyes, with hands moving towards the audience, trying to grasp us all – a perfect depiction of Djerv. The lightshow was well adapted to the choreography and matched the upbeat music well.
Meanwhile, I (Wouter) made my way down to see Regarde les Hommes Tomber (Behold Humanity Falling [sic]). I was met with unyielding, brutal and aggressive black metal from France. This was definitely not the first time seeing this band, but my enthusiasm has increased drastically since their 2020 (perhaps more accessible) release “Ascension.” On “A New Order,” but also the other songs, the vocals of T.C. really add a dimension of mystery and evil darkness when performing live. As with most Inferno shows, bands seem to give a bit extra, and Regarde was no different. Although incredibly loud, the play was tight and spot on, ending in the apotheotic killer song of “Au Bord De Gouffre” (On the Edge of the Abyss).
It’s a short trip to the Inferno Festival for the guys of Kampfar – since they’re based in Norway – as many other bands that played on this year’s edition. After having to postpone their tour that was to support the release of their latest album ‘Ofidian’s Manifest’ a couple of times, we could finally enjoy them live on stage again; this was their first gig in two years. The energy on stage was great, and it was obvious the band members themselves were glad to be there again as well. Singer Dolk is a true entertainer, hyping up the audience, and the audience went to its wildest so far. Many newer songs were played this day including their very new release “Urkraft.” Even though the show was almost perfect, I do miss some of the old classics such as “Norse” or “Ravenheart.”
Although half French/Norwegian, the solo project Sylvaine of multi-instrumentalist Katherine Sheppard offered very different shades of black. After the brilliant post-black release Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone (2018), she released Nova in March 2022. Indeed, the first part of the show reflected the album, focusing more on mid-paced songs and beautiful clean vocals, next to incredible screams she manages. The guitar work was done excellently throughout the show, although it felt like the timing here and there could have been sharper with the new material. The latter is understandable, seeing them on their 2nd show of the tour with the new album. Seeing her play the faster yet extremely beautiful song “Mørklagt” was a real treat; owning the stage can be added to her list of talents.
Next on the main stage was Ihsahn. It’s always a bit hard to write our opinion on his (their) live shows. As a true guitar magician it’s always great to watch him play on stage, and we’ve never really seen an off-day show. Today was no exception and they played an excellent show, nevertheless somehow it’s always hard to stay focused. We didn’t watch the full show because a line was forming to enter John Dee…
… and we we’re left waiting to enter the John Dee, as the maximum allowed number of people had gathered in the lower and darkened hallways of Rockefeller to see Bølzer. After some time, with some people exiting and leaving we were let in and able to watch.
Although normally always a nice and special performance to watch, I was a bit annoyed at having to wait a good third of the show before being let in, and therefore never really hooked with the music. The music was however well played, albeit that the sound was muddy and still painfully loud (even with earplugs). Kudos for the drummer HzR, who is drumming with one eye covered. Nonetheless, he still pummels, hits and kicks ass like no one else. Besides promoting their latest EP Lese Majesty from 2019, “The Archer” took most of my chagrin of being queued up away. Seeing this Swiss mountain dweller duo perform their special black metal magic (one guitar, one drum) always gets me enthusiastic. The thundering and lightning drums combined with the Lemmy like clean vocals are a treat – alas, only so much this time.
Triumph of Death – A tribute to Hellhammer by Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost, Tryptikon). The latter, despite not wanting to reform the band that eventually formed Celtic Frost, still wanted to play the old and infamous songs that gave inspiration to so many other musicians. With Martin Ains’ early passing, playing the songs also got an in memoriam layer to it. Initially, I was pleasantly surprised by the invigorating sound of the songs. The drums however, which are straight and true but also boring to a fault, kept me from further enjoying these Swiss legends of extreme metal. A nice tribute to what once was, but perhaps no longer should be.
With only a slight pounding around the inner part of my brain – hangovers are an expensive hobby in Norway – we went for a walk just outside Oslo. Easily reached by the underground (T-bane), we were greeted by a pretty landscape, hills, lakes and a million trees decorating said scenery. Refreshed and invigorated, I was privileged to watch a rather interesting round-table discussion at the Inferno Music Conference, on organizing shows and festivals in the coming uncertain times. Indeed uncertain, as Covid might still wag its tail and current diesel prices for an average tour bus make life challenging to say the least.
Besides talks, Inferno Festival offers a lot more than the performance of bands. There is an art exposition, an auction, city walks and hikes, and the Inferno Music Conference. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy all the many things that Oslo and its surroundings have to offer.
We made sure not to miss the first band in Rockefeller: Hamferd. Quite some people had gathered to watch the Faroese boys in suits with us. As mesmerizing as their live performances are, Jon Aldará’s voice sounded a little rusty at the start. A few songs into the gig the rust was oiled again, and goosebumps were all over me. I’m less familiar with their latest work, but was glad to hear the magical songs of “Evst,” “Deyðir varðar” and “Ytst” being performed as flawlessly as ever. Every now and then I closed my eyes to fully enjoy this show and forget about the world around me – something only a few bands are capable of having me do.
The Dutch all-female entourage Asagraum transformed the John Dee into a true (and packed) satanic dungeon with their 90s inspired maniacal black metal. A fast, unrelenting talented play with some mighty riffing backed with twisting melodies. The voice of Obscura, besides the melodies, brings a very nice twist to the otherwise somewhat known and over-used genre. Their 2019 release “Dawn of Infinite Fire” is a real hook, also when played on stage. The crowd seemed extremely enthusiastic and at times even moshed along to the dame-o-nic tunes emanating from the stage. Personally, I was sold at the galloping “Abominations Altar” and killer riffing of “The Lightless Inferno.” The show fittingly came to an end with “Waar Ik Ben, Komt de Dood” (Where I Am, Death Comes [sic]), a somewhat slower, slightly melancholic piece heralding the end of life.
Up and into lighter material we went to see Ved Buens Ende. Well lighter perhaps not so much, but at least more progressive. After hearing some songs of the band (again, like at Ascension) I decided this wasn’t really my cup of tea and decided to have a beer instead. This way, time aplenty for The Great Old Ones and not queueing up again.
It seemed the venue and sound engineers finally had their act together and with only mild painful loudness managed to have good sound. Which is no easy feat, with no less than the three guitars TGOO uses, besides the regular bass and drums. The French band can be called well established in the realm of (melodic) post-black, having added their fourth full length “Cosmicism” to the discography since 2019. After the Intro, the first song hit (“The Shadow over Innsmouth” if memory serves) with all force and mystery this song has to offer. Heavily compressed at the beginning, the song also evolved live to more twisting (and slightly insane and dissonant) melodies. The concert continued as a barrage of heavy riffing, with the ever-present melodic work completing the incredibly aesthetically pleasing sound. The H.P. Lovecraft inspired (maddened?) entourage ends with the opener of my favourite album “Tekeli-li ‘Je Ne Suis Pas Fous” – what monstrously good play!
Next up: the almighty Gorgoroth. Norway’s own rockstar black metal band that has spread infamously – truly far and wide. Many controversies surround the band, but that didn’t stop them from giving a killer show with Hoest (Taake) on vocals. If you are looking for classical Norwegian (Satanic) black metal, come join us for some properly well battered drums and insane riffing by Infernus. Hell, the show is a bit static if not for Hoest, but the music makes up so much. The audience loved every bit of, moshing almost the entire show (yes, during black metal!). I sure loved watching it from the top balcony, while raising my glass to Lord of the Dark. Do they really summon the days of Olde (Incipit Satan!)? Perhaps not so, but of the ‘legendary’ bands playing at Inferno 2022, this was a real solid one.
Ever since Reykjavik Metalfest, I have gotten a soft spot for the not so soft French brutal death/grindcore band Benighted. Sure, they are not normally on my playlist, but live the band kicks so much ass! The front man, Julien Truchan, is such a stage animal, the drums are probably the fastest I’ve ever heard and…well, suffice to say it’s an experience to see. Even with a guitarist missing due to illness, they still played and sounded great. I wasn’t alone in fan-boying over their play, as half of the John Dee was moshing each other’s brains out during their furious, fast and short songs. We would dare to even see that Benighted was a bit misplaced in the smaller venue and could have easily filled up Rockefeller. There was quite a waiting line to enter John Dee, because the venue was packed to the max and fans couldn’t enter anymore.
The final band of day two was UK’s ‘Grandfathers’ of black metal Venom. A grandiose play of a band that basically created the lyrical genre by their monumental 1982 album “Black Metal.” Of course, they played a lot of material from that release (e.g. “Buried Alive,” “Leave me in Hell” and the often covered “Countess Bathory”). The show was simple yet captivating, with a good and even polished sound and impressive drums. The captivation only lasted for a while, sadly. Mainly because their set was on the (way too) long side. Logically, as they have been making music since 1978. That is a leap longer than I have lived. Realizing that made me a bit sad; Venom might be a killer band and definite headliner to book. However, booking them with so many other headliners (Gorgoroth, Mayhem, Taake, Kreator) and giving them so much time, irrevocably means giving less time (slots) to other, perhaps younger and potentially likewise inspiring bands. Bands that have to compete massively with others bands in the ’30 seconds attention span’, something that has become a weird standard in the age of streaming music. Only to be unceremoniously pushed to the background by these grandfathers, who play “In League With Satan” for the n-th time… So please, for the love of this music, be balanced in booking headliners. I am well aware they are important in getting people to buy tickets to festivals, but somebody needs to pick up when they (eventually) drop.
First band of the day was the likewise (by now almost?) legendary Vreid – keeping the sound of “Sognametal” alive, after Windir’s early end. I joined the venue with the show already partly underway but was instantly captured by the melodic, mesmerizing guitar sound. I may not fully agree with their latest albums like “Wild North West” (2021) and “Lifehunger” (2018), but this show brought some of the old vibes back. The voice of Sture Dingsoyr was spot on, the guitar work of Strom seemingly flawless – besides the oddly chosen cover “Paint it Black” (that hype has long passed, right?) and some seemingly tipsy comments by bass player Hváll, the show was a pleasure to watch and listen to. They really made my day by playing “The Spiritlord,” indeed giving me goosebumps.
More guitars and old vibes, although by relatively new (2005) band Valkyrja playing in John Dee. Perhaps derogatorily called ‘the Watain of the commoner’, I actually prefer them (way more) over the latter. Infectious solos mixed with unrelenting riffing and drums, a bit of staccato vocals and voila: uncompromising Swedish meloblack as it should be. The vocals on “Oceans to Dust” could have used a bit more reverb, although they are also nice raw and pure. “Madness Redeemer” truly got the show going, and my neck was positively warmed up during “Throne Ablaze.”
Sweden kept the banner on the stage, with black metal war machine Marduk in the main and packed venue. During their tour in March, I was a bit underwhelmed by their mid-tempo and tame performance – Marduk is many things, but not tame. This time around, the show was a lot better. So much brutal black, pounding away riff after riff. Opener “Werewolf” instantly got the show going, and I was pleased to hear “Materialized in Stone” of their (i.m.o. underrated) “Opus Nocturne” album. Of course, most of us were happy to be “Beyond the Grace of God,” but I would have loved “The Blond Beast” and some material from “Panzer Division” Marduk. “The Sun Has Failed” made up for some of this, but I was left wanting a bit more afterwards.
Evening closer Mayhem is a headliner that needs no introduction. It’s always a pleasure to see – robed and fully outfitted – Attila Csihar on vocals, not just performing and singing but truly evoking the spirit of black metal. Besides playing new material from their 2019 release “Daemon” (“Malum,” “Bad Blood”) they also hit with “Pagan Fears” and “Freezing Moon” (I don’t think they can ever not play that song). Unfortunately, as with Venom, I was slightly caught off my good spirits again. Although not as big a leap as Venom, Mayhem almost pre-dates my existence in terms of playing years. That itself is not a bad thing, but it does prevent other bands from reaching that very status in the way current bookings go. Personal grudges aside, after some songs I just wasn’t able to catch the vibe– and decided to leave them in favour of the rooftop for a last beer at Rockefeller.
The day of the afterburner, as some say, had arrived. I would disagree, however. With opener Whoredome Rife, my day was made. They made a strong and positively endarkening impression. The name of this Trondheim band doesn’t leave much to the imagination regarding the brutality of the songs and play. The guitar work by V. Einride grab you along and doesn’t let go. The sound scaping is just immense – this, if anything – is yet another reason to listen to Norwegian black metal. With opener “Curse of the Moon” of the latest (2019) “Winds of Wrath”album, all the way to “Beyond the Skies of God” and “Gitt til Odin” (damn it, that was one epic song) of the first self-titled EP (2016), every song was killer. Perhaps the vocals had a bit of clipping on the highs, but this didn’t matter to me and I enjoyed the show massively.
John Dee offered another positive surprise in the form of Eridu – a Munich based multi-culturally influenced band, that named themselves after the Mesopotamian city (now Iraq). The show was introduced by having a female dancer open the musical ritual with fire and some sensual belly dance moves. Once the intro was completed, the band kicked into playing and never let go. Taking a refreshing approach to the drum works, lyrical concepts and tempo transitions, Eridu managed to really captivate my attention. Granted, having the ‘oldest of the old world’ as an influence is not new, Melechesh has done so for some years. Eridu takes it to a new dimension in terms of intricate rhythms as far as my counting goes. That is not to say they lost themselves in it too much, as they blasted happily along, solos included. The vocals were brutal, the clean parts bearing the pleasant version of a hint of metal-core. Hope to see and hear more of them in the near future!
A band hailing from the direct region of Oslo was up next in Rockefeller : Myrkskog (brutal death) from Drammen/Viken. For the occasion, they played their last 2002 album (“Superior Massacre”) in its entirety, to commemorate its 20th birthday. And boy – the album might be old – but this brutal, fast, pounding, just hard blasting piece of hatred hit me straight. Irrespective of my previous ‘age’ related complaints. The voice was just spot on, as was the music. The latter could be expected from musicians also playing in Nordjevel (guitars, Destructhor, frontman in Myrkskog) or being the live bass player for Emperor (Secthdamon, drums and guitars for Myrkskog)
Even though the day wasn’t finished yet, I (Ingrid) dare to say that the true headliner of this day, and the entire festival was Kreator. Even though your crew on this festival has a massive love of black metal, one gets a bit full after so many bands in this genre. The thrashers from Kreator were therefore very welcome, a bit like Benighted earlier on the festival. Many agreed with us since Rockefeller was packed to its fullest and there hasn’t been as much headbanging, moshing, and walls of death during the festival as there was during Kreator. I don’t think Kreator is capable of delivering a bad show, and today they rocked to their fullest as well, including some pyro and confetti cannons. They played a logical mix of classics (“Violent Revolution,” “Phobia,” “Flag of Hate” (!), “Pleasure to Kill”) as well as newer songs such as “Satan is Real,” and they even surprised us with one of their very first live performances of “666 – World Divided.”
Last band to close off 2022s Inferno was the (in)famous, infectious and entertaining Taake. With Hoest clad in a tattered Norwegian flag, we were treated to another jewel in the collection of the country’s collection of extreme metal bands. Although I have seen him in both a more active and ‘flying kicks’ mode on stage, the performance was still a treat to see. The melodic (and eclectic) music just takes you far into the western regions and myths of old Norway, while Hoest’s voice is a pleasant scream to guide the way. Granted, with many songs played from the “Noregs Vaapen” (2011) album, focus was a lot on melody and leaned too much to mid-tempo drumming for my taste. Of course, “Myr” with its banjo piece could not be left out, invigorating the whole venue.
Alas, Taake ended my long awaited revisit of the Northern Lands and presence at what is probably the most complete indoor extreme metal festival around. Besides all the bands, I enjoyed (re)meeting new and old friends spread over Europe and beyond. Aside from booking a bit less conservative and safe, I would say: keep it up, Inferno is and remains one of the most esteemed festivals in my experience. I will be back next time!