(Our man Andy Synn attended the INFERNO FESTIVAL in Oslo, Norway, on April 4-7, 2012, and here’s his review of the first day’s inferno.)
Running a little late, the first band of Inferno Festival 2012 for me was, somewhat ironically, a band from just down the road from my own home. Anaal Nathrakh were, as always, a nasty proposition in the flesh, delivering some seriously abusive blasting accented by Dave Hunt’s tormented screams and regal singing voice. Definite highlights were the annihilating (and deceptively melodic) “Satanarchist” and the unforgiving mindfuck of “Pandemonic Hyperblast”, the band seemingly focusing on their more unrelenting material this time out.
Tonight’s show was noticeably (and unusually) sloppier than I’m used to, with a few obvious errors in timing and tightness evident to the familiar listener. This was all explained though, with Dave Hunt educating the crowd on the shittiness of US border control who had failed to allow his cohort Mick Kenney over to Oslo for the show, leaving them to conscript a last minute stand-in guitarist, whom the extreme pressure understandably left ill at ease.
Even more pissed off than usual, at one point the band’s ever-volatile frontman, responding to an ill-advised heckle from the crowd, verbally confronted his abuser, saying that although he didn’t “want to sound like Phil Anselmo”, he was in no mood to take shit from anyone after the band put all the effort into pulling together and making it over to Inferno despite these last minute setbacks. Despite its problems, this set proved that nothing short of total global extinction can stop the march of Anaal Nathrakh.
The Konsortium, playing the smaller stage, were a distinctly odd proposition. Avant-garde blackened thrash with a taste for weird rhythms, off-time black metal barks, and drawled, punk-y vocal refrains. The almost entirely anonymous group performed the whole set clad in featureless white masks, staying largely static while grinding out riff after riff of freaky black-metal influenced thrash-prog, their faceless drummer laying down some heavy back beats with unflinching accuracy. Their enigmatic singer performed the entire set with what appeared to be a bible in his hand, leafing through the pages in an almost laconic manner, finally setting the book ablaze to bring the set to its climax.
Back over on the main-stage, the pride of Norway, 1349, were completely and utterly devastating. Their sound probably sterilised half the front row, and may well have resulted in several impromptu abortions of anyone in the vicinity, pregnant or otherwise. Male or female. Nobody blasts quite like Frost when he’s all amped up on 1349’s signature brand Satanphetamines, while the imposing figure of Ravn is perhaps one of black metal’s most commanding frontmen.
Their music is metal delivered as artillery, but is not without its subtleties, stomping slower parts interspersed between the hyper-speed devastation, and – most importantly of all – a plethora of actual RIFFS that utterly dominate, from the feverish, buzz-saw attack of “Sculptor Of Flesh”, to the acid rain assault that is “Chasing Dragons”, or the brutish, wall-of-sledgehammers of “When I Was Flesh”, all performed with demonic energy and unholy precision.
For just under an hour, Triptykon proved themselves one of the most intense live acts of the entire festival, not in turns of annihilating speed or even bludgeoning heaviness (although they have a mammoth, crawling heaviness all their own), but due to their undeniable focus on stomping, oppressive avant-doom. Their utterly depressing, suicidally hypnotising set provided a perfect showcase for the inter-locking vocal and guitar tandem of Tom G. Warrior and his musical foil V Santura (also of Dark Fortress), while an airing of the Celtic Frost classic “The Usurper” was made into something even more special by the appearance of Ravn (1349) to handle the vocals, repaying a similar favour 1349 did for Tom G. Warrior at this very festival several years ago.
The only niggle was the band’s reliance on Celtic Frost material for much of their set, and not even material from Monotheist (arguably the real genesis of the Triptykon sound in many respects). Still, the set groaned and creaked with malevolent power, like the hulk of an old, old wooden ship, torn from its moorings and cast adrift in the eye of a pitch black storm.
Borknagar’s latest album Urd is an absolute masterpiece, and their current line-up is perhaps the envy of progressive metal acts the world over. Yet somehow something tonight seemed a little… ‘off’. The band performed their opening numbers competently enough, but didn’t quite seem to click with one another. “Epochalypse” suffered both from an odd sound mix and a nagging sense of incoherence, but “Oceans Rise” and “Ruins Of The Future” (both from the Vortex-throated era of the band) did much to pick things up, adding some powerful riffage and a greater sense of focus to the proceedings.
What bothered me was that the live performance of the band remained more disjointed than their carefully woven sound on record, not in terms of the music itself (the band were all very much on point and on key, barring some initial minor drum issues), but more due to how they presented themselves onstage. Both guitarists seemed torn between rocking the power-stance or maintaining a detached demeanour, falling uncomfortably somewhere between the two, while the pairing of Vintersorg (vocals) and Simen Hestnaes (aka, ICS Vortex – vocals and bass) is an aural treat, but visually disconcerting, Vintersorg’s hyperactive and at times awkward stage moves and occasionally forced banter failing to gel with Hestnaes’ more restrained and regal mannerisms.
Though tonight’s performance didn’t quite reflect the seamless coherence of the band’s blackened prog-folk perfection, at times the impressive glory and potential of the band was fully unveiled, not least on the soon-to-be-classic “Frostrite” and the stunning finale of the well-established classic “The Dawn Of The End”, which saw all three eras of Borknagar represented when Kristoffer Rygg (aka, Garm of Ulver, the band’s original singer) leapt up onstage to join his brothers for a truly epic rendition of this definitive song.
Stay tuned for day 2!