(Here’s Andy Synn’s review of performances at the second day of Oslo’s Inferno Festival. For his review of the first day’s inferno, go here.)
Day 2, and far more refreshed after a night’s proper sleep, we turned up at the venue a little before Agalloch’s set, allowing us to wander round the various stalls, tattoo showcases, and other assorted gubbins that act as an annex to the main festival. Highlights included some impressive tattoo work, a random assortment of rare/hilarious special editions (including a hugely over-priced and hugely amusing mega-box edition of the new and deplorable Morbid Angel album), and the none-more-metal selection offered by the infamous Neseblod Records stand. To top it all off we were even offered the opportunity to buy some of ICS Vortex’s old leathers. Truly the stuff legends are made of. But all these wonders were mere distractions set against the night’s impressive musical line-up.
Right from the start, Agalloch set out to reclaim and redefine the term “epic” with their tense and scintillating sound, expanding to fill the massive venue with a wall of sonic majesty, roots and branches reaching up to the heavens and penetrating deep into the loam of the earth. Cherry-picking the best tracks from The Mantle, Ashes Against The Grain, and Marrow Of The Spirit, the quartet painted the venue with sound and light, washing over the audience in tidal waves of lush, transcendent noise and focussed power – in particular, “In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion” was both utterly haunting and emotionally exhausting. Even some temporary technical problems were dealt with in an almost seamless manner, the rest of the band maintaining the pulsating heartbeat of ethereal ambience while frontman John Haughm dealt with his misbehaving guitar.
If you’ve never seen Agalloch live, I implore you to do so at any costs; they conjure an atmosphere as intense as any band I have seen (equaling, though not competing with, that of Triptykon on the previous night), but in a manner wholly unique to themselves. It’s the music of nature and nurture, layers and layers of melody and complexity that subtly, and unexpectedly, combine into something overwhelmingly heavy yet effortlessly organic.
A band with whom I was unfamiliar, but who my ever-knowledgeable lady-friend informed me would be right up my street, were up next – Tsjuder, the absolute epitome of black metal nihilism. You know how one of the common tactics employed to insult black metal is to laugh about how it’s basically music made by a bunch of guys who thought Venom were serious? Well Tsjuder sound like what Venom would be if they were not only serious, but downright threatening!
This black metal triumvirate unleashed a set of violent, twisted black metal that drew equally from the scathing assault of Mayhem and the pounding negativity of Celtic Frost, crafting a serial killer’s manifesto of genocidal blast beats and torturous riffing. Right from the off, the three-piece almost literally floored their audience, delivering songs like the juddering, neck-snapping “Mouth Of Madness” and the whiplash-inducing evisceration of “Ghoul” with a frothing, rabid fervour. Unrelenting and murderous, the group truly epitomised the essence of True Norwegian Black Metal.
The live incarnation of Absu are a riot of thrash riffs, scarred, blackened vocals, and crazed, animalistic drumming. Though bassist Ezezu carries a larger proportion of the vocals live, his impressive frame providing a visually arresting focal point for the group, band mastermind Proscriptor is an absolute character, punctuating each song with his blood-curdling shrieks whilst simultaneously laying down a whirlwind of shifting beats in his own inimitable style. Guitarist Vis Crom is no slouch either, equally as capable of handling the complex arrangements of black-thrash riffs as of delivering some phenomenal wailing banshee solos.
Drawing liberally from across their back catalogue, as well as from their latest mythological masterpiece Abzu, their performance tied together the varying eras and incarnations of the group in an impressive display of melodrama and magic(k), with the dizzying riffs and feral vocals of “Pillars of Mercy” and the thrash-tastic “Earth Ripper” acting as particular stand-outs. The unusual atmosphere of the show was aided by Proscriptor’s unique, and at times (unintentionally) hilarious between-song banter, with the cackling, Muppets-meets-Crowley introduction afforded to “Four Crossed Wands (Spell 181)” sticking in the memory even after the song had blasted through the venue.
One of the biggest, and most welcome, surprises of the weekend was the rapturous reception afforded to Solstafir, the kings of post-black metal majesty, who delivered one of the most in-demand performances of the entire festival. Thankfully, we were quick enough to get down to the smaller room of John Dee just after the end of Absu, as barely more than a minute into the Icelandic overlord’s set there was barely even breathing room left in the venue. Throughout their spellbinding musical odyssey there were people desperately trying to force their way into the venue, crammed into its tiny entrances in a hope of catching a glimpse of something magical.
The hazy, carefree charm of Solstafir’s live show saw the band guiding their audience in a vision quest of glorious musical vistas and heartfelt, home-spun catharsis, with a set primarily comprised of songs from their latest album (“Ljos i Stormi”, “Pin Ord”, and the always evocative “Fjara”) and culminating in a stunning rendition of the 12-minute “Goddess Of The Ages”. Without a doubt, the group proved their mettle and their worth (and indeed, justified their growing hype) with an entirely unique and invigorating display of psychedelic post-metal spellcraft.
The finale of the evening was left up to death metal veterans Autopsy, who refused to disappoint the gathered throngs, erupting in an avalanche of rumbling drum rolls and pile-driving riffs. For a band with such an impressive and enviable legacy, it was good to see them so obviously enjoying themselves, operating with an almost youthful sense of invigoration whilst also displaying a veteran’s knack for crowd control and manipulation, lurching between out and out belligerence and touching charm.
I’ll grant you, their particular form of death metal isn’t usually my thing, but the group’s protoform sludginess and teeth-rattling grooves are extremely impressive when experienced in the flesh. It warms the empty chambers of my cold, dead heart to see the four members so animated (reanimated?) in the live arena, swinging their guitars and prowling up and down the stage in a thoroughly over-the-top manner. Even Chris Reifert (the second of the day’s singing drummers to almost overshadow the rest of the band) spent almost as much time standing, waving his arms and raving like a man possessed, as he did sitting behind his kit, laying down pummeling beat after pummeling beat. A fitting resurrection, no doubt about it.
One day left!