(If this stuff weren’t so much fun to read, I’d be murderously jealous. Here’s Andy Synn’s review of the last day at Oslo’s Inferno Festival last weekend. His review of Day 1 is here and the Day 2 review is here. Okay, to be brutally honest, I’m still murderously jealous.)
So here we are at the final entry of my Oslo odyssey. We spent the last day of our time in Norway exploring Oslo a little more, sampling its fine foods, visiting the art museum, tracking down the infamous Neseblod Record Store (grabbing myself an Antestor EP and two hard to find Urgehal albums in the process) and generally enjoying the fine weather and the experience of being in a foreign city (albeit one which I’ve now visited numerous times). But all good things must come to an end, and thankfully the festival had another stunning night of music left to send us off in good cheer (and with aching necks to boot!).
The rebirth of Decapitated has been one of metal’s most stirring tales of perseverance, returning from the depths of tragedy with a revamped line-up and a sound that builds even further on the group’s base template. Like an armoured tank, they roll unstoppably onwards, stoically bearing the brunt of what life throws at them.
Vogg’s riff-writing and playing style remains utterly unique, his squealing leads careening like a freight train up and down the fretboard, while angular mechanical chugging rhythms pound a cybernetic war drum into your brain. Songs like “404” see the man almost literally torturing his guitar, bleeding bone-scraping noises from his instrument like some demented guitar-wielding surgeon, while a track like “Homo Sum” allows him to flex his more melodically-inclined muscles, eking out eerie lead parts and swirling dis-harmonies amongst the pneumatic, drum-driven carnage.
Talking of drums, there are times tonight when Krimh’s inhuman technique and stamina seem right on the verge of spontaneous combustion, so unnerving is it to hear a single human being produce such an industrial cacophony of noise – people might speak mostly of his impressive ability to handle older material like “Day 69” (including its now infamous mid-song drum-solo) at a standard to match his predecessor, but it’s his work on the newer material that shows just how his style differs, and just what new avenues that will open up for the group in the future.
A surprising, and welcome, airing of “Mother War” shows both how far the group have come and also how much consistency has been retained with their core sound, exposing the continuing thread that binds together each of their albums. The band finish, as expected, with their signature track “Spheres Of Madness”, but you can’t begrudge them this as the track is very much that rarest of gems, a death metal song that defines a band (and arguably overshadows the rest of the album from which it is drawn), without which the set would feel almost incomplete.
One of the major draws of going to Oslo was the chance to see The Monolith Deathcult in the flesh. Their last album T” is, and will remain, one of my favourite albums of all time, avant-garde without being artsy, powerful without being predictable, technical without being over-indulgent, and packed to the gills with virulent riffs and demonic vocals. Tonight the band focussed entirely on this album, draining every ounce of metallic power from their instruments over the course of their too-short set.
The band’s intro tape is a lengthy, and disturbingly eerie, rendition of the 1960’s comedy record “Donald Where’s Your Trousers?”, whose laborious pace and unsettling child-vocals serve to build the anticipation nicely, before the band crashes into the electro-symphonic death metal of “Deus Ex Machina”. A perfect microcosm of their sound, the song’s blazing speed and decadent grind are accented by crackling electronic parts and ominous symphonic interludes, neck-snapping drums keeping everything on a tight leash even throughout these moments of elegant experimentalism.
Though bassist Robin Kok takes centre-stage and performs a larger proportion of the vocals on the live stage, the real joy of the TMDC experience is the multiple vocal variations on offer, the three-headed beast of Robin, Michiel, and Ivo trading screams and growls 1, 2, or 3 at a time, keeping the audience guessing with their constantly shifting vocal permutations and combinations. These three crank out a massive barrage of blitzkrieg riffs (“Kindertodeslied”) and gargantuan bass-lines (“I Spew Thee Out Of My Mouth”) without missing a trick, wallowing in an orgy of three-way trade-offs and rapid-fire, tag-team death-vocals.
As the only non-vocal member of the band, drummer Sjoerd Visch is always in danger of fading into the background, but his unflinchingly metronomic performance ensures that his services as the band’s ever-faithful engine are never overlooked. With impeccable control he keeps everyone locked into a monstrous grove, whether he’s blasting away like some blasphemous engine of destruction or hammering out a funeral-march pattern on a song like the ghastly, darkly melodic “Den Ensomme Nordens Dronning”.
The group’s sense of humour rear its ugly head once more during “Master Of The Bryansk Forests”, the band interjecting a portion of the Nile classic “Black Seeds Of Vengeance” into the song’s mid-section group vocal section, a wry nod to one of their key influences that quickly segues back into the band’s trademark pseudo-symphonic sturm-und-drang. The set concludes with a roaring rendition of “Wrath Of The Ba’ath”, drawing a hectic reaction from the by-now packed and enraptured audience, who scream back the track’s raging “wrath!” refrain with rabid intensity. All in all, consider this night a job well done, and another territory conquered by the deathcult armada.
I’ll say it right now, and probably regret it sometime in the future, but there’s probably no band that epitomises “metal” quite as perfectly as Witchery. Inhabiting a nexus point where thrash metal bleeds into the arenas of black and death metal, this super-group has managed to craft an identity far beyond its members own notoriety – when you hear a Witchery song, you know it’s a Witchery song!
From the catchy death-funk, skeleton-jive of “Awaiting The Exorcist”, through the stomping, doom-laden melodies of “Omens”, to the balls-out razor-winds of “Witchkrieg”, every song stands separately with its own distinct hooks, but remains united by its formative, undead DNA.
Material from their latest album shows that the quintet have lost none of the fire from their veins, despite the heavy burden of their other commitments, Patrick Jensen bringing his A-game thrash to the table as an antidote to The Haunted’s more melodic and proggy meanderings as of late, while Sharlee D’Angelo acts both the rockstar and the fool with obvious glee. The under-rated skills of Richard Corpse shine as he peels off each skin-shredding solo, while the infamous Martin “Axe” Axenrot gets to show that all the 70’s prog imitations in the world can’t stop his thunderous feet and hacking snare arm from making songs like the ugly kerb-stomp of “The God Who Fell From Earth” simply CRUSH in the live arena.
The only slightly disjointed note of the evening comes in the form of the group’s new singer, Emperor Magus Caligula. The ex-Dark Funeral frontman is still rocking the corpse-paint and armoured shoulder pads look from his days in service to Satan, which looks oddly out of place as the figurehead for Witchery’s stripped down, balls-out thrash attack. That being said, the man’s voice remains an absolute weapon, ferocious and full of bile. If you don’t enjoy Witchery, you might as well be dead inside.
The festival’s climax is entrusted to the veteran hands of the out-there prog-metal maestros in Arcturus, who deliver a set that is as interesting as it is utterly perplexing. Hearing the band on CD is weird enough, but the live performance is perhaps even more confusing, their symphonic, weirdo-metal performed like Dimmu Borgir fronted by David Bowie, playing Prince covers. Which barely even covers it, to be honest. The band come onstage out of a goddamn spaceship for fuck’s sake!
Dressed to the nines in some sort of post-apocalyptic evening wear, the quintet manage the enviable feat of playing both to the crowd and purely for their own enjoyment simultaneously, revelling in the simple nature of playing together as a unit, whilst also glorying in the stellar crowd response they receive throughout their set.
Unapollogetically theatrical, the show features explosions of pyro and spewing plumes of sparks, singer Simen Hestnaes (aka ICS Vortex) apparently channelling some warped portrayal of the Thin White Duke to perform as alien ringmaster of this strange, cosmic circus. Whether leading the crowd in a mass arm-wave, thrusting suggestively at the front rows, delivering his lines like some prophet of a distant age, or whistling and whooping his way through entire sections of nonsense vocals, it could never be argued that the man plays character with anything less than absolute commitment, confusing though it often is.
Guitarist Knut Magne Valle is also something of a star, somehow managing to make these odd arrangements of riffs and solos coalesce into coherent songs, distinctively Arcturus in their unhinged weirdness, without ever descending into self-parody.
Arguably the MVP of the evening’s performance is masked drummer Jan Axel Blomberg, better known as the mighty Hellhammer, whose furious flying feet and hammering hands somehow manage to give every self-indulgent prog-excursion a beating heart of pure metal. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything the man can’t make heavy as hellfire when he puts his mind to it.
I can’t say I “get” Arcturus, but that’s not the point. It’s the enjoyment you have while trying to keep up with them that’s really rewarding.
So that’s it, a 3-day orgy of black, death, thrash, prog metal madness, serving up some stunning performances and enviable surprises. If Inferno Festival is an accurate representation of hell, then the devil definitely has all the best tunes!