(NCS writer Andy Synn has returned from Oslo’s Inferno Festival, held on March 27-30, 2013, and brings us a multi-part report of what he saw and heard, along with photos. This is the final installment. Check out the three previous parts here.)
Well here we are, the final day of the festival. With fatigue setting in (wallet-fatigue as well as physical fatigue) this was also – fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you chose to look at it – the day with the fewest bands who I really wanted to check out.
The first band of the evening I was lucky enough to see were underground black metal legends Hades Almighty (pictured above). Though the Norwegian triumvirate describe themselves on their website as “The heaviest black metal three-piece in the world”, after seeing them live I’m far more inclined to agree with the assessment of the immortal Metal-Archives and say that the group are more of a Progressive black metal band than they are a particularly heavy one.
Their distinctly old-school vibe is coloured and individuated by twisty-turny song-structures and liberal applications of atonal, semi-melodic riffs that strangely enough put me firmly in mind of American tech-thrashers Believer.
The group, who haven’t released an album since 2001’s The Pulse of Decay, clearly relished the opportunity to perform to such an appreciative crowd and, despite an often overpowering bass presence in the sound-mix, certainly gave the assembled audience more than enough to chew on, from the raw, meaty riffs of “Crusade of the Underworld Hordes” to the eerie, twisted melodies of “The Pulse of Decay”, as well as an unexpected appearance by Taake mastermind Hoest, who joined the band onstage for the first few minutes of the ten-minute epic “Alone Walkyng” (recorded when the band was known simply as Hades).
After this was another relatively atypical black metal act in the form of Krake, who unveiled their densely melodic form of blackened metal on the John Dee stage downstairs. Despite the corpse-paint and tremolo trappings of the group, songs like the folk-inflected stomp of “Beneath Black Waters” actually veer closer to the sound of a band like Moonsorrow, washing over the listener in icy waves of epic grandeur and pinpoint aggression. The martial, desolate vibe of “And A Colder Breed” also brings to mind the more recent work of Nightfall with its doomy vibe and gravelly vocals, while “The Great Leviathan” does a lot to support the group’s credentials as an atmospheric black metal band, matching storm-driven riffs with dark, flowing keys.
Though the band were a little stiff onstage, and didn’t really fall into a natural rhythm until quite late in their set, they certainly seemed to win over the crowd, many of whom I’m sure left the room as new converts to the cause.
With only two bands left (for me at least) we raced upstairs to get a good spot for Solefald, performing for what was surprisingly the first time in their home town of Oslo.
If there’s a holy trinity of progressive black metal bands, then it has to be made up of Borkanagar, Vintersorg, and Solefald. Over the years Borknagar have expanded from their core influences, building their blackened sound and stretching their proggy boundaries, while Vintersorg have instead chosen to turn inward, to explore and cultivate their hidden roots and arcane foundations. But Solefald have, inarguably, stepped outside the realm of black metal altogether.
This was made clear at the beginning of their set as, instead of the band appearing, a large 1.5m x 3m canvas was wheeled out, upon which Oslo-based artist Christopher R. Rådlund would go on to paint a large, incredibly detailed image inspired by the live performance occurring all around him. Utterly unusual and entirely unique.
The band themselves are a much heavier prospect live than on record, the cryptic duo of Cornelius Jakhelln and Lazare Nedland ably supported by 90% of In Vain serving as their backing band – providing supplementary instrumentation and extra vocal harmonies – to produce a dense, lush soundscape that flowed seamlessly between moments of post-punk, art-rock, folkish melody, and metallic force, while periodically flirting with tiny touches of black metal angst.
The set itself ran the gamut from anthemic to obtuse, often within the same song, with the sweat-stained band clearly giving it their all. The response from the crowd was pretty rapturous as well. Clearly these people had been waiting a long time to experience the Solefald live extravaganza, and were certainly not disappointed!
(FYI – here you can see the picture that finally took shape by the end of the band’s set, complete with Solefald logo decals:)
The last band of the day was now upon us, and the wait between bands had the packed crowd balanced on a knife-edge of anticipation.
In near total darkness the 6-man misanthropy machine that embodied the live line-up Satyricon took to the stage, clad in the simplest, sleekest black, and slowly peeled out a funereal, layered intro whose doomy, imperious vibe promised great things for the upcoming album, and led the band effortlessly into a savage rendition of “Hvite Krists Død”.
From then on the band locked into an airtight, devastating groove, conducted and controlled by Frost’s incessant, battering-ram kit-work. The group’s performance was near-flawless, executing every groaning industrial-strength riff or searing, napalm-soaked tremolo passage like a crack commando unit drilled to lethal perfection – an elite cadre of handpicked black-metal assassins.
With his long hair and pitch-black leather jacket, Satyr seemed far more integrated into the group than last time I saw him, yet whether engaged in majestic triple-guitar interplay or in strident, snarling vocalisations, his singular presence served to immediately identify him as the one in charge, the general leading his troops from the front – battle-hardened and proud. The thunderous roar that rose from the crowd when it was announced that the band’s next album would likely be out around September was matched only by the response to his declaration that the band would be playing at least one song off each and every Satyricon album that evening.
Picking out a high point from the set is a difficult task, such was the flawless level of precision groove and blackened intensity on display, but if I had to pick out some personal highlights I would suggest:
The unexpected and evocative rendition of “Walk The Path Of Sorrow”, dripping with malice and desolate majesty;
The punishing aggression of “Filthgrinder” in all its ugly, dissonant glory;
The serpentine tremolo runs and pneumatic riffery of “Repined Bastard Nation”;
The merciless grooves of “The Wolfpack”;
A thoroughly ominous rendition of the shadowy, threatening “To The Mountains”;
The orgasmic drumming ferocity of “Mother North” and the reverent, communal chanting of the song’s central melody by the entire crowd;
The scorching, blooming bursts of pyro which let the group perform in their natural element, surrounded by darkness and brimstone, as hell’s own house band;
After a short, but tense wait in darkness, the crowed were rewarded for their dedication when the band returned for their encore, beginning with a whiplash-inducing version of “Fuel For Hatred”. The opening guitar set a more frenzied pace than usual, which Frost quite easily took in his stride (seriously, the man isn’t human), with the rest of the group locking in with similarly inhuman precision. This was followed by a slithering, hypnotic version of “K.I.N.G.” which turned the crowd into one single screaming, swaying creature of sweat and sound and brought the night to a tumultuous, rampant conclusion.
Throughout the whole set Satyr displayed a perfect mix of artistic distance, singular focus, and honest appreciation, thanking the crowd but never pandering to their affections, conducting his bandmates with an iron fist yet never hesitating to share a wry smile or subtle joke with them, and above all never hesitating to drop all pretence and just rock the fuck out with reckless abandon.
This may have been a festival, but for this last night it became a Satyricon show.
So that’s it. Three (and four for me) days of incredible metal, gone by in the relative blink of an eye. Though the overall line-up wasn’t quite as strong this year as it was last year, the high points were just as awesome as before, and I for one enjoyed a host of musical experiences I won’t soon forget.