Inferno Festival - Oslo, Norway 2017

Black Metal dance parties, Metal lasagna, Red Harvest orgasms and Abbath 'Mantrums'... Inferno, you've done it again!

On a midnight flight from hell, I smiled out the window at the sparkling city of Oslo and she smiled right back with a Devilish grin. We both knew that I was here for one reason only, a Black Easter Celebration like no other; Inferno Festival 2017. This year's festival was held on April 12-15th and played host to well over 40 bands, with headliners such as Abbath, Gorgoroth, Carcass and my first time seeing Venom Inc. I was literally running into the streets of Oslo like a mad woman with my Curls flying through the cold Norwegian breeze, I smashed 200 coffees and dove headfirst into the Black Metal Fjord.

Day one: Wednesday Club night, a night to trade in your New Rock boots for some trainers, so you can run all over town and catch as many bands as possible. For me, this was the first time being back in Oslo in 8 months after living there, so I was of course very busy reuniting with friends, visiting favourite haunts and having lots of catch up beers. By the time I made my way to Vulkan/ Pokalen, it was in time for Red Harvest. The Vulkan arena was full to the brim, pushing my way through the crowd and spilling beer everywhere, I found a good spot for the show, having not seen Red harvest since Blastfest 2016, I wanted a good view. Their industrial beats with orchestral overture made the room shake and my entire body vibrate, I look down at everyone's feet moving, this is a Norwegian black metal feet dance party if I've ever seen one. Watching them now, play back in their hometown since 2009, you wouldn’t think they started out in the late 80's as a Slayer tribute band. Jimmy 'Ofu Kahn' Ivan Bergsten looks like something from How to Make a Murderer as he asks Oslo if we're ready for one more, they play through Beyond the End and the lead up to his long drawn out vocals towards the end of this song is almost that of a female orgasm, I'm just waiting for it to arrive, but every stroke of those guitars wants me to make it last. Red Harvest left me fulfilled yet bloody thirsty! Borknagar take to the Vulkan stage next, Pål 'Athera'Mathiesen of Susperia takes control of the live vocals and its different seeing him in this light. The last time I saw him perform was as Shady Blue with Chrome Division in Bergen, it seems like I'm seeing a completely different vocalist and I'm blown away by his varied techniques. The mixed melodies of ICS Vortex and keyboardist Lars A. Nedland in their three- part vocal harmonies layer together like one giant progressive Metal lasagna and we all want a slice today! What a fantastic headliner for the Club day, which always renews my love for this country and all of the musical goodness it has to offer. Although I missed a lot of bands on this day, I had such a heavy weekend ahead and really had to pick my battles. I collected a group of party-goers and we shuffled along to Oslo's Kniven bar to sip on some tasty local beer brewed by the members of 1349, I must have had about 20 because the rest of the night is a complete blur.

The next three days of the festival are held at the conjoined Rockefeller/ John Dee concert venue, basically in the city. Rockefeller has a main stage with tattoo and artist stalls off to the left as you walk in and merch stalls off to the right. The venue has two different levels of balcony's for great view points and a smoking deck on the roof which opens up to another bar sporting couches and DJ's ,while John Dee is downstairs in the basement and has a more intimate stage. I had forgotten how great this venue is, every where you turn there is a bar and a W.C so no time is wasted running from top to bottom for anything, except the bands of course.

Day two - Thursday started for me in the basement of John Dee witnessing one of the best performances of the day. Canadian Black Metal warlords, Panzerfaust scared the absolute shit out of me. Their giant vocalist Goliath has an eerie motionless stance centre stage, every part of his body is clothed in black. Hooded, gloved and while his face is covered in a dark cloth mask, he remains at the candlelit alter. His dark and grueling vocals roar over the top of us and its like nothing I've heard come out of a human before. He is part demon. He holds up a Thurible and presents it to the his guests. At moments the stage goes dark and there is nothing but the flickering of candlelight and utter silence from the crowd. There is so much evil in this performance, so much sincerity. The long pauses between songs, followed with chilling backing tracks and a slaying light show, certainly made for an intense atmosphere. Goliath pounds his chest as a thank you, then he puts the candles out with the palms of his hands, after a long standstill from the band and they all leave the stage. We are all left feeling completely violated. What the hell was that?

To the main stage at Rockefeller we are now graced with some Heavy metal royalty, enter Venom Inc. These old rockers certainly didn't need Cronus to fill a room in Norway. The Demolition Man does a marvelous job on vocals and bass, he sings up to the microphone with true grit and utter force, he deserves to be up there. Mantar stands to his left, his bandana and studded belts seem as tight as his guitar playing. Between songs, Abaddon stands up from his drum kit, demanding attention, he smashes his hand down on a symbol and yells "Fuckkkkkk!" Then he raises a bottle of Jack Daniels and skulls it before sitting back down and playing the entire set without his aviators falling off once! This set was rock 'n' roll at its finest. Most of the people standing with me at the front of the stage have been waiting to chant "VENOM", at Venom for many years, the horns are seriously high for this one. They steam through some Venomous greats, Welcome to Hell, Don’t burn the Witch, In the name of Satan and of course Countess Bathory. Throughout, they make a dedication to their former manager Eric Cook who passed this year, as he is responsible for creating the "Black hole of Hell" that is Venom! Then the phones lit across the field of heads as they knew what would come next, Black Metal! What a great feeling screaming the words to Venom's Black Metal, its not often you can get an entire room of mostly Norwegians to proudly sing out together. We certainly laid down our souls for the Gods... Rock'n'Roll!! Having already seen Destruction in Scotland 2 weeks earlier, I decided to use this time to check out the metal stalls and merchandise. There were some really unique stalls this year, Metal heads against Bullying, were there doing some good for the world through metal, Wolfs Lair as usual showing off the best Black metal merch money can buy, Occuta Society had an amazing array of gothic, symbolic jewellery, artwork, printed candles for your at home alter and the guys from the Netherlands with bullet belts, patches and pins galore! I spent a pretty penny or two.

Tonight's headliner, extreme metalists Carcass arrive on the main stage to a Rockefeller full of old school fans. By now I can assume almost everyone at Inferno has heard of these guys, hailing from the UK, they've been around since the 80's and although their style has changed over the years, they've stayed as a solid staple in the average metalhead's diet. Their set is super strict, although Jeff Walker stated earlier that he wasn’t in his best form, it didn’t show in his vocals or in his bass. Daniel Wilding performed impeccably on the skins, even if he did have to fix an unrehearsed drum solo, while well known Grindcore/deathmetal pioneer Bill Steer’s guitar work was flawless as he smashed out some pretty great windmills. Carcass saved the best for last and the pit went wild for the dual melodies of Heartwork. Piling out of the venue, I was joined by my new Canadian Black Metal fundamentalist friends, Panzerfaust for a dirty 2am kebab feast.

I jumped into a rickshaw with vocalist Goliath on our way to Oslo’s metal bar Rock In and he spoke to me about his Inferno experience so far. Goliath! Welcome to Inferno Festival, this is the first time Panzerfaust have toured to Norway, how are you enjoying your time in Oslo? “Norway has been terrific so far. We dropped acid and spent last night travelling by candlelight through the Gamle Aker kirkegård (the graveyard) here in Oslo watching the sun rise over the city. It was chillingly tranquil and quiet. I've never had an experience quite like it.” Ohh my! Sounds lovely! I was watching your show at Inferno, the stage presence was incredible, it was intense, what is the creativity behind your live performances? Do you plan it or does it just come naturally? “We approach every performance individually and try to never replicate the same show twice. Although, before every show or tour we travel to a cemetery in Canada where the band was conceived and we collect dirt from the graves which is what you see us covered in when we play. It's something of a dehumanizing component for us. We have made it now a tradition to gather the dirt from important places to us. Both the Catacombs in Paris and the blood-drenched soil of Vimy Ridge are on the list this time.” That really does sound like a great ritual. Norway has so many black metal roots, how did it feel to be playing a show in the home of Black Metal? “We obviously had some very big shoes to fill. - A trial by fire so to speak. Coming here, one can understand how black metal germinated in such a place. It was truly an honour.” What is the black metal scene like in Canada? How do the shows there compare to shows when you play abroad? “The black metal scene in Canada has some gems that many Europeans may have not yet discovered. I would suggest Thantifaxath - good friends of ours who make some seriously demented music. If you're looking for an uneasy listening experience, they come highly recommended by me. The shows vary from city to city, of course. Since the country is so large, and the populations are concentrated in a handful of cities, it can make touring rather gruelling. In Montreal where black metal is most prominent, the Messe des Morts festival is by far the most brilliantly constructed festival in the country. Unfortunately the festival was shut down this year due to Antifa fascists attacking the concertgoers causing swat police to shut it down. I don't believe these clowns would understand irony if it slapped them in the face. Nevertheless, I hope the festival persists at is one of the best festivals in the world. For non-Canadians, it's worth the pilgrimage!” Right, next trip- I’m off to Montreal! [Laughs] Has the band got some new material coming out soon? What can we see next for Panzerfaust? "We are currently working on our most daring endeavour to date. No timeline can be given at the moment, but something unprecedented is coming, and it will rape the world in all its glory.” Well I know after your show at Inferno, you have a lot of new and eager fans that will be very excited to hear the new material. But my last question before we continue to the bar, how would you describe Your music? “People with problems music.” And with that, we set off into the streets of Norway’s party capital and had many shots of Aquavit!

Day Three - Friday, by now my 2 day hangover was in full swing and there was only one way to get through it...STAY DRUNK! Lucky I skipped the press roll call at 3pm for a live Interview with Abbath at the festival hotel, he must’ve been asleep too, because it was cancelled. With some jager bombs down the hatch I landed myself at my first band for the day, Polish metal machines Infernal War. Now these guys are tough, they play raw, unadulterated Black metal. There is so much muscle on stage and I don't just mean the guitar playing, blistering drum kicks and ferocious vocals. Playing songs with titles such as Militant Hate Church, Death’s Evangelist and my personal favourite, Spill the Dirty Blood of Jesus in which they scream “Die! Die! Die son of God!” I mean, who wouldn’t be in a good mood after a set like that? I just wouldn’t want to run into these guys alone on a dark winters night anywhere in Poland. Now you know you're at a festival in Norway at Easter when the smell of Waffles fills every room. Every second person is walking passed, waffle with a Polse (hotdog sausage) in hand. The guy serving is sweating just looking at the line at his waffle stand, which just so happens to be the only food stall at this years festival, damn Norwegian humor. I head inside and up to the third balcony to get a good view of Samael and a dash of fresh air from the smoking balcony. Samael from Switzerland are celebrating 30 years of their unique style of metal at this years Inferno. Although there is quite an Industrial vibe to their music, the background orchestral’s, mixed with Vorph’s blackened-death vocal range really do create their own metal footprint. Xy on drums and Keyboards is in a standing position for the entire show, bouncing around between the two, as well as going for the full body mosh, he seems like a pogo stick at a Rammstein concert. Guitarist Mak is also full of energy, his face is painted half black and his hair has given Edward Scissor hands a run for his money as he thrusts around the stage. Vorph, while playing guitar and in between vocal parts, flares around the stage in circles, which from my view looks brilliant with the crescent moon light images, projected onto the stage. They play a new track for us, Right of Renewal , which the crowd are really into, it has a bit more groove compared to their older stuff, but we’re all ready to dance by now anyway. To be honest it was such a great performance from every member I didn’t even know where to look.

Down the winding stairs again, its time for some sludge and pure American grunt! The lights gleam off his shiny skinned head and the raspy, familiar voice of Kirk Winstein hits the microphone, “We are Crowbar from New Orleans and we’re here to kick your ass!” Throughout the set, Kirk is very good at the chat between songs, I guess he is very sentimental in his old age. He announces its his birthday today and he is 217 years old, that he cant see anymore and his hearing is shot too, so we have to yell louder so he can hear us. He makes sure to dedicate a song to his wife Robyn for all that she does for the band as he points backstage, also dedicating songs to the sound and lighting guys and of course to us, his fans. Tom Strange is back on bass after re-joining last year, he smiles at us with his toothless grin as he busts out those brooding basslines in Planets Collide. Kirk, even after so many years of singing this song, still sings it with so much heart, I can see a few friends -arm in arm, as Planets Collide will always resonate with a lot of people. Kirk spits on the stage and skulls a beer, this is as romantic as crowbar get. “Lets break some fucking glasses!” Kirk screams as they finish off by powering through their ‘96 classic Broken Glass. Thanks Crowbar, you made 17 year old me happy, and present me a little nostalgic for the good old days of riding motorbikes in the Aussie outback. Now for the stars of tonight's show, satanic black metal fiends, Gorgoroth. After quite a long wait for the curtains to be drawn, I was almost dying in anticipation to see what their stage setup would be like. I mean I was at their Blastfest performance last year which had naked crucified women and sheep heads galore which they kicked out to the audience. The curtains drew and there it was no scene of horror. Of course vocalist Hoest (Taake), stalks around the stage wearing enough nails to setup atleast 10 crucifictions, but it was Good Friday, they had so much to work with! I hope the band didn’t hear the sad sighs from everyone on the top level, because I did! Maybe they wanted to draw away from their theatrics and make sure people watched them, rather than being wide-eyed at all the props, it was their 25th Anniversary show after all. A Gorgoroth performance is still something captivating in its own essence, but unfortunately I did leave the set after just a few songs, I had so many people to see and so little time. I bolted down the street to meet some mates at Oslo’s pirate style bar, Aye Aye, many shots were had, until we were being kicked out again. Followed by after party adventures at two different hotels, early morning dog pats and way to much Norwegian moonshine, I finally landed in bed at a safe time of 9am.

Day Four- Thursday, well I did say I should stay drunk right? I needed an early start for the last day of the festival, so I was up after a few hours sleep, my wonderful host smashed an Easter egg in my mouth and sent me on my way. I arrived at the festival to a true Easter surprise. Slagmaur had promised to bring an extraordinary show, even uploading some video teasers leading up to the festival, they sure built up the intensity well. They are known as one of Norway’s most terrifying Black metal bands, and recently brought out their new album Thill Smitts Terror to great review, so its no wonder that it was such a full turnout for an early band. The curtains are drawn and the horror is unveiled, apart from the two- head covered people, standing on tables on each side of the stage noosed up for death, there is a large inverted cross hanging down in the middle. The band themselves are masked in some of the creepiest garb I’ve ever seen. Vocalist The Plague Doctor is in a skull-like bird mask and one of the guitarists looks as though he is wearing a hallowed out pig’s head, these guys go all out. A priest enters the stage and one by one kicks the tables out from under our hanging sinners until they hang limp and struggle for their last breath. All the while a punishing light show ensues and the frightening talent of those behind the masks adds to general unease of everyone in the room. Slagmaur’s sound is that made of compete terror, hate and could surely lead a healthy mind to insanity. Towards the end of their set, the cross is lowered, the ‘witch’ is brought out, tied upside down and the cross is slung back up. Inferno gasps as we all realise that this is indeed a real-live person. In the lead up to all of this utter mayhem, the relentless repetitive riff that these Norwegian lunatics play for well over 6 minutes, made a home in my nightmares since and I fear it will never leave. The priest reads out the last rights, as the witch is set into flames, the band break into rabid guitar playing mixed with some seriously creepy backing tracks. The Witch is on fire for what seems like forever to those watching, before being put out and dragged off a smoke filled stage. I didn't know what to do as the curtains closed, I think I just stared at the stage in disbelief for a while. This performance by Slagmaur was one very well executed terror filled dance with danger, which left pale faces in the crowd. I needed a cigarette, I wonder if Slagmaur have a light?

After a bit of a mingle and some well deserved beers I arrived back to see Primordial. As an extreme metal band, soaked in Celtic history from their Irish heritage and with the sundry mix of black and powerful vocal styles, they've created a nice space for themselves, where only Primordial stand. Alan Averill truly is an amazing front-man. In his mad max attire, he punches the air throughout the set and he sings with so much content, I am enthralled with their show. They played through As Rome Burns, which really seemed to get the deflated crowd to listen up, the middle chants of “Sing to us Slaves” echoed right to the back of the hall and Bloodied yet Unbowed, which Alan announces is about all the places they've been and people they’ve met. They say goodbye with the mighty verses of Empire falls and its hard not to become a little emotional listening to such compelling lyrics, even Alan is brought to his knees by the end of this one.

Next up we have some Austrian blackened-death brutality, I hadn't seen Belphegor in many years and I had forgotten how great their stage presence and show is. Spikes were set up on either side of stage with what looked like the pork leftovers of Oslo’s Easter butchery sale, a variety meaty parts for all of your Easter Saturday BBQ cravings. The stage fills up with the smoke of musky incense, they must have known Inferno would be a stinky place by the last day of the festival. Vocalist, guitarist and founding member Helmuth Lehner has kept this band alive and well since the early nineties and his performance is still as solid as in those first years, if not better. His vocals bellow into the microphone on his trademark gas-mask stand and his guitar playing has no imperfections. They don't need many bells and whistles, their set is as tight as the cling wrap, wrapped around their horned-bone centre peices. A priest arrives with a Thurible (even Belphegor got the memo) and walks around waving the incense over the crowd. Towards the end, Helmuth encourages a five minute slow chant of “Hail”, the crowd loved it, fists were high while hailing their lord and saviors as they continued into “Conjuring the Dead.” After being noted as one of the best performances of the last day of Inferno, I would definitely concur. Hail!

Now it was time for none other than the festival headliner Abbath! The stage was set with over the top banners sporting the Raven logo, (for recent Album Nebular Ravens Winter.) Abbath arrives, and so does his theatrical background music, with torch in hand he proceeded to breathe fire around the stage, which of course provoked a photo-pit frenzy. He was his humorous self as usual, hands on hips, starring wild-eyed at the audience between songs, shouting “Abbath” or “Shut Up”, crab walking across the stage and showing off for the photographers. They played Warriors and a few other songs but unfortunately Abbath’s guitar playing wasn't exactly on point and his comedic abilities weren't enough to sway me to stay for the rest of the set. I’m glad I chose to leave then because there was no rest of the set. Apparently as I was leaving he smashed his guitar on the stage and left in quite a huff. Leaving bassist King Ov Hell, drummer Creature and not to mention the entire Inferno crew not knowing what to do. It was a sad end to the festival, considering Abbath and Immortal were such a big part of Norwegian metal history and I'm sure a lot of punters came to see them.

But alas… it didn't ruin the festival by any means, it meant everyone had more time to have one last party night. I had one more walk around the festival, witnessed Helmuth of Belphegor getting a new tattoo by Black Shadow tattoo, collected my Inferno goodie bag and headed out. I ended my night as any good Inferno Festival should end, cowering over the bar at Rock in with half of Oslo having shots, metal hugs and saying “skål” an awful lot. Cheers Inferno! See you next Easter!



Photo courtesy of Thomas Hysvær - Rockshots, Norway