Thursday 24th March 2016
Nursing a slight hangover on Thursday morning I did my best to alleviate it with cups of tea and a bite to eat (which is unusual for me) but failed miserably to dissipate said hangover sensation. However with each day starting at 5.30PM it gave attendees the opportunity to do some sightseeing/sobering up/buying records (delete as applicable; delete the first two for the shooter and I) before heading to the Rockefeller main stage for day two. My pre-festival shenanigans comprised of a visit to Neseblod Records about 15 minutes walk from the hotel. The place had lost a lot of stock due to flooding earlier this year and you could see evidence of the stock damage with piles of water damaged records going cheaply. However the main body of the store was intact as I raided my bank account, not for the first time on this trip, by buying some stuff that’s on my buy list at decent prices. My shooter splashed out on some ultra rare first edition black metal vinyl that I was distinctly jealous about, although I made out I wasn’t fussed about them, even though I was strangling him in my thoughts and stealing them. A visit down to the musty black metal shrine followed to savour a history in music that has no equal as I wandered around the dank subterranean catacombs of the old Helvete shop, where tacky photos were taken, again, and signing of the commemorative book. On returning from the vinyl scouting and apprehension trip the hotel was in the middle of an auction for various rare items such as a cymbal used during the recording of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, an acoustic guitar used by Fenriz, various records and rare shirts. Like the previous years the hotel welcomes the metal community with open arms as various framed posters decorated the lobby and the restaurant area had shirts of previous festivals hung around to add to the experience of the festival, and being brutally honest main land Europe seems to have a completely different attitude to metal events than the ones I’ve attended in the UK where communities seem to think there is an affront taking place on them.
Day two began with French act Deathcode Society performing on the John Dee stage downstairs and wearing cloak like hoods and masks. As a general rule French extreme metal bands are always a must to check out as they usually offer a warped and perverse approach that tests your mettle to the limit. Symphonic and textured with a melodic but grandiose approach Deathcode Society didn’t quite hit the mark for me personally (although shooter thought they were great!) but showcased a band in the throes of sonic metamorphosis to establish their own sound via tunes from their debut such as “Noos” and “The Inner Vortex”. The hood wearing quintet created a thread of mystique within their malevolent assault that had some Anaal Nathrakh like auditory Armageddon blasting phases broken by interludes of choral chanting that manifested as avant-garde musical brushstrokes as this fledgling outfit started day two exceptionally well.
ICS Vortex was having their show streamed live from the Rockefeller main stage (as were a lot of bands over the festival) as this was a super group of sorts comprised of current or former members of Dimmu Borgir (band name is ICS himself), Borknagar, Arcturus and Sarke to a name a few familiar outfits. The moment they hit the stage and the opening notes of “Windward” flowed from the speakers the professionalism and supreme confidence was patently obvious as the band linked superb clean vocals with harsh throat razoring to create a cyclonic set of progressiveness that captured the essence of experimentalism without overt arrogance allowing us to be picked up by their song structures and absorb them fully as on “Odin’ Tree” and “Storm Seeker”. The showmanship of the drummer was stadium rock styled with his stick twirling producing a theatrical feel even if it did look a little tacky overall, but I loved it. Surprisingly the band rendered a cover of Kiss’s “I Stole Your Love” which caught many out and I suspect some probably didn’t realise it was a cover. Still it gave this wordsmith a little chuckle and a sing-along before heading downstairs into the bowels of the venue to catch Italian band Shores Of Null.
I had listened to Shores Of Null a fair bit before seeing them perform and was left with a feeling of having heard of it all before but on stage this neophytic outfit obliterated that opinion by producing one of the performances of the whole festival. Their elaborate musicianship was buffed and polished to expose a band with colossal stage presence as every band member did his level best to engage with the crowd. Coupled to that the multi-vocal delivery was particularly spectacular and extremely brave by having three clean vocalists and one harsh who switched between both styles very fluidly. Captivating and wholly exhilarating on “Night Will Come” and “Ruins Alive” the bands lavish song writing afforded them a Rotting Christ comparison as the crowd gorged on their sumptuous sonic display. “Quiescent” was majestic, equally hypnotic as the band engaged with the ever increasing throng of people to maximum effect as I made my exit to go buy their shirt and a CD before there was an influx of people doing the same as I suspected there would be.
Inferno has become a showcase of investigating new talent and it is this angle the shooter and I find really exciting which isn’t to detract from the major players that graced the Inferno stages, far from it as Poland’s death metal juggernauts Vader were due on the main stage, so with bagged Shores Of Null merch and having my wallet mugged at the bar, drinks were obtained before taking position for Vader. The band was a seething melt pot of battering death metal that only Vader can do. Peter was in fine form and alongside a now stable line up of about five years the band was detonating from start to finish but had a shorter set than planned as they were late on. Arguably Vader has been the most potent and influential force in Polish death metal history and for me personally they have been at the heart of why I love death metal so much. The drumming was gigantic on all the songs but the explosive snare on “Carnal” was so savage it sliced into the audience with surgical precision. “The Dark Age” (the first song I ever heard by Vader and I never tire of hearing it) was equally destructive as Peter’s early thrash influences can be heard here but was bolstered by the huge sound afforded it. Keeping his chat brief Peter announced “Reborn In Flames” as “Reborn in the fucking Flames” then said “join us” which we all did, though I did expect some sort of pit action in the increasingly packed crowd, but none materialised which I thought was weird to be honest. As their shortened set approached its finale “Helleluyah!!! (God Is Dead)” was completely devastating as I took this tune as my cue to vacate and head downstairs to catch Scarred which I was very glad I did as it turned out.
Scarred, from Luxembourg, were the perfect death metal dessert after Vader, their brand of upbeat groove infested deathliness was overwhelmingly addictive as they opened with “Idiosyncrasy”. The bands total control of the stage and audience were exemplary as they led a charge into the territory of laying down riffing landmines on “Outcast” and “Gaia”. Their unison head banging and stage choreography was refreshing as they hooked the audience like opiate narcotics on “Mosaic” and “Low”. Slaying the crowd Scarred were infectious and was one of the few bands I watched an entire set as they left their mark on closing tune “Psychogenesis”. It’s not often I see a band live and think “wow, they were brilliant” but Scarred were so I dashed (read limped quickly) to buy their stuff but alas they had no shirts in my size (my sister got one of the few that were left), so settled for a CD which I listened to almost immediately when I got back after the festival weekend as they were that good. Breathtaking performance and stratospheric things should await this new band.
After being sonically disfigured by Scarred I expected black metal colossus Marduk to disintegrate the band I had just watched but they didn’t. The war machine that is Marduk is a tried and tested formula and are arguably the standard bearers for the genre overall. Performance wise this was workmanlike but lacked the incendiary power I expected. I also predicted, erroneously as it turns out, a magnificent stage show to go along with their barbarity that began with “Frontschwein” after a lengthy intro piece. Quickly gathering momentum “The Blond Beast” thundered from the speakers as did “Slay The Nazarene” which was preceded by an intro piece. The sound was perfect for the Swedes every blasting note and hyper blazing lead break was sharply focused within the mix. As their set inexorably pushed towards its close I was mindful that Cattle Decapitation was due on next and I expected the John Dee stage to be completely rammed, so I decamped from Marduk in the middle of “Womb Of Perishableness” to get a decent spot for the bovine brutalisers.
My expectations that the room for Cattle Decapitation would be packed proved to be correct. With the room changing state from liquid to solid in terms of people crushing together I was stood on the barrier for the bands onslaught of technical death metal bludgeoning which was blistering from start to finish. Travis manipulated the audience completely and looked like he had ADHD such was his constant movement, which probably annoyed the photographers somewhat as he never stood still for a second. Completely in tune with us the band opened with a double salvo from their latest beast of an album ‘The Anthropocene Extinction’. “Manufactured Extinct” and “The Prophets Of Loss” lead that charge which was probably one of the most vicious and energising sets I’ve seen from a band in a long time. Being crushed near the front meant writing very little unless I wanted to be impaled on my own pen; you probably could make a song out of that scenario I guess. There was very little slackening in speed as “Not Suitable For Life” and “Forced Gender Reassignment” bombarded the ever increasing solidifying viewer numbers. The US band was nothing short of sonic napalm on a crowd that was scorched and charred by their incandescent show as I was forced to retreat from the barrier if I still wanted to continue breathing.
It is fair to say that main stage headliners Mysticum were a hotly anticipated band as the stage was covered by a curtain whilst it was set up. As the hall swelled in numbers it was plain that many people had only just crawled out of the woodwork such was the exponential increase in numbers. 20 years ago I saw Mysticum play the iconic Bradford Rio in support of Marduk and Gehenna and that show proved to be a memorable if disturbing one and tonight’s show was no different, modernised hugely for a newer audience many of who probably weren’t alive when I saw the band two decades ago. As the curtain was removed three massive plinths were revealed with a band member on each and retinal burning white lights like a supernova blazing forth from the back. With a wall of video screens at the back the silhouetted trio contrasted with the imagery like three ghouls gazing out onto the minions below them. I did expect the band to descend but closer inspection that would have meant abseiling down the plinths. The bands electronic and industrial styled offensive was harsh, possessing a scathing vocal delivery from two of the guys. As the showering of imagery over stimulated the eyes it was difficult to decide whether to watch that or the band who were rather fixed as you’d expect. The imagery was excellent offering a monochromatic post-apocalyptic feel throughout the set that left the viewing throng in a state of slave like awe. Having completely failed to recognised any songs from their set apart from “Far” the bands sterile but completely appropriate and engaging auditory offensive sent shivers down the spine and if I’m honest they were significantly better than I expected and left me with a very satisfied feeling of witnessing a very special show indeed as day two ended more or less perfectly.
Words: MARTIN HARRIS
Photos: ANDY POUNTNEY