Saturday 26th March 2016
Awaking on Saturday morning I was feeling distinctly unwell not completely down to my alcohol intake but it certainly contributed to it. With another day of extremity to behold later I decided that wandering about today was going to cause me grief later so I didn’t, leaving the rest of the party I was with to visit the Viking museum which is well worth taking the time out to go and visit according to my shooter as it adds to the experience overall about the festival. Visiting a local pizza place late afternoon was weird as we walked up the spiral staircase to the sound of ghostly voices, courtesy of a couple of kids standing at the top howling which was hilarious at the time. After some food and a beer and discussing the line up today which was predominantly black metal with one exception, it was time to head up to the venue to catch Norwegian act Nordjevel on the John Dee stage. Expecting a low turnout like the other bands first on during previous days was completely wrong as the room was extremely full and meant standing at the back trying to see the band completely annihilate the crowd with slaughtering black metal violence. They were magnificent in all departments, corpse painted so that they look liked they’d been dug up from some archaic cemetery the band was already on stage by the time I’d found a decent spot to watch from which wasn’t easy I can assure you as they played “The Shadows Of A Morbid Hunger”. As I found my spot they went into “Sing For Devastation” which matched their whole approach to their show which was a seething amalgam of virulent riffing, throat slashing vocals and juggernaut drum work. It was evident that Nordjevel was setting the bar extremely high for the days other acts and most didn’t come close to reaching their aural ferocity via tracks like “The Funeral Smell” and ” Denne Tidløse Krigsdom”. Their performance was incendiary using the audience as tinder to ignite their set into and effulgent and incandescent demonstration of how to play vitriolic black metal which closed with “Blood Horns”. Phew what a start to the day!
Sauntering back up stairs to catch compatriots Order on the main stage, this band completely failed to engage with me after Nordjevel even if the band had Satyricon live guitarist (Although he played guitar for Order, I believe he plays bass with Satyricon) Anders Odden and one time Mayhem shouter Messiah. Having a more opaque death metal like approach the band’s sluggishly paced tunes lacked the variety to be doom and the aggression to be death but sat in limbo offering nothing but mediocrity set within a groove metal like template. As the intro finished they played “Torquemada” a mid paced song that owed plenty to Celtic Frost which was unsurprising as later in their set they played “Procreation Of The Wicked”. Stage presence was virtually non-existent as the drummer played more or less the same beat throughout the set. Messiah looked like a dart player wearing a big shirt over his large frame and delivered a harsh vocal style that was at odds with the overall approach of the songs. The lead work was awkward and didn’t sit well within the framework of the songs. Determinedly I stuck out a large chunk of their set before seeking out liquid refreshment and when you read the Mayhem section of my review it was obvious why the band got a slot at the festival.
After Order’s mind numbing performance it was up to Mork to re-establish my enthusiasm which they consummately did. They were also on my hit list of bands I really wanted to see at the festival and didn’t disappoint though I think some would disagree with me in the party I was with. As a three piece initially the band dragged the crowd through a quagmire of churning riff infestation using the bass to pummel the souls watching with a seismic shift in sound courtesy of the drums as “En Sirkel Av Stein” proceeded to choke the crowd. The snare blast was inaudible for most of their set but the band exuded self-belief as “Es Sti Inn I Remmendalen” continued to drag us through a sonic mire. I really liked the sound of this band as the other guitarist joined the band for “Hudbreiderens Revir” as I noted a Hellhammer influence but also the heavier side of Warhammer. By the time their set had reached “Ringdalsfjorden” a noticeable increase in complexity was felt in their songs coupled to the slower dirging aspects that created a wall of sound that built to a crushing crescendo and was exceptionally effective. Interestingly with Nordjevel getting a big crowd these guys had substantially less numbers watching them which was weird as whilst not as good on stage as Nordjevel their songs were packed with power that continued with “I Sluket Av Myra” with a sort of obsidian psychotropic trip that left many bamboozled but I enjoyed as they closed with “Dype Rotter” and I made my way out of the room to get a decent position for the next band on the main stage who I expected to get a sizeable crowd which they did.
Hammering the main stage next was Nifelheim the self parodying blackened thrash act from Sweden who seem to have gained cult status since their self titled release from over two decades ago. The band doesn’t play often as this was only my second time seeing them after witnessing them destroy Party San Open Air in 2006. As the band arrived on stage decked out with a couple inverted crosses, a small coffin and serpentine back drop they looked like they’d been in a car crash with Rob Halfords costume trailer. Decked out in studs, spikes, arm bands etc with more nails than a D.I.Y. store they looked like human porcupines but cool with it. Nifelheim are as subtle as a medieval spiked mace smashed into your nether regions as they tore up the stage with every conceivable metal posing cliché you could imagine with synchro axe moves the moment they started with “Sacrifice To The Lord Of Darkness” that was quickly followed by “Black Evil”. The sound for their show was another matter unfortunately as a lot of the riffing was rendered defunct by the overwhelming drum sound which was great to hear such clarity but made the guitar sound like it was being asphyxiated under them. “Satanic Sacrifice” gets a prize for the worst twin guitar lead of the weekend which I expected and its difficult to decipher whether they did that on purpose or not such is the theatrics of the band. I was very pleased to hear the opening riff to “Sodomizer” from the debut album as the band members ran around on stage pulling various faces with mouths wide open and using their guitars as guns as “Storm Of The Reaper” was aired next. The song was massively Bathory inspired as you’d expect as the guys headbanged in unison momentarily, then posed for a while before they dashed off to another part of the stage and did the headbang, pose, dash… repeat formula. There was little in the way of stage banter with the crowd as preferring to thrust their slimy groins at us instead through various poses as I took my leave after they played “The Final Slaughter” though I wished I’d stayed instead of going downstairs to see the next band on the John Dee stage in retrospect.
Up next was Polish outfit Thaw who for some reason annoyed me the moment they arrived on stage. Decked out in hoodies the band were a cliché of black metal, and continually hid within their hooded jackets, except the hoods kept coming down so they repeatedly had to be pushed back into place. In today’s open minded extreme metal community I would have preferred the band played without hoods and let their music do the talking so to speak. Musically the band approached their sound from a droning point of a view utilising a dissonant style that was hanging by a thread at times to retain fluidity and not fall into crevasse of tar like blackened murk. That lack of cohesion impacted somewhat on the enjoyment of their set even though I could see what they had in mind as a band. I did think the use of violin bow was pointless and offered nothing to their set but despite my misgivings about the band it was also obvious that people did enjoy them, including my shooter who bought their records. Having returned to the UK I did give their studio material a listen via their bandcamp page and there is a genuine quality about their song writing that didn’t quite transfer to live environment for me personally.
After the disappointment of Thaw for me personally it was up to Finnish warriors Moonsorrow to restore my faith which they did immeasurably with their folk inspired blackened anthems. As a pagan like drum beat diffused through the air a gentle clap from the audience could be heard as Moonsorrow opened their set with “Jumalten Aika” the opener from their latest album which hadn’t been released at the time and the vocalist apologised for opening with a song no-one would have heard. The lustrous keyboard mix enabled every facet of their songs to be rendered perfectly as the opening song expanded in a way that only Moonsorrow can. Their opulent compositions are living breathing entities that harness the subtleties of folk like melodies with harsher more pronounced black metal elements that permeated their set continually. The clean vocals throughout the set were magnificent at all times as the band worked their way into “Raunioilla”. The ambience generated by the band was nothing short of astounding as they melted the hearts of the Inferno crowd with their epic song structures as they revealed another new tune called “Suden Tunti. The subtle use of the lights added drama to their performance as occasional passages in darkness were illuminated suddenly for various components of their set to great effect. The flawless transition from one section to another was perfect as “Kuolleiden Maa” came next with a slower permeating double kick carrying the tune forward as blue lighting created an ethereal feel to the tune. As the tune momentarily paused the clean vocal blanket was sumptuous and lathered the crowd before the increase in tempo to a blast phase. Far more aggressive “Taistelu Pohjolasta” was a pulsing blackened beast that dipped its gnarly toes into symphonic territory with volatile speed initially. With people gathering during their set ready for the headliner Moonsorrow were quite possibly the most intelligent and musical satisfying band of the whole festival as I made my way to the smaller stage as I knew for definite that the John Dee stage headliners would have a huge crowd for them.
Hailing from Sweden, Månegarm were a revelation and matched the musical surprise of Scarred a couple of days earlier. The number of people pouring into the room meant it filled enormously quickly. The packed room ended up as a churning cauldron of enthusiastic fans vying to see the band as I doggedly stood my ground as best as I could but inevitably some two metre plus giant stood in front of meaning I was viewing the band under an armpit which was annoying and disconcerting to say the least as they opened with “Blodorn” from the self titled new release from late last year. Bravely starting with an epic borderline eight minute track the singer Erik Grawsiö commanded the audience with veritable ease having them eating out of his hand and chanting ‘hey’ whenever he requested it. The harsh vocal style sat snugly with the clean ones which were a match for the epic strains demonstrated by Moonsorrow earlier. Their stage presence on “Nattsjäl, Drömsjä” was massive as the bouncy tones of the song had me thinking about power metal in an extreme guise such was their overt catchiness not only on this song but throughout the set. The squealing antics of an over enthusiastic fan was a tad irritating and unnecessary as their folk and Viking like tendencies appeared on “Hordes Of Hel”. The tune was packed with charisma as the band dripped class and even though the crowd didn’t seem to favour the harsher vocals at times the faultless display and seamless execution of every aspect of their set was essential to the makeup of the band as a whole. Continuing the anthemic Viking stance “Vedergällningens Tid” was awash with people chanting ‘woah’ throughout as the place seemed to bounce in union at some points. I am a tolerant person generally but it was plain that this day had attracted its fair share of mongrel like morons with the gig etiquette of a baboon as they pushed their way through causing myself to lurch dangerously and nearly fall on the floor as the band launched into “Songs Of War” which was by far my favourite song of their set amongst a set full of outstanding and rousing tunes. As the bands set was rapidly coming to a close “Odin Owns Ye All” followed brilliantly as I squeezed my way out of the venue to catch up with my shooter who was stood waiting in the photographers queue ready for the headliner act which was of course Mayhem or The True Mayhem if you prefer.
On arrival on the left I overheard the security guy explaining the strategy for the photo pass holders of one song then out but could continually take photos of the band for the whole set which inevitably created some tension in the crowd. This was completely due to having the photographers come back to the same queue and really should have been organised better by having them queue in a different place (stage right I’d suggest) affording easy access to the photo pit instead of constantly having to jostle past people much to theirs, mine and others in the crowds annoyance as we watched the band. Not really an anniversary show as such since the release of the “Pure Fucking Armageddon” demo in 1986 this was indeed to be a special show involving members from various eras of the bands infamous history. The darkening of the stage led into a spoken vocal piece of the first part of “A Bloodsword And A Colder Sun (Part I of II)”as a slow drum beat filtered through the PA with bright searching spotlights passing over the crowd before launching rather pedestrian like into “A Bloodsword And A Colder Sun (Part II of II)” with Maniac on vocals. The slow pulsing pace of the tune felt like an intro piece as my gaze wandered away from the band to the rancid stage effects utilising the dismembered carcasses of what I suspect were pigs. There was a rumour that 400kg of bones and I suspect animal body parts were to be included in the set which disgusted me completely and if I’d not been reviewing I’d have walked out. Biased or not I thought Maniac looked like a pantomime villain with his strip of hair in the middle and Batman and Robin like eye makeup as the band went into “Crystallized Pain In Deconstruction” and he stalked the stage as menacingly as he could to decent effect. The first portion of the show was given to Maniac as the band shifted into “To Daimonium” and “View From Nihil”.
As the “Grand Declaration Of War” tunes terminated the next phase of the show followed to honour the landmark release of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” which is held in reverence by virtually all black metal fans as the unholy grail of black metal as Attila replaced Maniac using his skull clad microphone with which he cavorted at every opportunity, as the title track catalysed this next phase of tunes after a spooky intro of various noises and howling. Attila honoured the album brilliantly if a little too theatrically for my liking with torturous vocals and a ghoulish appearance though I did think he looked like Beetlejuice from where I was stood. “Life Eternal” followed and created a hauntingly slower atmosphere that surprised me as to its inclusion over iconic tracks like “Funeral Fog” and “Pagan Fears”; the crowd loved every second of it however. Standing centre stage Attila stood with arms wide receiving the unholy Inferno bestial communion via the work of the other guys which included Necrobutcher and Hellhammer as the other guys mostly recognised as founders of the band even if they didn’t. Attila shook his head during the build up of the tune before the devastating riff rocketed the tempo skywards. Continuing with a tune from “Ordo Ad Chao” “Illuminate Eliminate” and followed uneventfully by “Psywar” they more or less created a pause in proceedings readying the set the next section which began with the intro piece of “Silvester Anfang” and saw Maniac back on stage for “Deathcrush” where he brandished the flesh covered skull of a sheep I think during the bass line and pretended to lick it before throwing it into the crowd. Maniac chatted to the crowd about a special guest for the next tune by inviting the bands original drummer Manheim to pick up the sticks for “Chainsaw Gutsfuck” as he baited the crowd to get them chanting gutsfuck after his bellow of chainsaw. Interestingly the drum kit was so massive it was nigh on impossible to see him or Hellhammer play as another guest was announced in the form of Messiah aka dart player lookalike from Order who sang briefly for Mayhem in 1990 and has a credit on the live album “The Dawn of the Black Hearts” with its infamous cover photo taken by Euronymous after Dead had blown off his own head off with a gun. His contribution was to take us back to 1986 and the demo days by unleashing the dust ridden tones of “Carnage” and of course “Pure Fucking Armageddon” which he did a fine job of as the songs sounded refreshed and revitalised via the cracking PA as whilst Messiah was less animated than Maniac and Attila he delivered the vocals confidently to the seething masses before him. The end of the show was clumsy however as the set abruptly finished and I expected all the retrospective band members to be on stage for a tune or two that didn’t materialise which was a shame and it left a sour taste in the mouth and became a bit of an anti-climax unfortunately.
As ever Inferno 2016 was a four day extravaganza of some of the most extreme and vilest music on the planet and this year didn’t disappoint as witnessed with some truly magnificent moments from a plethora of fantastic bands. 2017 awaits, the saving begins!
Words: MARTIN HARRIS
Photos: ANDY POUNTNEY