Thursday 13th April
Before the festival began on day two, I paid a visit to the excellent Katakomben records store, and emptied my wallet on a variety of hard to find black metal releases, before heading back to the hotel for the metal auction, where a variety of memorabilia was on offer including an old Enslaved flight case and guitar pedal, Burzum first pressings, Marduk and Mayhem vinyls, T-shirts and so on. I bid on a few items but didn’t go crazy deciding to save my money for a trip to Neseblod records on Saturday instead.
Day two saw the Festival move into the Rockefeller/John Dee complex. The Rockefeller stage is the main room with a floor area and two balconies with a capacity of approximately 1500, and downstairs is the John Dee stage with a capacity of approximately 400 I believe. There is also room for a merch area and a metal market, as well a tattoo fair and art exhibition. It’s fair to say I had to visit the cash point several times during this trip!
Eight bands played across the two stages over the course of the night, with no clashes, allowing the hardened festival goer to catch every minute of music if they wish, but to be honest it often pays to miss a few minutes at the end of the band on the Rockefeller stage to get a spot in John Dee as it can get pretty rammed!
Opening proceedings were Swedish five piece Age of Woe, who describe themselves as “hardcore infused metal” although I’m not sure this paints a full picture of their sound. The set opened with ‘Voices of the Unheard’, the opening track from their most recent release ‘An Ill Wind Blowing’ which was visited several times during the set, as was the ‘InHumanForm’ release. They had gathered a reasonable size crowd for the first band of the day, and they inspired plenty of head banging down the front as the band although ultimately a muddy mix buried some of the nuances and they came across as a little one dimensional.
Returning for their 4th Inferno appearance were Bergen’s Viking metallers Helheim who took to the stage to an intro of drums and horns. Having been going since 1992, with 9 albums under their belts, their pedigree and experience showed, with a sublime mix of blasting and melodies supported by subtle animations on their backdrop, working together to conjure up mental images of barren, icy Nordic landscapes.
Their set passed in a flash and left me wanting more, but there was no time to waste as Panzerfaust were about to lay waste to the John Dee stage. The Canadian’s malevolent brand of black metal had attracted a beyond capacity crowd to the smaller room and people were left struggling to get in as they took to the stage. The vocalist, who was dressed head to toe in black including gloves, began by swinging incense above what appeared to be a makeshift altar. Their performance was not for the faint hearted – It was vicious and completely battering and left me very impressed.
English veterans Venom Inc were up next. I’m sure they need no introduction to anyone at the festival, or to anyone that has read this far into the review, but just in case, they were spawned in 1979 in Newcastle, England and spewed forth some of the most extreme music around at the time, and are even credited with the introduction of the term ‘Black Metal’. More recent times have seen an acrimonious split which has been covered enough elsewhere and doesn’t need dragging up again. This has left us with two versions of the band, and it was Venom Inc who were at Inferno, made up of Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn on guitar, Anthony “Abaddon” Bray on Drums and Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan on vocals and bass guitar. They blasted onto the stage full of energy to the mighty ‘Rip Ride’, and were playful and in a good mood throughout as they tore through classics such as ‘Welcome to Hell’, ‘Poison’, ‘Warhead’ and ‘Witching Hour’ before bringing things to a close with the powerful combination of ‘Black Metal’ and ‘Countess Bathory’. The Rockefeller crowd lapped up every second of this venomous (couldn’t resist!) performance and the one thing that struck me as I was walking back from the photopit was how much everyone was smiling!
Azarath assaulted the John Dee stage next, opening with ‘Supreme Reign of Tiamat’. They took no prisoners as they demolished the stage with their barbaric Polish blackened death metal, pummelling through their set with tracks such as ‘Doombringer’, ‘Whip the Whore’ and ‘Let my Blood Become his Flesh’ culminating in ‘For Satan my Blood’. Special mention should go to Lord Kaos and Witek Ustapiuk who stepped in at the last minute covering vocals and guitars respectively due to changes in the band line up.
Thus far, thrash had not been represented but that was about to change as Destruction delivered a supreme display of their Teutonic brand of thrash, and this was the best I have ever seen them. ‘Under Attack’ got things under way, and by track three ‘Nailed to the Cross’ a good natured pit had opened up. ‘Mad Butcher’ kept the momentum going with Mike Sifringer and Schmier covering the large stage well between them. During a break in proceedings, Schmier asked “Do I get arrested in Norway if I drink beer on stage?” The crowd assured him he was safe, and he followed this by asking “Do I get arrested in Norway if I throw beer into the crowd?”. Of course, he proceeded to do both, much to the crowd’s approval. As closing track ‘Bestial Invasion’ was closing, I hotfooted it downstairs to John Dee for Pillorian, a band that I was really looking forward to.
I had been a huge fan of Agalloch for many years, and was very disappointed when they called it a day recently. This was partly offset by the announcement that two new bands would rise from the ashes, namely Khôrada and Pillorian. John Haughm from Agalloch would be joined by Stephen Parker (Maestus/ex-Arkhum) and Trevor Matthews (Uada/ex-Infernus) to create Pillorian who recently released their debut ‘Obsidian Arc’. Not surprisingly their Inferno set was all taken from this album (although a little bit of me had hoped for an Agalloch cover!), opening with ‘By the Light of the Black Sun’. With subtle lighting, the band delivered a glorious set of dark/black metal, effortlessly combining haunting melodies with frantic blasts. By the time, they reached ‘A Stygian Pyre’, I had given up taking notes, and simply wrote “Awesome!” in my pad, losing myself in the music.
It fell to UK stalwarts Carcass to bring day two to a close. Despite their down to earth demeanour, they are often regarded as pioneers in the extreme metal world, and although their style has evolved over the years their influence can still be heard today on many extreme metal releases. I was looking forward to the opportunity to catch them live again and they certainly didn’t disappoint. As the intro to track three ‘Incarnated Solvent Abuse’ rang out, I found myself with goose bumps. As soon as possible, I headed back into the crowd from the photopit to enjoy the rest of the set with a beer and to bang my head with the rest of the faithful. ‘No Love Lost’ was stunning, and I also really enjoyed ‘Keep on Rotting in the Free World’. During the set, vocalist Jeff Walker apologised if his voice wasn’t on form, explaining that he had just had a biopsy of a lesion on his tongue (fingers crossed nothing sinister is identified). He went on to say that if it turned out to be cancer and he dies, then they might finally sell some albums! He made several dry humour quips throughout the set, but most were lost in translation to the international crowd in attendance. As the set neared its end, they played my personal favourite Carcass track ‘Corporal Jigsore Quandary’ before ‘Heartwork’ and ‘Mount of Execution’ brought things to a close. This was the best I have seen Carcass and will definitely look for another chance to see them live soon.
With my ears ringing and weighed down with merch and vinyls, I headed back to the hotel ready for some much needed sleep in preparation for day three…….
Words and pictures by Andy Pountney