Saturday 15th April
The final day of any festival is always bitter sweet, with a whole day’s festivities still to look forward to, but also knowing that it is almost over. Thankfully day four at Inferno was another strong line up to keep me happy. I was particularly interested in the line-up on the smaller John Dee stage, with four excellent bands from Iceland on the bill.
Before the festival started, I made my annual visit to the Neseblod record store, located next door to the original infamous Helvete. Of course, that original store is now long gone, but Neseblod still gives access to Helvete’s old basement which is the location of the iconic “Black Metal Wall”, as well as other old pieces of memorabilia and it is an absolute must to visit for any fan of old Norwegian black metal. The store itself is as close to a black metal museum as you will find with test and first pressings and demos of some of the most important releases in the genre and signed rare memorabilia all on display. The record racks are full beyond capacity and to look through everything would take many hours (and would require a second mortgage) so I had targeted specific items that I was after, and whilst I didn’t manage to get everything, I was very pleased to pick up a few first pressing early black metal releases for my collection.
And so to the festival, looking forward to what promised to be an outstanding day. Opening proceedings were purveyors of finest Icelandic black metal, Auðn. I have been a fan for a few years but had never had the chance to catch them live, so I was really keen to catch this show, and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening bars, it was clear that this was going to be special as bleak and barren outbursts juxtaposed against haunting, melancholic atmospheric passages mesmerising those who had arrived early enough to catch their set.
I first encountered Slagmaur at Inferno in 2015 in the John Dee stage I came to realise that their live shows are as much about the experience as the music, and the whole stage show and persona were key, although their music was also impressive. Prior to this year’s show, there was a buzz of excitement as there were plenty of rumours about what might happen when the self proclaimed ‘scariest and darkest black metal band ever set foot on planet earth’ were unleashed once more.
As the curtains went back, there was a large inverted cross hanging over the stage and two hooded people stood on platforms on either side of the stage with nooses around their necks. As the set progressed the music almost took a back seat, taking on the role of a film score to a horror movie being acted out on the stage. An executioner was brought to the stage early on and proceeded to pull the platforms from underneath one victim then the other, and after a brief period of writhing and spasming, their limp lifeless bodies were left hanging at either side of the stage. The climax came towards the end of the set, when a witch was tied to the inverted cross and then set alight as the cross was hoisted back into position. During all of this, then band members prowled around the stage, looking genuinely psychotic and to be gaining pleasure from the on stage executions. During all of this, you could feel tension in the air amongst the audience, and some appeared to be genuinely disturbed by it all and sought refuge elsewhere in the building. Obviously it was all acted out with stuntmen, but it was damn realistic and I’m sure will be talked about for many years to come.
Arriving at Inferno on the back of their recent release ‘Unortheta’, Zhrine were the second Icelandic band of the night and drew a large crowd into the John Dee room, and were a complete contrast to Slagmaur with subdued lighting throughout, content to let the music do the talking. Their harsh heavier sections worked in perfect symbiosis with the sublime melodies conjuring up mental images of desolate wind battered landscapes. I found myself becoming completely mesmerised as the music washed over me.
I have seen Ireland’s Primordial many times over the years and have never been disappointed, and so I was looking forward to their set. A haunting Celtic intro heralded their arrival before they opened with ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’. The crowd were relatively small but those that were present were completely transfixed. After ‘Babel’s Tower’, A A Nemtheanga quoted “What do you mean I couldn’t be the president of the United Stated of America? It’s still we the people right?” He went on to say “We are on the edge of history” as a poignant and perhaps prophetic introduction to ‘As Rome Burns’. Bringing things to a close with ‘Bloodied yet Unbowed’ (dedicated to touring around the world and all the places they have played) and ‘Empire Falls’ had the audience captivated and this short blast of Celtic metal had been thoroughly well received.
Kontinuum were the next Icelandic band of the day, and were perhaps outliers on the bill, quipping “We are the pop band of the festival”! Opening with ‘Moonshine’ from their 2012 debut album’Earth Blood Magic’ gained them good momentum as the Inferno crowd adjusted their ears to Kontinuum’s less extreme sound. Part rock band, part dark wave, part atmospheric, their music was hard to pigeonhole, but at times their synth heavy guitar sound was not dissimilar to Fields of the Nephilim. The momentum was kept going with two tracks from the latest album namely ‘Breathe’ and the title track ‘Kyrr’. The crowd was a little smaller than it had been earlier in the day, but those that had attended were given a treat, and no doubt a welcome change of pace before returning back upstairs for more sonic battery.
Austrian diabolical death/black metal syndicate Belphegor stormed the stage with ‘Sanctus Diaboli Confidimus’ and found their places amongst an entire butchers shop worth of bones and similar stage props including the obligatory gas mask. The onslaught was relentless, following on with ‘Bleeding Salvation’ and ‘Gasmask Terror’ and it was clear they were on form and enjoying themselves on stage. Highlights included ‘Lucifer Incestus’, ‘Conjuring the Dead’ and of course ‘Bondage Goat Zombie’. Their performance was outstanding and confirmed their place amongst the higher echelons of extreme metal.
Another band rapidly climbing the ladder are Svartidauði, the final Icelandic band for the day. I believe their name translates to “Black Death” is an apt moniker for their crushing sound. Taking to the stage in near darkness, with subtle red backlighting, the band were only visible as silhouettes in the shadows, which simply added to the intensity of their performance. They created an impenetrable wall of dense black metal which was completely absorbing and it became difficult to take my eyes off the silhouettes making this unholy noise. John Dee was rammed way beyond capacity and it was apparent to all present that Svartidauði will not be playing stages of this size for much longer.
During the course of the festival there had been an art exhibition underway both at the hotel, and in the venue. Of course, this was metal related and two artists who particularly caught my eye were Dan Seagrave who is responsible for the stunning cover to Morbid Angel’s ‘Altars of Madness’ amongst many others and Necrolord aka Kristian Wåhlin, whose portfolio is immense including Bathory, Ensiferum, Therion and Witchery to name but a few. However, it was his work with Emperor (‘In the Nightside Eclipse’), Dissection (Entire discography) and Dark Funeral (‘The Secret of there Black Arts’, ‘In the Sign’ EP and the stunning cover of last years ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’ release), as well as Blut Aus Nord’s ‘Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry’ artwork which really caught my eye and found me buying a few prints before the arrival of the Sunday Night Headliner.
I’m sure it unnecessary to say that Abbath Doom Occulta spent many years as the front man of influential Bergen black metal outfit Immortal, and that following an acrimonious split he went on to form Abbath with King ov Hell, releasing the self titled debut album in January 2016. Over the past year, they have played numerous live high profile shows, often to rapturous receptions although occasionally negative comments have been made. Personally I have always enjoyed Immortal and Abbath live and was thoroughly looking forward to a fitting climax to the festival. We were kept out of the photo pit while Abbath did his obligatory fire breathing before kicking off with ‘To War’ from the “Abbath’ Album, followed by the stunning ‘Nebular Raven’s Winter’ from 1997’s ‘Blizzard Beasts’ opus. ‘Warriors’ and ‘Ashes of the Damned’ flew by and all seemed to be going well. The sound was good, the crowd and band had good energy and Abbath seemed in a playful mood engaging with the crowd in his usual tongue-in-cheek manner, and then he slammed down his guitar and stormed off stage. There was a brief pause, and then we were given an impromptu drum solo while a new guitar was brought onto the stage and placed in readiness. The drummer left the stage soon after and that was that…….The crowd became restless, not sure whether this was somehow part of the show or whether there were extended technical problems. Abbath’s close friend Tore Bratseth was seen heading into the backstage area and a few minutes later appeared on the stage, asking the crowd not to shoot the messenger. He announced that the show was over and that we should all look on social media in a couple of days for a statement from the band. To date there has been no such statement and the internet is rife with speculation. This of course left a lot of disappointed fans, many of who had travelled from overseas, including one who had travelled from Colombia, but it did not ruin what had been an outstanding festival.
I understand that next year the format will change slightly so that it will run from Thursday to Sunday, and all four nights will be at the Rockefeller/John Dee complex and that the main stage will extend to have five bands per night instead of four.
This really is the mecca for extreme metal, and for me is one of the best festival out there. See you at 2018!
Music and Pictures Andy Pountney