While most people sit around over the Easter weekend eating too much chocolate, a select few head to Oslo for 4 days of the best extreme metal on offer courtesy of the Inferno Festival, and for the 7th consecutive year, this was where I found myself.

For the uninitiated, the festival is held in the Rockefeller/John Dee complex in Oslo with both stages alternating so there are no clashes between the bands, allowing the discerning fan to see every minute of every band if they wish (assuming they time things well and avoid the “one in, one out” policy employed for the smaller John Dee stage).

However, Inferno is far more than just a music festival, it is a fully immersive event for those that choose to indulge. There is a music conference, film showings, a Munch-themed tour, drum and guitar clinics, an art exhibition, beer tastings, , a metal market, a tattoo fair and of course the metal auction. As if this wasn’t enough the festival continues to take over an Oslo hotel and convert it into a haven for metal-heads from around the world with guest DJs and bespoke Inferno decor. Breakfast is even served until midday! Suffice to say, Inferno is a genuine experience and should be on the bucket list of every metal fan.

This year, there were some changes to the timings of the event with it running from Maundy Thursday until Easter Sunday rather than Wednesday to Saturday as it has done in previous years. They have also done away with the club night, replacing it with a fourth night in the Rockefeller/John Dee complex, and have increased the number of main stage bands from four to five each night. This year’s event had pretty much sold out, a testament to the strength of the line up, and I was desperate for things to get underway.

Before we get onto the festival proper, things kicked off on the Wednesday night with a warm up gig courtesy of Indie Recordings at the Hard Rock Cafe, Oslo with a night of Norwegian thrash, specifically Vorbid and Tantara. Before the gig began, I grabbed a burger and a few beers, upstairs in the restaurant and noticed that the sound-check beneath us was causing the floor and tables (and my beer!) to vibrate, much to the horror of the “civilians” trying to enjoy an evening out!

At the allotted hour I made my way downstairs to the gig and found a convivial atmosphere. I grabbed a spot and bought a round of drinks in anticipation of Vorbid and their progressive thrash. I had first encountered them on the new blood stage at the Bloodstock Festival last summer, and had been left a little underwhelmed so was keen to have the opportunity to see them again, but this time in a smaller venue on home soil. Playing in support of their debut album (‘Mind’) that was about to be released, the band were in a good mood and soon developed a rapport with the crowd. Their sound was reminiscent of Toronaga, perhaps with a touch of early Kreator and Sacred Reich thrown in for good measure. The band were only visible as silhouettes in red light for much of the set but tracks such as ‘If There’s Evil (There’s People)’ went down well and their professionalism belay their youth. As the set progressed the shredding guitars took on more prominence within the mix, highlighting the talent within the band.

The atmosphere in the venue was more akin to a party than a gig with people sat and stood around tables drinking and chatting with the band playing at the end of the room, almost as an aside. That’s not a reflection on the band rather the party atmosphere of people who had arrived early for Inferno and were catching up with old friends.

After 45 minutes, the band closed their set having given a good account of themselves and they could certainly have a bright future if they continue to build on this strong foundation.  Label mates Tantara followed shortly after with their slightly more aggressive thrash offering. Having been around since late 2009, they brought a more experienced edge to the stage as they opened with ‘Punish the Punisher and ‘Sum of Forces’, the title track of the yet to be released album. As the set progressed I found myself comparing them with early Exodus, and perhaps nods towards Evile or Onslaught. Midway through the set, older track ‘Mass Murder’ was pulled out of the bag and went down well, although it was surreal watching a thrash band in Hard Rock Cafe, overlooked by memorabilia from bands such as U2, The Rolling Stone and The Who.

‘Trapped in Bodies’ was introduced with the invitation that “moshpits are optional”, which inevitably led to the dedicated few at the front opening up a small pit, bringing the evening to a close, and leaving me heading out into the sub zero temperatures to go back to the hotel in readiness for the opening day of Inferno.

Thursday brought clear blue skies and I was looking forward to Inferno kicking off. Before the doors opened I took the opportunity to visit the Neseblod store again. I have talked about this in previous years’ reviews, but in essence Neseblod is the nearest that there will ever be to a black metal museum with the walls and ceilings covered with demos, test pressing and rare items from the formative years of Norwegian black metal when the building next door was home to the infamous Helvete store. In fact, an essential part of the pilgrimage to this shop is a visit to the basement where even more old memorabilia is stored (piled up on the floor!) and of course the “black metal wall”, which has become a shrine for black metal fans. There is also a vast array of rare vinyls, CDs and tapes for sale for the collectors, which always proves too much of a temptation for me. On the walk back to the hotel I also visited the fantastic Katakomben record store who took what was left in my wallet, and sent me scurrying to a cash point!

Finally the time came to make my way to Rockefeller for the opening band of the festival, Odium. This symphonic Norwegian black metal band are something of an enigma, having only released one album, ‘The Sad Realm of the Stars’ before disbanding with members moving onto other ventures such as Myrskog, Funeral, Zyklon and Emperor. However, they had reunited for what I understand is to be a one off show at this year’s Inferno to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this album. Taking to the stage with two keyboard players, the corpse painted six piece opened with ‘Winterpath’ and ‘Towards the Forest Horizon’, making it apparent that they planned to play the album from start to finish with no frills. They delivered a powerful, faithful rendition and it was stunning to have the opportunity to hear tracks such as ‘Northern Flames’ and ‘Thy Eternal Nightfall’ in the live setting. There was a good crowd who were all enthralled and realised they had witnessed history.

There was however, no time for reminiscing as Canadians Erimha were about to open the John Dee stage in the smaller room downstairs. Over the years, I’ve soaked up a few of their releases and have been impressed but this was the first chance I had had to catch them live so I was looking forward to it. When the band took to the stage, the vocalist was wearing a cloak which seems to be in vogue at the moment. However, this didn’t detract from their powerful outpouring, straddling a fine line between black metal and death metal (in my note book I wrote “technical black metal” but I’m not sure that is even a “thing”?). Occasionally the clean vocals didn’t quite hit the mark, but overall they blew away the cobwebs from the PA in John Dee and 30 minutes seemed criminally short for their powerful set.

Following a successful headline set at the Vulkan Arena as part of the club night at Inferno 2015, Naglfar had been invited back and wasted no time laying waste to a packed crowd in the Rockefeller room. With his bald head and pointy beard, vocalist Kristoffer W. Olivius looked like the incarnation of Beelzebub as he led Naglfar’s charge unloading tracks such as ‘Black God Aftermath’ over the gathered masses coming across as more aggressive than I remembered, which is of course a good thing!

On the back of their second album ‘Kwintessens’, Dutch band Dodecahedron made their Inferno debut and I was looking forward to seeing how their recording would translate into the live arena having been a fan of their work. So, I squeezed myself into an absolutely rammed John Dee room with high hopes. The band took to the stage minus the vocalist for an instrumental opening, but before long the full complement was present and unleashed an intense display of angular black extreme metal crushing all of those who had managed to get into the room.

Shining were added to the bill relatively late on as replacements for Katatonia who sadly had to withdraw, but were more than capable replacements with ten studio albums and countless live shows under their belts. Frequently linked with controversy, there was an air of anticipation in the uncomfortably full room before they took to the stage, but thankfully tonight’s show was all about the music. Niklas prowled the stage, looking like a predator seeking prey, growling, howling and singing as the set got underway with ‘Han som lurar inom’ from the latest album. They went on to visit several of their back catalogue with tracks such as ‘Ohm (Sommar med Siv)’, ‘Framtidsutsikter’ and ‘Låt oss ta allt från varandra’ rubbing shoulders comfortably before the set closed with ‘For the God Below’. It’s fair to say that Shining are an acquired taste, and it seems unthinkable that this is only their second ever visit to Inferno, but they sure made up for lost time.

American black metal is a rising force with one of the current leading proponents being Portland’s UADA and were one of the bands I was most excited about at the festival. The sound of howling wolves and a chiming bell prompted the bands arrival as they took to a stage full of dry ice, with their faces obscured by hoods and veils. The band proceeded to unleash an immense display of flawless black metal, raising the bar for every other band at the festival, that few managed to reach. They are in the UK later this month and I will endeavour to make it to at least one of their shows.

Swedish black metal legends Dark Funeral arrived at Inferno celebrating their 25th anniversary, and on the back of a stunning latest album ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’. The curtains opened revealing a stage adorned with inverted crosses as the musical onslaught began with ‘Unchain my Soul’ and ‘The Arrival of Satan’s Empire’. The band ran through a “greatest hits” set including a brutal version of ‘Open the Gates’ before the main set closed with ‘My Funeral’.

The encore opened with ‘Nail Them to the Cross’ which was another highlight for me before the set close with ‘Atrum Regina’ and ‘Where the Shadows Forever Reign’. However, while I enjoyed the set and the amount of people singing along fervently supported this opinion, I was a little disappointed that this felt more like a standard set that a special anniversary show.

Yet again, John Dee was rammed beyond capacity, this time for Trondheim’s One Tail, One Head and their bloody, Nidrosian black metal. The air was filled with incense before the band took to the stage opening with ‘One Tail, One Head’ and followed with ‘Worlds Open, Worlds Collide’. The crowd were worked up into a frenzy and as the set progressed with tracks such as ‘Rise in Red’ and ‘Firebirds’ (which will be released on a 12” later this year). All too soon, the assault was brought to a close with ‘In the Golden Light’ leaving a bruised and battered crowd.

The final walk up the stairs for the day was for the mighty Obituary, and their first ever performance at Inferno which seems incredible for these legends of the Florida death metal scene. A lot of people were wearing Obituary shirts during the day and it was apparent that Inferno is about more than black metal. Opening with instrumental ‘Redneck Stomp’ seemed to catch a few off guard and definitely split opinion with a lot of chuntering around me, although this has been the set opener for quite a while now so shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Whatever people’s opinions were of this track as a set opener, its rumbling groove pounded its way around the Rockefeller hall getting heads banging and laying a solid foundation for the ensuing sonic pummelling.

The crowd made no secret of the fact that they much preferred tracks from the earlier releases and classics such as ‘Chopped in half/Turned inside Out’, ‘Dying’, ‘Don’t Care’ and of course the inevitable set closer ‘Slowly We Rot’ got the biggest responses of the night. My personal highlight however was ‘Find the Arise’ which saw me transported back to the early nineties and had me grinning from ear to ear while singing along.

As day one drew to a close I headed back to the hotel freezing in a fresh -6 degrees (colder with wind chill), but satisfied after witnessing some truly special performances and looking forward to day two.

Part 2  

Review and Photos Andy Pountney