It was a bit of a surprise seeing this gig shifted from the much bigger Underworld to The Unicorn up the hill in Camden. Ticket sales do dictate and normally this show would have seen many more attending but with upcoming big spenders like Desertfest and Incineration Fest round the corner I guess people were saving their pennies.

It’s a Norwegian invasion as far as the 3 main bands are concerned but first they have a group from Athens Greece along for the party. Caelestia are completely new to me and as they lined up on stage it was obvious from the backing tape that there is an evident symphonic backbone about them. Essentially the band play melodic death metal with beauty and beast style vocals; Dimitra and Nikos trading off the dulcet, verses low growl tones. ‘Devil’s Game’ gallops out the traps with some sassy dictated spoken parts and it seems to go down well, the early attendees nodding heads along in appreciation. There’s some long flowing guitar leads and the sound is hefty. I am actually surprised to see 6 band members fit on the stage here and there is plenty going on to watch. The powerful sound is augmented by what sounds like sampled violin at one point and backing choral parts at another but the band themselves are busy firing out some progressive twists and turns on closing track Angel On Fire and with the symphonic bravado displayed I couldn’t help thinking the Greeks would be a good match with the UK’s very own Pythia.

It’s been a while since I last caught Madder Mortem but latest album Marrow has been filling the gaps nicely and it is here we start. There’s a big backdrop on stage and the audience are now much keener to move to the front as we are infected by the progressive madness of Liberator. Agnete’s voice is strong and fills the room and the audience starts to bounce along with the singer who as ever on stage seems to be having the time of her life. Bass is nice and thick and the gravity and might of the song powers through us. From a whisper to a scream the vocals hit the rafters and we lose ourselves in songs that never stand still for a second. Otherworldly delights unfold and we are calmed with Until You Return introduced as an old fashioned ballad about missing someone when they are gone. It fair brings a tear to the eyes, that is until it goes mental and the knife comes out and stabs hard in the heart. Watching it with the noir etched touches I couldn’t help thinking it would have been a perfect song played at the bar at the close of an episode of Twin Peaks. There is a fair bit of in between chat from a very jolly singer, there’s one thing she doesn’t like though and that’s religion, cue Thy Will Be Done. A volatile song with plenty of bounce about it this one gets heads banging in a frenzy. New album title track Marrow tears us apart and the gorgeous harmony of Far From Home is another part that has us melting, at odds with it the skewed instrumental parts show a song of contrasts like the unique band themselves. You could have forgotten it is May Day but Agnete hasn’t dedicating Fallow Season in solidarity to all those wronged in the world, the giddy maypole twist hits the spot nicely. The suitably long set culminates with Underdogs leaving us more than a little dizzy and closing thoughts of what a friendly bunch seems an apt way to leave a highly memorable show.

It’s barefoot carnival time and there will be tales of woe but that’s OK as the bonkers crew from Bergen Vulture Industries are here to entertain us and as their track record proves they are very good at doing so. It’s an eclectic and sadly small audience watching the band but nobody is put off their stride and more intimate parties can often be the most fun. We show appreciation by stomping along to songs from latest album Stranger Times and a good few from older times too. It’s deranged and manic, singer Bjørnar a fine compere although he seems like he is looking for something to stand on and tower above us as he normally does, the small stage here not offering the opportunity. Stage props of a drum stick, tambourine and a little bit (maybe a whole lotta) love are gathered instead as the band spark up a Lucifer and the world burns. The spirit of ZZ Top is strong here and we groove away caught in a heady twist. After that we are asked to roar. “It sounds like 500 in here,” shouts the frontman and in response a lone voice yells out “I’m from Yorkshire!” Comedy moment, you really should have been there. We are all smiling like loons spurred on by Strangers with its mariachi like mentalist moments taking us from a London boozer to dusky Mexicana tavern. An accordion comes out and we are versed in audience participation and hrumm along to new single Deeper. It may have only dropped a couple of days ago but it seems we all managed the words just right. The Hound gives the singer the opportunity to get right up close and personal with the audience, staring in people’s faces and encouraging them individually to join in. We didn’t want it to finish but finish it must, luckily last song Blood Don’t Eliogabalus is a long one and with its hooks and carnival of souls vibe naturally descends into Bjørnar leading a conga line around the venue. Honestly who would have thought you could have this much fun whilst keeping your clothes on?

I’m not sure where the hell the Enslaved, Taake, Wardruna fans are all tonight but there seriously should have been many more in attendance as Helheim take us into more serious things. The new album Rignir is, as with pretty much everything they have released, fantastic and standing in front of the band with just a small crowd I felt somewhat overawed and privileged to be witnessing the headliners here. They had the backdrop showing black and white nature and all its harshness and might and frosty majesty was the musical order of the night to accompany it.  Sublime riffs send shivers down the spine to match the cold imagery and the Norse vocals from V’gandr and H’grimnir really sound fantastic, Skaldic croons sweeping off feet.

At times there are huge dense passages of fast rampant blackness rising up and threatening to consume. The sound system here has done a wonderful job of coping with things here tonight even if it does feel like the pub may simply implode from the force of Raunijar. The new stuff sounds as fantastic as anyone could have possibly hoped, the band play songs like Ísuð like they have been doing it for years and when the guitar hook hits at the half way mark it’s absolutely blissful. The psychedelic black morass and harmonies of the number easily make it one of the best songs heard in a long time. Apparently the band have never played Vindarblástr but it certainly seemed that this was another new one they absolutely nailed. Entranced by both music and snow spiralling from the sky on screen this was all out on the senses and the culmination of an incredibly good evening of bands. I’m pretty sure it was Baklengs mot intet they finished with but the song announcements in harsh barked Norse were a little tough to determine and things had got a little hazy by the end. Whatever it was it wrapped things up perfectly!

(Review and Photos Pete Woods)