Having been suitably warmed up by the Indie Recordings Label Night, I could not wait for the main festival to get underway. As I’m sure most of you know, Inferno Metal Festival is a four day event that takes place in the Norwegian capital every Easter, bringing together the best that the world of extreme metal has to offer from the biggest names right through to little known bands. However, the festival is more than that, it is a fully immersive experience with the Inferno Music Conference running during the days with workshops and seminars and of course the metal auction. There were drum and guitar clinics (with Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth and Fredrik Åkeson of Opeth respectively), Munch Tours and much more. Once at the venue there was a metal market, a tattoo fair and an art exhibition as well as the usual merch stands, signing sessions etc.
Furthermore, the Inferno community takes over a hotel in downtown Oslo for the duration of the festival, making it their own with posters all over the hotel lobby and stage times etc displayed on the hotels information screens and so on. This year the festival returned to the opulent Clarion Hub having been away for two years while it was renovated.
Thursday began with a large white beer in one of Oslo’s welcoming bars before making my way the awesome Katakomben records – Going there after beer was perhaps not my best plan as I emptied my wallet and gave myself a dilemma of how I was going to get all of the vinyl home!
Having deposited my purchases at the hotel I made my way to the Rockefeller-John Dee complex in good time for the first band. The two stages are in one building with the main Rockefeller venue upstairs and the smaller John Dee stage downstairs (capacities of 1350 and 400 respectively if Wikipedia is to be believed) and the stage times are such that the bands don’t overlap allowing fans to see every minute of every band if they want to, although it should be said that it is wise to miss a few minutes at the end of a set to secure a decent spot for the next band or even to make sure of entry to John Dee once the one out, one in policy is enforced.
Enough rambling, my Inferno 2019 festival began in battering fashion with Norwegian Black Metal courtesy of Svarttjern who wasted no time unleashing their unholy racket on an ever increasing crowd through subtly titled tracks such as ‘All Hail Satan’ and ‘Hymns for the Molested’. This was pulverising right from the opening track until things were brought to a close with ‘Code Human’ and was a fitting start to the festival.
I made my way downstairs for Norwegian thrash outfit Shakma. I have to admit I wasn’t overly familiar with them, but went in with high expectations and was immediately impressed as they opened with ‘Blood Ritual’ from their latest album ‘House of Possession’. There followed a barrage of short, sharp thrash rampages such as ‘Spectres of Death’ and ‘Knife of the Prowler’ before closing the set with ‘House of Possession’. Their raw abrasive sound was everything you’d expect from a fledgling Norwegian thrash band and was not dissimilar to bands such as Nekromantheon and Deathhammer.
Back in the main room The Black Dahlia Murder brought their American Death Metal to Rockefeller on the back of sold out shows around Europe and I was really looking forward to encountering them again. They opened with ‘Widowmaker’ and ‘Jars’ to an inexplicably subdued crowd and from where I was stood it took until half way through the set and ‘What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse’ to really get things going but by the time the set closed with ‘I Will Return’ fists were pumping and the crowd were fully engaged.
Downstairs a capacity crowd squeezed into John Dee for Au-Dessus and their Norwegian debut. Waves of oppressive melancholic melody, interspersed with battering explosive outbursts soon filled the room as the Lithuanians delivered a claustrophobic, crushing, very impressive set. Not an easy listen “at home” but in the live setting, their music suddenly made sense and they held the attention of the crowd for the whole set. I heard people talking positively about them throughout the festival so they definitely made a good impression.
Aura Noir took over the baton in Rockefeller with their Norwegian blackened thrash. Having been around since 1993, I’m sure that most in attendance were familiar with the trio, and it was perhaps over familiarity that was the problem but the set seemed a little lacklustre with no real bite and the crowd response seemed a little apathetic. The band introduced themselves as “the ugliest band in the world’ as the set pressed on (I’m sure there is a lot of competition for that crown!) and things improved slightly but ultimately even a cover of Motörhead’s ‘Heart of Stone’ couldn’t redeem things.
More Norwegian blackened thrash followed in yet another packed out John Dee in the form of Inculter. Having been around since 2015 they have gathered a cult following and there was a lot of anticipation for their set. ‘Fatal Visions’ and ‘Endless Torment’ kick started things as their brand of filthy, raw thrash ripped through the crowd as the temperature reached boiling point and the crowd started spilling out onto the corridor. Shredding guitars and an intense urgency brought to mind the early days of the thrash movement and it is clear that Inculter have the potential to play much bigger stages than this.
There was a real change in mood and pace on the main stage as Witchcraft opened with ‘Deconstruction’, delivering their psychedelic doom to a busy room bathed in red light. Many of those watching seemed to be curious extreme metallers rather than big fans, and it made me smile to overhear a girl telling her friend that she was really looking forward to Witchcraft and asking what time they were on midway through the set! I’m not usually a fan of the doomier end of the musical spectrum but by the time the set was closing with ‘Witchcraft’ and ‘Ghosts House’ I found myself enjoying things.
John Dee had its ‘one out, one in’ policy in place as the room filled beyond capacity to welcome Urfaust to Inferno for their first time. Playing in near darkness, their ambient droning black metal rumbled around the room casting its spell over the rammed crowd who stood mesmerised (except for a few on the barrier who were enthusiastically singing along) as one track led into another working as one piece of music rather than individual tracks.
I have to admit I left a little before the end to get in the queue for the photopit as Rockefeller filled to capacity for Dimmu Borgir. They need no introduction and are perhaps the biggest black metal band going at this point in time (we can debate whether or not that label is still applicable another time).
They took to the stage in full regalia augmented by CO2 jets and all manner of stage paraphernalia with ‘The Unveiling’ and ‘Interdimensional Summit’ but it wasn’t until the trio of ‘The Serpentine Offering’, ‘Gateways’ and ‘Dimmu Borgir’ that the crowd seemed to be completely engaged and were enthusiastically singing along to what was, at that point, a masterclass in modern day symphonic extreme metal. If I’m honest, the momentum then seemed to drop and the set limped by until ‘Progenies of the Great Apocalypse’ picked things up a little. Following this, previous Dimmu Borgir member and life time friend of Shagrath, Tjoldalv was welcomed to the stage and took over the drum kit for ‘Mourning Palace’ closing the set.
I’ll be honest, I’m a big Dimmu Borgir fan and have seen them many times over the years but this just seemed like going through the motions a little. Perhaps I have been spoilt with previous special performances, perhaps it was the “talkers” around me who insisted on shouting their endless conversations to their mates over the music, perhaps my expectations were too high or perhaps I was just tired but this was not the stunning spectacle it should have been. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as I know Dimmu Borgir can be.
All in all, it had been a great opening day to the festival and I had thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I headed back to the hotel ready for sleep and looking forward to day 2.
(Review and photos Andy Pountney)