Having cleared the hangover with a big breakfast, I made my annual trip to the infamous Neseblod store. I have written about this in previous years’ reviews so won’t go into detail except to say that Neseblod has a huge place in Norwegian Black Metal history, not least with the infamous ‘Black Metal’ wall in the basement, and is the closest thing that there is to a black metal museum with all sorts of one off pieces off memorabilia hanging on the walls, and rare CDs and vinyl piled high. It would take days (and a second mortgage) to properly go through everything but over the years I have picked up some real gems from here. If you have any interest in black metal and are ever in Oslo, you need to visit this store.
However, before I knew it, it was time to head back to the Kniven bar for the matinée bands. Even before the bands took to the stage, the venue was rammed. Purple Hill Witch got things going and their chilled out doomy rock effortlessly floated around the Kniven basement and heads were soon nodding along appreciatively to tracks such as ‘Ghouls in Leather’ and its Sabbath-esque riffs. Halfway through I retreated to the courtyard outside and listened from there, relaxing with a beer in the glorious Oslo sunshine. This might not be the most obvious setting for a doom band but it worked and I thoroughly enjoyed the set!
Given how busy it was, I was a little bit nervous about getting back into the room for Norwegian thrashers Nekromantheon. These guys have a big underground following and rightly so given my previous abrasive live encounters with them, so I expected the room to be absolutely heaving, and I was not wrong! After a very quick turnaround (a testament to the band’s professionalism) the packed crowd were being punished with ‘Gringo Death’ and ‘Coven of the Minotaur’. The band were energetic on the tiny stage and this was reciprocated by the thrashers at the front, although the tiny confines of the venue and rammed crowd perhaps limited how energetic they could really be but this was another fine example of raw, abrasive Norwegian thrash metal.
Halfway through I had to head off to get to Rockefeller for its first band of the day – on my way out there was a queue of people trying to get into the Kniven venue as it had become a one out, one in situation such was the popularity of Nekromantheon and rightly so!
So I hotfooted it to the nearby Rockefeller centre in readiness for Der Weg Einer Freiheit. I had been looking forward to this set since they were announced several months ago with them being a firm favourite of mine, on permanent rotation. I was not disappointed as they delivered pummelling black metal with majestic melodies through tracks such as ‘Frei’ and ‘Einkehr’. Considering they were the first band of the day, there was a decent crowd in attendance all seemingly lapping up the performance. This for me was one of the sets of the festival – Magnificent!
Whatever was going to follow had a hard job, and I made my way down to John Dee, not really knowing what to expect from Norwegian competition winners Acârash and their occult black-doom. A belt of large calibre rounds was draped over the microphone stand creating a confrontational air as they opened with ‘Cadaver Dei’ and proceeded to beat those who had made their way down with an aggressive display of blacked occult metal. Most of their debut album was played with the set culminating in ‘Cenotaph in Flesh’, sending me to the merch stand.
Finnish nutters Impaled Nazarene stormed the main stage next with their unholy racket for their Inferno debut. Razor sharp riffs ripped through Rockefeller and the band took no prisoners as one depraved track merged into the next. They were clearly popular with a large proportion of the crowd but to be honest it all felt a little bit as though they were going through the motions and it all became a little one dimensional for my taste. This was a shame as I have previously been very impressed with the debauched Finns.
Stavanger provided the next band in the form of Avast and their post-black metal. This is always a broad label but seems fitting for their walls of sonic bludgeoning which were interspersed with tranquil melodic interludes. The crowd lapped it up and so they should as this was a stunning performance – Atmospheric, brutal and hypnotic.
This was the perfect preparation for the next band, Gaahl’s Wyrd. Gaahl surely needs no introduction as a key figure throughout Norwegian Black Metal history having served with several bands and he is no stranger to controversy which has further added to his persona and the room was uncomfortably full in anticipation of what might follow. From the outset, Gaahl menacingly stalked the stage as tracks from his extensive back catalogue were aired including Gorgoroth (‘Wound Upon Wound’ and ‘Exit – Through Carved Stones’), Trelldom (‘Høyt Opp I Dypet’ and ‘Sannhet, Smart og Død’) and God Seed (‘Aldrande Tre’). As far as I can recall there were also two new Gaahl’s Ward tracks (‘From the Spear’ and ‘Ghosts Invited’) which went down well and bode well for the forthcoming album.
More True Norwegian Black Metal followed downstairs from Mork. They don’t reinvent the wheel but while remaining true to their Norwegian Black Metal roots, they manage to stay modern and relevant, and the number of their T-Shirts being worn at the festival is a testament to their popularity. John Dee was packed to the rafters by the time they tore into ‘I Flammens Favn’ and the ferocious barrage did not abate until the set closed with a triumphant ‘Dype Røtter’. They will surely be back soon, and on the main stage.
Taake returned to the Rockefeller main stage delivering a ferocious onslaught of beefy riffs and hooks as Hoest prowled the stage like a demonic maniac, both confronting the crowd in the front rows and engaging with them, holding over the microphone at one point for some guest vocals. The set took a bit of a surprise turn when Vrangsinn was invited on stage to provide vocals (through an antique phone!) for a cover version of “Cold” by The Cure, while Hoest took up the rhythm guitar. While Taake can be relied upon to surprise or bring controversy, it should not be forgotten that they are one of the most relevant and powerful black metal bands of today.
The final trek down to John Dee for the day was for the hugely underrated Cor Scorpii. I first encountered these live on the Blå stage at Inferno 2013 and have been a big fan of their melodic black metal since and so was particularly looking forward to another chance to catch them live, especially to hear some of the material from the new album. What I hadn’t appreciated was the their drummer Ole Nordsve has Cystic Fibrosis. It is a testament to his fortitude that he has managed to achieve all that he has with this debilitating condition, but unfortunately the condition had taken hold to the point that he required a double lung transplant. It appears he is making a good recovery from this and managed to join the band for an emotional rendition of ‘Helvetesfossen’. This kind of news really puts things in perspective and while there is no cure for CF, we wish Ole a speedy recovery from his surgery.
It fell to Death Metal veterans Bloodbath to close the day to a sold out crowd, having last played here in 2015. They wasted no time and before long my personal favourites ‘So You Die’ and ‘Breeding Death’ were causing me neck ache. Nick Holmes was as droll as ever (“This is a power ballad”, “I have to lubricate my throat – It’s drier than a nun’s crotch” and so on) with much of his English humour lost on the inebriated international crowd. The band were far more powerful than the last time I saw them a few months ago and there was a real depth to the music making them one of the unexpected stand out bands of the day for me.
Before long there was more humour … “I want you to shout my name – Shout Nick. It’s gonna turn into a David Lee Roth gig if we carry on like this!”, leading into ‘Cry my Name’ before the set was brought to a close with ‘Eaten’, the first verse of which was performed by a member of the crowd, who I think was Sindre Wathne Johnsen from Norwegian death metal outfit Deception and I have to say, he did a great job!
Prior to the festival, I was a bit apathetic about Bloodbath, but this set reaffirmed my faith in them and has put them straight back onto my playlist. A great finish to another great day.
Review and Photos Andy Pountney