Infernal Festivities
The Inferno Festival
at Rockefeller and John Dee, Oslo, Norway,
April 13th and 14th 2001

by: Chris Flaaten
Friday the 13th -- Good Friday the 13th even -- saw the first ever Inferno Festival kicking off. The festival bragged about every top Norwegian act and said it would be the greatest gathering of extreme metal bands ever. As it turned out, they had only -asked- the great bands to play, no contracts having yet been signed. Still, they wound up with a decent line-up and 22 bands over two days for roughly $2.50 each, which is a bargain. The festival had two stages. Rockefeller, which was the main stage, and John Dee, a smaller stage / pub in the basement of the same building. Throughout the entire festival, things went as on tracks. As soon as a band were done on one stage, another band started playing on the opposite stage. Very professionally run, big props to the organizers there.

Day 1

Khold kicked the arrangement off. Khold have received much praise from the likes of Satyr, who also signed them to his Moonfog label, and there was also a certain buzz going around about them. Can't say I was too impressed, though. Slow, monotonous metal with black vocals was their thing. Even with the great sound they had, I still got dreadfully bored. Some songs I swear consisted of only one riff, and the variations in tempo within songs were virtually non-existent. I later found out that this band is basically a continuation of Tulus and features two of the same members along with the same music. Many seemed to enjoy their performance, though, so I guess they're good at what they do. Just not my thing.

Audiopain were next. Playing quite '80-ish speed metal with semi-brutal vocals, they were just what I needed after Khold. The guitarist/vocalist really knew what he was doing, churning out one hyperspeed riff after another while staring upwards into the mic Lemmy-style. They had decent sound; such metal doesn't require total hi-fi from the PA. They rocked, especially on a song where Apollyon from Cadaver Inc. guested on vocals.

When I got back to the main stage Peccatum had already begun playing. I am not a big fan of this band -- the music is great at times, but the vocals leave much to be desired. This was also my impression of them in the concert setting. Ihriel and Lord PZ just don't have the necessary timing and vocal abilities to pull the theatrical thing off. Add to this an overly dramatic appearance and you have to backstreet cats wauling to Ihsahn's guitars. Towards the end of their gig, Peccatum, thanks mostly to Ihriel, also did manage to wreck Bjork's "Play Dead" to a point of no repair. Disappointing performance, even though the sound was good.

Crest of Darkness followed at John Dee. I found their sophomore album _The Ogress_ [CoC #39] quite decent, mostly due to the keys and female vocals. At Inferno, they had neither and played mostly songs from their latest album. They had a very poor sound and since they lacked the elements that make their music interesting to me, I left after two very noisy songs.

Trail of Tears then seized the main stage. ToT has released two solid albums, but I've never spent much time listening to them, preferring other bands in the same genre and most of all preferring other genres. I might have to rethink this strategy, though, since this seven-piece was magnificent! With professional musicians, glittering vocal performances (unlike the previous band on the main stage) and excellent sound, Trail of Tears was a highlight and also the most positive surprise I had at the Inferno festival.

Bloodthorn had terrible sound when I returned to John Dee. Not being in the mood for a wall of feedback and other noise and not knowing their music, I left quickly. I later heard that the sound got better after a while and that Necrobutcher joined them for a cover of "Deathcrush". Oh well...

Time for Gehenna. I have not acquainted myself properly with their discography, but it wasn't hard to enjoy their intense performance. They had hired a session keyboardist to do the synth parts and I imagine it could have gotten a tad tiresome without them in the background. Big plus to the drummer for pounding the skins so hard; rare to see drummers to that. Highlights were "A Witch Is Born" and "Lord of Flies".

Hades Almighty (Norwegian black metal band previously named just Hades) played at John Dee afterwards, but since I was extremely hungry I opted for a calzone instead of catching them.

Witchery cancelled due to illness at the last minute and thus Zyklon were pushed ahead. Instead of closing John Dee, they were next up at the main stage. Zyklon played well, but were plagued by poor sound. Trym had both sound and technical problems with the drums, it seemed, and the guitars were too blurry to drive the music properly ahead. Daemon is an excellent front figure in the live setting and his vocal abilities are awesome -- but still, I feel he fits better in Limbonic Art, where he has time to put some quality length to his screams.

Enslaved had the honour of closing day one. Their sound was decent, but on the blurry and chaotic side. That's not that big a deal considering their music, though. Enslaved focused on their heavier material, leaving out the more epic things like my favorite "Storre Enn Tid - Tyngre Enn Natt", but fortunately included the monumental "Aeges Draum", which was the highlight for me. They played songs from their entire discography and the audience seemed -quite- pleased. They finished early, though. They obeyed the original schedule, but since they didn't have anyone playing after them I felt they could have played something extra.

Day 2

Entering the venue day two, I heard some modern metal with angry vocals and pictured a big, mean vocalist. To my surprise, Zeenon was three girls and a male drummer. I had decided to go to John Dee early to hopefully get seats, thus ignoring Zeenon's performance.

I never bought Tidfall's _Circular Supremacy_ [CoC #48], thinking I would rather have the originals than copycats. Keyboard driven black metal is always interesting to see live, though, and despite having some problems with the sound they delivered a good performance. They included a taste from their forthcoming album as well -- quite promising. With more identity in their material and a bit more touring experience, Tidfall might become big.

Having been successful in finding good seats at John Dee, I skipped M-Eternal's performance altogether.

Ram-Zet had close to no live experience beforehand, but one couldn't tell from watching them. In fact, Ram-Zet's performance was by far the most professional of the entire festival! The drummer was probably the most impressive, flawlessly playing the complex staccato rhythms that Ram-Zet is all about. Having a female vocalist, a violinist and a talented fellow on the synths, the atmospheric element was also very well kept intact. They used synth effects and sampling in between their songs to weave everything together. Flawless and very impressive, although Ramseth's vocals got tiresome, just like on their debut album _Pure Therapy_ [CoC #50].

Susperia were next on the main stage. I saw them live a few months ago, before they began touring with Dimmu Borgir, and they were already good back then. Susperia's thrashy, death-ish metal does extremely well in the live setting, and when the sound is great enjoyment is inevitable. They played the best and most riffy material from their debut _Predominance_ [reviewed in this issue], and apart from vocalist Athera seeming a little tired, everything was close to perfect.

Burning Rubber was next on John Dee, but were ignored in favor of more calzone.

Hypocrisy was, along with Borknagar, the first band to be confirmed for the festival. However, Peter Tagtgren found it was too much trouble rehearsing for only one gig this year and cancelled. He offered Pain as a substitute, though, and they played. I find Pain quite uninteresting. The tempo and beat was the exact same throughout the gig and they rarely put more than two riffs into a song. Their music was better live than on CD, though, despite Peter singing a bit out of tune. They played five or six songs from _Rebirth_, all sounding exactly the same to me, and a version of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby". Some of the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. I wasn't.

Farout Fishing had a "gig" outside Rockefeller once while people were waiting to get in at the Satyricon/Pantera gig not long ago. Playing angry and very "American" hard rock, they are not among my favourites and were ignored this time around.

Cadaver Inc., formerly named Cadaver, are back. They have a new album, _Discipline_, coming out sometime in April. I was fortunate enough to have heard the album beforehand, unlike the audience. It's usually a big plus to know the material being performed. Cadaver Inc. rocked hard, playing their ultra-hard and brutal death metal. Led by the always smoking and drinking Apollyon, who performed awesome live vocals (possibly due to him putting his cigarettes out in his own forearm for extra effect), Cadaver Inc. won my "being most extreme at Inferno" award, just ahead of Gehenna.

I was curious as to how Red Harvest's music would do live. It did great! The drums were much more noticeable and made the music sound more intense. They focused mostly on their latest album, _Cold Dark Matter_ [CoC #48], and live the walls of sound were even more impressive. The synth on "Last Call" could have been stronger, but all in all the sound was great and the gig left me with a great feeling.

Borknagar was the only band remaining. Guitarist Jens F. Ryland was actually the one, along with some help of course, in charge of making the festival happen. Borknagar opened with "Rivalry of Phantoms" and "Ruins of the Future" from _Quintessence_ [CoC #48]. The sound was decent, but the drums were a complete mess during the first song and the toms were absent throughout the entire gig. New vocalist Vintersorg surprised me greatly -- he fit much better than I thought, and apart from struggling a bit on "The Black Token" from _The Archaic Course_ [CoC #36], he delivered a very solid performance. It's not easy to imitate Simen Hestnaes's wild, ingenious vocal lines. Borknagar played songs from their last three albums and the set was close to perfect, the most obvious flaw being not having included "The Presence Is Ominous", my favorite. They also introduced us to a new song, but I need to hear it a couple more times before I pass judgement on it. The vocals seemed less interesting on it than I'd hoped, though. It was great to finally see this band live, and I look forward to catching them again.

That concluded the first ever Inferno Festival, easily the best metal arrangement in Norway ever. Plans are being made to turn this into an annual event -- may all infernal forces help the people behind the festival make that happen!

(article submitted 13/5/2001)

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