Fiery Easter Festivities
The fourth Inferno Festival, Rockefeller Oslo, April 8-10 2004
by: Chris Flaaten
It's Easter again, which means a new Inferno Festival. This is the fourth time it's being held, and seeing how it becomes bigger and bigger, I expect it to continue for quite some more years. For me and I know many with me, the Inferno Festival has grown into more than a collection of performing bands -- it's the most important social event in metal circles. Every year there's more and more familiar faces, and actually less and less focus on the gigs. The first year I pretty much saw every band playing; this year I saw roughly a third. The extra day they added last year explains some of this: few are built for standing in a concert hall for hours and hours three days in a row. Another reason this year was a somewhat unspectacular bill, at least in comparison with 2003.

Day 1

DimensionF3H was the first band on my schedule Thursday. I had seen them six months earlier at the Elements of Metal festival in Sandefjord, but since then they had replaced their rhythm section. They appeared much more like a band now, rather than a collection of session musicians, and this led to a better stage dynamic. Their sound was decent, but not as massive as the last time I saw them. The setlist was as expected, with one new song.

I caught a song or two from Khold, who like last time I saw them had great sound but utterly dull music. I took that as my cue to take another pub break and returned to check out Gorgoroth. On the heals of the Poland media scandal and legal troubles for vocalist Ghaal, Rockefeller was packed. Any publicity is good publicity, after all. While they didn't repeat what they did in Poland, there was still plenty of flames, smoke and nails. Their sound was really rotten, but that didn't seem to bother the crowd. For reasons unfathomable to me, most people attending seemed impressed. I guess I'm one of the few who actually needs good songs and good sound to be pleased.

My Dying Bride! At last, after being a fan for over ten years, I would finally see them live. "The Wreckage of My Flesh", one of the darkest songs they've ever made, set the tone. The sound was nearly perfect, except for a lack of bass in the drums. This was fixed quickly though, and when they unleashed "The Raven and the Rose", everything was perfect. Even though MDB are of a more mellow and slower breed than the typical Inferno Festival band, they were received very well by the crowd -- it seems they can appreciate good music too! This band's strength live is undoubtedly vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe, whose theatrical stage acting and flawless vocal performance are worthy of the highest praise. The clean vocals are even more tender than on the albums, and the death/black grunts just ooze wrath and despair. Combine the flawless performance with a great setlist, and you have a perfect gig. "She Is the Dark" and "The Dreadful Hours" were the highlights, followed by the glorious "Cry of Mankind". The latter would have won if only the synth player hadn't screwed up the timing a couple of places. Nothing too serious though, and I knew right there and then that no band could top MDB's performance this year.

Day 2

After staying through only three performances Thursday, there was a lot more I planned on catching Friday. First off, Aeternus. This band impressed me at Inferno 2001 with a massive sound and intense setlist, and they pretty much repeated things this year. Despite not playing that much live, Aeternus are very tight and there were simply no weaknesses in their performance. Big thumbs-up.

Later on they opened the second floor and I managed to score seats for me and my friends at the front of the balcony. "Sitting at an extreme metal festival??", you ask? Yes please! The amount of leg ache you save by sitting is reason enough, but on top of this comes better view, better sound and generally increased comfort. Since I had limited interest in the bands playing downstairs this Friday, I stayed in my seat for most of the evening.

Next up on the main stage was Susperia, who by using the Norwegian national anthem as their intro music had the crowd singing along before they even entered the stage. Cheesy, but it worked. It was at least the fourth time I saw this band, and while they've never blown me away, they do their stuff well and never disappoint either. With yet another album behind them, they finally have a back catalogue from which to build a strong setlist too. The only weak points about Susperia live this time were the vocalist's attention-loving ego and the awful drum sound. Triggering is cheating and sounds fake, so why do it?

I had already seen Zyklon once before. That was after their debut with Daemon as vocalist. They were decent then, but nothing amazing. That has changed now. They unleashed a whirlwind of furious death metal, worthy of their name. The band was tight as glue and had a tremendous sound. Especially Trym impressed tremendously and is definitely worthy of being labelled as one of the best drummers in extreme metal. Zyklon focused mostly on their faster material, and even though they did an awesome job the entire way, I must admit I needed the break when "Hammer Revelation" concluded their setlist.

Enslaved had brought a big canvas and a video projector with them this year, and it really created a unique atmosphere as the entire back wall lit up in Autumn colours and shapes. This was the third time I saw Enslaved, but apart from the neat visuals, I must say they let me down quite a bit. The band was far from tight and especially the drummer did a horrendous job. On top of this, the sound was sorely lacking. When the epic "The Crossing" from the decently recent album _Monumension_ wasn't to be recognized, I could only label this gig as a big disappointment.

I chose to save some taxi money and take the last bus home, missing Àsmegin and Sadus. Two bands I know a little, but neither of which has ever impressed me. From what I've heard, both did amazing jobs.

Day 3

On the final day of the festival I started off with Decapitated on the main stage. This young Polish band has impressed greatly on CD and I was curious to see if they were able to do the same live. I was pleasantly surprised: they did an outstanding job. Their technical blend of death metal was delivered with utmost precision and intensity. Synchronous headbanging and inspired stage performances indicated that they're completely comfortable performing too. No nerves, no flaws, no prisoners taken. Impressive.

I then took a decent break from the smoke-filled concert hall, but returned to see Myrkskog. For me, they "followed" Decapitated and thus seemed a little too small for the shoes they were filling. They played decently, but sadly the poor sound deprived them the chance of really convincing the audience. Without clarity and punch sound-wise, Myrkskog's music was little more than a monotonous blur.

Then, finally, this year's festival was about to end with Mayhem blasting out the final score. I was really looking forward to hearing them live now that they finally had a great album recently behind them. "Whore" opened the show and set the tone, as both Maniac and Blasphemer screamed "she fucking hates you all". Mayhem is all about misanthropy, hate and fury. Complete with lots of pyro effects, staked pig heads and a guest appearance from Attila (on "Pagan Fears", but not "Freezing Moon" sadly), Mayhem did what was expected. But nothing more, really. The drums had too much triggering, there was slight lack of punch in the guitars and the session second guitarist seemed a little unrehearsed. But then again, Mayhem is about chaos, not neat perfection.

Yet another Inferno Festival was over, and again the general impression is highly positive. Over the last four years, the staff has presented over a hundred bands, and there has yet to be an accident or delay. I'm eagerly looking forward to the next hundred. Cheers!

(article submitted 28/4/2004)

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