Infernal Gathering
The third Inferno Festival held at Rockefeller, Oslo April 17-19 2003
by: Chris Flaaten
The Inferno Festival has become a tradition now, in its third running. It has also grown bigger and now features an extra day (Maundy Thursday), going from 20 to 30 artists. I'm glad to say the shows started a bit earlier this year, with the first band going on at 5:45pm and the last band finishing at 2:30am. I don't see why they can't trim an additional hour or two, though -- people aren't working during the Easter holidays and catching the last bus is quite a lot cheaper than taking a taxi. I think the bigger bands wouldn't mind a less tired crowd either.

For those who don't know this festival, it's held at Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo, Norway and consists mostly of Scandinavian extreme metal acts. There are two stages: Rockefeller (main stage) and John Dee, located in the basement. When one band is done on one stage, another band enters the other a couple of minutes later. The timing and organization of this festival is actually pretty mindblowing. You can actually set your watch to the start of the bands' intro music! The only slight problem is that John Dee can hold less than half of the festival participants, so you need to be there early if you want to be sure of admission.

Anyhow, on to the gigs!

Day 1

I arrived at the festival site at half past eight, comfortably light-headed and spirited. Grand Alchemist delivered a fresh and interesting album some months ago and I was curious to see if they could communicate their unique music live. The answer is mixed. The sound held them back, but one couldn't complain about their effort. They opened fiercely with "Sensemachine", and while the guitars and especially the synth could have come across more clearly in the mix, it still packed a solid punch. Further on in the set, songs like "A Nailed Visual Effect" and "Incurable Longing" made the lack of synth volume more apparent. While I enjoyed the set, people unfamiliar with the band must have struggled a bit to figure out what exactly was going on. The synth is the glue that binds the complex structures and transitions in their songs together, and because of this their music must have come across as quite fragmented.

The Inferno Festival has had a tendency to pull out the more extreme parts of the participating bands' discography. Entombed followed this trend nicely, playing a nice portion of songs from their first albums and adding some punch and speed into their newer stuff. Entombed has never really been my cup of tea, but I admit their trademark guitar groove works -extremely- well in the live setting, and when both the sound and execution was close to perfect I can't really do anything but give a double thumbs-up.

Perished was next downstairs, and I made sure to be there in good time. This band has been around for a long time, but have remained fairly obscure. This is about to change these days though, with a solid new album entitled _Seid_ just released on Displeased Records -- along with some concert activity. And what activity! Perished's music worked extremely well in the live setting and especially the vocals came across much more intense than on disc. Perished raced through their finest material and ended their show with a cover of "Transylvanian Hunger". With a bit more punch in the guitars, everything would have been perfect.

I strolled back up to the main stage. Vader. These guys have been around forever and it shows. No, they're not old and washed-up, but extremely tight and professional. The sound was perfect, perhaps too perfect actually -- it was almost identical to their album sound. After five or six songs, including "Epitaph" and "The Nomad" from their latest album, I decided to call it an early night considering day 2 would be packed from start to finish. I heard from others that Taake had some sound problems and that day 1 headliners The Kovenant were utterly horrible. Seems like I made a good choice.

Day 2

Sirenia opened the main stage Friday, and me and my friends had scored seats on the gallery! I've been to Rockefeller dozens of times, but this had never happened before. Due to these fortunate circumstances I missed each and every artist on John Dee Friday, but I was only planning on seeing one of them anyway; Runemagick. Anyhow, about Sirenia. Morten Veland left Tristania, where he was one of the most important songwriters, to form Sirenia a few years ago. And to no one's surprise he has stayed within the genre. On their debut released last year, _At Sixes and Sevens_, he used drums and bass programming, and had guest performances for violin, female vocals and choirs, while he and one other member did guitars, different male vocals and synths. With only two real members on the album, I was very curious as to who would show up and how they would execute things. Fortunately, he seems to have recruited a drummer and had brought the French songstress with him to Oslo. As a pleasant surprise, he had also managed to persuade violinist Pete Johansen to make an appearance. That's a total of five musicians. A whole band! Well, not for Sirenia's music -- bass, choirs and synths -still- had to be played back. They kicked off with "Meridian", which also opens up their album. It was absolutely fantastic. One of the better songs in their arsenal, it worked great live and with stunning vocal performances -- especially from Veland himself - it was even more intense and fantastic than I had hoped. Sadly, it was all downhill from there. Sirenia lacks more songs of that calibre, and although they deliver a solid performance the step down in intensity is -very- apparent and made me restless. When they announced their final song, "Sister Nightfall" -- also one of the strongest on their album, I hoped for redemption, but alas it failed to work well live. All in all, certainly an enjoyable performance, but with such an opening my heart was set for more. If they had reversed the track order I'm sure I'd have been much happier.

Ragnarok is a band I've never really cared about. Fairly straightforward black metal like theirs really is a dime a dozen, at least to my ears. Their performance really didn't do anything to alter this perception either. They're decent musicians and made a good performance, but for me the songs melted into each other and left me yawning. A friend of mine, who thought Sirenia was just what I called Ragnarok, was impressed and entertained by Ragnarok, though, so it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Red Harvest has played a -lot- of shows locally and this must be the fourth time I've seen them in a couple of years. I looked very much forward to see them again, though, so that should give you some idea of their concert potential. They did not disappoint. There is little as entrancing as the massive walls of monumental sound Red Harvest conjure up and cast at you. "Omnipotent", "Beyond the End" and especially "Godtech" -- the heaviest number in this dimension -- are absolutely awesome live, at least if the sound is decent. At Inferno this year, it was close to flawless. A very impressive performance.

Enter Opeth. Finally I would see my favorite band perform live. My expectations were high. On acid. Blatantly unfair, actually. Yet Opeth did not disappoint! Even though they started off with "Godhead's Lament", one of my least favorite Opeth songs, this was pure gold from start to finish. The sound was intense and clear and so was Mikael's voice. The band was immensely tight. When the gig escalated into a -monster- rendition of "Advent", flocks of geese ravaged my skin and time froze still. I really need to see these guys more often! The rest of the setlist was as I expected: "Deliverance", "A Fair Judgement", "The Drapery Falls" and finally "Demon of the Fall". Not much of a stage show, but with such diverse and intense music one doesn't want anything to divert one's attention. Not a boring millisecond, I tell you!

After a much needed hour of silence, the kings of kingdom cold graced the stage with their presence. This band doesn't do trivial things like "enter the stage" or "play music". They are above such things. They are Immortal! That sounds cliché, I know, but it's the impression I was left with. Sirenia had earlier today five members on stage, with layer upon layer of playback supporting them. Abbath and Horgh alone still produce twice the music, the metal and the intensity Sirenia could ever hope for! And with such arrogance and professionalism you really -do- feel like you have special viewing privileges to a band greater than what you deserve. It's all in the attitude, of course. How else could these corpse-painted, synchronously headbanging people be taken seriously? Midway through the set, one could hear the following dialogue: [Dorks in the crowd]: "Battles in the North!!" - [Abbath]: "Shut up! Solarfall!" Complete control. That's what describes every aspect of Immortal in a concert setting. From the tight, thrashy material from recent days, which largely dominated the setlist, through songs from _Pure Holocaust_ and the requested "Battles in the North", everything was in Abbath's and Immortal's control. The sound, the songs, the execution, the crowd, the pyrotechnics... the city, gravity, the friggin' continent! The only slight drawback was too much feedback from the guitar, which created audible and slightly annoying resonance in the room. The rest was perfect.

Day 2 was over, and what a day it had been! On top of the magnificent acts, it was actually comfortable to stand and walk about afterwards. I highly recommend seats. They stopped me from seeing Runemagick though, and I heard they played a fantastic gig downstairs. I will get another chance though, and have no regrets trading them for fantastic seats and working legs.

Day 3

I showed up a few minutes before Soilwork were scheduled to play on the main stage. I've enjoyed most of Soilwork's releases and although their latest album, _Figure Number Five_, was less interesting than expected, I was eager to see them live. While most bands performing on Inferno pull out their most intense material, Soilwork chose to concentrate on their two most recent albums. I had wished for older stuff, but as long as they played their material at a -highly- increased speed it worked out just fine. The guitar sound lacked some punch, and because of this their performance never seemed more than average. Vocalist Strid somewhat made up for it with an energetic appearance though; he has grown to be a very successful front figure. When they finally closed with a hyperspeed version of "The Chainheart Machine" from their sophomore album, I was actually quite pleased by having finally seen them live -- even though they have the potential for much greater entertainment.

Cadaver will have a new album out soon and have already started playing live. Normally I prefer getting to know the material -before- I hear it performed on stage, but it's Cadaver live so who's complaining? Well played and with good sound, Cadaver's setlist crashed down upon the audience. Intense, but I enjoyed their performance at Inferno 2001 more -- possibly due to a vocalist in better form and more familiarity with the songs.

I thought Children of Bodom's debut was exciting, but their formula has grown a little bit repetitive, although I actually think they improve on each album. Live, you get a "best of" compilation, so one can't complain about the songs -- yet for some reason this band fails to hold my interest for much more than fifteen minutes. The sound didn't do much to help either, and while they played brilliantly and even had a laser show they didn't convince to give them more than an "OK" label.

I finally headed down to John Dee for the first time Saturday to catch the last band to play there: Madder Mortem. I was curious to see how this band's unique music would do live. I was very pleasantly surprised! Their sound was crystal clear and highly energetic and vocalist Agnete sang better than on their albums. I actually stood frozen in awe for the entire set, with chills creeping up my spine. After mediocre performances the entire Saturday, Madder Mortem really saved the day, and along with Immortal and Opeth they were the highlight of the weekend.

Necrophagia finished up the festival on the main stage. They seemed to have good sound, but this band just oozes tackiness -- especially when following the highly sophisticated artistry of Madder Mortem. I wouldn't let them ruin the high I was on, so I left early.

Thus the third edition of the Inferno Festival is over, and it outdid the earlier ones with a good margin. An extra day, ten more bands and three times the quality. Can they ever outdo this?

(article submitted 30/4/2003)

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