For years, the Inferno Metal Festival has brought metalheads from all over the world together to celebrate our love for metal. As a true haven, the historic heart of black metal, Oslo, hosts Norway’s largest metal festival. This makes it the perfect place to enjoy bands such as Urgehal, Djevel, Odium, Mork, and Emperor. But it’s not just the heart of the black metal fan that races here: the organizers behind Inferno also book death, industrial, doom, and thrash metal bands, and even progressive acts. There’s something for everyone!
On this third day, the organizers of Inferno have something special in store for us: a bus tour of the places that mark the beginning of Norwegian black metal. The tour guide? None other than Anders Odden (Cadaver, Celtic Frost, Satyricon, Order), one of the pioneers in the early years. He formed his first black metal band, Slaught, back in 1986, and in 1990 he released the first Norwegian death metal album with Cadaver. Since 2014, Megadeth drummer Dirk Verbeuren has been playing with Cadaver, and we can expect a new album from them this year.
After a brief introduction, Anders tells us that he heard an interview with Mayhem on the radio in 1986. This was his first introduction to the infamous band. Mayhem played Pure Fucking Armageddon but took over the entire radio show and played music until 4 am. Anders was so impressed that he tried to look up Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous) in the phone book. Fortunately, it was a surname that wasn’t very common, so he quickly found the right phone number and they talked for three hours. Euronymous sent two tapes to Anders, including the demo Pure Fucking Armageddon and the recording of Mayhem‘s first live performance in a youth club. There were also covers, which prompted Anders to tell us how Celtic Frost was his first introduction to metal (the gloomy sound of Danse Macabre). He was also the guitarist during Celtic Frost‘s comeback tour in 2006. It became clear that everyone was in their own bubble at the time, but also inspired by each other’s music at the same time. Because in the ’80s there was no distinction between genres, there was only one metal scene. The exchange of cassette tapes was very important in this, and according to Anders, Euronymous played a big role in this.
Then we get to hear a scoop through the speakers of the tour bus. During the pandemic, Anders invited Kjetil Manheim and Necrobutcher of Mayhem to practice old songs once a week. The music on Mayhem’s demo tapes is hardly audible anymore after copy after copy. After forty rehearsals, it started to sound like it used to. In 2021, there are finally good recordings that will be released under the name 1405 Mayhem (Mayhem‘s address was Box 75, 1405 Langhus). And how fantastic they sound!
Our first stop is at the Holmenkollen Chapel, which was set on fire by Varg Vikernes, Faust, and Euronymous on August 23, 1992. Three years later, the church was rebuilt, and today it offers a photogenic location for “blackpackers.” Then we travel to the place where Euronymous was murdered by Varg Vikernes. For the outside world, this murder was the beginning of an era, but for the men themselves, it meant the end (they were working on a new album). And although this gruesome crime happened thirty years ago, it remains difficult for Anders because he was so close friends with Euronymous. Anders tells outside the gate of Euronymous’ apartment that he had left a message on Euronymous’ answering machine on the fateful day, and for that reason, he was also one of the people questioned by the police. Personally, I also have some difficulty with this kind of disaster tourism. Why take a group of tourists to the place where your good friend was murdered?
While enjoying Darkthrone‘s In The Shadow Of The Horns, we are on our way to Neseblod Records, formerly known as Helvete. Euronymous’ record store was the epicenter of Norwegian black metal. Once we have gathered in the world-famous basement, Anders tells us that Euronymous was a “bonafide communist”. He channeled 90 percent of the music’s proceeds to the artist. He also had a monthly food budget of only 200 Norwegian kroner. For 2 kroner, he bought noodles, and for 5 kroner, he bought a loaf of bread every week. The bread toppings cost about 20 kroner. What was left of the budget, Euronymous liked to spend on a bottle of Coca Cola (contrary to what the movie Lords of Chaos made believe, Euronymous never drank or smoked) and at the McDonald’s in Oslo. It’s remarkable for someone who held communist beliefs. According to Anders, Euronymous was an inspiring leader who could speak about everything with immense passion. Anders also takes a moment to remember Pelle Ohlin’s (Dead) death anniversary in this iconic basement. It’s exactly 31 years ago today that the Mayhem singer committed suicide.
On to our last excursion before we get ready for Inferno! The National Library has dedicated a brand new exhibition to Norwegian black metal, undoubtedly cultural heritage. As part of the permanent collection, the LP A Blaze in the Northern Sky by Darkthrone from 1992 is also on display, which is so cool to see framed here! The exhibition, titled “Bad Vibes – Sonic Emotions in Norwegian Black Metal”, takes the visitor back to the origins, themes, and controversies of the genre. I like how it goes beyond just the music and also pays attention to the art and culture of the black metal scene. Some highlights include an original letter from Dead to Metalion of Slayer Magazine, the door of Helvete, the opportunity to listen to early recordings of both Mayhem (De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, of course!) and Enslaved from the Grieghallen studios and to remix them yourself on a mixing board. Additionally, because of the dark atmosphere, the beautiful album covers, and the carefully curated sound bites, I find a visit more than worthwhile. It’s free until September 16th of this year, by the way.
Then it’s time for live music on this sunny Saturday: Sakis Tolis is going to perform his solo album Among the Fires of Hell live for the first time. Yesterday, he expressed how exciting this is for him at the Inferno Music Conference. It immediately becomes apparent to everyone that it’s not his brother Themis behind the drum kit. It’s Fotis Benardo from Nightfall! With great charm, Sakis opens with The Silence, and anticipation grows in the audience when the first notes of My Salvation, the most well-known single, sound. Almost everyone sings along! The Dawn of the New Age makes everyone nod their heads. I notice how good the music sounds live, almost exactly like the album!
Sakis wouldn’t be Sakis if he didn’t warmly thank the audience several times for being there. It can’t be denied that the riffs and compositions seem to resemble those of Rotting Christ (which makes sense), but in my opinion, we should better focus our energy on cherishing Sakis’ passion for making music. Introduced by the message that we are all made of stars, Ad Astra begins. I have to think back to the black metal exhibition in the National Library called “Bad vibes,” because during this performance there are only “good vibes”. People are relaxed and enjoying the music of the most sympathetic Greek. Sakis Tolis certainly deserves top marks!
Immediately after this beautiful live debut, I hurry with some haste to the other room. And afterwards, it turns out that I haven’t noted any remarks about the performance of Vicotnik and company. That’s a good sign. Intensely and captivated, I enjoy the set of Dold Vorde Ens Navn on this early evening. I’ve been looking forward to this, the album Mørkere has been playing on repeat in the Van de Kerkhof household. Dold Vorde Ens Navn is a band, with singer Vicotnik as its centerpiece, born out of friendship and a shared passion for music. That’s how I like my music! It’s truly a supergroup: the men have earned their stripes in bands like Ulver, Satyricon, and Dødheimsgard.
Starting with Er det maneskinn, I’m swaying and headbanging in the midst of the crowd with a silly grin from ear to ear; it’s a peculiar combination of swaying, shuffling, and headbanging hard. The advice for tonight is to not think too much. Let yourself be carried away by leader Vicotnik on an exciting journey to the deepest depths of your soul and the lightness of your existence. The joy of playing of the friendly-looking (bass) guitarists is endearing. So genuine, unaffected, and warm… Their love is truthful, and that makes it even easier to be taken away from the here and now.
Rarely have I experienced such a fiery performance. I’m not ready to call it the highlight of Inferno yet, as Gaerea will play shortly, but the music hits me hard and in a good way. And then those dance moves of Vicotnik; Mick Jagger, pack your bags! He flutters unabashedly and chivalrously in his tight jacket to the blissful music. By the way, they only play Vitnesbyrd from the EP Gjengangere I Hejertets Mørke, and the rest of the setlist is from Mørkere. Definitely not a punishment!
The contemporary black metal with variation as its keyword never bores. Vicotnik delivers the words in an incomparable way, both maniacal and brilliant. The mischievousness of Syke hjerter titillates the senses, and as a listener, you are subsequently kicked down by uncompromising blast beats with Arvesynden. We catch our breath during the quiet moment that the intro of Det falt et lys i men lrke krok offers, and with a lot of fanfare, Victonik announces a “hit” that not only I have apparently been waiting for: Løgnens abstinenser. Please look up this song if you don’t already know it, you won’t regret it. You can always wake me up for this.
You get it, I’m still standing here, enjoying it with that same silly grin from ear to ear. But yeah, then it’s time for the final chords, which are marked by Determinismens paradoks. And that’s not a random choice, because this song has the potential to make us all let loose one last time on a bed of blast beats and riffs that crawl like an earworm. Thank you, Dold Vorde Ens Navn. I will cherish the memory of this performance for a long time.
After a short break, I get ready for Gaerea. After Dold Vorde Ens Navn, the second band of this festival for which I apparently didn’t make any notes purely out of pleasure. I thought arriving half an hour before the start time would give me enough opportunity to get a nice spot at the front of the stage, but no, I am not the only one who has “seen the light”. The venue is already completely full when I arrive, and everyone is waiting in anticipation for the contemporary black metal of these Portuguese musicians. Gaerea is “hot”! As a true fan of the band, I become slightly impatient during the fairly long intro. I feel like I can’t wait a second longer for the first notes of Mantle! I long for that tormented singing and imminent guitar that illustrates the endless dance with death!
The pounding Deluge is also experienced firsthand by the current frontman Guilherme Henriques as he slams the microphone hard against his chest. With a disturbing necessity, the audience is driven completely insane. It is inevitable, but even with these works of art in black metal, mosh pits are now commonplace. It’s actually a shame because, during Salve, I have to fend off aggressively hopping concertgoers. And all the while, I’m doing my best to explore the depths of our most revolting desires with the drum and guitar salvos flying around us along with the gentlemen and lady of Gaerea. Well, that’s what happens when bands (rightfully) get bigger.
A pleasant surprise comes in the form of Absent, from the first album Unsettling Whispers. Fantastic to hear older work live again! Then we also take a trip to Limbo, with which Gaerea has definitively gained its status as my favorite modern black metal band. The lack of stage decoration, unfortunately lost at the airport, does not detract from the experience of the gem Conspiranoia. Urge then follows with ultimate urgency, the need for destruction. As good citizens, we decide to only destroy our neck muscles. It’s insane with what intensity this song is delivered. I get goosebumps from head to toe. It’s wonderful to experience music so deeply felt!
During Mirage, I also don’t know where to look anymore and curse anyone who is still thrashing around like a madman. With a lump in my throat, I try to (falsely) sing along with the beautiful lyrics, but it quickly becomes clear that it’s better to surrender to this sonic sublimation of miserable elegance. This is simply too beautiful for words. Period.
The final piece Laude devours us one last time with its resounding violence. The words “We are Gaerea” hit deep during the culmination of this song. Because no official meaning or explanation has been given for this word, everyone can give it their own connotation. In my case, the emotional value is purely positive: cathartic but also purifying in the moments when I need it. I say thank you again, because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this experience for anything. See you at Bloodshed Fest in Hengelo on April 30th!
Quickly moving on to the headliner of this fantastic festival day: Watain! There was no skimping on the stage decoration… It’s as if they’ve built a temple for ‘Ain’ with their own hands! The first song I hear is Ecstasies in Night Infinite from their latest album The Agony and Ecstasy of Watain. This makes it very easy to switch gears while I’m still floating after Gaerea‘s performance. Frontman Erik Danielsson manages to cling to the audience despite the complete chaos. Legions of the Black Night feels ritualistic and is followed by The Howling, during which Erik asks the South American attendees to show how it’s done, resulting in a swirling moshpit of course. My neck muscles are getting a workout again. Despite the long day, I feel more energized than ever!
Then comes the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the captivating Serimosa. Erik’s vocals hit deep, and that guitar solo is awe-inspiring. Devil’s Blood builds up in tension, not just compositionally, but you also wonder when that chalice full of blood will be thrown into the audience. It’s great to have a perfect view of it all from the balcony! People scream with pleasure or other emotions, it doesn’t matter. Watain is here tonight to play it hard, and the Swedish band does it expertly.
Although the name may suggest otherwise, Malfeiter is fantastic live. It feels like a whole journey! It was the very first Watain song I ever learned, so yes, those nostalgic pleasures immediately resurface. It’s an impressive song when you’re seventeen years old, trust me on that! The last song also comes from the brilliant album Lawless Darkness: Waters of Ain. Speaking of a journey, this one lasts almost fifteen minutes… It never gets boring, and the melodic black metal grips me by the throat. The crescendo hits hard, and that’s not just because of the €10 beers here. I really don’t want this to be the end, but after playing for an hour and a half, Watain is done. Nothing remains but awe after this performance. That’s why I can rightly say about this third festival day: Sakis Tolis, Vicotnik, Guilherme Henriques, and Erik Danielsson came, saw, and conquered.
Date and location
8 april 2023, Oslo