Inferno Metal Festival in Oslo: Emperor still rules (Wednesday and Thursday)

The Inferno Metal Festival in Oslo has been at the top of my wish list for years. As a black metal fan pur sang, it seems to have a special charm for me to experience these kinds of concerts in Norway. Besides, the city of Oslo has a lot to offer as a music, nature and art lover: impressive museums, beautiful forests, the Oslofjord where you can cruise, a stave church from the thirteenth century and of course the world-famous black metal basement of Euronymous’ former record store Helvete. The lineup of this twentieth edition became the deciding factor for me: 2023 will be the year I will undertake this black metal pilgrimage as big favorites such as Gaerea, Watain, Sakis Tolis, Dold Vorde Ens Naven, Dark Funeral, Urgehal, Emperor and Abbath grace the bill. But make no mistake, it is not purely black metal that is programmed. No, change is food for thought so the organisation behind Inferno also books death, industrial, doom and thrash metal bands and even progressive acts. So there is something special for every metalhead!

It is Wednesday afternoon when I make my way to Schiphol Airport and I download Inferno’s specially curated playlist so that the preliminary fun during the flight can continue undisturbed. Finally, it’s time to celebrate Easter in style! At Oslo Gardermoen Airport, there is a frequent train service that will take you to Oslo Central Station in twenty minutes for approximately €20. From there it is only a two-minute walk to the official festival hotel: Clarion Hotel The Hub. This four-star hotel is the largest in Norway and hosts a large number of festival visitors and artists. For example, at the deluxe breakfast buffet, you’ll stand next to Erik Danielsson scooping up your plate and you’ll stand in the elevator with Sakis Tolis. In addition, on Thursday and Friday the Inferno Music Conference, the largest conference on metal in the world, will take place here. More on that later. Tip: book early with the discount code ‘INFERNO’ and get a discount on your stay.

Upon arrival, I am impressed by the atmosphere in the hotel. Inferno posters are everywhere, loud metal music blasts through the speakers and even the hotel staff walks around in Inferno shirts. The unsuspecting hotel guest who has not checked in here especially for Inferno occasionally glances in wonder at the blackened ensemble with some red accents.

Although Inferno officially launches tomorrow, several events have already been organised across the city tonight. These include a special reception for delegates (the bobos of the music industry), the Indie Recordings Label Night with performances by Eradikated and In Vain among others, Imperial Triumphant‘s performance and the Vaterland Club Night with Bizarrekult. Ahead of Inferno, I already had an interview with Roman from Bizarrekult and the latest album Den Tapte Krigen is on the shortlist for my year list. Vaterland is also by far the most ‘metal’ pizza joint you will ever encounter and carries the motto ‘Hail Pizza, Eat Satan’. I discovered this venue by chance last year while on holiday in Oslo with my partner. I was charmed by the logo that depicts a pizza cut like an inverted pentagram. Upstairs is a cosy bar that provides a small stage for gems from the underground, such as BRUIT ≤, Orm and Nadir. So the choice for this Wednesday night is easily made: in the familiar Vaterland, I’m going to enjoy the post-black metal of Season of Mist-signed Bizarrekult.

Starting with I Mørket, For 1000 Ar Siden, Ut I Skogen, Alt Er Bortkastet and Skrik I Tomhet, Roman opts for work from debut album Vi Overlevde. Then it is finally time for more recent work: the ‘sing-along’ Kongen and Midt I Stormen from Den Tapte Kringen. The Norwegians close with a cover of Metallica: King Nothing. This version was released as a single last year and does quite well live, that much is clear from the audience anyway. Heads start nodding en masse at that famous riff. I honestly expected more work from the new album tonight though. And while Roman’s bandmate definitely does a good job as a ‘light’ voice in contrast to his screams, I can’t help but conclude that the lack of female vocals is significant. High-quality or not, it still doesn’t cover the emotional charge that makes the songs hit the spot so beautifully. I hope that at a future gig, Roman’s wife Dina can join the band nevertheless, if only to perform Du Lovet Meg live.

It is Thursday and Oslo awakens under a blanket of snow. Before the Inferno Music Conference kicks off, I decide to take a nice walk through the snow to the Opera House. For fifteen years, this has been a modern architectural masterpiece, like an iceberg rising from the Oslofjord. The roof of the Opera House offers a nice view of the city, the fjord and the new Munch Museum (another architectural masterpiece, leave that to those Scandinavians!). There is not much time to muse as Norwegian singer Harald Fossberg (indeed, we recognise that name from the punk band Turbonegro) opens Inferno’s conference at the hotel late this morning. According to him, Inferno is a great start to the festival season, and God bless our livers! That won’t be a concern with those high beer prices here, but then it is the turn of Colombian death metal band Masacre to talk about their early years with Kjetil Manheim (yes, the one from Mayhem back in the day!). Masacre called its music ultra metal because the band members were so isolated that terms like thrash metal and death metal were as yet unknown. Through Metal Maniac magazine, the Colombians eventually got in touch with Mayhem and thus the exchange of letters accompanied by demo cassette tapes with Euronymous began. Mayhem‘s music sounded much better to Masacre‘s band members; for them, it was the beginning of a new understanding of music. Mayhem, on the other hand, thought Masacre‘s music was raw and unpolished. Manheim immediately felt a connection, and that at such a great distance. It feels special to me to see so much history on one stage. A day later, Masacre provides a churning highlight on Inferno’s John Dee stage. This is THE old-school and somewhat primitive experience that you feel in every single fiber and is one to remember.

My favourite pizza joint has a special matinee programme to celebrate Inferno so, after the conversation between Masacre and Mayhem, I rush to Vaterland for the American black metal of Stormruler. This young act is part of the European tour with Cannibal Corpse, Dark Funeral and Ingested, who are all programmed for Inferno today. So I am in for a treat! Fortunately, I arrive in time to get a nice spot at the front of the stage, while a little later friends of mine are denied access because of the extremely limited capacity of the small venue. You should definitely be there (well) in time to catch a concert here. With a smile from ear to ear, I witness a hugely enthusiastic, mischievous band performing the ‘hit’ Reign Of The Winged Duke with full conviction. Aaarrrggghhh! With Sacred Rites & Black Magic too, the joy of playing splashes off the small stage. They are so happy to be playing in Oslo, says vocalist and guitarist Jason Esberry. Actually, the Americans are just playing a new subgenre within black metal: quest black metal. The packed venue eagerly participates in the musical adventure with all kinds of symphonic elements. And that the men use an intro on a tape during the last song, we take for granted, because the guitar solo is of such an epic nature that we immediately (want to) forget that kitschy acoustic guitar.

I resist the temptation to get a beer at the bar for €10 on this early afternoon and stay right in front of the same stage where Ingested makes its appearance. And I don’t regret it for a moment. How special it is to experience this popular band in such an intimate setting! The slamdeath from the UK hits the spot like crazy. The gentlemen have come to break our bones and crush our skulls but nevertheless, I made it home in one piece. Sluggish, clunky breakdowns make the crowd sway like a wave. I admire the fact that the guys manage to bring about a real wall of death as early as 15:00, and in such a small bar! The song No Half Measures impresses with its scandalised audience: ‘Fuck your gods!’, but Impending Dominance also has the audience eating out of Jason Evans’ hand. Need I add to this how horrifyingly loud it was during Invidious? I think you can imagine that yourself. Those poor neck muscles of mine, and this is only the first afternoon! More than three days to go…

Then it is time for the first ‘official’ part of the programme of Inferno on the main stage Rockefeller (capacity: 1,500 people). After a long queue that included youth covered in corpse paint (that spills nicely into the moshpit!), after black metal and slamdeath, it is time for the simple but purposeful thrash metal of the Norwegians from Nekromantheon. As expected, the song Gringo Death brings a groovy climax, but otherwise, few memorable moments remain.

On to Djevel! A favourite among many attendees. The latest album Naa skrider natten sort made a crushing impression on all of us. Expectations are therefore high. Although the guitar sounds a little too shrill at times, the vocals are really on point. They are very similar to the album! The singer trudges across the stage a bit like the way Gaahl can do. The stage decoration involves nothing more than a few lit candles. The audience looks tame but the music resonates like crazy. Jeez, what a blissful hour of drifting away. Thank you, Djevel! I really enjoyed this set intensely.

Moving on to the smaller venue: the John Dee. Mutilated Tyrant comes here, supported by the US Embassy, to perform their black metal rooted in the Navajo Indian reservation. And yes, of course, they close with the awesome, instrumental Ho’dichiih Dóó’ Sáji’, which always manages to strike a nerve with me. So beautiful, this music is hard to compare with anything else.

And yes, time for this fangirl to unleash at Dark Funeral. Initially, Heljarmadr’s vocals are a little too soft in the mix but as the show progresses, a fine balance is found. The hit machine is running at full speed tonight: it caters to young and old alike, with songs from In The Sign… to Where Shadows Forever Reign and We Are The Apocalypse. The Arrival Of Satan’s Empire submissively arouses horripilation and My Funeral manages to touch deep and heartfelt. When Heljarmadr enters the stage with a wooden cross in his hand, every fan knows what time it is: we are going to molest our necks to the ultimate black metal number Nail Them The Cross. Lick that cross and hop, on to In The Sign Of The Horns! On Unchain My Soul, I get -as always- deeply emotional and it is also the first time the predominantly Norwegian audience creates a moshpit. The Norwegians show themselves rather subdued and it takes a lot to loosen them up. Let The Devil In, in turn, brings an intense and heartfelt welcome to the creature in the shadow of our souls with biting vocals. The song Where Shadows Forever Reign draws the finale of the Swedes’ impressive set and could easily be the tagline for Inferno Metal Festival. Dark Funeral passed this performance with flying colours!

On to Mork, the band around Thomas Eriksen. Surely he is the sweetheart of today’s Norwegian black metal scene. Signed to Peaceville Records, he even counts on the support of Fenriz. And how friendly Thomas comes across ‘in real life’ during the festival, how misanthropic he dominates the stage. By the way, we cannot expect much work from his new album Dypet but nevertheless, he takes us on an unpleasant and chilling journey. Surely this is the maximum of ‘true Norwegian black metal’ you can expect in this day and age. It is so ‘ugly’ that it is beautiful. It’s so chilling that it makes you feel warm. While in Norway…

Onwards to the headliner of this impressive day: the still-ruling Emperor. How special to finally see Ihsahn with Samoth, among others, live, and that in Oslo of all places! I notice that after this long day, it doesn’t take much to get me emotional. With Into The Infinity Of Thoughts as the opening track, I attempt to keep my molars together. This is truly of epic proportions, who doesn’t get a lump in their throat from this? Ihsahn’s vocals sound more than perfect and the audience is so into it. It feels like absolutely everybody has come today to see ‘the mighty Emperor‘ live. Don’t blame them! And yes, Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times, I Am The Black Wizards and Inno A Satana are nothing less than cultural heritage. I thoroughly enjoy myself and the closing Ye Entrancemperium makes me reminisce for a long time during the short walk to the festival hotel. It was an impressive but exceptionally good day. On to day 2 of Inferno!

Date and location

6 april 2023, Oslo


Arash Taheri (website, Facebook, Instagram)