For years, the Inferno Metal Festival has brought together metalheads from all over the world to celebrate our love of metal. As a true Valhalla, the historic heart of black metal, Oslo, hosts Norway’s biggest metal festival. This makes it THE place to enjoy bands such as Urgehal, Djevel, Odium, Mork and Emperor. But not only the black metal fan’s heart beats faster here: the organisation behind Inferno also books death, industrial, doom and thrash metal bands and even progressive acts. There is something to please everyone!
It is Friday morning and the sun is shining. Ideal weather to go for a sail through the Oslofjord! The Oslo Pass (you’re a tourist or not) not only lets you easily use all public transport in the city but also gives you access to almost every museum. You can additionally use it to take a special museum boat to the Norwegian Folk Museum. This large open-air museum features the beautiful stave church of Gol from the early 13th century. Turns out I am not the only Inferno visitor who thinks this is a good idea: Sam, a metal-inspired beer brewer who came all the way from Portland, also set his alarm clock extra early for it. After all, seeing the stave church will make your trip to Norway more complete!
Meanwhile, the Inferno Music Conference is in full swing and I quickly sail back in order not to miss a moment of the conversation between Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ) and Frank Godla (Metal Injection). Sakis has an impressive track record with over 2,000 gigs and 250 songs to his name now. He tells how he stole money from his mother when he was 12 years old to buy a guitar. How he never did his work for the money but for the passion. How he managed to develop his own sound without a plan. How he can play guitar for up to ten hours a day and feel happy. The men also reflect on Sakis’ first solo work that he self-released last year, Among The Fires Of Hell. Tomorrow he will perform this live for the very first time, on the main stage of Inferno. Something he considers very exciting. Asked why it became a solo album and not a Rotting Christ album, Sakis responds that he had a lot of time to write music during the pandemic. He wanted to experience what it is like to create an album without labels, contracts and deadlines. Furthermore, he wishes for nothing more than that he can make people happy with his music and that they have a good time during his shows. Finally, Sakis reflects on the power of metal to stay true to yourself. In this new world with rapid developments in artificial intelligence, he believes it is all the more important to remain authentic as a human being. I think the message that metal makes people more human is a wonderful closing!
On Friday afternoon, two researchers also take the stage: Christopher Thompson of Malmö Universitetet and Didier Goossens of CEMPER and Erasmus University Rotterdam. Their aptly titled project Gripped by the Soul of Spiritual Awakening – named after an album by fellow Dutchmen Fluisteraars – is situated close to home: black metal from the Dutch-speaking Low Countries. As a counterweight to the many studies about (the second wave of) Norwegian black metal, they wish to generate new knowledge about black metal’s local diversity. Through conversations with bands like Freja, Rituals of the Dead Hand and Kludde, Christopher and Didier study how black metal bands from Flanders and the Netherlands weave local folklore, heritage practices and their associated identity discussions into their music – and how they thereby contribute to such discussions.
Photo by Morgwen Coste
“Black metal does not exist in a vacuüm,” says Didier in the Q&A with Frank Kimenai (Hive Mind). “From our various interviews, we’ve learned that local history and its romanticization live on in their music – without uncritically copying it. For example, a band like Rituals of the Dead Hand is well aware of the Satanic panic about buck riders in the 18th century, and they actively make this into their own, Limburg-centred story. However, (historical) policy decisions in Flanders and the Netherlands also play their part. They can help to explain why artists feel closer to their city or province – which is noticeable in their music. As such, black metal is not just a niche or underground: how bands work local stories and heritage into their music, can serve as a litmus test for how perspectives on supposedly ‘the’ Flemish or Dutch identity inherently differ. They simply cannot be caught in a single definition.”
It’s amazing that there is ample attention to this topic at the world’s biggest metal conference! And then it’s time to move on to the live music, as Harakiri For The Sky kicks off the festival day on the main stage. I recently saw the Austrians give a formidable performance in Leiden during their tour with Schammasch and Groza so I know this is going to be another full enjoyment. The songs from their latest album, Mære, do a great job live. Sing For The Damage We’ve Done and I, Pallbearer manage to touch deeply through the interesting interplay between the light and the dark. With his troubled soul under his arm, vocalist J.J. trudges around the stage like a man possessed. It seems as if he has pent up an awful lot of anger, discontent and frustration to release these emotions together with us. The music thrills many and that deep catharsis is a nice bonus of attending this performance.
From post-black metal to symphonic black metal: to a loud cheer, the band members of Norway’s Odium take the stage. These gigs are pretty scarce so expectations are high. The songs offer a glorious role to the keyboards and even though keyboard player Mustis was also with Dimmu Borgir, Odium brings its black metal a lot less kitsch and over the top. No, thanks in part to fantastic drummer Dominator, the conviction of the music is more genuine. 2009’s The Sad Realm Of The Stars proves to be the purveyor of an intense but (far too) short setlist. It is nice to see how some stand silently enjoying the show with their eyes closed while others go all out in the moshpit. After the closing track Altering the State of Being from 2001, the audience cries en masse for please just one more song but alas, we will have to settle for this. And yet it is one for the history books!
We ascend towards higher realms with Wolves In The Throne Room‘s atmospheric black metal. At least, that’s the intention. The Americans completely miss the mark tonight with their far too long-drawn-out intros and interludes. Instead of people relaxing, they get frustrated. Then, when actual music is heard, the vocals turn out to be far too soft and the bass far too loud in the mix. And what a boring stage presence. I don’t hear anyone who does get excited by the huge amounts of smoke and incense. A case of ‘barking dogs seldom bite’. This performance cannot be called a pleasant experience, so please let’s revenge this at Roadburn on 21 April.
Unwind we do at Godflesh. When the curtains are pulled back, we see the two Brits standing on opposite sides of the stage. This way, they offer the audience a good view of the big screen that has been hung up to tickle our minds with the art of Hieronymus Bosch and other lugubrious material. The industrial metal hits Shut Me Down and Like Rats sound -as expected- ultra brutal and not least because of the bass that resonates deeply. You can feel everything vibrating! The whole thing is less merciless than Mysticum but still unrelenting. The electronic drums really ram every thought out of your head, nice to have felt and seen live for once!
This day’s headliner is Finland’s Amorphis. According to some, this is a striking choice but their rich oeuvre possesses enough (older) songs that make hearts beat faster here. How about Black Winter Day, Into Hiding or My Kantele? Perfect songs to play on Inferno as far as I’m concerned. Tomi Joutsen is a real showman and it is still admirable how he effortlessly switches from grunts to clean vocals. The band members visibly enjoy themselves and the audience is much more enthusiastic than I initially expected. Because yes, even the more recent hits The Bee, Wrong Direction and House of Sleep are sung along at the top of their voices. Soulful and adept, Amorphis prove to be a fine choice to close this festival day after all.
Date and location
7 april 2023, Oslo