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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Metal stars shined on Easter Inferno

Dark forces from around the world gathered in Oslo for what’s become an Easter tradition as solid as any: Norway’s Inferno Metal Festival, with 60 bands treating fans (and each other) to four fearsome but friendly days of screamingly extreme music in a dizzying array of styles and sub-genres.

Nordjevel, possibly translatable to “Northern devil,” offered generous pyrotechnics. The band is led by “Doedsadmiral”, also known as Anders Olav Hansen, age 43 (center). PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

All the damned fun takes place within a few blocks in downtown Oslo when offices and stores are closed for the Easter holidays. This is the time for good Christian Norwegians to go to church, and for others to head for mountain skiing and springtime sun. It seems a perfect time to celebrate a music culture that has a profound darkness at its heart. The labyrinthine innards of Oslo’s Rockefeller Music Hall is the center of action, orbited by a host of smaller clubs plus the swanky Clarion Hub hotel, where many leather-clad and lavishly tattooed blackpackers spend some of the nights between gigs.

“They may look frightening and have unusual names, but they’re generally nicer to deal with than some other guests,” confided a hotel employee who asked not to be identified. Asked whether he’d have gone to Inferno if he weren’t working at Easter, he replied: “I’m probably not old enough to appreciate it”.

Oscar and Robin, two young gentlemen visiting from Western Sweden, were certainly ready to meet some of the titans of the metal trade. “Everyone in Sweden knows that when it comes to Black Metal, Norway is the place,” Oscar told NewsinEnglish.no.

“But when it comes to death metal, Sweden is where it’s at,” said Robin, pointing to his T-shirt supporting At the Gates, a Gothenburg band that unfortunately had to cancel their show at Inferno.

Dimmu Borgir led by Stian “Shagrath” Thoresen (left) topped the bill at this Easter’s Inferno Metal Festival. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

This year’s festival was headlined by Black Metal supremos Dimmu Borgir, a pioneering and internationally successful Norwegian band with symphonic elements and a carefully crafted “Satanist” image. Guided by the cold hand of diabolic-looking Stian “Shagrath” Thoresen, 47, Dimmu Borgir can look back on more than three decades in the Black Metal business and loads of record sales, including the best-selling 2003 album Death Cult Armageddon.

Arnt “Obsidian” Grønbech, veteran in the band Keep of Kalessin, which was first to bring extreme metal to Eurovision 15 years ago. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

They were joined by other well-established acts such as Kampfar, Borknagar, Gorgoroth and even Keep of Kalessin, which finished third in the battle for Norway’s slot in Eurovision Song Contest 2010. All those style-shaping Norwegian bands have been around much longer than the festival itself and added their growling vocals, distorted guitars and frantic drumming to the first couple of Infernos at the dawn of this century.

It was all a continuation of the trusted Inferno Festival formula; something old, something new – and something black, according to Harald Fossberg, author of Nyanser av svart (666 Shades of Black), a book exploring the origins of Black Metal music and culture.

Fast-food Inferno style, offering carefully themed dishes. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“The headliners at Inferno are typically a mix of legendary bands, pioneers within the extreme metal and death metal scenes and a cross-section of new, usually up-and-coming bands,” Fossberg told NewsinEnglish.no. “Since Inferno has become a must-attend-event for those who want to experience the Old Guard of Norwegian Black Metal in their natural habitat, names like Dimmu Borgir, Taake, Gorgoroth and Kampfar are certain draws.”

Carpathian Forest bringing torture videos and classic Black Metal theatrics to the stage, plus Norwegian flags and a harmonica. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

Carpathian Forest, another veteran group that does extensive international touring, had just returned from Poland and opened and closed their set with a curious ceremony waving the Norwegian flag on stage. Band boss Roger “Nattefrost” Rasmussen sported a huge inverted cross and ominous-looking spiked cuffs, the Pentagram star shining brightly from his chest. But he playfully surprised the audience by bringing out a harmonica and a tambourine – instruments that are seldom heard in Black Metal. Mr. Nattefrost (“Night Frost”) also had his son join him on stage for a song.

Arthur Brown, 81, during his eccentric show which included singing and dancing as a lit candle. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

The Inferno crowd also met “the God of hellfire” himself, Arthur Brown. He had an explosive hit with “Fire” in 1968, and won infamy by burning crosses on stage before most of today’s fiery black metallers were born. Now 81, Brown sang, danced and set fire to his special headgear, making him look like a lit candle.

Even more interesting for many participants is the opportunity Inferno offers to meet bands that aren’t so famous. A dark army of local acts from around Norway came to Oslo to play and meet bands from other Nordic countries, also those from Greece and Costa Rica, Poland and Germany, the US and the UK, and beyond. The really fearless could even check out an act called Extermination Dismemberment from Minsk in Belarus, describing their style as “slamming brutal Death Metal brought to a whole new level.”

Guitarist Sara Helena Nørregaard and Konvent, a female quartet from Denmark, kicked off on the Inferno main stage amid an otherwise male-dominated program. They had played at Inferno before, at a smaller venue. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst
Brazilian lady-band Crypto at John Dee, which is Rockefeller’s basement stage. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

This year’s line-up was among the most diverse ever at Inferno, according to Runar Pettersen, the festival’s press officer and editor of its official magazine. Adding to the diversity was the all-female quartet Konvent from Denmark, which was first to enter Rockefeller’s main stage and offered some sombre downtempo music in a style they call “blackened death doom.” Later the same day, four women making up Crypta from São Paulo, filled Rockefeller’s John Dee basement club with Brazilian death metal and generous earfuls of screaming.

“At the low end of the Inferno “ladder” are new bands that either challenge or preserve the metal “Old Guard” and the spirit of ’92,” notes Fossberg. “Some of the more interesting play the smaller venues, but often they’re elevated to the stage at Rockefeller.”

That’s what happened to Konvent, which moved from a smaller stage a few years ago to this year’s opening act. Fossberg pointed to a Norwegian act called Tilintetgjort (“Annihilated”) as one of this year’s risers, moving from a club gig last year to the larger John Dee this time. “If they continue their ascent, my guess is the main stage at Rockefeller in say, two year’s time.”

The Inferno festival includes a large tattoo fair. Business was brisk for tattoo artists like “Blekknroll”, left. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

The striking under-representation of women in the metal world was also on the agenda of the Inferno music conference running parallel to the festival. Other sessions explored the sometimes thin white line between explicit lyrics and hate speech, the rise of podcasts and influencers, and changing revenue streams in the music industry. There was even a workshop dedicated to the art of screaming, covering the anatomy of the voice, singing techniques, and more.

Inferno, always held during Easter, is also when the festival season starts, with presentations of upcoming gatherings, locally and internationally, and perhaps deals made for bands to participate. Close to 300 delegates from 30 countries took part at the Inferno conferences this year.

The festival includes an exhibition of relevant art, a tattoo studio full of experts offering their services, and a sightseeing tour to historic sites. The tour includes a visit to the Neseblod (nosebleed) record store and the Holmenkollen chapel, rebuilt after a Satanism-inspired Black Metaller burned it to the ground in 1992.

A packed audience cheering, with several flashing the traditional hand-horn gesture in appreciation.

Despite the prevalence of occult symbols, corpse-white makeup and spectators routinely flashing the hand-horn gesture in appreciation (index and little finger up, middle fingers held down by thumb), Satan himself seems much farther away than he used to be. In the past, T-shirt messages like “Kill a Christian” were fashionable among metalheads, adding to the controversy surrounding them. But Markus Solstad, a representative of Christian metal label Nordic Mission, seemed to feel perfectly safe at his record stand in Rockefeller’s main mingling area.

Despite much flirtation with dark forces in parts of the Black Metal world, Øyvind Solstad from the Christian music label Nordic Mission finds growing tolerance and interest in “his” bands. PHOTO: Inferno Festival/Evina Photo

“There’s a lot of interest in our stand,” Solstad said, offering coffee and recommending a vinyl album by Jernlov (“Iron Rule”), a Christian band with song titles like “Resurrection” and “Faith”. On Easter Sunday, his sales desk was decorated with lovely yellow Daffodils, called “Easter lilies” in Norway. According to Solstad, tolerance is on the rise in the Black Metal environment, while discrediting of “his” bands because of their Christian-inspired lyrics is gradually going away.

He admitted, though, that “there has been numerous incidents in the past, but not of a tabloid nature.”

“It certainly does happen that people confront us with their idea of what a Christian person is, not least after a few beers. I think that’s mostly about a need to be listened to and getting a point across. And it’s not so hard to understand why some people do not feel at home in the church or in a faith that they feel is more about what not to do than the prospect of personal liberation,” he said.

It was Solstad’s fifth time at Inferno as a Nordic Mission rep, attending chiefly to build relations and business. “If we get into conversations on religious beliefs, it’s rarely on our initiative.”

Some visiting bands teased the Norwegian audience for showing little engagement. Sólstafir, a ‘post metal’ band from Iceland did their best to make people smile by sending singer Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason on a balancing act in the crowd.

The Inferno festival started out in 2001 as a two-day gathering. It now offers live music from Thursday to Sunday over Easter, and even some warm-up acts on the Wednesday. One might think folks would get tired, but even on Easter Sunday afternoon the darkened Rock In club filled up with people enjoying a slow beer and a fast-paced concert with Zustand Null, an Oslo band offering songs called things like “Ocean of Nightmares”, and providing this reporter with an excuse to sign off.

The Rockefeller Music Hall holds 1,500 spectators, and the festival passes costing NOK 3500 for the four days were mostly sold out. According to press officer Runar Pettersen, more than half of ticket sales were to buyers outside of Norway. Tickets for next year’s Inferno are already on sale.

NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

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