BLASTFEST 2016

Gorgoroth handed out Sheep heads as souvenirs which caused a bloodied sheep-selfie uproar in the mosh pit.....

My Adventure began from Oslo, weary-eyed on a high speed train flying in between snowcapped mountains and alongside misty Fjords hit with the morning’s winter sun. I was joined by carriages full of eager metal heads clad in patched leather jackets with Norwegian Black Metal bursting out from headphones in every seat. It was obvious; we were all heading to the same place - one of Norway’s most beautiful cities, Bergen. We are ready for BLASTFEST 2016! Which boasted an impressive 100% Norwegian lineup, including the likes of Kampfar, Gorgoroth, Arcturus, Ihsahn, a one and only appearance by Red Harvest, the likes of Green Carnation, 1349 and of course Abbath. This was going to be an unforgettable experience, a celebration of Mother North in none other than the home of Black Metal and Metal As Fuck couldn’t wait to be a part of it!

Day one: No metal holiday to Bergen would be complete without a trip up to the Infamous Fantoft Stavkirke. Although a replica of the Church Varg Vikernes [of Burzum fame] was convicted of burning, the way we felt walking on the grounds where many ancient rituals were supposedly held, was otherworldly. Deciding it was Beer o’clock we made our way to a bar called Garage for the organised club night. Garage is the only place in the world where you will find Enslaver’s Norwegian Grammy Awards are used as door handles and beer taps. Downstairs, the sold out club night was roaring, with Endezzma and Svarttjern who began warming the blood for the next few days of Black Metal mayhem. The night then took an uncommon turn….. To pure Rock and Roll. Enter Chrome Division, with their aviators and matching vests they sure looked the part and punters hung around to see the front-man of one of Norway’s most notable acts Dimmu Borgir in an unusual light. So news just in; Shagrath moonlights as a fucking rock god. By the time the electric razor came out on stage punters didn’t question their decision to stay, as vocalist Shady Blue began to carve out a Lemmy mustache on himself as preparation for what were some of the best Motorhead covers I’ve ever seen. Two Hundred beers later and I found myself at an after party in the Hotel where I caught up with members of Chrome Division who said they were very keen to tour down under one day, so keep your fingers crossed Australia!

Day Two: I woke up in a hotel bed, in a tangled nest of blonde Norwegian hair; getting spooned from either side by muscular arms and faces still smothered in what I believe was once corpse paint. I don’t know what was more disappointing, that the bottle of vodka in my hand still had vodka in it, or that I was fully clothed. Either way, I quietly tumbled out over the mass of Guitars and leather to sort myself out for another big day. I arrived at the official concert venue to find a sea of swarming metal fans rushing around from stage to stage. This was not a festival for the faint of heart; this was for true fans of the Norwegian craft, who didn’t want to miss a beat! Upstairs at the ‘Blastmarkets’ there were local stalls selling everything authentic from album artwork and Viking jewelry to metal merch. My favourite stall holder was this incredible artist who whilst moshing like a Bezerker would spontaneously sketch the bands, and then sell the art pieces he had just created at his stall. Amazing! I quickly joined the beer spilling swarm; I landed on the VIP Balcony just in time for the enchanting sounds of none other than Kampfar. Founding member and vocalist Dolk held his stance in the middle of the stage; the wintry tinted lights cover his bare skin, microphone gripped and swinging alongside his bullet belt as he leads the band into several crowd favourites including a few songs from their latest and highly regarded album Profan. Hands reach out to their father from the pit, for ‘Our Hounds, Our Legion’, as Dolk’s call echoes through the hall, “My Children…….!” 

Then the ever varying Dødheimsgard followed. These Norwegian brutes lead us down the desolate rabbit hole of experimentation and solidified the ambiance of the evening. Dødheimsgard guitarist and vocalist, Aldrahn gave us a show to remember in his red suit, flailing his arms like he were fire himself, as guitarist Vicotnik proving he is still the king of the Avant-Garde riff. Next up, stalking around the stage was Taake’s front man Hoest. He kept his audience captivated by the magic that is a Taake live performance as we lost our minds in the illustrious black metal banjo solo in ‘Myr’. They even enlightened us with an eerie cover of GG Allin’s “Die when you die”.  

The wait was over; behold tonight’s headliner - Black Metal giants, Gorgoroth! The curtains open to reveal a stage setting in true Gorgoroth style. A true Black Mass… was this Krakow all over again? I asked myself. A bold white coffin marked the centre stage, inverted crosses plagued with naked women hung up for crucifixion and not to mention the forty odd sheep heads decorating the stage. With one more performance for us today from Hoest who arrives on vocals; kriss-crossed in studded belts and his valiant members adorned in enough spikes, they looked as if they were ready for battle. This notorious collective, lead by guitarist Infernus performed tracks from their latest opus ‘Instinctus Bestialis’, throwing in classics such as Incipit Satan and Destroyer. Gorgoroth, feeling quite generous handed out the sheep heads as souvenirs to the well deserving fans, causing a bloodied sheep-selfie uproar in the mosh pit. My guess, venue security wasn’t that tight considering the news article that followed the next day with concerned citizens calling police over the amount of ‘grotesque’ sheep heads strategically placed around Bergen city……

Day Three: While Bergen woke up to Sheep heads, I woke up feeling like I’d lost my own. I blame the shots of Aquavit! After a fresh seafood breakfast on the Bergen Fjord, I Started the day with a bang - Black thrashers Audiopain surely swayed my hangover, as everyone was there for an early start. As I headed to the studio stage to observe the enigmatic One Tail One Head, people were crawling over each other to get in. The smell of incense filled the room as this foursome summoned that true Norse spirit in what was to me, a live ritual, rather than a live show. I bought the shirt, yep, I loved them! Next up - Arcturus who took to the main stage with the versatile Hellhammer on drums and Vocalist ICS Vortex captivating us with some of Norway’s preeminent progressive and experimental metal. Although the show wasn’t as electric or alive as I had hoped for, with ICS sitting on a stool for a good part of the show, the backdrop screen show added to the ambience and it was still an enjoyable set.  

When renowned guitarists Tchort [for those playing at home, ex Emperor, ex Blood Red Throne & ex Satyricon] along with Blood Pervertor left Carpathian Forest to create The 3rd Attempt, I knew this was something to see and I would need to catch this set. With catchy as hell riffs and the haunting vocal changes of Ødemark, it’s no wonder the room was bursting with like minded punters, even BLASTFEST owner, Yngve couldn’t resist to don the corpse paint and wail on stage. I couldn’t even see the stage!

I was lucky enough though to catch up with Spanish born Vocalist Ødemark after the set and gave him a ‘kroner for his thoughts’ on Blastfest 2016. As the Vocalist of one of Norway’s newest Black Metal bands, what did it mean to you to be a part of this year’s Blastfest which is playing host to some of Norway’s most well-known musicians? “It meant a lot to me personally; after all, I came to Norway to play in a black metal band, from fucking Norway so it marks a milestone I never imagined I would be able to reach. At the end it became a mother fucking hell of a party with lots of old and new faces from this scene with all friends gathered together from all over this country. And to be honest, an opportunity to get brutally wasted for four days in a row!!” Banging together our plastic cups of overpriced Norwegian beer (appropriately named Aass); Ødemark and I cheered “Skål” as we both darted off to see the well favoured Ihsahn, a highlight of the day for most. Emperor’s ex-front man had no need for theatrics. His majestic stage presence and sinister progressive metal is enough to keep all who are fortunate to bear witness - glued for his entire performance. As a first time viewer of his live show, Ihsahn kept me completely hypnotised, especially during my favourite ambient track Pulse. I will never miss an opportunity to see him play live again and you shouldn’t either!

Back at Garage to skull some more Nordic beers, I realised the club was full of familiar faces. Not just all the locals I knew from Oslo, but many of the bands that were playing the festival were happily mingling with their fans, so naturally I ended up at another after party at the Hotel. So let’s just say, after the conversations I had, the events I witnessed and the new friends I made, Norwegian Black metal will never be the same again.

Day Four: The Biggest day of them all, after two hours sleep and one hell of a Bangover I drape my scarf around my fractured neck and head out into what was another rainy day in this lovely city. First stop Apollon Record store, where a special Q&A was being held, with Immortal guitarist and Abbath front man Olve Eikemo. (Thank Lucifer it was in English!) I snuck in, ordered a coffee and settled in for what was more of a comedy show than a Q&A. Abbath kept the room in stitches even though the questions he was being asked were quite serious. Engelen, a rep from Apollon went on to ask was it difficult for you in the beginning, because everyone looked at Black Metal musicians as Satanists; burning churches and didn’t take you seriously? “I mean what is a fucking Satanist?” Abbath responds accordingly “We played rock and roll, we played the Devils music. Venom! Dark side!” Then he starts singing the Darth Vader Intro as he slowly turns his head to look at us. The room roared with laughter. The questions followed into church break-ins, stolen sewing machines, becoming famous, scaring the hell out of backpackers while making Video clips; it was an interesting and diverse discussion. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the signing session as I had a coffee date I couldn’t miss!

Back to the hotel I was lucky enough to sit down with Powerhouse Vocalist Kjetil Nordhus, to speak about all things Green Carnation. Chugging on my coffee we got to it - The band reunited in 2014, take us through this time- the split in 2007 and what brought you back together? “Well looking back on the split, I think it was the right thing to do at the time” Kjetil began “We had fulfilled a circle in terms of exploring new genres. Covering Avant Garde; even doom, then of course the acoustic album. So in addition to the number of issues inside the band, we didn’t really know where to go from there. Then when the 15th anniversary of Light of Day, Day of Darkness came up, that was a golden opportunity for us to kind of go back to the start, as Green Carnation only really existed as a live band since that album. So now in our current line-up, we have the five of us who were featured on that record, and I believe it was after we played that last show for ‘A Night Under The Dam’ we decided we should do something in 2016.”

And what could be better than playing Blastfest 2016. What were your initial thoughts when first accepting to play at this unique all Norwegian festival? “Well there were a few things that were a little bit important to us, one, which is something outside of the band, was that we wanted to support the festival organiser; Yngve’s initiative. If he could have us first, it would be very nice for him to have this exclusive, premiere show. Anyone that knows Green Carnation knows that we wouldn’t suit a small pub stage, we needed a large room to present what we wanted to present. More is more and I believe we do have our place in the Norwegian metal community and I know we all feel proud and special to be a part of this year’s Blastfest experience.” So over the last few days of the band being here, the vibe seems to be that of one big family reunion “Yes, I agree, that’s another reason why we accepted. We are a small country and although many people play metal in Norway, it’s still a sub-genre, in a small country and obviously everybody would know each other. There are also two generations of bands here as well, some very young and some, like us that have been doing this for many years. When we play abroad at a big festival where there are a few Norwegian bands, we tend to hang out a bit together, but then when you are all in one city at the same time, of course it becomes like a big metal family reunion.”In regards to Green Carnation’s set tonight, how are you feeling? “This is a big weekend for us because we know this show means a lot to so many people. I feel quite a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, because if people didn’t care, then you could just play a show, but people really care about this show. It’s going to be a very special show tonight and I’m really looking forward to it.” With that, my heart was filled with anticipation for the show to come. I shook his hand, wished him luck and skipped off on my merry way towards the exclusive art exhibition by Kristian “Gaahl” Espedal. The Exhibition was small and dark, yet powerful and it was definitely close to what I expected. Being the last day of the exhibition the venue was full, complete with Gaahl perched at the restaurant bar with his signature glass of red wine [*everyone do the move*] ready to speak to his loyal fans. I desperately wanted to speak with him about his art, alas… no rest for the wicked, no sooner I was there, I was making my way back to the venue for one last night of Awesome!

The highly anticipated ‘one off’ show from Red Harvest since their break up in 2010 was definitely worth the wait. Red Harvest left a gaping hole in the Norwegian music scene since their departure, so expectedly; the main stage was packed with countless fans pumped to hear those industrial tunes live just one last time. Performing tracks like Cold Dark Matter and Mouth of Madness they not only left the crowds elated but definitely proved they still have it....

Now was the moment the crowds were waiting for.... Green Carnation. Happy as a pig in mud and slightly tipsy from smuggled in Whisky, I knew exactly where I wanted to make my stand - right in front of Tchort. Kjetil commands our attention and immediately places us under his spell; we all knew what we were in for, the 60 minute, one song masterpiece that is ‘Light of Day, Day of Darkness’. Guitarist Michael Krumins verified why Green Carnation is considered an art form, mesmerising us with his talents throughout the set on both the Theremin and the Bouzouki. Kjetil’s arms are held up high, addressing the crowd, his inimitable tone ringing in our ears. In this moment Kjetil hits a note so crushing that the guy next to me grabs my arm, flails and screams at me in Norwegian to feel his goose bumps as he turns back to the stage almost in tears. This is what Green Carnation is about, igniting such beautifully raw emotions in us, not only with their music, but with their presence. The show was simply incredible and speaking to fans afterwards, although slightly bewildered at the magic we just witnessed, we all seemed to arrive at the same conclusion. I am dead serious when I say that Green Carnation’s performance was one of the best of the entire festival. Well done!

Following Green Carnation..... The grand finale, bringing Blastfest to a close for 2016, Abbath arrive energetic to a fatigued yet eager group of patrons. Opening with the severe ‘To War’ with enough lights and lasers to wake the dead, it’s no wonder they had every head in the venue banging. Abbath’s stage presence was none other than spectacular with King ov Hell by his side and covering most of his infamous stage antics. Even though Abbath was having to read the lyrics off a monitor in order to get through the mammoth amount of material off their premiere Self-Titled Album, they still managed a cover of Immortal’s – Nebular Ravens Winter.

And with that it was all over for another year, crammed into taxi’s and shuttle cars the exhausted punters fought their bodies hard to squeeze in one last after party and I was definitely with them. What a feeling it gave me to have been given an insight into the heart of the Norwegian metal community. This proud and humble scene sure knows how to put on a great festival and I feel so lucky they let me be a part of it. When I packed my bags and said goodbye to the incredible city of Bergen, I promised myself I would be back. So if you are thinking of making Blastfest 2017 a goal for yourself, I suggest you put it on your Calendar already, I know it’s on mine. Arriving back in Oslo, it’s great to be home, but my ears are still ringing with the sound of history made. Blastfest 2016, you broke me, in such a good way. I’ll see you next year!