Metal As Fuck Hit Tons of Rock, Norway June 2017...

Nikki Hallam returned to her old stomping grounds for Tons of Rock 2017 and there is only one thing to ask... Elk burgers anyone?

As any good journey to a Norwegian festival starts, it began on a train full of metal heads speeding passed mountains and alongside sparkling fjords. We arrived at the humble town of Halden shadowed by the historical Fredriksten fortress, which was about to become our home for the next three days for Norway’s Tons of Rock festival 2017 from June 22nd- 24th. This years festival was showcasing not only some of Norway’s best, such as Emperor, Enslaved, Turbonegro and Satyricon but some of the biggest names in international acts also, with the likes of the mighty Sabaton, Rob Zombie and of course thrash legends Slayer.

Day One: Myself and a band of beautiful photographers made our way up to the mighty fortress in time for Marky Ramone, who opened the Festival with a bang, bouncing around the stage to some crowd pleasing Ramones classics, causing fun and dance, to ‘I wanna be Sedated’, ‘Hey Ho, Lets Go’ and ‘Gabba Gabba Hey!’ Then we were blown away by Bölzer, hailing from Switzerland, who played to a barely half full crowd under the shadows of the tent stage. Those slow punters still setting up their camps really missed out because this progressive death metal duo, really pack a punch and its hard to compare them to anything else. They are touring off their first full length Album ‘Hero’, released in 2016, while they also play some more raw material off their previous EP’s. When I asked a friend who is a Bölzer fan what he loves most about the band, his response was that the most notable thing about them is their ability to generate such a wall of sound with just a drummer and a vocalist/ guitarist with a 10 string guitar. Seriously look them up if you havn’t already. Eluveitie took to the main stage with their 20 band members playing every instrument known to man. Their mix of powerful vocal styles and incredible musicianship, proved why they are the self proclaimed new wave of Folk metal. After a few beers we headed to watch Swedish old school Death metal icons Entombed A.D. Fronted by the charismatic L.G. Petrov being his cheeky self on stage, spitting everywhere, skulling beers and then burping into the microphone proved to be a very funny show.

There were many different merchants selling everything from cowboy hats and boots to underground Norwegian tapes and CD’s. The food options were very interesting, you could pick up some fries and nuggets for the price of your first born child, or perhaps an elk burger for the price of your second. We stuck to home made ham sandwiches and opted to spend our pennies on the very tasty Norwegian craft beer from Oslo’s Siste Sang micro-brewery. Now with the beer in tow, it was time for some good old classic Doom, arriving at the tent stage, with a career spanning well over 30 years, was Candlemass. Vocalist Mats Leven, who joined the band in 2012, has a vocal range to write home about and truly has a magnetic presence on stage. His mop of curls flop around his face as he leads the band through a massive set list including songs, Bewitched, A cry from the Crypt and Crystal Ball. It was fantastic to see this band still touring and having so much fun on stage. I had to laugh at Mats’ Monty Python inspired T-shirt that read, “He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” Out of the Darkness and over to the main stage we witnessed a very entertaining show in true Turbonegro fashion. There were ‘TurboJugend’ jackets and sailor hats as far as the eye could see. For those playing at home, the Turbojugend’s are a worldwide Turbonegro fan group that have patched jackets, also patched with the name of their chapter, they have meet ups all over the world, these guys are dedicated. Now with Tony Sylvester on vocals after Hank Von Helvete left the band in 2010, you could see they at least continued to have a strong fan base. It was a complete festival sing-a-long from start to finish with ‘All my friends are Dead’, they continued to fuck with our minds by singing some covers, starting with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which then became a Turbonegro version of ‘We will Rock you’, they threw in some rap with Cyprus Hill’s ‘Jump Around’, which then turned into ‘City of Satan’. All the while Tony waves an oversized Turbonegro flag across the first few rows, trying not to get hit by the occasional flame burst. There is some hilarious banter about how they will build a wall between Norway and Sweden, of course Sweden shall pay for the wall and there was some loud shouting about how Sweden’s currency is blood. The fans loved every moment of it. Then finally after explaining how often they are not allowed to sing the illustrious ‘Erection’ song, it gets played wildly to much audience appreciation.

We threw on our hiking boots and headed up to the top ‘Huth’ stage to see what became my favourite set of the day. Now to set the scene, we are at the top of a fortress, on the top of a mountain, overlooking the city of Halden and down to the fjords below, with hands full of yummy craft beer. Could it get any better? Yes. Then to the stage stepped the one-woman Black metal band that is Myrkur. From Denmark, Vocalist Amalie Brunn, who also plays bass, keyboards and guitar on her albums has some incredible talent to show off. Her signature microphone stands with large naked branches tied around it and she is in a modest, flowing gown. She is magical in every way. Her vocals move from soothing Soprano to the most eerie black metal howls and screeches, accompanied by a full band on stage, Myrkur have captivated the true nature and sound of traditional black metal with a modern twist of her own darkness and the atmosphere couldn’t be anymore intense. The entire performance was powerful, captivating and left me completely charmed especially in this setting. Now for something completely different, we arrived to the main stage for Rob Zombie’s first ever Norwegian show and it was nearly time for the midnight sun. Rob had almost as many costume changes as John 5 and Piggy D had Guitar changes and their show was ridiculously entertaining. Some of John 5’s guitars he used on stage were light up LED as well as his mouth guard and a show stopper UV liquid filled guitar, while Piggy D had a Frankenstein bass with glowing eyes and an Epic Wooden Cross bass guitar. All the while playing through nearly all of their cult songs, including ‘Superbeast’, ‘Living Dead Girl’ even ‘House of a Thousand Corpses’. When it was time for ‘Well everybody’s Fucking in a UFO.’, he threw out some blow up Aliens into the Audience to be crowd-surfed, to no avail, I don’t think they made it passed the first row before they were claimed. Rob had a Mexican stand off with Security throwing the mic. down until everyone was allowed to get on each others shoulders for a Zombie party, which ensued much bra lifting. There were so many antics, Rob brought out a torch to shine on the crowd, he climbed down onto the fence to sing with his fans. They kicked out over a dozen giant, coloured balloons which were bounced around the crowd until the encore which was of course ‘Dragula’. This was one of the best times I’ve seen them play and it definitely put everyone into a total drinking mood, including me, who ended in a cabin party until I finally managed to hail a taxi down the mountain at around 5am and back to my bed in the town.

Day two: After deciding that I would have some drinks with my pals in their camp before going into the festival, I soon realised half way up the mountain, that I had to go the long way around. The scenic one hour long way around, which led to me losing my friends completely and arriving drunk to the top stage to see a band I fell for a few years back, Norway’s Black Magic. Although I like a lot of their previous grimy, covert metal sound, I still really like and admire their new music which brings a very 70’s melodic rock vibe to the band and still shows Jon Henriksen’s incredible vocals. We enjoyed the view from the top, while waiting for Norwegian thrash/speed metal crazies Deathhammer to completely ruin the stage. By this time the clouds were upon us and the sideways rain was here, vocalist Sergeant Salsten was slipping all over the stage in an attempt to keep a hold of the microphone. Now I’ve seen Deathhammer quite a few times, including two nights earlier at an impromptu gig in the basement of occupied apartments in Oslo, but this… this was the drunkest I’ve seen Salsten perform. He eggs the crowd of thrashers on as he gives them the finger and pours beer all over his face attempting to aim for his mouth which creates a small moshpit of his loyal followers at the front. Despite their alcohol intake these guys managed to smash out a mental set, with Guitarist Sodomancer able to help out on vocals when the wild eyed Salsten has tripped on and ripped out nearly every cord on stage. Well done Deathhammer, I believe you collected a few new fans after that Tons of Rock Slaughter show.

For some main stage royalty we were treated to a Norwegian exclusive, Black metal titans Emperor playing their album ‘Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk’ for its 20th Anniversary. This was a very special show for a lot of Emperor fans and many festival goers named this performance as the highlight of their weekend. Ihsahn’s vocals were completely flawless, while Samoth at his side on guitars led the band through the album which kept most of us enthralled from start to finish.

Hailing from Greece, Rotting Christ played to a full crowd in the tent stage, which gave us a chance to escape the rain as well. Their hold on stage is strong and fierce as they stand, arms folded and so effortlessly intertwine the crossover vocal chants of ‘Apage Satana’, which always makes their audience pay attention. These guys are full of Greek muscle, although labelled as Extreme metal, they range into Black metal but with their ritualistic chants, tribal drumming and baritone vocals, they really have created their own unique style over the last 30 years which has slowly made them responsible for the ‘classic’ Greek metal sound.

For now it was time, time for those crazy fans who love to yell “Slaaayyerrrr” to actually yell it at Slayer. Opening with the title track off their last (2015) album ‘Repentless’, Kerry King and Gary Holt on guitars Paul Bostaff back behind the drum kit and our now white-bearded father of the thrash scream, Tom Araya on vocals and bass, they put on a set that confirmed why they are still reigning. Tom’s big smile, rosie cheeks and whole hearted thanks to all us slayer heads, made him look like an adorable heavy metal Gnome. I had to stop myself from yelling out “Tom! Please be my dad!” They played an impressive 16 song set list paying homage to the Slayer past, favourites including ‘Dead skin Mask’, ‘Seasons in the Abyss’, of course ‘Raining Blood’ and they finished off with the infamous Araya screams of ‘Angel of Death’. I’m a Slayer fan, always have been, always will be, I even have them tattooed somewhere on my body and this show was nothing short of incredible for any slayer fan, brilliant.

Day three: We woke up early as Tons of Rock had invited us as ‘foreign delegates’ of the festival on an 11am boat cruise of the fjords between the border of Norway and Sweden. It was an absolutely beautiful day, the sun was shining and the water was glistening. We were offered drinks of the signature - Tons of Rock festival beer -The Black Pit IPA, to sip on as we cruised passed Swedish summer homes on one side and quaint Norwegian towns on the other. As we closed in on the Swedish border, one of our guides pointed and said “That over there is Sweden, don’t look over there”, of course we all laughed! It was an absolute pleasure and we had the best time, the boat captain even let me make the classic Titanic pose at the front on the boat, what a sport.

Making my way up the steep cobblestones of the fortress for the last time, I decided to skip a few of the first bands and enjoy some Norwegian outdoors while we had such wonderful weather. I stumbled through the archers and landed myself underneath Norwegian Grammy award collectors, Enslaved. This five-piece don’t really need to prove their musicianship, they have solidly set their footprint in the metal community making Black metal progressive with their Viking roots. I saw two girls in the crowd with Enslaved back patches who looked at each other with tears in their eyes when they started to play ‘Allfadr Odinn’.They closed with ‘Isa’ and welcomed a very young competition winner to the stage who won guitarist Ivar bjørnson’s guitar and was very nervous on stage although cheered on by everyone. It was also very refreshing to see these bigger name Norwegian bands at the festival, feeling comfortable to speak to their fans in their mother tongue, you could see it made them happy.

Another festival draw-card Satyricon, hit the main stage, prepared to blast down the walls of the fortress with their opening song, ‘Rite of Our Cross’. A young guy in front of me at the barrier turns around, I thought I must have bumped him, but instead he offers me hand sanitiser and tells me to enjoy the show! Metal heads are adorable. Front man Satyr is in white ghost like make-up, he has had his yearly hair cut back to a shiny slick-back. There is a constant screen of smoke on the stage, you can barely make out a silhouette of Drummer Frost, Steinar ‘Azarak’ Gundersen on guitars is all smiles as usual and Anders ‘Neddo’ Odden plays staunch as always, wind-milling and keeping the bass lines strong. Anders Hunstad makes sure we are dancing with his keyboard antics and the bands new session guitarist Attila Vörös (of U.S. band Sanctuary) played an incredible performance for his first live show with the band. Playing a mix of old and new material, they make sure to play ‘Mother North’ which is very appropriate for our location, fitting in some ‘Now Diabolical’ for the new fiends and finishing on a fist pumping end note with ‘K.I.N.G’. Lastly after the humble group bow, Satyr brings his small son on stage, on his hip and presents him to us all. So much metal love at this festival.

Here to save a few of us from the madness that is a Five finger Death Punch concert and a timeslot change due to a stage closure on account of the weather, Taake arrive to awaken the truth in our Black Metal hearts. Superman Vocalist Hoest is as ruthless as ever and is joined on stage by Jontho, vocalist of Ragnarok for a song. They play an implausibly tense set in which wouldn’t be complete without ‘Myr’ and its banjo solo which echoed through to the back of the tent and all the way to the merch stalls to the fans lining up for Taake shirts. Next to the tent stage which is now spilling at the seams with drunkards in top hats super pumped for the extremely popular Swedish ‘Heavy metal’ act Amaranthe. This show was something you really have to see to believe. They were The Vengaboys from Hell. The band has three vocalists, all with completely different vocal styles including, a female pop vocalist, male power metal and the third is almost death metal/nu-metal. The music itself is jolting all over the place from a full 90’s jump moshpit, to techno dancing and even death metal love songs. I could not believe how popular they were, every song was catchy and the guy next to me in a Bathory shirt couldn’t be more proud to be Swedish. Was this Eurovison gone right or wrong? I don’t know, but between the hair flicking, lingerie, high kicks and the beer spilling induced fights around us, it was like a car crash, I couldn’t help but look.

Then it dawned on us, the final headliner was about to start on the main stage and who more deserving of the spot, then Sweden’s Power-metal war hero’s Sabaton. This was a very significant show for not only Sabaton fans, but for all Scandinavians. They were to play their sixth studio album, ‘Carolus Rex’ which is a concept album, based on the rise and fall of the Swedish empire under the rule of Charles XII wherein Sweden tried many times to take Norway by invading the walls of the very Fredriksten Fortress we were all standing in today. You cant really get more symbolic then that. They began the set with their intro of ‘In the Army Now’ The stage was set with an army tank on stage covered in bright blue and yellow Swedish mid-summer flags. There were flame throwers and blue and yellow stage lights shining down on the few thousand people who bared to witness. While they played through the album, there were dramatic re-enactments where Swedish Soldiers marched across, showing their swords, drumming and at points even shooting off their guns. The band themselves were dressed in camo pants and army jackets. They finished off this epic battle with ‘To Hell and Back’ and then ‘Dead Soldiers Waltz’ as an emotional outro. Sabaton knew how special this album was to be played in this fortress and they definitely pulled out all the stops.

Now for one last night of partying we bought all of the drinks we could with the money left on our ‘cashless cards’ and boogied the night away, literally, I swing-danced with a midget, it was fantastic. This time on my solo adventure down the mountain, the long way, I met some very interesting new friends, was gifted two large plastic skulls and had a party on a boat in the Halden harbour until 5am. Lets just say that the train ride back to Oslo wasn’t pretty. This was a fantastic year at Tons of Rock, they always manage to supply us endlessly with amazing acts from around the world, good vibes and one of the best views from a festival stage in the world. Until next year! “Ha der Bra!”