Both a marker point and a signal for a new era, Beyond The Gates is celebrating its fifth anniversary by announcing it’s about to shed its skin once more. Having risen from the ashes of Hole In The Sky this smaller, more arcane offspring has moulded itself to the occult contours of the underground. BTG had long become a gathering point built around a close-knit, welcoming community. But continuity is achieved through transformation, and next year BTG will carry on as Bjørgvin Black Mass.
This year’s show goes on, however, with Canadian duo SORTILEGIA  entering a dimly lit stage, the candles intermittently revealing a blood-covered face beneath the frontwoman’s cowl. If you’re a two-piece, you need to be more than the sum of your parts, and as the riffs rise and fall between mesmerising and monotonous, they lack the ear-bleeding overload of a Bölzer or an Inquisition. Wringing harried, bug-eyed magick from a very urban take on black metal, New York’s BLACK ANVIL  look like a biker gang after a tussle with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but they’re less a call to ancient entities than paranoia-warped personal exorcism as guitars scrabble and surge, frontman PD gargles his desperate screeds and the band uncover moments of spellbinding cavernous dynamics.
The left-hand path and label Ván Records are often entwined, URFAUST  a case in point. Another two-piece, but one whose combined effect is one of beguiling, often sublime disorientation. Their elevated mutation from the howl-in-the-woods black metal template is a mantric ritual, IX’s switching into open-throated, resonant vibrato like a fishing line cast into the void in a room full of devotees. Just as synapse-searing, but with a coruscating emotional weight, SECRETS OF THE MOON  have also taken black metal into new dimensions, the stripped-down nature of earlier material bending reality to its incensed will, but it’s the yet-more gothic-tinged tracks from last year’s Sun that are most devastating.
Overshadowed perhaps by the various wranglings of Gorgoroth, Gaahl’s first band, Trelldom is still the most revered of his projects and tonight his latest manifestation, GAAHLS WYRD , devotes an entire set to their back catalogue. Opener Steg is a tantric rush, a continuous crescendo that floods all senses, and from here on in they colonise an icily exhilarating spectrum of black metal. Gaahl’s presence, especially up so close, is still untouchably imposing, that death-stare/horns-point making you feel like a chosen disciple, his voice itself a elemental force of nature ranging from imperious incantations to elemental screech and various, entrancing points in between.
One of the festival’s most talked about bands, BLACK MAGIC  delve into the musty vibe of early occult-stained 80s proto-thrash metal and make it a thing of natural joy and wonder once more. If it’s becoming increasingly hard to sound unaffected in this over-populated scene, this lot sound fully immersed in the era, sending the Garage into raptures. Featuring Urfaust’s IX on vocals, THE SPIRIT CABINET  hit their own retro-warbling vibe that’s more driven than playful, but still taps into deep reserves of musty power. Wronged-out Irish death metallers MALTHUSIAN  prove to be utterly captivating live as riffs warp, tumble, and reconfigure to fit themselves to our mere three dimensions. Despite their singer suffering a recent leg injury, DEGIAL  take up the compass-smashing DM cause on behalf of Sweden, building gradually in pace but reaching a scab-infested critical mass. Coming on like unruly gatecrashers who want to steal your beer, curse your women and piss on the ATM inside the local 7-11 – at least one of which they actually achieve – DESTRÖYER 666  are in combative mood tonight. KK Warslut is still riled up from recent, well-publicised run-ins with fans, but it does make for a genuinely electrifying air of danger, combining experience-coarsened riffs with thrillingly destructive, fist-raising will.
The last day of BTG kicks off with more galloping, 80s-mothballed riffs and Elstree Studios occultism courtesy of MAGISTER TEMPLI , given a bit of extra oomph by some marvellously campy vocals. SATURNALIA TEMPLE  take up the underground’s hypnotic wing with fuzzed-up and sulphur-choked doom, the centrepiece being To The Other, a journey across aeons and star systems that could rival Sleep for senses-draining bliss. GEHENNAH  are a rude awakening, their gasoline-gargling, D-beat-driven punk rock kickstarting everyone’s nervous systems again, amphetamine-paced riffs sending the Garage into a frenzy.
This is but a prelude to the absolute mayhem that greets NEKROMANTHEON . Part Kreator-driven thrash maniacs, mostly what happens when gods of thunder go bad, their steroid-injected rampage would wear out the hearts of mere mortals within a few bars. The imperious yet crazed likes of Rise, Vulcan Sceptre are charged with volatile electricity as Arild Myren Torp’s reverbed vocals sound like they’re recruiting a tribe of irradiated nutjobs to fuck Mad Max up good and proper this time.
BTG’s end goes back to its roots. VENOM INC  may not be Cronos-fronted, but the clearly humbled trio of Mantas, Tony ‘Demolition Man’ Dolan and Abaddon are fully invested in keeping the legacy alive, kicking off with Welcome To Hell and roving through classic after classic with gnarly, crowd-rousing fervour. Familiarity may have taken the edge off the likes of The Seven Gates Of Hell, and they sound more comfortable than confrontational, but there’s no lack of commitment from band or audience and as the closing double-whammy of Black Metal and Countess Bathory still hang in the air, they’re still the raw inspiration for BTG’s next incarnation.