Blastfest 2015, Norway

Extreme metal’s brightest new festival calls in the big guns

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As if kicking off a new extreme metal event with a three-day lineup wasn’t ambitious enough, this year’s second Blastfest extends to four days – give it another year and it’ll be giving Glastonbury a run for its money. Add the thrilling lineup and the dramatic scenery of Bergen and you have a winning combination.

In the cosy confines of the legendary Garage, a busy crowd wait in anticipation for KALL [9], the entity formed from the ashes of the legendary Lifelover. Initially loose, minimal and stark, The Swedes’ set gradually showcases their more upbeat and catchy leanings, the combination proving rousing and fascinating in equal measure./o:p

GEHENNA [8] have changed considerably over the years. No keyboards or archive material to speak of, the Norwegian pioneers instead drawing upon the bleak yet unforgettable textures of their later work. Being a Motörhead cover band, BÖMBERS [8] are a curious choice for first day headliner, but with Immortal’s Abbath in the lineup and some thoroughly spirited renditions of what is already classic and live-friendly material, it’s very hard to find fault.

UKBM veterans HECATE ENTHRONED [8] get a warm reception on day two, their recent return to the scene and to more unambiguous black metal leanings clearly paying off./o:p

Having ROTTING CHRIST [9] introduced by the town’s mayor is a pretty strange sight but is rather apt, since the band have achieved a rare status in extreme metal – that of a respectable ‘big name’ band simultaneously relevant enough to win over new fans, yet with a rich enough back catalogue to please the old-school diehards. Their rousing anthems and energetic delivery make for an irresistible combination.

SAMAEL [8] have also made a gradual transition from first-wave BM to contemporary extreme metal over the last quarter century. With their pronounced electronic leanings, they have a less broad appeal than Rotting Christ, but their hypnotic focus and punchy delivery is hard to knock. MELECHESH [7] prove equally focused but somewhat less powerful, the odd technical problem taking away a bit of their flow despite the meatiness of the material. PRIMORDIAL [8] have established a solid reputation for emotive and earnest performances and tonight, their stirring black/folk metal anthems clearly connect with the attendees./o:p

Tonight is CRAFT’s [8] second ever performance and playing the smaller upstairs stage, it’s no surprise that the queue is the biggest of the weekend. Seeing these numbers live proves to be something quite special, even if the band are more reserved than you’d expect from their vitriolic tunes.

You could never accuse countrymen WATAIN [8] of being reserved, of course, and though lacking the customary pyrotechnics (fire is banned at the USF, apparently due to past happenings with a certain local black metal band), they’re still one of the more visually impressive and theatrical bands of the festival. They may be increasingly divisive in the black metal scene but it’s rare to see a poor show by the Swedes, and tonight the tight musicianship, strong songwriting and unabashed showmanship make for a suitably invigorating experience.

ENDSTILLE [6] have packed out the Garage on day two and their musical assault is certainly muscular, but it lacks some of the spark we’ve seen from them in the past, though you certainly can’t question the sense of aggression. BORKNAGAR [7] are one of the bigger pulls this year and their progressive folk metal is a change of pace even if it doesn’t always quite gel.

Always a reliable live outfit, DARK FUNERAL’s [7] icy melodies and wall of blasting percussion are strangely hypnotic. Tonight the magic of the past isn’t quite there, perhaps as a result of recent lineup changes, but there’s still a suitable level of vitriol in evidence./o:p

Above: Dark Funeral: Heljarmadr spikes up/o:p

PARADISE LOST [9] probably aren’t a band you’d travel to a Norwegian extreme metal festival to see, but they prove one of the highlights of the whole event. It helps, of course, that a lot of Bergen’s old school are here to pay homage to one of metal’s more influential pioneers, but, crowd reaction aside, the band’s well-rounded setlist, great sound and earnest and charismatic performance make this memorable.

AT THE GATES [9] are now such an established festival band that you could almost forget how exciting they actually are to watch, honed into a perfect blend of adrenaline-pumping death metal assault and upbeat, classic metal vibe. Sure, the group’s material has always been pretty melodic, but Tomas Lindberg’s voice now has a definite touch of Lemmy about it and the regular touring has resulted in a real chemistry between the members. /o:p

Above: At The Gates: Tomas Lindberg picks out his next meal/o:p

Closing the night in the upstairs bar with what is surely the most heartwarming and endearing set of the festival are NWOBHM legends SATAN [9]. Playing like a band half their age, they offer a time capsule back to a different era, one embraced whole- heartedly by the crowd. WINTERFYLLETH [8] prove to be one of the festival’s stronger bands and it’s interesting to note just how many have turned up to witness what is, after all, a pretty Nordic-influenced take on the black metal template. It’s a less polished and flawless performance than their recent UK showings, but more organic and spirited because of it.

BLOOD RED THRONE [7] couldn’t be much more different, their unrelentingly aggressive death metal providing few frills but plenty of energy, even if the Dimebag impressions of their talented guitarist seem a touch incongruous. While some still regard VALLENFYRE [8] as a Paradise Lost side-project, this vehicle for Gregor Mackintosh’s more traditional leanings manages to be both authentically old school and pleasantly original./o:p

DESTRUCTION [8] go even further back, to the very roots of thrash and black metal, and have a solid following here, not least amongst the biker community. As fearsome and adrenaline-pumping as ever, their dirty thrash assault is welcomed with open arms and carries with it a definite swagger and sense of occasion. One-time bitter rivals of Norway according to legend, IMPALED NAZARENE [8] are just as angry and eccentric as ever, and although their set is temporarily derailed by a fire alarm that forces the entire venue to empty, ultimately there’s no stopping their frenzied and stripped-down assault.

SATYRICON [9] prove a fitting finale for Blastfest 2015 . Though leaning toward the latter half of their career, they dip into a few earlier, still-popular numbers such as Mother North and Fuel For Hatred, while continuing to showcase their most recent opus. The tightness and internal chemistry shows the discipline and craft of these native pioneers. It’s a fine end to a fine festival made possible by a strong vision and an army of staff and volunteers./o:p

Above: Satyricon whip up a storm/o:p