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Blastfest 2016

Abbath and Ihsahn head up an all-Norwegian extravaganza

Norwegians are very patriotic when it comes to heavy metal, so the decision by Blastfest to go all-native for its third year seems like a canny one.

But where last November’s all-Nordic Blekkmetal event in the same, picturesquely lake-hugging venue focused on the roots of black metal, this is a celebration of the breadth of the scene now, and even if some of the locals are missing an element of surprise that would’ve come with an international lineup, this weekend is a statement of intent that’s drawn pilgrims from across the globe.

Fresh from a Norwegian Grammy award, KAMPFAR [8] are in triumphant mood tonight, charismatic frontman Dolk overcoming an underpowered PA through force of will. The more folky elements are sucked up into their black metal charge like birds through a jet engine and spat out as venomous anthems that has the early crowd madly waving fists. DØDHEIMSGARD’s [6] progressive patchwork never fully gels. Frontman Aldrahn looks like an estate agent from Sirius-B, and their set has all the band’s playfulness but little of the power. Upstairs on the Studio stage, VULTURE INDUSTRIES [8] do manage to bring personality to their progressive roamings, a tuxedoed Bjørnar Nilsen acting as ring-master as songs inhabit and stumble through a vaudevillian world that reaches its most evocative expression during a closing Lost Amongst Liars.

Taake‘s Hoest: a glassy act

Taake‘s Hoest: a glassy act
(Image: © Inaki Campos)

Local heroes TAAKE [7] are subdued by the PA for the first half of their set. But Hoest is one of the scene’s most feral and charismatic of frontmen, and by the time Hordalands Doedskvad, Part I, breaks into riff-spasming effect, all Hell breaks loose. A packed Studio stage witnesses VIRUS [8] roll and tumble through innumerable, sloshing currents that unmoor the mind to delirious effect. Having brought in their own, transformative strain to black metal, a reconfigured IN THE WOODS… [5] are back from a 14-year absence, but their combination of pastoralism and pomp is turned into ramshackle renditions that only just hold on to their former charm. EXECRATION [8] bring a welcome dose of occult-tainted filth, taking the wracked witness of early Death and warping it through dimensions mere humans weren’t meant to tread. If it feels like the post-schism GORGOROTH [7] are still seeking a fully fledged identity, Hoest proves he’s the one frontman capable of taking up the reins from Gaahl. Amidst the return of a naked crucified woman and trio of sheep heads onstage, this is still fired-up black metal in excelsis, an opening Bergtrollets Hevn grim and epic and a combination of Destroyer and Incipit Satan throwing down its curse on all mankind.

Ihsahn: the prog metal professor

Ihsahn: the prog metal professor
(Image: © Inaki Campos)

FRIDAY

As if to counter the day’s quizzical news reports that three sheep heads have been found at various locations around Bergen, the main stage for Friday is mostly reserved for bands who have disavowed their black metal past. SOLEFALD’s [7] excitable willingness to throw everything into their pot, including Euro-disco beats and a live painter onstage doesn’t faze a game crowd, but there’s still more energy between frontmen Cornelius Jakhelln and Lazare Nedland than there is discernible method. Having jumped ship into far more lushly atmospheric waters long ago, MANES[6] studious, electronic-backed sojourns never wade into territories as far out as Ulver, and for all their open-ended nature, often remain in the realms of the ponderous.

On the Sardinen stage, SLEGEST’s [8] riffs are stretched taut over the most minimalist of frames, but soon become mesmerising, a distillation of Viking metal and biker rock with grooves of pure gristle. Another band back from the grave, FUNERAL’s [7] sonorous and soulful doom owes a debt to Paradise Lost, but the genuine emotion entrances a full crowd upstairs. Normally equally sedate, KRAKOW [9] have brought back former members for a special set that surges through every synapse until the crowd have reached full ecstatic effect. ARCTURUS [7] aren’t at their best tonight, a muddy mix flattening out many of their musical tangents, even if Nightmare Heaven’s echoing pulses bring their exploratory vision back to the fore.

1349’s Ravn: a black metal speed demon

1349’s Ravn: a black metal speed demon
(Image: © Inaki Campos)

1349 [8] are a strange proposition, regarded as keepers of the BM flame, even though their hyperspeed technicality was never in the movement’s blueprint. They are stunning, though, the likes of Cauldron forsaking atmosphere for a maximalist, mind-filling vision. Drawn to the more warrior-like German strand of thrash metal, but amplified through a reverb-drenched, occult air and Darkthrone’s bug-eyed punk mania, NEKROMANTHEON [9] are one of the most unhinged and exhilarating bands of their ilk on this planet right now. THE 3RD ATTEMPT [7] barrel through a punked-up BM template with orgiastic fervour before IHSAHN [9] offers a spinetingling masterclass, a clarity of sound and vision that echoes across Frozen Lakes On Mars and a My Heart Is Of The North that sounds like it’s picking off the crust of reality for richer fare below. This is mind-expanding delirium.

Khold prey for your soul

Khold prey for your soul
(Image: © Inaki Campos)

SATURDAY

Part hardcore, part shit-kicking, Kvelertakked rock’n’roll, OSLO FAENSKAP [8] are an adrenaline jolt for hungover earlybirds and stormtroopers for Norway’s next generation. Frontman Gard leads KHOLD [7] through an unfussy take on BM that sounds like vultures pulling flesh off a corpse. VREDEHAMMER’s [8] muscular, modern-sounding black/death is akin to wolfing down a can of Creatine, even powering through the loss of one guitar, while a riotous BLOOD TSUNAMI [8] are the aural equivalent of flossing your insides with a bullet belt. Another band back from the dead, the fact that RED HARVEST [8] are even playing at all is enough to induce euphoria for many, and they’re still every bit as massive as we remember. Getting the biggest crowd of the festival so far, GREEN CARNATION’s [9] rendition of 2001’s single-track Light Of Day, Day Of Darkness album is a a jaw-dropping invocation of a progressive masterpiece, Kjetil Nordhus’s versatile vocals just one element of a journey that melds pastoral, Opeth-like passages, rich, Mellotron-riven reveries and injections of blackened riffs.

In The Woods... sound a little out of it on the night

In The Woods... sound a little out of it on the night
(Image: © Inaki Campos)

ABBATH [8] still has much to prove, and two songs into Blastfest’s closing set it’s looking like the London debacle wasn’t a blip. Once more, riffs are near-inaudible, feedback invades Winter Bane and aghast gazes are spreading. But as Nebular Ravens Winter starts sawing through the USF, that grim, unearthly current starts to return and Abbath both starts to reclaim his legacy and chart his new course, the coursing, incandescent cyclone of Ashes Of The Damned and bloodthirsty litany of Fenrir Hunts the sound of dense matter transcending itself. It’s not all perfect: Abbath’s stage antics aren’t the source of his appeal, the band mistime much of Tyrants and the stage exit is sudden, but Blastfest still leaves a much-needed restoration of faith as its aftermath.