This year’s 15th anniversary for Inferno Festival begins with an Icelandic extravaganza – with no less than three bands from that (other) Northern land playing downstairs at the riverside Vulkan venue, namely MISÞYRMING , SINMARA  and SVARTIDAUÐI .
It’s an intimate setting and it’s not always easy to get a good view but nonetheless the result is an increasingly intense display of black metal – the latter act in particular having a notably possessed air tonight. Upstairs, Sweden’s NAGLFAR  prove a surprise highlight, offering an enthusiastic and notably rousing set, their icy black metal melodies translating well to the stage thanks in part to a decent sound./o:p
Headliners ARCTURUS  meanwhile carry a definite air of confidence about them tonight – as well they might, having just returned with a very impressive comeback album – and there is a celebratory and jovial vibe on stage, even by the band’s own standards. New material is aired amid the older standards and the inter-band chemistry proves as strong as ever, the stellar musicianship of all involved adding depth to the sometimes deceptively catchy songs./o:p
Following the rich textures of Greeks SEPTICFLESH , Swedes ANTICHRIST  provide a stripped down and somewhat generic take on the new-school/old-school thrash sound, while in Rockefeller’s spacious confines the ever-dependable 1349  provide their usual high-paced Nordic black metal devastation to the obvious delight of the assembled crowd./o:p
Taking a stroll round the corner, experimental metallers VIRUS  are quite at home in the Kulturhuset, a small, contemporary and vaguely arty bar. A welcome diversion from the norm, the band’s combination of the catchy and the challenging proves both intense and engaging. Up on the same stage are VULTURE INDUSTRIES , a band who have gone from being something approaching an Arcturus clone to a very distinctive and enjoyable outfit. Their theatricality and inventiveness extends beyond their compositions to the performance itself and the passion and eccentricity displayed make this an exhilarating affair.
On paper ENSIFERUM  would appear to be a band whose moment should have passed, not least since their take on Finnish folk metal seems to have moved closer to early Turisas territories thanks to the accordion-augmented disco flirtations. And yet, as always, the band somewhat transcend apparent limitations to create a genuinely uplifting live experience that only the most cynical could knock.
BEHEMOTH  on the other hand are quite obviously on a career-high right now, and their headlining set this evening underlines what a state-of-the-art act they really are, the tightness and musical complexity balanced by a very visceral take on the blackened death metal template./o:p
Coming all the way from Egypt, CRESCENT  are not quite as exotic as you might suppose, despite the occasional use of Eastern scales, but offer a competent and reasonably dynamic set of death metal, played with youthful exuberance. SKELETONWITCH  sound strangely lightweight tonight, in part due to the slightly thin sound, but also because the extremity of other bands at this festival somehow emphasises the thrash leanings in their cross-genre approach this time around. It’s not particularly intense, but then again it passes the time pleasantly (as much as that might sound like damning with faint praise).
With their ritualistic attire and flamboyant frontman, DØDSENGEL  are one of the more eccentric acts playing Inferno this year and they continue to display much promise, their take on Norwegian black metal reassuringly fresh. With a definite old-school slant tonight, MY DYING BRIDE  provide a pleasant change of pace and their violin-augmented death-doom certainly pleases the crowd tonight. The only Finnish act aside from Ensiferum, SARGEIST  feel like a breath of fresh air and end up offering one of the strongest straight-up black metal performances of the festival. Utterly monochromatic in both appearance and sound, tonight is a reminder that the foundation for many of their fast and furious songs is actually a surprising degree of emotive melody and depth.
Anything but monochromatic, it’s nonetheless very easy to take ENSLAVED  for granted, so comfortable and well established is their position in the upper echelons of Nordic metal. A show like tonight’s, however, proves that such acclaim is totally justified. Whether it is the lighter yet undeniably mesmerising new material or their performance of the trusted golden oldie Allf ðr Oðinn, the band are on fire, pouring energy into a set that is granted perhaps the best sound of the festival.
Though their set seems criminally short, KAMPFAR  make an impression, not only offering the best use of pyro but a spirited performance that benefits from what is arguably a career-high in terms of recorded output. Also on the main stage are fellow Norwegians DØDHEIMSGARD , whose skilful recreation of their complex and cerebral recordings proves utterly compelling, the recent lineup shift having been accompanied by a dramatic shift in performance, the elaborate visuals of the band’s last tour/album cycle replaced by a more intimate and calm demeanour./o:p
Another legendary band, Italian veterans MORTUARY DRAPE  prove to be one of the highlights of the whole event, thanks to a furious performance that is at once utterly old school yet totally fresh, the band’s ceremonial vibe ironically now more in keeping with current tastes than ever.
Rather less furious are death metal supergroup BLOODBATH , whose measured combination of Swedish death metal and early Paradise Lost overtones (and not merely because Nick is now fronting the band) adds suitable gravitas to what is the end of the festival for most, with a definite sense of occasion and the epic brought to proceedings./o:p