Inferno Festival - London Event
Arcturus / Red Harvest / Madder Mortem / Grimfist / Enslaved
27 January 2005
Camden Underworld

Today`s show was a kick off event for the Norwegian Inferno Festival, which is now in it`s fifth year with the 2005 event taking place 24-26 March in Oslo. This was the first year an event to promote the festival had been organised in London and the plan is to turn it into an annual event.

Prior to the show, Johan and I attended a press party in the Worlds End pub, where we had the chance to mingle and meet members of the bands playing, the festival organisers, organisers of the Norwegian by:Larm music conference, promoters and other journalists.

We also received news on the line-up for the Inferno Festival, which was later officially announced, prior to Arcturus`s set, by Jonathan Seltzer of Terrorizer, who was standing in for Martin Walkyier who unfortunately could not attend. The full line up is as follows:

Dissection, Morbid Angel, Candlemass, Arcturus, Amon Amarth, Aura Noir, Gehenna, Sunno))), Grimfist, Mortiis, Green Carnation, Mantas, Grave, Bloodthorn, Seth, Tsjunder, Vreid, Gorelord, Lamented Souls, Chton, Naer Mataron, Horricane, Zeenon, Goatlord, Obliteration, Deceiver, Nebular Mystic, Slogstorm, Taakeferd and She Said Destroy

On to the gig and due to drummer Cato Bekkevold leaving for a fishing trip in the Ascension Isles (I kid you not!) Enslaved opted to take the opening slot in order that he could make his flight. As the doors had only just opened, Enslaved took to the stage with Jotunblud to a half empty Underworld, with camera flashes going off left, right and centre.

The hypnotic Isa follows and with probably the best sound I`ve heard for an opening act in the Underworld, the audience are transfixed. Despite frontman and bassist Grutle Kjellson noting to the quickly filling venue that it`s very early, the reaction is ecstatic for each number. Enslaved`s sound has developed beyond the boundaries of black metal and despite the lightning fast drumming it at times takes on an ambient quality, gripping your insides rather than sending you into a thrashing rage. This mesmerizing effect is amplified by a series of projections on the wall behind the band.

With the likes of Violet Dawning and Return To Yggdrasil, Enslaved manage to maintain brutality whilst creating beautiful soundscapes. Brutiful!, yikes I`m turning into Peter Andre. Back in the real world, closer Fenris takes us back to 1994 and kick starts a mosh, though the live sound is more refined than on the Frost album.

Latest album Isa was one of my top five albums of last year and at my second gig of 2005, Enslaved delivered a set which was not only difficult for the rest of the bands today to follow, but that has also has set a very high water mark for the rest of the year.

Enslaved set list:
Jotunblod / Isa / The Voices / Violet Dawning / As Fire Swept Clean The Earth / Return To Yggdrasill / Fenris

As far as I`m aware this was Grimfist`s first ever live performance and it didn`t get off to a great start when they lost their bassist right at the start of the opening number. The fact that the Grimfist sound centres on the tight rhythm guitar work of Ole Walaunet meant that he wasn`t entirely missed, though all was back in order for Outlined In Black.

At times Grimfist come across as Pantera with the aggression multiplied by ten. The songs are harsh, lean of fat and, for the most, melody also which became very repetitive over time. Drawing from their only album to date, Ghouls Of Grandeur, given I had been hardly inspired by that disc, it`s not surprising that my attention wavered after a few primal blasts of metal.

Grimfist songs played included:
Christ Denied / Outlined In Black / A World Of Wrath / From Hell & Back

Madder Mortem were the only band tonight that I`d never heard before, but based on tonight`s performance, one that begs further investigation. Pinning down their sound is nigh on impossible, with a mixture of heavy doomy guitars and complex song structures, topped off with the strong vocals of Agnete Kirkevaag. Not that Madder Mortem are just another band in the mould of the current deluge of female fronted bands, as individual is the key word here.

Progressive is another word that springs to mind, particularly during the aptly named Jigsaw (The Pattern & The Puzzle) featuring weirdly timed riffing. Meanwhile Rust Cleansing showcased something more goth-lite in sound.

There`s plenty of onstage movement too, with guitarists BP M Kirkevaag and Odd Eiving Ebbesen, taking full advantage of the available space. An intriguing set then, which would probably have been more enjoyable with knowledge of the material however, the band certainly won over a few new friends in London.

Madder Mortem songs played included:
Calm / Breaker Of Worlds / Jigsaw (The Pattern & The Puzzle) / Sedation / Rust Cleansing

In the run up to this gig Red Harvest had come back up on my radar of bands to revisit. An earlier encounter with their 2000 album Cold Dark Matter had left me feeling, well, …cold. However, having picked up last years Internal Punishment Programs I was very much looking forward to their industrial take on metal.

Live the band come across a lot more organic than their mechanised recordings, with the fluid drumming of Erik Wroldsen having a large impact. Initially, as Fall Of Fate assaulted our senses, it was a little disorientating that the sound did not feel more processed, but the live element seemed to pull the material in another direction.

Desensitized era Pitchshifter and indeed Godflesh sprung to mind on a few occasions with Jim Bergsten`s vocals echoing those deep semi-shouted stylings. Bergsten`s cuts an imposing figure, with shaven head, beard and fixated eyes and he really is the focal point of the band.

As the set wore on I actually found myself wishing that Lars Sørensen`s samples, the bank of which had taken up much of the balcony behind the band, would take a more leading role in the live sound. The reality was that the shadow cast by Enslaved`s set loomed and likely I was seeing all the sets through a more critical eye.

Red Harvest songs played included:
Fall Of Fate / Mekanism / GodTech / Cybernaut / Teknocrate / Internal Punishment Programs / Cold Dark Matter / AEP / Beyond The End

There was huge anticipation of Arcturus`s set and, with things running nearly an hour late, patience was running thin. Poor Jonathan Seltzer was to bare the brunt of that from a boorish section of the crowd with little interest for a prize raffle and festival announcement.

What to expect from the Arcturus live experience then? My hopes that the La Masquerade Infernale cd booklet would spring to life were, although rather high, not entirely quashed, with the band appearing in similar flouncey clothing, looking like they had stepped off a Spanish galleon.

Perhaps with the shock of actually finally seeing the band live I became a bit lost in their carnivalesque sound and it wasn`t until Skoll`s lurching bass line accompanying Ad Absurdum that I managed to get a grip of what was going on. The bouncing riff set the crowd off stage front with Knut Valle starting an "oi" chant in the middle section.

The return of Simen Hestnaes, also of Dimmu Borgir, to the band in the role of official frontman rather than guest had been well received and tonight was his first duty manning the Arcturus vessel. Having dispensed with his cape, Hestenaes in large white shirt held a commanding presence. His vocal abilities in handling the wacky semi operatic lead vocals are more than capable.

Alone took the pace up to more traditional black metal levels with some furious guitar work, whilst on the flipside, Steiner Sverd Johnsen`s excellent keyboards mid Nightmare Heaven, brought to mind Massive Attack. Meanwhile, The Chaos Path, on which Hestnaes had previously made his guest appearance on the La Masquerade Infernale album got the biggest response of the set.

Heading back to the Aspera Hiems Symfonia album for Raudt Og Svart and To Thou Who Dwellest in the Night, the presence of Jan Axel Von Blomberg aka Hellhammer behind the kit does not go unnoticed by one fan who on clambering on to the stage, threw himself to the ground in "we`re not worthy" posturing, before being tossed back into the crowd.

With the band leaving the stage and both Kinetic and Ad Astra yet to make an appearance, everyone seems sure the band will return, however disappointingly they do not. This was billed as an event with the bands being given short sets and hence was the perfect starting point for the new Arcturus line-up to make their live debut. It`s to be hoped having seen the reaction they will return to our shores with a longer set.

Arcturus set list:
Master of Disguise / Painting my Horror / Ad Absurdum / Alone / Nightmare Heaven / The Chaos Path / Raudt Og Svart / To Thou Who Dwellest in the Night

In summary, Inferno`s London event was a very successful occasion. Prior to the gig, Ann Frestad, one of the organisers, had told me they had not known what to expect and was delighted when the event had sold out. It would therefore seem that this could be a regular fixture on the London metal calendar. As for the gig, Enslaved easily walked away with top honours in the first 45mins.

Camden Underworld
Inferno Festival
Red Harvest
Madder Mortem