Words and Photos from Simon Ward
Beyond the Gates is a metal festival dedicated to the true spirit of the underground, located in Bergen, Norway. The festival has been running since 2012 and the main venue is USF Verftet. The 2019 edition of the festival took place 21.08 – 24.08.2019
I make no secret of the fact that Norway is one of my favourite places to be. Its raw natural beauty coupled with its legendary metal scene make it a very appealing destination for nature loving metalheads. Therefore, a trip to my 3rd Beyond the Gates was a no-brainer. This marked the first year that it would be a 4 dayer, although I was only able to attend days 2-4. Thankfully I didn’t feel short-changed!
My festival began on Thursday evening, where Kolbotn natives Obliteration got things off to a nice, rowdy start with some murky, banging, old-school death metal. Bags of energy, riffs that pack a wallop. The perfect way to get into the swing of things.
Next up were Svartidauði, and for anyone familiar with what the Icelandic scene has to offer, it’s quite probably because the 4-piece’s nihilistic, sulphuric debut “Flesh Cathedral” made them start paying attention to it in the first place. A set of old and new material, hallucinogenic, twisted and well-honed by regular gigging since the release of Revelations of the Red Sword, was performed to the high standard expected by those of us who had seen them previously. More of this sort of thing, please.
Behexen followed, and to be honest, they just couldn’t command my attention. Whether it was due to them playing in the shadow of Svartidauði, or the fact that I’m not quite as familiar with their material as I should be, it was merely a flat affair. Everyone rightly seemed to appreciate My Soul for His Glory, however.
Marduk are a band who I’ve somehow managed to avoid seeing live until tonight. It’s not like they don’t gig regularly enough! Now I would bear witness to the attack of these black metal stalwarts, and what an experience that would be. “Pummeling” is one word to describe it. Right from the get-go, we were subjected to a mechanised assault. A blasting, aggressive, unrelenting set kicking off with Panzer Division Marduk and Baptism by Fire was precisely the blitzkrieg I had been expecting. It’s worth seeing Marduk to understand just how incredibly tight they are. Time has neither slowed them nor quelled their militancy. Ferocious stuff. And I’ll make a point of seeing them live again when the opportunity arises.
Having seen Mayhem several times on their De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas tour, the advertised setlist of the Friday headliners was something I was looking forward to. Sure, we had certainties like Freezing Moon and Pagan Fears, but tracks from Chimera and Grand Declaration of War certainly helped reinvigorate a set with which I had grown too familiar over the last couple of years.
With my first day completed, I took to the dampened streets of Bergen to find my lodgings where I would recover and prepare for the more involved 2nd day.
In keeping with the tradition established 2 years prior (after the festival moved to a larger premises) an afternoon show in a smaller venue would start us off today. With the unfortunate closure of Garage shortly after the 2018 festival, a suitable alternative was found in Kvartaret, where black thrashers Inculter served to shake off any cobwebs with their blistering, energised set, lapped up enthusiastically by a similarly lively crowd. It’s always good to be surprised by and to get fully into a band despite having neither seen nor heard them previously. Not even the obvious and dramatic (and thankfully short-lived) sound issue towards the end of their set phased them. A great way to start day 2.
This day would also mark the first performance of Trondheim’s Misotheist, a band with whom I was barely familiar, yet looking forward to, as one would upon an examination of the calibre of their label mates on Terratur Possessions.
For me, this was one of the highlights of the festival. Harsh, yet somewhat melancholic black metal (think Vemod, but much more spiteful) delivered by an understated, corpse-painted quintet. Any thoughts I might have had about taking a break and preparing for the main event that evening were quickly dismissed as utterly foolish. This is the kind of experience that makes it all worthwhile.
Back at USF Verftet, Varathron were getting things off to a darkened, occult-tinged start. Despite not being very well acquainted with them, I nevertheless enjoyed what I heard. There’s no mistaking that quintessential Greek sound!
Shifting the evening into a different gear were Swedish hard/space-rockers Horisont, with a sound and look straight from the 70s (looking quite out of place alongside their more spike and bullet clad stage mates.) Despite being not at all familiar with their recorded output, I thoroughly enjoyed their upbeat, retro-styled swagger.
Next up were Arcturus, a band I had wanted to see live since I heard their 2002 album The Sham Mirrors. I’m always a bit concerned when a new vocalist steps in after the departure of one who was present on what’s regarded as a band’s “classic” material, especially one as talented as Garm. Thankfully Vortex is no slouch in the vocal department and we were treated to an enjoyable, theatrical set loaded with classics from “Aspera Hiems Symfonia”, “La Masquerade Infernale” and, thankfully, “The Sham Mirrors”. Well worth the 17 year wait!
Now things get ratcheted up several notches, as one of the most important black metal bands in the history of the genre are about to hit the stage. I have been a fan of Emperor‘s for almost 20 years, and having seen them live only once (Wacken 2006) I had built up quite an appetite for another dose of what they had to offer. After an interminable wait, the curtains finally parted and Alsvartr (The Oath) began to play from the PA as the band took to the stage to a lively reception.
Standing right at the front, I was hit with the opening tremolo riffs and blastbeats of Ye Entrancemperium delivered by a band who hadn’t seemed to have lost an ounce of passion for what they do, considering their long periods of inactivity. A razor sharp performance, from the absolute masters. Highlights for me included I am the Black Wizards, With Strength I Burn, and the goosebump-summoning singalong at the end of Thus Spake the Nightspirit. A triumphant performance from a band without peer. If only one could somehow bottle this type of magic and sample it at will.
I have seen Ireland’s largest metal export countless times at this stage, and am very happy to see Primordial occupy a very prestigious (if slightly puzzling) slot on this lineup. Entering the stage to Liam Weldon’s Dark Horse on the Wind, and kicking straight into Where Greater Men Have Fallen, the lads were giving it absolute socks. Sure, I had heard this material a dozen times before, but when it features the galloping riffs from To Hell or the Hangman or the sombre tone and mournfulness of The Coffin Ships, none of that matters. It’s just that good.
Saturday’s ritual was initiated quite appropriately by the dark priests of Necros Christos. Having announced that they would call it quits after their 3rd album, I figured I should try to see them live as many times as possible, before it was too late. Once again, it’s hard to be disappointed by a setlist one is familiar with when the material is so well-crafted and drawn from a varied back catalogue. It’s always a pleasure to hear a particularly crushing version of the doomy “Curse of the Necromantical Sabbath” as well as the more recent, energetic “Tombstone Chapel”.
Next up were Lucifer, with their 70s infused, fuzzed out occult rock. Another change in style and pace to what we’ve had so far, allowing for a bit of a breather. The tasseled 5 piece fronted by tambourine-shaking frontwoman Johanna Sadonis plough through a set weighted strongly in favour of their 2nd album.
Getting back into the swing of things, sleazy US black ‘n’ rollers Midnight took to the stage to provide a bit of grit and adrenaline. It’s easy to see why everyone speaks so highly of these guys’ gigs. It’s just killer riffs, energy and non-stop motion as the guitarist and bassist flail about the stage belting out absolute rippers. The crowd are eating up this Bathory meets Motorhead meets Darkthrone type of racket and the lads are feeding off it, ending up in the front row as the set reaches its conclusion.
The penultimate act of the festival are Swedish epic doom legends Candlemass featuring their Epicus Doomicus Metallicus vocalist Johan Längquist. Opening with Well of Souls, he sounds like he might as well have penned it originally. What a voice! The set continues with a mixture of old and new and we finally get something from the Längquist era in A Sorcerer’s Pledge. An absolute doom anthem! How great it is to witness it being performed by its creator! We even get to sing Happy Birthday to guitarist Lasse, who is presented with a cake! Not very “metal” but charming and amusing nonetheless. A couple more tracks and it’s over, all too soon.
And finally, we have Abbath. Norway’s crab-walking black metal Gene Simmons & co. take to the stage, dwarfed by a large, metallic band logo placed in front of the drums. Sandwiched between 2 fans blasting stage fog, aiding the grim and frostbitten shtick, the frog-voiced frontman powered through a set featuring mostly material from the band’s 2 albums which included a welcome (to these ears) cover of Warriors from the “I” project. An enjoyable set, but not quite a headlining act, in my opinion, considering the band’s “newness” (Eikemo’s pedigree notwithstanding). Regardless, it is good to finally get to see the man himself live, after hearing so many myths and stories from the days in which Immortal were active.
And with that, proceedings are brought to an end. Yet again, another wonderful festival experience enhanced immeasurably by the tourist activities in which I engaged while not metalling. Already, tickets for 2020 are on sale and I’m starting to think about booking days off well in advance for trip no. 4.