Words/Photos : Simon Ward
Before things took a turn for the worse, my last festival outing was here in Norway. After a seemingly endless 3 year wait, I would finally get to return to Bergen for a very special edition of the Beyond the Gates festival. This year’s iteration would see 2 days take place in the culturally significant Grieghallen concert hall, in celebration of the fact that this was the venue where several of black metal’s most important albums were recorded in the early 90s. The larger capacity and such an illustrious environment would serve to make this already highly anticipated occasion all that more special.
Various airport related delays beforehand meant that I would only arrive at the venue in time to catch Vemod’s set. The run to the venue and the stress were worth it, as Vemod are one of those very special bands whose material is elevated in a live setting. Awash in blue light, in front of a projected starry background, the Trondheim 4 piece brought us on a hypnotic, blissfully melancholic journey. Venter På Stormene material sounded bright and resonant and the new, as yet unreleased material was a welcome addition to the set.
I’d be more familiar with Gaahl’s Gorgoroth material, but Gaahl’s WYRD and their heavy/black metal were nevertheless enjoyable to witness.
Opening with Ghosts Invited, the ominous, clean vocals were in stark contrast to what I was used to. This was to be short lived, as they launched directly into Gorgoroth’s Carving a Giant. More familiar territory, for sure, with Gaahl pacing the stage menacingly as he shrieked the lyrics at a very appreciative crowd.
Ferocious yet contemplative and at times bordering on the psychedelic, these are the sounds of a band unencumbered by the past, and willing to let their personalities speak.
1349 (named after the year during which the plague reached Norwegian shores) don’t do much in the way of crowd interaction. All the better, as it would just disrupt their momentum. Relentless vocalist Ravn and co. suitably spiked, bullet belted, and corpse painted powered through a set of high tempo, aggressively hellish black metal.
Beyond the Gates 2022 would provide another outing for Abbath. Black metal’s crab walking Gene Simmons took to the stage with characteristic bombast whereupon we were treated to a set comprised mostly of this latest venture’s material, but with occasional dips into the I and Immortal back catalogues. An enjoyable and energetic set concluded with the epic Beyond the North Waves from Immortal’s Sons of Northern Darkness.
Wednesday began with a continuation of the now established tradition of a separate, smaller venue playing host to some of the scene’s more underground acts. First up were Costa Rican/German occult black metallers Umbra Conscientia. The first live performance of the Terratur Possessions rostered band would take place today, in the Kulturhuset venue. Occult black metal, with hints of Katharsis, Ascension and Sinmara, provided a suitably chaotic start to the day. Creative and unorthodox riffs and hooks, accentuated by some properly devastating drumming showcase a very talented band. It’s likely that they would have played live before now, had it not been for a couple of years’ worth of lockdowns and travel restrictions, but they appear to have used their time wisely. A very well oiled machine, and one for whom the future will likely hold good things.
Next up were Finland’s Bythos – another band on the Terratur Possessions roster, featuring members from Horna and Behexen. Melodic, elegant leads weave their way through mid paced and sometimes doomy passages while sparingly used double bass drumming underlines and accentuates the songs’ focal points. Intense and involved, vocalist M.S. contributes greatly to the foreboding atmosphere as he bellows forth his blasphemous messages.
Back to USF Verftet in the evening and today’s lineup would take a considerably less ferocious approach. A medley of occult rock, traditional heavy metal and more progressive sounds were on the menu this evening
Year of the Goat
Occult Swedish rockers Year of the Goat opened with a set of old school heavy rock. Despite not being massively into this particular genre, I did enjoy the change in pace and powerful delivery.
NWOBHM legends Satan would follow, and despite technical issues at the beginning of the set (neutralised by frontman Brian Ross’ sense of humour) the band quickly regained momentum and got back to business. Highlights included Break Free (“nothing to do with lads in wigs, vacuuming” we were assured) and set closer Alone in the Dock.
Swedish/German occult rockers Lucifer were next. A band with bags of charisma, channelled by perpetually motile frontwoman Johanna Sadonis. It was hard not to be swept along by their energy and passion. Not my particular cup of tea, but in a live setting there’s plenty to dig here.
This was to be my 2nd time seeing Icelandic post rockers Sólstafir live. The first time being Redemption Festival in Dublin many years ago. Fans were presented with a lively, emotionally charged performance, the highlights of which were my own personal favourites Pale Rider from Köld and Fjara from Svartir Sandir.
There was a time when Opeth were near the top of the list of bands I had seen most often. Despite not having seen them in close to 15 years and with changes in musical directions (theirs and mine), I was still very much looking forward to witnessing them once again. With a set heavily weighted in favour of material with clean vocals (notable exceptions being The Drapery Falls and Deliverance) it was a very pleasant trip down memory lane. The one downside was that I wasn’t able to appreciate Mikael’s between song banter as he opted not to deliver it in English! A very minor complaint about an otherwise enjoyable set.
Proceedings kicked off once again in Kulturhuset, with Djevel occupying the first slot. Very much traditional Norwegian black metal with cold riffs, wonderful walking basslines and a very capable Faust on drums. Sounds that bring to mind the formidable, unforgiving winter landscapes assaulted the audience, with the excellent Tanker som rir natten material sounding particularly spirited.
Next we have a band who, despite their popularity, are very much at home in smaller, more intimate venues. With an intensity unmatched by most others, Darvaza unleash a finely honed, high energy sonic barrage, fronted by the spectacularly intense Wraath. A set with every release from their discography represented was closed with a cover of Celestial Bloodshed’s Gospel of Hate.
It would be quite wrong not to have Iceland’s vibrant black metal scene represented at Beyond the Gates. Thankfully Misþyrming are more than capable of flying the flag for their cold, sulphuric homeland. A characteristically energetic and vigorous performance with some cracking (to these ears) new material thrown in for good measure. A band who I won’t be tiring of seeing live any time soon.
Goat heads adorned the stage as Whoredom Rife began their assault. A whirlwind of guitars and blastbeats engulf the audience, as intimidating vocalist K.R. prowls the stage, roaring and blaspheming. Melodic at times, but never lacking in ferocity, Whoredom Rife fit in very comfortably with the rest of the acts on today’s bill.
You always know what you’re going to get with an Archgoat concert. And that’s not a bad thing. Because you’re going to get bludgeoned with some absolutely blasphemous riffs. The Finnish underground institution ploughed through a set featuring material from the most recent All Christianity Ends and from as far back as Whore of Bethlehem. This is stripped down, no-nonsense, single minded malevolence at its finest.
Mg?a are a band of whom I always have high expectations before a live show, and they have yet to disappoint. Faceless, with matching outfits and with a minimum of movement, the music is the focal point here. The 10 song set contained mostly songs from the latest 2 albums, with just one each from With Hearts Toward None and Md?o?ci. Unfortunately, it appears that the anthemic WHTN VII has been dropped from their set in recent performances, but that’s a minor quibble. One of the highlights of any Mg?a gig is Darkside’s drumming. As good as it is on record, witnessing it in the flesh is another thing altogether. And proof that there’s no trickery involved! A very solid set, delivered flawlessly. As expected.
German thrashers Sodom are a band I had mostly overlooked. This wasn’t the case for the rest of the crowd, it seemed. Even before they took to the stage, a sea of patch vested thrash fans of all ages had made their presence known, and would continue to do so, as they sang along and crowd surfed their way towards the stage. Acid voiced frontman Tom Angelripper definitely seemed to appreciate the feedback, if his between song spiels were anything to go by. Towards the end of their set, the band were joined on stage by Bombers frontman Tore for a cover of Motorhead’s Over the Top.
A post-Sodom return to Kulturhuset had New York black metallers Ominous Resurrection take to the stage. Plague doctor-esque masks and an eerie guitar harmoniser effects pedal helped create some quite unsettling vibes as the band worked their way through a hypnotic, intense set. Slow, sinister sounding, dissonant lead passages followed by bursts of intense riffing and thunderous drumming were the order of the night. A very unique live band, for sure.
Trondheim’s Misotheist made quite an impression on me at Beyond the Gates 2019. Since then they have added to their discography with the immense For the Glory of Your Redeemer. The chance to see them again with new material was something I was very much looking forward to since their addition to the bill. Aggressive and spiteful, Misotheist are a band with a comprehensive understanding of classic black metal, and who also possess the songwriting ability to do the genre and themselves justice. No talents go to waste here – every ounce of them has been put into their craft. The suffocating bleakness is even more pronounced in a live setting, and despite the fact that this was only their 3rd ever live performance, one would be forgiven for thinking that this was an act finely honed by dozens of outings. A very powerful experience, and one that’s indicative of what black metal at its best can offer.
Austrians Kringa get Thursday off to a nice rowdy start. Unorthodox, punk infused black metal is what we’re in for, and Kringa can absolutely deliver. Never boring, not even for a second, the 4-piece, fronted by the highly kinetic Vritra, unleash a maelstrom of a performance featuring plenty of material from the excellent Feast Upon the Gleam. Marvellous stuff, and just what the doctor ordered to get me prepared for another day after the previous night’s high.
I had liked Nekromantheon ever since Cast Down to the Void greeted me upon placing the stylus on 2012’s Rise, Vulcan Spectre. I got the chance to see them several years later at the Til Dovre Faller festival, and was glad to be presented with the opportunity to catch them once again. Aggressive, tight, blisteringly fast late 80s style thrash can be absolutely medicinal in the right setting, and after the drought of anything resembling live music for so long, this was the right setting. Plenty of songs from Rise and some from latest offering Visions of Trismegistos kept the hair flying and the fists in the air.
As mentioned earlier, Grieghallen would host several bands in celebration of the part it played in the recording of some of black metal’s most important albums. The first of three such albums, Enslaved’s Vikingligr Veldi would be played in its entirety to start the evening. Despite technical issues near the beginning (alleviated in typically humorous fashion by frontman Grutle) the band got back into the swing of things and enthusiastically put out a set of this innovative early material, with all the collective experience and of the band’s current incarnation aiding its conveyance. The atmosphere never fades, as tremolo picked riffs and blastbeats are buttressed with strategically placed keyboard pieces. This is a band whose enthusiasm is palpable and infectious, as they’re clearly enjoying what they do. Long may they continue to do so!
Another of the very special additions to the bill were the legendary Emperor, celebrating “3 decades of emperial darkness!” Opening with In the Wordless Chamber (which I hadn’t expected to ever hear live!) and Thus Spake the Nightspirit, this was a band who have lost absolutely none of their fire or talent. As competent and focused as they ever had been, they were to show us exactly how it’s done. Note perfect renditions of the likes of Curse You All Men were standout moments in a night of standout moments.
Towards the end of the set, a lineup change saw the band joined by original members Faust on drums and Mortiis on bass to perform some of their earliest material. This was a particularly exciting moment to witness! We were treated to Wrath of the Tyrant, I am the Black Wizards as well as covers of Celtic Frost’s The Usurper and Bathory’s Call from the Grave before the current lineup once again took to the stage and closed with a stunning version of Ye Entrancemperium.
Tonight’s performance of DMDS took on an even more special meaning as this was the very venue in which the album was recorded 30 years ago. A cowled Necrobutcher, Ghul and Teloch, with Hellhammer similarly obscured behind his drum kit, took to the blue light bathed stage before launching into opener Funeral Fog. Atilla, robed and hidden behind a mask bearing various occult symbols exuded pure menace while providing the most animated and involved performance of his that I had witnessed to date, presumably feeding off the energy of the 2000+ strong crowd.
No surprises in the set, but it didn’t matter. This was a faultless execution of a legendary album in a very rare setting.
Unto Others are a band who caught me off guard completely. I was familiar with them in name only, but I’ll be rectifying that as soon as possible. Post punk, goth tinged sounds that were thankfully not lacking in the heaviness department either. All delivered in a passionate, highly spirited fashion, especially from their guitarist Sebastian, who was giving it everything he had. A very pleasant surprise.
Tribulation’s sound has undergone a seismic shift over the years. Now we have a much less aggressive and more introspective act than we had back in the days of The Horror or The Formulas of Death. Reflecting this, the set consisted mostly of material from their latest offering Where the Gloom Becomes Sound, with Strange Gateways Beckon from the stellar Children of the Night as the oldest output represented.
Sounding gothic, melancholic and more laid back, the quartet indulged us with a confident performance as incense burned and fog rolled across the stage. Very enjoyable, but part of me wanted to hear something more along the lines of When the Sky is Black with Devils (though thankfully I was able to experience that several years ago!)
I had felt that since Reverend Bizarre called it quits, there has been a distinct lack of exceptional doom metal being produced. Therefore, tonight’s set would be an opportunity to hear something exceptional live once again.
Nightfall in its entirety would be a trip down memory lane for me, as it (along with Solstice’s New Dark Age) was prominent in the soundtrack to my final year in university.
Johan Längqvist and co. were simply enchanting as they weaved their way through the epic doom masterpiece. The Well of Souls and At the Gallows End were particularly captivating, with the band giving it their all to a very appreciative crowd of doom aficionados.
It’s hard to overstate how much I was looking forward to this. The announcement of one of the most influential and respected metal acts ever for this year’s festival was a magnificent stroke.
This current run of festival appearances marks the first Mercyful Fate live shows in 23 years, as well as this one being their first concert on Norwegian soil.
The band took to the (suitably evil looking) stage, with the King himself behind a black goat head mask, and got stuck into things, with the zest one would expect. The band (with just Hank Shermann from the original lineup) stayed put mostly, but all eyes were on King as he swaggered, gurned and air guitared with his bone mic stand. Abandoning the goat mask and donning a spiky black crown, the robed frontman introduced a new song before returning to the band’s classic material, mostly from Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, with 2 from the self titled EP. It was quite something to hear THAT voice live. Sure, I had seen old footage of Mercyful Fate and more recent footage of his solo performances, but in the flesh, it was on another level and sounded as good as it ever did. Utterly electrifying. This was heavy metal theatre at its finest.
An 80 minute set concluded all too soon. As did the festival itself, it must be said. A 5 day event might have seemed like a marathon on paper, but after a hiatus of 3 years this seemed like a mere weekend. Once again, the festival was a success, with everything running smoothly and without issue. A very positive experience in terms of bands and effort behind the scenes by the organisers.
Roll on 2023!