Beyond The Gates Is A Metal Music Festival That Takes Place In Bergen, Norway From August 2nd-5th, 2023 – Recap And Highlights!!!

August rolled around once again, and with that came the opportunity to see some of the best underground acts as well as some legendary metal bands that the scene...

 

Photos and Words: Simon Ward

 

August rolled around once again, and with that came the opportunity to see some of the best underground acts as well as some legendary metal bands that the scene has to offer. Hosted in the picturesque and quaint city of Bergen, Beyond the Gates is very much a festival for metal fans by metal fans.

Spirit Possession
The honour of getting proceedings kicked off this year would go to Portland’s Spirit Possession. Bathed in red light and obscured by copious amounts of stage fog, the 2-piece invited attendees on a violent and psychedelic black metal journey. With sounds at times reminiscent of Negative Plane, Funereal Presence and Aura Noir, Spirit Possession has nevertheless managed to carve its niche, allowing them to be heeded amongst the well-populated USBM scene.

Midnight
Midnight became the first band to take to the newly added stage – USF Hallen. A canny move by the organisers, allowing bands some extra breathing room to set up, as well as avoiding the exodus of fans to the front of the venue between acts. Having seen them before, I knew what to expect, namely frantic, sleazy black’n’roll delivered with manic enthusiasm. As always, they were received rapturously, as there’s just something about their particular racket that invites one to get fully immersed.

Grave Miasma
As always, it’s an enormous pleasure to catch Grave Miasma live. If you’re a fan of occult, cavernous riffs, intricate, aggressive drumming, and vocals heavily seasoned with reverb, you could do a lot worse than checking out their back catalogue. Or better yet, check them out live. Set highlights for me included Rogypa and Gnosis of the Summon from (one of the finest death metal EPs the UK has produced) 2009’s Exalted Emanation. A pleasant surprise came in the form of Glorification of the Impure, taken from their demo days.

Possessed
Arguably the first band to release an album that could be called Death Metal, Possessed’s exalted status is well earned by now. Taking to the stage to a very warm reception, a genuinely humble and appreciative Becerra and co. launched into No More Room in Hell and from there, a set spanning their lengthy career. It would have been easy for them to just play Seven Churches and leave it at that, but they decided on something a bit more involved for the current tour. Jeff in particular shone as a frontman, taking every opportunity to interact with the fans while still sounding as fierce in the vocal department as he ever did.

Bölzer
A band I have seen many times at this stage, and who have yet to disappoint. How 2 people can create such a sonic wrecking ball never fails to impress me. Business as usual for the Swiss duo: Wall of sound guitars accompanied by pounding, precise drumming as frontman Okoi paced the stage aggressively between bouts of impassioned vocalizations. By my count, there were 2 as yet unreleased songs in the setlist, both of which certainly ticked all the boxes for me.

Deicide
Floridian death metal stalwarts Deicide hit the ground running, ripping straight into Satan Spawn, the Caco-Daemon. Frontman Glen Benton, face contorted by the efforts of delivery/possession, growled and screamed his way through the Legion material, backed up by the ultra-tight Quirlon/Nordberg riffing and, of course, the legendary Steve Asheim on drums. A real death metal treat for everyone in attendance. Revocate the Agitator didn’t herald the end of the set, as one would have expected. The band then started into a selection of classics from other albums, including They Are the Children of the Underworld and a particularly devastating Homage for Satan.

Day 2

Sijjin
A band I had wanted to see since I first got my hands on their 2019 demo Angel of the Eastern Gate. Follow-up full-length Sumerian Promises made me even more eager to witness them live. I would finally get my chance on Thursday, in the Kulturhuset venue, where the more underground bands would be showcased. And I would not be disappointed, as I got to enjoy one of the tightest and most solid bands of the festival. Dark, evil death metal with plenty of frenzied thrashy riffing and wild, vibrato-infused solos was the perfect way to get Thursday started. Angel of the Eastern Gate and Darkness on Saqqara were my highlights.

Black Curse was another must-see band for me since I first encountered their 2020 album Endless Wound, a deeply unpleasant slab of tortured aural debauchery.
Guitars that alternated from hypnotic and doomy, to frenzied and chaotic accompanied by hammering ritualistic drumming and vocals that at times veered on properly unhinged transfixed me for the duration. Underground death metal at its best. Bookending the set were 2 new songs, which give me high hopes for whatever comes next.

(Dolch)
Another band with whom I was sadly unfamiliar before witnessing. Despite this, I did quite like their immersive and layered soundscapes with what sounded to me like some October Rust-esque motifs. But I get the feeling that I would have enjoyed their set a lot more had I been acquainted with their material beforehand. Hopefully, next time will be different.

The Ruins of Beverast
If you’re expecting a lively, energetic stage show, you’ll be disappointed. What you won’t be disappointed with are the waves of crushingly heavy, monolithic, gloom-infused soundscapes, delivered with all the seriousness they can muster. I have yet to be anything other than engrossed and captivated whenever I get to witness them.

Blood Incantation
A band I haven’t seen nearly enough of. The lads performed a very well-honed and executed set, thanks to a touring schedule from the last few years that makes my head spin just looking at it. The Giza Power Plant and Hovering Lifeless were standouts for me, from a catalogue of already standout material. Bands like this are the reason I travel abroad for concerts and festivals.

Negative Plane
The last time I had seen Negative Plane, they were performing in a desanctified church in the west of Ireland. Since then, they have released their 3rd album, The Pact, and from that they began their set with A Work to Stand a Thousand Years. Never dull or unexciting, Negative Plane plays a unique, multi-layered, and intricate style of black metal that I and, to gauge from between set banter, many others deem utterly captivating. Talk of 2 sets on separate days at the Chaos Descends festival a few days beforehand only served to make me crave more.

Gorgoroth
It’s been a long time since I had last seen Gorgoroth live. Since then, several lineup changes have taken place. I think Infernus is the only member remaining since then. As has been the case for a while, Taake frontman Hoest has been fulfilling vocal duties for live appearances. Decked out in spikes and the obligatory corpse paint, and on a stage illuminated by plenty of torches and fire troughs, the 5 5-piece certainly looked the part. They sounded the part as well, as they tore into a particularly hellish set, culminating with the mighty Unchain My Heart.

Marduk
There was to be no let up in intensity, as while Gorgoroth was occupying the stage in Hallen, Marduk was preparing to lay waste to the main Røkeriet stage. With unparalleled ferocity, the legendary Swedish act unleashed a blitzkrieg of riffs and blast beats at a crowd who lapped it up. A finely tuned live machine, with decades of touring under their belt, they showed no signs of complacency or jadedness. The new track Blood of the Funeral from the upcoming album Memento Mori was aired, alongside old and more recent songs, with The Blond Beast being a particular highlight.

Perturbator
I was introduced to Perturbator thanks to the Hotline Miami soundtrack well over a decade ago, just as he almost single-handedly lit the fuse on the synth-wave bomb that exploded shortly after. Since then I’ve seen his live show evolve from a bloke with a laptop to its current more dramatic state. Live drums and guitars add an extra dimension to a more traditionally artificially produced sound. Tracks like Future Club and Humans Are Such Easy Prey are best experienced in a setting such as this.

Day 3

Day 3 began with some unfortunate news. Due to a ruptured appendix, Issolei was left with no option other than cancellation. Luckily, Rogaland natives Heimland were able to step in at very little notice and get proceedings off to a darkened and chaotic start. While not familiar with their recorded output, I was nevertheless impressed with the spirited delivery of their brand of Norwegian black metal.

In Twilight’s Embrace
Not the first band on the bill to have undergone something of a stylistic shift over the years, the former metalcore and now black metal act tore into a frenetic set of newer material. Vicious, tremolo-picked riffs interspersed with darkness-infused melodies reminiscent of those from the likes of Dissection, plenty of tempo changes to keep things interesting, and a vocal delivery from a particularly engaging frontman all combined as a very effective statement on behalf of the band that was most enjoyable to witness.

Stormkeep
The epic black metal/evil power metal brainchild of Blood Incantation’s Isaac Faulk brought the daytime Kulturhuset sessions to a dramatic close. The band, garbed in various medieval/swords and sorcery-themed outfits, brought attendees on an evocative and uplifting journey throughout their fantastic set. Songs such as The Seer translated incredibly well to the live environment, without keyboards or guitars vying for attention, as can often be the case. Vocals, both black metal and clean, sounded effortless. A highly enjoyable act, and I just wanted to go back and listen to Tales of Othertime once it was done.

Eternal Champion
When it comes to traditional heavy metal, it takes something quite special indeed to grab my attention. Eternal Champion has managed this with ease. As soon as I heard Retaliator, from their split with Gatekeeper, I knew that they stood head and shoulders above the rest. 2 tremendous full-lengths following this put them at the top of my trad heavy metal list.
Clad in a full-face chainmail coif, highly animated frontman Jason Tarpey commanded the attention of all in Grieghallen as the Stratocaster armed rhythm section tore through a set of heavy metal belters, highlights of which included Skullseeker, The Last King of Pictdom, and the anthemic I am the Hammer.

Primordial
Despite having seen my fellow countrymen countless times over the past 2 decades, I’ll always jump at the chance to see Primordial live. Add to this the Grieghallen factor and the fact that they’d be playing To The Nameless Dead in its entirety, this was shaping up to be a very special performance. Unfortunately, sound issues meant things got off to a wobbly start. Once these were resolved, the band was able to get into their stride and deliver a rousing and hearty set. As a bonus, we were treated to The Coffin Ships upon completion of No Nation on this Earth. A somber and heartfelt standout song from 2005’s The Gathering Wilderness.

Alcest
Another band whose output has largely flown under my radar over the years is French “black gaze” proponents, Alcest. With a reputation for cathartic, emotional performances (stories about tears being shed and tissues being passed around aren’t mere rumors!) I had been curious about witnessing them live for a while. From the post-punk vibes of Sapphire, to post-rock-tinged set closer Deliverance as well as various bouts of screams, blasts, and black metal style riffing, I got to enjoy a pleasantly varied musical experience.

Kreator
Headlining the penultimate night in Grieghallen, were German thrash legends Kreator. Drawing upon material from a circa 40-year career, the band was able to choose a setlist that represented a vast swathe of it, rather than focusing solely on the first few, classic releases. From Endless Pain, to Hate Uber Alles, very little was left out. Circle pits and walls of death were the order of the evening. And with the accompanying pyro and confetti cannons, it all served to create a very memorable, frantic atmosphere.

Pentagram
With a career that spans over 50 years, Pentagram is very much the veteran of the Beyond the Gates lineup this year, by a quite considerable margin. Many personnel changes have occurred since then, but the almost septuagenarian Bobby Liebling is the glue that has held the band together over the decades. Heavy, fuzzy, down-tuned, blues-tinged doom riffage is the perfect way to round off a long day of metal and sightseeing. And from a band of Pentragam’s caliber, no less. Plenty of material from Relentless (Sign of the Wolf, 20 Buck Spin, naturally) was played, to my delight. It felt great to see this legendary act live once again.

Day 4

Aeternus
Known for their particularly highly regarded early material (especially …and So the Night Became), Aeternus went through something of a stylistic shift over the years. From a more straightforward black metal sound to a more death metal style, the band nevertheless always managed to sound like Aeternus. Tonight’s performance would feature not only new and old material, but new and old members, as both Vrolok and Morrigan from the first decade of the band’s existence joined Ares on stage to celebrate their 30th anniversary.

Taake
Tonight’s Grieghallen performance would be the 2nd outing for Taake frontman Hoest. With his Norwegian flag cape and customary white contacts, the highly animated main man flailed and stomped across the stage, clearly relishing the opportunity to perform in front of a highly receptive audience, as he and his bandmates worked their way through a set comprised of material from the first decade of their career, which was, incidentally, recorded in Grieghallen.

Enslaved
Having previously performed Frost and Vikingligr veldi in their entirety at previous iterations of Beyond the Gates, prog/black metallers Enslaved chose Eld for their next playthrough. No surprises in the setlist, but it was nevertheless an enjoyable experience. The 26-year-old material sounded fresh and vibrant, aided in no small part by the enthusiasm of the artists themselves.

Dimmu Borgir
The final act to grace the stage of Grieghallen celebrated their 30 years of existence with their only live appearance of 2023. With an elaborate stage setup including pyro, torches, taiko style drummers, and various other occult accoutrements the band treated attendees to a set spanning their entire career, including several that they hadn’t played since the ’90s. It was also nice to hear Entrance played live, as I believe it was the first song of theirs that I heard, many moons ago.

Mare
Mare is one of those very special bands who can only improve the overall festival experience whenever they perform. A genuinely other-worldly atmosphere enveloped Kulturhuset, as the stage was obscured by fog and illuminated only by candlelight. At midnight, the Nidrosian quartet took to the stage and delivered one of the most powerful sets of the entire festival. This final, midnight slot was theirs for good reason. Such occult and eldritch black metal is truly best witnessed in these dim, atmospheric environs.

And so, with the final chords of Mare’s Nightbound ringing out, the festival came to an end. A few meager hours of sleep and I’d be making my way to Bergen airport in dawn’s glow to begin my journey home.

My 5th Beyond the Gates was, unsurprisingly, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I was also very glad to see that the wonderful Grieghallen wasn’t a once-off for the previous year’s celebration of the albums that were recorded there and am hoping that it will become a regular part of the festival. Coupled with the metal quizzes, art exhibitions, tours of historical black metal-related locations, and other activities expanding on those of the previous year, there’s something to suit every metal aficionado. Even though the festival has only just ended, I’m already looking forward to seeing what’s in store for 2024.

 

https://www.beyondthegates.no/

 

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