Earlier this year, the world was invited to the legend of Norwegian black metal in a way it’s never seen, through the release of the first major feature film to chronicle the scene, Lords of Chaos. The film was met with a polarizing view of the story, the bands, the scene, and Norway in and of itself. As I sit here on my return flight, still enthralled by the experience of this year’s Beyond The Gates festival, it’s never felt more right to let the world know True Norwegian Black Metal is here to stay, and stronger than ever!
This year's Beyond The Gates festival was a four day extravaganza that featured blackened heavyweights like Watain, Marduk, Abbath, Emperor and Mayhem to name a few! Centralized in the quaint but boldly beautiful historic city of Bergen, metal heads from close to 40 different countries descended for a celebration of Norway’s respected axe wielding sons with a healthy mix of juxtaposition sprinkled in.
Beyond The Gates was different than most European festivals I’ve been to in that it’s focused around one venue, USF Verftet, and begins only in the evenings with a handful of bands sharing the same stage. These sort of set ups can often feel a bit disjointed, like a few shows that just happen to be at the same venue each night of the week, but the vibe of BTG more than makes up for this by cohering the love of this particular genre throughout the entire experience.
This style of festival set up works especially well here, because it promotes tourism and allows you to explore the very streets where the history of the scene was made possible. Just a short walk and you can find yourself at Galleri Fjalar owned by Gaahl of Gorgoroth / Gaahl's Wyrd fame, which can be found inside the Bryggen houses, a Unesco World Heritage site, believe it or not. Many attendees also continue their black packing journey down to sites such as the Fantoft Stave Church, originally burned by Varg Vikernes in 1992 and found on the cover of Burzum’s Aske EP. Ultimately, there are tons of reasons to visit Beyond The Gates outside of world class performances.
The curation at this festival is bonkers, and plays out like a who’s who of Scandinavian icons. Watching the bands that started this crazy scene, in a city where much of its origin story takes place, is a pilgrimage any fan should absolutely take in their lifetime. I couldn’t help but notice the heightened sense of mystique and awe in the room as Mayhem took the stage, obviously having some deep personal history in this small city, allowing their past, present, and future unfold on the very stage of USF as they pummeled through a gamut of fan favorites. Or even the larger-than-life thrilling sensation that Abbath brought to the stage, showing off why he remains to be a local legend around these parts.
For me personally, the true highlight turned out to be a band I’ve been watching since my youth, a band I’ve now seen in 7 countries, a band I didn’t think had surprises left for me. The word I would use to describe Emperor’s set at this fest is “electric”. With the band having some deep history in Bergen, having recorded their two seminal albums In the Nightside Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk here, coupled with the fact that this marks the band’s return to the city for the first time in 22 years, there was no doubt this set would be something special. What unfolded was my favorite set I’ve seen yet from one of my favorite bands, and a lot of it had to do with the Beyond The Gates attendees. Performing on the most intimate stage I’ve seen them on since ’99, the crowd wasted zero time welcoming Emperor back to Bergen with a roar that gave me chills, a sea of metal horns, and a penchant to sing along to every song so loud it felt empowering and unstoppable. As they moved through Anthems in its entirety and closed the set with selections from Nightside, a set I’ve seen them play numerous times, it occurred to me that this was the setting I’ve always wanted. After all, there really is nothing like watching Norwegian black metal in Norway.
Ultimately, Beyond The Gates might be a smaller festival, but through the tireless efforts of organizer Torgrim Øyre, it packs a massive punch that shows up peers many times its size. I consider it an absolute must for any fan of black metal, or merely anyone interested in its wild history. So keep your eyes peeled for next year's announcement, where I don't doubt some magic will be made once again.