Photos by Stefan Raduta / Words by Stefan Raduta and Gottlieb Brenner
This year’s bombastic edition of Beyond the Gates festival felt like a new beginning, one that many of us were looking forward to. What happened this year has been the result of a continuous transformation, inner search and struggle by the festival’s curators to make Bergen shine once more as one of Europe’s best cities when it comes to experiencing extreme music of the highest quality, all in an beautiful and captivating environment that gives it justice. They did it. The boys are back in town, you could say. But then again they never left. This is their home after all. It seems they just needed to keep it simple for a while and now, it’s in full mode again. Muy excelente.
For a city that always and without fail always welcomed me with rain no matter what season I was there, all I can say is: what the hell happened? I have never experienced sunny, warm weather like this in Norway in my last eight years of crossing the Atlantic back and forth to get my fix. I don’t think they have either. There were smiles everywhere and people not really knowing what to do with themselves, from Borre to Stavanger to Bergen. These have been the best two weeks I’ve spent in Norway in a long time, and especially when it comes to Beyond The Gates, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that it made the festival that much more enjoyable. We always had nice weather when we used to have Hole In The Sky confesses main culprit Torgrim Øyre when I finally got a chance to chat him up a bit. It’s only when we started Beyond The Gates that we started getting all the rain he continues.
The new beginning I was speaking of earlier was the long awaited return of Beyond The Gates to the incredible venue that is USF Verftet. It seemed that even the Gods seemed to approve of it, by giving us all such beautiful and absolutely gorgeous weather. This was the blessing, and everyone took full advantage of it by exploring the city, taking boat rides, or hanging just sunbathing all day long. Hard to believe but I even got a tan!
As far as the lineup is concerned, if there’s one thing that’s always been known about Hole In The Sky and Beyond The Gates, it’s how incredibly well curated each year’s edition have been since the very beginning. Each bill always spoke for itself, really. The emphasis is always on the very heavy and dark, but on the last day they always slow it down a bit, offering a more relaxed menu. This year was no different.
My personal highlights include The Ruins Of Beverast, Cult Of Fire, Mgla, Darvaza, Vemod, Dark Sonority and Misthyrming. Always affiliated with the dark, some things never change I guess. Just amazing performances from these acts, one standing out more than the other in its own and unique way. With the exception of Darvaza who played at Garage and had some technical issues at first (but boy did they recover from it and delivered such a sanguine set!), everyone else took the main stage at USF and benefitted from excellent sound and lights.
Speaking of Darvaza, Björn Luctus once more delivered one hell of a sadistic, visceral performance. Time and time again, he’s one of the most ferocious and utterly terrifying front men I have ever seen, anywhere. Like a raging demon coming out of an erupting volcano, he’s just unstoppable. I never get tired of seeing him in One Tail One Head, the raw energy he possesses is utterly unconquerable. He IS all these bands, he IS their Blood. I’m impressed by this dude, I can’t say I know anyone who isn’t, to be honest. Whether he’s playing guitar with Behexen or Dark Sonority or filling in for Whoredom Rife or Dødsengel, it’s always just great seeing him take the stage with such conviction. As a front man though, he’s pure malice in flesh. Total domination.
His performance last year with Ritual Death (Mare guitarist is on drums) is still vivid in my memory as one of the most oppressive things I’ve ever witnessed. It’s like I’m still there, blew my damn mind. In fact Ritual Death were so goddamn good (it was their first live show and they haven’t played since!), that they changed the whole dynamics of Beyond The Gates 2016 – to many it felt like that one set obliterated the entire lineup. So barbaric and so utterly primal. Still not over that one gig. Torgrim if you’re reading this…if we could have them back next year, it would be very nice. I’m ready to cross the Atlantic again just for Ritual Death and Mare. Please and thank you.
Moving on, The Ruins Of Beverast’s set was also particularly heavy for me. Nothing can compare to them, nothing. They are everything and all that I love in music today, and light-years away from the rest. Spellbinding, always.
And speaking of spellbinding, seeing Vemod in flesh was just such a treat. What a spectacular act! The hype is real folks, they are incredible.
A very high praise goes to Enslaved who performed their first album Vikingligr Veldi in full for the first time ever. What an unspeakable set. It was probably the highlight of the entire festival for many. Truly a breathtaking, very moving and incredibly nostalgic journey back into our own youth. Everyone in that room suddenly turned two decades younger, it was surreal. Dylan and I agreed that it was probably one of the best and most heartfelt Black Metal performance by a Norwegian band we’ve ever seen. Big words I know, but it sure as hell had a very emotional impact. The riff on the last album Norvegr was almost too much for me to handle, and was quite possibly the most perfect ending to the best two weeks I’ve spent in Norway in many years.
Big thanks to Torgrim and Martin for another warm invitation, and congratulations for this return to form!
A few words from Gottlieb Brenner:
There is a certain numinous quality to the heavy music of Scandinavia. It takes on many forms, whether it's that Deathlike Silence sound of early 90s Norway, the filthy death and grime that seems particular to Finland, or the sheer oppressiveness of the Nidrosian bands making the rounds today. For those of us fans from elsewhere in the world, this special Northern vibe is part of the appeal of the music, especially if it leads one to an interest in the cultures and histories of these remarkable regions and peoples. Listening to that classic Moonfog compilation Crusade From the North – maybe you remember it, the one with the viking ships on the cover and lots of Storm and Darkthrone – in a college dormitory in Oregon eighteen years ago, that sound got into my heart, and I never would have imagined myself lucky enough to be able to one day see and hear this music performed where it first grew and blossomed. Put simply: there's nothing like seeing Norwegian black metal performed in Norway. Full stop.
Beyond the Gates is the best place I can imagine to do this, and to enjoy a very tasty slice of the greater world of underground metal. The curation this year was a veritable feast of up-and-comers, genuine heroes of the old school, and classic acts giving premier nostalgia sets. Practically zero filler and, it must be said, nothing but bands who know what to do on a stage. Ready for six headliners in a row? Ready to die a thousand deaths? This is where you do it.
I missed Whoredom rife, much to my chagrin. Cult of Fire brought the smells n' bells in a fine set, but I missed the extra-funny hats. (I know they got 'em!) Dark Sonority played the darkest set I have seen in years, and it probably cost me part of my soul. Mgla, a goddamn comet that has reached up and seized a throne amongst the immortals, delivered the goods as they always do. Master's Hammer has never been my thing, but had many good moments, and they knew that even haters respond well to boobies.
Day Two was sadistic. Starting with 13th Moon's pure Satanism followed by Vorum, one of the ugliest bands I have ever heard, was more than a bit demanding. Oh, wait! Misthyrming, the most volcanic band out there today, is up next! They were so intense I had to sit out Negative Plane. The Ruins of Beverast followed with an atmospheric groove – sheer oppression. Vemod suffered from low guitars, but delivered an astonishing set nonetheless – probably the best of the night. An absolute tornado both live and in the studio. Revenge gave the hate, although I doubt they will ever top that Conquerer set they did at NWN! A while back. James Read is probably the most exciting black metal drummer playing today. And then Mayhem's De Mysteriis. This is solid fan service, and hard not to deeply enjoy – the last few songs enjoyed genuine intensity worthy of the material. But sorry, for me, it's not The True Mayhem without Pure Fucking Armageddon at the end, guys. First world problems, I guess.
Day Three: A HEAVY METAL PARTY TONIGHT! Where were you, Ryan? Darvaza started the day at Garage and benefited from the smaller stage. They are becoming a terrific live act and I am genuinely frightened of their front man in the best possible way. More please! Sumerlands canceled which is a goddamn travesty, and I would have hoped for a more solid replacement given the amount of local talent, but I guess you can't have a bonus Bolt Thrower set at every time someone cancels. Once Exciter came on, I didn't care. I stood by for them and got the led out with that speed metal magic. The real, real, real thing. Fuck yes. Now let's follow that with Denner Shermann tearing through some terrific originals next to two-thirds of Melissa? Fuck me. But Enslaved's Vikingligr Veldi topped all of it. This was the set every fan of early '90s Norwegian black metal has been dying to see, and will never see again. We rode that viking ship straight up the rainbow bridge together!