Venue: USF Verftet, Bergen
Norway’s black metal masters return to their roots
Part tattoo convention, part celebration of roots of Norwegian black metal, it’s telling that the one- off Blekkmetal (not to be pronounced with a South African accent, ‘blekk’ is Norwegian for ‘ink’) is such a friendly affair. For anyone who’s been to a Bergen festival before, be it Hole In The Sky, Beyond The Gates, or Blastfest, that won’t be a surprise – the sense of community that binds the scene together here can be disarming for any newcomers expecting to find echoes of its incendiary roots.
The brainchild of Jannicke Wiese-Hansen, the artist and tattooist behind the cover for Satyricon’s Dark Medieval Times, as well as Burzum’s most famous sleeves, Blekkmetal proves a multi-sensory experience. Aside from the constant buzz in the second hall, interviews are conducted with musicians, producers and journalists, recalling black metal’s early days and development; cult horror movies are screened and an exhibition featuring art from Jannicke, True Norwegian Black Metal photographer Peter Beste and Gaahl, his haunting paintings at once alien and deeply soulful, the often shaven-headed figures in the frames looking like the last people on the planet frozen in the midst of arcane rituals worthy of a Ben Marcus book.
ENSLAVED  kick off the main event with a set dedicated to their pre-Bloodhelm era, and for all the fierceness of the opening Heimdallr, Grutle’s rasp like a bullet spiralling through a rifle barrel, they’re clearly having the time of their lives, Grutle’s comedic interludes and the banter between him and Ivar Bjørnson not the mark of a band returning atavistically to their past, but rather speeding forward through the channels of the underground to the open vistas ahead. Keyboardist Herbrand gets a night off from clean vocals as Loke carves its way through sloshing walls of caustic riffs, and the instrumental Norvegr, played for the first time ever, offers a final moment of respite, a transitional casting off from the ferocious raids of yore to the progressive realms beyond.
Although AETURNUS  **have moved into more deathly territories, frontman Ares’ rock-crushing gargle suits both styles, whether surging through what sounds like electrical storms or navigating more methodical territory. Ranging across 20 years of history, theirs is an endeavour and purpose drawn over the groove as tight as a drum skin. **GEHENNA  are another band whose pendulum has swung between death and black metal over the years, even if their latest album, Unravel, saw them move into some of the bleakest territories of their career. Tonight they set the grim, unearthly tone with The Shivering Voice Of The Ghost, its mid-paced, keyboard-borne incantation like spectral voices brooding between the walls. Aside from a hoodie-wearing bassist who could’ve made a bit more effort in the corpsepaint department, the band’s petrified zombie look is a fitting front for a set that makes up for lack of dynamism by sounding like it’s drilling into some subterranean vault and letting the spirits free.