Beyond The Gates: Bjørgvin Black Mass at USF Verftet, Bergen - live review
Venue: USF Verftet, Bergen
Enslaved and Mayhem go back to the future
Moving from the bowels of Bergen’s infamous heavy metal drinking pit The Garage to the more accommodating and picturesque fjord-side venue of USF Verftet has enabled the Beyond The Gates organisers to pull out all the stops in this latest annual pilgrimage to Bergen’s infamous black metal mecca. With exhibitions showcasing the art of Zbigniew Bielak and photography of Ester Segarra as well as a larger stage and merch area, this is the ambitious beginning of a new era and a true celebration of the best classic and contemporary acts in black metal and beyond.
Festival openers and relative newcomers WHOREDOM RIFE  begin proceedings with an intensely storming set of old-guard Scandinavian black metal. Mixing the sweeping grandeur of Dissection with the icy bite of Norway’s second wave gods, the band deliver a masterclass that sets the standard for the whole weekend. This is a band who, with more notoriety, can rightly take the helm and headline such a gathering in the future. Despite the many imitators, the elaborately robed CULT OF FIRE  remain a unique entity within the black metal canon. Their grandiose and ritualistic performance remains hypnotic, but the way their compositions manage to blend scintillating old-school riffing with equally bewitching Indian elements offers something greater than the sum of its parts.
Born from the ashes of fabled act Kaosritual, DARK SONORITY  deliver a sermon of ritualistic black metal hypnosis, showcasing their unique mystical sincerity for what is rumoured to their last ever live performance. The set is sadly plagued by difficulties with sound and volume and as a result, the arcane atmospherics are slightly tainted. Their qualities are better enjoyed in a more intimate setting.
By this point the crowd has begun to feel the effects of indulgence and, for a black metal festival, a bizarrely feelgood atmosphere has begun to permeate amongst the revellers as anticipation grows for Polish masked masters, MGLA . Infecting the tightly packed venue with their icy, tremolo-driven melodics from recent favourites With Hearts Towards None and Exercises In Futility, the crowd is quickly in the band’s trance-inducing thrall as heads nod in unison.
The very fact that first-day headliners MASTER’S HAMMER  are playing is actually enough to make the night, this being their first overseas show in three decades. But it’s more than great to see them perform a selection of epic proto-black metal hymns from their influential back catalogue with such confidence and charisma (oh, and some female nudity). Only complaint? Those famous timpanis being too low in the mix.
Heavy heads have awoken in time to catch the quirky reverb-drenched, endless soloing of New York trio NEGATIVE PLANE . Passages of windingly eccentric lead guitar and grooving bass noodle away beneath mastermind and vocalist Nameless Void’s throaty commands and garbled intonations. Satisfying those familiar with the band but winning few newcomers, this isn’t the most suitable music for hangovers. Enigmatic Germans THE RUINS OF BEVERAST  appear onstage amidst Lovecraftian incantations before engulfing the whole building in a massive cacophony of eldritch, doom-paced death metal. Their otherworldly frequencies and harrowing vocal scorn blow away last night’s cobwebs with blunt force, proving the heaviest and loudest band of the festival so far. Next up are the highly anticipated VEMOD , whose sonically uplifting grandeur conjures the perfect imagery of the Scandinavian night sky’s aurora borealis. Sadly, due to further complications and technical difficulties, the band’s enthralling cosmic pageantry fails to reach the firmament unless you’ve managed to squeeze to the front of the crowd.
The barbarity of J. Read’s Canadian war cult REVENGE  is the antithesis of the sophisticated atmospherics of Vemod and many of those left entranced by the Norwegians find the ordnance-like assault too much to handle and head for sanctuary. Those left are treated to the most satisfyingly savage and over-the-top bombardment of the festival. MAYHEM  have been playing their De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas set for some time now, honing their performance in front of audiences around the world. Playing here in their homeland they offer an almost perfect rendition of the milestone release, offering an enthralling experience that somehow actually captures the timeless and precious magic of early 90s black metal.
Final day hangovers are soothed by the murky proto-metal and prog of Oslo’s BLACK MAGIC , whose latest incarnation have travelled further back in time from their NWOBHM and thrash leanings to headier realms of 70s mystical and Hammond organ-driven revelry, which could be likened to a short, Satanic b-side to Pink Floyd’s epic Echoes. The richly lilting vocals of mainman and George Harrison lookalike Jon Stenson provide a dreamy comedown from last night’s over-indulgence and the band’s new direction wins over today’s thinner crowd.
Canadian heavy metal maniacs EXCITER  deliver the most passionate and overtly energetic performance of the last day, and one that would put any band 20 years their junior to shame. Offering a fine change of mood amidst the black metal grimness of the last day, these old-guard heroes lay down the law with an infectiously feel-good proto-thrash clamour. They cement their already legendary status with Long Live The Loud. Mercyful Fate guitar heroes and forefathers of first wave of black metal, DENNER/SHERMAN , serve up a rousing set of classic cuts amidst some newer slightly cheeseball material helmed by dambuster vocalist Sean Peck. It’s still contagious despite the lack of any elaborate King Diamond theatrics. The band’s passion and good spirit wins over any sceptical audience members and soon many are drunkenly attempting to sing along to the glass-breaking high notes of Curse Of The Pharaohs.
The revelation that ENSLAVED  are playing their 1994 debut album, Vikingligr Veldi, in its entirety is no small event for black metal fans here of a certain vintage. An oft-overlooked opus, the band recreate the magic of this atmospheric and almost carnivalesque work with an infectious enthusiasm. Even if some new fans look a tad perplexed, it’s a perfect summation of Beyond The Gates’ understanding of both underground metal’s legacy and its boundary-breaking nature.