Hole in the Sky 2008
Written by Andreas Aubert
Pictures by Christian Misje and Monika Serafinska
The festival, this year in its 9th edition, has become somewhat legendary for its nice mix of extreme Norwegian bands with highly regarded international acts. This year the festival consisted of two “clubdays” (with a capacity of only 350 visitors), and two “main” days at the venue USF verftet (1100 people). To indicate the quality of the festival, I can mention that bands such as Mayhem, Immortal, Kreator, Immolation and Napalm Death were on the bill last year. Not to mention this years’ lineup, which included exclusive shows by At The Gates and Carcass!
The festival is great. It is quite impressive that they manage to get so many interesting bands. This includes big bands as well as lesser known “cult” acts of high quality, which many people otherwise would not have gotten the chance to know. This gives the festival-attendees pleasant surprises as well as the possibility of seeing bigger bands which would usually not come to this area of Norway (or to Norway at all). With a capacity of about 1100 people, it is interesting to note that so many foreigners are coming. I met people from Belgium, Germany, Japan, USA, UK and Ireland. It is also worth mentioning that the festival attracts international media such as Terrorizer and the german Metal Hammer. A girl from the UK noted that there was much more violent crowds at the festival than what she is used to in London – there people are thrown out by their first crowdsurf!
I managed to see the few last songs of Norwegian band Deadtothisworld. Featuring Iscariah, previously in Immortal, they have been subject to a certain interest. I get the impression that what they are playing is a kind of slightly “punked” blackthrash, with much military straightforwardness and simplicity. Seems very boring to me, but I do not really have enough of a basis to judge this band.
The next band, Brutal Truth, delivered a surprising and chaotic (as always) performance. The drummer looks like he is constantly getting an orgasm, or is it intense pain that he is experiencing while battling with his kit? The vocalist drinks beer, walks around barefeet wearing a cowboyhat, and punches his brow with the mike so that he starts bleeding. At the end of the show he goes to the front and hugs several people, who then get some of his blood to brighten up their black clothes. Musically speaking, Brutal Truth delivers a lot of chaotic grind/blast parts mixed with dissonant, ugly soundscapes. In one song there is one “happy” part with a “tasteful” solo, but just when I start wondering if it is more to it than a joke, they go back into chaos. Another song is dedcicated to “Metalion” of the fanzine Slayer Mag who is standing in the photopit. The new song “evolution to revolution” (if I got the title right) is extremely good, with is grinding, chaotic main riff. This is perhaps the most “musical” song they deliver this night, and Lilker is doing some backup vocals. On one occasion Lilker starts tuning his bass between two songs, and I get the feeling it is not that important if the tuning is 100% correct, which sums up some of the bands’ attitude.
- Put this shit in your backpack and save it for later!
I do not know if the vocalist is referring to one of the songs as shit, although many would probably agree. But right there, in the ugliness of it all, is the charm of this band.
By the end the vocalist is carried on top of the crowd, and turns the setlist into a “paperplane”. An entertaining performance, indeed!
- Promise me to fucking bang your head to this one!
The dutch oldschool death metal band Asphyx is next, and they have gotten Martin Van Drunen, legendary Pestilence.vocalist, to do the lead vocals, which are sometimes doubled or countered by the vocals of the bassist. Both sound very much like John Tardy from Obituary. A friend of mine said that the vocals sucked, but I think the vocals were actually the best thing about this band. The music in itself was primitive, straightforward old school death, and bad sound made it impossible to really discern between the different parts. This band also dedicates a song to Metallion, They wish Jeff Becera a good recovery, and asks us to see Sadistic Intent (Becera was supposed to play as Posessed the next day, with Sadistic Intent as a backup-band, but he got a blood infection) Good advice for sure to see Sadistic Intent, as they can do the old school style with eminence, whereas this band has nothing special about them. They played a lot of “polka” in slow tempo.
– This is too good, someone in the crowd said.
But the many slow parts that went nowhere were far from good in my opinion.
The next band, Municipal waste, had the vitality and entertainment factor which the aforementioned band lacked. This was definitely the most positive surprise of the weekend. Already before the band entered, many in the crowd shouted “Municipal Waste is gonna fuck you all!” With song titles such as “beer pressure”, “headbanger”, and “bangover”, and an attitude representative of the song titles, the stage was set for a lot of fun. The crowd went REALLY crazy, with the most massive circlepits and crowdsurfing witnessed during my two days at the festival. The band plays fast crossover thrash ca. anno 86, with shouted vocals and an almost punklike feeling at times (think M.O.D, S.O.D, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax etc) The guitarist brings in small doses of melody at times, but it is always followed by manic riffing accompanied by the mandatory “polkadrum-beat” and hyperactive vocals (really fast pronunciation, think the song “Hell Awaits” by Slayer). Only once in a while do they slow it down and focus more on groove. The small doses of “modern” melody and the sometimes very rapid bassdrums, were the only sign that this music was not written in the 80’s. Analyzing it, the music is quite straightforward and monotonous, but when it is delivered so much humour, dedication and enthusiasm, what more can I ask for? The song title “thrash is my business, and business is good”, sums it all up.
- We got drunk on the plane, and didn’t find our instruments, the vocalist joked, “explaining” why they used borrowed equipment.
Another song was introduced as follows: “This song is about something we hold very close to our hearts – to get drunk as shit!
- Let’s see some fucking violence, some real fucking violence, says the vocalist, and it almost gets a bit scary. He orders the crowd to go to each side of the room, and a huge circlepit follows.
In “Nailed Casket” the vocalist had a slight variation of his vocals – the rest of the time it was straightforward shouting, with little or no tonal or rhythmical variation.
- We wrote a song for Cliff Burton, it is called “black Ice”.
A very short song follows, and a few other ones in the same vein, such as “I wanna kill the president”. – Even more epic, according to the vocalist.
- This song is about banging your head to the fucking thrash, is how “The Bangover” is introduced. The vocalist pours beer into some device (perhaps an “enema machine”?), and throws it out on the crowd. Everybody was infected by the lighthearted and humorous attitude of Municipal Waste.
Behemoth was next. Some people in the audience shouted “vodka” and “Smirnoff Ice”. But the task of Behemoth is to “bring satan back to Norway”, as Nergal puts it. Not to bring alcohol. The band went straight on with “slaves shall serve”. We also got to hear “classics” such as “as above, so below” and “antichristian phenomenon”.
- Where are we from?
Everyone shouted “Poland”. – Almost right, we are “from the pagan wastelands”!, replies Nergal, introducing that very song. We also got to hear “chant for eschaton”, speaking of the older material. Nergal ordered the crowd to shout certain things, and then he said “praise jesus”! No one repeated that one.. hehe. The guitarist and bassist are good at banging and providing backupvocals, but Nergals neck is no longer as flexible as it used to. His vocals are for sure godly as ever. At times even the drummer was banging! Towards the end Nergal was wearing a mask. One thing which is cool about the music, is that the drums are almost constantly blasting, but the guitars often vary between tremolo and crazy riffs, and holding chords and octaves and thus making more of an atmosphere, backed up by the machine gun frenzy which is the drums. This “duality” is a cool aspect of the bands sound. They end with a cover of Turbonegros’ I got erection – something which has become a tradition for the band when they play in Norway. With altered lyrics of course (such as “I see a church, burned to the ground”, or something like that)
Meshuggah has more or less created their own genre. The vocalist has a focused stare, looking slightly sick, mechanically headbanging at times. Not much talking or acting from his side – but it fits well with the music, which is very mechanical. One could say the music is groovy, at least it has crazy rhythms. But this is not exactly anything like the vital legs of a South American – it is not really alive in that sense. It is too perfect, too mechanically orchestrated. There is no feeling in the music, except for some of the leads/atmospheric parts, where the machinelike frenzy is more like a backdrop to some spirit coming through. Many people are grooving along to the music, but it is really hard to follow it. Thus I feel that the monotonous yet constantly changing music is like a prison. It overtakes me. There is no release, no climax, no expansion, just walls closing in… really crazy. They played many songs from the new album, and ended with “future breed machine” from their 1995 masterpiece “destroy erase improve” – probably the most dynamic and varied song of their set. Certainly a good concert from an amazing band, but I am also left with a slight frustration, like as if they are playing tricks on us! Which they were!
Carcass ended the evening with a great performance. I was glad to hear that Jeff Walker’s vocals were as good as ever and high in the mix. The sound was clear and spacious. Jeff Walker was running the show. Bill steer was seemingly shy, something Jeff pointed out (“he’s shy”). This was almost irritating – when the music is this good and people love to hear it, please be a little proud and enthusiastic, man! No one is gonna hurt you! Amott seemed to be more comfortable with the situation, and Daniel Erlandsson was playing perfectly, very close to the original. Jeff appears as friendly and down to earth, like a man playing for his friends. He said something about criticizing Christianity, such as “lets not leave Islam and Judaism out – all religion sucks!” Kind of refreshing to hear that, in a scene sucking the breasts of Christianity. Amott did some vocals at one instant, and Bill did a few lines in some older songs. Heartwork was most heavily represented along with Symphonies of Sickness. We got to hear “keep on rotting in the free world”, from “the album which everybody loves to hate, but loves”. And fuck yeah, I actually always liked that album (Swansong), and the song was well received. But was there a tendency of ambivalence when the song was played, such as many people not openly admitting that “fuck yeah this is great”? Even though the bass drums had a Carcass logo on it with the words “in grind we trust”, what we got to hear was not really grindcore. More than anything, rock music seems to be the roots of this bands music – a really rocking, yet intelligent groove, and a sense of melody. With songs such as “heartwork” and “carnal forge”, I can’t complain. The only song I was missing was “blind bleeding the blind”. But when the band left after about 90 minutes, I believe most were more than satisfied.
Sadistic Intent from South America blew the audience away. Rooted in 80’s thrash and death metal they were perhaps most of all playing old school death metal. Still it did not feel outdated and the music felt relevant in today’s scene. The music was varied – there was not a constant chaos of technical riffs, neither did they do an “Obituary” and lull the listener to sleep. (althought they used some Obituary-styled riffs at times) There was a good mix of simple, slower, almost doomy riffs, small sequences of repetitive, simplistic “Slayerish” “melodies”, fast blast/chaosparts (think Morbid Angel), more groovy stuff etc. The drummer was excellent – really having his own style, in example with his blasting having constant, rapid breaks, as well as his accentuation of cymbals and to some extent the snare. Even though he was playing a lot of fast stuff, he really allowed some groove to sink in as well, also by adding interesting details to the fast parts which would otherwise seem very static. Really well done! Not to mention how he enjoyed himself, nodding his head and the like while playing. I felt that the bands vocalist (whom also played the bass), lacked a vocal identity. His voice was dark and a bit muddy and kind of “spread out”. Not so focused. A clearer diction and more force, for example through accentuation of certain words, would have made his vocals more interesting.
Still I have no direct criticism of his vocals; they were just the one thing that could have been better about the band. The two guitarists both played leads, but especially one of them played those crazy Slayer/Deicide-styled chaos-leads with a very artistic approach (to some extent one can think of Trey Azagthoth). He utilized many different techniques, such as tapping, which made the leads appear as well orchestrated. They were still ugly and chaotic, but with some sense of musicality and thoroughness to them. It was not just random stuff. The bands’ music did not emphasize the vocals so much, there were large parts without any vocals at all. Actually this was kind of cool, as it gave the vocals more impact in the moments they were used. One grindcore/hardcore riff added salt to the meal. The band had a massive appeal, many people were banging their heads or pretending to play drums.
- Thank all of you, who traveled a long way for this show!
It was kind of an interesting statement, as if anyone came there primarily to see Sadistic intent. “These shows” would have been more precise. But, after this experience, I can fully understand if anyone came primarily to see this band!
The Norwegian band Gehenna was next, with their mix of blasting and midtempo, ugly black metal. The lead guitar had a very painful guitarsound; trebly and incomprehensible. The music was thoroughly ugly and not of much interest to me personally. But many seemed to enjoy it. The vocals are somewhat deep/dark for a black metalband. The band did not move much, but mostly standing still, expressing a kind of arrogance, and perhaps concentrating on a kind of “hate energy?” A few times the lead guitarist played somewhat musical parts (from what I could notice), but just as it started to sound interesting he would again make it ugly. Most of all the music, performance and overall atmosphere of the band appeared to me as selfdestructive, and not having much to do with power in the true sense of the word, or life-affirmation and vitality in any sense. Probably they are “anti-life”, but it is still life that gives them the possibility to create this music. “Negativity” has significance to me only if something of value is revealed, which this band certainly did not manage to do. To me, at least. The music was very static and kind of painful, actually just as static as the bands performance. Not much dynamics or movement. Perhaps OK for what it was, but don’t ask me what it actually was…
Electric Wizard was perhaps the band that musically stood most out from the rest of the festivals lineup, with their slow, heavy, low-end, black Sabbath-sounding rock. The sound was primitive and they played very loudly. This band was almost the opposite of Meshuggah. Whereas Meshuggah’s sound relies on total, mechanical precision, this band relies on not playing correctly, but rather emphazising “feel” – which also involves feedback, imprecise bending and the like. The band also featured the only female musician of the festival – as far as I know – on rhythm guitar. The vocalist sounded a lot like Ozzy, and also acted in a similar manner, when he by the end of the show attacked one of the cymbals, and started hitting his guitar with a large whip, as if there was not enough feedback already. The lead vocalist of Nachtmysticum was blown away, I was not. But a friend of mine came exclusively to see this band. I believe Electric Wizard is one of those bands which are giving the festival a broader appeal and diversity, which is good in itself. But was the band good in itself?
- We are Nachtmysticum from San Francisco!
The band started with a very standard riff, but then headed on with full steam and extreme vocals (sometimes doubled) There where lots of blastbeats and doubled bassdrums, and much of the riffing was quite straightforward. One of the guitarists would at times create some atmosphere and “melody”. Is that what my friend referred to as “progressive elements”? I was not impressed.
- Thank you for tolerating us. This is for Electric Wizard, who blew me away, the vocalist announved. They ended with covering “The Waltz” (of the vampire?) by Motorhead.
- We are Primordial from the republic or Ireland. Are you with us? What?
Primordial’s vocalist was oozing selfconfidence from the very start. When he in the middle of a song shouted “do you know who I am?” I almost felt embarrassed, but when he continued with the lyrics “I am my father’s son”, it was well accepted.
- Sing, sing, sing to the slaves, sing to the slaves that Rome burns.
The song “As Rome Burns” was introduced with something like “No matter where you are from, your freedoms are being taken away from you and your culture destroyed.” Good that we get a lesson in modern history.
The band really got the crowd with them, following their atmospheric, somewhat folky metal – which is neither specifically extreme nor traditional, but perhaps a little of both, with elements of “straightforward progressive rock” in it.
- To all the Norwegian brothers and sisters, and all the people who’ve traveled many miles to be here – we are one heathen tribe!
The vocalist is good at moving around on the stage, pointing his fingers etc. Although different from Opeth, the band may have some of the same appeal. But with all the hectic extreme metal of the festival, I was not in the mood for this more “landscape of sound” and atmospheric kind of music.
Keep of Kalessin is surely one of the more interesting Norwegian bands these days. With great musicianship, intelligent riffing (i.e utilizing many different kinds of chords), melodic breaks and a great performance (headspins etc), they have both variation and intensity. Unfortunately the vocals were far too low in the mix this night. The drummer played a drum solo which was ok (the only drum solo I witnessed at the festival). They used some playback, mostly for breaks between the “main songs” – i.e some parts with acoustic guitar, to which the guitarist played lead, as well as playbacks of some percussive/drum work. This gave the concert more of a “filmatic” and “dramatic” feel, which was cool enough. I was questioning during the performance whether it is acceptable for a band to just have one guitarist, but did not come to any clear conclusion!
Anders Bjørler and the guys are doing soundcheck, Anders is acting as a kind of boss “pointing his fingers”, interfering with the drum sound check and all kinds of things. Great! This man is really the boss! And he is doing it with a relaxed attitude.
AT THE FUCKING GATES!
A woman from Japan, who had seen At The Gates thrice in Japan this summer, had come to Norway to witness the Swedes once again. And this is well understandable – fucking hell, what an amazing band! Great anticipation built up, and when the Swedes entered with “slaughter of the soul” a frenzy erupted in the front rows. We got to hear songs from all the albums, including the first EP. All the songs (except the instrumental “Into the dead sky”) was played from SOTS, four songs was played from Terminal spirit disease (the title track, “the swarm”, the amazing “forever blind” and “the beautiful wound”) The latter song has a great groovy part in it, and although I connect At The Gates with “melodic polka-aggression” rather than groove, I was surprised to experience that there is actually a good deal of groove to many of their songs. This became evident in the livesitutation. From “With Fear…” we only got to hear “Raped by the light of Christ” and the title track. Great songs, but I would have loved to hear a few more, i.e the complex “break of autumn”. Same goes for the debut album – we only got to hear Windows (great song, with amazing “doomish/folkish intro” where Anders was using “violin-simulated” sound on his guitar) and “Kingdom Fucking Gone” (that was how Tomas introduced it!). From the Gardens of Grief EP we got “All Life Ends”.
Tomas was smiling, moving around the stage and in good contact with the crowd. He is not a maniac jumping around constantly. He rather has more of a focused yet relaxed energy, from which he attacks like a smiling cobra. The Bjørler brothers were smiling and playing around. Martin was perhaps a bit more laidback. But there was a lot of energy both in the band and in the crowd during this concert. Definitely the best concert of the festival. “Under a serpent sun” was played slightly faster than on the album, and wow, that song really has a dark feel to it! “Need” ended with a playback of its atmospheric outro as the band left the stage. On came the intro to “blinded by fear”, and the band returned with that song, which they have usually played as the final song on this tour. Luckily we got two more songs. Then it was over, and “the flames of the end” was put on. Sad – as the title of that song really expresses that At The Gates are soon history once again, and this time forever. So many times have I listened to SOTS, and that song really has an interesting atmosphere.
Many artists were enjoying themselves during the concert, i.e Municipal Waste, whom Tomas also addressed. These young lads were stagediving several times towards the end, and one of them actually fell more or less to the ground. I hope he did not get hurt. That was kind of sad, but at the same time I see this stagediving as somewhat disrespectful towards the people who just want to enjoy the music.
Great festival, and who knows what crazy acts they may bring for next year?