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While the festival offering at home in Finland never leaves much to be desired, sometimes it┤s nice to go to a totally different place for a change. The fjord coast of western Norway is a beautiful destination to visit for whatever reason, not the worst of them being the combination of rarely-gigging Einherjer and a bunch of other favorite bands.
Karm°ygeddon, a two-day indoor metal festival in Haugesund, is named after the nearby island Karm°y, "Homeland of the Viking Kings" according to the greeting on the wall of its airport building. It was indeed here that Norway┤s first king, Harold the Fair-Haired, established his estate around 870 A.D.
Friday, 6.5.2011 Its regal history notwithstanding, Haugesund is an unpretentious little wharf and fishery town with charming wooden houses both old and new. A stroll through town on Friday led me to a record shop decorated with Karm°ygeddon t-shirts: Shabby Records, which appears to have quite a long history in itself. Turned out that the shopkeeper was also the bass player of the band that would open the festival a few hours later, so I went there in time to watch them from the beginning.
The band in question was Zeno Morf, an obvious local favorite who, I was told, had already opened the very first Karm°ygeddon eight years earlier. Although it was only 5 pm on a Friday afternoon, there was already a decently-sized crowd. Zeno Morf played straightforward, predominantly 1980s-type hardrock/metal; above-mentioned bassist had some fine solo moments during "Wings Of Madness", while the singer┤s style occasionally reminded me of Blake┤s Aaro Seppovaara. Style-wise it was not the kind of opener I would have expected by guessing from the headliners, but as for the purpose of starting the party with a healthy dose of positive energy, they served it well.
So what would I have expected then? After all, we are talking about Norway here. Elite, next on the bill, are firmly rooted in the native tradition - the calm acoustic intro was followed by the blackest metal of the weekend. The axe on the stage floor arose some suspicion that the brutality might go beyond sheer musical terms, but fortunately singer Bent Arne Mathisen only grabbed it occasionally to raise it in the air, and damage to persons or equipment was avoided. On the downside, the band didn┤t leave much of an impression otherwise, either. Not that they were bad in any way, but at least on first listening I couldn┤t make out anything that set them apart from thousands of similar bands. Like most of those, Elite were ultimately a bit too monotonous for my taste.
The first "name band" of the evening was The Haunted from Sweden - I had never seen them before but heard they are a great live band. Which turned out to be true. The volume in the club was pretty high on the first night (it was better on the next), so after the second band I gave in and protected my ears with toilet paper, having forgotten my earplugs at home. The sonic experience was therefore somewhat diminished, but otherwise no complaints. The place was quite packed by now, including the spacious balcony, and the communication between singer Peter and the audience was fluent - I assume he spoke Swedish, but the two languages being so close to each other, the Norwegians obviously had no trouble understanding his words. Just when I was jotting down "The Flood" to be the highlight of the set, they managed to top it with "No Ghost"; speaking of which, the new album was strongly represented, making up about half of the set. Some bands are known to prefer sticking to safe old hits for festival gigs, but if the Karm°ygeddon audience is anything to go by, there┤s nothing wrong with presenting new material as long as it┤s sufficiently strong.
Grave Digger I had seen once before, when they played their first ever gig in Finland a year ago. Back then their ungrateful task had been to warm up a neglectably small mid-afternoon festival audience on a cold, rainy and extremely windy day, and to make matters worse, guitarist Axel Ritt had been in bad health and played part of the show sitting down. In spite of the circumstances they had still played their buttocks off in a way that commanded respect. Nevertheless it was nice to see them in a more suitable environment for a change, and to a responsive crowd, which at least during "Hangman" sang along loudly. A little later, a zeppelin-shaped balloon, presumably originating from the condom vending machine in the bathroom, was kicked and pushed back and forth between the band and the fans. An earlier moment of fun had been the intro, during which keyboard skeleton Hans-Peter Katzenburg came on stage playing, or at least pretending to play, a bagpipe - befitting the theme of the latest album, The Clans Will Rise Again. The focal point of the band, however, is Chris Boltendahl, who may not be an outstanding singer but beyond doubt is a showman par excellence.
Crimson Glory appeared to have quite a lot of fans, but to be honest, I found them quite boring. Besides, I had been at the club since five in the afternoon and was getting kind of hungry, not mentioning a serious craving for caffeine. A small break therefore seemed appropriate,because the most intense part of the night was yet to come.
Primordial are easily one of the toughest and most emotional band in metal and beyond. This is for a large part the merit of frontman A.A. Nemtheanga, who writes his lyrics with the blood of his heart (or so it seems) and delivers every note with remorseless abandon. The new album Redemption At The Puritan┤s Hand, had been released a few days earlier and I had gotten hold of it just before the trip to Norway, so I had only been able to listen to it twice beforehand. Which posed no problem, since the songs are typical Primordial fare and - as usual - are convincing at first listening, from beginning to end. The opener "No Grave Deep Enough" set the mood right from the outset, followed by the old staple "Sons Of The Morrigan". "As Rome Burns" was dedicated to Einherjer, Enslaved and Moonsorrow, and from what I heard, representatives of all three bands were actually in the audience. The dedications didn┤t end here - "Coffin Ships" went out to a few Irish guys in the crowd ("this is our song!"), whereas the Norwegians - like us Finns, for that matter - have a line of their own in the hymnic "Heathen Tribes". Many singers try to conjure a bond with the audience for the time of their show, but with Nemtheanga, it just comes across far more real than in most other cases. The man is authenticity personified, there are some things you just can┤t fake. More power to him, if that┤s possible.
Saturday, 7.5.2011 The lovely warm sunshine made the day perfect for a trip into the beautiful surroundings of Haugesund, and I took the bus over to Karm°y to check out the aforementioned historical site. While there were not many visible remains dating back to the actual Viking era, there is an old stone church built in the 1200s - flanked by a slanted needle of natural rock, the tip of which is only a hand┤s with from the wall. It is said that doomsday shall dawn as soon as the surfaces meet, irrespective of the famous Maya calendar. A short walk from the church is a reconstructed Viking village on a separate little island, worth checking out if you ever happen to be in the area.
The bus back to town only runs hourly on weekends, and I didn┤t make it to the venue in time for the first band (Fracture). When I got there, Chrome Division had just started. I had heard of the name but couldn┤t quite remember the context until I took a closer look at the guitar player. To say he looked familiar would be stretching facts, but it was indeed Shagrath - without make-up and dressed in regular streetwear. From the music you wouldn┤t have guessed any relation to Dimmu Borgir. Mot÷rhead would be a far closer association, and if you wonder what Volbeat would sound with a bit more balls, Chrome Division is a possible answer. Leather jackets, rock┤n┤roll, traditional subjects from "Booze, Broads & Beelzebub" to "Trouble With The Law" - you get the picture. Their explicitly stated motto for the show was "we didn┤t come to play, we┤ve come to party", but no worries, the fun didn┤t stop at the music. You didn┤t have to be a dog person to appreciate the barking wah guitar solo following the line "release the hounds!" in "Bulldogs unleashed". And AC/DC┤s "Whole Lotta Rosie" did its own to shamelessly please the crowd, myself included.
Next in line was Lion┤s Share from Sweden, who sounded like a power metal tribute to Dio. Especially "Heavy Cross To Bear" would have been easy to mistake for something ouf Dio┤s catalog, although it was one of the band┤s own songs. Later I heard that the Lion┤s Share actually finished their set with "Heaven And Hell", but I admit that I missed that one because I went for a beer on the terrace after a few songs. As with most power metal bands, the singer was technically excellent but the band sounded rather exchangeable, and the songs were pretty much run-off-the-mill.
None of the remaining three bands could be accused of the latter, as each of them have made their mark on the scene by establishing their very own sound over the years. Take Moonsorrow as the first example, whose latest album demonstrates their uniqueness down to the last note. Not surprisingly, Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa formed the core of the set, three out its four songs being performed. A pity by the way that "Tulimyrsky" with its spoken word passages etc. is obviously a bit too complex for a festival gig abroad - the half-hour Viking epic from the 2008 EP would have fit perfectly into these surroundings. Not that many in the room understood the Finnish lyrics, of course, but the band and the audience clearly shared a wavelength and Ville Sorvali - whose cousin Henri was missing, substituted for by Janne Perttilń as usual during their gigs abroad - took the time between songs to explain in brief what they were about. The message of "Kuolleiden maa" (in Ville┤s words, "you and you and the bald guy up there, we┤re all gonna die and that┤s okay...") would probably come across even without explanation. Paradox as it may sound, not many musical expressions of finality come to mind that equal the strength of Marko Tarvonen┤s unfinished outro, the utter loneliness of a drumbeat left suspended in mid-chord after everyone has left the stage. The rest is silence.
The last domestic act of the weekend was a band I had long ago given up any hope of ever seeing live. Back in 2003, Einherjer released a truly brilliant album, Blot, and shortly afterwards called it quits altogether because they reportedly felt they could never top this achievement and wouldn┤t settle for anything worse. That was supposed to be the end of the story, but a couple of years ago they surprisingly reunited for a gig at Wacken and a couple of other festival shows, and there has even been talk about a new album coming out this year. And now they entered the Karm°ygeddon stage in front of my eyes and from the first bar sounded like they had never taken as much as a short break... As for the planned release, confirmation was given by singer/guitarist Frode Glesnes himself. If I understood his announcement correctly, it will be out in September - and if the new song they played right afterwards, the pyro-fueled 13-minute "Norr°n Kraft" is anything to go by, it will be another very interesting release. The rest of the set was full of goodies, too. Half of it was taken from the seminal Blot, culminating in the goosebumps-enticing encore of "Einherjermarsjen"/"Ironbound" (with confetti shower to boot...). I seriously hope the upcoming album will be accompanied by a tour that includes Finland, but if that is not to happen, I┤ll be all the more glad I made this trip to Norway.
After Einherjer, Amorphis almost seemed a bit of an anticlimax, although nothing was wrong with their performance as such and the sound was fine. too. It┤s just that their setlist has hardly changed over the past couple of years, so it was more of a routine show than I had hoped for it to be. To be fair, however, it was the first Amorphis gig in Norway since 2007, so none of the songs from Skyforger had been played here yet and not all of the older ones either. That previous show had been in Oslo, so for most of the audience in Haugesund it was probably the first time they ever saw the band, and I didn┤t have the impression that anyone was disappointed. Me neither after all, for halfway through the set we did get an exclusive treat - the live premiere of "You I Need", the first single of the upcoming album The Beginning Of Time. A beautiful piano-driven song with a few growls at the end for good measure, not an immediate singalong tune like "House Of Sleep", "Silent Waters" or "Silver Bride" (all of which of course were played as well) but nevertheless with more live potential than the studio version would have suggested. Ever since Eclipse, it has frequently been stated that the singles are the weakest tunes on Amorphis┤ albums - this song is certainly not weak as such, so going by this rule, you may expect some truly great new stuff from this band by the end of May. And hopefully at the summer festivals, too.
To sum it up, this little holiday was definitely worthwhile. A very nice, well-organized festival in a cozy if spacious venue (and yes, you┤re allowed to drink your beer in front of the stage, which at home in Finland isn┤t always the case...), beautiful surroundings and a great spirit - all the locals I┤ve met were extremely helpful, friendly and laid-back. Warmly recommended!