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Arriving at Inferno

Bergen, Norway’s Beyond The Gates Festival turned five years old this August. That anniversary marks not only a turning point for this already established and one of a kind event, but for myself as well; it’s the tenth Norwegian festival I attend in just over five years. I don’t know how I’ve managed to do it, but I’ve crossed the Atlantic twenty times since my first Inferno Festival in 2010. I get a bit dizzy when I think about it sometimes, but there’s definitely a grin of satisfaction on my face every time another trip ends.

In 2010 I was finally in Oslo - the home of Ved Buens Ende, Ulver, Dødheimsgard, and so many more. I was in Darkthrone country. Late to the party, of course, but that I was there meant I could finally see Carl-Michael Eide on stage or run into Fenriz on the street, both big dreams of mine. Norway, this strange land which fascinated me for more than half of my life was finally there in front of me.

Once in Oslo though, imagine my surprise when everyone and their mothers, friends and strangers alike, were consistently talking about another city and another festival, about how much better it was, about how Inferno at that time was not what it used to be and how this other thing had a much better vibe and a more righteous line-up year after year.

Awesome. I landed in Norway not only fifteen years late, but I was in the wrong place too? Mind you, Inferno was always professionally run and a lot of fun. That’s where I saw Necrophagist for the last time and Throne Of Katarsis for the first time. Towards the end it actually became excellent again, expanding even.

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The End of Hole in the Sky

My friends were of course talking about Bergen, home of some of Norway’s finest black metal bands and also home of the amazing Hole In The Sky Festival. Next year I hit Inferno again and, after a few months, I returned for my long awaited trip to Bergen. Just my luck, that year they decided to hold the very last edition of Hole in the Sky, exactly when I had finally made it there. Classic.

There’s an album that I love by The Sisters of Mercy called First and Last and Always. That’s how it felt for me, and ironically they called it The Last Supper. The energy that was in the air was very different than anything I had witnessed before. On one side it was a celebratory vibe, there was this feeling of pride and genuine accomplishment coming from the fact that for eleven years this team of diehards had built from scratch the most amazing, truly underground focused festival in Europe.

At its outset in 2000, Hole in the Sky was dedicated to the memory of Erik “Grim” Brødreskift (Immortal, Gorgoroth, Borknagar) who had passed away the previous year after a long struggle with depression. I can’t think of a greater cause but to celebrate the life of a lost comrade.

Looking at the line-ups from the previous years I saw nothing but class acts, no compromises made in terms of quality. These guys were focused only on exceptional bands, old and new. The curation for Hole In The Sky seemed carefully and meticulously put together by people who had their fingers on the scene’s pulse. It was the place where great bands were celebrated and the way the new, young blood was making its way in the scene. You basically had to be really good to play this fest, and you had to really love music to go year after year. But all good things come to an end, the festival had run its course and there was nothing else they could really do to make it better.

So there was a certain sadness in the air as well, feelings of regret mixed with nostalgia and worries about what the future might bring. Someone would have to do something, but how can you replace what was already perfect? Hard task.

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Enter Beyond the Gates

One can only understand the rabid devotion for the underground scene that’s lying behind Beyond The Gates through the legacy Hole In The Sky has left behind. As an outsider I could never separate one from the other. The new fest is also named after a Black Sabbath song, it has almost the same team behind that’s running it by the same principles and commitment that made Hole In The Sky what it was: absolutely no compromise in terms of quality.

Much like its predecessor, it celebrates the very best bands in the scene while giving a voice to the newcomers, offering them the audience they need and deserve. This is the place where bands choose to play their last show ever (Morbus Chron last year was particularly special for me) and others who decide to play their very first performances (Slagmaur, Ritual Death, etc). It’s been a blast year after year, and some of the most incredible performances have been at Garage.

In many ways to me Beyond The Gates always felt like a more black/death metal focused Roadburn Festival, if we were to hypothetically zero down on the Green Room alone, for example. Yes, Beyond The Gates always had really heavy acts like Inquisition, Marduk, Nifelheim, Archgoat, Sonne Adam or Ascension to name just a few, but there were always moments of relaxation in between, like Purson, Jess and The Ancient Ones, Grave Pleasures, Spectral Haze, and so on. It always had a much needed balance I appreciated, and that was very much present this year as well.

And it’s not by chance that I bring up Roadburn here, as its artistic director Walter Hoeijmakers has been present in Bergen every year DJing the after parties, much like Martin Kvam (who does press for Beyond The Gates and was also in the Hole In The Sky Team) is always to be found in Tilburg year after year.

Five editions later, the organizers have decided to make some drastic changes for the next year. In its inception Beyond The Gates was envisioned to stay at Garage. The organizers wanted something more easily manageable and more personal, which I guess makes sense given that they were at the top once. Less stress I guess? A more focused and personal approach? Sure, it makes sense.

However times have changed, and in order to survive and be able to compete with the rising number of quality European festivals that are taking place around the same time (and cannibalizing each other little by little), Beyond The Gates has no other choice but adapt, so 2017 will see this great event expanded (back to) USF Verftet, the very place that Hole In The Sky used to be held and which has since been given quite an impressive facelift since.

Completely rebuilt inside, Verftet is one of the most gorgeous music venues I’ve seen in Europe. Remember how Brooklyn’s North Six used to look and how Music Hall Of Williamsburg is today? Yes, that kind of facelift. Unrecognizable. It is one of my favorite venues in Europe with exceptional sound, and lights and a great staff as well. And the best thing about it is the location, right by the water and overlooking the fjord. Perfect.

This year marked my seventh visit and I feel like I still have a few more left in me. I’ve fallen in love with this place and have become addicted to the great music it’s given me over the years. Names and memories are for souvenirs but boy I can tell you, I’ve lived some unforgettable moments in that town, and especially in that basement at Garage.

I recommend taking the train from Oslo on your way there, widely recognized as one of the most scenic rides of Europe: seven hours of nothing but stunning Norwegian landscapes, snow covered mountain plateaus and forests. A real delight especially if you’ve been looking for the perfect occasion to catch up on those early Darkthrone records. And once you’re there treat yourself to a boat ride out in the fjords. The scenery is magnificent and will make the perfect prelude for a night of great music at what’s shaping up to be one of the most interesting bills next year.

--Words and photos by Stefan Raduta

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Black Magic

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Degial

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Gaahl's Wyrd

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Gehennah

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Gravdal

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Infernal War

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Magister Templi

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Malthusian

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Nettlecarrier

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Reptilian

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Ritual Death

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Saturnalia Temple

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Secrets of the Moon

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The Spirit Cabinet

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Urfaust

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