Located on the shores of Puddefjorden, the inlet/fjord in the central part of Bergen, the surroundings provide an incredibly beautiful backdrop to the musical chaos that would ensue. This change of scenery provides a breath of fresh air and festival-goers seemed to welcome the transition, with open arms and ears.
The festivities got under way on Thursday evening with Trondheim's very own Whoredom Rife. Perhaps due to an early start, the energy suffered a little at first, though, they soon found their stride and delivered a dark and dirty set of no-frills Norwegian black metal. Up next was my personal highlight of the festival... Prague's Cult Of Fire. Like a blackened metal phoenix rising from the depths of hades - the fiery ones delivered a titillating set that married both visuals and sound with an unprecedented might! A sensory-fucking performance that I will remember fondly for a very long time. Before I introduce the next band, let me start by saying that Cult Of Fire is never an easy act to follow, even for the best. With this in mind, Trondheim's Dark Sonority held their own, and executed a collection of songs the crowd seemed to genuinely enjoy. Yet, to these ears and eyes, their set was a bit lacklustre. Perhaps there exists one too many black metal bands cloaked in robes and hoods chanting a litany of occult rituals. Visually, this was about as exciting as attending Sunday mass at your grandparent's church. To be fair, as I mentioned at the top, following the jaw-dropping spectacle that is Cult Of Fire is not something any band should ever have to endure.
So, in an effort not to contradict myself, let me first say that I have nothing against robes and hoods. If those who choose to hide behind the cloth can elicit a primeval response with their music, I say let them wear hoods! This is the experience of Poland's MGLA, who, as always, delivered an incredibly tight and forceful set. The final performance of the first evening of festivities belonged to Czech legends Master's Hammer. A strong performance that saw the band plow through material from the last three decades. Though solid, their set was not absolutely convincing. I couldn't help but feeling that the two naked ladies adorned in goat masks, though beautiful in their own right, were just as much a distraction as they were a titillating visual accompaniment.
Day two of the festival started with another early highlight. Iceland's Misthyrming kicked things off with all the energy of a thousand dying suns! For those that had yet to recover from the previous evening's festivities, the guys made certain to rectify that with a performance that commanded attention. Their stage-presence is one that few other black metal bands are able to pull-off these days. From across the pond, Florida's Negative Plane were a solid addition to the festival. That said, they did nothing to leave much of an impression. Capable yet unspectacular. Through various conversations with festival-goers I surmised quite quickly that next act up, Germany's The Ruins Of Beverast, were a fan-favorite for many in attendance. With an epic and flawless performance, from start to finish, it's not difficult to understand their appeal. A perfect blend of doom and blackened metal might!
With their 'dark ethereal metal' Norway's very own Vemod was another crowd favorite. Just as is described in their own words, the guys delivered a gripping and emotive performance that was both dark and ethereal. So captivating was their performance, that a mini-nuke could have detonated with little to no notice. Straight from the northern, sprawling lands of the Great White North (Canada) came the festivals most destructive and merciless performance, delivered by none other than Revenge. These guys are angry. Very angry. A full-frontal, blitzkrieg-like attack from start to finish. Breathtaking, quite literally. Friday evening belonged to Norwegian black metal pioneers Mayhem. Not having been much of a fan, I was hoping that the full-album performance of their classic 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' would change that. As cool as it was to hear this album from start to finish, I wasn't completely won over. That being said, this is easily the most I have enjoyed Mayhem on the live front.
The last evening of Beyond The Gates opened with Bergen's very own progressive doomsters, Sahg. What an opening! A full-on, no-holds-barred performance from the very first note onward. It's immediately telling that these guys love what they do. The joy they exuded was palpable, which in turn fed the room. The synergy between band and fans was at an all-time high. Sadly, the same could not be said about the next act, Leikanger/Grimstad's Black Magic. Their confusing blend of black/thrash metal (early) and traditional heavy metal did not sit very well. Quite honestly, I could just as well have attended a Pink Floyd tribute show, and likely it would have been more enjoyable than this particular performance. Perhaps a touch out of place on the billing. Not without trying, I suppose. Like a breath of cold arctic air, Canada's legendary kings of thrash, Exciter, blew onto the Nordic stage with a force greater than an all-consuming blizzard of metal! A class-act performance by a band that demands respect.
Unfortunately, that cold, bitter wind was extinguished with yet another lackadaisical performance - this time by Denner/Sherman. Though their brand of satanic, Evil, horror, occult-filled metal was fitting for the festival, it was the off-key and cringe-worthy vocal performances that rendered the set utterly unremarkable. Last, but certainly not least, was a gripping set from hometown heroes, Enslaved. Performing their classic Deathlike Silence Productions-released 'Vikinligr Veldi' in it's entirety, the excitement leading up to their appearance was tangible. From the very first time I witnessed Enslaved live, all the way back in '94, I have never once left disappointed. Tonight was no different. A mesmerizing and mind-altering display of musicianship from the first haunting notes of 'Lifandi Lif Undir Hamri' until the very last notes of 'Norvegr'.
All in all it was another incredibly successful edition of Beyond The Gates - a festival that continues to gain prominence through its unmatched atmosphere in the very city that birthed Norwegian black metal. I am already looking forward to next year!