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BEYOND THE GATES, Bergen, August 5th 2023

Disclaimer: I did only attend the last night of the festival and, hence, only reviewed this one.

It is at the Grieghallen Hall, the name we, the awed fans, have seen on many CD sleeves back in 90s without really knowing what the hell it was - some dark dungeon underground perhaps? It is there, I was saying, that Beyond The Gates is coming back for the third year.

A legendary place where all the legendary milestones of Norwegian Black Metal were recorded by producer Pytten, a name always associated with Grieghallen on the above mentioned CD sleeves and an equally mysterious entity. Among them, the jewel in the crown, the pinnacle of all Black Metal records: De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Nowadays, for a few more krones, you can meet the man himself, looking like he's coming up straight from a hippie commune with his mane of long white hair, and he will take you on a tour of the place, pointing out the different spots where the instruments were recorded, how the amps were placed and thus unveiling the mystery behind a (un)holy piece of music, irrevocably dissipating the turmoiling darkness that shrouded its conception and enthralled listeners for centuries to come.

The same way you can walk today into the Oslo national library to check out the current Black Metal exhibition where the actual Helvete door is standing right in the middle of the room like some magic stargate from Sumerian times. Some will remember that Euronymous could not even afford the rent back then, now the door of his failed shop is exposed in a cultural institution, among other artefacts who would sell for tens of thousands of dollars on e-Bay. The Van Gogh syndrome seems to apply to all forms of art it seems, no matter how degenerate they are, another proof, should we need it, that art transcends life, as vile as it may be. And here, now, back at the Grieghallen, where former legends of one of the most radical music scene that ever was are performing their old records in front of a devoted audience who patiently wait for their idols of a long gone past to step on the stage. Beyond The Gates, the Black Metal festival were everyone is ever polite and quietly line up to spotless bathrooms while glasses of water are strategically placed all over the venue for the crowd to stay well hydrated. And I'm not even mentioning the tours to church burning sites and other Black Metal landmarks hosted by guides who, for some, had no connection with this scene whatsoever until recently. Oh, the controversy.

Sucks doesn't it? Or is it really that simple?

I walked through the Black Metal exhibition in Oslo and I took a picture of Helvete door with my iPhone 14 Pro Max, and I couldn't help to read and re-read the letters from Dead to Metalion behind a thick plexiglass cover like pages of an antique Bible, too old for human breath to get close to. Shit, I even think I took a picture of that too... A few days later, I sat down at the Grieghallen, with an expensive beer in my hand and a bag of overpriced vinyl records freshly purchased at my feet, in the air-conditioned comfort of the main hall to watch some old glories of the Black Metal scene. I was one of them, patiently waiting for my idols of a a long gone past and kindly standing up to let someone go by to reach to their seat with a polite nod. Happy as a clam, me and my peers, the Black Metal bourgeois.

Ha, what utter blasphemy that is, I would imagine, for those who relish in limited edition tapes only but let's face it, the reason why Black Metal is now in museums is for one very simple reason: it is because it's dead. The Black Metal that took us by storm, the Sturm Und Drung of our youth, is no more. Varg Vikernes then and now. A picture, or a Google search, will speak a thousand words. And yet, it still captivates us and, albeit much older and fatter, the crowd gathers now by the thousands with the hope to feel this fire that was once burning in them once again. Paying homage and celebrate the past. Theirs and ours. Quite the cultural phenomenon eh? The tough part is to admit is that, alas, the fire is gone (to further debate it still does exist, but not in Norwegian Black Metal bands from 35 years ago) and, to much dismay, letting the bittersweet nostalgia pouring through our dull worn souls as we take another sip of light, tasteless beer. Sigh... As the man once said: Det Som Engang Var.


Aeternus is in charge of opening the night, right on time. So how does it sound, a Black Metal show in the mighty Grieghallen? Well, it does sound grand, maybe too grand for a trio and it is actually incredibly loud. Not being familiar with their latest material I won't get into their set until they call on stage their two original members: Morrigan and Vrolok. I would assume, judging from their performance, that the original line-up didn't get the chance to rehearse much but that makes these old songs even more enjoyable. The drumming especially is much more fluid than on the newer tracks, too syncopated for my taste. Aeternus never made the headlines of the Norwegian scene and even with them it seems, it's this 90s flavor that lifts up the crowd.


The excitement cranks up a notch with Taake. Or should we say Hoest and the Taakes. There's actually little to no interest in the band backing him up, totally eclipsed by the charisma of their frontman and head honcho. Since he went bold he wears a cape and has cool mic stand gimmicks, an uncanny match with Freddie Mercury I couldn't help thinking as I watched the show. And yet... it is hard not to lose interest after a few songs even their set mainly comprises of their early material. But I'll credit the lack of personality of the band for that and gladly admit that Hoest vocal delivery was fucking ferocious.


By far the best band of the night. The only one playing with a real feeling, as a band, like some kind of Black Metal Hawkwind. Progressive, sure, but raw as hell. It's now the third time Enslaved graces the festival of its presence, each time playing an album from start to finish and today they are finally giving justice to their third opus, "Eld", a masterpiece plagued by bad production and awkward drumming. As usual, there's not much frills on stage and Grutle is never shy of an idiotic comment or two between songs, boy I'd die to hear his favorite dad jokes. But their apparent relaxed attitude didn't take away from the remarkable execution of their set and, as they rode through the entirety of their third opus, like a biker Odin on a custom thunder chariot, they were able to reignite the fire for a little while (and the pyros on stage sure did help). I never went past their first three albums and revere their first as their best, for the very simple reason it's also the first one I owned and records were not that easy to come by back then - the ones you'd got would scar you for life. I do not share such an intimate relationship with "Eld" but nonetheless the connection was there and they totally nailed it.


I mean what can I say? Dimmu Borgir are the Avengers of Black Metal. A Hollywood super hero production, shiny, bombastic and, although entertaining at first, it gets incredibly boring pretty fast. Shagrath croaks and every now and then harangues the crowd like a Mexican fairground entertainer. It all sounds too phoned in to deliver an ounce of excitement. Actually, only Galder seems to have fun. By looking at the crowd it is safe to say that the majority of the audience would disagree with me. More power to them. I'm nursing my beer as I watch the show, wrapping myself in contempt, like a True Black Metal poser. Very well aware that it doesn't pair so well with the $500 I just spent on records. 30 years from now I would have probably been front row covered in sweat and blood.

It will never be 1993 again, coming to this realization doesn't take away anything from the passion one can still feel for this music, with an ounce of nostalgia, sweet-bitterness and a maelstrom of decibels.

Black Metal is dead, long live Black Metal.



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