I slept. I slept and slept and slept. Then I wrote. Then I slept more. Then I wrote more, and by the time I was done with all that writing and sleeping, it was almost the start of Høstsabbat‘s second night. An earlier launch and more bands, but still a lineup of unmistakable quality, I didn’t want to miss any of it.
I’d hardly call myself an expert on the place, but Oslo seems like a really cool town if you like bands. On the 10-minute walk from the hotel to the Arena Vulkan I passed no fewer than three places that looked like they might host a rock show on any given night. Maybe that doesn’t sound like that many, depending on where you live, but it’s an embrace of culture that doesn’t exist in the place I’m from. Again, no expert, but that’s the initial impression.
Before I jump into the wrap of the day, I want to extend a personal thanks to Ole Helstad, Jens Storaker and all involved with the festival for having me over. The chance to see Oslo at all and to see these bands in this place is something very special and they clearly believe in what they’re doing. Rightly so. The vibe throughout the weekend was fantastic and I went almost the whole show without having beer thrown on me, so mark it a win for sure. Skål.
Here’s how night two went down at Høstsabbat 2016:
Post-sludge played through three guitars (plus bass) geared toward general tonal push, Reptile Master were an aggressive start to the day. I remembered the band from the release of their 2015 debut, In the Light of a Sinking Sun (track stream here), on Blues for the Red Sun Records, but live, the Tromsø five-piece made much more of an impression, bassist Rolf Ole Rydeng Jenssen and guitarist Nicolay Tufte Østvold set up facing each other with their mic stands crossed so as to accentuate the dual screams that permeated their set. They also had a split with Black Moon Circle out earlier this year, but their sound is much more crushing in its atmosphere, holding a tension even in its quiet moments without coming across as a post-metallic Neurosis clone. In that, the general pissed off nature of the material served them well as a distinguishing factor that changed the context even of those quiet moments, and the nod factor only became more prevalent as they went on. They’ve clearly started to make a mark in Norway, if the early crowd was anything to judge by.
It was my first exposure to Dublin’s Wild Rocket, whose debut album, Geomagnetic Hallucinations, came out in 2014. Much as the night before at Høstsabbat had shifted vibe almost on a per-band basis, they were a significant jump in style from what Reptile Master had on offer, trading off between driving heavy rock and more spaced impulses, like that moment when the song “Motorhead” became the band Motörhead. About 25 minutes into their set opening the Vulkan stage upstairs, they announced it was time for their last song, warning, “It’s kind of a long one.” Fair enough. More people came up as their time went on — it was early yet — and they very clearly turned a few heads, including mine, with that final space jam, seeming to push further out in a way that recalled to my mind some of Death Alley‘s post-Hawkwind cosmic triumphs, though in the case of Wild Rocket, the interstellar was even more of a factor with the inclusion of keys. Their set still wound up short at roughly 35 minutes, but it was a welcome sampling of what they’re about, and their energy was infectious.
Arguably the most impressive headbanging I saw all weekend came from Mammoth Storm bassist/vocalist Daniel Arvidsson, and there was some stiff competition. The Swedish four-piece rolled out huge, clunky riffs on the Pokalen stage in a spirit that found them aptly named. They weren’t far off from what Reptile Master were doing tonally, but ultimately less angry, less atmospheric, and more about the heft itself than the cathartic expression derived therefrom. Still, they were way into it. Formerly a trio, they were on tour earlier this summer with High Fighter and Earthship, and the Høstsabbat crowd seemed to be the beneficiary of that experience. Their first album, Fornjot, was issued late last year by Napalm Records, and while they seemed to be figuring out some elements of presentation, no question they had their direction sorted, all skull-pummel and unrelenting push. Heavy band playing heavy music, is the bottom line. It was an easy set to enjoy and another jump to a different style from the band before them; that once again would become something of a running theme throughout the night.
To wit, Kollwitz. Quite simply a band I’d probably never get the chance to see anywhere else, the Bodø six-piece proffered vicious post-metal with a hardcore edge, the intensity of Converge met with the strict chug and strobe lighting of Amenra. They had the most crowded stage of the festival, but still plenty of room upstairs at the Arena Vulkan to thrash around, and they took advantage of it, their motion tied to the undulating lumber of their songs. They were another band I’d never heard before, which was by design — that is, I knew they were playing and could’ve checked them out, but sometimes it’s fun to go into these things blind — but they hit the decade mark in 2016 and came across with the command of an experienced act. Rarer for acts of their ilk, their material had a kind of direct thrust, and even when they did drone out an ambient section, quieting down all that push, percussion, screams, keys, and so on, it was plain enough that it was a temporary situation before the assault began anew. In accordance with the tenets of the style, they were cerebral and bludgeoning in kind. There’s nothing else I would’ve asked of them.
Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus
Shit they were good. Come over from Stockholm, Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus were among the bands I was most looking forward to seeing this weekend, and they were quick to justify that anticipation. Most of what they played came from 2014’s Spirit Knife (review here), and that was zero reason to complain as they nestled into the classic groove and modern energy of “Wind Seized” after the opening cut “Andra,” which may or may not have been new. They’d get more tripped out as they went on, vocalist/guitarist Karl Apelmo — whose voice sounds even better live — leading the charge with guitarist Micke Pettersson, bassist Viktor Källgren and drummer Henke Persson all on the same page, fluid and vibrant. They tapped into four decades’ worth of Swedish heavy rock without losing sight of their own personality, and their play between the boogie of ages and a modern soulfulness was exceedingly well met, especially with the psychedelic range that emerged later on with “Fog by the Steep” and “Point Growth” closing out. How they’re not playing every single festival this fall, or, you know, all the time, I have no idea. Excellent band, and clearly still growing as well. Put them on the road with Radio Moscow immediately.
Sweden’s Siena Root have been making the festival rounds across Europe over the last several months while working on a follow-up to their 2014 album, Pioneers. Next month, they’ll play Smoke the Fuzz in Athens, and they’re veterans of the likes of Freak Valley, Dome of Rock and so on. I said on the social medias that seeing Siena Root took some of the sting out of knowing I’d never get to watch peak-era Deep Purple play live, and while that’s perhaps simplifying their appeal, I think the comparison holds up, with the classic ’70s vibe Siena Root bring to life in their songs, costumes and delivery, the focus on interplay between the organ of Erik “Errka” Petersson (the only full organ setup on either stage at Høstsabbat) and the guitar of Matte Gustavsson, and the powerhouse vocals of Samuel Björö, the robe-clad guru bass from Sam Riffer and the swing-ready drumming of Love Forsberg. They were unabashed fun, all-in, and a pro execution that wasn’t at all staid. So genuine were they in their performance that it made me think it might be time to start considering Siena Root in the same league as Spiritual Beggars when it comes to crafting their songs and representing a natural lineage to the birth of heavy.
They were the one. Slomatics. The headliners for the Pokalen stage were the band I was most dying to see all weekend, and the disappointment factor was zero. The Belfast trio of guitarists David Majury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/noisemaker Marty Harvey rolled out some of Høstsabbat‘s most satisfying riffs, and with a set spanning back to 2012’s A Hocht for “Tramontane,” “Return to Kraken” and closer “Beyond Acid Canyon,” and included “Electric Breath” and “Supernothing” from this year’s stellar Future Echo Returns (review here) as well as a host of cuts from 2014’s Estron (review here), they crashed, bashed and rumbled so loudly and so righteously that when it came to it, I just couldn’t remove myself from the front of the stage. Not only that, I did something I hadn’t done the entire time at the Arena Vulkan, which was to remove my earplugs part-way and let the full brunt of the volume hit my eardrums directly. That, I soon enough realized, was a mistake, but even so, the fact that the impulse was there should say something. Slomatics don’t get out of Ireland much, so to have them in Oslo was something special, and their performance showed it. A joy of ultra-heavy revelry. It was reportedly their first time playing “Supernothing” live, and I felt ridiculously lucky to be there to witness it. They’re the reason my neck is sore today. Don’t even care.
Very much the headliners for the fest as a whole. Immediately. No warmup. All go. The Swedish fuzzdudes left nothing to mystery as to why they were atop the bill. No place else to put them, frankly. They played in front of a banner so huge that it didn’t fit the Vulkan stage and all you could see from the crowd was the word “TRUCK,” but that was enough to get the point across. I’d had the good fortune earlier in the evening to sit and interview bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm about the band’s new album, V (review pending), and some of the growth the group has undertaken over their last couple records, the push past straightforward desert-style groove into more progressive territory, and something I wondered about was how they would continue to strike that balance onstage when it comes to songs like “Calm Before the Storm” from the latest record. The answer is basically they just do. Cedermalm still headbangs, guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren is as kinetic as ever, jumping in circles, running from one side to the other of the stage, generally playing the madman role and doing it well. They had a new drummer — Marcus was the name I got, if he has a last name or a Truckfighters-style nickname, I don’t know it — who will reportedly be one of two joining them on their Euro tour this fall, and from what I hear they’ll be back in the US in spring, but the gist of watching a Truckfighters set is the excitement of how much they put into playing their songs, and whether they’re fast or slow, upbeat or melancholy, that continues to be the case. I stuck around to the finish because not only were they killing it, but the setlist didn’t have “Desert Cruiser” written on it — though they did include “Mexico,” which was a nice touch — and I was curious to see if they could actually get away with not playing that song, ending instead with “The Chairman” from 2014’s Universe (review here). They wound up using it for an encore, closing out the evening and the Høstsabbat as a whole with a sing-along of the chorus that continued even after they left the stage. I’m not sure a more suitable ending would’ve been possible.
It was right after they finished that some dick behind me decided to launch the rest of his beer into the crowd. Jerk move, but a great set, and I wasn’t exactly fresh and clean as it was by that point. I’d been watching the end of the show with the Slomatics guys, and said a few goodnights before making my way out. Always sad to walk out of an even like this for the last time, knowing that it’s over, but this was a special time and a special event, and those things have a tendency to be fleeting. All the more reason to treasure the memories of them.
Thanks again to everyone involved for having me over. I am humbled by the experience and deeply, deeply grateful for the opportunity. I wouldn’t presume to think I would be, but if I was invited again, I’d be here in a flash.
Flight takes off bound for JFK Airport via Copenhagen in about two hours. I very much appreciate you reading and know full well that if you didn’t, I wouldn’t get to do awesome stuff like fly to a festival in Oslo for a weekend, so thank you, thank you, thank you.
More pics after the jump.