Live Review: HØSTSABBAT 2022 Night Two in Oslo, Norway, 10.08.22

Hostsabbat night two

Before; haunting the Chapel

At some point yesterday afternoon I did… something? to my knee. Maybe before Needlepoint played. I had been sitting on the thankfully clean floor near the front of the stage between acts, like you do to take pictures in sans-pit cases, and in getting up, felt and heard a pop, and it has hurt steadily since. Made it through the rest of the day, obviously, but by the time I was headed back to the hotel, was fairly well hobbling, and this morning that discomfort was right where I left it after my jetlagged ass slept for 10 hours last night. I can’t quite find a position for it between straight and bent that’s comfortable and my well-intentioned ‘see how it feels tomorrow’ plan feels as dumb as it is.

In addition to being old and out of any kind of shape that isn’t spheroid — plus I’m a wuss, if that wasn’t clear — it is a humbling reminder of the confirmed wreck that my body is, has always been. I would call it existentially unpleasant in an effort to sap it of an emotional context, which, while we’re here, also strikes me as ridiculous. Nonetheless, I hurt. I’m going to try to take it easy today, whatever that even means, and sit as much as I can, but I promise you, “sit as much as I can” is basically my motto for life. Put it on the family crest. Tattoo it on my arm on fancy script like a metalcore toughguy from the aughts. We are who we are. I remain approximately 40 percent human. The rest?

It’s a sunny day on Oslo and there are rad birds around to further the autumnal atmosphere of the city, or at least the block of it between the hotel and Kulturkirken Jakob. When I picture it, Oslo is overcast, so to see blue sky feels new, but no complaints.

Sturle Dagsland is soundchecking and already pushing his voice to frequencies usually reserved for amplified mosquitoes, so that should make for an interesting set. There’s time before we get there, so more coffee and lollygagging are the order of the moment. I suck at taking it easy. Thus xanax.

In case I don’t post again before I’m home, I want to extend my sincere thanks to Jens, Ole and Vesper for having me over once again. This festival is beautiful even when the music is at its ugliest, and for much more than the visual impact of the Kulturkirken Jakob, striking as that is. I deeply value the opportunity to come here and kick around my imposter syndrome for a couple days, see amazing stuff and do my best to convey a little bit of what it’s like to anyone else who might care enough to read. If that’s you (and if you’re seeing this, surprise! it is!), then thank you.


Sturle Dagsland

Sturle Dagsland 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The music of everything and everything-is-music, Sturle Dagsland was not alone on stage but is clearly driven toward artistic singularity just the same. Before he went on, there was a kind of mini-presentation of am Edvardprisen, a music prize that would seem to have been well earned, given what unfolded after. Experimentalism drawing on modern dance, electronic music, extreme metal, Wardruna-style Norse-ism, pop, indie, and a deeply varied swath of assorted styles like a shopping cart full of genre, he not only claimed the Edvardprisen but the award as well for the best leggings this year at Høstsabbat, though admittedly there was a dearth of competition in that regard. More art-house-appreciation than a rocking start to the day, the passion fueling the testing and passing of limits was palpable. Everybody has an inner clock for how much of that kind of thing they can absorb, of course, but it’s hard not to respect both the vision of a world music that comes from another world and the bravery to manifest it wholeheartedly on stage. From trumpet to flute to maybe-oboe, hands crashing through cymbals, hang-style drum, synth beats swelling and receding, keys, vocals in god knows how many octaves and time signatures, each short piece fed into an encompassing scope that was expressive beyond my language barrier to it and markedly individual.


Bismarck 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Well then. Bismarck signed to Majestic Mountain today, and they debuted the rager “Sky Father” to mark the occasion. It was one among the multitude of pummelers they had on hand, and the lumbering groove, tonal largesse and atmoslusge heft was like a cold-cloth on a fevered soul. I stood, against better judgement, up front for about half the set and hung back thereafter, but my goodness this is what I need. When my son and I go on rollercoasters, the running joke is “this is what we need,” because if he doesn’t get that level of vestibular input periodically he loses his mind. If I don’t get regular doses of volume like this, it’s the same thing. Sometimes you just need to be crushed. Fortunately for me and whatever form of neural atypicality this represents — call it “doombrain” as a diagnostic shortcut — Bismarck were ready with a suitable nod of low end. They should give prizes for this kind of thing too. Or at least a grant, though I’ll admit that, being in a country that puts its money where its mouth is as regards funding, there may well already be such grants. In any case, Bismarck’s take on tone, ambience and aggression was just right in its moment, and I am swallowed by it.


Norna 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Years from now I hope I’m able to recall Norna hitting the Chapel stage after Bismarck played in the Crypt and how good that one-two punch of weighted sludge felt. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to listen to this band without thinking of Ole Helstad, one of the founders of Høstsabbat, who is a nigh-on-rabid fan, and one suspects that’s why they’re here — if you believe it should be otherwise, I would only ask what you think music is for in the first place — but that only made me want to see them more. Assured in craft and at times scathing in their delivery, they were a far cry from the deranged sensibilities of Indian last night, but showed how such leveling volume can be wielded toward ends as much about life as death. I say that, but they were largely unilateral in their destructive outletting, perhaps the moment when the old forest burns so that new growth can take hold. The band’s pedigree goes back decades to the more hardcore-minded Breach, and if Norna are post-that, they’re post- a few other things as well, but their sound held an urgency that felt born of a trash-punk youth, even if it’s long since left that style behind.


Dopelord 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Stoner and doom! They mentioned from the stage that they were about to sing a song about the devil in a church, which if they did it in their home country of Poland would get them thrown in jail. I could see them catching flack for it — less likely imprisoned — in the US too, though that depends pretty much on the state. Another day carnival of weedian riffage here, I suppose. Dopelord’s resin-coated nod came through potent and duly sticky, guitars on either side of the stage leading through a well-constructed wall of distorted fog, lumbering like a dayjob but too stoned to hold one down. I’ve dabbled before in their studio stuff — a tourist’s interest in what I imagine even they’d have to admit is a pretty simple concept for a band; loud, thick riffs, big groove and the kind of themes that can get you arrested if sung in a Polish church — but the dual-vocal swaps lent character to what struck as a purposeful familiarity. That is, seeing them live, I don’t think they’re trying to get away with anything revolutionary so much as celebrating a specific stylistic and tonal ideal. Like the t-shirt says, “Sabbath worship.” The better bands are able to take that and make something of their own from it and I’ll happily put Dopelord in that category now that I’ve seen them. Also, the place went nuts for them, which, frankly, I get.

The Black Wizards

The Black Wizards 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

A boogie rock cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man?” Count me in. Portuguese trio The Black Wizards were good vibes even before they seemed to medley their way into and out again from the King Crimson classic, drawing on hard ’70s vibes with vigor enough to actually convey them. The Crypt was packed by the time I got there, but I wound up able to get a spot by the side of the stage area by following the band through the crowd as they went on. Dick move on my part, I guess, but it worked. The band brought a joyful shuffle from which the bass sounded especially smooth, and despite some feedback of the not-purposeful kind on the mics, they carried through with a bluesy spirit and a power trio ethic of bass and drums holding down the groove while the guitar solos. This, plus swing — which was in ready supply — equals the sum total of what one can reasonably ask, but the tempo shifts were a welcome bonus. The real test of boogie is can it twist, and The Black Wizards answered a hard yes. Their set was tight but fun, classic drawing as much from more modern interpretations of ’70s heavy as from that era itself, and the solos when they came were the kind of thing you’d answer with a fire wmoji, maybe followed by a heart, your choice, red or green. They could play, and knew it, but there was no pretense whatsoever about what they were doing. I think this might just be what party rock sounds like in Europe now. Cool by me. Probably really cool by Graveyard, who’ll play soon up in the Chapel.


Arabrot 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

People worship this band. Like, religiously. I’m not arguing with doing so; just noting there’s a cult for Årabrot and I’m on the outside of it. In fact, this was my first time seeing them, which is something I think put me in the minority among the crowd assembled for their set. My knee was ‘barking,’ in the parlance of not-at-all-our times, so somehow it made more sense to go up to the Galleri — happy to call it what the sign says — rather than attempt to stay up front to get pictures. If you’ve been waiting to see me try and fail to get decent shots of Årabrot, I apologize. I don’t have a bad word to say about what I saw of their set, save maybe for ‘shit’ in the context of ‘well shit, I should probably listen to more Årabrot,’ though I knew that going into the experience. Love the Americana-that-isn’t via Sisters of Mercy post-noise rock though, and I respect both the niche and the performance aspect — they weren’t just playing; it was a show, costumes, hat and all — even if I’m still not ready to sign up for cult. They pulled the biggest crowd of Høstsabbat thus far though — I had a good view — and the Chapel seemed duly fit for worship. Fine. Again, I’m not ragging on it — I promise you I’m not — but I’d been looking forward to what was going to unfold in the Crypt soon, so I left my Galleri perch well in time to get a spot up front in the basement. I do get to say I’ve seen Årabrot though, so that’s one for the résumé, which I’ll be sending out hopefully never again.


Slomatics 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Got treated to a new song — the name of which I didn’t catch; was it “Mightor?” — during their soundcheck. That alone made me feel justified in showing up like 40 minutes before they went on. I be honest with you, they were what my weekend was building toward and there was about zero possibility short of their not making the trip that I was going to walk away from their set disappointed. Just no chance of it happening. Their set? Riff after lumbering riff exactly like I knew it would be, and I count myself extra lucky for having seen them twice this year. All that aural weight, bouncing off the ceiling, off the back wall of the Crypt, off the floor. It would have been devastating were it not rapturous. I don’t know if I’ve seen another complete set this weekend, but aside from the packed crowd behind where I was up by the stage monitors, it was pretty clear early on that I was in it for the duration. No regrets. I closed my eyes, pulled my earplugs loose just for a minute of “And Yet it Moves” — you don’t want them out for long — and was perfectly content to nod my way into ultra-heavy oblivion. Marty Harvey vocals were low in the mix, but I actually suspect that was due more to where I had parked myself, and David Majury and Chris Couzens’ guitars, running through bass and guitar amps, offered maximum plunge. What an absolute fucking joy they were, and smiling and laughing and “skol”ing the crowd all the while. I could go on, but the bottom line is that anytime life affords you a chance to see Slomatics, you do it. Leaning there on my screwed up knee, sweaty, tired — that’s right I said I was tired at a rock and roll show, fight me; I’m like Prince fucking Valium out here — none of it or anything else mattered just for a little bit. Just to lose yourself in it for that little bit. An incomparable feeling.


Graveyard (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I don’t want to say I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Graveyard — it’s been like seven years? — but they were the icing on my spire-shaped Høstsabbat cake, if you want to go that way with it. In fact, they were a thrill. I had a “oh yeah I know these songs!” moment early and from there it was just a matter of being reminded how much I actively like Graveyard. Joakim Nilsson, his head tilted just so, playing his hollow-body guitar, is aging into the bluesman he’s always been working toward being, and “Uncomfortably Numb” made the point all the more resonant. They’re pros to be sure. Now more than a decade removed from breaking through to a broader audience with 2012’s Hisingen Blues (review here), they’re every bit the headliner, and they played like it. Their influence over a generation of heavy rock, the way they took vintage methods and absolutely owned them. They played in the only spot they possibly could, which was last, and if they were the epilogue, then hell’s bells, what a story. “Ain’t Fit to Live Here.” Shit. Great band. I’ll leave it at that.

Before I turn you over to the rest of the photos (if you’re so inclined to check them out), one more word of thanks to Jens, Ole and Vesper, whose efforts now that the fest is over I hope make them proud. This thing they made was incredible, and the world is a better place because it happened. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you for reading, and thanks as always to The Patient Mrs., through whom all things are possible. My love.

More pics after the jump.

Sturle Dagsland






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One Response to “Live Review: HØSTSABBAT 2022 Night Two in Oslo, Norway, 10.08.22”

  1. J. says:

    Awesome review, once again. Got some homework to do, starting with Needlepoint. Sounds like my cup of tea.

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