Live Review: Høstsabbat 2018 Night One in Oslo, Norway, 10.05.18

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2018 poster

I can’t remember the last time I went 24 hours without coffee, but here in Oslo, the morning after the first night of Høstsabbat 2018, I’m pretty sure I’m at that mark. Thursday evening I flew out of Boston, got into Copenhagen yesterday morning, connected to Norway and took the Flytoget train into Oslo Central Station and walked from there to the Anker Hotel where I’m staying, about a block and a half away from the Kulturkirken Jakob, where the fest is being held. All that time, no caffeine. Haven’t really had five minutes to get any. I don’t know if there’s coffee at the show. I was too busy yesterday to ask.

Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Høstsabbat at the Vulkan Arena. That was crazy. This is another level. Kulturkirken Jakob is literally a church — it is accurately-enough depicted on the festival poster that I recognized it looking out the window of the hotel room — and a large one at that with high ceilings, big altar, a raised pulpit, wood floors, etc. And downstairs, a basement that’s essentially the opposite: low ceiling, cobwebs, concrete supports for the massive structure overhead. And the fest is both aware of and reveling in the difference. With a stage upstairs and a stage downstairs, they’re playing to both ends of the spectrum between grandiosity and no frills volume-assault basement gigs, and with the mix of bands across a range of styles, it totally works. I spoke to fest organizers Ole C. Helstad and Jens Andreas Storaker yesterday, and they both seemed really pleased with how everything has turned out. As well they should be.

It was eight bands, four on each stage rotating back and forth between them. Downstairs, upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, and so on. No crossovers in the lineup though, so if you wanted to, you could see everything. That was my goal and I’m happy to say it worked out. It went like this:

hostsabbat art

SÂVER

Saver (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The all-caps post-noise sludgers SÂVER announced earlier this week that they will issue their debut LP, They Came with Sunlight, early next year on Pelagic Records. It was far away from a release party, then, but their set in the basement — the Crypt Stage, as it’s being called — was kind of a preview of what’s in store. In the tight space downstairs, the Oslo-native trio unfurled the first of the night’s several genuine volume blasts, a crunch and lurch and Neurosis-style tension cut through only by Markus Støle‘s drums and the shouts of bassist Ole C. Helstad and guitarist Ole Ulvik Rokseth. They were loud enough to shake the floor and packed enough low-end punch to vibrate the plugs in your ears, but there was a cohesive sense of atmosphere as well, and that extends to the album as well. They could be and often were brutally heavy, but there was a depth to that heft as well, so that it wasn’t an all out assault without purpose. It was an early start at 5PM on a workday, but the room was still decently packed, and they gave all present a reason to look out for They Came with Sunlight‘s impending release. I know I will, anyhow.

Hällas

Hallas (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Høstsabbat‘s throwing the doors open as regards vibe was evident from the moment Sweden’s Hällas took the stage. Glammed-out to the point of bassist/vocalist Tommy Alexandersson wearing a cape and metallic-shining boots, the five-piece nonetheless brought classic progressive-edged boogie to life in a way that immediately answered any and all questions about the vitality of retroism in heavy rock. Alexandersson, guitarists Alexander Moraitis and Marcus Pettersson and drummer Kasper Eriksson played down on the stage while keyboardist Nicklas Malmqvist took to the raised pulpit and even worked in a little ultra-appropriate church organ to the proceedings. They came supporting their 2018 full-length, Excerpts from a Future Past, and handled the big stage like absolute professionals. Lush as their sound was, it was an immediate contrast to the rawness of SÂVER back downstairs, and as the evening went on, that only more clearly came into focus as being precisely the intent. Heavy isn’t just dark, or catchy, or loud. Hällas opened the upstairs stage with uptempo kick, danceable groove and a classic feel that seems to become all the more crucial as time goes on.

Krokofant

Krokofant (Photo by JJ Koczan)

And if Hällas made the point, Krokofant only confirmed it with their go-anywhere doom jazz. With Jørgen Mathisen on saxophone, clarinet and keys, Tom Hasslan on guitar and Axel Skalstad on drums, the well-named trio were a gleeful excursion into the outer reaches of weird. There were moments where they reminded my East Coast US ears of Stinking Lizaveta for their ability to keep an overarching groove locked in while also running circles around it in intricate scales, but Krokofant were by and large more angular and mathy-sounding, giving the feeling they were crunching numbers as much as riffs, and still being an awful lot of fun. Whether it was Skalstad looking like his drumkit was his favorite playground or Hasslan every now and again stepping to the fore with a spacious lead, they were an outlier who served that necessary function well, giving yet another definition of “heavy” for the fest’s ongoing creative statement on the subject. I knew nothing about them going into the set and still had fun watching them play, and I was by no means the only one.

Lonely Kamel

Lonely Kamel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

If you can see Lonely Kamel, do it. That’s the message plain and simple of their live set. I had a feeling Lonely Kamel were going to kick ass, and they did. Four years after putting out Shit City via Napalm Records, the Oslo heavy rockers took the altar supporting this year’s Death’s Head-Hawkmoth (review here) on Stickman, and in so doing gave a reminder that sometimes all you need is songwriting and performance. I don’t mean to make that sound easy, because it isn’t — though Lonely Kamel made it look that way — but it’s true. They’re not a niche band. They’re not really trying to innovate in terms of aesthetics. But they’re excellent at what they do, and they’re tight enough that anything else they did would seem superfluous anyway. They don’t need it. They have songs and they have performance. “Evil Man” from 2011’s Dust Devil (review here) was a highlight, and the hook of “Inebriated” from the new record was recognizable as soon as they hit into it, while “Fascist Bastard” brought an edgier groove to the set. They were locked in, on fire, and whatever other cliche you’d want to put to it, and they too were a lot of fun, but you could also hear their experience in how they played. Their straightforward approach was an excellent grounding point for the rest of the night to come, but also, another distinguishing factor that made them different from everyone else who played. It was that kind of night. Right on.

Domkraft

Domkraft (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Stand and watch and hear Domkraft play for any given three minutes of their set and you might come away with a completely different impression of what they do. Over here, the Swedish trio are digging into post-Monolord nod-of-riff largesse, over there they’re pulling off a Hawkwindian push through the cosmos, and even further on, they’re shouting out aggro noise-laced heavy rock. The key aspect of all of it is that they tie it together. It’s fluid. They make it all theirs. That’s true even more on their impending second record, Flood, which is out Oct. 19 on Blues Funeral Recordings as the follow-up to 2016’s The End of Electricity (review here), which was issued by Magnetic Eye Records, though “Sandwalker” and “Dead Skies Red Eyes” from the new album matched up pretty well down in the Kulturkirken Jakob basement with the punch of “Meltdown of the Orb” and “The Rift” from its predecessor. The three-piece capped off with “The Watchers” and “Landslide,” a reverse ordering of the opening salvo of Flood, and demonstrated all the more their progressive will and encompassing vision of heavy, which they matched with a fervently aggressive lumber and depth of fuzz. They had been one of the bands I was most looking forward to on the night’s bill, and they absolutely delivered.

Spurv

Spurv (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Not going to claim to know what night two of the festival will bring or anything, but there’s a good chance that Spurv had the entire weekend’s only trombone. Even Krokofant didn’t have one, jazzy as they were, but as Oslo instrumentalist post-rockers Spurv were playing earlier 2018’s Myra LP in full, trombone and the violin on the other side of the stage were both essential along with the three guitars, bass and drums. There was some kind of metallic underpinning to the material — especially in the drums — but my bottom line in watching their set was there’s very little in this world that can make you want an album you don’t have as much as seeing that album played live. As Spurv ran through their tracks, their energy made so much of post-rock seem silly, as though they were asking, “why would I be gazing at my shoes when I’m making such cool sounds?,” and I found I had no answer for that question. With more than a hint of prog and post-black metal wash, Spurv engulfed the church with a fitting spaciousness and seemed to be ecclesiastic in just the right way for the setting. It was gorgeous. I already regret not buying the record when they finished.

Eagle Twin

Eagle Twin (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Certainly the loudest band in the basement. Upstairs was working on a different scale, but I think if you took volume in per-capita measure, they were probably the loudest band of the night overall. I also didn’t realize just how much blues there is in Eagle Twin‘s sound. Their 2018 album, The Thundering Heard (Songs of Hoof and Horn) review here, is the occasion for their being in Europe for the next couple weeks, and as they hop from fest to fest to fest, they left no shortage of footprint in Oslo. Even before they started, drummer Tyler Smith‘s line-checking his snare drum required earplugs just to take it, and guitarist/vocalist Gentry Densley plugged into every amp and cabinet in the downstairs backline, so yes, much volume there as well. And it’s easy to lose in all that volume, in the riffing and throat-singing and crash, but year, there’s an awful lot of blues to what they do. It was a welcome discovery for one such as myself, who is years late on seeing Eagle Twin live, and I feel like finally doing so has genuinely helped me better understand where their albums are coming from. Time for a revisit to The Thundering Heard, I think.

Toner Low

Toner Low (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I have no problem admitting that by the time Toner Low went on, I felt beat to hell. It had been a long day of travel and riffs, and I had one of those ultra-tired headaches that neither water nor riffs was going to cure. Still, how are you not going to watch Toner Low? The most stoned of the stoner bands, hailing from the Netherlands, essentially played in the dark, as is their wont, and what light there was was tinted weedian green to match their hyperdense riffing and overarching plod. I said it on on the social medias, but it bears repeating: All your tone worship, amp worship, riff worship bands: Toner Low destroys them all and they’ve been doing it for a long time now. I’ve been fortunate enough to see them live before, so I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with what was coming, but to hear that low end bounce off the vaulted ceiling was more than its fair share of incredible, and even exhausted as I was, Toner Low made themselves absolutely indispensable with their chest-rattling lumber and ultra-languid flow. I’ll go ahead and take a new album whenever it’s ready, please. The sooner the better.

Can’t even tell you how much I’ve been falling asleep while putting this together. Because I’ve been too unconscious to know. Sorry for typos, wrong or missing words, etc.

Night two kicks off in a few hours, so I’m going to crash back out and see if I can revive myself at least enough to open both eyes at the same time.

Until then, enjoy the pics after the jump below:

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Høstsabbat 2018: Spurv Join Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Oslo heavy post-rockers Spurv recently announced their second album, Myra, would be out in June via Fysisk Format, and posted the first track from it. The title of “Og Ny Skog Bæres Frem,” at least according to what would seem to be the remarkably flawed translation matrix of a major internet company, translates to something about “and new forest forward,” and I’m going to assume “forward” there should be “grows” or “growing.” That is, if the translation is right at all, which given the amount of Norwegian my ignorant American ass speaks, is anyone’s best guess. Apologies to the band if I’ve butchered it. The song, which is a lush instrumental rife with Russian Circles-style layering and a will that goes beyond heft in terms of atmosphere, rules either way.

There was a point to this post, succinctly summarized in the headline: Spurv will play at Høstsabbat 2018 this Fall. They join an impressive and varied lineup that includes Asteroid, Electric Moon, Brutus, Toner Low, Elephant Tree and more, and my understanding is more announcements are still to come.

Here’s this one for now:

spurv hostsabbat

Finally, a sense of spring is upon Oslo!

With spring comes birds, and what could be more soothing than the announcement of the fantastic six-piece Spurv (“sparrow” in English) to this years’ Høstsabbat.

When we were able to check out their forthcoming album, “Myra”, out 1st of June on the ever-magnificent Oslo label Fysisk Format, we were totally blown away…

What they lack in vocals (because there is non), they make up for with painting the most beautiful soundscapes, taking the listener on a trippin’ journey over blossoming fields of spring flowers. It’s tender, massive, fragile, heavy and straight up awesome! We can’t wait to see this in the church room.

Spurv will treat us with a new kind of postrock. Be amazed.

LINE-UP
Electric Moon
Asteroid
Toner Low
Brutus
Elephant Tree
Hällas
Spurv
Domkraft
DWAAL
Krokofant
Taiga Woods
SÂVER

https://www.facebook.com/hostsabbat/
https://www.facebook.com/events/1394090067384672/

Spurv, “Og Ny Skog Bæres Frem”

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