Fredriksten Fortress in Halden is a historically unique place in Norway. The construction of the fortress began in 1661 and was named after King Fredrik III (1609-1670) of Denmark – Norway. Throughout history, it has been involved in many conflicts, besieged 6 times but never defeated. Most famous for trying to take Fredriksten was King Karl XII of Sweden who lost his life there from a bullet to the head in 1718.
In Metal music Fredriksten has been a home for one of Norway’s major festivals; Tons of Rock from 2014 to 2018. In August last year, it was clear that the festival was moving to Oslo, the capitol of Norway. When this happened a group of dedicated Norwegian musicians in Halden decided to make a new festival and move into the (citadel) core of the Fortress. Creating a small intimate setting both in terms of crowd capacity and the Line-up, making it a pure Black Metal festival. The most underground genre in the world of Metal music.
Day 1, settling in…
Getting to the fortress was challenging if you; have cool but not very practical shoes, are drunk or in overall bad shape. The path up the hill was steep, and the rough granite “roads” in Fredriksten fortress is a challenge. But oh my, the scenery is magnificent. No need for fancy “decorations” when the surroundings are like that. One simple stage in the inner part of the fortress was it. I could be exploring the surroundings for hours, but the 8,5-hour drive to get to the festival meant that time was the essence. Did just make into the citadel as one lonely drummer on the wall of the fortress played what seemed like a call to battle in medieval times. Soon joined by 3 armed men giving their salute with 3 shots to mark the start of the festival.
Metal can also be fun, and what better way to get the crowd in a good mood than a Venom cover band called WELCOME TO HELL, featuring musicians from bands like RAGNAROK, FESTER, BREWERY ROAD and more. Everyone likes a bit of Venom to sharpen the appetite.
First “real” band on IMPERIUM 2019 was a special one; STRID, for those not familiar with the band, I recommend reading “Black Metal: The cult never dies, volume one” by Black Metal connoisseur Dayal Patterson. The band has faced more challenges and deaths than most, to see this band was the sole purpose for attending for several of the people I talked to in the crowd. Considered the creators of Depressive Black Metal in the early 90`s it was a very special occasion to hear the songs live. Though Edvard (only remaining member) was unhappy with the guitar sound and threatened to walk off stage. The performance was worth the ticket price alone.
One stage means fast changes between bands, but the underground feeling and unity among musicians and attendees were evident. All the bands played the same drum set throughout the festival. The quick changes had some impact on sound quality at times but got sorted fairly quickly.
3rd band of the day was VALKYRJA, proving that even if the swedes tried to take the fortress for hundreds of years, VALKYRJA managed to get in and win over the crowd. They have a certain groove to their Black Metal, and that resonates really well with me, and I was not alone.
GEHENNA, legends of symphonic Black Metal was up next, not symphonic like certain other bands that may have gone bit overboard. No, the old school eerie keyboards, it never takes over just ads to the overall atmosphere. Terrible sound during the 1st song, when that was sorted they did the best gig I have ever seen them do. It was breathtaking for an old fan.
When RAGNAROK entered they where at home, “We don`t want a big fancy festival! This is the real deal!” The pit went nuts during their set, and that’s where I got knocked down an out. Hitting the granite underneath a falling crowd. The night ended abruptly for me, but RAGNAROK impressed me right up to the point where I needed some medical attention.
Sadly, that robbed me of the opportunity to see DESTROYER 666, who had traveled all the way from Australia, better luck next time…
Day 2, The Final!
Sorry to say I missed the 1st band of the final day of ImperiuM, ACARASH, I will make it up to them in August when they are touring with HELHEIM and SLEGEST.
ENDEZZMA from Hønefoss, Norway formed in 2005 but is a sort of incarnation of DIM NAGEL (1993). Trond Nefas was in this band until his death in 2012 (perhaps more known for his work in URGEHAL). ENDEZZMA proved this night that is still a charging force in Norwegian Black Metal, they have that groove and variety that I personally love.
Last years Inferno festival gave me some surprises, and one of those where American UADA. Not familiar with their music then, I became an instant fan. To see them again on Norwegian soil this year was a treat. Their no communication, just playing their own brand of Black Metal, didn`t please everyone`s taste. But for me, it was just as good as I remembered, maybe even slightly better. One of the most unique performances at the festival.
If UADA wasn`t exactly what the majority of the public wanted, MORK surely was. Originally a one-man band from Halden formed in 2004, turned into a full touring band in recent years. Thomas Eriksen still handles all instruments an composes all the music on records. But his live band are highly skilled and brings the music to life on stage. Taking inspiration from the rich history of the Fortress and its surroundings, MORK owned Fredriksten as they should.
TAAKE was up next, new drummer, but you kind of know what you get with TAAKE. Hoest rules the stage, his stage persona contradicts his offstage persona. A nice mellow gentleman meeting fans off stage, and a maniac entertainer on stage. He was actually more vocal between songs than usual, clearly enjoying himself with the feedback they got from the crowd of IMPERIUM. And when they were joined by guest vocalist (singing into an old phone and Hoest playing guitar) Daniel Vrangsinn of CARPATHIAN FOREST fame, the audience got something special for their money.
Darkness set during the TAAKE set and when KAMPFAR got on stage to finish the festival, it was time for everyone to throw the Horns one last time. Dolk of KAMPFAR has been a constant in the scene for more than 25 years, and he knows how to handle a crowd. When you want to end a Black Metal festival with a bang, you can`t go wrong with KAMPFAR. To quote their song Mylder: HELVETE!
Licking the wounds after this festival, I hope this one will continue for years to come. The surroundings and the feeling when crowds are in hundreds instead of thousands is hard to beat.
See you there next year?
Live report by Harald
**Please support the underground! It’s vital to the future of our genre.