With less than a month to go, 2017’s Blastfest was cancelled. Started in 2014, the festival had become a regular event on the festival calendar. Although this years line-up had not been as strong as others, it still offered a decent variety of acts. It would have been Scour’s first European show, Devin Townsend had promised a special heavy (could have been some Strapping Young Lad) and Katatonia were performing their album “The Great Distance” in full. Rumours that previous years bands had not been paid were circling the internet, whether it is true or not we don’t know. The festival was cancelled to many peoples disappointment. The tickets were refunded, however many people had already booked travel from all over the world to come to Bergen Norway – myself included, decided to make the most of this opportunity to visit the historical town and see all its wonders and find its black metal history. So rather than a festival review I thought I would share my experience (with Neil my husband) of Bergen without Blastfest.
As you fly into the port town of Bergen you are greeted with many small islands with only a single building on, seemly so isolated. With fishing boats dotted across the ocean, you see the great mountains that surround a large part of Bergen. With snow on the peaks it is a sight to behold, in this majestic town. It is a view I was graced with every morning from our hotel (Scandic Bergen City).
The history of Bergen is tied into the Black metal history books for numerous reasons, but most notable for Varg Vikernes and the burning of the Fantoft Stave Church. So on one of our first days we went on a short trip to see this iconic church – there is a bus or the light rail (which we took). The first thought that went through my mind as we walked up to the site was how it was located in the back of suburbia, with an office complex and car park next to it. We walked past an elderly gentleman walking his dog and a group of primary school children out on a trip. The presence of the clique people glad in black with long hair, must not be anything new to them.
The church may not be as big and grand as you might expect, but it is magnificent in its beauty. On this cold day, we were graced with some hail that added to the bleak cold atmosphere of the location. As I walked around the church, I admired its intricate wooden spires reaching for the sky. I felt a sense of wonder as to what it would have been like in the early 90’s, during such a turbulent time here. Although the church has been rebuilt, it is a good replica. The experience would have been more whole if I could have gone inside, however it is outside of tourist season so it was closed off. I could have spent hours there just absorbing its culture and mystery.
Norway has different cost of living to many places with its minimum wage being around £12-£15, which in turn means the cost of everything is more than the UK. So when we went to see the record shop/pub called Apollon we spent almost £20 on just 2 pints! (Tourist beware, we didn’t really find anywhere that was really cheap to drink ). Consuming alcohol and looking through vinyl is quite a pleasurable experience, it was the first similar festival activity I had done since arriving in Bergen. The Apollon is a nice place and you get a friendly vibe whilst chatting and looking around at the pictures on the walls. We visited it on 2 other evenings for a social and also for the only official Blastfest event, which was three bands. I would recommend going to the Inside Rock Café for a beer and pint, it is cosy with good music. You can ask for an English menu and the burgers all have awesome names, I had an Antarctica (burger with blue cheese).
A facebook group was started for people who were still going to Bergen, called Bergen Not So Blastfest. This group had people from all over the world, including South America, Australia, America, South Africa and across Europe. An event was made to visit Floyen; the mountains which watch over Bergen. It is always awkward meeting lots of new people, however the adventure was a lot of fun. The experience walking around Floyen was magical with snow and icicles covering the tree’s and forest, a sign with “don’t feed the trolls” added to the mystery of the mountain. A small lake iced over was our group pit stop and opportunity for most to celebrate and have cold beer, the paths went further and further up the mountain. As the sun shone through the trees, the bite in the air continued to remind you that you were up a mountain, it was time to head back down. A slightly more treacherous walk back down, but we made it!
“BLACKHEARTS takes a fresh look at the notorious Norwegian black metal music scene – but from a striking new angle. It travels to South America, Europe and the Middle East to follow three black metal diehards who hail from extreme religious and political backgrounds. Hector, Kaiadas and Sina are willing to risk alienation, imprisonment – even death – to play black metal and live by its ideology. They worship the Norwegian black metal music they have modeled their lives around. BLACKHEARTS takes its audience deep into the minds, hearts and private lives of its characters. It explores how a music scene develops across religious, cultural and political lines – and provides comic relief on the things humans say, think and do when hijacked by passion.”
With a appearances from Arnt and Vegar from Keep of Kalessin, plus briefly Nocturno Culto from Darkthrone and images from previous years Blastfest and Incineration Festival. The extremes of some of the stories just made you feel that the 90’s Norwegian black metal history had been lost in translation with some people, with a large focus on Satanism. (or an excuse to get naked and have an orgy)
A trip to see the Fjords is a recommendation, as you wont see anything like it anywhere else. The picture perfect seas and breath taking scenery are worth it, remember to wrap up warm and it gets really cold up on deck. I would recommend to explore the older areas of Bergen, the architecture and history is great. The Bryggens Museum has a good history of the towns rich culture and there was a room about the rune language, it was perfect for a wet morning.
We left Bergen on the world famous Bergensbanen or Bergen line, which is a 6hr 30min/308 mile train journey to Oslo. You get a sense of how vast and open much of Norway is, the snow stretching for miles with the sunshine beaming in your eyes. I couldn’t stop looking out the window, taking photos and little videos of this beautiful journey.
Oslo felt like a Norwegian London, just not as busy with its tall buildings and vast streets. With the recent snow on the streets and some turning black from the cars, you can see how it is just normal here. Unlike the UK where everything comes to a complete stand still if we get the tiniest bit of snow! The shop of choice in Bergen and Oslo is 7 Eleven, as we saw them everywhere. You can get pastries, baguettes and calzones for good snacks, which is useful when your walking around and exploring the city. We took trips to the Viking Museum and Folk Museum; which you can get to by bus (use an app to buy your tickets its easier) or by boat in the summer season. The Viking boats are impressive in size and you can get some good views from above, it doesn’t take very long to get around though. Norsk Folkemuseum is mostly outdoors, so due to the snow fall we had fun throwing snow balls. There is another Stave Church and lots of historic Norwegian buildings through the ages.
No visit to Oslo would be complete without a trip to Neseblod Records (Helvete), the home of the famous Black Metal wall and the 90’s black metal scene. It is a very small shop and I would recommend checking out the website before going in, as there is so much stuff to look at. I had to ask the staff if they even had what I wanted and they would go the website to check, then try to point me in the right direction. The famous Black Metal museum is downstairs in the basement, you’ll spot a door to go through. When you go down there you see gig posters, Euronymous’ workout bench and photographs. I had to get my photograph in front of the famous wall while I was there, who wouldn’t? It was a very small, but you could imagine it being dark with just candle light illuminating the space. If you are like us you like to buy your vinyl I would hunt down The Garden and Big Dipper.
If I had to round up my experience of Norway without Blastfest, I would say that it is an experience I would love to repeat. The cold bleak savage wilderness gives the Black Metal music of Norway a new dimension; I listened to Darkthrone and Ihsahn whilst on the train, I was mesmerised by the snow, naked trees and frozen rivers, the music seemed fitting and at home. It was a truly an awe-inspiring experience, not just from a creative aspect but also emotionally. Norway touched my heart.