Norway Rock Festival - Fresh Faces & Old Favorites!

July 11, 2018, 3 months ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal hard rock

Although best known for black metal fests, the outdoors loving people of Norway venture into the summer sun too. While frequent visitors to the bigger/more renown gatherings, occurring on the European mainland, there are a couple of homegrown events that warrant investigation, even by foreigners like myself. Case in point, the three day Norway Rock Festival, some 6+ hours (by car) from Oslo, on the southwestern corner of the country, between Stavanger and Kristiansand. Since it's remote, most people camp and there's a nearby lake for swimming. Actually, the Thursday kickoff acts as an evening for early arrivals, with just a trio of tribute bands and local favorites. The real action begins Friday, at 1 PM. The concept stays in the hard rock/traditional metal end of the spectrum, each night marrying a few tribute acts, fresh faces, a couple of one-off reunions and international talent, alternating almost seamlessly, between the main stage and the smaller, tented "Lemmy" stage. Unusually dry weather, the area was under threat of forest fire. Not the best conditions for drunken camp fires and smokers, but warnings were repeatedly issued beforehand. 

FRIDAY
After a day of flying from the States, to Germany and on to Oslo, the last thing I wanted to do was take another seven hour car ride, but such was the price to pay, to reach Kvinesdal, home of the festival. Norwegian one lane highways, aggressive enforcement of the 30-40 mph speed restriction (via camera), construction and summer holiday traffic be damned! So by the time we reached the grassy fields, the first band of note was Beast In Black, the brainchild of guitarist Anton Kabanen, unceremoniously ousted from Battle Beast. This is his “revenge,” treading similar waters, and now with former U.D.O./Dirkschneider axe slinger Kasperi Heikkinen in the fold.

In the future, would hope they abbreviate the intro tape, Judas Priest's “Nightcrawler”, which features the lyric, “Beware the beast in black”. Once that airs, would be the perfect point to hit the stage, instead of playing the entire song. Regardless, once in place, it was straight into their signature tune (complete with synchronized stage moves), off the Berserker debut, released last fall. In their allotted time, the Finns played said album in its entirety, albeit in a different running order. Having heard only bits and pieces of the recorded material, and given the make-up of his previous outfit, was shocked to learn the vocals were man-made (i.e. male), courtesy of Yannis Papadopoulos. “Blood Of A Lion” downshifts from the frenetic “Eternal Fire”, to a more epic Sabaton-ish power metal, as the singer reported it was their first time in Norway. The headbanging “Blind And Frozen” is another standout, piped in accompanying screams reaching feminine heights. “Crazy, Mad, Insane” might be a stylistic anomaly, but the Beasts finish on a strong note, the appropriately entitled “End Of The World”. 

Perhaps it's the relatively remote location, unreachable by public transport, but the crowd is decidedly middle aged (or older), many with their partner. Next band of note, Swedish neighbors Avatar, who have made some inroads in North America already, thanks to a theatrical approach and guttural vocals. All the band, including their handlers and roadies, wear matching circus outfits, with ruffled shirts, velvet vests and suspender trousers. The stage had two levels, a staircase at both ends and the band logo, which lit up and pulsated (ala KISS) on the walkway overhead the drummer. The main attraction/center piece, as always, is Joannes Eckerström, the tongue wagging frontman with Jack Nicholson Joker make-up and Marilyn Manson movements. Nose-ring and dreadlocked guitarist Jonas Jarlsby has taken on an added importance, portraying the King character central to the new album. He even began the set with a crown, seated on the second level's golden throne, his subjects surrounding him. Then there's the other guitarist, Tim Öhrström, sporting a mustache of which Salvador Dali would be envious. 

Like Alex, from Clockwork Orange, Eckerström, with bowler and cane, delivers only the opening “A Statute Of The King” from a raised, stage front pulpit. The rest of the show sees him alternate between normal singing voice and gruffness that verges on death metal, pin wheeling his hair and doing his best Gene Simmons impersonation, with respect to his tongue. Although most Norwegians understand Swedish (due to being subjugated by the latter, for centuries), he appears to speak to the crowd in their own language, throughout the set. “Let It Burn” sees four across the stage, in front of John Alfredsson, thanks to his lo-rise kit, minus drummer obscuring cymbals. Eckerström drops to his knees, center stage and plays off the soloing Jarlsby. Plenty of fog and strobes during the performance, highlighted by aptly titled “Smells Like A Freakshow”. Elsewhere, “The King Welcomes You To Avatar Country” certainly plays up the “country” aspect of the music. By the time of a well-deserved encore, dripping in sweat, the guys are all in just their white dress shirts. Cue “Hail The Apocalypse” closer.

First band I knew nothing about were homegrown Heartless, who had a twelve year run, from late-Eighties on. This is the hard rock quintet's first live performance in 25 years, although only a disappointingly low percentage of a certain aged portion of the populous gave a rat's ass. Of interest to those outside Norway, the band was aided on guitar by Oddleif Stensland, of Communic, a local boy made good. For an early acoustic number, the tent visiting crowd waved their hands overhead.

Turbonegro have visited my continent before, but never had the inclination to check 'em out. The oddly attired, anti-political correctness six-piece mix ‘70s rock n roll with dose of Ramones' punk (see “Hurry Up & Die”) and questionable humor. With the World Cup matches taking place throughout the weekend, there's was the first inquiry from the stage: not because Norway were in the tournament, but the fact the Turbos were scheduled to play in Belgium the next day and were hoping for a party atmosphere (“Wasted Again”)! “Rock n Roll Machine” featured plenty of flashing strobes. The band acknowledge playing in the Bible Belt before (a large Christian encampment/retreat) is located nearby. Parts of Queen covers were aired, as was “All My Friends Are Dead”, with a Monster Magnet vibe.

Although the Priest cover band Painkiller would actually end the night, the headlining Nightwish were up next, essentially the last band and the reason for most attending. Photographers were barred from the usual first three songs, for safety reasons, due to the zealous use of pyro. Although a festival set, the Finns were still afforded 90 minutes, running through a shortened version of the greatest hits retrospective they played in North America, a few months back. While “Amaranth” was inserted in the running order, at the expense of a couple others, each track is still augmented with video accompaniment and, on this side of the pond, prodigious fire display (which they hope to bring Stateside, next tour). 

Mastermind/keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen kept his top hat on for the first half dozen songs, same sequence as overseas, beginning with “End Of All Hope” into equally adored (from the screams), “Wish I Had An Angel”, lit in blue, bassist Marco Hietala on backing vocals. The clouds wiz by onscreen, the only such formations of the day, the sky still a blue haze, at midnight. Watching from outside the photo pit, easy to see why precautions were taken, as the reduced stage size/depth saw the flames regularly lick would have been occupied area! While the band was hot, by the purple begun “10th Man Down”, noticed a decided dip in temperature. Some of those shirtless and/or in shorts, earlier in the day, now donned winter jackets. Bit of overkill, but the chill would return, in earnest, the next night, where we'd see our breath before the concert was complete!

Emppu Vuorinen now occasionally has a guitar partner, in Troy Donockley, although the piper stays on his perch, leaving the diminutive blond axman to occupy the front of the stage. Winning over any converts that remain on the fence, between songs Floor Jansen speaks to the crowd in their native tongue. Lots of pinks and purple lighting, Hietala handles the first half of the vocals on “I Want My Tears Back”. Flames appear onscreen, behind drummer Kai Hahto, during “Devil & The Deep Dark Ocean”, while it's practically a non-stop inferno, legitimate heat, onstage for frenzied “Slaying The Dreamer', ending in a flash/bang of fireworks, sparklers falling from overhead. The blue lit “Nemo” intersperses sci-fi and rainy video footage. The voiceovers herald “Greatest Show On Earth” and nearing the finale, which comes in the form of “Ghost Love Score”, sending most to their tents, until morning, although the party doesn't stop.

SATURDAY
Amongst friends, there was some debate about what to expect from Bloody Heels, a single guitar foursome of youngsters from Latvia, who proved less glammy than promotional photos would suggest. Maybe it was the singer's animal print button down shirt, but the sights and sounds, couldn't get vision of a less sophisticated White Lion out of my head, especially when he added an acoustic guitar to his repertoire. Although unfamiliar to most, they added a couple of new, unreleased tracks to material from their Through Mystery debut. Hard rock, verging on ‘80s hair metal, ballads, like "Hungry For Your Love" and their closing cover of Billy Idol's “White Wedding” (which acquitted them well) give an idea of where their collective heads are at.

As a blazing sun shone down, the picnic tables around the grounds were busy will beer swilling and pizza/Tex-Mex eating patrons. Had no interest in "Internet sensation" Frog Leap who offered "metalized" versions of the Ghostbusters theme, the Cranberries "Zombie" and Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" (Rocky III theme) amongst their identifiable covers. So the next legitimate act was Inglorious, high energy British blues based hard rockers with penchant for David Coverdale and Paul Rodgers. Not bad targets to aspire towards! Singer Nathan James apparently was with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, at one point, but more rock fans probably recognize him from his work with guitarist Uli Jon Roth reworking of his Scorpions past, both on disc and DVD.

Opening with “Read All About It” it was hard to miss the band, visually half the six-piece with peroxide blonde dye-jobs. With their dark beards/stubble, gave them (especially the burly frontman) the appearance of pro-wrestlers. “Breakaway” was followed by the bass heavy, mid-tempo “High Flying Gypsy”. The band seemed eager, often playing in front of the wedge monitors, at the foot of the stage. Some of the hard driving stuff would have been better suited to hitting an unfamiliar foreign festival audience (many unaware of your material) right from the start. During the course of the set, James plugged a forthcoming third album (even airing a couple of those tunes) and frequently poked fun at the Swedish born guitarist, in light of England leading Sweden in a concurrently played World Cup match. The screams in “Making Me Pay” would probably be Gillan approved. James claims “I've Got A Feeling” is about “stealing someone's missus,” while “Change Is Coming” sees the singer on tambourine. Bluesy jam, both guitars center stage, to kick off “I Don't Need Your Loving”. A laidback “Holy Water” is a tough sell at a rock/metal festival, but concluding “Until I Die” sees fans clapping along.

Good portion of the evening was all-Norwegian. I'm told Luxus Leverpostei perform vulgar songs in the native tongue, not necessarily rock, but sort of like John “Dr. Dirty” Valby, in the USA. The phonetic pronounced Oslo Ess (the moniker for the city's central train station) were a bunch of pop-punks, similar to Green Day, with a mix of early Clash and even some ska. According to long standing Norge metal bible, Scream Magazine, Manitou were the country's first progressive metal act. Beginning in '85, they gave it a try for a decade, releasing only the mid-Nineties (by then too late) debut, Entrance. Long dormant, they were resurrected for Norway Rock, showcasing an impressive take on John Arch era Fates Warning, then suddenly veering into more experimental territory, too adventurous for their own good. Two vocalists onstage, both with lyric cheat sheets as the signature Native American headdress is draped over the drums. High pitched lead voice, at varying points similar to Midnight (Crimson Glory), the aforementioned Arch and Geoff Tate (Queensryche), they hit demo tracks like "Sea Of Sorrow" and "Desert Storms" as well as "Prophecy Of The Sleeper" and "Servants Of Greed", off the proper album. Ultimately, "Ship Of Dreams" brought this reunion to a close. 

The British call it boogie, short for boogie woogie and having been a recording band for almost as long as I've been alive, had no idea what exactly to expect from Status Quo. From afar, couldn't tell if the SQ on the kick drum was an ornate 50, or not. Given their longevity, that's certainly not a coincidence! No longer flare or satin pants wearing rockers, suit vested Francis Rossi looks like an Italian grandpa or maître d', but he still plays a mean guitar and possesses an even more wicked wit. Lots of fans on hand, singing opening "Caroline" in massive voice. Andy Brown (with the band since the early ‘80s) was slapping the keyboard with two open hands. Virtually everyone took a turn at the mic, including facial contortionist John "Rhino" Edwards, he of the headstock-less bass, for "Rain". Rossi explained to the crowd, "The ‘70s were all about smoking (makes a puffing sound), while the ‘80s were all about (makes a snorting sound). This one ("Softer Ride") sounds like it might be (snorts) but it's (puff)". Off goes the blues shuffle. The syncopated "Beginning Of The End" has people dancing atop the picnic tables, easily visible in a 9:30 pm sky, the sun just ducking behind the tree lined cliffs, but still as bright as midday. There's honky-tonk piano in "Wild Side Of Life" and "Do It Again" is a riffing shuffle. Thanks to Sabaton, people under 30 have now heard "In The Army Now", even though it's not a Status Quo original either. Chuck Berry strut infuses "Down Down" and toe tapping is impossible to avoid, with "Whatever You Want". To the uninitiated, think Black Crowes meets ZZ Top. The set concludes with John Fogerty's "Rockin All Over The World." 

10:25 pm and still no sunset, so off to the tent for Backstreet Girls: a lanky lead singer who recalls Joey Ramone, paired with Petter Baarli, a sailor cap wearing guitarist that wants to be Angus Young. The similarly diminutive string bender with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and two bottle of beer, in hand. He adopts the Aussie's Chuck Berry duck walk inspired skanking about the stage, as well as the bad boy's axe of choice. This is old school rock ‘n’ roll, no pretense to be in sync with one another, nor pose for photos. Numerous unscripted re-writes of the Berry song book, purposefully delivered sloppy and at high volume. No prisoners taken!

Final band of the night/festival, for all but the most drunk (and boy, there a few!) is Accept. May have been ages since more than a few one-off North American shows, but the band have been killing it on the continent. "Live By The Sword" has entrenched itself as the opener, a much more active Mark Tornillo interacting with guitarist Wolf Hoffman, right from the start. The singer visits the other side of the stage, alongside guitarist Uwe Lulis, during a green lit "Stalingrad". Hoffman is alone, center stage, for the telltale riffs to "Restless & Wild", the first of many vintage tunes in the setlist. Much of the show, the four (backed by drummer Chris Williams, on a two foot riser) will stand four across the front, the trapezoid cutouts, made to resemble futuristic steel panels, keep everyone crushed forward.

It's deep blue hues for the start of "London Leatherboys", eternally ageless Peter Baltes and the two guitars, center stage, as Tornillo relocates to his left. Hoffman, always pulling faces for the photographers and crowd, also starts "Koolaid", walking about the purple/blue stage, the drums quickly locking in to the beat. Come the solo, the singer air guitars, next to the real thing, stage left. Williams' cannonading drums kick in, at the beginning of "No Regrets". The pair of guitars trade licks center stage, as Tornillo gets the audience to singing, their hands overhead, side-to-side. The singer is the star of somewhat autobiographical "Analog Man", which is followed by red/white lit "Final Journey", with fog seeping out of each trapezoid. Following the guitar break, cheerleader Baltes leads a clap-along.

Mark asks if people are staying warm, as it's now possible to see your breath. "Pumping that antifreeze?" He knows all too well some are, all too well! Time for singing, so enter "Princess Of The Dawn", the titular chorus sung by thousands. Pink lights for "Midnight Mover". Speaking of movement, as fog again billows from atop each "steel" monolith, Tornillo maneuvers his way to the right wings and toys with Lulis, the mainstay Hoffman-Baltes pair across the stage. White searchlights sweep the icy blue stage for "Up To The Limit", the two guitarist sway in unison, the bassist perched on the one-step-up riser. All reconvene, down front, bobbing and a half turn, in sync. A red drenched "Pandemic" culminates in Hoffman cranking away, going mental, center stage. The Tyrolean chant "hi de hi do" (or should that be Heidi?) sees only the Americans: singer and drummer onstage, the Germans charging on as "Fast As A Shark" is launched. Dueling hammer-ons for this speedster. "Metal Heart" begins with Hoffman, guitar and free hand outstretched overhead. The "whoa whoa" sing along ends with a big crescendo. Pulsating blues and white for "Teutonic Terror", while Wolf alone is spotlighted for climactic "Balls To The Wall". More old school synchronized moves from Peter and Wolf on this exaggerated rendition, Williams standing as be pumps out the trademark rhythm on his kick drums. It ends with matching windmills all around, even from the instrument-less Tornillo. Accept still delight.

Had a great time at this low stress affair. Hope to return again, some day. Find out more information at this location.

Additional photos:

Day 1
Day 2

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