Västerås, late November. After a gruelling train to Warsaw and a turbulent plane to Sweden, I finally reach the small town and find myself blanketed in the frosty, Norse darkness. A crow caws into the night – perhaps a wintry portent of things to come.
Arosian Black Mass MMXII is the second organised by a musician who goes by Orm – label manager of Scythe of Death Productions and frontman of Myling and Ormgård. The first Arosian Black Mass was set up in 2011, and following its success the black-clad acolytes were once again summoned to celebrate a two-day festival of esoteric music and art. Originally formed as a continuation of the Nidrosian Black Mass, based in Trondheim, Norway, Arosian reinvented itself as different kind of creature. Where N.B.M. constituted the resurrection, progression and promotion of a contemporary black metal sound that is meticulously hand-picked from an international scene of performers, Arosian followed a similarly rigorous selection based on the spiritual convictions of the bands – not their musical styles – which led to a plethora of esoteric underground philosophies coming together to batter down the gates of the ego and wake the slumbering kundalini.
As I entered the dimly lit industrial hall venue Culturen, I was immediately struck by the relaxed atmosphere of the place. Sure, there were only a few hundred men and women who look like they could give the Manson family some pointers in nasty, but they were all jovially gangling around, taking part in the pre-giddy festival flavour that somehow remains constant in select gatherings of freaks and geeks.
While waiting for the first performance to start (attending this year’s A.B.M. certainly required quite a bit of patience, but more on that later), I perused tidy stands of hermetic vinyl, cassettes and CDs, intermingled with leather-bound grimoires and occult paraphernalia. Art by Andrew Strauss and Erik Hahr was hammered up on the wall, said to represent each band’s unique spiritual process; it kind of reminded me of Frank Frazetta’s Conan stuff mixed with those dudes who draw Magic – The Gathering. Awesome, but a bit on the metal-kitsch side. A short film by Swedish artist Bastian Damascus flared up on a screen nearby. Images of books and BDSM leather slowly drifted across the screen, accompanied by some warbled ambience of records being played backwards. The audience remain unimpressed, rather focusing on swigging wine, beer or whatever beverage they could get their hands on.
So there I stood, together with flush-faced, bearded Viking-kin furiously peddling guerrilla merch to the covetous masses, while masked, scented and robed purveyors of the occult spread their impossibly scrawny fingers, beckoning me to come closer and examine their wicked manuals of magicks. A rough bark broke the spell, the shifting of chairs were heard and a horde of metal spikes, bullet belts, creaky black leather and far-too-pale flesh hugger-mugger into the concert hall.
The Necromantic Incantations are about to begin.
Swedes Draugurinn kicked off the festival with their first live performance ever. A dead tree decorated with bones of small animals and runic talismans stood alone on the stage. Foggy incense floated up from somewhere, and waxy black candles were lit as a young woman completely covered in a black funeral shroud walks onto stage. Dark ambient sonority slowly started pouring into my ears, and the rhythmic beating of hide drums coupled with the vocalist Dísa’s very visual performance involving the hefting of various rune encrusted items, screaming shrill curses while blowing a ram’s horn and squawking in Icelandic trying to summon the dead, had me and the rest of my fellow festival-goers completely hooked. For a first-time performer governed by an angsty death-fetish, it’s a tight set.
After this spectacle it was Myling’s turn to take the stage. Cloaked and spook-hooded instrumentalists quickly started shredding some folky riffs, and the drums kept a steady pace. Orm’s vocals seemed slightly uninspired, however, and the performance distinctly lacked energy. Also, some serious technical glitches with the digital backdrop showing a slideshow of various creepy images occasionally dropping out onto a plain old desktop forced the technicians to frantically bungle around to find the following slides. It unfortunately caused drastic loss of attention. Booo! No, matter – next up was Kadotus…
Torches, blood-spattered faces and hell-bent satanic invocations were what awaited us when these Finnish trolls stepped onto Swedish soil for the first time. Spewing forth bile as black as oil, they took us through a 45-minute long session of unbridled blasphemy. Kadotus played from their 2011 release Vaienneet Temppelit – a real standout is their song ‘Spiritual Keys to Ages Unseen’ – and the simple blast beats thrown out from drummer Thorgaunt, together with almost doom-like riffs bouncing off Fyrdkals’ clearer vocals, really scratched my grimsoul.
Then we waited… and waited. Things weren’t moving quickly to begin with, but now there was clearly some delay. I waited for some sort of explanation from the festival staff but nothing came. I asked around, and even members the staff themselves, though armed with bright smiles and open for all sorts of probing questions on individual spiritualism, had seemingly received no explanation from the top man. Oh well, more time for beer!
An hour went by before Horns, an underground Chilean band which had never before performed in Europe took the stage. I’d never heard them before, but after a few songs I started digging their shrill riffing and masterful build of percussion. They had throwbacks to Bathory and Mayhem aplenty, and moreover some of that old-school classical Mozart and Bach-ish structure shot in for good measure. Don’t get me wrong, the dudes are old, but they still know how to thrash! Serious kudos to the drummer Herr. Schattenriss for blasting out some mind-boggling machinegun beats. The crowd wasn’t too thrilled, however – no headbanging, and barely anyone sloshing about at the front. After a while a steady crowd of people started trickling out – and I’m not sure it was entirely the band’s fault. The hour’s delay deflated some of the festival’s spirit and the incessant cloud of incense hanging thick and heavy in the air inflicted maximum listlessness in its victims. Besides all that, I had the niggling feeling that a part of this nonchalance stemmed from the whole organisational policy of defining bands as “ritual conductors” instead of just “bands”. There was no interaction between performers and audience, no vomiting, no decapitated deer heads being hoisted about, not even as much as a curse thrown our way. Slightly counter-intuitive to the festival spirit. It’s all a bit pretentious for a festival that styles itself as a “two-day event of esoteric art and music festival…” Oh, wait…
Horns received a smattering of applause before trudging off the scene to make way for Saturnalia Temple. These cool cats from Stockholm recently released their second album, Aion of Drakon. Only two of the three-piece band are present, and while chatting with a group of dudes looking like they were preparing for Operation Barbarossa, I caught some rumours that the band is struggling from some personal issues with their drummer, leaving only Tommie and Peter to mount the scene with swagger in their step, blue jeans, unassuming T-shirts and some wicked looking guitars. As soon as they hit the first warbled and fuzzed out chord, I was totally lost. The metal doom mixed with a flurry of 60s psychedelia invoked a texture of cosmic sludge so fucking palpable that as they shift from ‘Ancient Sorceries’ to their singular ‘Black Magic Metal’ my mind was turned into a sacred vessel for the outer gods. Shit just got real. The relaxed and modest vibe of the performers and their gushing tugs of low strung bass notes, fixed and fused with cascading vocals and sickeningly ripe solos, made the Temple’s performance my favourite of the weekend.
Wild-eyed and with my brain turned to sludge, I stumbled out of the small concert hall, gnashing my teeth and bantering it up with fellow enthusiasts. Ofermod played next, but between the beer and the melodic madness that had settled comfortably into my headspace, I could only discern a gore-painted guitarist tuning to some primal reveling before I madcapped off into the wintry depths of Västerås.
I hit the venue during the lecture on Early Satanism held by Per Faxneld from the University of Stockholm. He presented a few pieces of interesting research regarding the 19th-century origins of modern Satanism and dismissed a number of myths surrounding the philosophy. I got chatting to a good few of the publishing houses present at the festival. Most of the people seemed to treat questions about A.B.M. with grins and enthusiasm. In the words of the publisher of German company Nine Worlds Fall, “A.B.M. represents a different kind of festival; it’s not all about the black metal, it’s also about books!”
After the lecture we were to be treated to a fire ritual by traveling Swedish witchalocks, Hexentrupp. They didn’t show. They told us to leave our e-mails though. We’re supposed to eventually get something by way of the great web.
More delays. Hiss…
Suddenly the doors to the concert hall opened, fog came rolling out and it was time for the fabled Arktau Eos to awaken from their Delphic slumber. The appearance of this occult trio of Finnish troubadours heralded their first performance in Sweden, but every set they play is a totally unique ritual. The band has gone from all-ambient electronics into analogue smacking bone on wood, and this particular set had it all – self-made instruments ranging from hide drums, bells, bone sticks, a Burmese gong and a strange mini-guitar violin thing that warbled and wailed like a banshee on meth. They went through fifty minutes of ritual magic. It was intense, sweaty, full of druggy incense – AIL the conductor raised a string of bells, shook them; we trembled. Phenomenal.
The spirits dispersed, we trundled out and back again to hear the demonic incantations of pure Russian (orthodox) black metal offered up by PSALM 666. They were covered in blood and screaming in a foreign language. Doesn’t matter. Fuckers trashed everything, including our eardrums. Good times.
German Nawaharjan rose from their tombs. Robed and masked, they solemnly took up their place on stage. A rending riff was vomited before percussion, bass and harrowing squeals issued forth from the band’s spectral line-up. They played the whole set from their 2011 release Into The Void. It’s faceless and freezing, devoid of any emotion except a charnel hatred for anything alive or worth living.
My emotions stripped to the bone by the scything noise of the previous performance, I was again treated to a riveting show and this year’s hands-down winners of the “props and wardrobe” contest that I just made up. Hetroertzen decorated the stage with magic mirrors, ritual daggers, smoking gilded skulls, vials and potions. Garbed in a variety of colourful robes and rather becoming glitter-flecked masks, the Chilean/Swedish band quaffed, enchanted and bellowed their way through a 45-minute long session of Luciferian incantations, filling our previously chilled husks with glowing qliphotic prophesies.
French Huata prepared a visual feast to accompany their sludgy, rocked-out cantillations. Flashes of ritualized scenes from films such as The Holy Mountain and Demon Mask accompanied trudging riffs, thunderous vocals and some devastatingly warbled organ drones. We shoegazed; we headbanged; we screamed; we tore at the fabric of reality with our scrambling limbs. The lights went off, beers were chugged and the champions rallied. The dudes from Psalm 666 were there, with blood-clotted hair and revving to go; Saturnalia Temple, enveloped in their aura of cool, were pimping some beers in the background; Orm and Kadotus were sharing some knee-slappers while a leather-buffed short and sozzled Swede hailed Satan at the top of his voice before decorating the neck of a cute girl with an inverted cross.
Word on the ether was that Aosoth had just been flown in from Paris to summon Ragnarok upon our thaumaturgical selves. Their set grinded out a hyperborean mixture of primal black juiced up with that 90s death we all love. It was a shredding gig, emotional to the core. Fervour; hands were raised, fists were pumped and the seething masses teemed to the front, sprawling, panting and surging to the hiss of guitars and the pagan battering of Aosoth’s discord. Yes, there had been delays, and this being a “different” music festival, some of the bands’ presentations had been slightly self-conceiting. Yet, while the organisers had failed to convey any form of apology or explanation as to why we spent so much time idling, twiddling thumbs and tossing back brew, as the final performance ploughed itself to a halt and the Black Mass ended, we found ourselves slouching through the biting night where there was a certain type of magic in the air. For all the festival’s delays and the awkward arrogance of some of its performances, they did something different. They made room for more than just your average leather-toting metal head, and this difference caused a certain spell to linger. Something that a different type of festival could never hope to conjure.