Til Dovre Faller 2014 – Small Fest for Big Nuts

Til Dovre Faller Metal Fest – Dombås Hotell, Dombås, Norway – September 19–20, 2014

While the third Thursday of September saw most gig-hunting Nordic numskulls pack themselves into Close-Up Båten to sail between Sweden and Finland along with Bolt Thrower, Katatonia et al, our compass was pointing at Norway instead. Since our first Til Dovre Faller experience in 2012, a September visit to the land of expensive beer and jaw-dropping natural scenery has become a cherished Enslain tradition, thanks to the fest’s reliably intriguing band roster, uniquely gorgeous and cozy setting, and the welcoming and friendly atmosphere among the annually returning crusaders that we feel proud to have become a part of.

After landing in Gardermoen early on Thursday morning, we hauled our asses over to The Nighthawk Diner for some breakfast – nothing quite like kicking off the day with some Eggs Benny and a few pitchers of Aass (yes, Norway’s oldest brewery is called that). Another place to open comfortably early and serve malty wonders was Café Sara, at whose pleasant inner yard terrace we proceeded to have a round of wheat beers. Some more bar hopping and a bit of grub grabbing later, it was finally late enough for the city’s newest heavy metal drinking haven, Kniven, to open its gates.

Having been temporarily closed due to some permit issues last fall, this was our virgin visit to the hellhole, and with Apollyon blasting Motörhead behind the bar to as many as zero customers upon our entrance, we felt at home right away. The self-respecting choice of the evening would’ve been to go see Portrait and Flight at Betong, but knowing the Swedes would be in Dombås the following day and having already seen the young Norskis at last year’s fest, we didn’t feel too guilty finding ourselves drinking the night away at Kniven with some Oslonian comrades until we were ready to drop. The later part of the evening saw a notable peak in attendance in the bar, though, as some of the Betong crowd wandered in for some post-show brews.

Friday

As usual, our chosen train connection from Oslo through Lillehammer to Dombås didn’t allow us to sleep in, but the day got a relatively smooth start with some Vanilla Kossu-spiked road soda as our liquid guide on the rails. The ever-impressive landscapes passing by and NSB(M)’s surprisingly trustworthy free wi-fi (take that, VR!) also kept us plenty entertained in the absence of a certain moonshine-sipping warrior, who allegedly had already missed two trains at this point.

After reaching Dombås, we stocked up on some Pokal, and headed towards the renewed Dombås Hotell. The new building was a directly connected extension to the old one, and held the reception, the dining hall, and the stage/bar facilities – as well as plenty of additional lodging space, of corpse. However, we had chosen to bunk on the old side in one of the few rooms with a balcony; comes with a view and helps to keep your beers cold, what more could you ask for?

Since there was still several hours to go before the decibel destruction would commence, we decided to visit some of our fellow festival fiends, who had acquired even groovier accommodation in the stabburet (some kind of old meat storehouse) next to the hotel. This little two-floor lodge also had a cozy balcony, which came with a puzzling piece of rope that we didn’t find any other function for than hanging someone. As the complimentary hotel dinner was to be served momentarily, we speculated that the rope might come in handy if they’d be again serving gryterett (beef stew) with rice like on both days for the last two years… And as we feared, only the dining room was modern and shiny; the food was the same ol’ gryterett. Sure it tasted fine and filled the stomach, but variation might be nice every once in a while, don’t you think?

As the fest was now taking place in the new part of the hotel, only a set of stairs down from the reception, there was no need to even leave the indoor warmth when strolling back and forth between the stage and one’s room, let alone trek up the hill or stumble down the stairs just to order another round like previously. The facilities were more spacious, slightly upping the audience capacity, and the visibility to the stage was improved as well. As the merch was located in the same room, and the bar in another room right next to it, there was no way to escape the music like before, which could be seen as a plus or a minus, depending on who you ask, I guess… While this location was far more practical, its brand new appearance was lacking some of that rustic charm of the old wooden building that had added an additional pinch of obscurity to the atmosphere of the festival.

The first noises of the evening were made by Mabuse, a new Norwegian death metal outfit featuring several faces already familiar from a plethora of bands to play the previous editions. In spite of having taken care of a lot of instrumental work on their recordings, on stage Jonas was merely handling the mic, looking somewhat awkward at times not being strapped to a bass like with Mion’s Hill. His vocal delivery again convinced me, though, opting for hysterical screams instead of the lower register, and when coupled with the slightly melody-flavored guitarwork and speedy drumming, all of this created a frantic sonic storm that occasionally brought to mind a death metal version of Nifelheim. Well, I suppose both the balding Bröderna Hårdrock and their younger Western neighbors have listened to their lion’s share of thrashing 80’s South American bestiality… North American influences were evident as well, emphasized with a rendition of Death’s “Evil Dead.”

Although Omega’s moniker might’ve suggested them to be another mystically cloaked orthodox black metal cult (put as many sarcastic quotation marks around those two words on both sides of black metal as you’d fancy), I was delighted to discover a quartet that preferred to puke up beer-soaked punky sleaze that owed a lot to Motörhead and first-wave black metal, fitting nicely right next to Gehennah in the drinking binge soundtrack section. And when brought to a live setting, an intoxicated Friday night was ideal for guzzling down a dirty mixture like this. While mainman Hades originates from Greece, he had apparently relocated to Norway recently and gathered new local members around him – like Bestial Tormentor from Infernö to punish the bass – with this being the first gig of the revamped line-up. And an enjoyably rough ride it was, although we were disappointed by the lack of “Big Beer for Big Nuts” from the debut. Well, at least “Beer Time” offered some consolation, making the audience raise their voices and pints in unruly glory. Hey barman, gimme a beer!

Without a doubt, Virus were the oddest bird on the bill with their puzzling yet fascinating venture into progressive realms. If beforehand I had been balancing between shunning and embracing the band’s unique sound, this live encounter definitely tipped me over to the latter side, with the trio exhaling such paradoxical unison of discord. Rarely does one get to witness music this complex interpreted with such free-flowing groove. Having played together in a band or two for close to twenty years, it’s no wonder that frontman Czral and drummer Einz sync so well, and recently returned original bassist Plenum (also of the Überthrash demigodz Audiopain) completed the circle with some of the most captivating low frequency work I’ve seen in ages. Placed in between the rawer metallic mutilations of the evening, Virus stood out as an oasis of bizarre comfort.

Faustcoven took us back to the basics with their doom-ridden black metal, having a surprise in store for me as well. While on record this brainchild of Gunnar Hansen brings to mind an old black-and-white horror movie – bound to appear stiff and boring in its primitivity to those used to the polished and colorful ADHD style of modern times, yet worshipped by the freaks – on stage the corpse came alive in an unexpectedly attacking manner. Much of this can be attributed to live vocalist Samson Isberg, who executed (pun intended) his role with such wrathful vigor that the static appearance of some of the players became no hindrance at all. The simplistically vile song material sank into the audience like a sharpened knitting needle in between the ribs, with hearing “Caste of the Tyrant” live after ten years marking a personal highlight. A Cirith Ungol cover was also included in the set, but being criminally unfamiliar with these Californian epic metallers, this one passed me by, and is added here only as a pathetic post-gig internet anecdote. Hooray for Faustcoven and fuck me!

Having already served us Infernö in 2012, and Audiopain and Aura Noir in 2013, this year saw Til Dovre Faller completing the Überthrash pantheon, with Nocturnal Breed last in line. While the majority of the quartet’s material had previously remained in relative obscurity to me, serious pre-fest education in this regard was conducted, and a trail of punchy blackened thrash treats was discovered from along their nearly two-decade career, with especially the Breed’s last two albums presenting solidly steady quality. The set was a balanced mix of the raw late 90’s violations and fresher ones, with the weaker in-betweener The Tools of the Trade getting understandably minor exposure, and perhaps the title track of No Retreat… No Surrender remaining the only song I ended up seriously missing from the repertoire. From the “Fields of Rot” until the final “Alcoholic Rites,” the Breed set a luscious headbanging feast at the table, delivering the topmost performance of the night.

Portrait were Friday’s last and in my books least exciting act, as not only had we seen them already a few times before, but it feels that they dwell a tad too safely in the shadow of a certain Danish heavy metal royal instead of freely exploring their own paths in the darkness (like their fellow countrymen In Solitude have recently done, for instance, and with mindblowing results, I might add.) Despite offering nothing unforgettable, the Swedes put up an expectedly enjoyable show, filled with enthusiasm and energy from vocalist Per’s part in particular, and as the songs themselves are well-written pieces of dark heavy metal as well, sipping beer to Portrait was a pleasantly light way to end the night after the intense thrash beating received from Nocturnal Breed.

Saturday

Awaking on the hotel bed with my jeans halfway taken off (almost made it!) and discovering the half-drunk beer cans around the room, hazy recollections of a short-lived two-man doom metal afterparty started coming back to me. Since the breakfast was still being served, I saw it best to grab something to eat, and my hangover stomach was delighted to find out that it wasn’t another dose of gryterett. A needed extra nap and some recuperative drinks later, we were ready to re-enter the surreal little world of Dombås.

On our way to “the center,” we ran into the Greek-Norwegian duo a few doors down from ours, and desiring some variation to our Til Dovre Faller diet, united our forces on a hunt for some lunch-dinner. We decided to give Rosa Napoli a try, and after taking our time chuckling at beef meat being listed as an ingredient in several dishes on the menu, went for some pizza and ravioli dishes. And tasty they were, but seriously, beef meat… that’s some evil English for ya, almost to the level of some of the Japanese heavy metal our neighbors had been blasting earlier.

With Stian’s traditional moskussafarien bus having already left some hours ago at this point, and us feeling content with having taken the infamously muskox-free joyride last year, we decided to re-visit the small Dombfossen waterfall a few kilometers from the hotel. The voyage of our Finnish-American-Greek-Norwegian party wasn’t without obstacles, though, as we first took the wrong turn, then were forced to cross a ditch to get back on track, soak one pair of boots in the process, and next got ambushed by cattle of the most hostile kind, aggressively bellowing at us in a choir which clearly resonated with thirst for our blood and hunger for our flesh. Perhaps they wanted to return the favor after the beef meat ridden meals we had just feasted on? Anyway, thank Odin for fences!

As our by now slightly disgruntled crew finally made it to the forested riverside, we were happy to sit down for beers, enjoy the scenery, and talk some black metal. When in Rome, right? A few sorry attempts at conquering the nearby sedimented sand dune also followed before we agreed that it was time to start making our way back to half-civilization. Once we again reached the hoods of bovine terror, we were surprised to find empty fields with no living creature in sight, leaving us with the doubt whether what we had earlier experienced was real or just a collective hallucination concocted by our hungover brains… Either way, at least it was an ordeal to remember, and got us toying around with an idea for a very bad horror moo-vie.

After concluding our eventful afternoon walk, there wasn’t too much time to get prepared before Reptilian set foot on the stage. Coming from the small west coast municipality of Fusa, the group didn’t feature any familiar faces from the cross-fucking capital area scene, but presented a quartet of fresh young blood, proudly sporting the coat of arms of their home area on the backdrop. If the band’s only song out so far off of the split with Inculter had sounded like a work-in-progress rehearsal recording of Obliteration, the live experience left a much more convincing taste. The similarities were still there, but every once in a while, Reptilian would pull out a mesmerizingly original riff out of their sleeves, leaving me at a loss for comparisons. Add to this how tightly the band played together and the passion emanating from their stage performance, and I was quite floored. It’s such a thrill and a privilege to witness an up-and-coming band that just blazes with potential like this, and envision what great things their journey might lead them to.

Going back to Oslo, up next we had Purple Hill Witch delivering us comfortably Sabbathian grooves, spiced with an adequate drop of psychedelia yet not refraining from the Riff in favor of mere fuzz. Despite offering nothing new under the waning moon, the trio had the basics down so well that the lack of originality didn’t matter – well, that’s the way the mountain crumbles when it comes to traditional doom metal. Vocalist/guitarist Kristian’s clean wailings hit the spot as well, particularly reminding me of his nearly namesake Christian “Chritus” Linderson, known for his contributions to Count Raven, Saint Vitus and Lord Vicar, among others. While Purple Hill Witch’s own material was of commendable quality, it wasn’t until the final treat that they really ecstasized the audience, presenting a brilliant cover of Witchfinder General’s self-titled track.

After the two highly enjoyable new acquaintances that opened the night, we knew the remaining four wouldn’t carry much of a surprise element, having already seen all of them before more than once. However, that didn’t spell out inconsequential mediocrity in any way, as the bands ranged from impressive to mind-blowing in quality. Being the first ever Finnish name to appear on the Til Dovre Faller roster, seeing Ranger’s debut raid on Norwegian soil surely had a special flavor to it. It was clear that the local headbangers had been building up their hunger for this speed metal explosion ever since Fenriz nominated Ranger as his band of the week early last year, as the air was thick with contagious excitement and energy. And the ever-furious foursome showed the packed crowd the steel they’re made of, bombarding us with electrifying riff fire and frantic screams until no survivors remained.

Well, luckily Nekromantheon were around to raise the dead by stirring up an even more annihilating storm of suplhur and brimstone. With their second album Rise, Vulcan Spectre standing as one of the most awe-inspiring monuments of present-day thrash metal – stylistically pure yet so powerful and inspired in every aspect – and their ability to transmit its boundless primordial rage into decimating live performances, Nekromantheon tend to mark the highlight of my evening, wherever they may appear. No exception here either… but we could use a new album soon, right?

I can’t blame Morten for booking Bölzer for the fest twice in a row, as after my introduction to them last year, I’ve become an obsessed follower, continuing to be amazed even after three more times of seeing the band on stage since then. However, apart from the Soma material being now a familiar part of the set, and the band opting to play in total darkness, with only the small blinking lights of their gear and occasional camera flashes disturbing it, there’s not too much to add to my previous year’s verdict. Apparently their appearance in Dombås didn’t go unnoticed, though, as some of their off-stage activities were found newsworthy by the press. If breakfast buffet rumors, manipulative media and Google Translate are to be trusted, the police had gotten notified of suspicious behavior at the local cemetery, and discovered three non-locals crawling on all fours in between the tombstones looking for Psilocybe mushrooms… now that’s a way to make your mark!

Having played at the 2012 edition, this year’s final number One Tail, One Head were another rerun. While remaining a strong live act, unfortunately Saturday’s consuming course of one great band after another hadn’t left us with too much attention span to spare for them. I also wouldn’t mind getting to further inspect some of that new material in a recorded form, since the radio silence on the release front has been going on for more than three years now… However, as Til Dovre Faller 2014 had already rewarded us with plenty of memorable gigs to treasure, and the new venue had now been successfully baptized in bucketloads of beer, sweat and sonic slaughter, we felt accomplished with another weekend of mountainous majesty and metallic mania behind us, and convinced that we’ll keep on coming back until the mountains of Dovre crumble.

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Photography: slideshow | individual band galleries
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