Tons Of Rock Day 1, June 19th 2014
Photos by Eivind Nakken
Relative to its small population, Norway is host to an amount of summer festivals that borders on the absurd. Every one horse town has its potato-, sheep-, cabbage-, or pop festival. It’s strange, then, that the country has lacked a proper open air metal festival to rival neighbors Sweden Rock and Finland’s Tuska. Luckily some entrepreneurial spirits with experience from other rock festivals have entertained similar thoughts, and today we celebrate the birth of the heavy juggernaut Tons Of Rock.
Situated in Halden, a tiny city in the very southeast of Norway, Tons Of Rock could hardly have found a better home. The festival is being held at the towering Fredriksten fortress, a 1600’s structure built to defend against pesky Swedes. Rich with history and impressive to behold, the site has been rigged with two large main stages and one smaller tent-stage. Now metalheads from all over Europe are congregating for three days of beer, sunlight, and live music. For the first, but hopefully not the last time, Fredriksten is successfully conquered by a throng of black-clad invaders.
The scenic Fredriksten Fortress
Climbing the hill up to the old fortress, we are met by a mediocre rendition of Iron Maiden’s “Fear Of The Dark”. Rather awkwardly, it turns out to be the aging pipes of former replacement-frontman Blaze Bayley. A small gathering of fans have amassed to hear the man play Maiden songs from albums he didn’t even originally perform on. Much has been said elsewhere about these washed up frontmen, so we’ll move on.
On the opposite end of the main stage area, London’s creepy crawlers Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats are gearing up. The sunny weather is briefly joined by strong winds as the opening notes of cultish anthem “Mt. Abraxas” erupts from the speakers. Though I’m normally an eager drinker of their sinister Kool-Aid, the band’s usually tremendous live presence is diminished in the afternoon sunlight. The disappointing attendance is surprising; while only a few months ago they were selling out Oslo-venues, today the attendants number less than a hundred lost souls. Subsequent inquiry reveals that many fans were still stuck waiting at the festival camp when the Deadbeats departed the stage. Such are the logistical hurdles of a newborn festival.
With petty criticism out of the way; Uncle Acid are welcome guests even if they’ve had better days. Tracks like «Mind Crawler» and «13 Candles» are stomping flashes of brilliance, while the eerie psychedelia of «Desert Ceremony» would make Charles Manson proud. From the foggy streets of London, by way of the Spahn Ranch and remote California deserts, the Deadbeats have finally conquered Fredriksten Fortress. Although their ghoulishness is dampened, the sheer strength of their songs goes a long way to get us primed for the rest of the festival.
Another dosage of heavy psych comes courtesy of Oslo-rockers Spirits Of The Dead. My familiarity with the band stems only from their excellent stint warming up for Uncle Acid at an absolutely packed Oslo-venue last year. Playing the mid-sized tent stage, the band is met by only a handful of fans, leaving the tent all but empty. Making the best of the situation, their bluesy Sabbath-meets-Deep Purple combination hits the spot and gets the tiny crowd moving. Vocalist Ragnar Vikse looks like he’s performing for a packed arena, and the raw energy of the band makes this feel like an exclusive gig for us chosen few. Spirits Of The Dead have a lot of potential, but apparently still needs to find and establish a proper audience.
My hipster-sense is tingling
As the clock approaches seven, the fortress is finally getting crowded. Having seen a remarkable rise to stardom in Norway and abroad during the last few years, Kvelertak have reached fans far beyond the confines of the extreme metal world. While the weather has taken a turn for the wet, the crowd is growing exponentially as the band launches into their oddly poppy black and roll. Renowned for their energetic shows, Kvelertak practically have the audience eating out of their hands. As the skies open with heavy bouts of rain, many are moving around like men possessed. This is practically party-metal, and while the atmosphere is getting fired up, we take our leave in favor of the unknown.
A brand new venture, the Swedish/Danish project IAmFire features ex-members of various hardcore and metalcore bands, most notably Hatesphere and The Haunted’s former frontman Peter Dolving. It’s surprising, then, that their music is pure red-blooded stoner rock. Bearing the torch of Kyuss about as subtle as a stoner elephant, the groovy and fuzz-laden tunes are performed with refreshing vigor. A far cry from their musical roots, IAmFire are not revolutionizing the genre, but simply put their own intense spin on a well-oiled wheel.
Once again, the tent is almost completely deserted, but those of us who showed up are witness to a memorable performance. Dolving even pulls off a dead on John Garcia-imitation, his better known snarls only making the occasional appearance. These bursts of aggression give even Matt Pike a run for his money, and it will be exciting to see this project evolve (their debut album is forthcoming). As they finish their short but sweet set, the sun is shining again and all is well at Fredriksten.
Next up is the Norwegian doom metal ensemble Sahg. With their 2004 debut lauded as a an actual musically successful supergroup, largely due to the then-involvement of several Gorgoroth-members, they have since evolved into a powerful entity on their own. Finally the tent-stage is becoming crowded, and the audience is mesmerized by the charismatic founding duo of frontman Olav Iversen (also of pop sensation Trucks) and lead guitarist Thomas Tofthagen (also of Audrey Horne), who both have a cool rock star-swagger going on.
Playing material spanning all of their four albums, the greatest response is garnered by “Godless Faith” and “The Executioner Undead”, both off their debut. Sahg have honed their performance to the point where it’s pure unadulterated fun, and their catchy and surprisingly upbeat brand of doom is perfect for a summer festival. Natural showmen from beginning to end, they cap the doomy escapades of the day with the explosive “Pyromancer”. It’s pretty good stuff, to be frank!
So far so good. We still have one more band to go before we call it a night though; Denmark’s Volbeat are Thursday’s headliners and have drawn the biggest crowd of the day. With their rockabilly spin on modern hard rock, they apparently have an immensely broad appeal, evident by the many Volbeat-shirt-and-fedora-wearing guys that have been spotted around the fortress all day. The stage is decorated to suit the western-theme of their latest album Outlaw Gentlemen, and the host of fans are chanting for their heroes.
Charismatic singer Michael Poulsen and his outlaws have recently been joined by former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano, and by the looks of it they’re all having a blast on stage. Personally I don’t have much to add about the music; their mix of post-1989 Metallica meets Elvis and Johnny Cash is gimmicky but consistent. Those who already love the band are ecstatic, the rest of us are left feeling like grouchy geezers who hate fun. To me it’s baffling that the party-loving Danes are headlining the festival above both Slayer and Anthrax, but at least they’ve pulled a decent crowd. As we head back to our humble abodes, the sound of the Danish invaders still rings out over Halden.