Tons of Rock Festival in Halden, Norway – June 23rd 2016
Photos by Marie Solheim.
Something big has been stirring in the charming southern Norwegian town of Halden, rising once a year for three days of heavy metal hysteria. Beautifully situated inside of the 17th century fortress Fredriksten, which rests on the top of a hill overlooking the fjord, Tons Of Rock has grown into a powerhouse in the three years since its inception. This summer the festival has outdone itself, bringing legendary acts such as Alice Cooper, Megadeth, and Black Sabbath to the sleepy town of about 30 000 inhabitants, which is situated close to the Swedish border, about 2 hours’ drive from Oslo. Alongside some of the greatest hard rock and metal legends of all time, the organizers have also dug into some deep cuts of lesser known gems, which has enticed enough people that all of today’s tickets were sold out months in advance.
A glance at the impressive line-up reveals that this festival is catering to a vast variety of music lovers, spanning from metalcore and hair metal, to obscure black metal acts. Our first venture for the day, however, entails braving the pouring rain to see the Swedish hard rockers Blues Pills inaugurate the expanded and improved main stage. In spite of the less than stellar weather and the somewhat early start, the Swedes pull a respectable crowd, with word of their bluesy and soulful psychedelic rock apparently having turned a lot of heads. With a bunch of top tier cuts from both their 2014 debut and their upcoming sophomore effort Lady In Gold, the band charms the soaked crowd and definitely earns a considerable amount of new fans in the process. Deep-voiced leading lady Elin Larsson revels in the glow of the main stage, having the crowd eating out of her hand as they sing along to the incendiary closing number “Devil Man”.
Since the heavenly floodgates remain open, it seems like a good idea to head into the tent stage. Although it’s unclear to what the degree the weather has caused an exodus to the only roofed area on the festival grounds, the Sognametal stalwarts Vreid are cooking up a storm of their own. Their catchy black’n’roll assault seems to awaken the somewhat sedate audience, as the band launches through a flurry of material from their entire career. Unfortunately the sound is mixed so loud that a few of the tracks blend together, choking out the otherwise stellar riffs in a wall of noise and flashing strobe lights. As the skies begin to clear up, we have just enough time to grab a bite to eat before returning to the fortress for the next séance.
Although a somewhat recent acquaintance for this writer, the California rockers Rival Sons have spent the last few months touring around Europe in support of the mighty Sabbath. With a 70’s hard rock flair that feels tailored for large arena tours, the American four-piece practically ooze of charisma and coolness as they take the stage with Ennio Morricone blaring in the background. Taking heavy inspiration from the rock and roll titans of yesterday, Rival Sons are catchy and accessible without sacrificing their confident swagger. The concert gets a little weird when frontman Jay Buchanan dedicates the sappy ballad “Where I’ve Been” to the people involved in a Frankfurt hostage situation that was resolved just hours earlier, announcing that the song is about forgiveness while most of the crowd are completely unaware of the event. In any case, their bluesy riffs and confident bravado make Rival Sons a solid and uplifting addition to the festival atmosphere.
Despite the vast array of musical approaches featured at Tons Of Rock, all of these bands have at least one thing in common. None of them would be here if it wasn’t for four miserable lads from Birmingham, who came together in unspeakable communion and formed what would become the mighty Black Sabbath. For their final tour, the Gods have decided to grace us with a headlining slot in Halden, or at least three out of four deities. Much have been written about Bill Ward’s unfortunate absence from the reformed line-up, but I’ll stick to saying that replacement drummer Tommy Clufetos does a good job in shoes that are practically impossible to fill. Between the internal strife, the members’ various ailments, and earlier less than stellar performances, there is a sense of trepidation in the still damp air as the hilltop fortress begins to fill up. Then that familiar bell toll, Tony, Geezer, and Ozzy arrive to the tones of their classic self-titled opus, and all doubts are washed away with the June rain.
The last time Black Sabbath graced Norwegian shores, they were touring in support of the somewhat lackluster 13. Now, in the middle of their final tour, the setlist is scrubbed clean of any post-reunion material, instead celebrating those brilliant five first albums. In between the obligatory hits, we get served a smorgasbord of meaty cuts including “Into The Void”, “Snowblind”, and even “Behind The Wall Of Sleep”. While Ozzy is looking a bit frail and silly with his constant jumping around and clapping, Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi appear positively majestic in front of the mind-bending psychedelic video wall. The prince of darkness himself sings off key on several occasions, and the 10-minute drum-solo seguing into “Rat Salad” is a bit too long, but Black Sabbath prove that you can do a final tour and go out on a triumphant note, even when you’ve been at it for almost 50 years now. Sabbath still have what it takes; hail to the kings!