Tons of Rock festival @ Halden, Norway – Day 1

by Emīls Vilcāns

tor165Above the seemingly quiet streets of Halden, Norway lies the historical landmark of Fredriksten fortress. Its’ walls high and thick, cannons in every corner and a small village hidden within, the place has become an inspirational collision between history and culture. Where, centuries ago, people bravely fought for their homes, now happens one of the biggest metal/rock celebrations in Norway – Tons of Rock!

By the first appearance the border-town of Halden seems like one of those typical small Norwegian communities. There’s your river that streams right into a fjord, there’s the harbor with boats and yachts, and some seaweed smell, there’s the small houses on the hills and carved cliffs. However, the sight that just doesn’t let you take your eyes away is the inspiring Fredriksten fortress hovering above the town. One of the most important historical monuments of Norway. And the thought alone, that there, within those walls, a festival is building itself up, seems a tad surreal at first. But, seeing is believing and I have to admit that Tons of Rock really has chosen the most epic place for the event. With 3 stages in total – Fort West (main); Tent and Huth stage – the line-up for this year features godly bands, both from over-seas and Europe, as well as loads of powerful Norwegian acts adding some from Halden itself.

After two days of sweaty volunteer work on scene-rigging and camping out with a view over the city, the 23rd of June began with huge excitement and some fresh stitches in my right hand’s fingers. With the first soundchecks flowing around the fortress and people lining up at the entry of the festival, I finally grasped the fact that I was actually there. Taking my spot at the Huth stage for Blodstrupmoen of Onsøy, Norway, the festival opened up on a darker note. Fusing sounds of black-metal/post-rock and shoegaze the quintet put on a remarkably pressing show. With the two distorted rhythm guitars and the wicked drum-work by Arne-Magnus Fjelle the instrumentals surrounded the audience as thickening darkness.  Although the sound quality  wasn’t particularly good for the Huth stage, the high-pitched screams of Christoffer Jacobsen still successfully sent out the saddening notions of the lyrics in Norwegian. Up until the 6 minute instrumental piece Dagslys during which Jacobsen went off the stage and let the guys finish off their set-list, giving the whole gig a more post-rock’ish turnout.

Heading down the path from Huth with a small heaviness in my heart I spotted the relatively small crowd in front of the Fort West. With people slowly gathering, it was no problem to just walk up to the very front and strongly gaze at the familiar trippy illustration of a girl and a peacock, reading – Blues Pills! The heavy blues-rock quartet from Sweden/USA appeared on stage, engaging in the up-beat instrumental build that really kicked the heaviness out of me. Growing into the mellow’ish fun that is Black Smoke there’s nothing more to do than just flow on the grooviness of the whole performance. This being my first Blues Pills experience, I was astonished how powerful Elin Larson’s voice is, shown best on High Class Woman. Clashing perfectly with the heavy-blues rock drive, the overall out-put makes you throw your hands in the air and shake the stiffness away. Performing most of their self-titled debut and introducing us to the new single Lady in Gold from the up-coming title album (August 5th), the band took us back on a light psychedelic trip to the 60s/70s, touching the spirit of Blue Cheer. However, the performance seemed to loose it’s grasp in parts where the instrumentals were left alone. Despite the added touring rhythm guitarist, Dorian Sorriaux’s melody drive seemed fainted or turned way down, thus seemingly stretching the monotonous grooves.  Nevertheless, Blues Pills still shed terrific magic and an overall nice vibe with their works, and lookie’ here, they’re touring!

Reminding everyone that the circus is in town, the Tent stage brings upon the familiar sight of a music festival in England. Sheltering the long-haired nutters from the continuous rain, the time had come for the black-metal act Vreid from Sogndal, Norway to step upon the stage. Packed around with fiery decorations, the bands lively out-put creates hell itself. Making some serious heat, I could only wonder how the guys themselves felt on-stage – flame out-bursts in the front and fire stands around, the heat waves went through the whole Tent. Nevertheless, the guys who sprouted their roots from Windir and Ulcus back in 2004, whilst still reflecting to both in their newest works, lead a flawless and heaviness-packed show. Covering almost their whole discography, with most songs being from their latest release Sólverv, the band demonstrates how it has developed it’s sound and not come to a stand-still over the years. Fusing their black-metal groove with the likes of progressive, thrash and heavy metal, Vreid is the black-metal band that resonates with a wider range of fans.

Entering the realm of the Void, all ye’ who approach the Fort West at this point share an inner shiver – Black Sabbath is just around the corner. Yet, what we see above our heads, red as the august sunset, is the name of the blues-rock band from Long Beach, California – Rival Sons. And with the first sounds of Ennio Morricone’s theme for the well-known western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, the band draws it’s gun and fires with their opening track Electric Man. Shedding out pure passion and energy, Rival Sons have a way through to their audience, even the new-comers. Bringing back the 60s/70s rock sound and grooving on the vibes of Led Zeppelin (sometimes even directly), these guys are still able to take the golden ages of rock and shape them into their own works. So to say, reviving and pushing it forward. Mostly playing songs that really make you want to move and shout along with Jay Buchanan, the group doesn’t forget to take it down a notch and take a breath. Or not take a breath, since their slowest song Where I’ve Been is vocally the most challenging, but that doesn’t stop the audience to pitch in with the mass unison and some lit lighters. Presenting 3 tracks from their newly released album Hollow Bones, the band presents its most creative colors. Grasping the crowds energy with songs like Hollow Bones Pt. 1; Electric Man; Torture and Keep on Swinging as the encore, Rival Sons is the band that keeps on pushing the barrier within the genre…and surely keeps on swinging’!

With the anticipation only growing, the hour spent standing put and guarding the front-row from all the nutters shouting “OZZY!” as loud as they can slowly grew into something similar to a mass craze. Ranging from small kids and young metalheads to dedicated witches in their 50s, the atmosphere foretold that something legendary is about to appear. The screen finally ignited, reading Black Sabbath in the Master of Reality font I really turned restless and filled with creeping excitement. This was it, the beginning of the end!

Sneaking through ominous corridors, witnessing the rise of a demon (Henry?) and the destruction of everything, the horror of world’s end grows into the familiar trembling of thunder and church bells. Black Sabbath finally emerge on the grim notions of Black Sabbath from their 1970’s Black Sabbath. Being accompanied by the vast audience from the second Ozzy opens his mouth, the very fact that the man is upon that stage, singing, headbanging and interacting with the crowd throughout the show is truly remarkable. Not being able to hit every note as powerful as he would like to and gradually loosing his voice during the show, Osbourne still respectably pulls through with an occasional devilish laugh. Both holding the longer notes on Snowblind (“a song about being stupid when you’re younger”) and heartily keeping up with the run of Paranoid at the encore of the show, he truly represents the generation of the toughest musicians that are still around ripping it!

No less admiration goes out to the god of the riff – Tony Iommi. The Iron Man himself, who shaped the sound of heavy metal guitar, right in-front of our eyes and flawlessly shredding the well-known riffs and solos. Obviously, Tony’s stage appearance has changed over the years as well. With the visualizations traveling back to their early days and then looking at the Iommi on-stage, it’s admirable that the man still puts as much heart in his works, if not even more. Shouting “PRAISE IOMMI” as loud as I can, the band progresses through some of my favorite riffs from the man – Into The Void, War Pigs, Snowblind, Iron Man and lastly Paranoid. Accompanied by Geezer Butler‘s bass lines, which were pleasingly perceptible, these classic tunes come into their being with the fullest force possible. The opening of Hand of Doom from their 1970’s Paranoid being my all-time favorite bass-groove, both the tracks opening and outro gain a wavy feeling that now returns whenever I hear the track.

Pretty much the biggest let-down for the whole tour is the absence of Bill Ward on drums. Even despite the unquestionable skill of the 36 year old session drummer Tommy Clufetos, Ward is still the only piece of the complete Black Sabbath picture missing. Nevertheless, Clufetos’ drum work is still astonishing and more or less a show of itself. With a 7 minute long drum-solo grown out of Rat Salad, this madman punishes his drum-set bashing out crazily fast rhythms, using pretty much every cymbal and every tom, and whatnot. After raising the audience in to what seemed a fastening countdown, Clufeto’s drum solo merges with the first notes of Iron Man as the elderly trio returns to the stage. The only question that remained after the show…what was the gong meant for?

Touching only 5 of their 70s albums, the songs on the set-list range from their self-titled debut until the 1976’s Technical Ecstasy. Most being from their most successful release – Paranoid, The End is more or less a hit collection, rather than a re-visit to most of the bands different chapters. Of course we wouldn’t expect for Ozzy to pick-up and start singing something from the era of Ronnie James Dio or Tony Martin. Yet, it seems rather odd to leave out songs like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath from the 1973’s title album or (especially) the iconic Symptom of the Universe from the 1975’s Sabotage and the grim God is Dead? from the 2013’s 13. Adding these songs would’ve simply made the whole show more retrospective and interesting in general.

Altogether, the show really was enjoyable. The fact alone that Black fucking Sabbath is right in front of you, performing the songs that were actually life-changing for some folk, is just incredible all by itself. Playing mostly on themselves whilst acknowledging the legacy they’re leaving behind, the whole show is more or less about witnessing. Being in the same venue as the guys who laid the cornerstones for heavy metal almost 5 decades ago. And most of all, loosing your voice whilst singing with Ozzy the songs you know by heart or air-riffing together with Iommi. Either way, I couldn’t ask for a better conclusion to the first day of the festival than with the riffs of Paranoid.