Kristiansand, a city of a bit over 80.000 people, located in the South of Norway, is the host of Southern Discomfort, a two days (9th & 10th of September 2011) indoor festival with great headliners and awesome mood among its vistors. Being hosted by not very big venues (Kick, with a capacity of 700 and PÃ¥ HjÃ¸rnet, smaller than that), you feel like everyone there is your friend and makes the evening hours pass by really quick. Of course, the good music on stage contributes a lot to this impression. 2011 had Arcturus as headliners and it seemed to really have attracted people from all over the places since it's quite a desired live show by many and the band hasn't been on stage too often lately. Since I had some foot problems, I could only attend the first night of concerts.
Festival openers were the Stavanger founded band Tristania, led by the two beautiful voices of Mariangela Demurtas and Kjetil Nordhus (ex Green Carnation, a band I personally regret very much that its activity ended). Musically, they convinced me to give their songs another try. I must have listened to only mellow stuff of theirs so far, because I was surprised at times by the roughness of some song parts and the interesting combination of clean male and female voices with the growlings of the guitarist. They get a minus though for the lack of stage feeling for their female guitarist. I guess it was overall well compensated by the bassist and mainly by Mariangela's performance. But I hope they get to play more often together so the show gets to be more compact.
A little break and the surprise of the festival comes on stage - Manitou. Surprise meaning that this band had only released an album so far, in 1995, after which they called it quits. But now, after 16 years, they come back on stage and who knows, maybe they're here to stay. Both the music and the show felt rusted at the beginning. Except the drummer and bass player, the other band members looked like they were not quite certain what to actually do on stage. I guess a long break in performing live was rather obvious. But after I went to grab something to eat, I returned to an almost different show with the same actors. The energy was at different level, musicians were more comfortable with their roles and it even made the music more captivating. I'm sure that, as I said before with Tristania, more shows together would make them look great on stage.
The long awaited show of the evening managed to fill the venue quite a lot (at least compared to my 2010 experience) was finally ready to start. We faced a decent sized drumkit behind which Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg (Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, Mayhem, Ulver, many more) was well hidden while delivering some interesting blends of all sort of rhythms at very various paces. And I think that because he was so well hidden, he was the only one probably wearing 'normal' clothes. Everyone else on stage had certain outfits and/or makeup, completely appropriate for the band's less common type of show. The keyboard player, Steinar Sverd Johnsen, kept reminding me of The pirates of the Caribbeans, the guitarist, Knut Magne Valle, was wearing a full array of pirate-like blouse, rags and trousers, the bass player had a monk robe and ICS Vortex, the singer, was the perfect picture of a patient in a mental institute: a leather strait jacket, with one girth going over his crotch, a mask over the face and a pair of vintage goggles. They even had a screen with projections behind the drummer but the action on stage was so fascinating that I totally forgot to look at what they might project during the show. It was a mixture of weird moves, silly faces, headbanging, freak metal - like a friend of mine called it, brilliant solos and a versatile voice that covered a surprising wide range of sounds. A complete theatrical idea to match the interesting music performed by the Norwegians. Even the fact that a pretty crazy fan managed to run on stage for few seconds seemed like part of the crazy arrangement. It was a great live experience and I'm really hoping to see them live again, since now I had to leave before the end. The setlist, for those curious what Arcturus had prepared: Evacuation Code Deciphered, Ad Absurdum, Nightmare heaven, Deception Genesis, Alone, Chaos Path, Demon painter, Painting my horror, Master of Disguise, Kinetic, Shipwreck Frontier Pioneer and Raudt og Svart.
I left because I wanted to catch the first show on the second stage before the incoming crowd would make it impossible to enter the venue or take photos like it happened last year. Unfortunately the two venues were not perfectly synchronised, hence Leprous probably started on time on the smaller stage while the shows on the main stage lasted longer than initially announced. Leprous, also a Norwegian band, has recently released a really amazing album with the title of 'Bilateral' and I was so thrilled to see the new songs performed and also to see them live with the new bassist. He was unlucky for a while with the local equipment though, but he did a good job at overcoming the problems. The band's performance was at full intensity for the whole duration of their set and made the stage seem even smaller than it was, since the guitarist kept climbing on one of the monitors due lack of space to move around.
The young Norwegians perform with seriousness and tightness and what they perform is by no means easy stuff. This combination quickly gets the crowd impressed with what they see and hear and most of the audience ended up applauding with enthusiasm. I probably wasn't the only one regretting that it only lasted for 45 minutes or so.
Time for the last act of the festival for me, Soxpan, a local Kristiansand band whom I eventually found out was formed by ex Green Carnation members. They have been around since 1997 and categorised as industrial rock/metal. Soon after, they disappeared from the musical scene, to return few years later with some scattered live performances. But unlike previous bands, the break was not as obvious in their chemistry. Instead, they came up with another 'weird' show. First sign of that was that the drums were not facing the crowd. Then a megaphone and 1 or 2 other devices placed next to the microphone. Then the band's outfit with black clothes, red suspenders, a cow themed guitar strap and black brazing eyeglasses for everyone. It was funny that the drummer wore them backwards to give the impression of actually facing the crowd. Musicwise, a mix of electronic sound, rock'n'roll and hard rock was the impression I recall during the concert. But since I was at the end of my energy levels, I could hardly concentrate on the sound and make up my mind of the music quality. For sure it wasn't bad for the crowd since they were really entertained and still had the resources needed to dance and scream.
Regretting that I miss the second day of Southern Discomfort, which offered concerts from Devil, Goatlord and Vesen, I headed back to Oslo with a lot of great memories from Kristiansand and with the hope that this festival will keep on bringing great shows each year.