Black Christmass is an amazing two-day extreme metal festival held in Norrköping, Sweden, on the weekend before the Christmas week. Norrköping is a small but pretty and interesting town that is really worth seeing, and it's just a ninety minute ride by train from Stockholm; this town is also the hometown of Marduk. It is no coincidence that Black Christmass takes place just in Norrköping: the Swedish band is actually behind the organization of the festival. The 2015 edition is the second one of this festival that was launched in 2014, and once again the bill features great bands like Destruction, Marduk, Vader, Venom, Mayhem, plus a number of interesting underground bands such as Nekrokraft, IXXI, Mephisto and many more. This year, Black Christmass was scheduled for December 18 and 19 at the same venue as last year, that is Flygeln, which wonderfully located near the river Motala that runs across the town.
With a full accreditation, I go there by train from Stockholm, where I live, but I arrive late due to an accident along the railway line. Before going to the venue, I have a few drinks with some friends, but not too many because I will have to take pictures. However, I arrive in time to see the first headliners of the evening: Destruction. The historic German thrash metal band, although just arrived from a previous tour date, offers a great show. The sound is powerful but clear and each instrument easily audible. As usual, Schmier plays a note with his bass from the backstage, just before the band arrives on stage. Then the show begins as usual with “Curse the Gods”, which is always very effective live. The setlist is a kind of a best of, including all of the band’s classics, with the exception of “Cracked Brain” that I would have expected, but Schmier is a great frontman and knows how to entertain the audience; he asks the audience what they want to hear and the band fulfills their wishes. During the show he also announces that in 2016 Destruction will release a new album and will be back in Stockholm for a bigger gig!
Then it's time for the first show of Marduk; the stage is dark and full of smoke, which makes it impossible to take good photos. They have likely turned the volume up, because the sound is a little more than a noisy and confused mixture in which the riffs are little distinguishable; the vocals and drums are a little clearer. Their show is a typical Marduk show: flat and monotonous, although Morgan and company know how to stand on a stage. For the encores a change of lineup has been prepared: after leaving the stage for a few minutes, the band returns with Per "Hellbutcher" Gustavsson of Nifelheim on vocals (but without spikes) and a slightly awkward young man on bass: a relative of a band’s member? Certainly he is a new promise of black metal. To me, the highlight of the show is “Sulphur Souls”, maybe the best song ever by Marduk. The setlist includes songs from Fuck Me Jesus (1991) to World Funeral (2003).
After Marduk, the culmination not only of the evening but of the whole festival arrives: Mayhem. For this occasion, the masters of Norwegian black metal have prepared a very special setlist: the entire album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. I think that there are no words to describe this show, I would say just super, even from a visual standpoint. Attila, Teloch, and Charles Hedger are dressed as black monks with a hood; and Attila has a special corpse paint with esoteric symbols and he really looks like a demon or a damned soul of hell. Attila is one of the best frontmen ever, and knows how to turn a concert into a theatre show, and he is really terrifying. The concert is a sublime moment of blasphemy; after “Buried by Time and Dust”, Mayhem leave the stage but return after a few minutes to perform “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”; Attila is now dressed as a bishop. His lament is disquieting and gives me the shivers. In short, a perfect performance, except for one flaw: Necrobutcher is not wearing the monk clothes like the others. But anyway, this will remain one of the best black metal shows I've ever seen. Memorable!
The second day, after a tourist excursion in the town and a few drinks, I go to the festival venue, but I miss the opening bands because I decide to visit the merchandise venue. In addition to the usual stands selling T-shirts and CDs, there are also stalls that you can find only here. First of all I have the opportunity to meet the most important artist for extreme metalheads, Swedish Kristian Wåhlin, better known as Necrolord, the cover author for great bands such as At the Gates, Emperor, Dissection, Bathory, and many others; at his stall you can buy prints and lithographs of his works in different sizes. There is also a stall selling gadgets related to a beer for metalheads, Heavy Metale; the guys there tell me something about the history and the different types of the beer produced by this brand. Then I go to the concerts just in time to see Mefisto, old thrash / black metal band from Sweden. This band is said to soon release their first full-length in more than three decades (the band was first formed in 1984 but has been inactive for many years); their show is honest and effective and opens the way to the headliners, of which the first is Vader. The Polish band has a big impact: the sound is clear and the stage presence is also excellent; for the occasion singer and guitarist Peter has a studded garment.
The second big band of the evening is Marduk again; their second show starts with “Frontschwein”, and then continues with songs from Plague Angel (2004) on. Their performance is flat and monotonous once again; the stage is so full of smoke that you can hardly see the silhouettes of the musicians except Fredrik, who is completely out of sight. A positive note is the sound, which is a little better than the previous night.
Venom is the final act of the festival and the second highlight. After Mayhem, this is another example of what a metal concert should look like; Cronos and company know how to stand on a stage. Venom's show includes all the great classics, above all “Countess Bathory” and “Black Metal”. Cronos makes an interesting statement before performing “Black Metal”: he apologizes for having once said that black metal is not for women and invites a couple of girls to come on stage to help him scream the refrain: “Lay down your soul to the gods rock `n' roll”; the two girls are completely enthusiastic, and before getting off the stage, they hug Cronos several times, as if he were a kind of a grandfather. During the concert Hellbutcher of Nifelheim is there headbanging in the front-line together with the other metalheads. Great show, great festival; see you next year!
Text by Herjann