Watain + Nifelheim – Tour report: Finland
by Niklas Göransson
Translated from Sweden Rock Magazine #56 (2008).
Neither Vengeance from Beyond, Apocalyptic Desolator nor Insulter of jesus christ are in NIFELHEIM these days, all of them can instead be found in heavy metal band BLACK TRIP. They have been replaced by Savage Aggressor (guitars – PROCESSION, DESTRÖYER 666), Satamás (guitars – ex-TORMENTOR) and Disintegrator (drums – DIE HARD, ONDSKAPT)
A clarification for non-Scandinavians – Finland used to be part of Sweden, this is what NIFELHEIM’s on-stage jibes are referring to. As for the final comment; when the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939, many Swedes took up arms as volunteers under the rallying cry ‘Finland’s cause is ours’.
Swedish black metal bands Nifelheim and Watain unite under one banner to wreak havoc and terror upon the Eastern Front. Sweden Rock Magazine has been invited to document a mini-tour of Finland and hereby present an unadulterated account from three days of metal, chaos and tentacles…
The first skirmish in a conflict of predominantly verbal warfare erupts as soon as famed twins Tyrant (bass, NIFELHEIM) and Hellbutcher (vocals, NIFELHEIM) step out of their car outside Tallink Silja’s ferry terminal in Stockholm.
– Did you manage to fit your entire stage-show in the car, Pelle asks sarcastically while pointing at WATAIN’s stage attire – which occupies half the terminal’s entrance.
Tyrant shakes his head, glancing at his band mates.
– Can someone please tell the supporting act to be silent?
Heckling related to stage attire is decidedly unpopular, which as it turns out stems from the aftermath of NIFELHEIM’s gig at the Metaltown festival earlier this year.
– We played there, explains Tyrant, in the Close-Up Magazine tent. As we were about to start, these wimps started threatening to withhold our pay if we used our blood, cadavers, goat testicles and so on. Later, we read a review of the gig in question in said publication – lamenting the absence of such décor, claiming that we have become family friendly and that WATAIN have taken over. Talk about a Catch 22, fuck off!
After transporting all equipment on board the ferry we gather at the dinner buffet where the culinary orgy proceeds without incidents worthy of note. It might seem a bit superfluous to even mention but this is not always the case when it comes to this lot.
– Fucking hell I love pork, declares Hellbutcher. To quote a friend: Not only is it delicious but also a statement.
– Don’t they serve octopus here, asks Set (live guitar, WATAIN) and leers towards Tyrant.
– Silence, that’s not funny.
Tyrant, clearly not a Cthulhu devotee, is of the inexorable conviction that the octopus is the vilest beast to ever grace the earth (‘It is not a phobia, it’s hatred!’).
Whereas the constant bickering might not always be in earnest, it would be inaccurate to describe the vibe as especially hearty or friendly. A contributing factor to this is likely the presence of WATAIN. Relations within the band can be quite confusing – while they are obviously tight-knit the jargon can be absolutely merciless; insults where nothing is sacred and malicious pranks on brutal levels are constants.
– We are without doubt a brotherhood, says Erik (vocals, WATAIN), the socialising of wolves might seem rawer and more violent than other pack animals but we would also kill for one another if need be. Admittedly, we might have crossed most boundaries over the years so I’m not surprised that this can come across as confusing to outsiders.
Once the meal is over, NIFELHEIM head to the tax-free while yours truly accompanies WATAIN to the spa area. A middle-aged Swedish gentleman sits down next to Pelle in the sauna.
– Oh how I love the sauna, he announces after a while.
Pelle gives him a disapproving look.
– Sit there if you must but please, be quiet.
This is a fairly common scenario when sociable strangers approach WATAIN, a mostly hostile response. In this instance it didn’t escalate beyond verbal enmity but this is not always the case.
– Behave disrespectfully and face the consequences, says Erik, one gets what one deserves. We quite enjoy teaching people a lesson, we’re no fools though and would never have pulled off so many tours if we bashed everyone deemed an idiot. There are however limitations as to how retarded you’re allowed to be.
An hour later, during which Pelle appears to make an earnest attempt to murder myself, Alvaro (live bass, WATAIN) and Håkan (drums, WATAIN) by pouring an entire bucket of water over the sauna oven and then barricading the door, we head off to locate NIFELHEIM. The reunion is celebrated by Håkan charging into Tyrant and wrestling him to the floor head-first. The scathing merriment is intensified when Tyrant stands up again, blood pouring from a cut in his eyebrow.
– You have done well Håkan, Pelle spurts out between fits of laughter.
– Stop whining and go tape that up, commands Apocalyptic Desolator (rhythm guitar, NIFELHEIM).
Three stitches later, Tyrant re-joins the rest in the bar and finds that WATAIN have bought him a peace offering – a Jägermeister shot.
– What the fuck is that, howls Tyrant after downing it and discovering a slimy creature in the bottom of the glass.
– A mini-octopus, declares Pelle roaring with mirth.
A shriek of sheer anguish accompanies the glass’ orbit towards the bar, prompting the evening’s first acquaintance with naval security. The fourth interaction follows a few hours later after a little rough play between Pelle and Apocalyptic Desolator erupts into a full scuffle between the bands. The night’s final bloodshed is administered in the early morning hours when Håkan pulls down his folding cabin bed straight onto my head, resulting in a cut in the scalp.
– Don’t bother sewing that up, mutters Håkan, and I’ll buy you a shot in the bar. I mean, you’re no NIFELHEIM wimp are you?
Once the bleeding has been stopped, the suggestion sounds fully logical – said and done.
– Isn’t this off to a splendid start, observes Vengeance from Beyond (lead guitar, NIFELHEIM).
Half past eight the following morning, approximately four hours after the regrettable cranium laceration, we’ve staggered off the ferry and onto the tour bus – which as it turns out has only four bunk beds and an insufficient amount of seats for everyone. A loud dispute can be heard from the front as WATAIN’s manager Johan explains to the tour’s promoter that he is an imbecile. Instead of the original plan – which was to stay in a local hotel in Tampere, it’s been decided that immediately following the concert, and without the possibility for the bands to shower, we are to travel onwards to Turku in our overcrowded bus. The reason for this is that the promoter tried to book the cheap hotel too late and it no longer has any vacancies. Johan returns after a while, shaking his head – he announces that he’s instructed our Finnish host to book a new hotel in Tampere with all due haste. Johan, entitled ‘tour captain’, is an integral part of WATAIN’s live shows. Having seen him in action it’s quite frankly difficult to envision how the machinery could function this well without him.
– He is without a doubt a crucial part of our live aspect, says Pelle, as well as part of the same brotherhood that stands on stage. Not only does he rig the whole stage show, he also built it – the crucifixes, flamethrowers, steel pillars and so on. We prefer to work with elite people and more qualified help can’t be found.
Once we arrive at the venue, both bands march swiftly to the backstage to assess the situation of liquid intoxicants. NIFELHEIM drummer Insulter of jesus christ (who adamantly declares that the latter half of his name is spelled without capital letters) inspects six mini-bottles each containing 18,5 centilitres of red wine, shaking his head with palpable disdain.
– For fucks sake, I specify ‘a few bottles of red wine’ on the rider and this is what I get? And where are the soft drinks?
He spots an employee who happens by to drop off some towels.
– You there, run and fetch me a coke will you.
– Better hurry, says a smirking Apocalyptic Desolator, keep in mind that he used to be in ENTOMBED.
– Hilarious, mutters Insulter, really. But alright – get a move on, I’ll be having that with ice and a twist of lemon.
On stage, Johan is trying to convince a sceptical promoter and equally incredulous venue owner to allow him use of WATAIN’s flamethrowers. Alas, with very little success. An incendiary demonstration that leaves parts of the ceiling visibly scorched does little to further his cause.
– Morons, he growls, tomorrow I won’t bother asking.
Approximately half an hour before the audience is admitted the two opening acts turn up – IMPIETY from Singapore along with a British band. Tentative diplomacy from the UK is reciprocated with a ‘Don’t you have your own room?’ while the Asian veterans are greeted somewhat more tactfully. At least until their somewhat intense and dentally challenged bass player agitates Insulter by mentioning that he’s ‘gotten bigger’.
– How dare you, you toothless swine – are you calling me fat? I’ve never even met you before.
The aghast Singaporean backpedals apologetically and explains that he’s referring to old photos.
Nearing the end of IMPIETY’s set, it is time for WATAIN to prepare. At this point, a tangible transformation occurs. Banter ceases completely and is replaced with an almost tranquil, ominous mood. Erik stands in the corridor by himself, corpse-painted and drenched in blood, drinking from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s when a roadie walks by and gives him a startled look.
– What, snarls Erik.
– Sorry – nothing.
– Fuck you, responds the vocalist as the roadie scurries off.
I mention my observations about the alteration.
– To sum it up, Erik explains, the people who stand on stage are not the same that sit in the bus. We lay down our human selves and embrace the burning chaos aflame within our hearts. This black, sinister side permeates everything we do and eliminates all distractions. Some seem unable to grasp this, which is yet another reason why sharing a backstage area with a band like NIFELHEIM – who understand and respect this, is invaluable. There have been instances where people have failed to do so, with unfortunate consequences.
The remaining members arrive, all clad in stage attire. Erik fills a wine glass with the notoriously foul-smelling rotten blood – Pelle sinks to his knees and gets a cupful poured over himself. The rest repeat the procedure, besides Set who applies his own. No one says a word. Erik breathes deeply, stares with an empty gaze and thumps the back of his head into an electrical cabinet on the wall a few times. As the intro sounds, Håkan walks to the stage entry – before walking out he turns towards the rest:
– Hail Satan, he roars and gets a loud concurrence.
WATAIN stride onto stage and subject the rows of screaming Finns to “Legions of the Black Light”. A few songs later Erik dedicates “Devil’s Blood” to Matti Saari, the Finn who just a few days earlier shot ten of his classmates to death, and others who have ‘spilled blood in the Devil’s name’. After the gig I ask Erik if his purpose is one of provocation or if there’s any deeper thought to this.
– I like to highlight the fact that evil and death are not fictional phenomena, that there’s a clear link between them and black metal. People tend to forget this, which is why they feel awkward when someone praises events like 9/11 or in this case, a school shooting. Our power flows from the same dominions that inspired Saari; a chaotic and inhuman abode utterly devoid of laws and order, where flesh and human folly are filthy sins that must be cleansed with holy fire.
Towards the end of WATAIN’s set, there is likely more chaos behind the stage than being preached from it.
– Where in damnation is our setlist, demands Hellbutcher, am I the only one that cares about the gig?
Tyrant glares at his twin brother with outrage.
– How the fuck should I know you goddamn DNA thief? It was in the couch earlier.
The exchange morphs into an outright shouting match and somewhat startled, I glance towards Vengeance from Beyond.
– This is nothing compared to what it’s usually like, trust me.
Once the setlist has been located and tempers stabilised, Hellbutcher groans as he straps the last of his spikes in place.
– Behold, this is metal – a combined weight of 25 kilos. As far as I know the only man who’s ever beat me in that regard is Rob Halford (JUDAS PRIEST), I read that his outfit once weighed 30 kilos. To be in second place after him, who is so preposterously manly, is a rare honour.
Some would leave it open for debate whether his sexual preferences are of characteristically masculine inclination.
– Surely, you’re not insinuating that Halford is a homosexual? That’s the most ludicrous nonsense I’ve ever heard – he’s just so inconceivably manly that he’s detached from womenfolk completely.
Shortly thereafter, NIFELHEIM take the stage and perform in front of an ecstatic audience. Hellbutcher approves.
– Scream for me, vassal state!
Around lunchtime the following day we return to a backstage in a state of great disorder to collect gear.Back on the bus the past evening’s exploits are assessed and blackouts filled in. Everyone appears satisfied, especially with the crowd response.
– You can always count on Finland offering something out of the ordinary, says Erik, beyond the otherwise stale Scandinavian audiences – one step closer Eastern Europe’s untamed insanity.
A few hours later we find ourselves in Turku, headed towards the venue.
– Needless to say the cretin bus driver will first insist on driving aimlessly through the city for a few hours, Insulter predicts in reference to a map reading mishap the previous day.
The establishment meant to house this evening’s attraction turns out to be mildly surprising.
– What the hell is this, exclaims Hellbutcher, it looks like a day-care centre.
Honestly, I can only concur. The biggest surprise turns out to be the actual stage; I notice it at the same time Tyrant does.
– This must be a joke, is that a stage? It’s about half the size of my knob end. I play in an arena band and shouldn’t have to endure things like this – it must be the supporting act that lowers the standard. I’ve never played a stage this small before.
Hellbutcher appears and in a rare moment, agrees with his brother.
– All of us won’t even fit at the front! This should be interesting, I’ve never played in a queue before. It’s not even a proper stage but rather a bunch of kitchen tables placed next to each other, these wobbly sticks for table-legs are going to collapse once I start headbanging.
While waiting for the evening to come I entertain myself by serving Vengeance from Beyond shots of water, under the guise that it’s vodka – to the complete horror of Hellbutcher. The guitar player pulls off an Academy Award-worthy performance and by the fifth shot, appears to be completely off his head.
– Invite the media along and this is the thanks you get, complains Hellbutcher, the bastard hack gets my band drunk. Fine, no guitar solos this evening then. To hell with this, I also want some booze.
His announcement is emphasised by marching backstage and in swift succession downing two real vodka shots.
– Rest assured you will pay for this, he warns while grimacing.
More join us backstage, where we have a few beers while enjoying Insulter sound-checking the drums.
– Higher toms, he instructs the sound engineer.
– In your monitors?
– No, towards the audience. What do you think pea-brain? Of course in my monitors!
This goes on for a quite a while.
– Much obliged, he grumbles before entering the backstage and proceeding to inspect a suspect cola bottle.
– And what is this now, he groans after a sip, artificial sweeteners? Am I being unreasonable, preferring a glass of cola without the added risk of brain damage? Where is that damn promoter?
He marches out again, vowing to return with a tolerably sugared beverage. Pelle resumes heckling the twins for their ‘Hard Rock Brothers’ legacy.
– I’m so fucking sick of it, sighs Tyrant, I recently saw a list of the most popular Youtube clips in Sweden. What do you think held place 32? Correct; the Hard Rock Brothers.
– But why did you agree to it in the first place, Pelle asks amused.
– First they nagged like hell, then started bribing us with money and cool stuff so we couldn’t resist. At the time it made sense financially but it certainly wasn’t worth it – we could never have imagined it would haunt us like this. They used to call it KGB, now it’s called ‘the internet’. Ten years of humiliation, every day! Isn’t it enough with my hair? I should have done a school shooting instead.
– So bitter, Pelle laughs.
– Bitter? I’ll give you bitter. All of my life I wanted long hair but my mother kept forcing me to cut it short. When I was finally old enough to decide for myself, it barely had time to grow long before it started falling out again. Balding, at 19 years of age! Now that’s bitter, let me tell you.
When WATAIN enter the stage, there are approximately 200 people in the audience. The venue’s inexplicable setup aside, judging from the massive crowd response the show seems to go well. The show’s climax comes during “Stellarvore”, as Johan fires off the flamethrowers he’s hidden among the stage décor. Shortly thereafter the promoter comes galloping, flapping his hands and shouting for him to stop. Johan adopts a face of complete puzzlement while gesticulating that he can’t hear a word, all the while sending several metre tall flames towards the ceiling.
– A little fire never killed anyone, the avid GREAT WHITE fan explains afterwards.
Later in the evening, the repeated chants of ‘NIFELHEIM’ seem to indicate that the band is making the most of the situation with their overcrowded stage.
– Thank you East Sweden, Hellbutcher chimes in between songs.
We have a few drinks in the backstage afterwards and heading out for a breath of air, I arrive in time to see Erik punching the promoter’s merchandise vendor in the face. Bouncers come running and prevent further altercation.
– A fine example of what we discussed earlier, Erik says once the commotion has settled, the buffoon came up drunk off his arse to settle this evening’s sales. I don’t particularly care if he’s drunk but I was a bit short with him, so got upset and mumbled ‘Here’s the money for your gay shirts’.
This is presumably what I saw the outcome of.
– Afterwards, he didn’t say much. He handed me the money, all teary eyed, and then scurried off.
Around 4 am we arrive to this evening’s accommodation for a classic hotel after-party. Pelle sneaks off, only to return a short while later carrying an enormous approximately two kilo heavy octopus. He hurls it right at a mortified Tyrant. The ensuing tumult leaves slime and ink stains in the corridor and I can’t help but ponder if musicians have ever been fined for flinging maritime wildlife around a hotel.
Saturday – slightly hung over but elated, we arrive in the nation’s capital of Helsinki for the tour’s final date.
– That’s more like it, announces Apocalyptic Desolator contently as he inspects the stage.
Besides a spacious floor in front of the raised stage, there is also a top-floor balcony. The backstage area is voluminous and clean, no one finds anything to remark on and there’s a general mood of anticipation. Johan commences preparations for WATAIN’s stage show – steel beams are rigged and fitted with chains, inverted crucifixes mounted and skulls placed on amps. With the previous evening’s sizzle surprise fresh in mind, the promoter is concerned about the flamethrowers. A brief test run shows that the fire barely reaches the ceiling and since Johan has conveniently taped over the security regulations calling for a safety distance of three meters, the promoter gives his okay. The venue’s owner wonders if Johan has proper training in handling pyrotechnics, this is promptly solved by Johan showing his welder’s license for hot objects, adorned by the logo of The Swedish Fire Protection Association – a flame.
While making his way to the stage, Erik spills some blood from his chalice on the floor of the opening act’s room. Sitting in a couch, the opener’s vocalist shakes his head in annoyance and gives his band mate a perturbed look. Erik cups his hands, scoops up some rotten blood from the floor and approaches him.
– A gift from me to you, he hisses as he drops the blood in the poor sod’s face.
Horrified, he shoots up and runs out into the hallway while promising a return with violence. Pelle grins and asks me to keep an eye on the corner. A short while later a discussion can be heard from the corridor before it appears to be decided that fisticuffs are not worth the effort.
– Hail Satan!
Judging from the rallying cry behind me, it’s time for WATAIN to start. They perform their best set of the tour in front of a seemingly possessed audience and the large stage allows the ambitious ornamentation to come into its full right. Performance-wise it’s evident that they now have almost 200 gigs behind them at this point.
– It’s time to show them how it’s done, announces Apocalyptic Desolator in the backstage.
– WATAIN were actually pretty good today, observes Tyrant.
Startled, I give him an inquisitive look.
– Stop, scratch that – I meant to say that the supporting act had an acceptable performance.
After the usual pre-gig turmoil, NIFELHEIM take their positions on stage. On the way out from the backstage I observe a member of the opening act offer Erik his hand and pardoning the misunderstanding. Once more, the audience goes absolutely wild – a fire that spreads to the band. After the final encore song the crowd keeps chanting for more – to the extent that NIFELHEIM go back up and play an additional three songs, two of which had not been rehearsed. Towards the end of the 90 minute set Hellbutcher gives the audience his middle finger and leaves the stage with a final message:
– Finland’s cause is not ours!