Sometime earlier this year (2019), if I remember correctly, a new Norwegian festival announced its debut: Impreium Festival, in the old fortress from Halden, Norway. A festival who offered a solid black metal lineup and whose obvious intention was to showcase some of the finest Scandinavian acts from the genre to a small but dedicated audience. As the Fredriksten fortress used to be the host of a bigger rock festival, a lot of people wondered for a long time how will Imperium be in comparison to the 3 stages event that accommodated tons of people from all over the world. The answer came closer to the start date, as the organizers presented images of the actual location and its surroundings. They have setup ONE stage inside the citadel, split the bands nicely for Friday and Saturday, arranged a small merch area and a drinks/food place and offered us one of the most relaxed festival experiences ever. I personally couldn’t help thinking about the underground festival in Romania, Dark Bombastic Evening, which was also having one stage, inside fortress walls in the heart of Transylvania, where there was barely a backstage so everyone would get to spend time with friends in he audience and where it was all so relaxed that even the security people would end up headbanging.

The reason I wrote the word ‘one’ with capital letters is that I have probably reached a level of ‘have been to so many concerts’, where a one stage festival is actually the most ideal setting there can be. It’s only fair that if you want to see the scheduled bands, you, as member of the audience, should also have your time in between bands to go grab a drink, find a toilet, or just…breathe and crack some jokes with your buddies. I am less and less interested in the festivals where you have to plan both concerts and time in between concerts, which bands to miss, when to estimate you’d be hungry and how long it would take you to go to the far away stage in case you want to be in front row for a band you like, but you also like the band on the other stage…and so on. Here, in Halden, there was none of that and damn, it was so nice to actually get to peacefully socialize with people whom I usually just salute and tell them I’m busy running around to the next stage to photograph the band that plays next. I’ve been missing that since Dark Bombastic Evening and I’m so very grateful to have found the same type of relaxation at a new festival. May it last long and even forever!

There’s of course, details that might not be as pleasant: the choice of food and drinks is rather limited. But then again, without exaggerating, you could have easily brought in a small snack if needed. The security was really laid back and actually it was only for the last two bands on the second day when I saw them standing in front of the stage, since the crowd got rather crazy for the headliners and apparently on the first evening the front row fell (or almost fell) with the barricade. The weather was on our side so it was a wise idea to have sunscreen on. Or, to find a place with shade by the walls. The number of attendees was maybe below expectations during the first acts, getting a bit better late in the evening, but the idea is that you could always find a place as you desired: with/without shade, with/without grass, close/far from the stage, etc. Another less fortunate detail was that at times, the sound could have used some improvements. Not sure what exactly made the difference, but while for some bands it was an enjoyable experience, for others it turned parts of the music into a cacophony.

STRID live@Imperium Festival 2019
Photo by Andrea Chirulescu
Reaching the festival area could have been done by taking a cab up to the fortress and then walking the ‘easy’ path to the Imperium location, or, climbing the steep hill that begins a couple of minutes away from the city center. I took the easy way on Friday and boiled and cursed my way up on Saturday. But it was a cool experience as the view during the walk is spectacular. On Friday, I arrived during the set of "Welcome to Hell", a nice warmup party put together by musicians from various bands and who performed Venom covers and set the right mood for the extreme weekend. After its dissolution was announced in 2015, it was a great surprise for the Black Metal fans to hear that STRID will be there to perform and I am sure some have purchased the tickets as soon as this act was announced. The disadvantage with outdoors festival in the summer is that the sun is still bright at 7PM and takes away some of the depressive vibe of Strid’s music, but apart from that it was a very special live performance.

GEHENNA live@Imperium Festival 2019
Photo by Andrea Chirulescu

Sweden’s VALKYRJA changed the tempo and added another lever of aggression, with their powerful and creepy stage presence. People loved their chaotic riffs and old school grooves, and showed it with really loud cheers at the end of the show. The rhythm slowed down GEHENNA, who had to fight some initial sound problems, but slowly built up into a darker and gloomier atmosphere that was somehow very fit for those old fortress walls. The insanity goes up many levels when RAGNAROK took the stage and really trashed the place down. The crowd went insane and apparently this is when the barricade actually fell down (due personal problems I had to leave before the set ended), but the enthusiasm of the audience was more than obvious. The corpse paint, good old black metal with a twist, mean stage attitude and crowd interaction has ensured that Ragnarok had ruled the day thus far. And I can only be contradicted by those who also watched DETSRÖYER 666, since I had to miss them.

ENDEZZMA live@Imperium Festival 2019
Photo by Andrea Chirulescu

Saturday was opened by the Norwegian act ACÂRASH who has recently released their debut full-length album. Their upbeat occult blackened/doomish hard metal did a good job at curing eventual hangovers and I can only wished they had played some more. Long time since I witnessed ENDEZZMA live and it was a much more intense performance than last I’ve seen them. Way better stage presence that draws the crowd in and allows us to enjoy the fast flow of cool riffs and intricate arrangements. The Americans in UADA performed next, and while they try to build an image of mystery with their face well covered and everything being dark, this evening was not their luckiest as the sound really didn’t help me understand anything of what they were playing.

MORK live@Imperium Festival 2019
Photo by Andrea Chirulescu
MORK on the other hand, having the advantage of playing in their hometown, gathered around most of the present metal heads and even some extra curious tourists on top of the fortress walls – well, some of them walked away probably debating what kind of ritual we are holding down there. But the live show of Mork was very fulfilling and nothing short of extraordinary. With a new drummer in the lineup, TAAKE proved that they’re still one of the black metal forces hailing from Norway and that Hoest is an insane frontman. And for a change, Daniel Vrangsinn from Carpathian Forest, joined them on stage for one song, during which Hoest took he guitar and Vrangsinn sang into an old fashioned dial phone.

KAMPFAR live@Imperium Festival 2019
Photo by Andrea Chirulescu

The crowd was already wild after Taake, and ready for KAMPFAR‘s return to Halden after they performed on the big festival stage few years ago. Kampfar has released a masterpiece early this year, returning from a 2 years hiatus, and they are ready to re-conquer the metal stages all over the world. And no matter whether they perform on gigantic festival stages or tinier ones like the one on Saturday, the guys, led by master frontman Dolk, give it all on stage and make no compromise. It was an awesome festival ending and a great weekend to charge my batteries.

I’m really grateful to the people who took the initiative to put this event together and made sure that for two days we were spoiled with brilliant music that shook the fortress walls and became the soundtrack such a pleasant atmosphere. Even if for some, black metal and pleasant atmosphere might not make sense in putting together, but Imperium certainly is the place to find that. Thanks for having us and hopefully there’s more editions that we’ll be gladly attending.