VENUE: Kvarteret
DATE: 03.06.2023
ORGANIZER: Karisma Records
Photo by J.N.

The wonderful people at Karisma Records invited yours truly to attend their one-day festival at Kvarteret in Bergen in celebration of the label’s twentieth anniversary, and I am forever grateful to them for doing so as this superbly arranged event turned out to be heaps of fun. With a lineup consisting of such renowned and talented Norwegian prog rock outfits as Magic Pie, Tusmørke, OAK, Brimstone, Arabs in Aspic, Seven Impale, and Wobbler, what could possibly go wrong? As it turned out, nothing. It was a musically thrilling evening and night that did not reach its climactic end until 2.15 AM.

As I was running a bit late, I missed out on the first twenty-five minutes of Magic Pie’s set, but what I did witness was excellent. The atmospheric epic that is ‘King for a Day’ with its reflective and thought-provoking lyrics was glorious to witness in a live setting and a rather emotive piece in many respects. The interplay between the musicians was remarkable and there was focus and discipline in spades throughout without the group ever coming across as rigid or stiff. On top of that, the sound was great and packed quite a punch. Things were off to a very good start.

Tusmørke went on stage upstairs at Storelogen roughly ten minutes later and their gig was as eccentric and eclectic as expected, which ties in rather nicely with their quirky brand of psychedelic prog, and it was certainly a vibrant and vigorous show. With their humorous take on all sorts of weird phenomena, the whole thing was akin to a trip to the outer dimensions, and their intuitive and creative spirit shined through on every track, but whereas their LPs are extremely colorful and exciting, last night’s gig was simply entertaining and energetic without necessarily being one for the history books, musically speaking, that is. The highlight was definitely the fiery version of ‘Cycle of Gylfaginning’ from the upcoming record entitled Hestehoven, but the murky sound of it all left something to be desired.   

OAK were up next and went onstage downstairs at Tivoli, and they were brilliant – it was as simple as that, really. The quartet truly managed to tug at the heartstrings by means of their poignant, hauntingly beautiful compositions, and these gentlemen seem to be able to move you on a deeply personal level regardless of whether the aura veers towards the bleak or the uplifting. Covering a lot of musical ground but ensuring that everything flows seamlessly from one part to the next takes skill, which is something that OAK have got down to a tee, and nowhere was this more apparent than when they aired ‘Sunday 8 AM’, ‘Guest of Honour’, ‘Highest Tower, Deepest Well’, ‘Lost Causes’, and the False Memory Archive title track. A captivating performance for sure.

Brimstone is an outfit that I have never encountered previously, so that was a totally new musical encounter but a very cool and positive one. Not being familiar with their albums from many years ago, I had no idea what to expect, but these dudes delivered a hugely energetic show that was as uplifting as it was refreshing. Their tunes were surprisingly catchy too, and there was an abundance of cool riffs and licks for us to sink our teeth into. Joyous and invigorating stuff not to mention a perfect fit for the Storelogen scene.  

Trondheim proggers Arabs in Aspic never disappoint and they instantly conjured up their irresistible, semi-psychedelic, and hazy-sounding soundscapes on the Tivoli stage and sucked us in from the getgo. I am always reminded of early Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4, and Camel’s Mirage when I listen to this act, and there is something about the quintet’s unique sound and expression that totally works for me. Hard-hitting, memorable riffs coupled with clever arrangements and ingenious ideas obviously make for a delightful time and although ‘De Dødes Tjern’ and ‘I Vow to Thee, My Screen’ were my personal highlights, the truth is that the whole groovy affair was noteworthy and charming as hell. As with OAK, the crowd was ecstatic and totally on board for the ride.

Seven Impale recently released the highly impressive Summit LP and performed the entire opus in its entirety. Their tight and crushing renditions of the pieces were as intense and aggressive as one could have hoped for, but the layers, subtle nuances, and inventive little details very much came to the fore, which made it an enjoyable journey through heavy and occasionally thunderous soundscapes shaped by all manner of things including prog and jazz rock.

The magnificent Wobbler was the perfect way to cap things off in grand style. They are one of the most respected and well-known prog acts from Norway and it is not exactly difficult to see or understand why as their albums and gigs are the stuff that musically adventurous dreams are made of. Last night was simply a triumph and a demonstration of musical power. The intuition and chemistry between its hugely skilled members, the dynamics of the song material, the evocative and melancholy nature of the melodies, the ability to engage the audience and retain the momentum from beginning to end. . . I could go on, but you get the picture, right? From the explosive ‘Five Rooms’ to the absorbing ‘From Silence to Somewhere’ and further on to the playful ‘This Past Presence’ and the moving ‘Fermented Hours’, they gave us everything we wanted and more. ‘Merry Macabre’ served as the encore and made sure that the anniversary festival ended on a genuinely dramatic note. I cannot wait for Karisma Records’ thirtieth anniversary party!    

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