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Iceland’s Eistnaflug Festival Reviewed
José Carlos Santos travelled to the marvellous Eistnaflug Festival at Neskaupsstadir, Iceland (12-14 July 2012) and reports back from an exhausting weekend of music, music and more music in a beautiful part of the world where the summer sun doesn’t set.
Words and images: José Carlos Santos
A tiny, quaint little town on a remote fjord in the East end of Iceland, with 24h daylight, all the Tuborg we can handle (and, not to blow our own trumpet, but we can handle a fair bit) and enthusiastic hordes of smiling, peaceful Icelandic drunks. Do we even need bands? Actually, we did, and we didn’t even know it before we were blown away by most of them.
Risking an awesome overload, Eistnaflug boasted 41 bands in three days this year, and better yet, 39 of those were Icelandic, and one of the two foreign ones is Faroese so you probable don’t know it anyway. Amazing as Cephalic Carnage were (we’ll get there in a minute), the only international metal household name on the bill, that’s not really the point of Eistnaflug. Let’s face it, if you’re into the big-name bands, or at least the ones that play in your town every year, you’re not going to the ass-end (in the best possible sense) of Iceland for a festival. While we’re here, we might as well check out the local talent, and after we did just that, we kinda feel like moving there.
Openers In The Company Of Men played to a still rather empty Egilsbuð (that’s the venue), but these young hardcore kids didn’t let that calm their rage down as they screamed their way through a short but interesting set. Things started to heat up right after, with a mighty one-two death metal punch –Ophidian I and Blood Feud, both on the aftermath of the release of their respective debut full-lengths, made it perfectly clear they’re not fucking around just because they’re new to this complicated business of releasing albums. Ophidian I dazzled with their technical ability applied to Decrepit Birth-ish brutality, while Blood Feud let it rip with the death/thrash, loose and nasty.
Logn‘s bassplayer arrived on the stage only at the end of the show, but let’s not beat on the kid – it actually made for an interesting experience as we witnessed a set of bassless, raw, crusty grind violence, and then were rewarded by a fuller experience at the end, but by no means less intense. A very young and promising band.
Moldun were all tough and trying to go all Pantera on us with a few sludgy twists here and there but lacking some individuality in the songs, while Hellvar and Elín Helena showed the more alternative side of both the festival and the Icelandic rock scene, the former an electronic/rock strange hybrid with remarkably well crafted songs, the latter a good punkish two-vocalist rock proposition. Be it the time of day or the less metallic approach, the crowd started dwindling in the hall, but a lot of kids came back in for Wistaria‘s progressive-tinged metalcore. It’s something to like if you’re a kid, we suppose, but us grown ups are more into raw and grim black metal like Carpe Noctem offered right after. There’s little variation in anything they do, but that’s not really the point – Satan was channelled, and all black souls were provided for nicely.
A packed hall again for Momentum (pictured above), who now count guitarist/vocalist Sigurður among their ranks, and his wonderful singing voice is a great help to main man Hörður Ólafsson during the more atmospheric and evocative parts of their post metal. It’s a sort of cross between the aggression of old Mastodon and the melody of stuff like ‘Crack The Skye’, and while it does get a bit too meandering in parts, it’s mostly engaging and strong, and worth watching for the future, especially with this new line-up.
Innvortis play happy punk rock and they’re huge in Iceland, but while their songs are surely catchy, we can’t help but feel that something is lost in translation for our dumb foreign ears – the lyrics are apparently crucial to the enjoyment of this band, so we go in search of a friendly local to help us out with lyric sheets while seemingly the entire festival crowd jumps up and down the bouncy tunes.
Gone Postal (pictured above) won the local Wacken Metal Battle contest this year, and with good justification – their dissonant and supremely bleak blackened death metal is razor-sharp and twistedly sombre, it’s just a shame they haven’t had a proper album for years. Get on with it, guys! Still, that’s how good they are – without a recent full-length release, they still manage to play the slot right before the country’s biggest and coolest metal export right now, the mighty Sólstafir.
It’s amazing how wild the crowd goes as soon as their heroes show up on stage – there’s dudes in a trance, girls in their underwear swinging their t-shirts around in the air, sweat, booze and various other fluids flying through the air… in short, it’s collective madness, and Addi and the boys do everything to fuel it with their infectious, soaring rock anthems, mostly culled from last year’s staggering ‘Svartir Sandar’.
It’s after 1am when Sólstafir (pictured above)finish their epic set, but outside the day is still bright and wonderful, so we go in search of Tuborg as if there’s no tomorrow. Which there was… so stay tuned.
3pm on a multi-day event isn’t exactly the best slot in the world for a band, but as we arrived at the venue we were greeted by a surprisingly good turnout for the second day of Eistnaflug. What, are there no hangovers in this country? Did everyone just forget to go to bed on account of the lack of night skies? See, these people know something we didn’t. They knew the first band on the bill, Angist (pictured above), are beyond great.
As soon as the four-piece discreetly appeared on stage and vocalist/guitarist Haraldur Shoshan softly announced the first song, all hell was unleashed and we were suddenly in old school death metal heaven. Or hell, if that best suits the metaphor. Whatever. While the vocalist’s surprisingly harsh and well-placed roars, growls and screams (she still sounds like a woman, unlike most female growlers, but a damn savage one at that) are the first obvious highlight of Angist, the sorrowful yet brutal riffing of the axe-slinging team of Gyða Þorvaldsdóttir and Haraldur soon reveals itself as elaborate and captivating, all while the rhythm section provides a solid foundation, with Edda Tegeder’s resounding bass and new drummer Tumi Gíslason, also of Ophidian I, pounding the shit out of his kit at the back. Playing the best cuts off their only release so far, the “Circle Of Suffering” EP, plus a couple of new songs, Angist were one of the best acts of the weekend and a promising act to follow very closely from now on.
With such a lofty standard to follow, it’s good that the next band, Otto Katz Orchestra, was totally far removed from Angist in style, so they were able to survive the aftermath, albeit to a sparser crowd (hangovers do exist after all, as we were painfully being made aware by our bodies at this point). A power trio playing no-nonsense noisy rock, they look like the sort of band that’s able to play for any crowd at any event and always be able to provoke a reaction. Great stuff.
Onwards to the modern, deathcore-ish kid-pleasing stomp of Gruesome Glory, pleasantly counterbalanced by gruff, genuine punks Saktmóðigur, who not only look the part, but also deliver a fine slab of, in their own words, depressed punk. Well, that’s our kind of punk.
Another big weekend highlight was looming on the horizon by then, and they obliterated everything in their path as soon as their show started. Beneath (pictured above) already seem to be an Icelandic death metal institution despite being on the brink of releasing their first full-length album, ‘Enslaved By Fear’ (the release party is in fact today with Angist and Blood Feud providing support, so we kinda wish we could have stayed in Iceland), and they prove their status with a fiery display of proper death metal. Aggressive, stomping, unwaveringly in-your-face, it’s tiring just to watch the battletank-like relentless surges of brutality. Of course, these aren’t young kids (vocalist Gisli Sigmundsson was in the legendary Sororicide, which every early 90s tape-trader worth its salt should remember), so it’s silly to even call them promising – they’re a mature, fully-fledged top death metal band, and you’ll just have to catch up if you haven’t subjected yourself yet.
The Vintage Caravan sound exactly like you imagine they do after reading their name, but that isn’t such a bad thing after all, especially when their 70s-drenched, bluesy, classic stoner rock is as well done as it is. They are also revoltingly young, you’d have trouble reaching the 70s with their birthdates even if you doubled their age, so to be this good, this early, they surely have some sort of deal with the devil. One more positive point, then.
Celestine (pictured above) are pretty well known internationally already, and their sludgy hardcore shows no signs of losing any of its impact over the years, rather the opposite in fact – the material from the new album that is aired seems to be some of their strongest yet.
Strigaskór Nr 42 are a sort of lost legend of the Icelandic scene, having put out a legendary album in the mid-90s and nothing else, but now they’re back around with a different style, and it’s one that suits them – churning out sharp and groovy noise rock with sparse vocals, they’re a sort of cross between old Helmet and any typical AmRep band you’d care to mention, so hopefully they’ll start thinking about that long overdue second album soon.
As the evening falls, figuratively speaking given the freakishly clear day outside, it’s time for popularity. First off, Endless Dark with the sort of breakdown-infested metalcore that gets younglings bouncing off the walls (and floors), and something a bit more meaty right after – the amount of devotion for Skálmöld borders on the fanatic, and every single Eistnaflug pundit seems to be here, withstanding the heat and steady stream of overhead flying crowdsurfers in a feast of folk metal that is quite a sight to behold. It isn’t a random burst of popularity – these guys have got the songs to back it up, and they know how to unleash them on stage.
Severed Crotch have quite possibly picked the worst name in the history of extreme music, therefore becoming instantly interesting, but the interest wanes off slightly after a few extremely well executed but rather samey blasts of gory brutal death metal. Still, the insatiable crowd keeps lapping it up, and keeps doing it well until Dr. Spock‘s crazy set – a band which, we suspect, is an Icelandic-only phenomenon that us foreigners will never be worthy enough to understand.
As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that related off-venue activities were going on at a steel factory nearby – a parallel thing called Enter The Mayhemisphere where you could get corpsepainted or just hang around for a Satanic ritual (we did, and it was awesome) or for a rawer, smoky Sólstafir special set playing older stuff.
Oni opened the afternoon with a mellow prog rock of sorts reminiscent of Psychotic Waltz/DeadSoul Tribe, easing everyone in gently for the dragged out horror doom of Hylur, who not only were a welcome addition to the genre pool of the festival, but quite frankly sported the best t-shirts of the weekend (even Hexvessel represented, yay).
Speaking of sharply dressed people, Norn (pictured above) certainly looked the part, though their dry cleaner’s bill will run high after spattering all that blood on their white suits. Looking like Victorian zombies, the band who has a t-shirt saying “I’m so happy I could eat a baby” rocked through a strong, groovy yet harsh black metal set, bringing to mind good old Satyricon in parts. Sobriety was offered right after with Dimma, a no-bullshit hard rock band full of class, poise and raging tunes to back the posture up. Responsible for a couple of local radio hits already and with a professional and engaging live show, they’re the sort of band who could make it big in Europe if anyone actually started paying attention.
Back to black metal with Atrum, probably the best band of the genre in Iceland right now – blazing intensity, a meaty blackened death metal approach to songwriting and a good balance of rawness and technical proficiency, they just need to get their shit together and release proper albums to kickstart what seems to be a promising career.
Synarchy were the first foreign band to step on stage, and though they’re Faroese, you might as well have been told they were American, because their deathcore via Swedish melodic death metal, not to mention the discourse of their vocalist, sounds like it came from, I don’t know, Pittsburgh. Not every band that comes from the Faeroe Isles has to be a folk band, but geez. Strictly musically, it was an energetic show, let down only by the average quality of the clean vocal parts.
Muck (pictured above), though, that was the shit. Sludgy hardcore on the verge of uncontrol, it shows a band on the exact edge between putting on a kickass show and breaking all their instruments out of sheer rage. Do procure their latest album, ‘Slaves’, as it does its best to capture the screaming fury that this band shows live. And get these guys to continental stages pronto!
Plastic Gods‘ stoner rock is by now well established in Iceland (many an allusive t-shirt was seen among the crowd), but despite the good tunes it suffered a bit from being sandwiched between two of the most intense bands of the weekend, the aforementioned Muck and headliners Cephalic Carnage (pictured above). Now, we’ve all seen Cephalic Carnage a bunch of times, but even the most jaded of fans would have to agree that this was something special. Lanzig was in top form, freely shooting off wild stories in between songs, with interesting subjects ranging from videogames (they actually “covered” the Super Mario ditty) to masturbation, not forgetting a special dedication to the guy who trains dogs to sniff for weed in Neskaupstaður before ‘Kill For Weed’.
The set was shortened due to an improvised line-up with two replacement members, but even having to repeat ‘Sleeprace’ as an encore didn’t slow down the unhinged crowd, who seemed hell-bent on throwing themselves against each other, and the floor, with the maximum amount of force possible. Hell, bassist Marc Grabowski played a couple of songs while crowdsurfing. That sums it up, really.
You’d think any band would have a hard time following that up, but I Adapt proved themselves worthy with a brutal display of dark hardcore that Southern Lord themselves would be wise to catch on to. An experienced band already, having evolved through the course of four full-lengths from rather basic hardcore to the blackened proposition they are now, they seem on the cusp of great things, given how fashionable this sort of thing is these days.
They drew a huge crowd, too – just like Börner, who is nothing more than people from Otto Katz Orchestra and a couple of others, enriched by Addi from Sólstafir, playing Motörhead covers, at first, and then a few old Metallica and Judas Priest cuts. It was the perfect, not-so-serious conclusion to a weekend of discovery, wonder, permanent daylight, lovely drunk people and a lot of beer and metal.