The third and final edition of Oration Festival began last night in Reykjavik, Iceland. The first night of the festival featured performances (in this order) by NYIÞ, Naðra, Auðn, Asagraum, Sinmara, and Aluk Todolo. A big group of friends and I made it to the venue just as NYIÞ was beginning, and I stayed through Sinmara’s extraordinary set but was too drained of energy by that point to hang in there for Aluk Todolo.
So, what you’ll find below are thoughts about all the performances except the last one, accompanied by three videos that I made from the side of the stage and an assortment of photos. The dark, blurry, amateurish photos are mine; the really good professional quality ones are by our Seattle pal Tanner Ellison.
My day began with a fascinating three-hour stroll around Reykjavik under a bright sun and a clear blue sky, and (mercifully) almost no wind. Later in the afternoon a group of us from Seattle plus new and old friends from Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Ireland, and Chicago convened to eat, drink, and be merry before making our way to Húrra, the bar and music venue where the show was to begin.
Húrra consists of two rooms. The first one you encounter upon entering is where the bar is located. As you continue to walk straight ahead you enter the second and much larger room, which is the music venue. But “larger” is a relative term: I’ve read that it has a capacity of approximately 160 people.
We cut our arrival a bit close, and so when we walked into Húrra the music room was already packed, with the crowd overflowing into the bar area. It wasn’t long before NYIÞ began what I can best describe as the beginning of a ritual.
Although it was difficult to see the stage over the audience from our distant vantage point, it appeared to be empty for much of the time allotted to NYIÞ. At one fairly early point a cloaked and hooded figure rose up and began playing ghostly gasping sounds from a flute, and a second very tall hooded and cloaked figure made his way through the crowd and out into where we were standing, laying his hands upon people’s heads, his hands and arms entwined with coarse vines.
For most of this time the sound of a bass drum beat like a heart, ambient music filled the rooms like a gleaming mist, and (unless I hallucinated it) occasional shrieking could be heard, as if from a distance, while candelabras and incense burned from the stage. This went on a long time, all the way through Naðra setting up, and ending only as Naðra began to play.
Only today I discovered that NYIÞ very recently released a split with Old Burial Temple entitled Caput Mortum (available here). It’s both spellbinding and frightening. That will give you a sense of what last night’s beginning sounded like.
I’ve written about the music of Naðra (a band who share members with Misþyrming) on three occasions going back to 2015, and if you haven’t listened to them you really should (you can find their releases on Bandcamp here).
The notes I made to myself were these: “Flash floods of blasting extremity! But this music reminds us that the roots of extreme metal are in rock ‘n’ roll, because Naðra rock as well as ravage (and there’s some punk in their roots too). The vocalist is on fire, yelling his proclamations like a mad street preacher with a megaphone.”
(I was too far away to make any videos, or any decent photos either, even after worming my way into the music room.)
Auðn’s latest album, Farvegir Fyrndar (available here), made two of the year-end lists for 2017 at our site — one of them from Austin Lunn (Panopticon) and one from Johan Huldtgren (Obitus). I enjoyed the album, but found the power of their live performance even more remarkable.
My notes to myself after listening: “The black-jacketed, black-jeaned men in Auðn present themselves as modern undertakers, but the music is emotionally intense — not manipulative but honest. Inside, it made me feel bent over in tears and skybound like a hawk. Fantastic set.”
By the time Auðn began, I had taken advantage of the break after Naðra’s set to get closer to the stage, and was able to make this video of the band performing “Veröld Hulin“, which is the song that opens Farvegir Fyrndar. Forgive me for the dim visual quality of the video… like most of the bands last night, Auðn played in near-darkness for most of their set.
I was a huge fan of Asagraum’s 2017 debut album, Potestas Magicum Diaboli, and was supremely happy to get the chance to premiere a song from it — “Carried By Lucifer’s Wings” — which stuck with me so hard that I later included it on our list of 2017’s Most Infectious Extreme Metal Songs.
The album was recorded by two women, Dutch guitarist/vocalist Obscura and drummer T. Kolsvart, who is Canadian but lives in Norway — though I believe she has since departed Asagraum. But Obscura has recruited four other women (including a keyboardist) to perform live with her, and they’re all very talented. They also owned the stage last night, as much fun to watch as they were to hear, even though no smiles were to be found on their grim faces at any point.
And the note I made to myself here was a simple one: “Asagraum are as fantastic on stage as I’d hoped they would be. Fire and ice as it should be done.”
By this point it dawned on me that the night was getting better and better with each new band… and here came Sinmara, a group who were already one of my “most anticipated” of the whole festival. They left me in a state I’d describe as “awe-struck”, managing to further elevate the high bar that had been set by the combined performances that preceded them.
And here were the notes I made after pulling myself back together well enough to peck the letters on my phone (as you can tell, I got carried away by what Sinmara did to me): “To my ears, music that runs a fever is the most vital. The febrile sound of illness and lust, of striving and the pinwheeling arms of a long fall, of violence and the head cast back in a glorious wind. Sinmara seem to have bottled up all the fever and set it all loose on stage. One of the most wholly engaging sets, body and mind, that I’ve been lucky to hear.”
When I decided to begin making a video, it turned out that the song I caught was the title track to Sinmara’s 2017 EP, Within the Weaves of Infinity.