The second night of the third and final installment of Oration Festival took place at the Húrra bar in Reykjavik, Iceland on the night of March 8, 2018. It proved to be just as thoroughly enjoyable as the first night (reviewed here), although the music took more deathly turns, and ultimately concluded in a marvelously bewildering and beguiling way.
Last night the bands who performed, in the following order, were these: Mannveira (Iceland), Devouring Star (Finland), Abominor (Iceland), Abyssal (UK), Slidhr (Ireland/Iceland), Sortilegia (Canada), and Virus (Norway).
As before, the group of friends from Seattle and elsewhere who’ve been sharing this experience with me convened for food and drink about two hours before the first band was scheduled to begin the night. Yes, two hours, because our group has a proven tendency over the course of many previous festivals to talk like there’s no tomorrow, lose track of time, and arrive late if we’re not careful. Which of course is what happened last night even with the two-hour head start.
I’m sad to say, therefore, that I arrived at Húrra only in time to catch a fragment of the last song by the opening group Mannveira, an Icelandic black metal band I was curious to hear… and will now have to remain curious. Their last release, a split with Ellorsith, came out in 2016 via Dark Descent and is available on Bandcamp here.)
Apart from being late, I had other frustrations during the night, due principally to my incredibly poor management of my iPhone’s storage. Because it never occurs to me to delete anything, even when I move photos and videos to my computers, my phone picked last night in the middle of Devouring Star’s set to stop allowing me to make new photos and videos.
Instead of justing accepting the fact, I spent part of that set frantically deleting things. Because I was standing almost right in front of Devouring Star’s main man (who was vocalizing and playing bass for this set, though he is the sole creative force behind the band’s recorded output), he probably thought I was the kind of asshole who fucks around on social media in the middle of a performance and therefore deserves a boot to the jaw. Thankfully, he didn’t kick me, and I did clear enough room on my beleaguered phone to take some pics and make a video of part of a DS song… before my phone locked up again.
I continued to feverishly delete files during breaks as the night went on, but I’m afraid that all I managed to do was make two more videos, which you’ll find below, rather than at least one for each band. Fortunately, on the photo end of things, I again have photos of much better quality than my phone is capable of making, thanks to my friend Tanner Ellison’s artistic eye and his new technological marvel of a camera. You’ll be able to figure out which pics are Tanner’s.
As I did yesterday, I’ll accompany the photos and videos with some very brief personal reactions to the music.
As noted above, I didn’t hear enough of Mannveira’s set to form much of an impression of them… except they were in full-on assault mode and were sure as hell throwing themselves into the performance.
Devouring Star, however, made quite a strong impression. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for the music of DS, having written about the releases on numerous occasions. Last night, the man behind the band played with two live members, a guitarist and a drummer, both of whom were excellent in their roles.
The notes I made to myself after listening: The sound of Devouring Star seems to move between disgust and despair, torment and rage. In volcanic mode, they are monstrously ferocious; in slower movements they bring cold, heartless gloom. Unearthly tendrils of melody can be heard, manifesting bereavement, or perhaps a transition from striving into death.
The heaviness of Devouring Star’s sound and the roaring hate and anguish in the vocals seemed to move the tones of this night in a more death-metal-like direction than the night before, and that continued as the begrimed and blood-streaked Icelandic black metal band Abominor launched into their set — which was stunningly brutal and barbaric.
The notes I made to myself: Primitive, bestial, skull-smashing blood lust. The music seems to kindle ancient urges for human sacrifice to fearsome deities, thanks in part to the tribal resonance of some of the drum rhythms and bass lines, and the vocalist’s inhuman growls and roars. They eventually lock into titanic grooves you can feel in your spleen.
If the music had been drifting in deathlier directions, it landed death center with UK-based Abyssal, whose brilliant new split with Carcinoma we premiered not long ago.
I was told that this was Abyssal’s first live performance ever — and you couldn’t have guessed that in a million years. Their set was downright astounding. It elicited one of the most enthusiastic audience responses of the festival so far, if not the most enthusiastic. Just about everyone I spoke to afterward named it either the best set they’d seen so far, or certainly near the very top. I was particularly bug-eyed and slack-jawed over the drummer’s lights-out performance.
They were as abominable in their appearance as the music was in its sound. They all appeared as hooded menaces, and the vocalist (whose voice was grotesquely massive) was completely shrouded in black from head to toe. My notes to myself after listening were these:
A charnel house of total death, filled with the cloying stench of rotting corpses piled high, the buzzing and gnashing of feeding rats, and the swarming of fattening maggots. Even the guitar melodies sound like disease vectors, bacteria and viruses single-mindedly speeding toward vulnerable organs and penetrating them to spread lethal infections. But man, this is headbang city, too.
Positioned near the corner to the stage on the right (facing it), I found myself during Abyssal’s set behind a man who had his camera raised in front of my face for the vast majority of the set. He must have taken hundreds of photos, apparently none of them quite good enough in his eyes, because the process of documenting the show, rather than actually watching it, never ended.
He showed no signs of moving during the break, so I gave up and moved over to where my friends Tanner and Kristina were positioned on the opposite corner — and gave up trying to take any photos, since Tanner himself had the magic camera.
That new viewing angle allowed me to see what an obstruction on the other corner always prevented me from seeing — an actual drummer at work. And Bjarni Einarsson was quite a sight behind the kit for the Irish/Icelandic black metal band Slidhr. I especially enjoyed his blasting with the left hand and simultaneously moving among five different cymbals with the right hand, all at blazing speed.
I remember reading a comment by an accomplished metal musician about a recent Slidhr release, which came back to me as I listened last night: They use intricate melodies that many black metal bands often seem to shy away, as well as borderline black/thrash riffs, and that combination makes for a compelling collaboration. And as I witnessed last night, when they’re going full-bore, it’s a damned conflagration. Really, really good.
I wondered how such a strong night could get much better, and then it happened.
I’m referring to the follow-on set by the Canadian duo Sortilegia, whose members are a Russian woman now residing in Toronto (Koldovstvo) and her husband, the drummer (Haereticus). Their second album, Sulphurous Temple, was released by Ván Records late last fall, and idiot that I am, I slept on it.
On a pitch-black stage in the near-black music space of Húrra, a man slowly lit candles and sticks of fragrant wood or incense. Sortilegia played only to the light of those candles, set on a table next to the microphone stand. It caused Koldovstvo’s long blonde hair and blood-streaked face to come in and out of the shadows as she moved, like a wraith, the rest of her form completely covered in a long black cloak with the hood thrown back. It truly was a haunting thing to see… and the music was frightening as well.
My notes to myself: Sortilegia live is enormously impressive. Raw lycanthropic black metal with a gift for riffs and a beast behind the kit. Just two of them but both are electrifying. The crowd is eating this up like wolves at a kill.
I did manage to keep my arms aloft for long enough to make this video of a full song (unfortunately, I wasn’t very close to the stage at this point).
And then came an event I’ve been looking forward to with tremendous eagerness — a live performance by Virus from Norway. And it was almost indescribable, and almost indescribably good.
My notes to myself right after the show: Virus is so damn strange and so damn cool. Unclassifiable music that’s as beguiling as it is bewildering. Amazingly talented rhythm section at work here too.
And the bassist and drummer really were both extra-special. Their nimble, fluid executions and seamless alterations were marvels to behold, and a big part of why this was the most head-nodding set of the festival so far (and probably will remain so after the fest concludes tonight).
Meanwhile, Carl-Michael Eide’s chameleon-like voice and inventive, quirky, quasi-hallucinatory guitar compositions exerted a strange and magnetic allure. I enjoyed the hell out of their performance.
I will add that although I had understood that Carl-Michael Eide’s descent from a high place to a hard landing in 2005 had left him without the use of his feet, I do believe I saw him walking on the stage before the performance began, checking electrical connections and so forth, even though he remained seated (or nearly so) for the Virus set. He also seemed very happy to be with us. We were certainly happy to be with him.