(Gemma Alexander is a Seattle-based writer and NCS fan who visited Iceland in the fall of 2012 during the Iceland Airwaves festival and was generous enough to send us interviews with such bands as Angist, Beneath, Kontinuum, Sólstafir, Gone Postal, and Skálmöld. In July of this year she returned to Iceland for the Eistnaflug metal and rock festival (“Eistnaflug” being Icelandic for “flying testicles”), and we are once again the beneficiary of her writing. Today we present Part 2 of a three-part report on the festival, illustrated with Gemma’s own photos. Visit her own excellent blog here and check out more of her reporting on the festival at KEXP’s web site. Part 1 of her report for us is here.)
The second day of Eistnaflug began at noon with sets from Pink Street Boys and Oni. I, on the other hand, began less ambitiously, arriving at the venue after 2 p.m. I don’t know anything about the first band, but was sorry to have missed the sludgy, Neskaupstaður-based Oni.
The first band I saw on Friday was In the Company of Men. Billed as mathcore, the effect was individuals doing their own thing in the company of others. But they each went to eleven with it, and maybe my math isn’t very good.
I had heard that Morð (“murder” in Icelandic) was divisive in the local black metal community. In the event, I couldn’t really see what was so unorthodox. Was their corpse paint all wrong, or was it a slight tendency to slip into groove? Whether tr00 or transgressive, Morð put on a good show.
Wanna know what’s transgressive? Rapping at a metal fest. Reykjavíkurdætur is a feminist hip-hop collective specializing in topics people don’t like to talk about – spiritualism, politics, anal sex. They wrote the theme song for Reykjavik’s annual Slut Walk to raise awareness of sexual violence. About a dozen of the members showed up at Eistnaflug to play to a crowd about the same size, and they told me later they were as surprised as anybody to see the room fill up during their set. Mad props to Reykjavíkurdætu, who embody everything that Eistnaflug stands for but the sound.
I missed Rotþróin, but not even Tuborg could keep me from watching Beneath. New vocalist Benedikt Bjarnason (Azoic, Hindurvættir), wore the ironic t-shirt favored by his generation and jumped around like it was a metalcore band. But his growls were quality death metal, and if anything, the band’s technicality was even more prominently displayed. Writing for their new album, The Barren Throne, wasn’t finished when founding vocalist Gísli (ex-Sororicide) left the band, and was largely completed before Benedikt came on board. I felt the absence of Gísli’s input in the new songs, which didn’t seem quite as cohesive as those on Enslaved by Fear. (Although TheMadIsraeli argued the opposite so convincingly on NCS that I almost doubt my own impression. I recommend buying both albums and drawing your own conclusions.) I look forward to hearing what they write next with Benedikt’s input. Hopefully, I’ll be hearing it live.
I first heard Endless Dark in Reykjavík, during the rúntur with a friend. It was her 40th birthday, and she’d never been to a metal show before. Heavier than her favorite music, more accessible than mine, Endless Dark’s shouted verses and sing-along choruses were the perfect party. They wowed my friend and entertained me, and were kind enough to pose for photos with the birthday girl afterwards. Their set at Eistnaflug was just as energetic, but, you know, came right after Beneath.
You may grow up and get a bank job, but Saktmóðigur prove that you’re never too old to get shit-faced and rock. This Icelandic punk institution has been around off and on for about 25 years.
Their set is one of many rituals performed at Eistnaflug. I might have been the only person there who didn’t know the words to every song. They joked with the audience. There were always extra people on stage; sometimes stage divers, sometimes members of Dimma, Skálmöld, or Sólstafir joining the performance. They even have an Eistnaflug theme song that ends with Sólstafir’s drummer ranting against the festival in a series of inside jokes before throwing down the mic and storming off.
Agent Fresco is one of my favorite bands, and judging by how crowded the venue was, my opinion of these indie rockers was not unique. The first time I heard them play was an acoustic set at Airwaves 12, where the song “Eyes of a Cloud Catcher”, about sitting at the deathbed of vocalist Arnór Dan’s father, brought tears to my eyes. At Eistnaflug, with the drums way up in the mix and the guitars heavily distorted, this song turned into a fist-pumping anthem. A physical performer at all times, at this show Arnór Dan was practically unhinged, and the crowd responded in kind. The entire main floor boiled over with crowd surfers floating like bubbles on top. Even so, when he turned the mic out to the crowd and the audience sang the final chorus, it still brought tears to my eyes.
One of the drawbacks of living under a rock is that sometimes you’re the last to know. So metal-media darlings Bölzer caught me off guard with blast beats so intense they recalibrated my heart rate. Having only two guys on stage limited the visual interest to some blue lights and smoke, but the unrelenting aural intensity more than made up for it. This was cranial blunt force trauma of the best kind.
Remember Pavlov’s blond? This time Ingólfur was back with Severed (formerly Severed Crotch). Following a couple of impossible-to-follow acts, Severed still managed to give one of the most memorable sets of the festival. A little technical, a little proggy, a little brutal, and a whole lot of fun, Severed broke down all kinds of genre walls and reminded me why it’s called “playing” music.
I thought I had spent too much of my day impressed. I tried to put my critic face on, and met Zatokrev with folded arms. Instead I hit overload and didn’t even manage to take notes. I just remember the mental sensation of being knocked over backwards. Toward the end of their set I thought, “If this show was back home at Studio 7 instead of the tenth one of the day, it would stand out as one of my favorite shows of the year.”
Dimma have been around for about a decade, and early on won Icelandic hearts by grabbing international attention with shades of Dio and early Queensryche. They had been quiet for long enough that their latest album, Myrkraverk, was the first time many of the young Icelanders I talked to had ever heard of them. It was also the primary reason that many of those same youth chose to drive 10 hours to the festival.
Speaking of the very young, Iceland’s latest big new thing probably can’t buy beer in the U.S. But The Vintage Caravan’s music hearkens even further back than Dimma’s to classic psychedelic rock. I think their video by the excellent Bowen Staines says it best.
Sólstafir were up next. They had played a pre-festival set off their new album Ótta. This time they repeated a set they’d used for other festivals this season [Rock Hard or Hellfest, I can’t remember which one now]. Maybe it was a thousand of their most rabid fans crammed into a venue made for 800, or maybe it was all of them singing along in Icelandic, or maybe the band members’ new sobriety leaves more energy for shows. Whatever the secret ingredient was, this show was intense.
Skálmöld wrapped up the day with a 90-minute set that was just – Skálmöld. They always bring the same energy, whether they’re playing an opera hall or a dive bar, and everything is always set to 11. They know there is something silly about shouting heroic rhymes based on millennium-old stories as if they meant something profound today. But they play it straight with such enthusiasm that the audience is free to come along unselfconsciously. Their lyrics reassign the achievements of Thor to mortal men. So perhaps there is something profound after all. Leaving the venue at 3:30 in the morning, looking up between snow-dusted mountains at a clear blue sunlit sky, it certainly seemed like there was.