(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 and Part 2 is here.)
For the few of us who bothered with the hours before – or even slightly after – noon on Saturday, the desperate drunkenness of Friday night had given way to a comfortable morning buzz. Fewer than two dozen made it to the first show of the day at 1 p.m., AMFJ.
Which was too bad. Aðalstein Motherfucking Jörundsson is one barefoot guy at a little table in the middle of the floor. There wasn’t much to see, but there was a lot to hear. The set started out doomy and moved into a rave-worthy beat supporting vocals distorted beyond recognition. It was some killer industrial noise.
Skelkur í Bringu were pretty straightforward punk-pop in sound. Their Facebook page says they are comedy-rock, but with lyrics in Icelandic, I may have been missing the point.
I enjoyed Darknote’s sound, reminiscent of Lamb of God mixed with the occasional gypsy guitar solo, and I’m always impressed by a double neck guitar. But skipping meals for shows wasn’t working out for me so I missed the second half of their set.
I returned in time to see Hindurvættir, with Beneath’s vocalist on guitar. It was a completely different project, with a progressive bent and gloomy, gothic atmosphere weighing down almost chanted vocals. If you ever want to argue that Icelanders match Finns at beautifully depressive atmosphere, put Hindurvættir in your arsenal.
Icelanders do batshit crazy pretty well, too. I present Grísalappalísa as evidence. It’s a groovy, good-time chaos funk with saxophone on top. The lead singer danced like a stripper and the audience helped pluck the guitar. According to the internet, their lyrics in Icelandic are literate and literary, and their album tells a story of obsession with a girl named Lisa.
Kontinuum’s ambient black metal was one of the things I most looked forward to at Eistnaflug. As much gothic and industrial as black metal, and almost entirely clean sung, they don’t really fit into the NCS wheelhouse. But Birgir Thorgeirsson’s vocals, falling somewhere between Peter Murphy and Tom G. Warrior, are irresistible to anyone who has ever spent a quiet Friday night at home poring over a grimoire.
Benny Crespo’s Gang appeals to the college radio DJ more than the NCS reader. It’s the kind of off-kilter, angular indie-rock that Iceland is famous for.
Remember platinum blond growler Ingólfur? He’s in Ophidian I, too. Their noodley leads and deeply grooved riffs kept my head banging with a stupid grin on my face. It was the opposite of grim – exuberant, pounding, technical metal.
I can’t find information on Jónas Sig og Ritvélar, but people loved them. There were a lot of people on stage, including a 3-piece horn section, and the music was irresistible. All around me, people were cheering, singing the choruses, and taking dance-selfies. Later, a friend with conservative taste came up to me, face glowing, and said, “I don’t care what anyone says, that was metal.”
These days the members of Gone Postal are sporting looks that imply day jobs. Perhaps gainful employment leaves less time time for pot, or maybe they’ve just put in the work, but Gone Postal got better. I was impressed by their blackened death (or was it deathened black?) metal when I saw them in 2012, but they have definitely upped their game. They intend to change their name, possibly to Unortheta, but whatever they call themselves, a new recording would be welcome.
I cannot top Mammút’s own description of themselves, “Mammút are melodic and catchy and beautiful and addictive. They are also darker and heavier than you think they are.” It was mesmerizing.
I finally wandered down to the Mayhemisphere, an abandoned factory where Eistnaflug provides a sound system, but programming is left to the bands. Water pools on the floor, but there is no plumbing. Outside, one enterprising American set up a corpse-painting station, while other foreigners took photos of men peeing in the fjord.
In that small, stageless space, Sólstafir were inches from the audience. Although it was the fifth time I’ve seen Sólstafir play, it was the first time I could see guitarist Sæþór’s eyes under his hat. No one had words to describe their show the night before – people just said, “intense.” But after this show, people had a lot to say. As we filed outside, I heard several people behind me call it “orgasmic.”
A black medley followed. Several black metal bands that had played the Mayhemisphere earlier joined forces in an extended set that began with chanting and drawing chalk symbols on the floor. I was about to write it off as eye-rollingly cvlt when they broke out the trumpet and electric violin, turning it into something completely new. I never knew who was playing at any given time (or if it was some mixture of various bands) but Kim Kelly identifies some of the guilty parties on Metal Sucks:
I took off when they resumed chanting, thereby missing the grand finale window smashing (the building is slated for demolition in 2015) and wedged myself into the crowd at Egilsbuð just in time to hear the final crescendo of The Monolith Deathcult.
Although HAM is virtually unknown outside of Iceland, every Icelandic metal band cites them as an influence. They are a palimpsest seeping through Eistnaflug; coming through in Skálmöld’s contrasting vocalists and Sólstafir’s gestures. Severed’s Ingólfur kowtows before stage diving. The reporter from the Reykjavik Grapevine, who has been studiously taking notes at the back of the room all weekend, dives as well. So does a man on crutches. Everyone, it seems, must touch the hallowed stage. They dive backwards, like a trust exercise, in twos and threes, sometimes holding hands. There is a layer of horizontal people stacked across the standing ones. Religion provides social cohesion, and by that standard, HAM is a spiritual tradition, a sort of baptism into Icelandic culture.
The final act was Retro Stefson, a band usually described as disco. Front man Uni Stefánsson’s eyes were painted black. The band’s usual glossy sound was texturized with distortion and reverb, and Skálmöld donated a guitarist. But now is the time in Eistnaflug when we dance. When an inflatable swimming pool appeared, festival founder Stebbi Magnusson and Uni rode it across the top of the pit while the band played on. A policeman, still in uniform, slipped in the side door and joined the dancers on the floor.
The final Eistnaflug tradition was the DJ Töfri dance party. Stebbi, in his DJ persona, connected an iPod to the sound system and started “spinning.” When I left at 3:30, Egilsbuð was still full of people in corpse paint and leather shaking their butts and singing along to Bon Jovi and Belinda Carlisle. The few blocks from the venue to the place I was staying were littered with partiers in various stages of intoxication and consciousness, all with smiles on their faces.