(Our guest from the Midwest, Ben Smasher, was fortunate enough to attend the Ostarablot festival organized by HammerHeart Brewing Co. (the brewery and tap house located in Lino Lakes, Minnesota, that’s co-owned by Austin Lunn of Panopticon) and hosted on March 18-19, 2016, at the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis. Here’s Ben’s review of the festival, along with some photos and videos the editor has scrounged from the internet.)
Hammerheart Brewing Company and the amazing people that comprise it consistently put themselves second to their intentions. Austin once said to me, “I want to make beer that brings people together.” So, as it would turn out, if you bring the world’s best beer and music under one roof, the best people in North America will join in a two-day celebration of the vernal equinox.
Though 2014’s Winterblot was a pretty remarkable event for bringing UK’s Wodensthrone to the US shores alongside some of America’s finest bands, Ostarablot brought artists from even further reaches to Minnesota. Vemod traversed all the way from Norway and Germany’s Waldgeflüster came a long way as well.
Minneapolis’ Triple Rock is a great venue for such an event. Around 300 people fit comfortably inside its walls, and the beer was flowing from the onset, just in time for Wisconsin’s Wyrding to take the stage. Though they had already earning substantial accolades prior to the release of their debut on the Small Doses imprint, I held off on listening to the band until seeing them live. Wyrding’s set was a curious thing to undergo; their music is dreadfully slow and droney, yet somehow highly melodic, accompanied by dirgey and meandering vocals. I’m still sort of scratching my head after seeing them perform, yet intrigued enough to give them a fair shake by listening to their album.
With Winnipeg’s unnerving Wilt having just released an album for Bindrune Recordings, it was a great time to get to know them. As expected, their songs translated well live. They confidently performed a strongly unnerving and disheveling set of mid-paced atmospheric black metal. Wilt’s clever guitar harmonies are persistently tense and enigmatic, making this an interesting band to get to see live.
I never thought I would get the chance to see one of my favorite bands, Obsequiae, perform live. They debuted on stage back in December, and though it was terrific, I needed another chance to fully enjoy it. Obsequiae’s set at Ostarablot was one of the greatest live performance I’ve ever taken in. They were so humble and unbelievably powerful. I consider them a wholly different entity than their studio incarnation, but this was a sight to behold. Not only because they flawlessly performed songs from both of their albums, but their fervor and magnetic zeal reminded everyone in attendance how truly amazing these songs are. This was a sight to behold.
Germany’s Waldgeflüster are no strangers to the stage. They regularly perform their introspective melodic black metal in front of thousands at various festivals in Europe. So the chance to get to seem them perform in such an intimate company of the band’s pals and cohorts was a huge treat. They played songs from all three of their albums, including one from the new split with Panopticon, in the middle of which Austin Lunn joined in on vocals. It was so great to see Austin finally get to see Waldgeflüster perform.
I can’t think of a better way to end the night than seeing Falls of Rauros. At Hammerheart’s last Winterblot fest, I was still reeling from the enthrallment of their Believe in No Coming Shore full-length. This time around I was able to sit back and enjoy them in a bit more relaxed way. They were incredible. Falls of Rauros are such an incredible entity to behold — if you ever get the chance to see them on stage, do not sleep on it.
Blood & Sun swiftly got day two off of its feet with a memorable and moving set of introspective heathen songcraft. Missed was Tanner Anderson’s delicate and inviting dulcimer playing, which is a highlight of the band’s album, but the strength of Luke Tromiczak’s songs prove venerable enough to endure the absence.
Woman is the Earth played the previous fest and left us all in shambles. Having them back again was a must because the band seemed to have blossomed in their songwriting since the last album Depths. I’m not familiar enough with their material to know what songs made up their set, but it was stunning. I haven’t seen a three-piece wield this much power since I first saw Wolves in the Throne Room many years ago. Their new album is an absolute must-have and will surely be one of my favorites of the year.
I didn’t mention it in Day 1, but the vendors present were Bindrune Recordings from Michigan, who hurled a veritable slew of excellent releases at us last year alongside worldwide partners Nordvis all the way from Sweden. Gilead Media / Eroding Winds had every vinyl under the sun for sale at their booth, and Init had a few of their releases as well.
If Alda’s latest album doesn’t cause you to be feel all trembly-jawed and pain-stricken, then there is seriously something wrong with you. They delivered a powerful and emotive set confidently; I hope this leads to them playing live more often.
I’d casually perused Vemod’s last album and I wasn’t quite sure how to digest it. Once I heard that they were performing at Ostarablot, I decided to let their live show be the undivided introduction. Though the music was vastly enveloping, at first I was put off by some of the stage antics. I knew that two of the members also play in Mare, who I’ve yet to care for, so I was having a hard time digesting the varied allusions to religious symbolism and spirituality. By the third or so song though, they stopped bothering me and it really sunk in how gripping this band and their songs are. After it was all said and done, I forgot the stage antics and remembered that this is an amazing band. I really hope they do another album soon.
To summarize, I don’t think I’ve ever had a more painless and enjoyable live music experience in the 20 years that I’ve been going to metal shows. Aside from being a rabid fan of several of the bands that performed this and 2014’s fest, I will never hesitate to support my dear friends at Hammerheart Brewing. I feel so lucky to be able to take part in such a humble and genuine experience with so so many of my dearest friends and acquaintances. Ya’ll can have your Maryland Deathfests and whatnot, this is the greatest festival series going on in the world and I will attend every single time.