Along with all the bands playing today (Strigaskór nr. 42 excepted), I have no history with ANGIST at all. From what I was told, Angist had replaced their previous drummer with someone much tighter. I wouldn’t know, but they were certainly tight. The band played a traditional brand of death metal, something in no short supply at this festival. But there are always subtleties that separate the good from the followers and Angist was very much in the former grouping. Like a good breakfast, Angist’s performance was comforting, original, and with enough variety to make a soft, but intriguing start to the day.
OTTO KATZ ORCHESTRA followed Angist with some country-fried Southern ‘merica metal. At first, you’d be shocked to see the guitarist’s wardrobe choices, wearing a lei wreath, cheap Tommy Bahama knock-off shirt and bare feet, but as the set continues, it becomes oddly fitting. OKO play summertime music, not for those who wish summer would never end, but for those living with the depressing awareness that a long winter awaits around the corner. The band has an air of frigidness and anger wrapped in warm and familiar blues stylings. The set’s final number was something of particular brilliance and is one of the better songs I had heard all weekend. With a beautifully intricate and fuzzed out bass lick that never seemed to stay still and the guitarist and drummer providing a solid back beat, this desert rock jam slowly developed into something great and awe-inspiring. A pitch-perfect closer.
After two sets, it’s already time to go outside. I follow some friends to the off-venue Mayhemisphere. Upon crossing a field of gravel and soot, I can’t help but notice smoke seeping from under the door, the fog gripping the frame and blowing away as the wind takes it. I’m immediately intrigued. Then, upon entering, I’m immediately terrified. The building’s concrete foundation, showing cracks, is littered with miscellaneous paraphernalia, like a stereotypical hangout for an occultist group. The only exposed window, near the bathroom, had piercing light coming from it, but it dulled as it crossed paths with the ridiculous amount of fog being ejected from a machine in the other room. The sun’s light and this rich smoke came together to create this disturbing effect that dulled your vision, like high beams in a field of brume. HINDURVÆTTIR begin their set.
The band begins in fitting form, a nice, somewhat jazzy and droning folk metal. Hindurvættir have actually created something novel with their music as you begin to dissect the various parts. The relatively clean guitar sound occasionally borders onto a subtle distortion, but never compromising the immediate effect of the melody. The fuzzed out bass, whose presence is in constant question, at moments provides the melodic framework and other times going full bars only playing a single note. But the drumming was the standout performance here (outside of the awesome makeshift mic-stand where two pieces of 2x4 held a mic in between them, tightened with duct tape), with its smooth and swinging snare and ride playing and, mostly, just the man himself; eyes shut, completely in the moment, feeling every stroke.
After the set, I head back to the main venue and catch the beginning of BENEATH’s set. Once again, I’m faced with a band struggling to find voice in the terribly nostalgic genre of traditional death metal. At first, I’m not impressed. If you want to play traditional DM, I hope you have a penchant for pacing and writing good hooks varying in style, tone and effects. For the first couple of numbers, Beneath come off as uninspired, their songs bleeding into each other, tempos and melodies never having a moment forcing one to go “Nice” and begin bobbing the head.
However, as the set progresses, and I start feeding off of the crowd’s pleasure with Beneath’s music, my critical ear begins to pinpoint areas in the music that impress me, like those cold, “objective” characteristics as “technical prowess” and such silly things that don’t capture the music’s core. All this being said, the band was amazing at interacting with the crowd and had a no-bullshit, no preconception air about them. This came as a bit of a shock considering posters of their early evening set (not a terribly flattering slot) were everywhere in the venue and they had a huge backdrop set up behind them. I was able to by-pass my prejudice of interpreting this as some sort of delusion of grandeur when the bassist was shouting and screaming immediately after a song ends, similar to a fan knowing every cue to a band’s discography. Clearly, he does, but he doesn’t hide how much enjoyment he gets out of his music. I like that.
VICKY followed and they were a godsend for both my mind and my ears. The singer’s self-aware engagement with the audience was refreshing, noting the band’s gothic-pop style as somewhat of a detour away from the typical fare showcased at Eistnaflug. With character, determination and flare, the band goes through their set immaculately, the singer’s personality shining through her performance, never being phased by the disgusting wolf-calling that occurred in between their songs. At first, I wanted my review of this band to focus on the awful sexist antics some of the audience members were performing, but realized that it would overshadow what this review is about, presenting a band’s music. Still though, fuck you to all the hordes of male chauvinists who showed only to give the mostly female band a hard time, showing off to your group of friends. But, out-doing the assholes in attendance, as well as my masculine reaction, the band showed amazing grace, powering through a tight set with music that was gentle, honest and powerfully straightforward. One of my favourite performances of the festival.
After the Vicki set, I couldn’t ignore the rumours surrounding a performance at the Mayhemisphere by the indefinable, and seriously petrifying, NYIÞ. After making the short walk, I enter a room I had somewhat familiarized myself previously only to find the mood completely changed. I can’t see a thing, the fog in the room growing layer upon layer. The only motion in the room were the fresh puffs of smoke, and a human cloaked all in black, including their face, walking around with a Moleskin, marking the floor with scribbles using chalk. The masks, if you can call such nondescript and formless things “masks,” look like the ones you see in movies about medieval times adorned by an executioner wielding a huge double headed axe.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t come around to describing their music, it’s for obvious reasons; I was entirely distracted. This sole human was weaving in and out of the crowd, bumping into many of the spectators, as though there was a purpose to the areas it (“it” being the appropriate word since I have no reference to the person’s identity) was inscribing its gibberish, the white chalk hardly standing out against the mud trodden cement floor. The music is formless and totally fitting, with the only musical mainstays in the band’s numbers being primal drumming, with splashes of cymbals here and there, and a keyboard droning out twisted and melancholic choral music. The incorporation of a violin sometimes put the extremeness of the situation over the edge for me, with its sweet timbre seeming uncomfortably out of place in such dead music.
As the set came to an end, the creepiness climaxed as the band members each grabbed a tom from the drum kit and make their way outside, beating a steady pulse with cotton-laced hammers. The people follow and I push myself to do the same, though I don’t quite want to, for several reasons. This horde of people eventually stop and turn around near the small town’s church, which is a significant distance from the venue, then turn back around towards the Mayhemisphere. I decide to head back to Egilsbúð to write all this down in an attempt to make sense of it all.
I rush to the stage so as not to miss a moment of CELESTINE’s set. Like I said, I don’t have much history with any of these bands, but the talk about these guys within the group of friends I most associated with was overwhelmingly positive. Their set was sensational and seemed to have garnered some sort of status during this day and the next. Completely relentless, Celestine blasted through an innumerable amount of songs at a speed I have never seen any other band perform at in my life. The show morphed into entertainment, then awe, and then a sort of freak show with everyone staring at each other, expressing with their eyes: “How is this happening?”
Not a moment was lost during the set, every second filled with noise flowing into the following number. The guitar, bass and drums were congealing perfectly which, at the pace it was going, was like watching a soufflé being made using ingredients placed in two on-coming cars. The singer didn’t miss a cue and his voice, much like his on-stage personality, reverberated throughout the space. This was a legendary set that will cause regret for anyone who didn’t seen it, but only heard about it.
As the tension from Celestine’s set dissipated, people began crowding the space again in order to check out the reformed STRIGASKÓR NR. 42. A friend from Iceland introduced this group to me a while ago with lots of nostalgic excitement (he actually sent me the record, ‘Blót’, online on three separate occasions, making sure I hadn’t let it slip by). I definitely enjoyed the record’s oddly pitched and angular melodies, the drumming achieving both a precise and variable quality. The band had decided to try and play ‘Blót’ in its entirety during this set, which is a handful considering it has gained some sort of legendary status in this country.
It was a failure of a performance. The group seemed completely uninspired and happy only to play the record note for note, a big issue I have with this trend of playing albums in their entirety (I think it’s awful, taking away the art of the set-list). The band’s decision to do this seemed to make them lazy, totally comfortable with doing the least possible to engage their fans emotionally. You’re playing an album note for note for people who know the album note for note. Please, move the fuck around a bit and at least try to look like you’re performing with some spontaneity.
The impression I gathered was that the band seemed too aware of the fact that there was little pressure on them to prove themselves, that showing up was good enough for the fans. The entire set was excruciatingly dull, almost insufferable, and completely disappointing.
ENDLESS DARK’s reputation precedes them, which is hard to negotiate when you’re trying to soundly base your conclusions. The band, as any band recreating this form, has a weird contradicting condition to them. You’d assume that following a genre as though it’s a paint-by-numbers scheme would create a sense of confidence in its familiarity. This is far from the case. Every chug, every rhythm and every break in Endless Dark’s performance can be derived from another band’s repertoire, or at least it feels that way.
This comfort through conformity really only ensures the realisation that there is absolutely no confidence coming from the band’s music. However, I refuse to criticize this band attempt to entertain massive amounts of people. I see a lot of nobility and unselfishness in an artist’s wish to try to attract and entertain as much people as possible. Endless Dark’s music does accomplish this, and rather successfully so, judging from the amount of people engaged at the concert. However, the music is without character, or honesty, or much of anything except mindless fun. Endless Dark’s music is very much like a void.
Everyone is clearly aware of the set times, because once Endless Dark ended, people stormed towards the front of the stage, anticipating SKALMÖLD, the hardest band for me to review yet. I was able to get a few words in with a friend who was watching the show with me, clearly pleased. He could see my confusion. Without saying much else, he simply said, “It’s a style.” This simple phrase is quite dense with what it’s trying to refer to. Basically, this music is critic proof, it’s made by and for a certain audience and without any sort of reference point for this kind of music in one’s life then you’re likely not going to enjoy it. I respect this niche practice.
However, I can comment on the performance, which was very entertaining and tight. Most notable was the atmosphere created. With a huge crowd gutturally chanting the Viking-themed, power metal band’s choruses, the atmosphere was amazing, aided by the soundscapes added directly into the PA and the perfect lighting, which was all too rare that weekend. The entire experience was jarring in its perfect precision. This all made for an entertaining set by a band many clearly enjoy, so long as you’re in on it...
SEVERED CROTCH chime in the only way hometown boys of such ilk can. The crowd isn’t just in awe of the band, but interact with them, many of the spectators being friends, or friends of friends. They are as much a part of the show as the band on-stage. Severed Crotch are that band at a small festival that are always around, always hanging out with their compatriots and yet seem so high on the totem pole of the local scene that people not in their immediate network shyly avoid them, staring from the distance, rather using them as a source of inspiration. Every scene has this band of local lore and royalty, but few are as good as Severed Crotch.
Severed Crotch gets death metal and how the genres foundations are just as much determined on pummelling speeds and intricate playing, as the subtleties of atmosphere and slower tempos. Listening to these musicians, every one of them is a master at their role. The guitarists are in sync and trade back and forth their roles on each number, the bassist kicks in with his melodic backing at the perfect moments, something that can only be mastered by time and patience, and the drumming is tight, catchy and overarching. The vocal performance was something to see, the man’s heart and lungs withering piece by piece over the waves of noise. It felt like it was just for you.
Closing the night were DR. SPOCK who I had never seen them before. Every movement on stage seemed choreographed, planned and recited for its ultimate effect. The gimmicks wore pretty thin pretty quickly, and once they tried to introduce some sort of narrative in between their songs, I try to hang on for the ride, but rather take the plummet. Some of the songs, like the gimmicks, latch on to your ears pretty tightly, but then the repetition sinks in and it seems like you’ve been cheated and your patience worn thin when you find the song ending in some moronic and ironic twist. Like M. Night Shyamalan movies, the twists suck when you know there’s going to be a twist. This is especially the case when the lead up is anything but worth it.
As the day drew to an end, I’m as excited about the experience as I am about going to bed. Finally lying down, my mind is racing with ideas about all of the bands I’ve encountered this Friday and early Saturday. Ideas about what I like, what I don’t and why. Questioning whether or not I’m being a purist asshole (Dr. Spock) or too forgiving (Beneath). But what I’ve come to realize is that a festival setting for live music is unlike anything else. A festival is more than seeing a bunch of gigs. It’s completely something in and of itself. I can describe how these bands performed. I can’t explain to you the elation, growth, hurt, fatigue, occasional awkwardness and joy I felt while attending Eistnaflug. That’s something I wholly endorse you to figure out yourself.
--We also reviewed Eistnaflug Thursday and Saturday.
Waking up, last night’s events come back in fog and static, interspersed between moments of flat black. This wasn’t due to alcohol, but my body adjusting, apparently by wiping my memory, to a time change of three hours and little less than six hours of sleep in the past 48. Besides my development of short-term memory loss, however, I did get some solid rest and feel ready to take on another day at Eistnaflug. I promise myself I won’t drink.