I have seen the pitiless black heart of Icelandic rock music and now my life is never really going to be the same again…
All things considered I only have myself to blame. Spending an eternity of graft, having to review some truly awful music in some craptastic venues that would have been condemned in the civilised world, I was finally given the opportunity to actually review a night and some music I actually WANTED to see! So I chose Thursday at NASA to sample some of the best rock music Iceland can muster. But if I had known the effect it would have had on the audience, I would have thought twice first.
And I should have seen the signs. For example as we waited for the Fist Fokkers to start, there were a trio of middle aged gentlemen playing truly mournful brass and wind music, as if it were the soundtrack to ‘Schindler’s List’. This had the effect of seventy people frantically flicking through their programmes going “Wait a minute, I don’t remember see these guys on the bill!” But they were there to start as a preamble for the Fokkers. Now I’ve seen these guys come on leaps and bounds since I first saw them at Airwaves in 2008, where they just created an atrocious noise with songs that lasted barely a minute. Since then, they’ve become better, their craft more ambitious. Even the drummer is starting to wear Christmas fairy lights on his body. And they were the best I’ve ever seen them tonight. Their noise rock was tight, focused, angry and exuding a level of confidence I hadn’t seen before. They planted a flag in the middle of the stage and went to the other bands stating: “Try and do better than that you fuckers.” A foreboding sign of the music that awaited…
This rousing challenge to the other bands seemed to spur on kimono, not ones to run away from a challenge. In the past they have been called ‘intense’, but tonight they took the base layers of the fist Fokkers and ran with it to the hills. Using the songs from their current album, they reinforced the anger and added an extra level of spellbinding songcraft. What these two bands showed was the ability to get the most out of each instrument and cut out the fat so you’re left with a lean mean sound. And this showed as during ‘Karen’, singer Alex retuned his guitar while hardly skipping a beat. Whereas on the likes of ‘Kente’, Kimono rocked so hard, they almost blew the left speaker of the PA system. They finish their set to a packed NASA, safe in that they did their job in softening our souls.
Such is the increase in intensity with each passing performance, the expectation of the crowd is reaching apoplectic levels. The only feasible way Reykjavik! could go one better would be if they walked on stage in white lab coats, slaughtered a live chicken and sprayed the blood over the front row. Alas, they didn’t do that, but what they did instead was try to start a riot. And do you know how difficult it is to start a riot at an Airwaves concert? Bloody difficult, I can tell you. While I used physical violence, Reykjavík! played a mix of the newer stuff such as ‘Cats’ with the likes of ‘All Those Beautiful Boys’, they eventually managed to get the hipsters pushing and shoving around like demented gibbons.
Now we hunkered down for the first of the three ‘classic comeback´ bands of tonight. And if I was to watch Ensími play anywhere else on any other night, I would have said that these guys rocked till Ragnarök. But in the context of what we had heard before, it was a slightly bum note for me. Their music wasn’t bad, in fact a couple of their new songs, such as one titled ‘Aldannaró’ were grand, anthemic slabs of cutting edge indie stadium rock that could show Dikta a thing or two. But they made the classic error of equating intensity with loudness, and as they pummelled their way through their set, my head was starting to hurt a lot. But what the hell do I know? The crowd were going batshit insane over the new tunes.
Thankfully normal service is resumed with S.H. Draumur. Iceland Airwaves and SH Draumur themselves have really pulled off a masterstroke with creating a buzz for their comeback as when it was first announced that they would be playing their first gig in seventeen years, most people (including myself) went “Err, who are S.H. Draumur?”. But the last few weeks has seen the release of reworked tracks, and interviews, building the level of anticipation so that when they took to the stage, they were confronted by wide-eyed devotion from their whooping acolytes. In fact, to show he REALLY meant business, bassist and singer Dr. Gunni actually shaved off his goatee! And his face doesn’t look like a lumpy potato!
And of course they blew everyone’s ears right off their hinges. Like watching an Icelandic version of ‘The Expendables’, here were three old warhorses brought out of retirement to show us supposedly hip youngsters how it’s done. A proper mix of ‘80s post punk with hi-energy rock, the power Dr Gunni wrought from his bass was akin to seeing a blast furnace up close. By now everyone in the crowd was jumping around, pushing and exhibiting dangerous levels of fun. This shit is seriously starting to get out of control.
For everything that has gone on before, everything that we’ve heard was only to prepare our minds and bodies for the grand emperors of Icelandic rock. HAM shouldn’t work really. It’s been ten years since they released their last material and they only seem to perform the classics once a year. But right from the first song, I see the bass player from Sólstafir run for cover, while also observing the organiser of the Eistnaflug metal festival jump like a beserker straight into the fray. And the effect their thumping rock mantra had on people tonight was truly astounding. For starters, has anyone actually really listened the lyrics to HAM songs? You have Sigurjón Kjartansson belting out Gregorian chants while town councillor and high priest Óttar Proppe snarled and screamed words which may have been Icelandic, but sounded more like ‘Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn’ .
And as they continued playing, you could see the crowd starting to meld into a single heaving fleshy mass. Limbs melted into each other, new orifices were being created and sweat covered everything like the morning dew. Oh great I thought, HAM have gone and done it. They’ve finally started to bring about the end times! As I headed towards the exit to escape the madness, I see a close friend of mine banging his head in unison to the likes of ‘Party Town’ going ‘YES YES YES!!’ It was too late for him. He in total thrall to the sound.
To be honest I will be seeing a lot more bands and music over the next few days, but the chances of anything topping what happened here tonight is frankly nonsensical. I have new lords and masters now. Praise be to the new lords of Icelandic RAWK!
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