So Eistnaflug 2012 has been and gone. Amongst all the fun and frolics, the growing consensus from both the fans and pundits was that this year’s festival was (whisper it) the best yet, both in terms of audience, atmosphere and the quality of the performances. Indeed, Eistnaflug 2012 seems to have highlighted a time where Iceland’s metal scene is experiencing a resurgence and purpose in both quality and profile.
In the past, it was acknowledged that there wasn’t a great deal of ambition amongst many within the scene, with bands simply being content with the odd concert at Gaukurinn or Café Amsterdam. As one promoter succinctly put it, “Too many of them are fucking lazy.”
But the past twelve months have seen increased activity and ambition from many bands. Naturally the main development was Sólstafir becoming an international-class rock band by signing with the French label Season Of Mist. In their wake, Skálmöld, Beneath, and Ophidian I have followed suit, signing with foreign independent labels.
Bands are now increasingly serious in trying to record and produce their material. This month alone sees not one, but four metal releases (Beneath, Blood Feud, Celestine, and Ophidian I), with many other acts looking to release material this year.
On stage, bands are really tightening up their sound, exhibiting a greater level professionalism across the board to the point where one of the judges noted at this year’s Wacken metal battle that if winners Gone Postal continued to perform the way they did that night, they would be signed up by a label in no time at all.
Meanwhile at the grassroots level, things seem to be in good health, with thrash revivalists Abacination, deathcore twatters World Narcosis, noise merchants Naught and MASS, the eco-black metal of Dynfari, and Iceland’s unofficial heaviest band NYIÞ.
But while the scene is going well as a whole, problems still exist in many areas for musicians, both structural and financial. While many Icelandic bands experience some form of difficulty in making records, it’s taken Celestine four years to record and produce their latest album, while Beneath have actually had their album finished for THREE years, only to suffer a myriad of delays in post production. The fact that it’s has taken so long has robbed the band of any crucial momentum they could build up if the album had come out sooner.
This situation is exacerbated by the fact that there is currently a lack of technical and managerial expertise to help the scene. Right now there are no specialist or sympathetic record labels catering for metal music in Iceland. There was Molestin Records, but they appear to be currently in hibernation. Add to this, say some metal musicians, the problem that many studios don’t have the producers/engineers able to produce metal music to a good enough standard. There are exceptions such as Studio Reflex’s Axel “Flex” Árnason, and Jóhann Ingi Sigurðsson of Studio Fossland. However, Studio Reflex is expensive, while Studio Fossland is actually in Sweden!
There have been some positive outcomes in gaining wider support and recognition for metal music from Iceland’s cultural industries. The Kraumur Music Fund has in the past awarded grants to Celestine and Endless Dark, and Sólstafir were awarded 1 million ISK this year for help with touring, while the fund also provided funds to Eistnaflug over the last few years for running costs. Meanwhile metal artists such as Gone Postal, Svartidauði and Plastic Gods have received Icelandair and City of Reykjavík’s Loftbrú grants, helping with the costs of touring.
But some metal musicians still talk of an uphill battle in getting support from cultural institutions, who they feel are simply paying lip service to their needs. One musician describes organising a three-band tour to France in 2011 with a promotional company backing them, even attending a large music conference to promote Icelandic music in the process. But despite this, they received no support from the five Icelandic music funds they applied for.
It does seem that things are slowly changing across the board. Many in the Icelandic metal scene have shown good promise and the willingness to progress onto the next level in their music careers. But if the musicians are showing the desire, then we need to stop seeing these bands as a “niche” market compared with other genres and also start getting serious in providing the right support to the scene, whether it’s with touring and releasing records, or with more long terms aspects, such as labels or increasing studio expertise.