On the Lord’s day of rest (known to most of us as Sunday), some like to unwind after a couple nights of hard binging and dodgy hedonistic practices. Some like to go hiking or cycling in the hills and pathways around the city. Others like to spend the afternoon nursing coffee and cake in one of the many trendy cafés dotted around the city. But for real relaxation and Zen peace of mind, true believers head to Tjörnin (“The Pond”). Located next to Reykjavík City Hall, this small body of water is a mecca for feeding the local birdlife and creating some much-needed sun-assisted vitamin D.
So it’s on a chilled, sunny Sunday afternoon that I’m at the pond, waiting for a band that has experienced an upward surge in fortune in the last couple of months. Death metallers Ophidian I may not be a household name to the average Icelander, but they have marked themselves as a band to watch in Iceland’s burgeoning metal scene.
Last year saw the release of their debut album, ‘Solvet Sæclum,’ a furious blend of technical death metal, chock full of mental riffs and blasting breakdowns. Their profile rose further when they blew everyone away by winning the 2013 Wacken Metal Battle at Harpa, ensuring that they will be representing Iceland at this year’s Wacken Open Air festival in Germany.
BREAD IS NOT FOR DUCKS
Eventually singer Ingó, bassist ﬁór›ur, and guitarist Símon shuffle up to the shoreline. I ask them what they normally do for relaxation, assuming that that it doesn’t involve birdlife. “I’ve got dogs at home so I like to take them for a walk,” Ingó says. “I live in the west part of the city, near the KR sports club and the university campus, so I take them down to Ægisí›a along the coast.”
The other two are far more straightforward when it comes to relaxation. “I just play a lot of video games I guess, as well as a LOT of guitar, at least a couple of hours a day,” ﬁór›ur says. “I´m pretty much like ﬁór›ur actually,” Símon adds. “I just play lots of video games.”
As we approach the water, the band asks if I have any bread to feed the ducks. “Bread?” I say. “BREAD? Are you trying to kill these birds??” According to the (two) websites I checked before heading out, bread is unhealthy for birds and can actually cause malnutrition and other health problems, I tell them.
“OK, so what ARE you supposed to feed them then?” Ingó asks. “Well,” I say, “fruits, frozen peas, vegetable peelings, and assorted grains, including cooked or uncooked rice,” pulling out a large bag of the latter. The band looks at the bag. They don’t seem convinced.
CONCEIVED AT EISTNAFLUG
Before we start our feeding session, we sit on a bench and talk about the origins of Ophidian I. “We started the band when Símon and I got to know each other during Eistnaflug in 2010,” ﬁór›ur says. “We were both in other bands at the time, which were both short-lived, but we ended up becoming the best of friends through our similar tastes in music.”
“So we decided to start the band,” Símon explains. “When we got back from Eistnaflug, ﬁór›ur quickly wrote a song and sent it to me. I fucking loved that song, and that was the spur for us to start the band properly.”
From there they recruited Dischord band member Tumi Snær Gíslason on drums, but it took a while before they managed to settle on Ingó as a singer. “Ophidian I started out with a guy called Magnús, the singer from Gruesome Glory, on vocals,” Ingó explains. “But he was never really in the band. He just recorded some of the vocals in the demo and he only played one gig. Eventually Ophidian I were playing as support for the Heaven Shall Burn in 2011, and Magnús couldn’t make it, so they asked me if I wanted to fill in. And that’s how I got involved.”
Within a year of getting together, Ophidian I were in the studio, laying down the tracks for their debut album ‘Solvet Sæclum,’ which was released in 2012, through the Russian Label SFC Records. Unlike many local metal bands, the whole process in making the album was a rather speedy affair. “Well it only took two or three weeks to record the album in Studio S‡rland from scratch, because we didn’t have any pauses or breaks,” ﬁór›ur says. “We just kept at it for hours until everything was recorded the way we wanted it. Then the rest of the year was taken up with mixing and post-production stuff.”
RICE DOES NOT FLOAT
We now decide to get some feeding action started. Everyone takes handfuls of rice and we throw some at the nearest flock of birds. It quickly becomes apparent that things aren’t going to plan as rice just sinks to the bottom of the pond. While bread may be bad for the birds, it actually floats on water. This is not good, I say. “This is fucking embarrassing,” says Ingó, a bit more succinctly.
Thankfully a young mother and her child turn up next to us brandishing an entire loaf of Bónus bread and after some gentle persuasion, she gives us several slices and finally we get some bird feeding action. While we start a mini riot amongst some seagulls, I ask Ophidian I about their performance at the Wacken Metal Battle contest.
“We actually didn’t really have any time at all to prepare,” Ingó explains, aiming a piece of bread at a duck’s head. “Tumi, our drummer, actually quit a few months ago, although he was still committed to this gig as we had signed up for it beforehand. So we only started practicing a week before the competition. On top of that, I was in Canada at the time and I came back a day and a half before the concert.”
THE WACKEN VICKTORY
Despite the less than perfect preparation, when it came to their performance on the day, it was an exhilarating moment for all concerned. “Apart from the great sound system and the lighting, the stage was probably the biggest obstacle to be honest. That stage is actually the same size of some of the venues we’ve played!” Ingó says. “But we all discussed and agreed beforehand that we would go into this with the mindset that we had already won and just enjoy playing a venue such as Eldborg.”
“But it was definitely a buzz playing, even with my eyes closed most of the time!” Símon muses. “When we finished playing, I immediately realised from the crowd’s reaction that we had a big chance.”
Right now, Ophidian I are preparing hard for Wacken with a new drummer and a couple of warm up gigs in July. As for their chances, they seem rather bullish. “They haven’t confirmed too many winners from other countries yet, but we’ve checked out a few bands and I have to say that competition doesn’t look too tough,” ﬁór›ur says, “at least, for now.”
Eventually all the bread and rice are used up and we are left only with fat, angry seagulls. Was it a calming experience? Judging by the look on the faces of the band, they seemed to have some fun with it, but a few more beers would have made it even better.