Reykjavík Deathfest is the only festival in Iceland dedicated exclusively to death metal. Headlined this year by the Canadian technical death metal monoliths Cryptopsy and featuring Icelandic favourites like Severed and Grit Teeth, this hardcore-jamboree will no doubt get you headbanging. Never been to a metal show before? Don’t worry—though leather clad and bearded, metalheads are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, and if anything could convert you to the darker side of music, it’s this lineup.
To get the low-down on the festival, I sat down with organiser Ingólfur Ólafsson.
So let’s start with you guys! What are your backgrounds in the Icelandic music scene? How’d you all get into death metal?
Well there are three people running the festival: Me, Aðalsteinn Magnússon, and Unnar Sigurðsson. All of us have been playing in various metal bands here for more than a decade now. I have fronted several bands such as Severed, Plastic Gods, Manslaughter, Ophidian I, and Malignant Mist. Aðalsteinn has been quite busy with his band Auðn the past year and also plays in his newly revived death metal band Hubris, who will be playing at the festival. Unnar plays guitars with me in Severed as well as in his other death metal band Beneath.
We all gravitated towards death metal in our teens. We love all kinds of music but heavy music is where our hearts are at.
Because we are—unfortunately—a non-metal-focused magazine, can you tell us a little about death metal in general? What should someone expect to hear/see at the festival?
Death metal is a sub-genre of metal that typically employs heavily distorted and low-tuned guitars, deep growling vocals mixed with screeching high-pitched screams, and aggressive, powerful drumming. Death Metal can still be quite varied though and we’re happy to say that even though we have a dozen bands playing over the weekend, all of them are quite different from one another.
So let’s get to the festival: How was the idea of Reykjavík Deathfest born?
Well it all started at the 2015 edition of the Norðanpaunk Festival when Aðalsteinn approached me saying that he was reviving his old death metal band, Hubris, and wanted to do a proper death metal show in Reykjavík. Reykjavík used to have a really strong death metal scene in the 2000s, but it’s been somewhat dormant since. I liked the idea and suggested that we bring in Cephalic Carnage from the US to headline the show. I’d gotten to know the CC guys quite well after they stayed at my house a few years back and they were totally up for revisiting Iceland and playing a show. So from there it sort of snowballed. We booked other bands and it started turning into something more than just another show. This became the first iteration of Reykjavík Deathfest.
Let’s talk about last year. How did planning and putting everything together go? Anything change for this iteration?
Putting it together last year was fairly simple as the Cephalic Carnage guys were coming over as a friendly favor to us and they simply stayed at my house. We basically just had to buy their flights and assemble the lineup and crew for the show, which was easy because we all have experience in that.
This year was completely different though. We knew that we wanted to go a bit bigger so Aðalsteinn and I brought Unnar aboard to strengthen our core. Going from one foreign headliner that basically came as visiting friends to hosting five foreign acts was quite the jump for us, but we were up for the challenge. We’ve learned a lot about promoting, booking flights and accommodation, organizing and time-management etc. and hopefully it will all come together nicely this weekend.
Tell me about the lineup this year! Who are you most excited to see?
I’d have to say Cryptopsy for sure. They are legends in the death metal scene and they will perform their seminal album “None So Vile” in its entirety, which will be a treat for any fan of heavy music.
In all honesty we are really excited to see all the visiting bands, whether it’s AD NAUSEAM’s atmospheric avant-garde breed of death metal, Syndemic’s take on melodic-death metal, Virvum’s technical wizardry or KESS’KHTAK’s heavy-hitting hardcore-infused tunes.
And I can’t discount any of the Icelandic acts either as they are collectively a testament to the high standard and variety that permeates the Icelandic music scene in general. It’s all going to be a lot of fun!
Where do you see the future of Deathfest going? What’d be the dream?
Whether we go bigger with the festival itself or not, we will definitively be working hard to bring in more and more quality metal bands to Iceland. The dream would be to get better at what we do, to help Icelandic bands make a name for themselves, and continue doing it for the foreseeable future!
Just for fun: You guys are all metal-festival vets. What’s your favourite festival story?
Wow, there’s been so many festivals. It’s hard to say what’s my favorite story, so I’ll just rapid fire some cherished memories from over the years.
- Sitting on a bale of hay at Wacken Open Air 2005 while Dissection were playing and hearing from my friend how he lost his virginity the night before.
- That time at Eistnaflug where everything that wasn’t nailed down at the campsite got thrown on a huge bonfire that the authorities repeatedly had to show up to extinguish.
- When some unfortunate Nightwish fan wandered into the Icelandic campsite a couple hours before their show at Wacken and we got him so drunk on Brennivín that he passed out and missed his favourite band. Sort of mean, but it was really funny.
- Most importantly, that faithful night at Norðanpaunk where Reykjavík Deathfest was born.
If you want to get in on the action, the pre-party is tonight at Gaukurinn and the festival will be Friday and Saturday. Tickets are 9.000 ISK and can be purchased here.