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Metal Is Death: Reykjavik Deathfest’s First Night Turns Gaukurinn To Ash

Metal Is Death: Reykjavik Deathfest’s First Night Turns Gaukurinn To Ash

Phil Uwe Widiger
Words by
Photos by
Phil Uwe Widiger

Published May 22, 2018

It’s Friday night. But not just any Friday night. It’s death metal night. For any fan of this subgenre, Reykjavík Deathfest comes close to being their holy grail, featuring international headliners such as Dead Congregation from Greece, Skinned from the USA, and Ulsect from Holland, alongside Icelandic favourites like Severed and Gone Postal.

It is the third edition of the festival and with Gaukurinn’s new sound system, this promises to be the best yet. As I descend on Gaukurinn at around 7pm, I’m prepared for my soul to be tortured and my ears to be bleeding—in the most pleasant way possible.

Bag Of Anthrax open the festival, and they’re the perfect choice. The band fills the room with fast-paced, destructive riffs and songs that barely extend beyond one minute. The crowd barriers were intentionally absent so that the band could engage the audience by performing in the centre of the crowd. Their set climaxes during the last song with guest musicians being invited on stage and the mic being passed between audience members who are eager to scream along. Before I knew what had come over me, it was over, and Gaukurinn was on fire—metaphorically speaking.

The Hungarian Sin Of God are next and deliver pure death metal. It is fast, brutal and non-compromising. I’m completely mesmerised by one of their guitarists, who plays his guitar upside down. I hear rumours about him being left-handed and due to the lack of a left-handed guitar, he consequently decided to perform with his guitar being upside-down. Whether it’s true or not, it’s impressive either way.

I leave to get some fresh air and when I come back inside, I am hit by a wall of sound. I’m surprised to see only two people on stage—it’s the the French duo WarFuck. Both the drummer and guitarist have energetic stage presences that make the grindcore-inspired performance enjoyable, even though the sound is very mushy and the vocals monotonous.

Severed have been around for a long time and are particularly well-known for their tight performances. From the first note, the sound is crystal clear and the riffs sharp enough to cut glass. Everything is on point. The vocalist has his face covered in plastic tape, which doesn’t stop him from absolutely nailing his vocals, ranging from evil, high-pitched screams to low, guttural growls. When Severed finish their set with “Papablach,” I can feel my neck starting to hurt. Fuck yeah.

Even though Severed did such an amazing job, nothing could have prepared me for what was yet to come. Der Weg Einer Freiheit are perhaps the only band on the line-up that don’t fit into the death metal genre. They play an atmospheric take on black-metal that mixes calm, graceful passages with crushing, blast beat-driven tremolo-picking.

The band brought a lot of their own equipment to Iceland, and both their performance and the sound are witnesses of experience and professionalism. Der Weg Einer Freiheit blow the minds of the whole audience, and I can’t help but feeling empty when the performance ends. This was without exaggeration one of the best concerts I have ever experienced.

I feel breathless and take a moment outside to enjoy the fresh Icelandic air. The American band MALIGNANCY have already started playing when I return, and by now, Gaukurinn is packed. I’m punched in the face by their progressive, complex, and yet perfectly delivered guitar riffs. When I see the bassist, I catch myself staring. His fingers are flying over his six-string bass as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

After a few songs, I feel saturated by the intensity of extreme metal and I decide to leave, missing the last two bands—DODECAHEDRON and Une Misère. However, the first evening of Reykjavík Deathfest 2018 leaves me completely satisfied, thanks to a well-balanced line-up, great sound and spectacular bands. Takk fyrir mig.


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