As Saturday dawned and our final musical journey began, the combination of three days of illegal hard liquor, scorching sun and the occasional head butting of a lighting bollard had many of us juuuust a little fried and emotional. Even hardcore black metal fans were contemplating the use of sunscreen for possibly the first time in their lives.
Don’t fear “The Fist”!
With this in mind we head for the indoor shade to watch the day’s first band, local boys ONI. They were OK, a competent hard rock/metal combo that slightly suffered from an overloading bass on their first song. While their second song, ‘A Place For Lovers,’ was far more accomplished, it all looked a little stilted on stage with not much in the way of stage presence. At one point, as if they weren’t sure what to do next, the singer and guitarist decided to do a weird little hop-step dance that had me going “huh?” But overall it was a solid, if unspectacular start to proceedings.
Things take a much heavier turn with the arrival of HYLUR. If this was the first time you’d laid eyes on these guys, you’d certainly find them an intriguing if unusual presence. In singer Krístján, you have fuzzy, pierced, growling bear of a man standing beside Iceland’s smallest bass player, while one of their guitarists goes by the delightful moniker of “The Fist.” But after a slight delay to fix the lighting rig, they ripped into their set with a heavy, balls deep, sludgy metal sound not too dissimilar to Bongzilla or Melvins. People began to nod in unison as Hylur set about their business in a direct fashion.
OK, we’ve had some hard rock and stoner sludge. But now we want METAL! In particular some crusty, gnarly shit that can only come from the backwoods of Sweden and is practiced by Teutonic types weaned on bark moonshine and virgin’s tears. And our prayers were answered with NORN. They upped the stage antics by coming on sporting not the usual corpsepaint, but some really well done zombie makeup. Their set combined blastbeats with hard riffage and some classic black metal snarls. It was rough and they certainly weren’t pretty (the bass strings on the intro to “10,000 Years” sounded really loose and thwacky), but their eyeballing frontman managed to shake loose the clagging hangover in our heads. I AM AWAKE NOW, YES!
Next up were AT DODGE CITY. They played your straight up, standard issue screamo-core, which I’m not a big fan of. But somehow I found myself being entertained by these guys way more than I should have. For starters their singer looked, shall we say, “elegantly wasted,” tangling himself up in his mic cable and wandering around like he didn’t know where he was. But the biggest delight was watching their bass player who (in what was to be the first of several bass player freakouts that day) spent the set leaping about like a tweaking rhino. He ended the final song by hulking out so hard, he smashed his bass to the ground and pulled a “COME AT ME BRO!” pose that nearly knocked the singer clean off his feet.
Punk rock bro cock love (allegedly…)
Next up were… DIMMA! Oh Dimma, has it been a year already? Last year, I called their take on cock metal the most preposterous thing I´d ever seen from an Icelandic band. And one year on, I am pleased to report that they have not changed one single iota. It was wall-to-wall swagger, poses, spraying of water from the mouth, etc, etc. It’s safe to assume that if ‘Rock Of Ages’ ever came to Iceland, then Dimma’s singer would be a shoo-in for the part of Stacee Jaxx. But hey, even though it’s 25 years too late, they’re still following their musical dream. The metalheads at the front (who were grooving just before to “Staying Alive” on the PA) absolutely loved it. Even their bass player was rocking the fuck out of his low slung bass, ending his set by smashing his bass to the ground and stomping off the stage with murder in his eyes.
Swiping all of that nonsense away was everyone’s favourite Oskoreia, ATRUM. Looking Spartan, even slightly paramilitary in their all back clothing and kohl make up, they launched into their set of their brutal, Bathory tinged death metal with “Natural Apotheosis.” And my god they were fucking loud! So loud that my eardrums were beginning to melt, while fellow reviewer Dru looked as if his eyeballs has sunk beyond the back of his skull from the noise. Drummer Raggi came out from his kit for a song and showed that as well as being one of Iceland’s best drummers, he also had a set of lungs on him as well. All of this was lapped up by the now filling crowd, who were all standing, fists aloft, screaming “Secular!”
In a rather inspired line up tactic, MORÐINGJARNIR managed to change the pace and calm things down just a little bit. They were beefed up this year from a trio to a quartet with the inclusion of Raggi “Skálmöld/Innvortis” Baldursson on guitar, which gave their pop punk sound just that bit of a harder edge. Well, when I say harder, it was rather refreshing to hear some songs that contained only major chords! Culling most of their set from “Áfram Ísland!” and “Flóttinn Mikli,” they happily swapped banter and took the piss with the punks who came out to cheer them on, talking about the joys of inter-band blowjob sessions, and even cranking out The Scorpions “Wind Of Change” just to mess with people’s heads.
Next up were the first of this year’s foreign acts, the Faroe Island’s SYNARCHY. They were… alright, but not exceptional. A mix of melodic metal, a hint of thrash, and the clean/screaming vocal stylings on top. I could definitely hear the Children Of Bodom influence going on in their set at several points. For a band from a small community, they were clearly accomplished and well executed, while (again) they had a bass player who was smashing his enormous frame all over the place. But for some reason, I just couldn’t get all that into them. Shame.
MacGyver is a Cephalic Carnage fan…
Now, there’s a point in the line up on a Saturday at Eistnaflug where everything ratchets up several notches and people finally begin to really get down. This year’s next level manoeuvres were provided by MUCK. Their hardcore/noise attack has really come of age in the last year, and right now they’re the guys leading the pack in Iceland’s fledgling hardcore revival. Kalli’s screaming was well on point and sounded incredibly pissed off, which must have alerted people from outside because the place really filled up towards the end. It even brought out the first “Smash The System!” moment from the (now wasted) At Dodge City guitarist who managed to break free from the grip of the side stewards to pull off a brilliantly awful attempt at a stage dive.
From Muck’s blistering attack to bubbling, molten stoner doom. PLASTIC GODS are frankly an awesome live band when given a proper PA to work their power. Their set produced the first real “holy shit” moment this evening, all thanks to the performance of singer Ingó. Despite being drunk and in a near perpetual state of confusion for four days solid, he somehow defied alcoholism, mental illness and the mores of civilised society to dredge something deep inside him that was thoroughly unpleasant and sulphurous. “Burning Of The Midday Oil” saw him lurch and crouch along the stage, resembling the freakish homunculus from the cover of Comus’ ‘First Utterance’ album. It was a bewildering sight. Add to this, the sub bass from the speakers was so powerful that it occasionally made your vision blur while standing next to it.
The theme tune to ‘The A Team’ and ‘MacGyver’ pumped through the PA and the place crackled in anticipation for the punishment that is CEPHALIC CARNAGE. And as they bound onstage, it took roughly 2.7 seconds for the crowd to completely lose their shit as the band played through their classics, from “Piecemaker,” “Kill For Weed,” and “Warbots A.M” to spastic bursts such as “P.G.A.D.” The crowd themselves responded by partaking in some lunatic level circle pits that had vocalist Lenzig Leal enthusing “Man you guys are the fucking sickest!”
It was obvious that they were really happy to be playing here, displaying an easy charm and banter that won the crowd over (“This song… is a song.. about when you’re desperate and want to do something bad, like to that guy who’s trained that dog to find all your fucking weed this weekend!”). It was also worth noting that for a bunch of stoners who look like they should be running a Ben & Jerrys franchise, they really shifted round the stage and threw themselves into the crowd. They finished their set blasting everyone away with “Sleeprace,” which culminated in a skull smashing wall of death from the audience. Like I said, it was a bloody good time.
I Adapt run for president?
And then came I ADAPT….
Now I’m not one for full-on hyperbole, but as it’s rather tough trying to articulate properly what happened and what it meant to us, I’m just gonna put it out there, right from the start.
In the five years I’ve lived in Iceland, I Adapt’s set on Saturday was probably the best concert performance I’ve seen from an Icelandic act. Ever.
Why do I say this? Well let’s see now…
There were the songs. Their set was choked with the jewels from their canon: “Intro/Sparks,” “Your Pride,” “Subject To Change,” “Same as it Ever Was,” and many more. All of them pure triple distilled the-world-really-fucking-sucks-and-I-want-to destroy and the-shit-around-me hardcore. Tweecore bullshit this ain’t.
Then there was the dynamic between the band and the crowd. What happened with Cephalic Carnage was intense, but with I Adapt it was taken to a whole other level. You could see how the band and the crowd were feeding off each other’s energy, willing each other on to harder, higher things in a hardcore feedback loop. And with no ego, the band went on to share this experience with many invited guests from Sólstafir, Muck and Momentum. Cue roaring cheers and bro hugs.
And then you had pocket rocket (and closet Whitesnake fan) Birkir Fjalar Viðarsson. Man, musicians like this guy do not come along every day and watching him perform brought on what could only be called a true musical epiphany. He gave it his all as he smashed, pumped and screamed all over the stage with a Zen focus to his full force somersaults into the crowd.
But it was the way his emotional honesty burned in him so hard in getting shit off his chest between songs—from homophobic hate speech merchants (“FUCK YOU Snorri Óskarsson!”) to the meathead fuckwits who bullied a female concertgoer earlier in the day—that frankly made most of the so-called “edgy” performers these days look completely redundant.
The whole band were fucking heroes tonight and anyone who saw them knows this in their heart to be true. They should all be made to run for president or something. Stebbi needs to organise this… stat!
The fact that BOTNLEÐJA took everything down a notch or two frankly came as a relief. The place was packed to the rafters with people looking to get a piece of the action and relive their youth, but it’s now so hot and airless that the dry ice on stage has been replaced by actual steam.
As the band fire up their first song, a friend next to me says, “Man it’s like I’m sixteen again!” And she’s right. While I wasn’t around Iceland during Botnleðja’s 1990s heyday, their music had similar parallels with the early ‘90s sounds of my youth. For a moment I was back in 1992, with my spots and lanky hair, sporting a Ned’s Atomic Dustbin T-shirt, drinking cider & black while trying my luck with the cute goth girl at the indie disco.
Botnleðja’s set contained all their hits, including my personal favourites “Þið eruð frábær” and “Ég drukkna hér.” The (now more gender balanced) crowd defied the heat and pogoed, stage dived and crowd surfed like shiny fools, including the festival organiser Stebbi who screamed into the mic and promptly dived off the stage. The band seemed relaxed and almost nonchalant, the exception being drummer Halli who was particularly hyped and was talking a mile a minute.
Then a chance comment from singer Heiðar about Dr. Spock complaining about the lack of female breastage on display during their set caused a small eruption of topless crowd surfing from the ladies, just like last year’s HAM set. Well, it certainly was a novel way of keeping cool.
After they finished, most people went outside to swap diseases with random strangers with only the brave/foolhardy staying on to watch the Mötorhead covers band BÖRNER thrash through Lemmy’s classics. I try to sit through a few songs but I have to admit defeat as the heat and exhaustion leave me dead on my feet, and yearning for my bed.
The following morning saw the rains finally come to Neskaupstaður to wash away the dirt, vomit and our collective sense of guilt. The only sign that something untoward happened last night was a disembowelled goose on the pavement near the venue. I know how the poor bastard felt.
We also reviewed Eistnaflug Thursday and Friday.