One of the great things about Iceland is the way different social/cultural circles sometimes end up sharing the same oxygen in unusual surroundings. So it came to pass on a Saturday afternoon in the cafe area of Harpa Concert Hall. As Iceland’s classical tweed and stiff collar brigade were leaving a recital performance of French composers, they were confronted by the sight of dozens of pierced, crusty, nonchalant, leather clad metallers. Limbs twitched. Teeth were bared. Somebody may have lost an eye.
They certainly weren’t there for the Chopin recital. They were there to attend the fifth annual Wacken Metal Battle, which pits Iceland’s best and brightest metal bands against each other to see who’ll represent Iceland at the Wacken Metal Festival in Germany where one band will go on to win a record contract with legendary metal label Blast First. So how did the bands fare? Read on….
In The Company Of Men
Man, these guys seem to be EVERYWHERE right now. It was only a few weeks ago when they were clogging up the roster at Músiktilraunir, and here they are as the opening act. This time they were way better performance-wise, both in terms of attitude and sound. Singer Andri confused us sceptics by donning a Luigi Super Mario Bros costume that only survived a couple of songs. Despite the inherent schizoid look of their stage show, there was much more intent and desire about them this time round. They used the space afforded to them on (and off) stage effectively, and their music just sounded much better overall. Say what you like about the quality of their mathcore sound, but any band that can start a moshpit fight in Eldborg in six seconds has to be doing something right.
After the frenetic mathcore of ITCOM came the chugging brutality of Moldun. It had been a while since I last saw these guys play, but overall they delivered the goods with thundering riffs set next to the tearing nodule screams from singer Haukur who held it all together by connecting with their fans at the front of the stage. On a live scenario as daunting as Elborg though, their live presence did suffer a bit from the fact that on several occasions the band found themselves grouping together in a small group on one side of the stage, leaving acres of empty space elsewhere. A good performance, but possibly not Wacken ready… yet.
I remember these guys in their early days when they seemed have a real retro thrash feel to their music. But now it looks like they’ve gone over to the darkest of dark sides and mutated into a truly desolate black metal leather unit. Despite the less than perfect build up (no gigs, lack of proper rehearsal space), they set their stall out impressively. Forsaking such things as metal theatrics or actual movement, they bathed the stage in blood light as they assaulted us with a squalling wall of sound, all raw guitars and furious blast beats. It all felt rather French in its sound, similar to Blut Aus Nord. In Örlygur though, they do have a screamer of the tr00 raw style as he spent the set with his head arched back and letting his lungs all hang out. They ended the set as abruptly as they began, leaving nothing but feedback and high ringing tones in our ears.
It’s said that there are only three people in the metal scene up in Akureyri that actually look “metal.” Everyone else has a clean-cut look about them, easily passing for members of Blár Ópal. And this rang true with the next act, newcomers Azoic. With clean blonde hair, camouflage face paint, and commando jumpers, they looked like the Swedish army on manoeuvres. But don’t this fool you—these guys were absolutely fucking brutal from the start. With members from bands such as Hindurvættir and Atrum, their sound shared some DNA with the latter act, mostly in their machine gun style drum blasts. Despite the band’s relative newness, they used their acoustics of Harpa to good effect, giving their blackened death metal with added mantric chants a decidedly menacing grandeur. These are definitely guys to look out for in the future.
After the blunt force trauma of Azoic, we wondered how on earth that could be topped. Step forward Ophidian I. When fellow scribe Birkir Fjalar Viðarsson reviewed their debut album a while back, he noted that they could be a band that would certainly make waves if they could keep the urge to fill their songs with 297 breakdowns and riffs in check. And the good news is that they managed not only to keep this in check during their set, but they also managed to enhance their insanely complex technical death metal (complete with wanky hammer on solos!) with an extra dose of SLAMMIN’! Straight from the get-go, it was an overloaded assault in every way, from the riffing to the expert drum blasts. Key to all of this was singer Ingó. I can’t say this enough, but this guy deserves to be more famous than he currently is. He may look like an abused scarecrow, but he gave the band a ragged intensity as he prowled the stage, clawed hands aloft and taunting the audience By far and away the best band of the event, no bullshit.
Hey Blood Feud, I really felt for you guys. Someone had to close the event after such a monumental display of metal, but at least you did it on your own terms. You certainly took advantage of the venue’s capabilities and came armed with a spiffing light show that put the other bands to shame. You’re also growing as a band since I saw you last year at Eistnaflug. Everything sounded much more confident as you rocked hard with some proper old school METAL that was sorely needed after all that glowering blackness that came before. What was especially nice was the way bass player Óskar’s incredible growl is now sounding more balanced alongside Böðvar’s high-end Crass style snarls.
While we had a chance to catch a break and the judges deliberated on the results, we were treated to a performance from last year’s winners Gone Postal, who seem to have drifted off into a particularly anthemic and epic style of black metal that had a bit of a Cult Of Luna vibe to the scope of their vision. All we know is that they really need to get that new album finished so we can bring on the apocalypse in style.
When the results came in the judges announced the winners as OPHIDIAN I, with Azoic and Blood Feud as the runners up. This was the right decision in our opinion. Ophidian I gave far and away the best performance, both in terms of technicality and intensity, so good luck to them!
As Skámöld came on to see if it was possible for people to crowd surf in Harpa to pounding Viking metal, we left into the darkness to recover what was left of our hearing.