As spring finally begins to break in Iceland, Svartidauði grace us with their malign presence at Kaffistofan. Once inside, however, we forget about the sun and instead bask in the darkness. Metal shows at Kaffistofan are more like art installations, really. The bands are at the centre of course, but Kaffistofan itself is transformed into a gloomy, ashen underworld complete with totems, candles, incense and skulls. The first part of this ‘five part installation’ is a set by AMFJ. It needed to be much louder. It needed to be aggressive and assertive like AMFJ’s stage presence and it wasn’t. LOUDER, please.
I think I’ve made my point.
Chao however didn’t suffer the same fate as AMFJ. Indeed it was quite the opposite; the volume muddied the sound as it bounced around the innards of Kaffistofan. This was most noticeable when the snare hits disappeared into the murk of a blast beat, rendering the faster parts of the songs limpid rather febrile and feral. Therefore a fair amount of their set was spent considering where it would be best to stand in order to get clearer sound.
After finding a sweet spot (I’m not saying where, it’s mine!) we settle in for Gone Postal. It’s fairly easy to see why they were recently declared the winner of the Wacken Metal Battle at Nasa. They had an assured stage presence, working through their set of slightly techy death metal like an oiled machine (probably a tank or something, because it’s like…y’know, metal).
Gone Postal were followed by the decidedly quieter NYIÞ. This wasn’t metal and it wasn’t loud, but the lack of audience chatter was evidence enough that NYIÞ are pretty damn good. Cloister chants, ritual music, maudlin melodies winding in and about each other over skeletal drums. NYIÞ definitely count as one of my favourite bands in Iceland at the moment.
Shortly after NYIÞ finished we realised there was a problem. The police had come by and the show needed to finish sooner than expected. This meant that Svartidauði could only play for 15 minutes. Obviously frustrated, they sped through a shorter version of their set and, once finished, made various references to a particular N.W.A. song. It seems like their efforts in decorating Kaffistofan had kind of come to nothing and their annoyance was understandable. It was a disappointing end to the evening…but all was not lost.
It was Saturday afternoon and activity on the I.U.M.C.N. (Icelandic Underground Metal Communication Network) was off the chart. Facebook posts, sms-messages, smoke-signals and a lone crow with a message attached, suggested that something was afoot. I’ll tell you something for nothing, translating Icelandic smoke signals isn’t exactly easy. Yup, Icelandic to Native American to English is no walk in the park, but eventually we worked out that there was going to be a do over. Gone Postal and Svartidauði would play once again and this time in full.
Gone Postal were, as the night before, slick. They played a slightly different set but were no less tight. One particular riff prompted an excitable gent to tap my arm, gesture a clawed hand at me and then go back to head banging furiously. This, I felt, sums up Gone Postal’s set pretty well.
And so to Svartidauði we arrived. It was a bit annoying that they were cut short the night before because less people turned up this evening, but they turned out a solid performance. Cluster chords crushed notes into slow grinding malevolence and the Svartidauði machine lurched forward with a Wagnerian intensity. Svartidauði blasted well, like any black-metal band worth their salt must, but their strength was the churning mid-tempo riff. They held you in permanent tension—unrepentant. The air hung heavy with sound that crushed and coddled the atmosphere, forcing it smaller and smaller still until it compacted into an overwhelmingly heavy black matter.
All in all—a good night for dark music.