To me, beauty is synonymous with inspiration and provoking a strong emotion in the viewer. By that standard, last night’s Úlfsmessa (“Wolf’s Mass”) was the most beautiful show I’ve yet witnessed at Eistnaflug. The mass was part art performance, part ritual, where four black metal bands from the DIY scene and Vánagandr collective banded together to bring the crowd to a dark, occult, and contemplative place. Looking around the audience, I could see they were as transfixed as I was, spellbound by the show’s eldritch atmosphere.
This is the second iteration of the mass, the first of which was held in the now defunct Stálsmiðja off-venue, which had been home to the Mayhemisphere art festival that ran alongside Eistnaflug. The place had been home to a lot of memorable exhibits and performances, draped in occult symbols and covered in fog, reminiscent of a set from Texas Chainsaw Massacre or True Detective. The floors were crumbling, the walls falling apart, and it had a macabre vibe to it, which was great for the festival but probably not for health and safety—the building is currently being decommissioned.
The first Úlfsmessa was held last year as a send-off to that beloved venue. The mass had been decrypt, dark and mesmerising, and left a lasting impression on me, and this one evoked the same feelings, although there were numerous small differences.
This time around, the performers all obfuscated their identities with masks, which made it all the more difficult to identify what band was on, and who was playing what instrument if you weren’t inducted into the local kvlt scene. In addition to creating a uniform appearance, I found that it forced me to focus on the music and the performance.
The show was replete with nonsensical chants, repetitive drone-y music, ceremonial drinking of what was hopefully red wine, the banging of a metal chalice and bones, a maddening flute and blaring trumpet, and masked people stalking through the audience, staring intensely into people’s eyes and pushing some around. And then, 90 minutes later, after a long hypnotic segment, the candles were extinguished and the tantalising performance finished. The crowd erupted into cheers, and I came back to my senses as the lights were turned on.
After the show, Helgi Rafn Hróðmarsson of Misþyrming looked like he was ready to collapse from exhaustion, as he had been playing the drums for the entirety of the show. He tells me they hadn’t intended to make the Úlfsmessa a recurring event, but after seeing how well it was received, he can’t wait to do it again next year. Grafir’s Hilmar Kári Árnason seconded that. He said the idea had been to make something different and artsy, “and then it just took on a life of its own.”
The bands involved were Grafir, Misþyrming, Naðra, and NYIÞ.
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