Almyrkvi. That one word could be my review of Oration MMXVI. Listen to Almyrkvi. Experience Almyrkvi. Live Almyrkvi. Never have I ever been so impressed with the first live performance of a band.
Almyrkvi is the solo brainchild of Garðar S. from Sinmara. While there’s definitely some of that characteristic Sinmara grandiosity and drama to Almyrkvi, this project is totally its own monster. It’s darker and more intricate, with an ambient and almost spacey quality to it—black metal from the outer reaches of the galaxy (fitting, since Almyrkvi translates to solar eclipse, right?). And no, I’m not referring to psychedelic synths and theremins here, I’m talking about the pure oppressive, suffocating darkness of the void. An uncaring, starry vacuum. Do you catch my cosmic drift?
It’s been a long time since I’ve had my mind blown by a performance, but here we are. They were just so smooth, so perfect, so evil. For a first performance, it was well thought out, and there were no technical glitches—not even the hint of a mistake. I felt meditative during the show—this, I thought, is why I listen to black metal. As I looked around, I saw others similarly in rapture, staring at the band with captivated wide eyes. These guys seemed like more than professionals, they seemed like veterans. As a frontman, Garðar was strong, confident, and scary (even though he was masked). He put the whole audience under a spell. I couldn’t look away.
Afterwards, I kept bringing the band up to others in conversation—I couldn’t shut up about them. While most had never listened to the project pre-Oration, everyone was planning on downloading their album. I just can’t say enough good things about it. They are spectacular and definitely, without a doubt, my new favourite Icelandic black metal act.
The other band that knocked me off my feet was Rebirth of Nefast, or as I like to refer to them, Voldemort. Why? I hate bringing in a Harry Potter reference, but that’s all I could think of, because the group performed in these Death Eater/Dementor-esque capes. I’m talking about full-on, billowy black sheets with veils covering their faces. When they first walked on stage, alarm bells went off in my head: I just assumed someone was going to pull out a wand and Avada Kedavra the shit out of some headbanger.
The music itself didn’t help my magical fantasy, because Rebirth’s tunes are fucking creepy. This is not for the faint of heart—it’s pure dark blood-curdling, bone-chilling black metal. The whole performance honest-to-God frightened me. I’ve never gotten the chills from watching a band, but Rebirth of Nefast popped that cherry. Watching their show was like watching ‘The Shining’ for the first time when I was 13. I felt really uncomfortable, but I loved it. I mean, why else go to a black metal festival?
I saw their set with a friend of mine, and as they walked offstage, we both looked at each other. “Time for a break,” we communicated silently. Rebirth of Nefast is something you have to digest.
Now before I talk about the next band, my journalistic integrity demands that I admit I have a huge bias. I love this band and listen to their album on an almost daily basis. It’s not only one of my favourite Icelandic black metal records, but one of my favourite records in general. I’m talking, of course, about ‘The Feral Wisdom’, and the indescribable and indomitable Wormlust.
Similar to Almyrkvi and Rebirth, this was Wormlust’s first live performance. While they didn’t go for the robes and veils of other bands, their singer, Hafsteinn, had on a fantastic fringe jacket (can I borrow it?). Black metal is, of course, about way more than fashion, and if you listen to Wormlust, then you’ll hear how complex their music is. It sounds like there are 500 layered guitar tracks on top of each other on record, and it’s hard to believe their music would translate well to being played live.
But believe it. Hearing them play “Sex augu, tólf stjörnur”—or as I like to call it, “The Sexy Eyes Song”—was a dream. The intricacies of the CD translated beautifully. There’s this one moment in the song (4:17 in this video) where there’s a rock’n roll breakdown. Now I went to Sonar on Thursday, but nothing this weekend made me want to dance more than those 30 seconds of Wormlust. If I hadn’t been at a black metal festival, where the only appropriate action is to headbang or stand there with your arms crossed and a severe expression, then I would have got down. Bravo, Wormlust.
Mannveira was in great form too. Illugi, their singer, is just so good that it makes me want to start my own black metal project and recruit him. His howls are freaking loud—you can actually hear them over the microphone if you stand close enough. Misþyrming was just how Misþyrming usually is—great. They played two new songs. Dagur, their singer, threw water in to the crowd and it hit me straight in the eye and dislodged my contact. I took it personally.
NYIÞ, on the other hand, almost made me pee myself. I don’t even know how to review them—”What the fuck?” seems most adequate. I’ve seen them a handful of times before but this was the most elaborate show I’ve been to. There was this one moment when it was dead quiet and then they just came in with this loud sludge-y breakdown—hence the almost-peeing-myself moment. I love watching their shows but I don’t exactly understand what’s going on—maybe you have to speak Icelandic?
Meanwhile, Svartidauði caused a proper mosh pit—the only one of the weekend. Someone pulled my hair really hard. I regretfully missed Malthusian, who played last on Saturday, because my ears hurt too much.
Anyway, other shout-outs go to Gústaf from Misþyrming, who rocked out too hard and broke his bass string within the first ten seconds of the first song. Ouch. Also to Bjarni from Sinmara/Wormlust/Rebirth of Nefast/Almyrkvi for doing continuous blast beats for 4 different sets. RIP his feet.
In general, the festival was friendly, as are most metal festivals. Black metal has it’s own reputation—which isn’t necessarily the friendliest—but no matter how grizzly the exterior, everyone had a kind interior. Metalheads can be very intimidating, with their beards and collections of patches, but the moment you talked to anyone you realized it’s all just a big front. Even black metal is a genre full of softies. I witnessed so much camaraderie—people headbanging together or clasping hands and singing “Sweet Child O’Mine” together at the Dubliner post-concert on Friday. I heard people debating Sumerian mythology in the smoking area and witnessed a few bond over their geology degrees while sipping a beer. I was constantly surprised by everyone I met.
I did have a few moments, though, where I walked around the crowd and looked at the bands and wondered: “Where are the girls?” No band on stage had any women in it. The crowd was around 80% men. I mean, yes, there were no lines at the female bathroom, but there’s this whole big beautiful black metal scene going on in Iceland right now, and it’s 100% male. Why are there no females in black metal? There are more girls in Icelandic hip-hop than in Icelandic metal. I always think of metal as inclusive. It makes no sense.
I have no answer. That’s a whole ‘nother article right there. But, the show was a blast—see you at MMXVII.
Welcome To The Circle – Meet The Men Behind Iceland’s Thriving Black Metal Scene
“In black metal, musicians have high standards.” Dagur G. of Misþyrming and Naðra tells me. “Not just the songs, but the lyrical content, the image, how the members choose to appear. It’s all related. You’d never see that in death metal.”
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