The boys of Une Misère are exhausted. Having just days ago returned from a 40-day tour of Europe and Russia, they’re clustered around a table upstairs at Prikið, counting down the hours until their annual festival, PrikPort, begins. But even with bags under their eyes, the band still emits a sense of exhilaration. Joking around, gulping down vegan burgers between sips of black coffee and Coke, their excitement for the release of their upcoming debut album, ‘Sermon’ is infectious. Trust and believe, they emphasise: Conversion to the church of misery is imminent. Welcome to their Sermon.
The misery family
The sextet could easily be called the supergroup of the Icelandic hardcore scene and hanging out with them is like teleporting into a parallel universe. Growing up together in the tiny hardcore community, their conversations are a tornado of inside jokes, obscure references, nods to bands of yesteryear, and gags that pile atop each other until you’re left wondering what on Earth they’re talking about. In the midst of the melee is caring. In between the jokes they check in on each other. They’re more than a group of bandmates, or of best friends—they’re a family.
And a busy family they are. 2019 has been a prolific year for the group, taking them from just local favourites and propelling them onto the international metal stage. Only months ago they were signed by Nuclear Blast, the biggest metal label in the world. (For those not acquainted with the genre, this is a massive deal.) Then, they went on tour with Arch Enemy and Lamb of God, among others. During that time, they announced the upcoming release of ‘Sermon’ on November 1st, and put out the eponymous first single from the effort in late August.
A stupid story
When asked about the formation of the band, though, each member smirks and looks at each other, as if daring one of them to reveal a dirty secret. It’s bassist Þorsteinn Gunnar Friðriksson, easily the quietest member of the group, who surprisingly pipes up first.
“It’s a really stupid story, actually,” he says, as everyone bursts out laughing. “We were just hanging out, being drunk, and we were like, ‘We should start a band.’”
Vocalist Jón Már Ásbjörnsson jumps in, correcting him. “No we said, we should start the heaviest band ever.” Jón emphasis “heavy” in a silly voice, guttural, like a drunk metalhead at Wacken watching Cannibal Corpse.
This inspires an echo of variations of “heaviest band ever,” from each of the young men at the table, each more ridiculous than the last. Once they’ve finally quieted down, Þorsteinn continues. “We were basically in a practise space with a case of beer and it was like, ok we are starting a band, who wants to play bass?” He’s quickly interrupted by guitarist Gunnar Ingi Jones. “Jón still owes me money for that beer, I just want to say here.” Jón rolls his eyes.
“I play bass because at that moment, I called dibs on playing bass, even without owning a bass,” Þorsteinn laughs. He looks to Jón. “I called being the vocalist because I had done guest vocals at two Icarus shows,” Jón says with a grin.
It’s drummer Benjamin ‘Benni’ Bent Árnason, the clear jokester of the band, who wraps up the tale succinctly. “Do you know those stories about guys sitting around who said, ‘We should start a band’? It’s basically that. Except it actually happened.”
That was in 2016.
Once the band was formed things quickly started rolling. They put out a single, began playing local shows, and just one year later, won Iceland’s Wacken Metal Battle, which took them to Germany’s Wacken Open Air festival for their first international show. Fresh off their victory, they released a mixtape, ‘010717’, and followed this up with a few music videos. Each served to raise the notoriety of the group, which quickly developed a reputation for their raucous live shows and technical prowess. In just one year, they had become one of the most anticipated acts on the Icelandic circuit.
120% in it
So while the group might have started as a spur-of-the-moment drunk idea, their success quickly assuaged any reservations about the band. “Before, with all of our other bands, we had always just winged it, but this time, we decided, ‘let’s do this right,’” guitarist and vocalist Fannar Már Oddsson explains.
“We were instantly 120% in it,” Gunnar adds. “We learned from all the mistakes our previous bands had made.” Benni nods. “We talked a lot,” he explains, jumping off Gunnar’s thoughts. “At the beginning, we had more meetings than rehearsals,” he says, laughing. Þorsteinn smiles. “Sometimes we forgot we were a band.”
The boys took a new approach with Une Misère, one that went way past chords and melodies. “In our other bands, we were more focused on having fun and not necessarily being the healthiest people,” guitarist and vocalist Finnbogi Örn Einarsson explains. “There was mental instability. There was alcoholism. There were all these negative factors. But when Une Misère became a thing, everyone was trying to be the best versions of themselves. We all took steps to be better people, mentally, physically, and musically.”
“We were doing this right,” Fannar adds. “Being a sustainable band was so new to us that it became the most exciting part of it. It was so awesome. It became exciting. Showing up for meetings. Doing accounting. Being on time.”
“Being on time,” prompts each member to grin and Jón glances towards Finnbogi, who was, admittedly, late to the interview. “Do you see how remorseful he is?” Jón asks. Before Finnbogi can proffer an excuse, Jón laughs. “I’m just yanking ya chain, buddy!”
Finding a focus
As the hype around the band grew, the boys zeroed in on what would become the band’s central focus: mental health.
“It’s our thing,” Fannar emphasises. He’s deathly serious, a big departure from the joviality of the group up to now. Instantly, the rest of the group adopt similarly stoic expressions. This is what they came to talk about.
The issue of mental health is one that’s intimately personal to the band. Each member has their own story of struggle and readily shares it, underlining how the Une Misère family helped them through it. For Jón and Finnbogi, the band’s support was a matter of life and death.
Jón’s journey was one of substance abuse. “I took the route of numbing myself through alcohol and drugs. I’ve been into alcohol since I was 16 and used that as an escape route,” he explains. “And I was pretty good at it, until I met drugs, and they were amazing for it.”
He pauses, gathering his strength for what is clearly a heavy story. “I used them all the time, until I realised that I wasn’t living. I wasn’t feeling anything.” It was at this point that he realised he had no choice but to get sober. That proved to be an almost insurmountably difficult task. “I had been feeling fake emotions and as I got sober, I started feeling my feelings again and things got worse in a big and bad way. That was super difficult, but having these guys there was so important.”
Fannar pats him on the back. They were working together during these difficult times, so he got to see Jón’s pain up close. “It was difficult, but it was amazing to see you get better,” he says encouragingly.
Jón smiles at him. The bond between the two runs deep. “I was all over the place, but I wasn’t at the edge of my cliff any longer and I didn’t want to come close to the edge again. This band keeps me focused on not getting close to that cliff, and on keeping others from it.”
The band gave him not only an outlet for support in his sobriety, but also a platform to talk about it. “Our first show after I got sober, it was an all ages event. I went on stage and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been sober for this long,’ and I went into tears,” he explains. “I knew I wanted to say that every day because every show adds more and more [days] to it.”
And Jón has kept that promise. At every Une Misère concert, he tells the crowd how many days he’s been substance free, with the opportunity to mark a milestone presenting itself on the band’s latest tour. “I went on stage and said, ‘I don’t know if it matters to anyone in here, but I’ve been sober for 1,000 days.’”
“And the crowd went nuts!” Fannar yells. Then the jokes start, each member donning stereotypical rock concert positions, headbanging and such. Jón smiles. “Yes, I’ve been sober for 1,000 days. Now horns up brothers!”
The vocalist acknowledges that sobriety has now become a requirement for staying in the band. “If I was still fucked, they wouldn’t be doing this with me. They would be a quintet,” he says. Gunnar laughs quietly. “I don’t want to say it, but yes, that’s probably true.”
Finnbogi’s story, meanwhile, is difficult and upsetting, and he actually asks the band for permission to share it here. All encourage him to open up, though, which, once he begins, he does with vehemence. For those uncomfortable with stories of suicide, it’s best to skip the next few paragraphs.
“In 2016, I had a really bad year. Everything in my life got flipped upside-down and as a result I went into a deep depression.” He pauses, his characteristic jocularity replaced by a solemn tone. “As a result, I saw the only solution being putting an end to my own life. Thankfully it didn’t work.”
The attempt was a wake-up call for the musician. “It made me realise that I had a deep unsolved problem. I had undiagnosed depression and anxiety that I never fucking bothered to check up on,” he explains. “But the night it happened, I met up with all of these guys and we had a conversation about it. I said, ‘Hey, I just tried to kill myself,’ and they were so supportive.”
The rest of the group nods. Each remaining silent, allowing Finnbogi to continue. “These people that I had then started this band with, they were so kind and understanding and I really think that if they hadn’t been there, who knows what could have happened?”
“We share a common ground with this stuff, and it’s really important to us to discuss it; that’s what makes this a healthier band. We write about that,” he explains. “The deep emotional torture of having a cell in your head that you can’t get out of.”
Using the platform
“It’s sad to say, but a lot of us have lost too many friends [to suicide],” Gunnar reveals. “We lost a very good friend of ours recently and we were playing while her funeral was happening. I cried on stage. But that’s why we do it. This is our message. We are an homage to our fallen friends. Une Misère is a safe space, we want to help and we push this message. People can come up and talk to us if they need to.”
At this, Fannar’s face falls, perhaps remembering the memory of playing during a friend’s funeral. But Une Misère’s message, that of tolerance and acceptance, reaches people, Fannar emphasises. “You’ll play festivals to 10,000 people or club shows to 100 and if you can reach one fucking person in an entire room that either connects, understands, or sympathises with the things you are saying, it’s worth it.”
“One kid came up to us at a meet and greet,” Fannar recalls, his expression betraying the deep meaning behind the anecdote. “We thought no one would show up. But this one kid shows up and he just said, ‘Everything you guys said, I was so happy to hear it. None of my friends understand what I feel.’ He talked to us and that meant the fucking world to us. We actually did something.”
Gunnar nods. “At the end of the day, that’s why we do what we do,” he says. It’s clear that none of what they are saying is just lip service for a magazine article. This is who Une Misère is.
“We want to reach out to these kids. I would drop everything to talk to some random kid who isn’t feeling good,” Gunnar continues “It’s such a big taboo subject and it pisses the fuck out of me.”
“See, we might not have a big platform but we do have a platform. We get to play in front of thousands of people and not using that time to reach out to people who aren’t feeling good…” he pauses, clearly emotional about the gravity of mental health. “Well, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”
“Our mantra is ‘No Wound Too Deep,’” Gunnar says simply. The four words adorn the banner that hangs behind them during shows. “And we take it very seriously. If anyone wants to come talk to us about anything, ever, at any time; Don’t hesitate.”
The pinnacle of misery
‘Sermon’ exemplifies Une Misère’s ‘No Wound Too Deep’ philosophy. The highly-anticipated album, which the band describes as an undefinable mashup of different types of hardcore and metal, will be, as they emphasis, the pinnacle of Une Misère. “If you look into the meaning of the word,” Finnbogi explains, “A sermon isn’t always religious. It can be a celebration, and we are a celebration of misery and devastation.”
The titular track and first single is an unrelenting, heavy, sludgey anthem that seems made to mosh along to at a festival. It’s a fight song. “Lyrically, ‘Sermon’ is about going to the end of the world to destroy yourself,” Jón explains.
But thematically, this album will dive much deeper, expanding Une Misère’s ethos that it’s ok to not be ok into a wholly realised ideology—a true sermon about sobriety, veganism, and, of course, mental illness.
“Surrendering. Being able to surrender yourself to your emotions,” Fannar says, when asked for his final thoughts on the album. “That it’s human to feel bad and you should embrace it. You’re attending a sermon of realising it’s ok to feel like shit. It’s poetic in a way. And it goes back to the name of the band.” He smiles. “It’s a fucking misery.”
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