Although I had been avidly following Iceland’s phenomenal success at the European football championships over the past few weeks and the team’s triumphant homecoming two days earlier, I couldn’t blame it entirely on the sea of blue-clad supporters in France and Reykjavík that the fan tribune favourite “Ég er kominn heim” was playing on repeat in my head as the bus rolled into Neskaupstaður last week. Coming home was exactly what it felt like as I stepped out of the vehicle and saw the sun glittering on the fjord, and even more so when I pitched my tent on the familiar campground some twenty minutes later. I had come by myself as usual but immediately run into a group of like-minded folks that turned out to be the most awesome camping buddies you can imagine. The four-day party started right there and then, and it’s a minor miracle that I actually made it to Marduk a couple of hours later. Who kindly delivered a much better show than at Firebox Festival back home in Finland in 2011, the only Marduk gig I had seen before – which had ended prematurely under chaotic circumstances.
Marduk – More pics here
That I nevertheless almost fell asleep during their set was by no means the Swedes’ fault, it was merely the consequence of having been up for almost 24 hours after a very short night. Bummer, because I really wanted to see Agent Fresco again. And yes, also Úlfur Úlfur – I’ve never been into hip hop but kind of like their stuff, or at least appreciate it. Might use the verb “like” with more certainty here if I had managed to see them live that night, but alas, exhaustion got the better of me and commanded me home to my sleeping bag after the first couple of Agent Fresco songs. A shame.
Agent Fresco – More pics here
The grocery store next to the campground had already been closed when I arrived on Wednesday evening, so my first mission on Thursday morning was to buy food. Turns out that grilled herring makes as good a breakfast as any, especially since I only had to raise my eyes from the grill and look out over the tents to see where it had come from. The Eistnaflug campground is on the side of a mountain that continues right down to the fjord, not dramatically steep but enough so that last year several tents got washed away by the rain. I’m glad to report that the weather was considerably better this year.
I had slept long into the day and by the time I had finished my fish, it was mid-afternoon and time to head downhill into the village, because one of our campground posse was due on stage at five o’clock. His band Urðun was the one whose logo I had not been able to figure out when it first appeared on the Eistnaflug page, and true to the implied promise of brutality, they made sure that by the time they finished, I was utterly awake and ready for the day.
Urðun – More pics here
Less heavy but more melodic was the following band, Nykur. Their new release had recently been Album of the Week on RÁS 2 (as a foreign-based student of Icelandic I greatly appreciate the benefits of internet radio), so I was halfway familiar with it and actually ended up buying it after the show, although the studio versions do not completely match the band’s live energy. Straightforward hard rock with good melodies, and I’m rather glad that the occasional nods to power metal are more discrete than the cover and the lyrics might lead the listener to expect.
Nykur – More pics here
Next on were Dark Harvest, an instrumental trio around Iceland’s own guitar legend, Gulli Falk. Since this veteran of many bands was recently diagnosed with cancer, colleagues and fans have been supporting him with a fundraising campaign as well as a tribute concert with all of the country’s top metal acts, and it felt comforting and reassuring to see the man live on stage, in admirable shape and playing that guitar like he’d never been sick. May the force be with him for many years to come.
Dark Harvest – More pics here
I couldn’t watch all of Dark Harvest because I also wanted to see Zhrine, which almost simultaneously played on the other stage. Most bands I watched on Thursday played on the Brennivín stage at Hotel Egilsbúð, the former main venue of the festival. Since last year, the actual main stage (called Boli stage after the sponsoring brewery) has been at Íþróttahúsið, the local school gym, which has an approximate capacity of 1000 or slightly over and is located a ca. ten minutes’ walk uphill. Zhrine were well worth the walk, being one of Iceland’s up-and-coming death/doom bands and heavier than a glacier jeep yet not without their more reflective moments. Extra style points for the slender electric upright bass – don’t think I’ve ever seen one of this kind before, and most certainly not in a death metal context.
Zhrine – More pics here
The biggest surprise of the day were Kolrassa Krókríðandi – all I had known about them beforehand was that they were an old band from the nineties that basically had split up a long time ago but in recent years had sometimes played together again. However, on the flight from Reykjavík to Egilsstaðir the day before I happened to sit next to their bass player Bíbí, who told me enough about the band to make me curious. Turns out they were brilliant. Singer Eliza also played the violin, adding an extra touch of uniqueness. Even original drummer Birgitta played a couple of songs with the band before Karl Ágúst took over, who had replaced her back in 1993. Towards the end of the set I had to go to the bathroom, bad mistake because I apparently missed something – when I came back, the stage was full of girls and I still have no idea who they were and where they came from. But their joint performance of “All Together Now” was pretty badass. The slight melancholy I felt that very moment had nothing to do with the band, it simply came from pondering a question that was not at all far-fetched: if Iceland had won against France on Sunday and were playing in the semifinal right now, what would have become of the evening’s gigs?
Kolrassa Krókríðandi – More pics here
Next on the Boli stage would have been Melechesh, but I had just seen them on their spring tour in Helsinki (together with Meshuggah, whom I would skip for the same reason a couple of days later). While the big international names without doubt testify to the attractiveness of Eistnaflug, I’m more keen on seeing the smaller domestic bands that are unlikely to ever visit Finland. Okay, the band I saw instead of Melechesh was Sólstafir, who probably have played Helsinki more often than any other place outside of Iceland. But it’s kind of different to see them on their home turf. Even though the Thursday set consisted almost exclusively of old stuff (the exception being “Ljós í stormi”), which I’m not half as fond of as of their two latest albums. But more than of Melechesh after all. Besides, the beer was cheaper at Egilsbúð than at the main venue… or so I thought, until I discovered the Beer Card at the Boli stage bar, which basically gave me six beers for the price of five and thereby almost eliminated the aforementioned difference. Which by the way made the cherished festival fuel cheaper than back home at Tuska the weekend before – so much for the stereotype of high alcohol prices in Iceland.
Angist was one of the bands I had been most looking forward to seeing live, and oh how gloriously they kicked ass. The quartet had released one EP of compromise-free death metal in 2011 but not much had been heard from their camp since then apart from occasional updates on the progress, or halt of such, of their first full-length album. But it seems that things are starting to happen again, a few weeks ago they played a few club shows with their Swedish colleagues Age Of Woe (whom Gyða of Angist also helped out as a stand-in guitarist on their spring tour in Eastern Europe), and the Eistnaflug gig proved them to be in full force and ready to conquer. Now just get that goddam album out, pretty pleeez…
Angist – More pics here
After a short break, the brutal assault was followed by quieter sounds – Dynfari started with serene clean guitars, and although the gig also showed their rougher side, they play atmospheric black metal with the stress on atmospheric, a bit in the vein of Alcest or Agalloch. Like Angist, they are a band whose records I have on my shelf at home but was seeing live for the first time – in other words, one of my personal top acts at Eistnaflug this year. The beauty of the occasion was enhanced not only by the candlelight and incense on the stage, but also by the unveiling of some new material, which if anything sounded even better than last year’s Vegferð tímans, which already was a masterpiece. A stunning gig and so intense that afterwards I felt empty and fulfilled at the same time – and incapable of taking in any more for the time being. It wasn’t even midnight yet and I wasn’t physically tired, but rather than going back to the Boli stage I went straight home to the campground, simply because it seemed that none of the evening’s remaining bands could have topped what I had just experienced – not even Misþyrming, with all due respect.
Dynfari – More pics here
Calling it quits a bit earlier on Thursday was probably just what the doctor would have ordered, given the length and strength of Friday’s schedule. Before immersing myself in music again, however, it was time for the hot pool. As essential a part of the Icelandic lifestyle as the sauna is of the Finnish one, it especially feels like heaven if you’re spending four nights in a tent – the Eistnaflug campground is well equipped with toilets and faucets but doesn’t have showers. And the luxury of the local swimming pool is offered at a bargain price, at least compared to what the same pleasure costs in Reykjavík. (Or Helsinki, for that matter.)
While the thermal pools are the main attraction for all age groups, I also hope from the bottom of my heart that I’ll never be adult enough to stop loving that giant water slide, Dóri rauði. There’s even a sauna, although it is a bit weird as people sit on the benches in swimsuits, which in Finnish public saunas are banned… anyway, I felt thoroughly refreshed by the time I went to the local museum, home to the colourful abstract paintings of Tryggvi Ólafsson and location of the panel discussions and listening session offered at Eistnaflug. I missed most of them but made it to a discussion on women in metal which was led by two journalists, one PR agent and the lead guitarist of Angist. For biological reasons the subject is close to my heart, and like the panelists I’m hoping for a future where it is as normal for metal bands to include female instrumentalists as it is for symphony orchestras. By the way, if I don’t specifically mention the gender of an artist in this report, that does NOT automatically imply that the person is male. There were more than a handful of women performing at Eistnaflug, and not just as vocalists. One more reason for me to feel so much at home here.
The panel finished in time for me to catch a bit of Skurk on the Brennivín stage across the street, another old band who had disappeared from the scene years ago but recently made a comeback. This spring they recorded an album with the support of a crowdfunding campaign, haven’t heard it yet but at least live the band sounded highly promising. Their roots are in thrash metal, with clean vocals, but you can hear all sorts of references from punk to doom. On a side note, this was the third band I saw this weekend with Kristján B. Heiðarsson on drums. Certainly one of the festival’s most hard-working musicians, and a prime example of how close-knit the Icelandic scene is. Playing in several bands is the norm rather than the exception, and there’s no obligation to confine oneself to any specific genre.
The weekend was so packed with good bands that clashes were inevitable; among the particular annoying ones were Saktmóðigur vs. Mannveira and Kontinuum vs. Naðra. In both cases I opted for the band I hadn’t seen last year, that is Saktmóðigur and Naðra. The former played good-natured punk rock that appealed to all generations – unlike in previous years, Eistnaflug was all-ages this year, and especially at the Saktmóðigur gig I spotted quite a few kids in the front row. For “Kobbi V”, the microphone was handed over to the audience, and when the band launched into “Eistnaflugsdans”, they quickly became a small minority on the big stage. Partyyyy!
Saktmóðigur – More pics here
At least equally serious about their skull-crushing business as Zhrine the day before were Beneath, who followed Saktmóðigur on the Boli stage. The death metallers from Reykjavík have released two full-length albums, but at least the first half of the set consisted entirely of material from the newer one, The Barren Throne (2014).
Beneath – More pics here
I didn’t see the rest of it, though, because I started in time to walk over to the other venue to see Naðra. I had never seen them before – my biggest mistake at last year’s Eistnaflug had been to skip Úlfsmessa (Wolf Mass), a joint ritual by Naðra, their sister band Misþyrming and a couple of others, for Vallenfyre’s thoroughly underwhelming gig. Furthermore, their debut Allir vegir til glötunar has been one of my favorite releases of 2016 so far. I find their melodic, lead guitar oriented black metal rather irresistible, and live they turned out to be even more intense. Singer Ö in particular went into full animal mode right from the first notes of the opener “Fjallið”. At the end of the show, he was rewarded by the audience chanting “Hann á afmæli í dag” for him, as it happened to his birthday. Did I just say party?!
Naðra – More pics here
The following band was Lightspeed Legend, whom my colleague here recently interviewed as Fresh Act of the month. Fresh they sounded indeed and quite good at first listening, although I was still reeling from the sheer force of Naðra’s onslaught and therefore not really able to concentrate on their show. However, given that LL are more on the light side musically, their slot was ideally situated to make for a gradual shift from the more brutal sounds before towards the classic rock of Dimma.
Lightspeed Legend – More pics here
Not that it would have required any special measures to get me in the mood for them. The majority of my favourite bands at the festival represented the black and death factions, but Dimma – with ex-Nykur bassist Jón Ómar substituting for Silli Geirdal, who was touring as a technician with Sigur Rós – were nevertheless one of its absolute highlights. Never mind that it took them some time to properly get started: after the first song Ingó’s amp quit service, and despite his long side career as a professional magician the guitarist was forced to rely on the tech crew’s more mundane wizardry, which took almost ten minutes to take effect. Singer Stebbi Jak managed to keep the entertainment level up during the involuntary intermission, but only when the famous viking clap started to resound from the walls, Ingó’s gear finally woke up to life. Biggi counted into “Andsetinn”, and the rest was pure frenzy. The hall was packed and for the most part we were all singing along, continuing to repeat the chorus of “Ég brenn” even after the band had already finished playing and almost completely taking over the Great Icelandic Power Ballad, “Ljósbrá” – except for those high notes that are beyond the reach of common mortals. There was no chance of getting anywhere near the front row, but at least I got to participate in holding Stebbi up as he crowdsurfed above us during “Þungur Kross”. Touched by the foot of God, or something like that…
Dimma – More pics here
Next up were my old homies of Amorphis – hadn’t seen them in more than half a year (quite the interval considering that used to see them fifteen times per year on average) and meeting them in Iceland of all places was kind of funny. It was their first visit to the country and they had flown in straight from warming up for Black Sabbath in Helsinki (together with Opeth, who were to play Eistnaflug on the following day), which must have been a fairly different setting. The gig started with three songs from the latest album and “Sky Is Mine” from Skyforger, but I left after that to catch Bootlegs on the other stage. Could have spared me the walk by checking the clock, because Amorphis had been starting late and the Bootlegs gig was comparatively short – by the time I arrived, they were already about to finish. On the upside, Amorphis played fairly long and still had a few songs left when I got back to the main venue.
Amorphis – More pics here
By the time the last notes of “Black Winter Day” faded, it was long after midnight, but the energy level was still high inside and around me. Having learned from the Dimma experience earlier, I didn’t even bother with the photo pit and instead secured myself a front row spot well before the other big sing-along band started: Sólstafir, with a very different set than the evening before. A couple of months ago, I had felt severely tempted to fly to one of their shows in central Europe where they played Ótta in its entirety – not only the band’s best album so far but one of my all-time favourites by any band. But I had speculated on experiencing the same at Eistnaflug, and for once my guess hit the mark. Accompanied by the Amiina string quartet and Martin Curtis-Powell on piano, the band played the songs mostly in album order (except for “Dagmál”, which they opened the show with) and Addi didn’t even forget to localise the ending of “Rismál”, although in several other places he screwed up the lyrics in the heat of his passionate performance.
Sólstafir – More pics here
After the title track, festival organiser Stefán Magnússon came on stage to hold a short speech, raise his glass to the audience and remind everyone to take care of each other. Which is barely necessary to stress at Eistnaflug, as everyone seems to have internalised the festival’s motto: “Bannað að vera fáviti” – banned to be an idiot. Can’t we just all go ahead and adopt this directive in our everyday lives, around the world? Wouldn’t cost a thing and might solve a problem or two.
The last band of the night were psychedelic hard rockers The Vintage Caravan. Last year the all-male trio had played in sexy mini skirts, this year they appeared in glitter vests and with corpse paint. Gotta love ’em… although admittedly I didn’t stay all the way through but went to sleep after “Innerverse”, which is my favourite song of theirs and a perfect tune to conclude such a long day full of gems.
Vintage Caravan – More pics here
True to tradition, Saturday started at the swimming pool and fairly late at that. On the way out I noticed the announcement that DDT Skordýraeitur, whose neighbourhood garage gig I had missed the day before, would be playing in just about a moment “in Fiddi’s yard”, which was conveniently located along the way to the campground. I watched them for a while before taking my wet bikini to the tent, and when I came back the same way, the improvised stage was occupied by black metallers Narthraal. That’s Eistnaflug for you – a festival the whole village takes part in.
The first “official” act of the day for me was Mammút, another band that sounds heavier live than on its albums. Not metal in the strict sense of the word, the official term for it is probably post-somethingwhatsoever, but then again one might just as well ask if Sólstafir is still metal these days. Who cares, fuck not given. All I know is that Mammút plays beautiful, hypnotic music that I like a whole lot.
Mammút – More pics here
The cake that a little girl had sold me in Fiddi’s yard had sustained me for a while, but after Mammút I realized I was seriously hungry. The small pizza parlour down the street (just behind the state liquor store that had extended opening times during Eistnaflug – another thing hardly imaginable in Finland), had just closed for its afternoon break, but the snack bar at the gas station next door offered pizza as well. Of course everyone else seemed to have had the same idea and I had to wait more than an hour for my meal, but no problem – missed a couple of bands but enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with Facebook and the rest of the world in no hurry and with a solid internet connection. When I got back to Egilsbúð, Dulvitund were just starting. Their setup looked suspicious – a Mac and a small mixer on a table – but the duo came up with some darkly captivating stuff that eventually held me in its grip until the end, creating and slowly building up menacing soundscapes which, as the band name implies, went straight to the subconscious.
Dulvitund – More pics here
The only band I saw on the main stage on Saturday was Opeth (the other would have been HAM, but they collided with Auðn, therefore no can do), which I have seen many times but don’t exactly get tired of. At least not anymore – during the Heritage period I started to find them somewhat tedious, but now that the older material is back in the set, I find myself enjoying them again as much as when I first saw them ten years ago. Okay, I found Mikael’s jokes funnier back then, but that’s a minor issue. What’s more important is that the setlist was great and the sound excellent. Quite possibly the second best Opeth show I’ve ever seen.
Opeth – More pics here
The remaining bands on my schedule played on the Brennivín stage again, but across the street from Egilsbúð was parked a car which belonged to my friends and which was stocked with – who would have thought it? – alcohol. This combination of circumstances resulted in a fairly long break before we finally went inside to see Auðn. Last year they had played on the main stage, and it’s hard to say which suited them better, the intimacy of the smaller venue or the dramatic lights of the big one. At any rate they played an impressive set which not only included stuff from last year’s excellent self-titled debut album but also three new songs. Looking very much forward to what they’ll be coming up with next.
Auðn – More pics here
After Auðn came three more bands: Ophidian I at 00:30, Sinmara at 01:25 and Severed at 02:25. I’m copying the times from the official schedule assuming they are correct, for although we watched them all and I even photographed them to the rest of my ability, my recollections of actual events are even blurrier than those photos. Music good, beer good, memory bad. What I do remember, though, is that I had the time of my life and although I intended to hit the sack when I dragged myself back to the campground around four in the morning, nothing came of this plan until some four hours later. And one thing I can tell you for sure is that if you find yourself in a large group of friends and new acquaintances singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the top of your lungs as the morning sun sneaks around the mountainside, then congratulations – your campground party has just reached the ultimate level of epicness.
All pics (c) Tina Solda – Additional band photos here