I’ve never had the habit of collecting wristbands, yet here I sit with the one from Eistnaflug 2017 still around my arm, more than a week after coming home. And no, not just as a reminder to finally sit down on my lazy butt and write this report. Much rather because I’m somehow still in the mood, and because I find it challenging to come to terms with the fact that this year’s instalment is truly over and it’s twelve long months until the next. But fortunately, there’s the memories… like the one of meeting the first buddies from last year already on the bus from Egilsstaðir to Neskaupstaður, enjoying half a bottle of whisky and a full slate of gorgeous landscapes with them along the way. And that claustrophobic feeling of the large vehicle squeezing itself through that undersized one-lane tunnel – which I’ll nonetheless remember with fondness after the new and bigger one shall be opened this fall. The weather was beautiful and stayed like that for most of the weekend, which made the four nights on the festival campground perfectly comfortable in terms of both partying and sleeping.
The latter was still far away at that point, though. After pitching my tent I went straight to the venue to get above-mentioned wristband plus photo pass and to report for duty at the merch stand. I always enjoy doing volunteer work at gigs and festivals, and in this case it was particularly rewarding thanks to our lovely team and to the direct view of the stage. I didn’t really manage to pay attention to Zatokrev as I was busy familiarizing myself with the assortment of merchandise, but I took a break to check out Hatari, which had been getting a good deal of radio airplay this spring. Their industrial sound is not really my cup of tea but they have an entertaining live show and strong lyrics, although the rapped parts were difficult to discern because of the distortion added to the vocals.
Sinistro from Portugal were quite the opposite; melodic, doomy and melancholic with a strong emphasis on Patrícia Andrade’s beautiful, almost enchanting voice.
Sinistro were a wee bit too slow for me to fully appreciate at that point, but Anaal Nathrakh were quick to pick up the slack. Relentlessly heavy and radiating with positive energy despite having to rely on borrowed gear (their own had gotten stuck in Scotland) and a stand-in bass player. When singer Dave promised a free beer to anyone willing to stagedive, the offer was quickly accepted. Although they have been around for half an eternity I had never seen them live before, which made them one of my best new discoveries of the weekend.
Neurosis, on the other hand, I had seen several times already and tried to get into. By all definitions given to this band I should love them, but for some reason I just can’t seem to get it. Didn’t exactly help that by that point I had been up on my feet for more than 45 hours straight, or that they started late and made no effort to keep their set short. I totally would have gone to sleep (or probably fallen asleep standing) if I hadn’t so desperately wanted to see the last band of the night.
Fortunately colleagues and customers at the merch table helped me keep my eyes open, and when Innvortis finally got on stage, all fatigue was miraculously gone. By that time it was a quarter to three, but the size and enthusiasm of the audience indicated how much the long-standing but scarcely touring punk rockers from Húsavík had been missed. (They used to play at every Eistnaflug, but that was before I started to go there myself – duh.) They didn’t do any of their real old songs but the 2012 album was played pretty much from beginning til end, with only three of 16 songs left out in between. After the title track “Reykjavík er ömurleg” (a sneer at the capital happily sung along by the audience which to the most part originated from there), Eistnaflug organizer Stefán “Stebbi” Magnússon came on stage to raise a beer with the crowd and remind everyone to take care of each other and not act like an idiot – “Bannað að vera fáviti” (Banned to be an idiot) has been the slogan and manifesto of the festival from day one and worked so well that I wish we could simply adopt it for the rest of the world. There have never been any serious problems at Eistnaflug – well okay, Innvortis ran out of beer in the middle of their set, but even that was quickly remedied and the thoroughly politically incorrect fun could go on for another six songs, ending with “Drepstu” and the biggest moshpit I’ve ever been involved in at 03:30 in the morning.
Innvortis & Stefán Magnússon – More pics here
Thursday started at the swimming pool, as my Eistnaflug days usually do. To be precise, I prefer to skip the swimming part and just sit in the hot pool, could hardly think of a more relaxing way of starting the day… The first band I saw on Thursday was Kronika, who had started rather overnight last summer, releasing their first album only a few weeks after having been founded. I had seen their release gig in Reykjavík and they had been impressive, but now they were even better in spite of having hardly played any shows in between. You might have expected bassist Snæbjörn “Bibbi” Ragnarsson to look a bit tired, as he had also been the singer, guitarist and master of ceremonies with Innvortis not so many hours ago (he would again be on that same stage the following day with his best-known band, Skálmöld), but some people are simply endowed with more energy than us lesser mortals. The other band member with a solid career in metal is drummer Birgir Jónsson of Dimma, but the focal point of Kronika is vocalist Tinna Sverrisdóttir, who has been a member of the rap collective Reykjavíkurdætur but is best known as a theatre and movie actress. Which goes a long way to explain her uncanny knack for acting out, rather than simply singing, every line and word of her songs. Yet I should probably write “living” here instead of “acting”, since the warmth, wit and humour of her performance are not stuff you learn at the Academy of the Arts but come straight from the heart. At Eistnaflug Kronika was an instant winner, and by the end of their show I found myself smiling from one ear to the other.
Kronika – More pics here
Another quite fresh addition to the scene are Röskun from Akureyri, who released their debut earlier this year. Á brúninni is a somber, intense concept album about an ultimately hopeless fight against mental illness, but apart from the lyrics there was nothing depressive about this gig. The tight-sounding quartet is notably strong in the vocal department, using three-part harmonies as well as contrasting melody lines. Growls too, but mostly for emphasis as in “Ákvörðun“, which was my favourite song of the gig.
Röskun – More pics here
Kælan Mikla are regulars at Eistnaflug and I’m always fascinated by their show, never mind that their music should probably be filed under darkwave or something like that rather than metal. The band itself has dubbed it “gloomy poetry punk”, which pretty much hits the mark. But I don’t care what it’s called as long as it’s as dark and gripping as “Óráð”, to name but one of several good examples presented at this gig. The icy sounds created by Sólveig Matthildur on synth and Margrét Rósa on bass stood in pronounced opposition to the warm red stage lights, but the hypnotizing voice of Laufey Soffía (who my twisted mind perceives as a strange but mesmerizing blend of Audrey Hepburn and Siouxsie of the Banshees) held it all together, steadily drawing the listener into a darkness that seems both threatening and irresistible.
Kælan Mikla – More pics here
The remainder of the day I spent for the most part behind the merch table, but I made sure to be up front for Auðn, who actually turned out to be one of our bestsellers in terms of shirts as well as CDs. Since the release of their so far only album a couple of years ago, the quintet has been gaining deserved recognition also outside of Iceland. For me it was the third time to see them and their best gig so far. A surprise moment occurred when the band went straight into “Landvættur” after the first chorus of “Feigð”, practically blending the two songs into one. Not a bad idea at all as it left more time for fresh material. Some of it had already been played at the beginning of the set, and after said medley followed two more new songs, the reflective “Skuggar” and the more uptempo “Í hálmstráið held”. Can’t wait to hear the rest!
Auðn – More pics here
Next up were Bloodbath from Sweden (including British gentleman Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost fame on vocals), who served a reliably brutal dose of old school death metal, and stoner rockers Brain Police, which are always a lot of fun and were unquestioned crowd favourites. Actually the first band I witnessed during the weekend that was asked for an encore, which they duly delivered.
A fun moment during Brain Police’s set was when promoter Stebbi came on stage and taught singer Jens how to properly kiss, after first having everyone sing the icelandic version of “Happy Birthday” for Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason of Sólstafir who was somewhere in the hall and, as the clock was past midnight, in the process of tackling the challenge of turning forty.
Brain Police & Stefán Magnússon
The last band of the night was Misþyrming, another rising star of the Reykjavík black metal scene who have already made a name for themselves at international festivals, most notably Roadburn in Holland. They had also played at Turku Saatanalle at in my home country Finland this year, so it was not that long since I had last seen them. The big Eistnaflug stage with its dramatic lighting did them more justice, though, and the sound was better as well. They also had a couple of new songs in the set, but unfortunately I was a bit too tired to listen with full concentration anymore. After all, it was getting close to three o’clock again, so maybe it was time to hit the sleeping bag…… FAIL – when I got to my tent, the neighbours were still sitting outside of theirs and the party was far from over. When I finally went to sleep, it was closer to five, but I could sleep out the next day since the first band I planned to see was not scheduled for earlier than four o’clock in the afternoon…
Misþyrming – More pics here
…or so I thought. Fortunately the subject came up in the hot pool and I heard just in time that there had been a change and Dynfari were to play at 14:45 already, in other words just about to start. I was out of the water in no time but missed about half of the show anyway. They were in the middle of “Hafsjór” when I came in and only had two songs left after. At least they were rather long ones, “3rd Door: Madness” from the new album and the epic “Vonleysi” from the debut. Still a bummer to have missed the beginning. Better luck next time…
Dynfari – More pics here
Even higher up on my must-see list were Skurk, whose new album Blóðbragð has been the biggest surprise of the year for me so far. Originally founded as long ago as the early nineties, the quartet from Akureyri had been inactive for most of the time and I hadn’t been aware of their existence until last summer. The teasers on Facebook had promised good things but the final outcome was even better – the dramatic story of a man on the run clad in ten songs of versatile, melodic thrash metal of cinematic dimensions. I’d love to see the whole thing performed in one go with strings and choir and all, which the 35-minute slot at Eistnaflug naturally didn’t allow for, but even the abbreviated version was one of the highlights of the weekend. They played the first half of the album plus “Endir”, before which they threw in one old song. I didn’t know that one and presumably it was mainly chosen because it was short enough to fit, but while by no means bad, it clearly demonstrated what a huge leap ahead the band has taken with its new album. Let’s hope they’ll choose to remain active this time.
Skurk – More pics here
Next came a band whom I had never seen before: 200.000 Naglbítar, another early-90s outfit from Akureyri that had recently reformed after a long break – musically, however, they represented a rather different direction than the previous act. Obviously they haven’t been forgotten; what’s more, there were a large number of kids in the audience who were clearly younger than the band’s last album. A new one is actually in the making and one song of it was played (called “Allt í heimi hér” and still sounding a lot like the 1980s), but the what the fans had mostly come for were the old hits, “Brjótum það sem brotnar” and especially the sing-along favourite “Láttu mig vera”. For the last song a pair of toms was set up at the center of the stage; the guest percussionist was no other than sound guru Axel “Flex” Árnason, who otherwise spent the festival behind the huge mixing console.
200.000 Naglbítar feat. Flex
The one thing that had worried me a bit a year ago was the fear that Eistnaflug – whose very intimacy makes it so special among festivals of international significance – might be growing too big for its own good. This year the scope was slighty more compact, which actually resulted in a more comfortable festival experience: instead of two major venues located a ten minutes’ walk apart, now the official programme was concentrated in one place, and the additional off-venue stage, Beituskúrinn, was much closer than the second main venue had been.
Although it was a breach with history to no longer have concerts at the ballroom of Hotel Egilsbúð where it all had begun, I was grateful for no longer having to walk back and forth and not having to deal with annoying parallels and overlaps anymore. One of the bands I had missed in 2016 because of that had been Kontinuum, so I was glad that they were back this year. Their set was a bit of a mixed affair in which the hits “Kyrr”, “Breathe” and “Í Huldusal” stood out a bit too clearly from the rest in my opinion, but overall nonetheless highly enjoyable.
Kontinuum – More pics here
The aforementioned Beituskúrinn was our next stop. The location is an old wooden house right by the seaside that was formerly used by local fishermen as a bait shack and now houses a charming little restaurant with excellent pizza at surprisingly moderate prices. The stage was on the outdoor terrace, which offered a lovely view of the fjord and a jetty for sunbathing (which we did). The band we saw there, Alcoholia, was actually the guys from Alchemia – whose earlier gig on the same stage I had missed – playing cover songs by Iron Maiden, Motörhead and others. On some of them they were joined by illustrious guest vocalists, namely Stefán “Stebbi Jak” Jakobsson of Dimma and Addi of Sólstafir – who of course was rewarded with another instalment of the birthday song.
Alcoholia feat. Stebbi Jak
The festival’s main headliners had come all the way from Brazil: the Cavalera brothers Max and Igor with their band who performed the Sepultura classic Roots in its entirety. We had been outside for a while enjoying what had been one of the warmest and sunniest days of this summer so far, and when I got back in, the large hall was packed all the way back to the entrance and no chance to get anywhere close to the stage. No question that this milestone of metal still works like a bulldozer more than twenty years after its release. At one point Igor stood up behind his drumkit so everyone could see his outfit: the official shirt of the Icelandic national football team. Now there’s something else Brazilians know a thing or two about…
After the Cavaleras, it was time for my personal highlight of the summer, the mighty Skálmöld. Their gig at this same place two years ago had done no less than push my life into a happier direction, and their absence last year had felt more than a bit weird. Probably from the band’s perspective as well, as Böbbi promised right in the beginning of the set that the band would never ever skip Eistnaflug again. May his words hold true. The last couple of times I had seen them had been special performances in seated theaters which had been awesome in their own way, but the greatest place for enjoying this band will always be Eistnaflug. The set was slightly shorter than in 2015, spanning “only” eighty minutes, but all four albums got their fair share. For “Hefnd”, Addi Tryggvason came on stage to scream the part of the Beast, after which yet another birthday song from a thousand throats ensued – 7.7.77 is certainly an easy birthdate to remember. And of course the songs itself were sung along from beginning to end, something I’ve sorely missed on the few occasions I’ve seen Skálmöld in other countries. The fan choir in “Narfi” is well-established, but even better was the second verse of “Að vetri”, when the band except for drummer Jón Geir stopped precisely on the second beat of “Átak…” and everyone kept on singing “… bogið bak, býr sig undir vopnaskak…” et cetera, until at the end of the verse the drums stopped, too, and it finally dawned on us that a technical malfunction was at hand rather than well-timed crowd interaction. Þráinn’s guitar was back first and he entertained us with a round of classic riffs while sound engineer Flex fixed the rest. Not losing another minute of precious stage time, the band continued the song from the second verse rather than the beginning and finished it without any further problems before concluding the set in traditional fashion with “Kvaðning”.
Skálmöld – More pics here
On Saturday I finally managed to come early enough for the very first band, Asyllex from the Faroe Islands who had recently won the local Wacken Metal Battle. Their music didn’t leave a lasting impression on me but their unbridled energy sure did. A good opener for the last festival day, and I wish them the best of luck in Wacken. Future Figment I only heard from the merch table; on first listening they reminded me of Kontinuum the day before but I’ll have to check them out in more detail some day. Sounded pretty good actually.
Morðingjarnir came on stage wearing masks over their heads, and after the first song singer Haukur confessed that this was by far the worst idea he had had in his lifetime but insisted that they’d keep them on during the gig. A couple of songs later, however, bassist Atli complained that he couldn’t play a thing with that mask over his face, and even tuning guitars turned out to be a challenge, so halfway during the set the camouflage was disposed of. A guy next to me was surprised when the second guitar player revealed himself as Baldur of Skálmöld, but he has actually been in the band for more than a year. I for my part was more surprised when in between their own punk rock songs they all suddenly asked if they shouldn’t rather play some metal, and launched straight into Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law”, but on second thought it’s not an illogical choice for a band naming themselves “The Murderers”. Even more fitting for Eistnaflug, on the other hand, was the closer “Djamma”, which simply means to party.
Morðingjarnir – More pics here
Possibly the most legendary hard rock band in Iceland are HAM, who have been around off and on for some thirty years and recently had the honor of opening for Rammstein in Reykjavík. They also released a new album last month, which continues right along the lines of its predecessor Svik, harmur og dauði (2011). No need to change the formula if you have found your own unique sound a long time ago. The same goes for their pronouncedly stiff live act which relies on the strength of the two lead voices rather than much physical movement. What did feel new and weird was to hear those songs, whose predominant themes are deceit and betrayal, from the mouth of a man whose participation in the current government fulfils core criteria of these concepts. In sincere admiration of Icelanders’ ability to keep the different sides of a public persona apart from each other I shall comment no further on this issue but daresay that Óttar Proppé has done more for the well-being of his fellow citizens with HAM than as Minister of Health. (I should also mention his other band, Dr. Spock – they had played earlier that day but I had only seen a brief glimpse of them.) And nothing diminishes the fact that HAM played an excellent gig at Eistnaflug – as was to be expected.
HAM – More pics here
Even greater things I expected from Dimma, and right from the opening tracks “Villimey” and “I auga stormsins” they made clear that those would be delivered. Both are from the new album Eldraunir, which is the band’s heaviest to date and deservedly dominated the setlist although many older pearls were played as well, including my favorite “Kviksyndi”, which a year ago I had hoped for in vain. Early in the set singer Stebbi raised a toast to the memory of legendary Icelandic guitar player Gulli Falk, who only a few days earlier had lost his battle against cancer. The song the band dedicated to him was “Bergmál”, a passionate love song to none less than music itself. “Illgresi” was preceded by a playful argument between Stebbi, who adamantly stated that he would not take off his shirt, and the audience (particularly the female part of it) who loudly demanded just that. The shirt stayed on for the moment, but by the end of the show it was gone to wherever shirts go. The introduction to “Hrægammar” I shall leave untranslated it case any minors or my mother happen to come across this page – let’s just say it was a figurative description of Icelandic politics, which the song itself analyses in more grimy detail. Dimma haven’t dealt with such matters in their songs before, but this one pretty much sums up all there is to say on the subject and is one of the strongest they have ever written. But the undisputed pinnacle of the show was the last couple of songs – “Ljósbrá”, half of which was sung by the audience without help, and “Þungur kross”.
Dimma – More pics here
Sólstafir have a new album out as well, and actually an excellent one. Yet for some reason they seemed strangely reluctant to perform the new tunes. Only two (“Silver-Refur” and the comparatively lame “Ísafold”) were included in the set, which also was notably shorter than those of Dimma and Skálmöld. The low point was in the middle of the gig when they played one of their old English-language songs, which simply don’t stand the comparison to anything from Svartir Sandar onwards. Addi’s message when announcing it – if you suffer from depression, seek help rather than killing yourself – was important and topical, not least with the fate of Bjarni Ólafsson in mind, who had been supposed to perform at Eistnaflug with his band Churchhouse Creepers but committed suicide in spring. Nevertheless Sólstafir could have easily picked a more gripping tune for the occasion. The mood audibly improved with the next one, “Fjara”, which was dedicated to the late Gulli Falk and featured Stebbi of Dimma on guest vocals, but after this the show already ended – anticlimactically with another oldie, “Goddess of the Ages”. Its opening line “When all is said and done…” may well make it a good closer for shows abroad, but for the home audience “Dýrafjörður” from the new album would have conveyed a rather more poignant sense of finality, besides being a much better song. But to be fair, if I had celebrated a round birthday at Eistnaflug I probably wouldn’t have played my strongest gig on the following day either. Besides, Sólstafir are already confirmed for Eistnaflug 2018, which should give them enough time to practice the new stuff. And whatever they’re going to play next year, I’ll be there to witness it.
Sólstafir – More pics here
Photos by Tina Solda – Full Eistnaflug 2017 gallery here
Eistnaflug 2018 preview – early bird tickets now on sale: