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In Iceland, It’s Forbidden to Be an Asshole: EISTNAFLUG FESTIVAL, 2018

EISTNAFLUG FESTIVAL: 11 – 14 JULY, NESKAUPSTAÐUR

For many, the last weekend of June has been synonymous with plans for Tuska festival. For me, it meant the start of road trip around Iceland.

I managed to visit the desolate island after years of listening to mind-blowing Icelandic metal: music stretching from the masters of the so-called atmospheric Icelandic rock ‘n’ roll Sólstafir through  to viking-inspired Skálmöld and black metallers like Auðn or Svartidauði. Luckily, I had time for something more than Eistnaflug Festival.

As one could expect, my trip started in Reykjavík.

A lack of metal bars in the capital is not a problem when you can go to a decent record store instead. Geiskadiskabúð Valda has more than just a great selection of Icelandic records, and Sundlaugin  [meaning swimming pool, from which it was converted] studio in the neighbouring Mosfellsbær may not look impressive, but it’s the legendary place where works of bands such as Sólstafir and Sigur Rós got their sound.

Moving up north, one of the road trip’s several stops was Húsavík, not surprisingly linked to one of Sólstafir’s albums. The recognizable intro preceding every show of the Icelandic band comes from Masterpiece of Bitterness and its title is “Náttfari:” having exactly the same name as one of the boats in Húsavík harbor. The boat, for instance, took its name from a story according to which a runaway slave was called Náttfari. When the boat is not out on a whale watching trip, it’s worth taking a look at, and not just for Sólstafir’enthusiasts.

Going further to the east, I visited a place which inspired another band. A visit in Dimmuborgir was undoubtedly one of the trip’s highlights.

The road trip’s second week only got more interesting, thanks to Eistnaflug festival at Neskaupstaður. The venue, at nothing less than a local sports hall, is not the place you would expect to host a festival. Neskaupstaður is not even a town easily pictured as a festival site.

To be honest, Iceland is not necessarily a country associated with metal events.

How did such arrangement work out? I have to admit this has only made the whole Eistnaflug experience more interesting.

Did I mention the festival’s main message ‘Bannað að vera fáviti’? Well, it basically translates to ‘Forbidden to be an asshole’. Quite obviously, it can also be seen on the festival’s merch (including bright pink shirts with the festival’s motto).

This year’s lineup has also been wonderfully diverse with world-famous names and lesser-known Icelandic bands alike.  Not surprisingly, Wednesday’s lineup consisted mostly of bands hailing from Iceland; the event’s warm-up day and early weekend shows were a great opportunity for all the foreign festival-goers to catch the local bands.

For me, the first band at Eistnaflug was Legend. With few shows outside of their home country, Legend remained an act I haven’t seen until the festival. Hypnotising electronic music performed by the band was a perfect intro to Eistnaflug.

Legend

Festival-goers were lucky enough to watch more excellent performances even before the weekend had started. Thursday turned out to be really interesting… One of the festival’s discoveries for me was the Icelandic Nexion. Despite the fact that the band has been formed in 2016, its members have already played in several bands before, and their experience was easily noticed onstage. Nexion delivered an intense, energy-filled death metal show.

Order

Next band on the bill was Order. Bringing some much-needed darkness upon the venue, the Norwegians played a decent set. Along with their own songs, Order played Mayhem’s Deathcrush as well, a song which was a perfect ending to the band’s gig.

Shows filled with harsh sound and grim atmosphere continued on and Thursday ended with Watain’s set. The performance was by far the best one I have seen from the Swedish black metal veterans. Starting with “Stellarvore” and ending with the unforgettable “Waters of Ain,” the set was more than impressive and Watain’s frontman Erik Danielsson was just as dedicated as ever. The band once again proved that their mind-blowing shows are sure to make a great impression.

Watain

Friday the 13th was the date marking the long-awaited extended show of Sólstafir. As Eistnaflug regulars and masters of atmospheric, emotion-filled music, Sólstafir didn’t disappoint. In addition to the obligatory “Fjara” and “Goddess of the Ages,” the band played, among others, four songs from their latest release Berdreyminn and a title track from their classic Köld. A worthwhile gig to say the least!

Sólstafir

Three festival days passed unbelievably fast. Luckily, Saturday sounded promising with acts such as Auðn, Batushka and Kreator.

Still, one of the bands I’ve been looking forward to the most was Kontinuum. The Icelandic formation combines clean vocals with growling, Icelandic lyrics with English texts and atmospheric style with a more progressive approach. The list goes on and defines Kontinuum’s unique sound. Kontinuum’s Eistnaflug gig proved that in addition to the band’s brilliant albums, their live performances are far from boring. The setlist included mostly songs from the newest album, No Need to Reason, which was released earlier in July.

The following Icelandic act was quite a contrast to Kontinuum: Auðn’s cold and harsh black metal mesmerized the audience. After their excellent concert at Inferno festival earlier this year, Auðn stood up to expectations and made sure to do their best at Eistnaflug as well.
The black orthodox mass by Batushka was among the festival’s last performances. Judging from the receptive audience, it was also one of the event’s most awaited shows. Vertiginous smell of incense, chants, an impressive backdrop and stage props proved how much of a spectacle Batushka’s performances are. The crowd’s reactions were another proof of the band’s popularity. At some point of the gig, the frontman threw a rosary and a fight for it broke out in the first row, kicking and biting included!

Another long-awaited band played just after Batushka: the German thrash legends from Kreator. Their gig ended my Eistnaflug 2018 – four days of rock and metal in Neskaupstaður, just as the festival’s website says.

ICELANDIC BLACK METAL RETURNS TO NORWEGIAN EXTREME METAL FESTIVAL – AN INTERVIEW WITH AUÐN

Auðn were among the bands I was most looking forward at Inferno Festival and I was lucky enough to get to interview them.  With Auðn‘s second album Farvegir Fyrndar being released last November and more and more festivals coming up (including the Icelandic Eistnaflug [which I’m planning to visit for the first time this year], the band’s vocalist Hjalti Sveinsson and guitarists Aðalsteinn Magnússon and Andri Birgisson give more insight into the visuals behind Auðn‘s music, atmospheric mood and why writing lyrics in Klingon might be a good idea.

ENSLAIN: Starting with the basic questions, how’s Inferno Metal Festival 2018 going so far?

Alli: Great, everything’s been alright. It’s second time in a row, we played last year as well, so this time everything was more familiar and you get to know more people.

Hjalti: We’re getting to know a lot of people around, a lot of familiar faces.

Alli: Great atmosphere and great bands as well.

ENSLAIN: Now, if I remember well, Hjalti and Andri, you’ve been at Icelandic Film School, and I was wondering if the background you have has influenced the visuals of the band – from album covers through to artwork and even to your stage outfits?

Andri: We always have the visual way of creating music, or at least I have. I like to ‘see’ a song when I’m trying to write it.

Hjalti: The look came about to be a bit of a minimalistic approach to let the music speak for itself.  So the music itself, I think, is a bit visual. Earlier we were working with more of juxtaposition of melting together the harsh ugliness of black metal with beauty of melodies.  We kind of did it with the look – that’s when the jackets came in – but we were still experimenting with corpse paint. But we kind of simplified that.

Alli: Don’t google those pictures.

Andri: …now we know what pictures she will google.

ENSLAIN: So it’s been mostly minimalistic, but there’s also a cinematic approach to it.

Alli: I like to look at the whole picture as pretty cinematic. The atmosphere in the music – it’s the whole thing. To me, it feels a bit cinematic.

Hjalti: It’s also the way we think about how the album works. We don’t just put songs together, every song has to serve a certain purpose and it has to be in the right spot in the album.

Auðn’s debut album (Metallic Media) & Farvegir Fyrndar (Season of Mist)

ENSLAIN: The atmospheric feel to your music creates a certain space the listener can get lost in. Was it one of the goals for the listener?

Alli: Yeah, that’s what I do with this music – get lost in it. I’m really happy with the reception we are getting on both these albums. People basically describe what I was trying to do with music and I think we all achieved this goal.

Hjalti: I think we managed to do what we were trying to do. Especially with the second album we let the songs ‘breathe’ more, vocals are also a bit different, so the atmospheric part of it was definitely something we nurtured a bit more.

Alli: The first album was more structured to the rhythm with more folk elements, maybe.

ENSLAIN: Another important aspect of your music is your beautiful language.  What role would you say Icelandic plays in the music you write?

Alli: It started with me writing lyrics in Icelandic; all the lyrics I write are in this language.  I’m used to thinking in Icelandic and it’s easier to express.

Andri: And in the first album we used more of songwriting on certain rules.

Alli: Yeah, we follow the old Icelandic rules very vaguely, but elements are there.

Andri: It creates a certain rhythm in lyrics when you write them like that.

Alli: When you master the form of writing that, it makes it really easy to find the next sentences and to express what you’re trying to say.

Hjalti: I think the first album was a bit more traditional in that sense.
And for me, I have a tendency to express myself over music in English. I rarely ever listen to Icelandic music so when I’m thinking of stuff we’re working on, it’s usually in English. So for me to do it in Icelandic was a big challenge. But with a new album, I think I distanced the vocal patterns from the traditional styles we used more on the first album.

Alli: Honestly, the phrasing isn’t Icelandic at all in many of the lyrics of the new album. Lyrics are, of course, in Icelandic, but the way they are presented is not the traditional one.

Hjalti: It’s more chaotic. I wanted to express the feelings not in the way I think of them but more in the way they would fall into the song and the rhythm. Every language has its different style of songwriting. You’ll hear music with a language you don’t know which is the situation for most people hearing us and that instantly is different. A lot of Norwegian bands are now doing the lyrics in English; we might still do it one day, I don’t know, but that definitely gives the unique touch, I think.

Alli: There are not that many people from Iceland, so…

Hjalti: Yeah… I actually think more people speak Klingon than Icelandic.

Andri: So if we want to reach out to more people, we should release the next album in Klingon.

Alli: And also, with playing this kind of music, unless you have the lyrics in front of you, how much of it would you understand?

Hjalti: It’s about expressing the feelings.

Alli: It’s about expressing the feelings and, as you’ve said, the way you experience it. That way we know the message is being delivered. It doesn’t have to be the lyrics, you don’t necessarily need to know what the lyrics are about, it’s about expressing the feeling. Because the lyrics are about that as well.

ENSLAIN: Did the lyrics shift from more traditional themes with a black metal spirit to song lyrics which are more poetic, then?

Alli: Yes, the first album drew inspiration from folk tales, maybe more in the way of traditional Icelandic storytelling. On the second album, it’s more about creating imagery for landscapes or emotions related to that and trying to paint the whole picture with the song.

ENSLAIN: I know it’s a general question, but would you say something on the difference between festivals you’ve played at? What’s special about Eistnaflug in your home country or what were the differences between Inferno this year and the last year?

Alli: There’s always a difference.

Hjalti: You can’t really compare Eistnaflug to other festival.

Alli: No… that’s special.

Hjalti: In some ways you can, of course, it’s a festival, but…

Alli:…you’ll see!

Andri: I think it might have similarities with Roadburn in a way.

Alli: In a way…

Hjalti: In a way, but still, it’s not Roadburn.

Alli: Every festival has its identity or at least that should be the goal. If it doesn’t have identity, you shouldn’t have a festival. Every festival is different, depends what aspects you think about. Each festival has its own spirit.

ENSLAIN: Related to the Icelandic scene, with black metal bands emerging and events such as Oration festival where you also played this year, what do you think the future holds for Icelandic black metal?

Hjalti: Hopefully, there’s gonna be some younger kids who will start playing in a band…

Alli: We can’t speak for the whole scene, of course, but I think that’s the most important thing, to not forget to play frequently. We were discussing it with the rest of the Icelandic people here, the Eistnaflug crew and also the guys from Naðra, how important it is to keep playing shows at home as well.

Hjalti: And to all ages audience, especially.

Alli: Yeah, because that’s how we got into metal: seeing shows and seeing the older guys playing in the bands.

Andri: If someone keeps carrying the torch, then we have a future ahead.

Alli: I think that was kind of a turning point when you had this really strong string of releases from Icelandic bands. The scene is really strong with many bands and all of them released their first album. Some of them, like us, have just released their second album, and I just think we need to see which bands are going to continue and which bands are just going to fade away.  And what happens next, I’m not sure. Hopefully good things, but…

Hjalti: No one knows, but there’s a lot of excitement around what will Misþyrming do next, what will Naðra do next, it might be that you have to ask them.  But it’s not that many guys forming all of these projects. I get this feeling that they always want to do something new, so there might be just new projects from them.

Alli: And that has already started, probably hundreds of bands, and that’s also a part of expression if you keep writing music and you feel that the music isn’t fitting the criteria of the direction you’ve created for your project, then you still want to get it out.  What do you do? Do you ruin the reputation of your band or do you do another project?  It’s always a question of staying true to yourself, I think.  And doing what you want to do, that’s black metal.

ENSLAIN: Thank you for your time and for such thorough answers. Sjáumst á Eistnaflugi!

Read the full festival report from Inferno Metal Festival 2018 here:

INFERNO METAL FESTIVAL: 29 MAR – 1 APR, ROCKEFELLER, OSLO

INFERNO METAL FESTIVAL: 29 MAR – 1 APR, ROCKEFELLER, OSLO

With four days of black metal, music conferences, art exhibitions and much more, Inferno Metal Festival Norway has sounded like one of the most intriguing metal festivals in the Nordic countries for me.
And it was more than exciting to find out that this year I’m going to attend the event too!
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