When you think about Iceland, you probably get a display of wide, mountain themed landscapes of lava fields, covered with green moss. Glaciers, hot springs, falling down mists, unsetting summer sun and northern lights in the winter time. And that´s what Iceland is, if you´ll skirt Reykjavík, the capital city, around.
Don´t get me wrong, Reykjavík is a very special city. The capital of the country is a home to 160 thousand people (counted together with neighboring towns). That´s about the size of a tiny town in Poland. With one difference – multiculturalism.
Reykjavík and Iceland, within last few years became Mecca for many people: mostly for so called “marker-tourists”, who – suggested by the media trend – come here just to be able to say, that they have been and seen some of the most popular sites. But still, to this day, the country and the city, in some mysterious metaphysical way (sometimes consciously and sometimes not) draws people from every corner of the world to itself. People involved with art and especially music.
Here almost everyone is doing something creative: writes, plays, sings, sews, reads, knits, paints and the Universe knows what else. Many people ponder regularly on where this Icelandic phenomenon of the massiveness of the art scene in such small community comes from. For me it is clear from the start: hostile environment, small population, lacking of sunlight for the greater part of the year, very often lack of food and being forced to stay at home, sometimes for days at a time and… landscapes. Nature.
Living in murderous natural environment, where everything around makes you feel so small and meaningless, like a fly on the wind, gives you a certain perspective on looking at yourself and your own human form and experience. It connects you back, or deeper, with so called soul of yours. You start to think, to dream, hallucinate. You have nothing better to do.
Reykjavík connects people from all over the world for the past two decades. Citizens of China and Tibet, Palestine and Israel, Serbia and Croatia, Poland, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Syria, United States and Iraq along with migrants from the rest of this thorn apart world. Everybody on this tiny piece of land that this concrete dominated city is. When you ask them, why they are here, often they can´t answer you clearly. Most of them don´t know for themselves. People, who came here to find themselves and they end up being even more lost. No One´s People.
In this land; which roams in media as a fairytale miracle of Earth, with elves, hidden people and friendly looking behind the shop window trolls; in this land people used to leave their newborn children outside to freeze and die. Just because their family had no resources to support yet another kid. In this land, where volcanoes sow death as well as the ice, frost and never-ending storms during impossibly long winters. Where the weather is treacherous to the point that sometimes the asphalt road is a salvation and sometimes a highway to hell.
You won´t read about it in newspapers. Nor in your favorite TV station. Neither in the songs of your favorite indie-rock or pop band.
It resonates in the Icelandic Metal.
The local metal scene grows rapidly for the past 20 years. Finally heavy and harsh play gets its well deserved attention and appreciation. After commercial success abroad of 20 year old now Sólstafir, public acknowledgement of guitar craft of Ingo H Geirdal from Dimma and the national success of that band along with achievements of Skálmöld home and abroad in the previous years, metal and heavy music is experiencing resurrection.
For the past 13 years a very extraordinary person is doing something quite amazing. So much so, that it starts to be appreciated on an international scale.
I´m talking about Stefán Magnússon. Proffesionally a trainer of physical activities. Husband and father. Metal music passionate. People call him Stebbi Hressi ( I guess you could translate it to Stebbi The Brisk One) – possibly because this man is unbelievably positively oriented towards life and people around him, that his beautiful, generous smile never leaves his face. Always friendly, helpful and with a great heart towards friends, acquaintances and co-workers. They don´t make ´em like that anymore.
Some time ago he took over a position of a sport teacher in a teeny tiny town on the other side of the country and this is how his story starts with Neskaupsstaður. This place is situated exactly at the edge of the world: on a side of surrounded by mountains fjord, which during a colder winter must be impassable, especially the road leading from the creepy tunnel through a massive mountain. Stebbi moved there with his family and very short after he came up with an idea to organize some sort of a concert with befriended metal bands over here, since there was nothing going on of sort in this region anyway. So someone has had to do it.
And this is how Eistnaflug came to be – a festival at the edge of the world which you can´t and don´t want to forget. Festival which you can´t compare to anything else. Which is so surrealistically real, that any other metal festival seems like an illusion.
I will start with the atmosphere: it was my fourth year in a row in the East and I still feel the same, when I´m on my way back home in the center of Reykjavík – insufficiency, inspiration, insufficiency, curiosity about the people I´ve met, insufficiency, analysis of deep conversations, insufficiency, analysis of emotions that I´ve unearthed… Did I mention insufficiency? Aha, and also total exhaustion of my organism. Yet again I will need whole day just to sleep it off.
The atmosphere is fantastic! A little changed this year, though. I´m guessing it´s because the festival is naturally growing and more, completely new and young people are attending, and also because the regular attenders are still trying to find themselves in the new setup of the festival (it´s only the second year the festival hosts absolute giants of the metal scene, so the previous venue was transformed into an off-venue and the main stage is being now constructed within a sports hall). But the main message still stays the same: let´s be kind and nice to each other. And let´s watch out for one another. The main motto of the festival: It´s forbidden to be an asshole! Yes!
The rules are simple: if you are going to be an asshole and you will start a fight or if you will do something really terrible – the festival is going to stop right away and will never be to return. Do you want to be that guy? I didn´t think so. Nobody does. So for the past 13 years there was no single case of rape or any other crime. The police officers along with all residents of the town could not be happier with the way people behave and how great the atmosphere is during those few days. You can´t say that about the most commercial festivals here.
Besides that – the location! You wake up in the morning, you get out of your tent, you take a deep breath of frisky and clear air and in front of your eyes unfurls a landscape from the most amazing fantasy book: you are surrounded by mountains with tops seductively covered by mist, calm and very clear waters of the fjord, blossoming flowers and herbs everywhere, here and there a sheep or a horse running freely on steep fields at the mountain feet; the sound of mountain springs and gentle ocean waves, singing birds. And this lovely, little town, which bursts into life from early morning hours. Or more like – it won´t fall asleep for the next 4 days. Now you feel that you´re alive.
On top of that comes the plan of concerts: the off-venue gigs start a day before and they last into the night. During the festival they kick off as soon as 2pm and end long after the last on-venue gig is finished. Very often with titbits, skipping of which is borderline with stupidity. Planning of this system of concerts was a genius solution for everyone: people, who already know, how things work around here and what you should see definitely and also for people, who came for the first time and were still trying to find themselves in this reality.
I was extremely busy this year with the bands I really wanted to see and with those, which I saw accidentally as well. I am very curious about the evolution of big acts I was more or less involved with in the past, before they achieved success, but I was always more interested in the fresh-out-of-ground groups, the still unappreciated ones. I never stop looking for the love and passion for music that I have in others, because the world desperately needs honesty right now. Especially in this business. Some people have it, others don´t. I´m looking for people, who set music in their lives on the first place and who have the courage to show it to the world.
This year´s Eistnaflug turned out to be a true musical feast for me, bigger than I thought it would. It was clear to me, that all of the foreign acts I wanted to see will be spectacular (Opeth, Meshuggah, Marduk, Belphegor and phenomenal Perturbator). But the real surprising for me was the level of playing provided by Icelandic collectives. Few of them made my skin orgasmic:
The guys play together for about 10 years now and it definitely shows in the freedom of interactions between them on stage. They know what they want. Their über-dynamic death metal and untamed energy on stage cause the whole world around you to spin. Everything in your nearest surrounding, between the ceiling and the floor is being slashed with bass machetes and brutally smashed with baseball bat of the drumkit. On top of that wide cuts with guitar riffs combined with powerful and violent growling and nobody walks out of this alive. This years “kick in the face” indisputable belongs to them.
This black metal band caused me, after 24 hours on the festival and dozens of concerts, to finally feel like I´m at Eistnaflug. Great energy on stage, scruffy sound of guitars and highly emotional vocal expressions threw me finally into the festivals exceptional atmosphere: finally someone will destroy my eardrums and fix my soul. I totally recommend them live.
!Disclaimer: I am their manager, as many already know. Nevertheless I need to write this, because objectively speaking, it was quite a show!
When few months back series of unfortunate events led to firing their charismatic vocalists from the band, there was very few people, who believed that Stefán Laxdal, their guitar player, will be able to handle the taking-over of that role. Including himself. After the Iceland To Poland tour and absolutely great performance, for the first time in front of Icelandic public, nobody doubts anymore, that this decision was the best that could have happened to the band. The guys raised their creative bar a level higher and they experiment a lot with their sound and song arrangements. Their personality crystalizes in express tempo, the members are getting tighter with each other and they gather bigger and bigger fanbase with every gig they play. Their songs evolve from simple, heavy rock´n´roll party tracks to more overthought compositions. They were one of the very very few bands, who were forced to play an encore after their performance by stomping and shouting crowd, which is a sign of great promises. It´s interesting to follow their path.
Taken into account, that they played the first show on-venue on Friday and the fact, that it was already practically the third day of the festival, they managed pto pull in almost a full house! That says a lot. This local to Neskaupsstaður band with extremally melodic stoner-rock combined with blues intricacies and charismatic voice of the lead singer, Róbert, starts to wake quite a stir in the music scene. The band has a long history together and it was possible to see them on this years edition of Iceland To Poland. I bet, they will take over the crown of the national stoner-rock sweethearts after forced break of Brain Police.
Technical offensive of death-carrying sounds with one agenda: destroying your senses to particles. Fantastic craft of handling the instruments and wonderfully organized compositions. Great talents of bassist and the lead guitarists were clashing and joining together in some kind of a loving battle in a company of brutally accurate drumming with the speed of jet engine. I must pinpoint the vocalist, Ingó, who´s a legendary growler here in Iceland. With this set up – this band is sentenced for success.
The biggest surprise for me this year. I was completely unprepared for what came out of the speakers. I knew this band before, but never paid full attention to it, because I remembered them as a strict black metal band, and at the time I´ve heard them first, Iceland was experiencing an outpour of them. But now, when I was standing just in front of the stage, when was looking at the guys and listening to what they are trying to tell me – something strange started happening to me, something I haven´t experienced on a concert in a very long while. It was the middle of their set and I felt, that some kind of familiar yet still bizarre emotions, I´d rather keep at a bay, are awakening within me. With every note they´ve become more intensive and I understood, that accumulation of all of these very well hidden feelings can end up with only one thing – an attack of excruciating pain of existence. I was guilty and I felt guilty. And so it came – first sounds of the song “Þjáning heilar Þjóðar” made me sway and I felt, that everything within my chest is being thorn and slashed apart, and subsequent layers of something normal people call a heart are being lacerated alive. So this is my naked soul. When Hjalti started to growl, something grabbed me by my throat and lifted me high up above the crowd. And here I was – disarmed, defenseless and helpless and that´s the moment where serenity came. Tears started to roll own my cheeks. I, the sinner, was in a church and I´ve gotten the absolution. Later, when I was on my way home, completely tormented and exhausted, I turned the EP on repeat. With the same emotions and tears. This kind of a church I support and understand. Ave Auðn!
This collective has it´s story. For almost a decade they´ve placed themselves as the most brutal band in Iceland (earlier known as Severed Crotch). Ferocious sound with guitar slashing and mathematical bypasses. Everything great, but one detail pinpointed my attention in one moment and lasted until the end of their set – the guitarists, Kjartan Valur´s grip. In my honest opinion the guys has the most beautiful guitar grip I´ve seen in this country, and the way he plays it suggests only one thing – guitar is the biggest love of his life and the passion he puts into playing it swipes away everything his ultra-talented band mates do. Hypnotizing. Anyway, Severed were the last act I saw (and definitely heard) on Eistnaflug and their show finished me completely.
Drained, strung out, mauled and with terrible muscle sores I came back home and I couldn´t process the aftermath for a long time. Of course, I was trying to see as many acts (from over 70 available) as possible and of course, the foreign acts impressed me a lot (especially Meshuggah and Perturbator), but the Icelandic bands drilled themselves most deeply into my memory.
I can´t wait for the next year. Maybe we´ll see each other there?
Text: Wiktoria Joanna Ginter
Photos: Falk-Hagen Bernshausen