On the far east coast of Iceland, in a tiny town ringed by snow-capped mountains and surrounded by a glistening fjord under the midnight sun, a multi-music festival takes place that feels truly out of this world. This is Eistnaflug Festival in Neskaupstaður, and though it began as a small event with mostly local bands, it’s now branched out to attract thousands of music fans from all over the world, and pull in headliners like this year’s Meshuggah and Opeth.
The town can only be reached by taking a tiny plane from Reykjavik and then driving through snaking roads and rolling hills before venturing through a mysterious tunnel inside a mountain. You can also take an even longer scenic route and drive the entire 10-hour journey from Reykjavik, stopping off to admire all the natural beauty Iceland has to offer, from waterfalls to glaciers.
The festival itself takes place predominantly across two venues: the smaller Brennívin Stage – named after the potent Icelandic schnapps, which also has been nicknamed ‘Black Death’ – and the larger Boli Stage, named after an Icelandic beer, which is in a school gym and was added in 2015 to accommodate the festival expanding. There are also off-venues – tiny stages that play host to jam sessions over the course of the four days.
Music-wise, Eistnaflug is delightfully diverse, including everything from punk and black metal to electronica and progressive rock, all played over four days until the early hours of the morning – and with the 24-hour daylight, it’s a magical and trippy experience.
We’re determined to soak up plenty of local prog talent, starting off with Agent Fresco, who play late on Wednesday night. They blend soft melodies and Arnór Dan Arnarson’s enchanting vocals with heavier, mathy progressive rock.
Solstafir have slowly but surely become one of Iceland’s biggest musical exports, developing their sound since their inception in the mid-90s from extreme black metal to atmospheric post-rock. They play two sets over the course of the weekend in both venues. The first, in the smaller stage, is based on their 2009 album, Köld, that’s mostly in English, while the second over on the Boli stage focuses on their latest album, Otta.
As they mostly sing in Icelandic, their homeland shows are the only place where the audience can sing back all of the words: in fact when they play fan favourite, the majestic Fjara, charismatic frontman Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason, who looks suitably rock’n’roll in dark denim and leather, steps back to allow the audience to sing the chorus back at him. It’s a magical moment.
Momentum are another local band who have caught our attention, with their unique brand of twisted, heavy post-rock. They’re led by the bearded and dapperly dressed frontman Holaf, whose rich baritone beautifully complements their dark tones. Tonight’s show is a special treat as the band focus on new, unreleased material: the song they open with doesn’t even have a name yet, and tracks like Imaginate and Dire Host indicate that there’s much to look forward to from these guys.
Looking set for big things, Icelandics Kontinuum have just signed to Season Of Mist for their as-yet unreleased third album. Their spellbinding sound blends post-rock with punk energy, and mesmerising dreamwave with gothic undertones.
One of the big draws at Eistnaflug this year is easily Opeth, who bring in one of the biggest crowds of the weekend on the Saturday night, a crowd that screams the band’s name in unison with expectant glee. Starting off with newer material in the form of Cusp Of Eternity, the audience really go wild for their older songs like The Grand Conjuration. Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt is on fine form as always, making witty jokes in between songs, and the setlist is nicely varied, too, going all the way back to 1998 with the extreme Demon Of The Fall.
Meshuggah are easily one of the most exciting, unique and aurally battering bands around, and the Swedes don’t disappoint tonight, expelling their bone-shatteringly heavy and wildly progressive anthems like I Am Colossus to an enamoured audience. Meshuggah’s light show is almost like an instrument itself, the colourful flashing lights punctuating the rapid fire riffs and rumbles while frontman Jens Kidman stalks the stage with venom. It makes us all the more excited for their upcoming eighth album that’s due for release later this year.
After checking out the late night disco party that involves DJ and former Eurovision Song Contest entry Páll Óskar (aka Paul Oscar), wearing a sparkly spacesuit and crowdsurfing over the audience in an inflatable boat while playing cheesy disco music, we have just enough time for a few hour’s kip before making our bus back through the mountain portal, and back to reality.