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Eistnaflug 2015

Behemoth and Carcass rock metal’s most mindbending festival

THURSDAY

Having moved a bit further up the cloud-mopped mountain range that barricades Neskaupstaður from the experience formerly known as reality, the much larger venue that now houses Eistnaflug takes a while to regain the uniquely surreal and magical atmosphere we’ve come to know and be bewildered by.

But if the size of the hall initially dissipates the Icelandic knack for not giving a fuck, it’s not long before freshly corpsepainted punters are roaming around, flashdancing to Nik Kershaw is breaking out in the food’n’merch marquee and a man is crowdsurfing in a wheelchair.

There is some early incongruity, however, in the form of openers AUĐN [7], whose corpsepaint doesn’t exactly gel with their civvies, but whose take on black metal has an epic undertow that breaks out fully into their mesmerising closing track. SINMARA [7] create a bit more frisson, their barrelling, bug-eyed drive through BM’s spooked wastelands generating a chaotically detuned, but genuinely occult presence. CONAN’s [8] set has been anticipated like seismographs going crazy before an impending earthquake, and the Liverpudlians live up to the billing, their bristling, bottom-end rumble enough to have Satan banging his ceiling in exasperation, Jon Davis’s voice trailing like some long-exiled god of constipation and belligerent grooves that could flatten the surrounding landscape.

ROTTING CHRIST [8] prove once more that they’re masters of metal precision. Sakis is a compelling commander of a frontman, while his band of beefy, bearded Greeks windmill their manes in unison as the charged, chest-inflating songs rouse a room still punch-drunk from their predecessors. This is CARCASS’s [9] first-ever gig on Iceland’s volcanic soil, and if it feels like business as usual, it’s still a revelation for first and many-timers alike. Tracks like Exhume To Consume and Heartwork are woven from the very fabric of heavy metal and for an hour and 15 minutes, there is nothing to compare. SÓLSTAFIR’s [8] Eistnaflug show last year was akin to a religious experience, and if that undefinable quality isn’t quite present in these more generous surroundings, they’re still tuning forks for an experience as universal as it is unique to environment, as a roomful of devotees sing along to the heart-stretched likes of Svartir Sandar and Fjara in the mother tongue.

FRIDAY

There’s a massive contrast between the juvenile look of all four MISÞYRMING [8] members, their naïve onstage antics (guys, playing in your socks is NOT metal) and the incredible maturity of their music. Plying layer onto layer, their black metal has the rare ability to take you somewhere else. MOMENTUM’s [8] cello-enhanced prog pilgrimage sounds like it’s traversing an ever-shifting map, solemn and restless as it gradually accrues more intensity under a stunning light show. Dragged up with skirts and full-on make-up, THE VINTAGE CARAVAN [6] are determined to have some fun and are welcomed with a massive roar. Their songs may be derivative but the trio have so much energy that it hardly matters. Paradise Lost’s Greg Mackintosh is now very at ease with his newfound job as VALLENFYRE’s [7] frontman. All the better, as he gets to wave his knee-long dreadlocks during songs equally split between d-beat/crust shots to your face and doomish dirges reminiscent of his day job, but all equally killer.

Meanwhile at last year’s venue, Egilsbuð, dark magick is afoot as MisÞyrming, Naðra and YYIÞ combine for ÚLFMESSA [9] (‘Wolf Mass’), a ceremonial two-hour journey through accordion-led dirges, post-punk-infused black metal, synapse-enflaming incantations and exercised demons played by various masked men with genuine presence and who conspire to create one of the most exhilarating, boundary-ravaging displays of true extremity you’re likely to witness. Their guitarist Dagon’s croak and lyrical comic aspirations may not be taken seriously by some, but the way the two-man INQUISITION [7] manages to possess a stage as big as the sports hall’s is nevertheless impressive. Even more is the web weaved by Dagon, whose riffs seem to come from three instruments at once.

For a band like ENSLAVED [7], whose inspiration from day one came from this land “of fire and ice”, it feels like an achievement to finally play Iceland. Though as classy as their latter and more progressive material is, it’s really with Allfoðr Oðinn from their 22-year-old Hordanes Land EP and its lyrics in Icelandic that they really hit the mark tonight. If you’re not into folk metal, no amount of hysteria generated by SKÁLMÖLD’s [7] never-ending set will convince you otherwise, but in Iceland they’re a national institution, and the celebrations they’re still inspiring at 3.30am is a sight for bleary eyes to behold.

SATURDAY

Fronted by one of the most monstrous roars in metal, courtesy of the already inebriated Ingó Ólafsson, SEVERED [7] twist technical chops and outright brutality into numerous new shapes, most of them formed as if falling down successive mountain ravines. Already one of the most brutal bands on the bill, it doesn’t help that LVCIFYRE’s [6] ultra-vicious barrage of black/death metal is programmed in the middle of the last day, with most of the festival-goers still licking their wounds. Hence a pro, yet emotionless, performance in front of, at max, 50 people. Things barely improve for VAMPIRE [7], whose old-school black metal à la Bathory with plenty of added thrash falls on deaf ears. A shame, as their enigmatic lanky frontman’s bizarre dance with his mic stand and songs like At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse deserved better.

BRAIN POLICE [7] may not be a known name outside of their native Iceland, but the packed-out venue is testament to their Kyuss-like, groovy desert rock: it’s perfect party music for a Saturday night. KVELERTAK [8] are a force of nature and the six-piece’s sweaty, beer-soaked whirlwind of a dishevelled performance is ideal festival fodder. They also have a guest in tow: Blastfest’s Yngve Norvin Christiansen on vocals, who fits in well by chugging a beer and shaking his head maniacally. Despite posting about food sickness the day before, Nergal and BEHEMOTH [8] descend upon Eistnaflug like a conquering army, their typically imperious and martial performance played with a warrior’s heart and a cathartic soul on the closing O Father O Satan O Sun! Festival closers HAM [8] also have a regimented backbone, but use it as a springboard for adventures into more surrealistic but just as gripping territory, the interplay of operatic vocals and sardonic harangues from a man dressed like a 70s bookie adding up to far more than the sum of its parts. The band’s inexplicable brilliance ends up providing a fitting crown for a festival at the edge of the world.