Eistnaflug Festival

We check out the prog-friendly acts at Iceland's premier metal fest.

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In a tiny fishing village at the edge of the world, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and hugged by a glistening fjord, one of the most unique festivals in the world takes place under the midnight sun. The village, Neskaupstaður, is situated on the east coast of Iceland, and can only be reached via a long, dark tunnel through the mountains – like a portal into another dimension. Though Eistnaflug is Iceland’s premier metal festival, amid the heaviness there is plenty for proggers to relish, so we set out to sample the local prog.

The prog factor begins on the first night, where whippersnapper trio The Vintage Caravan, more known for their retro-tinged, catchy blues rock and particularly energetic live personas, play a very special set: the 1971 album Lifun by now-defunkt 60s proggers Trúbrot in full, and they are joined onstage by original member Magnús Kjartansson. The Icelanders in the audience are enthralled by the revisiting of the trippy album under the psychedelic swirls of light, and tears are shed.

Post-metallers Kontinuum are unassuming live, focusing more on their sounds that evoke the beauty, darkness and intensity of their homeland’s ever-changing landscapes, rather than a particularly physical performance. While this has hindered their smaller shows, on this vast stage and under a beautiful light show, their stunning and cathartic anthems come to life.

Led by their flame-haired, bearded frontman, sporting a sophisticated suit, Momentum proceed to plunge into their mammoth, weighty prog. Their music is dramatic and intense, if lacking in variation. However, this evening they’re also accompanied by a cello player, adding an extra dimension to their swirls of sound.

Arguably Iceland’s biggest heavy rock exports, Sólstafir play a late-night set to a packed-out room. In the past year, the four-piece, whose distinct desert cowboy dress style is just as memorable as their shimmering post-rock, became a three-piece after disputes with their drummer and a very public falling out. It’s impossible to deny that an odd atmosphere hangs over their show tonight as they take to the stage with their session drummer.

Their setlist hasn’t changed much in the last year: new album Ótta gets a thorough airing, with guitarist Sæþór sporting a banjo for its title track. But whatever their current circumstances, watching Sólstafir play on home turf is always a special experience, particularly when (almost) the whole venue sing the lyrics back to the entrancing Fjara.

From the diverse array of music on offer to the stunning setting and wonderfully welcoming locals, Eistnaflug delivers.

Hannah May Kilroy

Hannah May Kilroy has been writing about music professionally for over a decade, covering everything from extreme metal to country. She was deputy editor at Prog magazine for over five years, and previously worked on the editorial teams at Terrorizer and Kerrang!. She currently works as the production editor for The Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Guardian, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer.