EPIPHANIES IN ICELAND

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Oration MMXVII line-up – Artwork credit: Alex Brown

I thought the days of getting epiphanies were long gone. Extreme metal music, as an artform and as an object of consumption is being devalued routinely, as free access via streaming sites and keyboard-warrior culture are everyday phenomena. Are we listening to music in a comatose state?

Here’s the thing. I like a lot of different music. Metal music happens to speak on a deeper level to me, that’s another theme. I like music that confronts me, music that is skewed, schizophrenic, insane, beautiful. I’ve got patience for music. Music that takes me out of my comfort zone and makes me ponder existence. Lately, I’ve felt that many of the classic extreme metal bands have run their course, loosing their extremity. The consequence is a reaction that screams “underground”. Someone take me away from all this conventionalism! My curiosity hastens netherwards, there’s a reason why this blog is called Extreme Metal Voyager.

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Mannveira – Photo credit: Woda I Pustka

This is about black metal. I have fallen back to a place where my senses start to shiver again. More importantly, I had a revelation at Oration MMXVII in Reykjavík back in February. Originally a one-off gig showcasing some of the extremely potent Icelandic black metal bands, the concept has now, already at its second edition, progressed into something bigger!

The event is hosted by Oration Records and Studio Emissary. Behind both banners, one finds Irishman Stephen Lockhart, based in Reykjavík since 2007. An interesting personality with numerous projects under his wings. Studio Emissary being his main enterprise, where he’s worked with a great deal of Icelandic bands, forging the now well respected “Icelandic black metal sound”. Also an esoteric black metal visionaire in Rebirth Of Nefast, whose debut album finally saw the light of day in March after almost a decade in production.

Held at music venue Hurrá, the three-day black metal festival revealed a special habitat; down to earth people in attendance, paying attention to the performances, a few candles lit by the stage, fewer smartphones than normally seen at festivals, limited speeches between songs, a special setting with a distinctive mood, undoubtedly. Already in the early hours of the first evening, I was awestruck by the unbelievably high quality initiated by Icelandic  bands such as Draugsol, Mannveira and Naðra, all bringing aggression, doom, and searing, ethereal melodic prowess in their sets. The mystical visual aspect played a significant role in the whole experience, many of the bands almost hiding their terrestrial appearance.

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Zhrine – Photo credit: Woda I Pustka

Fresh off a lenghty North American tour, the young chaps in Zhrine had a more traditional appereance, being very charming guys on sight, channelling skillful and tightly executed blackened metal, pouring out wave after wave of atmospheric dissonance. Mark my words, this band is going places. Other examples of Icelandic black metal essence came with crushing performances from MisÞyrming, Sinmara and the swallowing blackness of Svartidauði, closing the festival. As if this wasn’t enough, bands like Nexion, Almyrkvi and the enigmatic rites of  NYIÞ, reinforced the quality of the now luminous tag “Icelandic black metal.

There were bands from abroad as well. Let’s not forget that there’s a world outside of Iceland. Some truly obscure rarities had been lined up for this black metal commemoration. There seems to be an Irish connection, and I did notice some returning faces onstage when Haud Mundus and Slidhr did their eerie sets. Same regarding Rebirth Of Nefast. Aosoth obliterated the venue with pure aggression while Outre showed why they’re one of more interesting black metal bands from Poland. Two bands prevailed beyond doubt, and these were Mgla and The Ruins Of Beverast, now I see what the fuzz is about concerning the two, much respect.

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Rebirth Of Nefast – Photo credit: Woda I Pustka

I read an interview recently, where a person suggested that black metal has lost its hostility and that practitioneers are too busy in becoming enlightened, spiritual, producing “humanist black metal”. My experience at Oration MMXVII proved the opposite. Im my opinion, this artform dubbed black metal, has meaningful, critical value. The aggression doesn’t appear off-track, it’s still a vital part but what’s changed is the refined approach in executing the aesthetic. It’s transcendental rather than purely misanthropic.

Three days of black metal might be stretching it a bit too far in my opinion, but then again, when does my viewpoint ever count? I was fatigued towards the end yes, but the environment had a special, reserved character to it and the performances never really decreased in quality, very inspiring to witness. I had my revelation. Mission completed!

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Haud Mundus – Photo credit: Woda I Pustka

The gorgeous live pics are credited to Woda I Putska. Check out their page here.

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  1. Great write up. I particularly appreciated your comments at the end about black metal becoming transcendental rather than strictly aggressively misanthropic, and the aesthetic getting refined. A lot of “kvlt” kids bemoan a lot of the evolution of black metal (especially things post-Deathspell), but I frankly find it to be very fulfilling. I like older black metal, don’t get me wrong, but the darkness has gained so much in profundity for this genre, thanks to some truly visionary musicianship and I think more intimate explorations of The Abyss. That to me is what makes Black Metal quintessentially meaningful in ways that nothing else can touch…for us dwellers in the dark, at least. 🙂

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