As an Icelander I am used to people from all over the world asking me if everything over there is really as it is said to be. Are the volcanos really so dangerous and close to towns, blowing up all the time? Are the geysers real? Do they really blow water meters and meters into the air? Is the landscape as extravagant as the photos on the internet? Can you see the northern lights from your kitchen window? And so forth.
Most of the time the answers to those questions is yes, well, except for the volcano ones, they aren’t that close to towns most of the time and they don’t blow up in our faces every other day either. A lot of them are dormant, but even so many are also active, which leads me to my next point.
Just like active volcanos, the Icelandic metal scene is also very active. Even if the latest numbers show that the population is only a little over 360.000, there are plenty of metal bands there that range from activities such as having fun, to trying to make it, to having already made it nationally as well as internationally. I know what you are thinking, we have the most obvious ones such as Skálmöld, Sólstafir and even Dimma, which all have made it in their own genres of folk Viking metal, post metal and rock. But there is so much more to the scene than just that and more and more bands appear to be rising on the horizon, which for me is just delightful because I know how hard these bands work, being from a country with such small population and apparently volcanos and geysers blowing in their faces when they aren’t busy gazing up at the northern lights.
A little over a decade ago I started to make my way once a year to the far eastern part of Iceland over the second weekend of July to attend the metal festival Eistnaflug, located in the extremely small seaside village of Neskaupstaður. A loose translation of the festival would be “The Flying Balls Festival“, and yes, it does concern the flying of testicles. The first festival was held in August of 2005, it was 1 day long with 50 guests and 50 people appeared to play. Three years later the guests had become approximately 1000, and 1500 in 2010. In 2014 the number of guests had reached 1800-2000 and the festival was moved from the usual venue of Egilsbúð where it had been held for almost a decade, over to the gymnasium of the village. So it’s clear to see that this festival has become the largest metal festival Iceland has to offer, and it’s not just a terrific platform for newcomers and underground bands but even huge international names have played there. Opeth, Týr, Kreator, Amorphis, Meshuggah, Max & Igor Cavalera, Rotting Christ, and my personal favorite; The Monolith Deathcult have appeared at the festival throughout the years so it’s fair to say it has bloomed, at has been something that the Icelandic metal community has been very proud of being a part of. The motto is „no idiots allowed“, and pretty much everyone plays by that rule.
Whatever sort of a metal-head you are, whatever style you go for or which genre is your favorite, this is the place where we are all accepted by others and it does not matter if that is by other guests, or simply by the approximately 1500 other people who live there. I happen to have many relatives in that little village as my mother, as well as my oldest brother were born there, and they always have a word about how nice metal-heads are, and how much fun it is to see the people who go all in with clothing and the corpse paint. Everyone is there for one goal; to enjoy!
Every year more and more newcomers appear at the four day long festival, I remember when The Vintage Caravan were even too young to appear and had to be accompanied by their parents, and ever since than they have been reappearing regularly and have since than signed with for example Nuclear Blast, as well as are appearing at Graspop Metal Meeting in 2020. Every time these guys put on a terrific show and even if psychedelic/hard/blues/stoner rock is perhaps not your cup of tea, the appearance they make and the show they put on is a joy for everyone. Zhrine has done the same thing. Previously known as Gone Postal, Zhrine came to be in 2014 I believe and released Unortheta in 2016 via the French label Season of Mist as well as having collaborated with Sólstafir. The melodic Meistarar dauðans have recently started to make their way into the scene, but these boys have been working since 2011, being just children at the time, and already have two records under their belts. I believe they played at the festival just last summer, and although I missed them I heard they did a kickass job.
Eistnaflug has expanded even further in the most recent times, and if you are looking at something a little more close to the capital of Reykjavík and not a sea village 700km east of it, than the festival is now presenting the new concert series called Back to the Metal Roots at a capital city located avenue Dillon in collaboration with Tuborg and Bulleit Bourbon. The series is hosted by the festival and will go on with regular concerts throughout the year. 1st of November last year Misþyrming and Mannveira kicked it off, on the 11th of January they have Alchemia, Paladin, and Alcoholia, as well as Forgarður Helvítis and Grafnár are scheduled for the 22nd of February. Even if I don’t live in Iceland anymore, nor did I live close to the capital city when I did, I am still excited to see where this new series will bring to the Icelandic metal scene.
I believe I can go on forever here but I think you get my point. The artists we have are working hard to provide material for us to enjoy and they deserve to be recognized so I urge you to check out the Icelandic metal scene for yourself. If you are goofing around in the country for the time being and looking for something to do you can keep up with Back to the Metal Roots at Dillon, and if you are looking for the créme de la créme of Icelandic metal I urge you to take time in the second weekend of July to attend Eistnaflug festival. Except if you are an idiot, because…no idiots allowed!
**Please support the underground! It’s vital to the future of our genre