Ragnarök Festival 2017

April 21, 22, 2017
Lichtenfels, Germany

Report and pictures by Laetitia (L), contributions by Wouter (W) and Sam (S).

Friday
I was the first of the Metal Exposure crew to arrive at Ragnarök, having driven down from Berlin the day before and spent an hour or two hiking around the local landscape, wheezing and sweating like the pathetic flatlander that I am. I was careful not to overdo it, though, because I wanted to be in top shape for a few of the earlier bands on Friday. I had actually intended to skip the very first band, Kultasiipi, since I’d seen them multiple times before and was never the biggest fan of their goofy shtick (“We’re from Finland’s southernmost city – Berlin!” Sure, and I’m from Germany’s westernmost colony, America!). I did end up watching a song or two, though, and they were a good choice for an opening act; they have a fun folk metal sound that the crowd – reasonably large for that early in the day – seemed to enjoy. (S)

Firtan, the second act of the festival, are another band I’ve seen so many times that I’ve lost count. These young gents from Baden-Württemberg have really pounded the pavement on tour for the last few years, earning themselves a considerable fanbase in Germany in the process – I particularly remember a massive crowd losing its collective shit for Firtan at least year’s Dark Troll Festival. I’ve always respected this band for their talent and hard work, even though they’ve never been one of my favorites musically. That being said, I really enjoyed their short set at Ragnarök this year. The guitar sound was more atmospheric than I’m used to from a Firtan live show, and the entire performance was tight and professional. I was really impressed – a few of their much older musical colleagues at this same festival could’ve done with taking a page out of Firtan’s book! (S)

Firtan were followed up by Anomalie, an Austrian black metal project with an all-star lineup, featuring members of Harakiri for the Sky, Agrypnie, and Bifröst. And the band’s sound is just what you’d expect from these folks: thought-provoking, atmospheric, powerful black metal. This was my second time seeing Anomalie – the first time was as the opener for the Rauhnächte tour last January – and the band’s growth was evident. They were confident on stage, working together like a well-oiled machine. Their music features mesmerizing riffs similar to those found in Harakiri for the Sky, and their skills were on fine display here; it was an impressive performance from start to finish. I’m looking forward to seeing them again sometime soon, hopefully with a slightly longer time slot. (S)

From the south came the Etruscan army of Voltumna and my first band after having arrived in Lichtenfels. Unfortunately, the forces they raised to watch them at Ragnarök wasn’t so great. Just about 200 – 300 people gathered around to watch front man Zilath Meklhum perform a theatrical ritual, dressed in dark robes, standing behind an altar and invoking the ancient gods. If you’d strip Voltumna of this appearance, there isn’t much to remain in awe about. The music of the Italians can be described as standardized melodic death metal and lacked musical prowess to keep it interesting for the entirety of the show. (L)

The Austrians of Ellende appeared to be a much more anticipated guest at the festival. Where with Voltumna, the venue wasn’t even filled for a third, Ellende managed to fill up the big hall nicely. With good reason, the band’s atmospheric black metal and laid back groove turned out to be very accessible and easy on the ears (even though the sound was a bit shaky during the performance). Those who think that watching such a band with the arms folded were wrong as well, since the young musicians managed to get a lot of response in the form of cheering and head banging from the crowd. This in combination with the flawless interaction of the band members and feigned-tortured-showmanship of vocalist Lukas made Ellende an interesting discovery at the festival and one of the better shows altogether.(L)

The next band I watched was Fäulnis hailing from Hamburg. Their music and show is a bit of a love-or-hate situation and for yours truly it was the latter. While they are probably a star at what they do: playing a cross over between black metal and punk, wanting to shock, raise hell and anarchy, their ‘fuck off’ punk attitude felt out of place at the festival. Recognizing that I was probably one of the few people around with this opinion, seeing that most of the crowd appeared to be entertained and energized by the punky atmosphere and were shouting along to the lyrics, I made my piece with it and let Fäulnis be. (L)

Fjoergyn hailing Thuringia brought out the works for their show at the Ragnarök festival. The stage was lavishly dressed in props, including standards with burning hearts. I first stumbled upon this band with the release of Ernte im Herbst (2005) and lost them out of my sight a little while after. I’ve managed to listen to Lvcifer Es (2017) and concluded that Fjoergyn has changed a bit in 12 years (how could they not), so I was curious to see this band anno 2017 (also because the one show of Fjoergyn I ever witnessed, years back, was very unimpressive). Even though I still have go get used to this more ‘metal’ approach the band now has, the concert was quite something to behold. Not just the aforementioned props but also the excellent performance of the band members (especially the priest of Satan-like look of vocalist Stephan L) and the organized chaos that is Lvcifer Es, hit me like a running train and definitely had me reconnecting with Fjoergyn once back home. (L)

The Italians from Elvenking was a band that many people were looking forward to see, if only for the nostalgia of being an early fan and now finally seeing this band live. Personally not having this ‘history’ with the elves, my initial attitude towards the band was a tad indifferent. Being there with a friend who did want to revisit Elvenking’s music, I did end up watching the show and one can only be thankful for that. The extremely cheerful, power metal influenced music had the same effect as drinking some energy drink and soon the very crowded venue was a dancing and moshing pit to the catchy tunes. Elvenking were the first (and actually only) group of the day that managed to turn the show into one big party. (L)

Band of the day and perhaps even band of the festival (for me) were Harakiri For The Sky from Austria. With their latest record III: Trauma in the top 10 of my 2016 year list, I very much anticipated this show and wouldn’t miss it for the world. There is not much one can say about to music other than that the band played it flawlessly, which all in all is impressive enough. Vocalist J.J. managed to get his agonized lines across perfectly and just like on the record, and also during a live setting, they hit hard and close to home, as opener ‘Calling the Rain’, did today. What probably makes a Harakiri For The Sky show more intense (or more feelz, as reviewer Sam once wrote) is watching them in a smaller, dark venue and because of that, a bit of atmosphere was lacking this evening. (L)

Finland’s Insomnium were one of the headliners of today. The melodic death metallers are one of those bands that no matter when, where or at what time you see them, you are in for a solid show. It’s a guarantee that the band’s elaborate guitar tapestry, punching groove and riffs and interwoven accessible melodics are a home run and will get people head banging any time, like on the various parts from the most recent effort, Winter’s Gate (2016) that Insomnium played. The show at Ragnarök festival was no different and for the entire set of an hour plus, necks were breaking all around us. (L)

There is a lot you can say about Finsterforst‘s latest EP and a lot has been said already. Whatever the feelings about the record Mach Dich Frei or the EP #YØLØ, you can’t deny that these Germans have climbed high on the ladder in the last years: as one of the bands who would open a festival like this, to nearly headlining it (but probably more thanks to an album like Weltenkraft or Rastlos than anything else. Either way, Finsterforst had promised a special set today at the festival, with a bigger line-up and the addition of Hannes a.k.a “Lulatsch” on the accordion. The band kicked off with the 22-minute epic ‘Finsterforst‘, which heavily relied on Hannes’ accordeon parts, which were unfortunately inaudible. The set was varied with tunes from Rastlos (by this time, the sound problems were solved) and ‘Hangover’ from the latest EP. All in all, the band appeared energetic on stage but all through 1-hour performance none of us were convinced by what we saw and it was kind of lost on us why the set of this evening ought to have been special. (L)

The final performance of the night was one I’d been looking forward to for months: Dornenreich’s (AT) acoustic set. It was at Ragnarök four years ago that I first fell in love with this band and bought my copy of “Flammentriebe,” which has remained one of my favorite albums of all time, closely followed by the band’s acoustic LP, “In Luft geritzt.” I was a little nervous about how an acoustic set would turn out at this festival, since Stadthalle Lichtenfels isn’t exactly known for its stellar sound, and the atmosphere at Ragnarök after midnight could best be described as “beer-soaked” – not an ideal place for delicate strains of haunting violin and whispered German-language poetry. But my concerns proved unwarranted – the acoustics were flawless, and only one person shouted “SLAYER” between songs. The setlist featured a number of tracks from “In Luft geritzt,” including “Jagd,” “Drang,” and “Zauberzeichen,” as well as one of my favorites from the latest album “Freiheit,” entitled “Traumestraum.” I find this band’s acoustic music so incredibly moving – they create a spellbinding atmosphere from such simplicity, with nothing more than a guitar, a violin, and carefully chosen words. I floated out of the venue afterwards wiping black tear tracks off my cheeks; there is no eye makeup waterproof enough to withstand a Dornenreich acoustic show! I wasn’t alone, either – I heard a number of people commenting afterward that this performance alone was worth the price of admission. This was, hands down, my favorite show of the festival. (S)

Gallery Friday

Saturday

After arriving just in time to catch the last song by German symphonic folk metal band Munarheim – always a crowd-pleaser in this neck of the woods, which was evident from the size of the crowd at the early hour of noon – I was ready for Ferndal, a relatively new project including two members of the excellent German black metal act Eïs. The band’s debut album had been released the day before the show, and up to that point, I had only heard one song: In die Freiheit.” It was enough to make me want more. This band does an excellent job of combining dramatic classical beauty with black metal brutality. Ferndal’s stage presentation was gorgeous – fires burning on either side of the intricately designed metal mic stand, with banners featuring the band’s artwork draped behind it all. The show opened with a stunning cello performance; it was a pity that the sound of the cello was mostly drowned out during the rest of the band’s set. On the whole, Ferndal have serious potential; it was evident from the show itself that they are a new band and still have some kinks to work out. The drums and guitars could have been tighter, and the clean vocals could have been stronger. But it was enough to pique my interest; I listened to their self-titled debut during the entire four-hour drive back to Berlin, and I was not disappointed; what a powerful, unique gem of an album these folks have created! If all goes well, I’ll be seeing Ferndal at least twice more this year, so I promise to report back on their development! (S)

Ach, der Robse. He’s a hard fellow to avoid in the German metal scene these days – when he’s not tearing it up as the vocalist for Equilibrium, he’s guest-starring in Finsterforst videos or kissing German festival photographers. This Ragnarök weekend, Robse was on hand to perform as the frontman of Mallevs Malleficarvm, his frustratingly-spelled new melodic black metal project. I was very skeptical going into this show; Robse is a great frontman in a band like Equilibrium, where nowadays, the music is all about having fun. But “party” isn’t a word that often escapes the corpse-painted lips of many black metal vocalists, is it? Also, it crossed my mind that another (former) Equilibrium frontman recently made a foray into the same genre – quite a good one, if you ask me – so it begged the question: Was this going to be a case of “Anything Helge can do, Robse can do better?” I expected to walk out of the venue rolling my eyes and laughing at the ridiculousness of it all; I was so certain that Robse playing grim and frostbitten was going to be a joke. But I’ve got to hand it to him – he and the rest of Mallevs Malleficarvm won me over. The music is absolutely solid, and while I could’ve done without the beer commercials between songs, the band’s performance was serious business. Their debut album, which was released on the first day of the festival, may not technically be breaking new ground in the genre, it is definitely worth more than a few spins. I guess I’m sold – sign me up for the next tour on the Robse Black Metal Party Bus. (S)

One of the first bands yours truly managed to catch today was the German pagan metal formation Asenblut. The band name already suggests what you can expect from this five piece: one-in-a-dozen pagan/blackened metal. The chunky riffs could be easily digested and the straightforward lyrics (shouting along with the words ‘Asenblut‘ wasn’t much of a challenge) made it a perfect band to start the day with: easy on the ears (albeit anything but innovative) and listening to the music with a first beer in your hand, an okay warming up, so to say. (L)

The godfathers of German pagan metal, Black Messiah, celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2016 with a couple of shows around. Since we failed to catch one of these gigs, we were happy that the band would play at Ragnarök. Even though the setlist of the musicians wasn’t that surprising with ‘Gullveig‘ from First War Of the World and the all time drinking classic ‘Sauflied‘ and ‘Irminsul‘ from Of Myths and Legends, there weren’t many bands at the festival that managed to create a similar atmosphere in the venue. When it was time to raise the drinks for ‘Sauflied‘, every cup in the venue was raised up high, strangers locked their arms together and starting roar along with the lyrics. This is Black Messiah as we all know it and love it. (L)

Next up: one of the reasons why I went to Ragnarök (besides some friendly terror and strawberries): Pillorian. Comprised by among others John Haugm (ex-Agalloch) and Trevor Matthews (UADA, Infernus) there is no lack of musical talent behind this relative new band (as you may also have in our review here). Indeed, they played a style of atmospheric death metal (yes, you read correctly) with a seeming ease that betrayed their experience. The drums were a true pleasure to listen to, as well as the guitars and dual vocals. Although I am probably not totally convinced due to missing Agalloch a lot, the music is a definite want more – need to see again before I can really judge. Some of this ‘unconvincingness’ is probably due to the less dreamy and melodic but rather darkened, blanketed, veiled sound Pillorian has. Part of this veil was lifted on ‘A Stygian Pyre’, which made my spirit lift likewise. (W)

Agrypnie is among one of those bands that haven’t left my playlist for more than a week in the last half year or so, a definite must-see for yours truly. Their progressive post-black metal stands out for it’s occasional use of three guitars, painting dreamy-yet-sleepless shapes of melody. The music is mesmerizing, even if getting the clean studio sound across and while also conveying the ‘live-feeling’ is often be at odds. As they are producing a new album, they took the opportunity to also have Eviga, the vocalist of of Dornenreich, sing the song he wrote for the new release (‘Aus Zeit Erhebt Sich Ewigkeit’). Although not typically my voice, the new material sounded very interesting and a perfect continuation of the direction taken with Aetas Cineris, as did their next song of the upcoming album. Closer ‘Schlaf’, with its gripping, dreary and dragging lead riff perfectly finished a show that got only better along its set. Would love to see a longer one next time around! (W)

The German black metal band Helrunar has by now reached a cult status and thus it was not surprising that a massive crowd gathered to hear the vile sounding, blackened muddy riffs of this band from NRW. The metallers opened with the song ‘Niederkunft‘ and from the first minute it was clear that vocalist Skald Draugir (also active in the German/Iceland black metal band Árstíðir Lífsins), was in for venomously spewing to lyrics to the audience, even though the clean vocals sounded a bit shaky. The many head banging heads to the burdened break downs and the hellish riff assaults during ‘Unten im Norden‘ and all throughout the concert, proved that Helrunar has earned their undisputed status in the (German) metal scene. For those who want to see the show at Ragnarök (again), check out the stream below. (L)

I knew there was no way Dornenreich’s metal set could possibly top the acoustic set from the previous evening, but that wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying the heck out of it anyway. It seemed like maybe the band was struggling with some sound problems during the first few songs – including my favorite song, “Flammenmensch,” which was a little disappointing – but I’ve seen variations of this metal set so many times over the last year or two that I’m probably hyper-sensitive to the slightest mistuning. The setlist covered most of the band’s career, including tracks from “Bitter ist’s dem Tod zu dienen” (“Leben Lechzend Herzgeflüster”), “Her von welken Nächten” (“Eigenwach” and “Trauerbrandung”), and “Hexenwind” (“Der Hexe flammend Blick”). They even offered up the metal rendition of a song they’d played acoustically the night before (“Jagd”). And of course, “Erst deine Träne löscht den Brand” – always an incredibly powerful live song. As a new-school Dornenreich fan (from “In Luft geritzt” onward), I actually love hearing the older songs live – I’m not a fan of the production on the original album versions, but the live arrangements of some of the tracks are so different that it’s like hearing a whole new song. My secret hope is that these live performances of old songs in recent months are a warm-up for a new live recording – maybe at Prophecy Fest? In any case, this was a solid Dornenreich metal show that left me with a sweaty brow and a sore neck. (S)

Having seen Primordial just a few weeks again in my hometown Arnhem in the Netherlands and leaving my completely in awe, I had high expectations of the set of the Irishmen today. And those expectations were even exceeded. Whilst the band opened (probably routinely during this tour) with ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’, the first rows with headbangers loosened up their necks after the first ‘go’ of vocalist Alan Averill and the first riff offensive from the guitarists. The same charismatic front man (does this man ever have a bad day? And if, he probably channels it into the performance) turned up things a notch in comparison to the concert I had seen only a few weeks before. From the intense (sometimes frightful) stares at the crowd, to heartfelt screams and a band that was on top of their game: Primordial definitely gave one of the best shows at this years Ragnarök festival. (L)

If you can say anything about Dark Funeral, it is that the Swedes most recent record Where Shadows Forever Reign (2016) is an absolute killer, whether you are listening to it at home or watching the black metal four piece destroying everything on stage. My high opinions on the album aside, the gig this night at the Ragnarök festival appeared a bit bleak in comparison to other shows I’ve seen of the Swedes (FortaRock in the Netherlands comes to mind). There was nothing to remark on the actual play of the musicians, yet the entire 1-hour set came across a little bit uninspired, as if watching Dimmu Borgir in the more recent years (and Satan forbid that Dark Funeral follows this path). Even though one could see the crowd going crazy and hairs flying everywhere, the interaction between the band members and the audience was off, leaving the show of Dark Funeral somewhat cold in memory. (L)

Also hailing from Ireland are Cruachan, a band that yours truly has listened to a lot in her early days as a folk metal fan but never managed to see live. Even though stylistically completely different from their fellow countrymen of Primordial, what they do have in common is a feeling for show and quality. The band managed to incite everyone who was still present (unfortunately many left after Dark Funeral, then again, that is their loss) to start dancing (or mosh) to the cheerful flute notes and guitar melodics of ‘To Invoke the Horned God’ or, when the time came, mesmerize everyone with the beautifully song, ‘Ride On’. (L) (if you want to see a small report the band made about the festival, check out their video on YouTube).

While we watched the theatrical performance of the avant garde black metal band Todtgelichter from Hamburg who played their farewell show at the Ragnarök festival from a distance, the last hours the weekend started ticking away. As always, this festival is a guarantee for a good party, both due to the music fans that roam the campsite and the festival area, as well as the line-up that features a good mix between the established bands and the upcoming ones. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t our last time in Lichtenfels, so we hope to meet you there during a next edition of the Ragnarök festival. (L) (S) (W) & a special mention for the terror crew.

Gallery Saturday