Ragnarök Festival 2018

06 – 07/04/2018
Lichtenfels, Germany

Report by Laetitia (L) and Wouter (W)
There are certain festivals that you keep returning to. For the Metal-Exposure crew and friends, one of those festivals is the pagan/black metal festival Ragnarök in Lichtenfels, counting almost ten (or over) years of attendance. The line-up this year was interesting with Thyrfing, Batuskha, Enslaved and Fejd, among the many, and the atmosphere is always welcoming. Onward, to Ragnarök!

As we usually never arrive before Friday, this time we had to chance to experience the first evening of the festival with a DJ and drinks in the Stadthalle. As the (music) of the opening feast wasn’t too much to our liking, we decided to make our own party at the campsite.

Friday

German pagan/black metal band Wolves Den was the first of the day and the first of the festival. After serious harassment of our co-writer Sam Riffle, who never stops telling about how great they are, I dragged myself from the sunny campsite to the dark halls of the festival. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Spearheaded by a familiar face, Helge Stang (ex-Equilibrium, Arafel), Wolves Den’s thundering black metal, manages to combine catchy riffs and an epic sound without losing heaviness. As you may guess, that works really well in a live setting. The crowd was already present in large numbers and responding in a lively manner to the music. Even though the band left a good impression, it wasn’t thanks to the sound. Almost all instruments were drowned out by a dominant drum. Nevertheless, a surprisingly good opener of the festival and actually, a slot higher up would have been more fitting. (L)

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Besides the Metal Exposure crew, only a select amount of Dutch people were around. Among those were also the pagans of Vanaheim. Like some other times, I was pleased to be wrong. Being the second time I saw them, after what I thought was a rather disappointing play as support band for Heidevolk, this show was a lot better. Both musically and (maybe a bit over-topping even) in terms of live performance. The sheer enthusiasm and quality of play managed to get most of the gathered heads nodding, even if most were just on the point of needing another beer to officially end their hang-over of the preceding day. (W)

Nailed to Obscurity was another positive surprise, as they managed to combine a certain amount of melancholy in their melodic death metal that resonated well with me (think: a slightly less heavy, more upbeat Insomnium?). Their dual guitar work was a pleasure to watch, betraying quite some song composition talent. I would recommend any and all heavy, blackened souls to give their latest, King Delusion, a try. (W)

Another band under recommendation from a friend were the happy Swedes from folk band Grimner. Performing folk metal as purely as it gets, it didn’t take long for many people to start dancing to the flute melodies of for example ‘Eldhjärta‘. It was their second time at Ragnarök and over the years, they’ve built a larger following in Germany. The show was energetic as could be, however, at first the clean vocals sounded a bit off key. Nevertheless, this didn’t affect the atmosphere around. The showman of Grimner is definitely flute player Johan Rydberg, his stage outfit looking like that of a butcher, who never stopped bouncing around for a minute or ceased to interact with the audience. Check them out when you have a chance! (L)

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Personal favorite (well Ragnarök had couple for me this year) Saor, a one man project hailing from the highlands of Scotland. Live, they played a set of mesmerizing songs, exactly as their trademark studio sound dictates. Well, almost exactly. Instead of a flute on a backing track, they have a live violin to assist the sweeping, dragging but enrapturing melody lines. Indeed, this fitted beautifully with Carved in Stone and Tears of a Nation. Much to my pleasure they also had Farewell on the set-list, a first class earworm song that always manages to stir the melancholic inner-self. (W)

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It’s the first time I’ve seen Leaves Eyes with their new vocalist Elina Siirala, also shortly after the release of the new album Sign of the Dragonhead. Naturally, a few songs from the new record were played, like ‘Sign Of The Dragonhead‘ and ‘Across the Sea.’ With viking actors taking the stage at first, the band attracted attention. Whether you are a fan or not, Leaves Eyes really is a show group that knows how to present themselves. Vocalist Alexander Krull engages with the audience by getting them to respond, Elina Siirala (fittingly a Lagertha look-a-like) makes her singing more powerful with gestures and it is hard to catch the guitarists and bass player standing still for a moment. Not my style of music, still a really convincing performance. (L)

Dark Tranquillity (Swe), are with their Gothenburg death metal sound, may be an odd one at Ragnarök. That did nothing to lessen their enthusiastic play they seem to always have. Much of this is due to Mikeal Stanne, frontman since the very beginning. The fact they that have been touring extensively the last three or so years, in support of their 2016 release Atoma, did not reflect on the band. Nor the audience, as this was a performance with a pretty massive and constant moshpit. Happily singing and moshing along to Monochromatic Stains, The Treason Wall and of course Forward Momentum, I managed to miraculously keep myself and my camera intact. Not joining was of course not an option. After The Wonders at Your Feet, must-play ThereIn followed, as did the audience. An uplifting, ‘and-screw-you-too’ feeling took over massively during their closer and favorite Misery’s Crown. DT – the band that never disappoints!? (W)

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Equilibrium has been on tour with Dark Tranquility and made a stop in Lichtenfels. Having seen a disappointing show in the Netherlands two weeks earlier, I wasn’t expecting much. Perhaps this is a good thing, as the German folk metal band gave exactly the show I was waiting for two weeks earlier. The band felt right at home on stage, playing flawlessly and energetically. The setlist featured a lot of, face it, party material like ‘Wurzelbert,’, ”Blut Im Auge‘, ‘Der Sturm‘ and ‘Unbesiegt‘. During ‘Die Weide under der Fluß,’ ex-vocalist Helge Stange (Wolves Den) joined the band on stage. All in all, there could not have been a better setting to see an Equilibrium show: on home grounds, surrounded by fans and with (mainly) old work. (L)

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Enslaved, another reason besides all the good things this festival offered, to be watching the stages of Ragnarök. These Norwegians, with their impressive oeuvre, also breathe performing as you and I breathe air. The show of Ragnarök was no different. Although honesty forces me to say that seeing them the first couple of times was more ‘magic’, they still manage to put down a shown that makes you forget everything around you, as the music is so dense, pleasing and cool to listen to. Of course they played songs from their new album E (Sacred Horse, The Rivers Mouth) but also older material, from which all time favorite Isa could not be missed. (W)

The Italians from Graveworm would end the first evening of Ragnarök. As many others, we watched the band from a distance before heading out to our own afterparty on the campsite. (L)

Saturday

After the sunny start of the second day, the first band we saw was the Romanian folk metal band Bucovina, one heartily recommended by some of our fellow countrymen and long time Ragnarök buddies. The melodic black metal influenced riffs combined with melodic singing gave the music a lighter atmosphere, the ultimate way to ease into a day of heavy music ahead. It didn’t take much persuasion for the band to get the crowd enthusiastic. Overall a good show and band, and a perfect fit for Ragnarök! (L)

Italian Enisum I was privileged to watch twice in the span of one week. On a stage with much better sound this time, but just as well played. A bit like their British atmospheric distant brethren Winterfylleth, they put down a distant, tapestry of (at times ultra-fast) riffing and drums, overlaid with grand, sweeping melody sound scapes. Their music may not be directly fitting for the summer to come, but the atmosphere is brilliant and immersive. (W)

Another slight odd one out was In the Woods… (No). Initially starting as a black metal band in the 90s, they have evolved to a more progressive, rock orientated sound. Watching from a distance, I cannot say I got really enthusiastic from the music. The staccato (break-beat) once-black metal with dragging melodies did no do too well with me, so I decided to leave this one short in favor of much needed nutrients, in both liquid and solid form. (W)

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The Swedes from Fejd returned to Ragnarök for the third time. Having seen a couple of shows of them already, today I concluded that the band has grown a lot over the years. Fronted by the ever smiling Rimmerfors brethren, the musicians maintain a professional performance and stage decoration, without losing that enthusiastic, folky vibe that Fejd always radiates during a gig. With dance-able tunes like ‘Härjaren‘, ‘Den Skimrande‘, and ‘Gryning‘ the show could (and should) have lasted twice as long. Onward to a fourth time! (L)

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We aren’t leaving the Scandinavian realms just yet, with Finnish Wolfheart up next. As you might expect from a Finnish band, they are very good with guitars and a black, almost humoristic, melancholic atmosphere. At the head of many (former) bands that fit just that description is Tuomas Saukkonen (e.g. ex-Before the Dawn, ex-Black Sun Aeon), who now is the frontman of Wolfheart. His sound may not be something new after all the bands that he pioneered the sound in, but the combination of drive, groove and aggression is a real gem with Wolfheart. Touring to support their third release, TYHJYYS, they opened with Boneyard after the intro. Although a bit flat on the vocals, the music was what one might expect from the country that is dark half of the year (and has inhabitants for which this is the full year): nerdery level 666 spot-on well played. And although I not a fan of backing-tapes, a chord was definitely strung when closer Routa pt. 2 was put to the stage. (W)

The popularity of Polish black metal band hasn’t lessened Batuskha, despite extensive touring over the past couple of years. For the first time, the Stadthalle actually felt crammed, as everyone was attracted to the venue like a moth to a flame. The (un)holy atmosphere of Batuskha’s stage performance has not lost its fascinating touch, as the musicians played through the songs from the debut album (Litourgiya) and performed their ritual with candles and incense. A tad less convincing was the sound, which appeared a bit thin. Nevertheless, it didn’t dampen the atmosphere. (L)

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Far far north.. A couple of Einherjer‘s records and songs remain folk metal legacy, yes, of course I’m talking about ‘Far Far North‘, ‘Odin Owns Ye All‘ and (for me) the entire Blot album. It is a bit harder to catch the band live these days, but we had a shot at Ragnarök today. The band gave an energetic show, but after the massive turnout during Batuskha, the people that stayed to watch the Norwegian band was a bit depressing. A switch in the timetable would probably have resolved slightly. Nevertheless, it was nice to hear a couple of those classics, also including ‘Ironbound‘. (L)

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Times by now call for some Greek dances, to the further glorification of oneself and of course Satan. Time thus, for the ever-awesome Rotting Christ. Though definitely not the first time we see them, they keep attracting audience over and over again, your truly included. The music (which is awesome) and live performance (which is infectious) must be at the root of it, although I admit a slight bit of nostalgia comes along as well. Ever since hearing Coronation of the Serpent during high school, I’ve been hooked. Granted, with a hiatus and some albums in between, they still withstood the fall of time on my playlist. The show was, after maybe less than 30 seconds of warming up, one big dancing, moshing and head banging party. And what do you expect, with the riffing as done on Daimonon Vrosis and Grandis Spiritus Diavolos? Another show for the books, where also a band seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. (W)

On the one hand a remarkable booking, on the other hand, quite logical: the British pirates of Alestorm were one of the most popular bands of the festival. The bands young following brings an entire new generation to the festival, one most likely dressed up in horrendously colored Alestorm shirts or other ehm, accessories. Not unlike the band, who for the occasion brought a huge rubber ducky, that sooner or later went stage diving by itself. The setlist featured the new party songs ‘Mexico‘ and ‘Fucked With An Anchor‘, but also the eldery ‘Nancy the Tavern Wench‘, ‘Keelhauled‘, and ‘The Sunk’n Norwegian‘. Ain’t no party without Alestorm, which they prove over and over again. (L)

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Swedish pagan metal band Thyrfing is one that has always managed to captivate me, with their older work from (among others) Valdr Galga but also with the most recent album De Ödelösa. Combine those groovy, headbang appropriate tunes with the fact that vocalist Jens Rydén’s expressions are on a similar high, powerful level of that of frontman Alan of Primordial, and you get why Thyrfing show is a pleasure to watch. The show at Ragnarök wasn’t any different. The crowd had thinned a bit after the performance of Alestorm, yet the people present made up for that in headbanging skills and cheering to the songs. A perfect closer for me for another great edition of Ragnarök! (L)

Closer? Not quite yet as the wicked know no rest nor freedom, until such path is shown and owned. That is exactly what Der Weg Einer Freiheit did. Performing a blasting avalanche of post/atmospheric black metal, heavy enough to scour the soul and brain of doubts and any insignificant thoughts (like breathing, for instance). Although touring in support of their 2017 release Finisterre with the songs like Aufbruch and Skepsis , the massive setlist also contained Repulsion, Zeichen and the wondrous Lichtmensch; the latter to my unrelenting delight. Although they seem more comfortable live than a couple of years ago, they are not a choreographic live band. But who really needs that, when their music is that magnificent? (W)

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Thus truly ended Ragnarök 2018 with all its music and merry making. Well almost. A minor bit of muscle ache inducing dances and prancing around (who knew, so many Scooter fans on a metal festival?) and some after party beers later, we found our respective sleeping bags under roof or tent. The next day was a mix of hang-over and tiredness but also: being content, happy and still riding the high of all the good shows and times. Thus we began the trek back home, to (oh the dread) ‘normal’ life. Rest assured however, we will be back for another Ragnarök! (W)