Report – Dark Troll Festival IX

10-12 May, Bornstedt, Germany
Words: Monica
Pictures: Wouter
Contributions: Sam (S) and Wouter (W)

This spring we joined the Dark Troll Festival family at the beautiful medieval ruins of Bornstedt castle in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. The line-up was composed of international pagan, folk and black metal bands.
The festival was sold out for the third time in a row now, yet there was enough space to walk or chill around at the festival site itself. When we entered the camping it immediately felt like ‘home’. Friendly neighbors all around and some good pagan, folk or black metal tunes from speakers somewhere around.
Entering the gate to the festival was amazing; a medieval ruin filled with cozy spots to sit, eat and drink inside the walls and on the west side of the ruin there was a beautiful view over the valley and above all, a Viking camp entertaining the masses with their show fights.

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Thursday
Unfortunately, as we had to drive quite a few hours, we missed the first three bands. After climbing up the hill with our tent and beer we found a nice little spot at camping A. This campground was located next to the ruin. Camping B and C were based down the hill, where also the parking place was. After putting up our tent and waving to the neighbors we entered the Gate to the medieval ruin.

Odroerir was about to start their acoustic show. The small stage was decorated very atmospherically with wooden seats and more. Seven years after “Götterlieder II”, Odroerir produced a new CD in 2017: “Das Erbe unserer Ahnen” – surprisingly with a lot of Celtic influences. I expected the magic of an acoustic show after this release, but it just wasn’t there (compared to the amazing acoustic shows of Skyforger, for example). This was also partly because of the not-to-good sound mixing. Without any announcement, the show was over and Odroerir left the stage, still with an enthusiastic applause.

Next were, unknown perhaps to some, Sojourner who I count as one of the best (epic) atmospheric black metal finds of 2016, when they released their debut full length “Empires of Ash”. Sojourner are masters when it comes to soundscaping the Romantic adoration of nature, nostalgia and perhaps the current (partly movie and series driven) revival of historical and phantasy-orientated themes. The comparison to Summoning and Caladan Brood is one that is easily made. However, Sojourner adds to the magic by more intricate melodies (using guitar, tin whistle and piano/keyboard) and, lest we forget, the addition of Chloe Bray’s voice to the stretched and epic growls of Emillio Crespo. Touring a band that literally stretches the globe from New Zealand to Italy/Scotland and Sweden is not a daily occurrence, nor an easy feat in term of rehearsals. Still, the performance at DT was tight, convincing and mesmerizing, even though their amount of live experience as Sojourner is rather ‘limited’. A grand play, opening the gates to the worlds past, yonder and nether just a bit further. (W)

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Some German bands played next; pagan metal bands from Thuringia: XIV Dark Centuries and Gernotshagen, and Firtan played in between them. XIV Dark Centuries have not published a new CD since 2011, but are still pretty well known and appreciated among the Dark Troll visitors. This was also the first time that I noticed fans headbanging during a show on this festival.

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If you had told me three years ago that Firtan would put on one of my favorite shows at this year’s Dark Troll festival, I’m not sure I would’ve believed you. But these fresh-faced young lads from Lörrach have been touring like mad all over Europe, and their hard work is really paying off. They piqued my interest with their tight, professional set at last year’s Ragnarök Festival, so I was looking forward to seeing them present their as-yet-unreleased second al-bum “Okeanos” in full on the Dark Troll stage. Their new opus did not disappoint – “Okeanos” has a massive, atmospheric sound that at times reminded me of The Great Old Ones, and at other moments Moonsorrow. The icing on the cake was the live violinist who joined them on stage; I hope we’ll be hearing more of her work on the studio recordings. The band rounded off their set with a couple of classics, including “Wogen der Trauer” and “Seelenfänger.” I can’t speak to the visuals of the performance, as I had my eyes closed almost the entire time, but the music alone was powerful and exciting; I can’t wait to hear the studio version of “Okeanos” when it’s released on July 13th. (S)

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Gernotshagen started their intro and the audience became a crowd. Like always, Gernotshagen is pleasant to watch and their stage performance fits to their pagan music with classic and folk influences. This was the last show for Maik, their lead guitarist for many years. Ex-XIV Dark Centuries and Ex-Menhir guitarist Roman will take over Maik’s place in Gernotshagen.

Thursday’s evening closer were the international/Belgian black metal entourage The Committee. Perhaps slightly better suited for a dark and indoor venue, their set suffered from less audience than they deserved. The delay in the program of by now about one hour did not help in that respect. Still, they managed to have me captivated, irrespective of the hour. Especially with the impressive, gripping debut album (“Power Through Unity”) songs “Katherine’s Chant and the Last Goodbye” – true to their motto of being the voices of the dead. Some newer, perhaps more intricate, material of course did not go amiss, with neck breaking “Synthetic, Organic Gods – Weapons of Genocide”. The atmospheric, unforgiving, pacing drone and melody really give voice to what I would designate as a huge historical and contemporary aversion with humanity. The Committee also plays their music so damn well, both on studio and live, making this a band to base your festival visits on. (W)

We were actually still in for a camping party after The Committee show, but there were almost no people awake or dancing to silly music. After socializing a little during the cold night, (most of) us went to our tents.

Friday
On the way from camping A to the festival area (which was basically like walking for 3 minutes) we made a little break in the forest to drink a beer and listen to Windir with a bunch of forest-metal-heads. Well, unfortunately we missed the first band.

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Krater was the second band on Friday. The black metal with death and melody sections got us pretty good. Even when it was pretty sunny, I still felt like there was a dark atmosphere around us. Krater went hard and dark, a perfect start of the day.

The next band was Crimfall. This Finnish epic symphonic Viking band was something completely different. It reminded me of the Dutch Gothic band Epica and After Forever. The charming female opera vocals made the audience enthusiastic. Besides the female vocals, the second lead singer had heavy grunts, which made it an interesting and new combination. It’s worth to check out this band.

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The second Finnish band of the day was Havukruunu who played a really energetic show. The front man was making jokes and seemed to enjoy playing live and interaction with the au-dience a lot. They started with “Kuvastaja” from their second album “Havulinnaan”. They don’t play live too often, which you totally won’t notice if you see their show. Well, apart from the moment in which the frontman was playing a solo. “Totally ruined it!” he said afterwards 😉.

The atmospheric black metal band Dynfari from Iceland took us through an emotional roller-coaster with their last album “The Four Doors of The Mind”. They played many (almost) instrumental song with some loud screams which did fit into the atmosphere of the evening and surrounded ruins. It was a bit too emotional for my festival mood, but the audience seemed to enjoy it.

After existing more than 20 years I’m still satisfied to see Horna. With so much experience their show was still black, dark and as irreconcilable as possible. There was an excellent vibe during their show.

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What to say about the headliner Ereb Altor? They simply blew me away. They started with many new songs of their second and last album “Ulven”, which was terrific. The audience enjoyed it visibly. Many heads were turning around and arms were raised up to the gods. Like Ereb Altor often does, they played two nearly perfect Bathory songs as a gift. With the first notes of “Twilight Of The Gods” of Bathory the audience went crazy. Even if Ereb Altor have their roots in Bathory, with “Ulven” it feels like they started a new side chapter to their own, which got really appreciated during their show. This was absolutely my favorite show of the day.

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The Saturday evening ended with Horn at midnight. This was their first open air gig, after many indoor shows. Especially for the Dark Troll Festival they played “De einder” with two guest musicians: Lestaya (Cellist of Ferndal) and Joris (vocalist of Wederganger). Horn was a fine black metal band to end the second day with. Even when it was already getting a little late, still quite some fans were having a good black time during Horn.

Saturday
After dancing under a party tent the Saturday evening, the hangover was there. After breakfast and a warm shower, I was ready for (unfortunately already) the last day.

If you have a hangover, Trollort can be your problem solver (or your rival). Like real trolls, the band and audience were humpa-ing around in the ruin to some Finntroll 2.0 tunes. Ok, it’s not a really new concept and they might have wanted to start more than 10 years ago, but well, it can still be cheerful on a sunny day.

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Just before their Victoria Europe Tour with Marduk and Ragnarok, the German band Unlight quickly stopped for a show at Dark Troll Festival. In bright sunlight they were performing a nice set list of their black metal showcase garnished with melodies. The show was fine, but also not too spectacular. I went for a drink and enjoyed it from the background.

The Finnish black metal band Shade Empire were next, thrilling a crowd which could strongly sympathize with melodic/symphonic metal of older – and newer songs, such as from their last album “Poetry of the Ill-Minded”.

While the German Vikings Obscurity arrived on stage like their ship comes to their homeland, the crowd was also ready for a battlefield. While I’m watching from the back, the audience is going along enthusiastically to songs from “Streitmacht”, which they produced last year. Over-all a fine and energetic show with a short visit by the Vikings on stage.

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Danish death metal Illdisposed truly surprised me with their blasting, infectious music. Merciless riffing, thundering bass and vocals that alternate between deep growls and the occasional squeal – all put together in a brilliantly composed and technically outstanding stew of death metal. This had the audience massively banging their heads, getting rid of two days’ worth of festival tiredness. Illdisposed is one of those bands that had me scratching my head after-wards, thinking: “How the f* did I not see this earlier?!”. After so many black and folk styled bands, this was the very welcome ‘odd duck’. (W)

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The lineup of Dark Troll Festival wasn’t complete without the Latvian band Skyforger. Even after seeing Skyforger many times for the past 10 years, they never get boring. The crowd was super passionate and I saw people headbanging all over. As Skyforger nowadays give shows without any folk instruments, the show was dark and mysterious. But as a Skyforger fan, I would love to have the folk instruments back on stage. This is what gives Skyforger a unique sound and creates a balance between dark and pagan elements in their music.

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Arkona are always one of my favorite live bands, and their performance at this year’s Dark Troll was no exception. The band divided their set between songs from their new album “Khram” – which sees them taking strongly toward black metal – and older classics, including moving numbers like “Slavsja Rus” and party hits like “Stenka Na Stenku.” While I was completely mesmerized by the entire set, as usual – Masha is an absolutely magnetic frontwoman, backed up by musicians who are masters of their craft – I was particularly drawn in by the tracks from “Khram.” It’s so exciting to see a long-standing folk metal band doing such innovative things with their music while still remaining true to their roots, and the energy those new tracks generate in a live setting is really powerful. Arkona’s set offered something for everyone: whether you came to worship at the altar of the pagan black metal gods or to dance and party ’til you dropped, Arkona delivered. (S)

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Wederganger were actually my primary reason for attending this year’s Dark Troll; I’d wanted to see them for years and never managed to make it to one of their “manifestations.” These Gueldrian black metal necromancers were the final band of the festival, and while the crowd was as sparse as it often is during that late-night slot, Wederganger gave it their all for the devoted followers who remained. Their raw, mystical black metal with a blend of harsh and clean vocals was the perfect accompaniment for the late hour, and their theatrical stage performance – replete with candles, lanterns, smoke, and grim-faced posturing – kept the audience trans-fixed and energized deep into the night. It was a haunting and exhilarating experience that left me wanting more. So imagine my dismay when I learned immediately afterwards that rather than reviewing the band’s set, I would be writing an epitaph: I had just witnessed the final Wederganger show ever. O woe! I can only hope that like their namesake, Wederganger will someday rise from the grave to haunt Europe’s stages once more…(S)

Dark Troll Festival is a true experience. As the festival is located in between the walls of the ruin of Bornstedt, the atmosphere feels amazing. The festival is pretty small, which makes it feel cozy, even when the festival is sold out. It felt like a really familiar to visit Dark Troll. Besides the amazing shows we have been seen, there were nice (besides regular German fast food & beer) Mexican food trucks, a cocktail bar and a mead stand.

Imagine yourself standing with a nice beer or cocktail near the west side of the surrounded ruin walls to watch an amazing sunset over the valley surrounded by the atmospheric black metal riffs of Firtan or Sojourner enjoying it together with friends and Vikings – What an atmosphere! A big applause for the festival crew! Dark Troll Festival: we will be back!

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