Report: Reykjavik Metalfest 2019

16 – 18th of May, 2019
Gaukurinn, Reykjavik

Words by Ingrid (I), Laetitia (L) and pictures by Wouter (W)

The Metal-Exposure crew is always eager to explore new territories and this weekend our journey has brought us all the way to Reykjavik, Iceland for the somewhat first edition of Reykjavik Metalfest. Previously this festival went by the name ‘Reykjavik Deathfest’ but the organization decided to broaden their horizon and invited bands from other genres as well.

The location for the festival was venue Gaukurinn. Upon entering we were pleasantly surprised about the atmosphere. Festival and venue crew were welcoming and enthusiastic to all visitors and the vibe inside was great as well. We knew it wasn’t going to be the world’s biggest indoor festival, but still were surprised by the coziness we entered in (with space for about 300 people). For the hungry ones amongst the audience, there also is a tiny vegan restaurant inside Gaukurinn, so we were not only welcomed by the crew, also by a great smell of food!

Thursday
After ordering ourselves a beer (the happy hour lasting until 21.00 was a joy to our wallet) the first band Hubris soon started playing and the festival officially started. Half of Hubris consist of members of Auđn to whom we are not unfamiliar. Seeing them on stage without a suit on, on the other hand, was a different sight. They played only half an hour, but it was half an hour of one big wall of sound, not your typical warm up band. The acoustics in Gaukurinn are surprisingly good and wouldn’t disappoint us during the festival.

One of the bands that I was looking forward to see was Almyrkvi (IS). Partially because I was curious if they could translate the intense, haunting and dark atmosphere of the full length ‘Umbra’ to the stage. They did so without an effort. Vocalist Garðar sometimes reminded of Taake’s Hoest, hooded and with theatrical moves, while the other band members hardly moved in comparison. With some more live experience and perhaps a little bit of practice on the clean vocals, I have no doubt that Almyrkvi transform into a live force to be reckoned with, like many of their Icelandic elders.

The Icelandic grindcore band Forgardur Helvetis apparently is a legend in Iceland. It was clear that the group had a fanbase in Gaukurinn, as a mosh pits started early on. Still, the crowd seemed a bit divided: many among the audience (most likely people unfamiliar with the band, a.k.a foreigners) used this moment for a chat and a drink, while others stood in front of the stage, or were moshing. As we watched a couple of short songs, we decided that this specific brand of grindcore wasn’t for us either.

Highlight of the evening for many of the visitors was headliner Potentiam. It has been 15 years since they last released a full length album, and their live shows are very rare as well. I think it’s safe to say they reached a cult status in the Icelandic metal scene and most visitors couldn’t stop talking about how excited they were for this show. When their first tunes started, the venue was filled from front to back and the crowd went crazy. I must admit that to me it felt as if the band had to defrost a little during the start of their show, but once they were about 15-30 minutes into it, I could see why everybody was so enthusiastic and enjoyed the rest of their show. With that, the first day of the festival was already over.

Friday
Some side events were organized around the festival and on Friday as well as Saturday you had the chance to enjoy a Music Walk around the city before the festival started, with music journalist Arnar Eggert who would tell you a lot about the music culture and industry in Reykjavik and Iceland. We shamefully have to confess that we didn’t do the music walk, which is a pity, because we heard it was very interesting. Maybe next year if we will manage to get our asses to the festival again, we will join, but for now we will also recommend you to take part in the walk!

One of our other biggest regrets was missing out on Psyclosarin their show. We arrived a tiny bit late to the venue and they had just quit playing. During the festival we got to know these guys and their Death Metal music and were even more bummed that we missed the show. We hope they will cross the pond more often and we’ll manage to see them one day.

The first band we actually díd get to see was Andavald, and since we’re guilty of being fans of (underground) Black Metal we were curious to see what their show would be like. For one the dramatics of the vocalist(s) were exactly as you would expect. Shrieking cries while crawling on the floor weren’t an unfamiliar sight during their set. Pretty nice band to start our evening with and a recommendation if you’re into the Icelandic black metal scene.

Next on stage, we saw a couple of more familiar faces. Also hailing from Iceland, Death metal band Beneath entered. Since their vocalist couldn’t be joining, their former vocalist and also organizer of the festival Gísli stepped in and joined his former band on stage. It was great to see him and the rest of the band enjoying themselves on stage, playing a hometown show. I was quite impressed by the gig as well. Beneath played a tight nice set with some people in the audience going wild and crazy.

Another performance (seriously, this line-up deserved a big thumbs up) we were looking forward to see was Hamferđ. It’s been a while that we last saw the guys from the Faroe Islands perform, so we were curious to see how the doom metallers developed over the years. Thankfully we soon found out that they still are as mesmerizing as they were before. Jón his voice takes you into a trance from the start of the show till the end. The setlist represented a nice mixture of songs from their discography.

What followed was probably the best show of Reykjavik Metalfest: Benighted from France are known for their great live performances and I have declared them as being the best band of a festival before, even though their style isn’t my first choice.

As you by now probably have guessed: today was no exception. Even though by now it was pretty hot inside the venue, and at first I was wondering how the crowd would react because of that, the band barely had started or a big mosphit started, and continued until the very last seconds of the set.
The Frenchmen themselves got sweatier and sweatier by the minute as well, seeing that they gave everything for one hell of a performance. The band and crowd enjoyed themselves massively and it was one of the highlights of the festival, and for sure the best performance of this second day.

Legendary Finnish death metallers Demilich ended the second day of the festival. Despite their status, having to play a set after Benighted with a venue smelling of mosh pit sweat and with a tropical temperature really is a challenge. Still, an iconic band such as this one, wouldn’t have gathered such a name if they couldn’t rise up to the task. Crushing everything in their path and treating the audience to some Demilich classics, the Finns once again proved to be worthy of their headliner slot.

Last band today were Icelanders Sinmara. This band is on the road of breaking through in Europe and probably the rest of the world as well, but today they played in their hometown, where it all began. They already stood on stage yesterday as well (since this band is basically Almyrkvi) and knew what to expect, but today they were headlining. They obviously have a good fanbase here at home because the crowd reacted enthusiastic to their set. Somehow we ourselves have to confess that today wasn’t their strongest show we’ve seen. It wasn’t bad, but we expected a bit more.

And with that we also called it quits for today. There were a lot of nice opportunities to continue the party, in Gaukurinn itself or somewhere in the city, but with a long last festival day still ahead, we skipped the party.

Saturday
Our last day started early. As mentioned, Reykjavik Metalfest organized a lot of side activities during the festival and one of those was a brunch where people working in the metal scene were brought together to enjoy some (REALLY GOOD) food and talk about the metal music industry.

We had some really interesting talks with for example some organizers of various festivals (Wacken Open Air, Summer Breeze, Midgardsblot and of course Reykjavik Metalfest) as well as some Icelandic musicians and people working in the Icelandic Music Industry, since the brunch was being held in the office of the Icelandic Music Expo

Leaving this interesting meeting, we moved on to the music panels that were being held in Iðnó restaurant a few blocks away. We followed two interesting discussions about ‘is metal heading for the pension home and is it for old men’ and ‘exporting metal – the Icelandic case’. After the panels there was a chance for a music walk through Reykjavik again, but we prepared for the rest of the festival.

The first band to watch was Heift. Again we spotted a couple of familiar faces on stage ( sharing musicians with Auđn / Hubris). The black metal band started early and played a short set. Heift has only been around for one year, but we are curious to see what the future will bring for them. The music and the stage performance were convincing and the band members showed great enthusiasm, which made this group an excellent opener of the day. Hopefully we’ll get to hear more a next time.

Shame on me but I never heard of Damim before, yet I was pleasantly surprised by their performance today, even though they’re not exactly up my alley. These contemporary UK metallers (featuring musicians from Akercocke and Sarah Jezebel Deva) have been around for a few years now, but have recently drawn more attention to themselves with their newest record ‘A Fine Game of Nil’ (check it out). With Damim’s blackened, yet technical approach to death metal and with complex songs, it takes a moment for this band to grow on you, but trust me, it’s worth the effort.

Who doesn’t like a bit of unadulterated Norwegian black metal? We would be lying if we’d tell you otherwise. With the records ‘Dommedagskvad’ (2017) and the recent follow-up ‘Nid – Hymner av hat’ (2018), the black metallers of Whoredome Rife have been steadily making a name for themselves in recent years. With raw, mid-paced tunes, the musicians gazing upon the audience with evil glances, and the band sometimes accelerating to more headbang-appropriate speed, Whoredom Rife actually played the perfect set today.

It’s been a while since I last saw the French guys from Svart Crown perform so I was excited and curious for what they would show us today. I remember them as being a great and very tight playing live band, so the expectations were high! Well, they did not disappoint me, what a great show. I’m not much of a headbanger, but I almost banged my head off!

The headliner of the festival for probably a lot of people was Napalm Death. It was obvious when looking around that a large amount of the audience bought a day ticket today, just to see Napalm Death perform here in Gaukurinn. And with good reason, because they aren’t the least of all bands, and having the chance to see such a big band on a relative small stage is quite unique. Like Benighted, they aren’t the kind of band of whom I put on an album at home, but I always enjoy a good live show by the band. They’re experts in what they do and Barney certainly is a character on stage. Even though the venue got even hotter inside (but if you know where to stand, it was pretty bearable) the people didn’t hesitate one second and started moshing. The entire show was one big party.

Very last band of the festival and playing a hometown gig were the guys from Auđn. They obviously had a good fan base supporting them. Still, it seemed some people already pulled the plug on Reykjavik Metalfest, as it was a little less crowded than during Napalm Death. Being fans of the band, and having seen quite a few performances already, that’s something we don’t completely understand. We were glad to see there were enough people who agreed and many heads were banging and some fans were even singing along (not us, Icelandic is still a tongue twister for us). It was a good show and it seemed the band and the audience put in all their effort to ending the festival on a great note. Kudos to guitarist Aðalsteinn Magnússon, not only playing with three bands at Reykjavik Metalfest, but working as crew tirelessly for days straight.

And so Reykjavik Metalfest was (almost) over. I say almost, because as with any festival, there are always parties lasting through the night. Making the best of it, we joined in on the festivities and were in the end surprised to hear the Dutchies had won the Eurovision songfestival. The next day, there was a movie about the grindcore scene and an interview panel with Napalm Death, but in need of some rest (did someone say hangover?), we had to bail on this one.

As you might conclude yourself already: Reykjavik Metalfest is a go! If you want to widen your festival horizon we would definitely recommend it, especially if you plan on roadtripping through Iceland afterwards (we did). The hospitality, generosity and kindness of the Icelanders (crew, organization but also everyone we met) is amazing! The festival is well organized and has a lot of very interesting side activities as well to bring the metal community closer together.

Reykjavik Metalfest website