Prophecy Fest 2016

Report by Tabitha and Wouter – Pictures by Wouter
Balver Höhle, Germany

After a successful one-day festival in the Balver Cave in Germany, label Prophecy decided to extend the festival to last two days. We were the fortunate ones to enjoy this special festival. Prophecy mostly has black metal of the more avant-garde style under its wings – think Alcest, Negura Bunget, Dornenreich – to name a few, so it promised to be an interesting musical experience. (T)

Fitting for a festival featuring this kind of remarkable music would be an exceptional location. I’ve been to many a festival – some at boring, some at pretty, and a few at exceptionally beautiful locations, and Prophecy Fest obviously belongs to the last category. Why? Well, because it takes place in the Balver Höhle, a huge Stone Age cave in a lovely setting. As I will no doubt mention many times below, this location made for unique listening.
All of the bands’ concerts were, in one way or another, ‘special’ shows, some even playing in Europe for the first time. Important to note is that the organization didn’t plan the running order according to ‘popularity’, but according to suitable timing. (T)

Friday
After arriving at the festival, parking my car and setting up camp at the tiny campsite, it was time for the first performance of the day in the lovely dark and cool cave. Hekate, a German neo-folk group, opened the festival with a special opening ceremony, called ‘Die Sonne im Geist’. A lot of people had gathered in the cave to enjoy the start of the festival. The ensemble of vocalists and percussionists produced an entrancing sound, using interesting instruments as well as their voices. The tempo of the songs varied a bit, as did the instruments. At one point a hurdy-gurdy was used. It was obvious that the artists had thoroughly prepared the show, and it was an impeccable performance. The audience seemed to really enjoy the show, with some slight movement along with the music. However, it lasted a bit too long to our taste – it could have been a few songs shorter as it got a bit repetitive after a while. Nonetheless a great start! (T)

Next up was Germ – time for a more heavy sound. This Australian project by Tim Yatras (for the occasion supported by David Conrad (Heretoir) and Audrey Sylvain (only the first song)) provides Post-Black metal with a variety of influences, making it an atmospheric black metal experience with a bit more tempo. The audience immediately picked up the heaviness of the sound and started head banging. It was a successful first European show and the fans obviously appreciated it. (T)

Next was something special as well: French band Les Discrets was to present some of the song from the upcoming album “Prédateurs”. The music is a more Post Rock/ Shoegaze style, and very melodic. We used the opportunity to look at Les Discrets’ front man Fursy Teyssier’s, art exhibition inside the cave. It was a wonderful addition to the festival to have this exhibition in the back of the cave – the artworks were beautiful and really fitting to the atmosphere of the cave, as well as to the music. The art’s main theme was death – depicted on ca. 16 beautiful charcoal drawings, created solely for this event. Minor detail was that the light was sometimes a bit inconvenient, casting reflections in the frames. Originals could be bought at the festival for 280 Euros – in my opinion a very respectable price, and considering the small ‘sold’ stickers on almost every piece, the other visitors shared my opinion.(T)

After this excellent show, it was time for another premier: Iron Mountain from Ireland was to play their first show in Germany, here in the Balver Höhle. The instruments are very diverse with different kinds of flutes and pipes. Their music can be called ‘Psychedelic, Kraut and Post Rock (…) joined with Irish Folk.‘ Iron Mountain’s music was very fitting for the location, but couldn’t really convince me personally. Luckily, there was a whole audience that didn’t need convincing and enjoyed the colourful show enthusiastically. (T)

Although I have seen Secrets of the Moon a couple of times already and I consider them one of my favourites, the show at Prophecy Fest this year promised to be something special: A complete acoustic set. This, from a band who went from the (avant-garde) black metal of Carved in Stigmata Wounds and Priviligium to the occult rock of their latest, Sun… well, that looked potentially toe-curling, yet very promising. Unfortunately, due Namaah Ash (bass) no longer being part of the band, they went for a regular set. Well, regularly amplified, because the show was still special. They opted to play Sun completely. They played a very tight set, yet leaving some room for the live character development of songs. The show was as mesmerizing as the first time I listened to Sun. Sparsely lit, they truly showed us a world devoid of that which enables life on this planet but will eventually destroy us all: the Sun. A definite tip of the hat goes to Steffen Kummerer: He flew directly from Metal Days (Slovenia, playing for his own band Obscura) to Germany and while having had only 2 hours to practice the bass, he still managed well the entire set. (W)

After Secrets of the Moon, it was time for my personal favourite – Helrunar. Having seen them live a couple of times before I was still very excited about this show – after all it had been a very long time ago, three years! Also, I was looking forward to a band that had a bit more aggression and energy – after all this intricate and complicated music, sometimes all you need is straightforward German pagan black metal – which was provided by Helrunar. Unfortunately the sound was too saturated, meaning some essential guitar parts could hardly be distinguished. Furthermore, they played a lot of songs from their latest album, which I am not very familiar with. At least there was ‘Ich bin die Leere’, from Grátr, an album that I love. From the latest record there was for example ‘Devils Devils Everywhere’ and ‘Magdeburg Brennt’. They also played their Greek song ‘Οἶνος πρὸ τοῦ Πολυφήμου’ (yes, I copy-pasted that one) from the 2013 split with Árstíðir lífsins (yes, copy-pasted that one too). There was a large audience and the people seemed to really enjoy the show, head banging to the music and shouting and ‘hey’ing along. I was really looking forward to hearing the song ‘Älter als das Kreuz’ again..but was disappointed. They were not playing this, maybe because it doesn’t fit in their new style (they even changed the logo). However, all in all it was a great show, Marcel „Skald Draugir“ Dreckmann has a great voice and is an excellent performer! It was a great end of the day, after which we retired to the camp site and enjoyed some more beers before heading to bed. (T)

Saturday
Our Saturday started very sophisticated – after a walk through the beautiful area, we took a seat in the local town hall to watch the theater play by Woljäger titled ‘Van’t Liäwen un Stiäwen’ (‘Of life and death’). The hall was packed with several hundred people, who were silently enjoying the performance of a few actors, backed by a small musical ensemble. The acting was admirable and the songs (some were sung in a German dialect by Helrunar front man Marcel Dreckmann) were beautiful, giving you time and material to think about life, death and love. The length of the play was perfect, not too short or too long, and it was a great addition to the festival. (T)

Time for what could actually be called the second band of the day, but the first one in the cave – Völur from Canada were playing their first European show. And what show it was! This three-man band consisted of a percussionist, a bass-player/vocalist clad in a black habit, and a female (electrical) violin player/vocalist. During the first song I was not yet convinced, it sounded a bit like the bands of the day before and had nothing new in it. But as the show progressed, my respect and admiration for the music and the musicians grew. The light combined with the fogs gave it a magical atmosphere, so kudos for the light man/woman. The voices of both vocalists were excellent and a bit peculiar, making the duet parts that much more powerful. The violin (which was played with a lot of aptitude) sounded a bit off sometimes, but since it fit the music so well I am assuming this was intentional. There were beautiful acoustic parts, and the end was a kind of crescendo, which left me baffled and impressed. The exit of the band could have been handled a bit differently– they just started packing their stuff immediately, which is a style for some bands. In this case, I would have liked it better if they had just disappeared through the black curtain at the back of the stage. Nonetheless, I was thoroughly impressed by this band and I would love to see them again sometime soon! (T)

A huge darkness swallows each and every soul present into the by now familiar cave. Inside it, a likewise grand electric double bass (the snared version) envelops the heads, souls and bones of those present. The sound reverberating through the cave is almost as massive as its granite walls. Welcome to Bohren & the Club of Gore, a ‘Detective-Jazz’ group founded in 1992, amongst others inspired by the Dutch group Gore as well as doom, death and hardcore metal. The atmosphere and composition I would associate with an art-house serial killer movie. The gloom was somewhat alleviated by the vibraphone (and the dry humor of the front man), although listening to this performance without earplugs is in my estimate not possible without physical pain. Though not directly clear from their instrumental and somewhat experimental sound, these guys did manage to play a kind of music I’d call heavy metal!. Jazz is not directly my favorite, but it would become more so if other jazz sounded like Bohren! (W)

We didn’t imagine that so many people could fit on the relatively small stage inside the cave, but Icelandic Glerakur proved that it is possible to perform with 8 people and still be able to move around. Obviously, with five guitarists, one bass player and two drummers, the sound was really heavy and especially full. “Shoegaze on steroids’ Wouter called it, a fitting description. At first I found it to be a bit monotonous, nothing special and a bit overdone, but then when we were actually on the verge of leaving the cave, something in the music grabbed us and made us go back. As it turns out, the music slowly works towards what can only be called a musical orgasm, with one of the female guitarists screaming so loudly you could even hear it unamplified. Alas the show was over after this orgasm – and it felt a bit like having sex without cuddling afterwards. It was a shame the show was over when it was – we would definitely have liked to hear some more. (T)

To me, there are not a lot of bad things one can say about Alcest (well, perhaps their last album Shelter). Fortunately, they did an exclusive show performing the entire album Écailles de Lune. A flawless performance by Neige and his group, delivering their floating, black/shoe-gaze riffing sound with the typical Alcest combination of angel-like clean vocal and a definite blackened grunt. They clearly had fun seeing the audience mesmerized by their music, up to an almost hypnotic state. The sounds was, if loud obviously, also flawless. Dreaming away on Écailles and additional song s (Autre Temps, Là où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles) it almost a cold withdrawal to hear the last song (Délivrance) being announced. (W)

Time for a lot of strings! Sol Invictus, a one-time set from the UK, featuring Don Anderson, Matt Howden and Joanna Quail, was performing with several violins, an electrical cello, acoustic as well as electric guitar. There were some technical difficulties during the show but they did not influence the experience, which consisted of a folky and full sounding show with lots of interaction between the musicians. It was a pleasant change of pace and a bit less heavy than the other bands at the festival. Some lightheartedness is needed even at a festival like Prophecy fest, right? (T)

It would take something to top the magnificent play by Alcest, but Vemod did it for me. A rather small and unknown band from the land known for Kampfar, Emperor and Vreid and …well for brevity’s sake, I’ll stop the list here. But what a wondrous landscape of sound and evocation it was. From a distance, they may sound like your run-of-the-mill black metal, but that would be insufficient to describe their riffing and minimalistic yet massive sound. A Norwegian sung mix of esoteric clean vocals and far-away black metal grunts, enveloped in a mist of fast played, chaffing black metal riffs. I experienced the show in a mix of open wonder and head banging like a profane maniac. Especially songs of Venter På Stormene, their 2012 full length, which has refused to leave my play list the last month I enjoyed a lot. A grand closure to this unique festival of selected and special bands! (W)

That’s it, the festival was over! Of course we enjoyed a few more drinks after Vemod and discussed our experiences of the festival. Of course, there were some points of criticism. The merchandise area in the back had a security guard who made sure there weren’t too many people in front of the stands. But we really felt like that was an unnecessary precaution, especially considering the amount of sales personnel. It was weird and maybe even insulting a bit. Furthermore, it was a shame that none of the artwork of the exhibition was for sale as for instance postcards or posters – this would have been a great souvenir of the festival. But this is all nitpicking, because there is nothing more grievous to complain about…

Thought of the weekend: as the music lovers mature, so do the festivals. Not everyone is still enjoying carnival-like festivals like Wacken anymore, with crazy naked people and cantina band on repeat at 5 in the morning. No, this festival was obviously for a different crowd – a more intellectual, culturally interested and mature audience. It was a wonderful new experience, and we met lots of nice people, enjoyed great music in this unique location, and..well, took home more than we arrived with (and I’m not speaking of material stuff). All in all, it was an enriching experience, which we would definitely like to repeat next year, and we hope to see you there! (T)