It’s a sunny day and the temperature well over twenty, when we come through the Oddskards-tunnel and into Nordfjordur, a nice change from the rain that has been posing as summer in Reykjavik. The welcoming committee consisting of a single Abbath looking lamb watching us with cautious eyes makes it all come together for me. I am actually here, at Eistnaflug again. Even though this is the ninth time Iceland’s largest heavy metal and hard rock festival is held, it’s only my second. I am a bit wary of my high expectations; Eistnaflug can’t possibly be as awesome as I remember. My first time must have been a fluke; nothing can be this mind blowing on a continuous level.
We are here on a Wednesday and Eistnaflug doesn’t really start until tomorrow, however for the first time ever the festival is being unofficially kicked off by an all ages show. Happily the three bands playing just happen to be three of my favorite Icelandic bands, and kiddies-show or not, I’m not missing that. We head up to the campsite, pitch our tent and since it’s already so late in the day, (Neskaupsstadur where Eistnaflug is held is an eight to nine hour drive from Reykjavik), we go straight down to Egilsbud (the venue) to get our tickets. The show starts at 7 p.m. and we just have time to grab something to eat. When we get back to the venue a steady trickle of people are already coming in, mostly young kids with their parents. Little kiddies wearing Sólstafir and Skálmöld band shirts, there is hope for the future after all. When the first band hits the stage there are only about fifty-sixty people in audience, but thankfully before the evening is out the crowd has surged to four – five hundred, from tiny toddlers barely old enough to walk up to elderly grandmothers clearly only there to accompany their grandkids.
First band on stage is Dimma, playing metal tinged hard rock these guys really know how to put on a great show. Since their third album came out in late 2012 they’ve been enjoying a well deserved surge in popularity, even getting three songs into the top list of one of our national radio stations, Rás 2, a feat unparalleled by a hard rock / heavy metal band in Iceland. Even though the audience is young Dimma don’t pull any punches, drawing the small crowd onto the flour and closer to the stage. Sadly their set is only four songs long, but they use what little time they have well and by the time they’re done I could even see a little head-banging going on. Fortunately my partner-in-crime warned me to be on my best behavior before the show so I wouldn’t ruin it for the kiddies, else I would be down there doing my own version of a heavy metal dance / head-banging and scaring away the wee ones.
Next on stage is Sólstafir, Iceland’s biggest metal export; however strangely enough barely known to Icelanders outside the metal/hard rock scene. This might be changing though as songs like “Fjara” from their 4th full length album “Svartir Sandar” released in late 2011, have gained them a wider audience. Sólstafir’s special brand of Post Metal couldn’t be any more different from Dimma’s Hard Rock extravaganza. Whereas Dimma invite you to dance and scream Sólstafir’s music generates goose bumps and an intense experience bordering on the otherworldly. This seems to go down great with both the kiddies and grannies and the crowd in front of the stage is growing in size and enthusiasm.
The last band on stage are folk metallers Skálmöld. Even though Sólstafir are more famous among non-Icelanders, Skálmöld are by far the biggest metal/hard rock band in Iceland. Almost everyone likes them, even my 70+ mother told me the other day that aside from the vocalist’s growling (for a lack of a better word, not to be confused with death metal growling) she quite likes the music; my six year old has a Skálmöld poster on her wall, and sings along with their songs. And even if you don’t like their music it’s impossible not to love their live act. I’ve never seen any metal band that so exudes their love for the job as do the Skálmöld gang. Always grinning from ear to ear, looking at each other with a look on their face that clearly expresses amazement at how something that was only supposed to be for fun, (they originally got together to make one album with the music they love, not expecting anything to come of it) got so out of control. They’re selling out larger shows than anyone had previously thought possible for an Icelandic metal band, and they’ve even got an official fan club, another Icelandic metal band first, as far as I know. Again their music is miles away from the previous acts. Folk metal or Viking metal incorporates traditional folk music into their sound, Skálmöld goes one step further and all their lyrics are written in accordance to Old Icelandic metrics rules, their songs are even being taught in secondary schools Icelandic courses. Add this to the Maidenesque sound of their first album “Baldur” (2010) and the German thrash-sound of their second album “Börn Loka” (2012) and you’ve really got something. The concert goers apparently completely agree with me and head-banging ensues with even a tiny little moshpit forming in front of the stage.
At the end of the show a member of Skálmöld thanks the crowd and says that from now on there will always be an all-ages-gig the night before Eistnaflug. I don’t really realize how momentous a promise that is for the younger part of the crowd until later that night as I am talking to one of the locals who helps with the process that is Eistnaflug, she tells me about her 12 year old son who has grown up with Eistnaflug. Always on the outskirts looking in, watching his “superheroes” walking around town then going into Egilsbúð leaving him outside, never getting to join in. Never being a part of this wonderful experience. He has always been the strange kid, an outsider, a metal-head and a skater in a town with precious few of either. Tonight for the first time he was part of the group. She tells me he came out practically floating, even having had a chance to talk to his heroes, getting a high five from Sólstafir’s bassist. For the first time he got to experience what all of us that come to Eistnaflug experience. Metal heads are a fringe group, most of us are outsiders, the strange kids that listen to noise, wear strange clothes, have long hair and tattoos… well you know how it goes. At Eistnaflug we are not outsiders, we are part of a larger community, and we belong! Such is the magic of Eistnaflug.