The past few years the hottest ticket in Black Metal has been anything out of Iceland. Starting with Svarti Daudi, followed by Sinmara and Misthyrming, these guys from the sparsely populated island in the near The Arctic Ocean are shaking the world wherever they go. The people involved in these bands have a pretty special take on black metal: having been isolated as long as they are they’re not as concerned with who they want to sound like or who they know, but find their own way through expressing the misery of every day life.
The fact that it’s such a small scene also means there’s almost none of the regular controversies black metal has: “True” black metal heads are rare here, if there at all, and all the bands will happily tell you about loving music genres even way outside of metal in general, or even contrast to black metal in general. To really get a feel for what makes these bands such a force, Ghost Cult magazine decided to not just visit a concert, but sent me to spend a day with bands Wormlust and Mannveira, to get to know them better, and watch them perform in Antwerp, BE.
For both Mannveira and Wormlust it’s their first tour outside of Iceland, and the bands are understandably excited. The members are young twenty-somethings away from home for some of them for the first time. Cheerfully exploring the venue’s selection of Belgian beers, they mention they’re still tired from the night before, when they marauded and explored through Paris by night after a few drinks. About an hour before soundcheck the idea of coffee comes up, and the atmosphere changes a bit, getting a more serious edge, there’s work to be done.
Only Wormlust have a sound check, but given that Mannveira shares 2 members with them, it’s not much of a problem. This is also something you’ll notice when dealing with Icelandic bands, there is a lot of overlap between band members, O. who plays in both Mannveira and Wormlust has 4 or 5 active bands he plays in. When asked how this is such a thing in Iceland Mannveira singer I. explains “we’re such a small scene, and none of us really expected to go outside Iceland. We just all know one another.” Iceland’s active black metal scene is best described as roughly 30 people forming about 20 bands; Overlap is inevitable and this means there’s relatively little animosity between bands, only more friendly rivalry. This has an advantage when touring, they’re finding out, “it’s much easier to offer a package, because with 7 people you have two or three bands” explains tour manager “Pappi” (Icelandic for dad, as the band members have lovingly started to call their paternal figure on this tour).
After the local opener, Witch Trail who play a groovy, doomy mix with modern blackmetal influences, and Urfaust inspired high screamed vocals, Mannveira take the stage. “We have a shorter set than these guys (sic Witch Trail) because all we did was create an intro for the Wormlust show… but I’m sure we can add a few extra songs, if they want us to” O. mentions, before he gets on stage. The band is slathered with black paint mixed with ashes “we ran out of the good stuff, and couldn’t find anything better” they mention, clearly a little annoyed at themselves. It doesn’t create the effect they’d like it too, but it’ll do, combined with improvised face masks “we never use these, Svarti Daudi has done this already, but tonight we’ll have to.”,I mentions after the gig.
Mannveira are a young band, not having performed live before last year, this being their first time outside of Iceland. They’re by far the least uniquely developed in sound of any of the Icelandic bands I’ve heard so far, and there’s a mix of modern blackmetal influences all jumbled together. The band are clearly still looking for what makes them unique, and while they’ve already got a strong stage presence and are made up of good musicians, you can tell they’re relative green hands at touring. Singer I. irritably mentions his voice gave out after the early songs, and O. gets upset at his guitar losing tune in the temperature difference between Het Bos’s small backstage area and the stage. The crowd in front of the stage seem to really enjoy them, and apart from these minor flaws, it was a good gig.
Before the Wormlust gig, we get chatting with H., Wormlust’s vocalist and core creator. He’s a quiet, thoughtful presence, but assures me he’s mostly just tired. It’s the second to last gig of the tour, and he’s not sure if he wants to do another one “I quite like the idea of doing a first and last tour at the same time. Besides, we’re doing more of a performance piece, a happening if you will. It’s called Scythe in Icelandic, and is about your personal internal hell, versus an external hell.” He takes his art very seriously, and in general Wormlust’s members are on the quieter side. They only use paint on their hands, as before the show they all don veils. Right before the show, as O. struggles with his detuning guitar, H. sits in reverend meditation with a small red notebook, with an Icelandic magic symbol on the cover, mentally preparing for the stage.
On stage H. changes: “he’s a genius, he’s one of those people who, when he gets on stage, totally changes and becomes something else. He’s unremarkable but sociable backstage, on the quiet side, but when he takes the stage he takes his performance places not many can go.” tour manager Pappi mentions, clearly in awe and respect of H.. He’s right too, during the whole performance your eyes keep getting drawn to the slow, dramatic yet sincere movements he makes, the way he invokes the music and creates what is best described as ritualistic aural art. It doesn’t matter you don’t understand any of the Icelandic lyrics, watching him sway and raise his hands, combined with the screams, set against tight, fast blackmetal noise with a melancholy and oppressiveness all it’s own, and combined with atmospheric electronic samples, composed by H., you get pulled into their world. Wormlust is definitely one of those bands that make the Icelandic scene so special, and so refreshing; it reveres the old, the first waves of black metal from Norway, but doesn’t try to go back to the good old days. They build on the shoulders of giants and look beyond the horizon to wherever they want to go next.
After the show and we arrive at our lodgings for the night (an establishment where bands can rent their own practice room, and there’s triple bunk beds lining the walls, plus a vending machine that sells beer) and Mannveira’s drummer J. gets the illuminated idea to go look for a bar that’s open on a Monday night. Clearly our lodging is not located in an area with many bars, and after a good hour wandering about the city at night, which they jokingly call “and Icelandic walk about” it dawns on most of them that the only bars open are not the kind you’d like to go have a beer in, and aided by phone navigation we make our way back home, to our beds, and for the bands the last show of their week and a half long tour.
In keeping with stylistic traditions in the Icelandic black scene, all names have been reduced to initials.