This past weekend, downtown Reykjavik's usual drunken revelers and befuddled, troll-clutching tourists were joined by quite a different mass of debauched souls—the longhaired, leather-clad devotees who'd come from near and far to immerse themselves in Iceland's potent black metal underground. If 2015 was the year Icelandic black metal really burst onto the international stage, 2016's already shaping up to be even bigger for this tightly-knit crew of musicians and maniacs.
The country's first-ever international black metal festival, Oration MMXVI, was meticulously organized by Studio Emissary engineer Stephen Lockhart (who also plays in Rebirth of Nefast, Slidhr, and Sinmara), and went off without a hitch. Over the course of two very long nights (Reykjavik never sleeps), I witnessed an array of incredible performances from homegrown heroes like Svartidauði, Misþyrming, and Sinmara as well as from Ireland's Malthusian (who added some variety to the monochromatic lineup with a blast of their truly noxious black/death), Germany's Shrine of Insanabilis, and Israel's Mortuus Umbra, who traveled the furthest of anyone to play their debut European gig.
I'll still struggling to put into words the impact the event had on me. As I told more than one person in the crowded, dimly-lit downtown venue, the reason I'm so drawn to this scene is that every time I see one of these bands play—whether it's in an abandoned warehouse, a dank basement, or the main stage at Eistnaflug—I feel the same way I did when I first discovered black metal over a decade ago. There's a very real, palpable sense of desperation and determination in these Icelandic bands' work, coupled with a musical harshness and personal open-mindedness cultivated by creating in a bubble with no expectations or rules—and by doing that creating in a cold, remote, exorbitantly expensive island nation still recovering from a brutal economic collapse. The end result is intoxicating.
While I was fixated on the music, Reykjavik-based photographer Laufey Elíasdóttir was everywhere else this weekend, braving mosh pits, flying headstocks, and lit candles to capture the dynamic, haunting shots below. I've held onto a few of my favorite shots for tomorrow's full live review, but for now, embrace the darkness, and heed the call.
SHRINE OF INSANABILIS
REBIRTH OF NEFAST
Kim Kelly is still jetlagged on Twitter.