The prospect of seeing two of Iceland’s very best black metal bands performing at a free-entry show in a small pub in London was simply too much for me to resist, so I caught a coach down from York in eager anticipation. Since the release of their album Unortheta (probably my favourite album of all time), Zhrine have secured spots at major festivals around Europe and North America, and even toured the US with Ulcerate and Phobocosm last year. Self-described ‘outsiders’ to Iceland’s black metal scene, Auðn are truly one of Iceland’s underrated gems. Atmospheric and evocative, bleak and tortured by melancholy, with throat-shredding shrieks and howls. Their side-project Hubris rounded off the stellar lineup, delivering brutal death metal aggression with malicious black metal influences. The stellar lineup delivered a spectacular show for all present, reaffirming the strength of Iceland’s metal scene.
Hubris are the death metal side-project of Auðn, seemingly consisting of a nearly-identical lineup. This is brutal death metal performed at whiplash-inducing speeds, flurries of punishingly heavy, blackened riffs over a stampede of aggressive drumming. The speed and technicality of the guitar-work was mind-boggling, and the range and ferocity of vocalist Hjalti’s barks, shrieks and grunts were astonishing and the band’s energy was infectious. The music was filled with unexpected moments of melody and atmospheric flourishes as well which kept things varied and exciting throughout. Though the prospect of the band recording studio material in the near future seems dim, after this show I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. (Facebook)
Next up were atmospheric black metal group Auðn, featuring many of the same members as Hubris. Their haunting style of atmospheric black metal in many ways seems to reflect the bleak beauty of their country’s desolate landscapes. The earnest conviction with which every song was performed led to a set that was utterly enthralling from start to finish. The vibrant guitarwork was stellar throughout, the mournful, melancholic atmosphere was pervasive and inescapable, while Hjalti’s harsh screams and growls were – yet again – enough to send chills up the spine. Their music is moving and powerful, and their live show even more so.
I’ve loved their album for quite a while now, so it was wonderful to hear them played so well live. I think their live performance perhaps even outdid their studio recordings, due to the sheer energy and ferocity of their stage presence. Their rendition of ‘Þjáning Heillar Þjóðar’ was indescribably powerful, and one of the true highlights of the evening for me. We were also treated to two new songs, which struck me as being perhaps their best songs yet, deeply melodic and with powerful lead guitar melodies, so I’m of course very excited to hear new recorded material from Auðn in the future. An incredible performance by one of Iceland’s most underrated metal bands.
I’ve made absolutely no attempts to disguise the fact that I’m a huge fan of Zhrine. Their album Unortheta is probably my favourite album of all time, which I’ve discussed at length in the past and reviewed here. I made the journey to Reykjavik’s Oration Festival MMXVII in February, and one of the main reasons was to see Zhrine live. Their performance here in London met and exceeded my expectations based on their already incredible previous live performance. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that The Unicorn had an absolutely perfect mix all the way through the set, meaning zero muddiness, and none of the instruments being buried beneath the others.
We were treated to live performances of every song on Unortheta. The opening build-up of Utopian Warfare, delicate guitars and soothing fretless bass, into the explosive blackened crescendo of distorted, tremolo-picked guitarwork, blastbeats and crashing cymbals is one of the most intense songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing live. The menacing, ugly atmosphere of their next song, Spewing Gloom, and its violent and disturbed aura was an aggressive, auditory kick to the teeth. Tumi’s performance behind the drum-kit was a sight to behold, controlled and deliberate but delivered with a force that more than did justice to the fury of this band’s music, as did vocalist Þorbjörn’s visceral screams and roars at the front of the stage. The dynamics of the interplay between Þorbjörn and Nökkvi’s guitarwork lies at the heart of Zhrine’s music, and the tightness of their live performance brings out the best of the music.
Renditions of the haunting songs ‘World’ and ‘Empire’ were hypnotic, powerful and moving moments. Frontman Þorbjörn’s use of bows to elicit unsettling sounds out of the guitars is an inspired touch, and the inherent minimalism of these ritualistic compositions was recreated afresh on stage. The dissonant, melancholic guitarwork of ‘World’ was beautiful to behold, while ‘Empire’ stunned with its frequent, unpredictable eruptions of violent death metal aggression out of mournful blackened instrumental passages.
We were also treated to a brand new song, which I’m aware they had played at least once before at Oration Festival MMXVII, and I’m pleased to report that it proves that Zhrine have not missed a beat since the release of Unortheta. It’s fiercer and more assertive than much of their previous songs, with vibrant, bright guitarwork. Zhrine closed their set with their title track Unortheta. One of the album’s true highlights, the dissonant guitars create a bleak and haunting auditory landscape, only amplified by the devastating sense of futility and loss captured by the screams and roars of its violent implosion.
One of the most impressive shows I’ve ever been to, gripping from start to finish. All three bands were of such quality that it served to further reinforce my view that Iceland’s metal scene is simply second to none. The show was free-entry, but they could have charged £20 and I’d have felt like I’d got my money’s worth. I ended up buying a copy of Unortheta on CD for my friend, chatting with the vocalist and bassist from Auðn about their music and Iceland as well as my trip to Reykjavik, and with the guys in Zhrine who were kind enough to sign the CD and my own cassette copy of Unortheta. An unforgettable evening.