We return for part two of our review of Oration MMXVIII which took place on the evening of March 8. As with the first day, this took place in the humble bar Húrra, located in downtown Reykjavík, a dark, intimate venue with a great sound system. Where the first day leaned heavily towards black metal, the second night featured a much greater presence of death metal-influenced bands along with the occult black metal one might expect from a festival such as this. I had spent the day completing a tour of the Golden Circle, a string of popular sights/destinations including the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall and Þingvellir National Park, and as astonishing as those locations were, it meant that I’d already been up and exploring since about 7AM; as a result, I was tired by the time I even arrived at the venue, and unfortunately my back was in so much pain that I couldn’t stay to see Virus. Nonetheless, let’s discuss the bands I was able to witness.
Day 2: Mannveira, Devouring Star, Abominor, Abyssal, Slidhr, Sortilegia,
The first band of the night were the raw, nihilistic Icelandic black metal band Mannveira, who feature members of Naðra and Draugsól. My expectations for this band were high because their set last year completely blew me away, to the extent that it completely realigned my expectations of what to expect from this young band. Though they’ve unfortunately not released any new music in the time since that performance, their blades have not dulled in the slightest. Mannveira delivered a short, sharp demonstration of caustic rage and violence, a venomous set of disturbing, ferocious black metal in its most primitive and instinctual form. Vocalist Illugi screamed and howled as if possessed, a truly haunting and visceral performance. If anyone in the crowd wasn’t quite awake at the start, they surely were by the time Mannveira left the stage. A quality set, now I just hope they bring out a full-length album soon!
Following up were Finnish black/death-doom metal band Devouring Star. I had the pleasure of reviewing their latest EP “Antihedron” here, and interviewing frontman JL about the record here; I was predictably excited to hear the band live, and particularly to hear how that EP sounded live, and although the live mix was a bit bass-heavy at points, they delivered a very strong set. In fact, it struck me as one of the outright heaviest sets I’d seen in years, with their drummer blasting away like a madman over churning, dissonant chords. Their sound on “Antihedron” leans more towards a grinding, mid-paced kind of blackened death-doom, while their earlier releases were more clearly indebted to Deathspell Omega; it was a crushing performance despite some issues with the mix which hindered some of the details in the guitar from coming through at points. A very strong performance.
Icelandic black metal veterans Abominor then went on to deliver a somehow even more devastatingly brutal set. I only caught the second-half, but it was a ferocious set of deadly black metal rage, a far more aggressive approach than is communicated on their EP and sole release “Opus: Decay”. At times it reminded me of the mighty Svartidauði but with less emphasis on delicate atmosphere and more emphasis on burning your fucking face off. It was a very strong show, and served to remind me how badly I wish they’d record an album and get it out there, because they’re clearly sitting on a bunch of material. Bah! Anyway, awesome band, awesome show, hoping to hear more from them soon. Check out their EP below.
Abyssal were a band I was already fairly familiar with: I’d been a big fan of their 2015 album “Antikatastaseis” when it was released, a titanic black/death metal masterpiece in the view of many. I have been told that this was their first ever live show, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by watching them perform. Their hooded attires obscured the human element entirely, monstrous screams and roars erupting from somewhere within a billowing cloak almost wrapped around the microphone. The sound mix was perfect, all of the many layered details in the guitars cutting through clearly with good bass and vocal presence and the drums had punch. Moreover, every musician on that stage displayed an incredible level of musicianship, without being flashy, and the haunting, oppressive atmosphere was something special. It was hands down one of the most impressive shows I have ever seen by any band to date. Their pummeling blastbeats and crushing, icy riffs always belied the beating heart at the centre of their music, and the band made the excellent decision to end their show with their most profoundly beautiful track, the cathartic ‘Chrysalis’. Every single person I spoke to about Oration mentioned Abyssal as one of the real highlights, and I wholeheartedly agree. I cannot wait to see them again next month in Glasgow.
At this stage I had to take a short break in the lounge downstairs to rest my weary legs, but I managed to return in time to see the entirety of Slidhr‘s set. Slidhr are an Irish black metal band with ties to the Icelandic scene as frontman Gast previously performed in Haud Mundus and Myrkr with Stephen Lockhart, the mind behind Rebirth of Nefast, Studio Emissary and this whole damn festival, and who now plays as Slidhr’s live guitarist. Slidhr faced some technical issues during the first couple of songs which led to the guitar being almost unaudible, but after these issues were resolved the band doubled the intensity to compensate. They’ve always had a pretty unique approach to black metal particularly due to their unusual emphasis on a prominent low-end sound, which lends an almost death metal-esque density to their shifting, dissonant black metal blitz, as cerebral as it is abrasive. They performed all of their 2015 EP ‘Spit of the Apostate’ (still one of my favourite releases of that year), and the devastating refrain of ‘Belief Burned as Incense’s “Ash and smoke!” pefectly suited the live setting. Newer tracks from their 2016 split with Acherontas were also performed with passion and ferocity, eerie and complex black metal incantations which blew me away in the audience. An incredibly strong set from a band I’d been anticipating seeing again all year. Here’s hoping their next album is nearly ready!
The final band I bore witness to that night was Canadian raw black metal duo Sortilegia. Words can barely describe the enthralling, unholy atmosphere this pair summoned in that small venue on that evening. All artificial lights were switched off; instead, a small table was placed before the audience with a candelabra, a bowl of burning incense and a glass of red wine. The drummer, Haereticus was largely hidden within the shadows at the back of the stage, though he certainly made his presence known through the songs, while frontwoman Koldovstvo shifted in and out of the dull glow of the flickering flames, draped in a black cloak, her face covered in blood. I have never felt so deeply enthralled by a band’s performance as I was that night. Their raw, stripped-back approach to orthodox black metal could be compared to Norwegian groups like Mare and Black Cilice, but the noxious Satanic fumes are shot through the music. The riffs are hypnotic and hazy, but with a low-end density that adds some real grit to the performance, and the ritualistic percussion complements it perfectly. The desperate screams and howls invoked primordial passion and unbridled rage. The atmosphere was one of contemplation and deep concentration, but also one of the most unrelentingly abrasive, brutal black metal performance I’ve ever witnessed; this is not music for the faint of heart. To my mind, Sortilegia‘s performance was a contender for one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and every single person I spoke to later in the festival agreed that it was something truly special.
It’s hard to leave the venue and return to normality as you walk through Reykjavik after a performance like that. I can only apologise for not being able to attend Virus’ set, and by all accounts I heard only positive things, but alas my lower back was in such discomfort and pain I simply couldn’t stand for another full hour long set. Nonetheless, the utmost respect to all bands who performed, all of whom succeeded in demonstrating why this is one of the most exciting metal scenes on the planet.