A Weekend at Norðanpaunk, the Heart of Icelandic DIY

And some news!

Hey friends, before we get to the good stuff, I’m popping in to say: I’ve launched a Patreon! It’s going to be a lot like this, but updated more regularly (promise) and with more stuff. I’m still figuring out how to balance it with the newsletter, so for now I’ll be sending my public posts there out to free subscribers here, and access to locked posts on Patreon will cost the same as a subscription here ($6.66). If you’d like to switch over, you can find my new page here: https://www.patreon.com/kimkelly


Iceland’s black metal scene has been on fire for the past five years, and continues to burn bright in the global metal landscape, with bands like Svartidauði, Misþyrming, and Naðra leading the charge. I’ve been chronicling its rise since 2014, when I was introduced to its inner circle via the Úlfsmessa—a truly astonishing group performance at Eistnaflug, the country’s largest metal festival. 

Since then, I’ve returned to the land of fire and ice a half dozen times, to see friends and dig deeper into the local music scene. There is a wildness there, as well as an almost supernatural bond between the handful of individuals who make up the majority of the black metal community; everyone’s in everyone else’s band, and everyone gets along, because it’s simply too small of a scene to nurture enmity. There’s too much work to do.

This latest trip took me to Norðanpaunk, a collectively-run DIY festival held in Iceland’s far North. I spent the weekend in Laugarbakki, a miniscule, windswept village where Árni (one of the co-founders and the vocalist/guitarist of black metal punks Norn), spent his childhood. The landscape was so beautiful that I don’t really have the words to describe it without lapsing into poetic hyperbole; suffice it to say, the cobalt lakes, verdant grasses, knobbly volcanic rocks, omnipresent fog, and midnight sun were a far cry from the streets of Philadelphia. 

My phone barely worked, which made unplugging a necessity instead of a choice, and everything one could need for a weekend of booze and black metal was nestled within 100 meters of  the festival venue. It was utterly serene—even with a festival backdrop of jovially wasted punks and metalheads in knitted wool sweaters meandering around the campsite and playing incomprehensible children’s games in the courtyard.

There were over 50 (!!!) bands and artists that performed that weekend, so I’m not going to squeeze all of my favorites into one post. Instead, I’ll mention the black metal bits today, and will be posting a follow-up later that gets into the more experimental, grindy, death metally, or outright punk bands that blew me away this weekend in a post for paid subscribers.

Mannviera

I’ve always found Mannviera to be bizarrely underrated in the pantheon of Icelandic black metal, given the rabid intensity of their live shows and how their orthodox, feral approach to the genre contrasts with their peers’ more cosmic, complex leanings. That injustice is surely only due to the fact that the band has not released a new album in forever (2014, to be exact); happily, the guys assured me that they’d finally finished recording a new album, and were hoping to get it out this coming year. I’ve been following this band for five years and have seen them play enough times to  be entirely certain that, once that record finally drops, it will be nothing short of monumental. Until then, get familiar.

https://mannveira.bandcamp.com/

Norn

I developed a soft spot for Norn before I heard a note of their music, thanks to their description of themselves as having been born of “a fascination with Satanic Black Metal and Anarchic Crust Punk.” The raw, raggedy immediacy of the music itself is an added bonus, with an appealing blend of chaotic punk and sharp black metal melodies that pop even more in a sweaty, packed live setting like their Norðanpaunk performance (which featured brutal guest vocals from my friend Unnur, who really needs to hurry upand start her own damn band!). Norn’s 2015 LP was dedicated to the female snipers of the Red Army 1941-1945—honestly, what’s not to love?

https://norn.bandcamp.com/album/b-rn-vltima-permonvm-conea-2

Kaleikr

Born of the ashes of  Draugsól, a promising Reyijavik black metal upstart that fizzled too soon, Kaleikr was one of the bands that my friends told me I just had to see—and within moments of them walking onstage, I realized why. Kaleikr trades rawness for refinement, embracing a dissonant and melodic strain of black metal with eyes to the stars instead of the void. “Progressive” is often a dirty word in this context, but Kaleikr use their inclinations here to their advantage, advancing their own black metal narrative without veering into indulgent wanker territory. Definitely a band to watch.

https://kaleikr.bandcamp.com/

Nornahetta

Calling Nornahetta “black metal” almost does a disservice to how twisted and weird it is, but in terms of atmosphere and presentation at least, this improvised project from Tómas Ísdal (who is also in all of your other favorite Icelandic black metal bands and co-runs the wildly influential Vánagandr tape label) is overwhelmingly fucking grim. I missed their set because I am an idiot, but even on recording, they send chills down my spine.

https://nornahetta.bandcamp.com/album/synesthetic-pareidolia-3 

Carpe Noctem

Another Icelandic black metal mainstay that hasn’t gotten its proper amount of shine, but deserves a closer look. The chaos inherent to so many of this scene’s offerings is present and accounted for, but it’s presented with a little more finesse; there’s a heavily atmospheric bent to Carpe Noctem, but they don’t sacrifice an ounce of aggression along their way towards something dark and beautiful..

https://carpenoctem.bandcamp.com/

Dynfari

Dynfari’s set was really, really pretty; as much as I love horrible, disgusting, raw noise, I have a deep appreciation for melodic, atmospheric, light-drenched black metal like this. Slow, meditative, and intense where it needed to be, the  mix of staid tempo, careful melodies, and wide-open riffs offered a bracing breath of Northern air in a weekend dominated by blasts of ice and steel. 

https://dynfari.bandcamp.com/

Úlfúð

These guys aren’t technically black metal, but black/death is close enough for my purposes here. Úlfúð served up a dose of a very specific kind of Scandinavian extreme metal brutality that howled and chugged along like an Amon Amarth demo getting the piss beat out of it by a Gehenna B-side. If they don’t end up on a big European metal festival next summer, someone’s slacking.

https://ulfudband.bandcamp.com/releases

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