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Underground Metal Special: Iceland

Underground Metal Special: Iceland

by Luxi Lahtinen



Iceland. Apparently, a lot of people think that, as the country's name suggests, Iceland is a cold place with wind, frost and ice everywhere with occasionally erupting volcanos and hungry and bloodthirsty polar bears wandering around killing people and eating them for lunch. And if you lived in that country, you'd want to be drunk 24/7, just to make life a bit more comfortable.

Haha, just kidding, of course! Like most every other country, Iceland has an underground metal scene that is pretty darn productive (in proportion to its population) and has many killer bands that should not be ignored. The thing is not many of us know about these bands so it's perhaps time to turn the spotlight on that country and let some local musicians introduce their bands via this article about the past and present underground metal scene of Iceland.

Thanks to all the musicians who participated in this underground special.

When you decided to form/join this band, what did you want to achieve?

Jóhann Örn (DYNFARI): One of the first things I wrote in this regard about a decade ago was "to move people." Not just physically, such as head-nodding/headbanging or moshing, but mentally as well. We have always striven to be sincere with putting our hearts and souls into our musical expression. This includes not holding back from experimenting with various instruments in our compositions, such as accordions, flutes and harmonium, without going down the folk metal road, keeping things ambient and atmospheric instead, and including ferocity in waves as well. Not many bands were doing this in Iceland at the time, so I believe we have helped put Iceland on the map with this take on black metal music.

Helgi Jónsson (RING OF GYGES): First and foremost, I just wanted to make some good music. The progressive metal scene was very lacking at the time (meaning, there wasn't one) and I wanted to do something about that. But, of course, I also wanted something to show for my efforts and I wanted to record albums that could stand the test of time. Luckily, I happened to find some like-minded individuals and our cooperation has resulted in something I'm very proud of. None of us has been striving for fame and personal glory. If we were, we certainly wouldn't be writing this kind of music, but if it resonates with someone then that's fantastic.

Hörður "Hudson" Halldórsson (PUNKS OF THE EMPIRE): Well, to be fair, I've been in this game for 30 years and almost always stayed true to metal and have always been in the underground scene. Sometimes we'd surface and get some attention, but the business is always the same; stay on the hamster wheel, keep juggling and before you know it you are giving up on your true passion that is metal. I've always wanted to mix up different aspects of music so when I started Punks of the Empire, I knew whom I wanted with me to front the band.

Magni Ásgeirsson is one of the best-known faces in pop/rock culture in Iceland and did pretty well on the international level when he finished second runner-up in rockstar Supernova featuring Jason Newsted, Gilby Clarke and Tommy Lee - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I91gLhjhiVw&t=634s&ab_channel=lilnikki457

Magni has done really well here on the Ice, and I have always had huge respect for him and his super positive attitude and always wanted to fit his amazing voice to my music. So, on October 1, 2019, I made a demo of a thrashy song sent it to him and kindly asked if he'd work with me on it. He replied like one week later, "this song is fucking amazing - I'm in!"

Our goals are simple. We want to make music. I want to write lyrics that have meaning to us and might have some meaning to our listeners and we want to play live shows make hard copies of our music and, of course, share it with our fellow metalheads. And of course, spread the goddamn word that true metal is here and will always be here.

Bjarni Egill Ögmundsson (POWER PALADIN): No, not really. This is one of many bands that we have formed over the years, not exactly this lineup but one variation of it. We have a relatively large friend group that has a very high number of musicians who happen to be metalheads. So, when Power Paladin was formed, we didn't have to reach far for members. The basic idea for the band was the same as the other bands we had played in together; meet up once or twice a week and play some music together. I guess that has kind of gotten out of hand at this point.

Bjarni Þór Jóhannsson (POWER PALADIN): I've been in various metal bands through the years and my previous band had recently gone on a hiatus when Atli (Guðlaugsson, vocals) approached me and mentioned they were looking for a guitarist for a power metal band. It was an easy yes for me! I don't think we have ever had any concrete goals as a band apart from having an awesome time and making music that we love!

Daniel Thor Hannesson (CULT OF LILITH): When I first formed the band as the sole member in 2015, I started work on the Arkanum EP. Originally the goal was to find other like-minded musicians to join the band and I wanted to have a full lineup of talented and ambitious musicians first and foremost. It is very hard to find good musicians for such a niche genre in such a small place as Iceland who aren't in bands already (even multiple). The EP was supposed to act as a showcase for where I wanted to take the band and thankfully a full lineup followed shortly thereafter.

Collectively we always had the goal to take this as far as we possibly could, to make the music that we want to hear and not be limited by conventions or boundaries.

Maniac Butcher (HELLISH DEATH): We formed the band a year or so before we recorded the demo, 2009/2010. The goal was to play the music we like to listen to; '80s style heavy metal, a bit punky, what some called first wave of black metal.

Incinerator (HELLISH DEATH): Maniac Butcher and I have known each for a long time and always been into underground Metal and Punk music. Here in Iceland, especially in our hometown, it's very difficult to find people that listen to good stuff and can play an instrument, so it was a natural thing for us to have a band together. Our goal with Hellish Death was to play the music we love and to express ourselves. But our ambitions were, and still are, very low. There is no point in your band becoming popular, it only attracts the wrong kind of people.

MiK Annetts (KOOKAVEEN): Kookaveen began originally as a three piece, with Kristjan (drums), Rob (guitar) and Tadeusz (bass) jamming ideas and evolving from there. When I was asked to come in and try out as vocalist, about a month or two later, three songs had already been crafted, close to the finished tunes we have now. Through improvisation and experimentation, the final form of phrasing and rough lyrical ideas was basically finalized upon that first rehearsal as a 4-piece unit.

It was from that point onward that the basic format of our hybridized sound and style came into being, where a mishmash of death metal, punk, d-beat and grindcore, with a healthy dose of thrash, started to gel. The basic idea was to think back to when we were teens, getting into this style of music and playing as loud and as obnoxiously as possible, generally acting like idiots and fools, unleashed with instruments and making noise. Realistically, this was, and still is, in the spirit of fun.

Being able to write music that appeals to us, and not really thinking too hard about anything is what we are about. We play metal, punk and grindcore where we are aiming to have fun and not reinvent the wheel. If people like what we do, great, if not, that's great, too. If we release something, great, play a gig, awesome! Essentially, we have no grand plan. We go with the flow in the spirit of how things in the past have gone in light of our influences and our own experiences. What we do is viewed as reactionary and going with the flow, which aids in the unpredictability of how we go about the creation of our music and where we end up.

Kristján B. Heiðarsson (VETUR): Vetur actually started by accident. I wrote a song back in 2010 with a black metal vibe that I felt didn't fit in with the thrash/death metal style my main band at the time (Changer) played, so I called a few friends and asked if they wanted to record and release this single song. They did, and we started rehearsing. I enjoyed this blackish style I had stumbled upon and tried writing some more. Long story short, one song became three, three songs became an EP, and shortly I had enough material for a full-length, which then became two albums. Joining me were Magnús Halldór Pálsson on bass and Jóhann Ingi Albertsson on vocals. Ragnar Sverrisson played drums on our first EP, and then Dirk Verbeuren joined in 2014.

So, the personal goal was just to explore the writing style and enjoy what came out of it. I was lucky enough to establish a great lineup of talented musicians who also happen to be among my best friends.

FORSMÁN: When we started this project, our initial goal was to make black metal as we saw fit and to gain some attention in the local scene, as the scene here is very small and a lot of the same people are in different bands together. As "newcomers" we wanted to release an EP and maybe get on a label as well.

Jónas Steinsson (COLLECTIVE): Iceland is a difficult marketing area for non-mainstream music. We are a small nation in a big country, living in small communities spread out along the 4,970 km coastline of the island. Touring the country with metal concerts is all but impossible and would never be done as a way of making money. Therefore, most musicians in Iceland lead a "double life," so to speak. If you want to make a little money from music, you really have to play in a cover band that is ready and willing to play oldies, country, disco, etc. This makes Icelandic metal musicians among the most versatile musicians you'll find. Not only are they well versed in metal, but if you ask for some Creedence or Beatles, they would (in some cases begrudgingly) comply.

Collective was formed in 2013 by three friends, a singer and acoustic guitarist (Jonas), and two guitarists (Bragi and Bjorn), as an outlet for music that we knew was not going to be "mainstream." The whole idea behind the band was to write and play music for our own enjoyment, rather than continuously catering to others.

We had been meeting over coffee with our guitars and sharing ideas for some time when we decided to bring in a bassist and a drummer.

In 2017 the band's first single, "Loathe!," was published on digital media. Soon after the band stepped into the studio and started recording nine more songs that were published along with a "revamped" version of "Loathe!" on our first full-length album titled Truth Awaking.

The original lineup of Collective is:

- Björn Þór Jóhannsson - Guitars
- Bragi Bragason - Guitars
- Jónas Steinsson - Vocals
- Stefán Örn Sveinsson - Drums & percussion
- Árni Þráinsson - Bass

In the spring of 2019 the original drummer, Stefán Örn Sveinsson, left the band and following a strenuous tryout period, one of Iceland's best metal drummers, Kristján B Heiðarsson joined Collective.

During the great big Covid-19 summer of 2020, Árni Þráinsson, the bassist, left the band and one of the most prevalent metal bassists in Iceland, Magnús Halldór Pálsson (Maddi) joined the lineup.

The current lineup of Collective is:

- Björn Þór Jóhannsson - Guitars
- Bragi Bragason - Guitars
- Jónas Steinsson - Vocals
- Kristján B Heiðarsson - Drums & percussion
- Magnús Halldór Pálsson - Bass

Work on a new Collective album is ongoing.

Hörður Jónsson (MORPHOLITH): Originally, we came together as fans of similar bands doing heavy down-tuned doom metal and we all wanted to bring home what we were seeing our heroes do live on the mainland, which was a wall of sound conjured up with huge riffs and a mountain of amplifiers. We want to make heavy music that we personally like and release it to the world. That's still what we are mostly about.

Thorlakur Thor Gudmundsson (KONTINUUM): Kontinuum was initially the brainchild of Birgir (lead vocalist). He had this idea of creating a metal band free of boundaries and willing to explore the music as a spiritual entity in a way.

Earth, Blood, Magic was his first creation and goes all over the place musically. Just after he and our former drummer Kristjan B. Heiðarsson had finished recording the album, Engilbert, Ingi and myself joined the band and began to sculpt the songs for live performance. Throughout the years the music has always been a collaborative effort and keeps exploring spiritual boundaries and seeks to be thought-provoking. We wanted to steer clear of being a "scripted" metal band. We aren't afraid to seek inspiration from pop or classical music, or even jazz. We've also been inspired by books and history and tried our best to reflect that emotion and experience in our songs. Kyrr, for example, is our interpretation of the long history of exploring and venturing out into the unknown. Iceland has a strong heritage of fishermen who went out to sea on boats that were barely equipped to withstand the raging seas. They knew they had to go and find a way to survive somehow because their families and the village needed the fish to survive. It's interesting and mesmerizing, an almost stoic way to approach life. They knew the risks, they knew they might not return, but their drive and will to survive kept them going.

It changes the way you approach music when you are trying to portray an emotion instead of just assembling notes and chords in a manner that sounds pleasing to the ear.

w4rn3us (NORN): Norn was formed in 2010 by a dear friend, who is since deceased, and me after we finally found a drummer who fit the project. We had been making music together in various black metal and death metal projects over the years. Since both of us were used to writing riffs, we ended up co-writing much of the music. Norn has more of a punk attitude to it than our other projects and it is important to me, and was to both of us, to keep to the raw chaotic elements that are at the heart of both second wave black metal and good old street punk. At that time black metal was in Iceland still called "djöflarokk" (translates to devilrock in English), and I still find that word more fitting than svartmálmur (black metal). It fits better for Norn anyway. As a certain scientist said in a certain film, "life finds a way." So, it is about music finding a way. It just has to get out. As with so many people, music is a way to wrestle with our inner demons, an outlet for our emotions and a way to philosophize about life, death and the universe. Or dare I say it, love? Haha!! Isn't that forbidden in black metal?! Of course, that is the beauty of black metal, or "djöflarokk" as I prefer to call it. It is about breaking the rules, especially the rules written by other black metalheads. It is not all philosophical, though, of course. You have three guesses what "My Majestic Sceptre Forged by the Gods," is about. Hint, it is exactly as vulgar as you would expect (what a codebreaker). So, to answer your question, our primary goal is to channel our creativity and secondly to share the stage with Icelandic and foreign bands we respect and connect with like-minded people.

Finnur Þór Helgason (VÖGEL): We wanted to make good, progressive music and address mental health in our lyrics on our first album.

How popular is metal music with its subgenres in your country these days compared to, let's say, 10-15 years ago? Do you see metalheads walking down the streets wearing shirts from Priest, Deicide, Bathory, etc.?

Jóhann Örn (DYNFARI): Based on my experience, moderately popular. It does feel like the general "metalhead population" is aging, even though there are some younger bands and fans existing. There was a huge wave of new metal bands about 10 years ago, and I don't know if or when that kind of wave will ever happen again. There were a couple of locally big rock/metal acts here about five years ago that appeared on national TV and played with the national orchestra and whatnot. You can see people wearing metal band shirts in the wild here. Whether it's increasing or decreasing is hard to say.

Helgi Jónsson (RING OF GYGES): Metal is quite popular in Iceland. We've got about 23 metal bands per 100,000 people which is about three times as many per capita as Canada. I'm not sure whether it's become more or less popular in the past few years, but bands like Skálmöld, Sólstafir and HAM have occasionally broken through to the mainstream and gotten regular radio play. Metalheads are common and easy to spot in downtown Reykjavík, and I've even seen toddlers wearing metal merch.

Hörður "Hudson" Halldórsson (PUNKS OF THE EMPIRE): I would say that there are two kinds of metal in the world. "Radio-approved" metal and metal. Radio-approved metal is good and sometimes very technical and is very popular and, in my opinion, positive for the underground, and in Iceland, we have pretty big bands in that scene. Rammstein (Ger), Volbeat (Dan), Dimma (Ice) and Skálmöld (Ice) are very famous here and you can see someone wearing their shirts most days, but the classic Jesus is a cunt t-shirt from Bathory and Napalm Death T-shirts aren't as popular a fashion statement as they were. You see one once in a while on a 42-year-old father, on a day off :) Maybe it is because those bands almost never come to Iceland to play. Almost all gigs with foreign bands are in Reykjavík so I for example would have to travel over mountains and valleys to see a big concert when they come to Reykjavík.

We had an amazing festival, Eistnaflug, and at that time you'd see many more metal t-shirts on 25-year-olds in the grocery store. In Reykjavík though the metal scene is much bigger thanks to our amazing black metal and death metal scenes so I would say there is a fair chance of seeing Meshuggah or Devine Defilement t-shirt passing by on a cold winter day. I try to buy Icelandic band t-shirts to support my scene.

(Side note: I grew up in the '80s and '90s when pop rock and metal music were growing. We had no social media to speak of. We had something called IRC for chatting via dial-up Internet and magazines and the music scene has never been as good as then. I mean, my town of 7-10 thousand people at the time had so many bands and such a vivid underground and everybody came to the concerts and bought our t-shirts no matter their taste in music. People supported the local scene. We rented a bus and toured with other bands all over north Iceland with the sole intent to play for others and hear local bands that would join us. Back then metal was pretty popular and like in the rest of the world and a metalhead was a guy that did not differentiate between subgenres. Of course, you'd prefer some genre more than others, but overall metal was metal, even if it wasn't metal like, say ZZ Top or glam rock, but we'd respect them (ish). We bought their t-shirts out from respect and wore it.)

Ingi Þórisson (POWER PALADIN): It's about the same as 15 years ago but the preferred genre has changed a bit. Black metal has always been there but there was a period between 2000 and 2010 where metalcore was more popular than anything else. There was also interestingly enough a really long gap with no newcomers to the scene and people born between 1995 and 2000 not really liking metal. In their coming-of-age years, very few new people joined the scene, so for a long period between 2012 and 2020 the scene grew older. New bands, old bands but always the same people. But in the last few years we've had a very interesting addition of people born after the millennium who have started some of the most promising bands in the country. In regard to how common metalheads are here, Icelanders pride themselves on being the best at something per capita so we might have a very high percentage of metal heads per capita, but most of us know each other so it doesn't feel that big (or maybe it says more about how few people live in Iceland).

Daniel Thor Hannesson (CULT OF LILITH): It's not hugely popular by any means but I feel it has been steadily growing in recent years. The scene was very much alive in the '90s and early 2000s but went on a bit of a decline thereafter before picking back up with the relatively recent black metal scene that has gotten so much attention abroad. I feel lately more subgenres have been getting their just due here with the scene branching out and becoming more diverse than ever before.

Maniac Butcher (HELLISH DEATH): I think metal over here is as popular as in any other country (maybe with the exception of some places in Africa and Asia, where the government is really oppressive). Probably 10 or 15 years ago we had less online media channels, like this one, for example. Now metal is everywhere quicker than before. One thing I know is that we don't see Hellish Death t-shirts on the streets hahahha...!!!

Incinerator (HELLISH DEATH): Rock music is kind of popular here in Iceland, but a lot of people seem to listen to mainstream metal and have no deeper knowledge about it. We have a festival in Neskaupstaður called Eistnaflug. In the beginning it was only for Icelandic bands and was an opportunity for people to meet but over the last five years, it has grown and got some international attention. I see a lot more metal t-shirts on the streets because of it. Hellish Death would never be interested in performing there, but we went to see bands we love like Carcass and Kreator playing live.

MiK Annetts (KOOKAVEEN): It is not uncommon to see people with rock and metal shirts on in the streets here in Reykjavik. It depends on the time of day, really. Many musicians here often work in respectable and decent jobs, so appearances will always vary. Come the weekend, you will see a wide variety of people, musicians, teens, and kids alike wearing anything from Slayer and Misfits shirts to Iron Maiden, Amorphis, Immortal and Mayhem.

Being a foreigner myself, I have noticed little difference in the popularity of metal here. With the advent of increased Internet and media coverage, particularly on the local Icelandic black metal scene and the raised profile of veteran artists (Sólstafir, Dimma and the like), there is a raised profile, and probably 10 or so years ago, it would be unheard of for a black metal band to perform on the government broadcasting and national station or a heavy rock band write a tune for consideration in the Eurovision Song Contest. But it did happen. So really, there is a loosening of tastes and common "tropes" in terms of music tastes and what is deemed "popular."

Kristján B. Heiðarsson (VETUR): I really can't say if metal is more popular in Iceland now than it was 10-15 years ago, but back then the scene felt huge. The focus has shifted a lot since 2005 or so. Back then it was more metalcore and death metal, but nowadays it's more centered around black metal. Hardcore was all the rage at the beginning of the millennium, but there were always all kinds of metal bands as part of that scene, too. But yeah, you always see some people dressed in black, wearing band t-shirts or hoodies, clad in leather and denim.

FORSMÁN: Iceland has always been fond of extreme music, I guess. We have played gigs with many different types of musicians and bands of different genres with Forsmán and our other bands. There are a surprising number of "regular" people that are metal fans, and even if the person doesn't like metal, they've definitely heard of the festivals that are held here (Eistnaflug, Norðanpaunk).

Jónas Steinsson (COLLECTIVE): Metal music has always been quite popular in Iceland. A lot of popular metal bands have included Iceland in their touring schedule, usually playing a couple of concerts in Reykjavik for a full house. When I was growing up, metal was more mainstream than it is today, with bands such as Iron Maiden and Whitesnake being among the most popular ones. In the mid '90s metal gave way to rave and big beat such as The Prodigy. However, during that period bands like Rammstein and Korn kept Iceland in their touring schedule. Metal has slowly been gaining traction again and is, in my opinion, as strong as ever in Iceland. The big difference in the genre today versus when I was growing up as a metal head is the diversity. Modern Icelandic metal bands are extremely diverse and, in my opinion, extremely proficient at what they do.

Metalheads are not a taboo group in Iceland, and never have been. If you want to go out wearing your Belphegor, Pantera, Meshuggah shirts, not to mention Skálmöld or Sólstafir merch, Icelanders would treat that more as a conversation starter rather than something to avoid.

Hörður Jónsson (MORPHOLITH): Fairly popular. If we talk in terms of pre-Covid, metal gigs were quite regular and there are many good local bands in the scene with even a few signed to large international labels.

In terms of the scene, the popularity and gig attendance goes up and down but these days we have quite a few bands drawing good crowds. The same could be said some 10-15 years ago when there was a booming death metal scene here but few if any bands reached the commercial success that the bands reach today, locally at least.

And seeing metalheads or rocker types is quite common these days, even more than in the past I'd say.

Thorlakur Thor Gudmundsson (KONTINUUM): The metal scene in Iceland is thriving and has been for years. It was more of an underground thing back in the '90s even though some bands like Sólstafir were making a name for themselves. Since maybe 2010, there has definitely been a very interesting and unique growth in the metal scene. As we have such a small population, there's a magical music clash that happens in the few venues around town. You'll have a hardcore or a heavy metal band, some electro-indie, and some hip hop at the same venue one night. This creates a melting pot of musical influences within the Icelandic music scene that's unlike anything I've experienced anywhere else in the world. Walking around Reykjavik you're certain to encounter full-blown metalheads, dads in their Slayer or Bathory T's and anything in between. Skálmöld during their high point became the "darlings" of natives in their 30s to 50s. The music, though intense to some, tied together our heritage with the Viking sagas to accessible metal and it was amazing to see how widely popular it was. You even had kindergartners singing their songs!

w4rn3us (NORN): Metal was and is popular in Iceland. Metal shows have good attendance in general and there are a lot of projects sprouting out of the scene. You won't see as many t-shirts as 10 or 15 years ago though. I'm not sure exactly why that is, it just doesn't seem as important as before to outwardly signal what you listen to. Maybe it's because Iceland is small and you know basically everyone in the scene anyway, maybe it's because with the cold, the t-shirt you might be wearing won't show anyway. Maybe it's just that fashion has changed. No idea why but I haven't seen a Judas Priest t-shirt in ages, but there is always one or the other Bathory t-shirt at concerts.

Finnur Þór Helgason (VÖGEL): Once a metalhead, always a metalhead! But it feels like a lot of the younger people here love metal but are not metalheads per se. They don't necessarily wear the typical "metalhead outfit." The scene also changes a little bit through the years with different subgenres getting bigger than others.

Which achievements with your band are you most proud of?

Jóhann Örn (DYNFARI): I think our biggest achievement must be our 2015 North American tour with Negura Bunget. Spanning two months with 44 shows all over the US and Canada, with the longest run being 20 shows in 19 days. It was a life-altering experience, very difficult but incredibly rewarding. Pulling off those 30 thousand kilometers through both searing hot desert climates and frost and snow, meeting all the people along the way. This was right after we released Vegferð Tímans, and we have never followed up an album so well since. I can't say I'm sure that we will ever top that.

Helgi Jónsson (RING OF GYGES): We're booked for a huge European tour with Orphaned Land in the spring of 2022, and I'm super excited about that! We also have a new album we've been cooking up for a long time, and it's some of the best material we've ever written. Most of all I'm proudest of the fact that we're still going, and people seem to like what we're doing. I actually met a guy in the queue for a concert a few weeks back who was a massive fan of our band, which was super surreal.

Hörður "Hudson" Halldórsson (PUNKS OF THE EMPIRE): I am extremely proud of Punks of the Empire's EP Facade. It is the first one I did without my older band members. I set out to it with completely new guys, and I recorded it all in my own studio except for the drum tracks and did almost all the editing on my own. I didn't know anything except what I saw my engineers doing when I did my older albums. I am proud of that. Also, my friend Gummi (Katla,x-Solstafir) and I worked together on the lyrics, and we set out to have some value in our message and I think we did a pretty good job. I must mention that working with Magni was a real experience. He is so open-minded but also an awesome critic and he did not hesitate to tear down a song structure and rebuild it with fantastic ideas, which really taught me a lot. I recon Punks of the Empire is my proudest moment... today!

Bjarni Egill Ögmundsson (POWER PALADIN): I would say the album With the Magic of Windfyre Steel. We went completely overboard regarding production complexity so much that at one time I thought we would never finish it. This was Atli being a singer in a band for the first time and me being a keyboard player in a band and writing orchestral arrangements for the first time. Now we are suddenly signed with Atomic Fire Records and getting a hailstorm of positive reviews. I think that one definitely stands out.

Bjarni Þór Jóhannsson (POWER PALADIN): Like Bjarni E mentioned, signing with Atomic Fire Records and having the opportunity to release an album has to be the highlight. This is a dream come true!

Ingi Þórisson (POWER PALADIN): I'm most proud of having finished the album. Like Bjarni E. said, we kind of went overboard and at points we were afraid that it was all falling apart, but we learned from our mistakes (sort your files while recording!!) and ended up with a record that we're beyond proud of!

Daniel Thor Hannesson (CULT OF LILITH): I think we are most proud of our debut album Mara and how it came out. We put so much effort into getting a world class mix and master and album artwork to do justice to all the hard work we put in and the outcome was all the better for it.

That led to another achievement that we are all very proud of, being contacted by the legendary record label Metal Blade and signing a record deal with them. Being part of such a massive roster with bands that have been huge inspirations to us is such an honor.

Our other guitarist Kristjan and I have also recently been endorsed by the world-renowned Jackson Guitar company which is just surreal. We're both huge fans of theirs.

Maniac Butcher (HELLISH DEATH): From the start the only effort we made was to sit down to write songs, record them and put them online. After that everything was a natural process. So, I am very proud of that. We didn't have to shove our band down peoples' throats to get anywhere.

Incinerator (HELLISH DEATH): I'm proud of the fact we never needed anyone to help us write, record, or release the band's music. We have 100% control over it. It's a very intimate thing for us. You know, when you are in the wild, the only person you can count on is yourself.

MiK Annetts (KOOKAVEEN): Kookaveen has had a short life so far, only being about three and a half years old. Basically, gelling as a lineup and bonding as friends with similar outlooks and senses of humor. Additionally, being a band of guys who are in our early to mid-forties, with jobs, families and other commitments, managing to make a band work with every moment that we can muster to dedicate to the art of creativity is a proud achievement, given the state of the world with Covid-19. Not that it has been smooth sailing, as we have had more than our fair share of illness and injury, which would derail a lot of people at the best of times. However, we have always said that health and families come first, and true to everyone's word, we have kept that very ideal as part of our foundation. Of course, playing gigs, however rarified they are and, finally, getting our debut album completed and released, and not second-guessing ourselves more than we should are also proud achievements.

The album was a very long process during which we, as stated above, constantly second-guessed ourselves but after a while, stripping everything back to the bone and the raw essence of what we wanted in the style and sound finally hit the right and raw nerve that we were after. Additionally, being able to record and do everything in-house by ourselves with the construction of our own studio and rehearsal space gives us the sense of autonomy and independence that a lot of artists are doing for themselves these days.

Kristján B. Heiðarsson (VETUR): I am most proud of the releases from Vetur. It's a long way from writing a single song you're not sure what to do with to putting together a band of skilled musicians and releasing two EPs and two full-length albums. Vetur released the EP Vættir through Tutl Records in 2013 and then released independently the full-length Nætur in 2018, and the EP Þorraþræll and the full-length Vist in 2020. There's a third full-length in the demo stages at the moment. I'm looking forward to seeing where that leads.

Then there's also the fact that I am a drummer, but in Vetur I also play guitar in addition to writing all the music.

FORSMÁN: We are most proud that there are people from all around the world that listen to our music. That is something the 15–19-year-old us wouldn't have thought would happen when we started playing together.

Jónas Steinsson (COLLECTIVE): Collective has, so far, lived up to its intended purpose. Even if we have been forced to social distance and stop doing concerts during the pandemic, we are still writing our music and sharing ideas, creating material for our next album or digital releases. My personal take on this is that I get to leave some of my music for my children to enjoy when they grow up.

We have received a lot of positive feedback on our material, even from non-metalheads, stating that some of our material reminds them of Rush or Genesis.

Hörður Jónsson (MORPHOLITH): There are so many, so it's hard to narrow it down but releasing our two EPs and getting our music out there on physical formats has been a highlight after spending all the time we did writing, rehearsing and recording. Both of them had their share of problems after we had done our part so when all that had been cleared, we were very proud to have it out. And of course, playing with all the great bands we have gigged with and playing at Wacken Open Air for a huge crowd is something that's hard to forget.

Thorlakur Thor Gudmundsson (KONTINUUM): It's hard to pinpoint specifics. We're just thankful to be able to continue releasing our music and look forward to getting back out on the road.

I think my personal proudest achievement with the band is recording and releasing No Need to Reason. It was a very challenging album to write and record. Both Birgir and I were dealing with the loss of a close family member, and the experience channeled something within us that was both extremely difficult to face but also freeing from grief in its own way. The album is a journey through difficult moments, changes, and some sort of metamorphosis. We took such a creative swan dive into every little detail on that record. Be it the songs, the sound and recording methods or the creativity and creation of the cover and booklet. We worked with the talented photographer Saga Sig, and she managed to capture the essence of what that album represents. For those interested, the vinyl release is the one to explore. That's our complete portrayal of No Need to Reason and gives the listener the complete experience. The CD is designed in a similar matter, but it doesn't affect you like the larger LP gatefold format. Those old enough to grow up with a deck in their room and shelves filled with records know the feeling.

w4rn3us (NORN): I was pretty proud when "Hvítar Kjúkur" from our split with Regnvm Animale showed up on a "best of Icelandic black metal" list a few years back.

We also cofounded Norðanpaunk, a DIY underground festival that has taken place every year since 2014. It's a pretty unique gathering with both punk and occult elements, so we are kind of proud of that. Back in the day we organized our own small tour in 2013 without any idea what we were doing, and we pulled it off. So that was pretty cool haha! We've collaborated with great artists and pulled off some weird shows with instrument swapping and/or noise/artists. We've been invited to play abroad a couple of times, so that always feels good. In the end the best achievement is listening to a recording and thinking, "man this part is a real banger!" And, of course, when people give you the feedback that they feel the same way.

Finnur Þór Helgason (VÖGEL): We're most proud of our debut album, Ómstríð, released in 2019. It took a lot of hard work. We recorded it in our own rehearsal space which was actually an abandoned house on the outskirts of Reykjavík. We're also immensely proud of being on the lineup at the legendary Icelandic metal festival Eistnaflug.

If I visit Iceland as a casual tourist one day, which essential (metal) pubs and/or venues would you introduce me to, knowing I am a metalhead who's seeking some cool places to hang around and perhaps even see some local metal bands?

Jóhann Örn (DYNFARI): Gaukurinn, for sure, is the usual suspect venue for metal shows. A welcoming space for "outsiders" of any kind/gender/ethnicity. There also exist some rock-oriented bars that are not exactly live venues on a regular basis. I have also heard of things brewing in Akranes...

Helgi Jónsson (RING OF GYGES): Gaukurinn is the #1 metal venue in Reykjavík, but they have bands from all genres there as well. Dillon is a cool metal pub with great whiskey and a tiny stage on the top floor. In the summer they have great concerts in the outdoor area behind the pub. But a lot of the old great venues in Reykjavík have unfortunately closed down in order to build hotels and expensive clothing stores, as apparently, we can't have enough of those. If you're willing to drive to the next town over, there's Íslenski Rokkbarinn, which is actually where we had our very first show! Anyone from complete amateurs to seasoned veterans can perform there.

Hörður "Hudson" Halldórsson (PUNKS OF THE EMPIRE): I would say you'd have to be open for a little bit more than metal. The scene here is very vivid and the bars welcome all sorts of music onto their stages. ;)

I haven't played in Reykjavík for almost two years because of a little virus, but since the beginning of beer in Iceland, Gaukurinn has been the go-to place for alternative music and rock/metal gigs. We are so lucky in Akureyri (my hometown) to have the most popular live venue in Iceland. It's called Græni Hatturinn. It has around 200 seats and a small stage and the view is amazing. The atmosphere there is so alive, so if you are in Akureyri check out what's going on at Græni Hatturinn!

Bjarni Þór Jóhannsson (POWER PALADIN): Gaukurinn, our unofficial home, is the main place to be for metalheads. It's always filled with the best people and has live bands playing regularly.

Huge shout out to the Gaukurinn manager, Maggi, for believing in us and being a huge support to the band and the live music scene in Iceland. We love you man!

Ingi Þórisson (POWER PALADIN): Definitely Gaukurinn. All the love to that place and the crew there. Not really a metal bar but it is the bar of metalheads. Highly recommend checking out their schedule while here, they almost always have something interesting going on, more often than not metal gigs.

Daniel Thor Hannesson (CULT OF LILITH): The first place that comes to mind is a bar/venue called Gaukurinn. We've played a bunch of gigs there and the atmosphere is great. They regularly have metal gigs so that would be your best bet. Right next to that is another great place called Húrra and for more rock-oriented bars/venues with the occasional metal gigs are Dillon and Hard Rock Cafe.

Maniac Butcher (HELLISH DEATH): I don't know, I don't go out much. You should come over to our rehearsal place and see us perform maybe? Hahaha...!! For the after party, we can play Swedish punk and NWOBHM singles all night!

Incinerator (HELLISH DEATH): We don't really go out much. But you could visit some touristy places in Reykjavík, the Viking tourism is a big thing there. You could visit some record stores like Reykjavík Record Shop or Lucky Records, but I bet you can find better deals back in Canada. The best thing we could offer you would be a lot of Svartidauði drinking and listening to old records through the night. And maybe in the morning we could go for a hike in the wild.

MiK Annetts (KOOKAVEEN): If you were to travel to Iceland, purely for the reason of becoming acquainted with venues and so forth, I'm afraid that you would be a bit disappointed. In essence, there is a whiskey bar that has put on live gigs in the past, called Dillon, but heavy, HEAVY gigs are rarified, at least in that venue. In terms of having an ale/beer or 10, Dillon is always decent to go to, as well as Gaukurinn.

Past venues were places like Grand Rokk, Bar 11, and Cafe Amsterdam which are now gone, due to progress and gentrification. However, there are a few venues still in operation but, like everywhere, Covid-19 has nixed a lot of places and put a lot of pressure upon them to survive. Gaukurinn, Húrra, Íslenski Rokkbarinn are venues that come to mind. Additionally, we do have several scaled festivals that are held on an annual basis, like Eistnaflug (in the summer), Ascension (summer/winter) and Norðanpaunk (summer).

Record stores are the next areas of interest, with stores like Geisladiskabúð Valda, Lucky Records and Smekkleysa, where you will occasionally meet up with some of the musicians in the very bands that you are writing about in this very article. In fact, you would have more luck that way, given the way of the world at this time.

Kristján B. Heiðarsson (VETUR): That is a tougher question than I'd like it to be. Most of the pubs and venues that housed metal gigs and events some 10-15 years ago have closed. Many of them were in time demolished and large hotels built in their stead. Tourism was on the rise in the early 2000s, and hotels sprang up like weeds all over the place. With the current Covid-19 pandemic, things got even darker since there has hardly been a regular nightlife for almost two years now. There have been gaps here and there where the restrictions have been lifted for a while, and then it all closes again.

I hope that the pub/concert venue Gaukurinn is still standing when the pandemic is over. It's one of the few that is still around and has been a constant in Iceland's concert culture and nightlife since the nineties. We'd definitely have a drink or ten there. Skál!

FORSMÁN: Most definitely Gaukurinn. Gaukurinn is the "main" metal bar here in Reykjavík. Most of our gigs have been there, and during Covid-19 we've had to rely on playing gigs in the middle of nowhere last summer as well. Húrra is also a place I would recommend, which is located right next to Gaukurinn.

Jónas Steinsson (COLLECTIVE): Well, most pubs and live venues have been more or less closed for some time now, but the main venues would be Hard Rock and Gaukurinn in Reykjavik and Rokkbarinn in Hafnarfjörður. In addition, Iceland has a couple of metal festivals that bear mentioning. Eistnaflug (https://www.eistnaflug.is/) in Neskaupsstaður (on the east coast) and Reykjavik Metalfest, which regretfully has not been held since 2020.

If you would like more information on us or our music, don't hesitate to drop me a line.

Hörður Jónsson (MORPHOLITH): We have two or three rock bars in Iceland, depending on who you ask. The main one is Gaukurinn. This is where pretty much all the gigs happen and the one to watch. They are open every day, under normal circumstances and have karaoke, drag shows and stand-up comedy to name a few of the acts when they are not hosting concerts.

The essential rock bar would be Dillon. A whiskey bar with a decent selection and a small stage upstairs for gigs. This is where smaller local bands of all sorts play so it's worth checking their schedule as well.

There is another bar out in the suburbs that also has gigs, but it is not really worth the trip.

We have a handful of festivals to watch out for. The black metal festival Ascension is set for an annual spring/early summer date after a successful debut before the pandemic. The Eistnaflug Festival is The Icelandic metal festival hosting all types of heavy music dating back to 2005. The Norðanpaunk happens in early August focusing on DIY principles, underground music and counterculture. And at last in December, we had a doom metal festival called Doomcember and then the Anti-Christian festival has been held almost every winter solstice for the past 20 years, sporting mostly local black metal for the past few years.

Thorlakur Thor Gudmundsson (KONTINUUM): In the last few years, we've lost some great venues. But there are staples in the Icelandic music scene that seem to have the same mentality as Keith Richards, unkillable. Gaukurinn in downtown Reykjavik is a historical landmark in the Icelandic music scene and second home to most metal (amongst other) bands. It's the perfect combination of dark, grimey, punky, welcoming, and cozy. There's always a show, and there's always a crowd.

Another long-standing gem is the Dillon Whiskey Bar. A true fortress of rock 'n' roll, with one of the greatest collections of whiskey available in Iceland. What's not to love?

w4rn3us (NORN): Oh, this one is easy! "The" metal pub in Iceland is Gaukurinn. It's where you will see the most concerts and meet the most like-minded people. I would also mention R6013. It's not a pub, but an underground (literally) venue with some really good shows. Keep your eye open for that one.

If you visit Iceland, you should definitely set it at a time when one of the festivals is going on. Eistnaflug is traditionally held the second weekend of July. It is the biggest metal festival in Iceland and hence, obviously, the most commercial.

Norðanpaunk is a DIY underground festival, kind of family gathering of the most extreme and weird bands. It's held on the first weekend of August with loads of bands, campfires and art corners.

Ascenscion is normally held in June and is just your thing if you are into black metal.

Doomcember is held in the beginning of December and focuses on doom (obviously).

Hátíðni is another underground festival held in the north/west, it focuses on indie, noise and weird stuff!

Finnur Þór Helgason (VÖGEL): We would recommend Gaukurinn (The Common Cuckoo) as well as Íslenski Rokkbarinn (The Icelandic Rock Bar). We have played there regularly as well as many other good bands.

Links:

COLLECTIVE: https://collective-is.bandcamp.com

CULT OF LILITH: https://cultoflilith.bandcamp.com

DYNFARI: https://www.youtube.com/user/Jormundgand0

FORSMÁN: https://forsman.bandcamp.com

HELLISH DEATH: https://rottenleather.bandcamp.com/album/hellish-death-on-the-darkness-of-your-grave-2

KONTINUUM: https://www.youtube.com/user/kontinuumcult

KOOKAVEEN: https://kookaveen.bandcamp.com

MORPHOLITH: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4Zv_KLPcUoF9FjxvtwhV_A

NORN: https://www.youtube.com/user/Nornblackmetal

POWER PALADIN: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbUGtduGp7ZwB-A7ysk8USw

PUNKS OF THE EMPIRE: https://www.facebook.com/punksoftheempire/videos/2019854491523234

RING OF GYGES: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMVXrn-9WnNnZO9cSDdtccw

VETUR: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn3GkOLp633YHpqSj0ZV07g/featured

VÖGEL: https://vogel.bandcamp.com




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