Ragnarök Festival - Lichtenfels, Germany, 28th-29th March 2008
|Event:||Ragnarök Festival 5|
Ragnarök Festival 2008 - Germany by Ivan (92)
Ragnarök Festival 5 - Lichtenfels, Germany, 28-29 March 2008 by Promonex (46)
1. Table of Contents
1. Table of Contents
2.1 The location
2.2 The audience
3. Friday, March 28
3.8 Sear Bliss
3.10 Killing Spree
4. Saturday, March 29
4.5 Minas Morgul
4.8 XIV Dark Centuries
4.16 Negură Bunget
6. Outlook on Ragnarök 6
Easter 2008. Filled with fear and terror the town folk of Lichtenfels gather in the church to celebrate the resurrection of their one god, to pray to him and ask him for protection against the approaching barbarian hordes. In just five days they will be here, ready to invade the town, infest it like a black plague and leave nothing but garbage, noise pollution, excrements and, well, lots of money for the local vendors, and neither faith nor the weapons of bureaucracy are able to prevent what might just be the biggest pagan metal festival in the world: RAGNARÖK...
Five days later, the 28th of March. We arrive at about 11 a.m. at the town hall of Lichtenfels, the epicentre of the barbarian gathering. Just like in the previous years the forecourt of the hall has been used as the parking and camping area. This year though we belonged to the last who were actually allowed to park on the forecourt while most people arriving at a later time were told to find some other parking place. In the past two years the forecourt wasn't as full even at a later time, so this was one of the first signs of the huge increment in visitors. While last year's edition counted close to 4000 visitors, this year about 5000 vikings had found their way to Lichtenfels. And who would be surprised by this after looking at the lineup: Unleashed, Arkona, Agalloch, Haggard, Turisas, Norther and Primordial are just a few of the bands making for a lineup of very high quality and diversity.
2.1 The location
"But Promonex, didn't you write last year already that the festival was sold out?", I hear you say. (No, not really, but let's just pretend you did ask) Well, that's correct and the festival still took place in the same hall. This year the organizer made some wise adjustments to the overall allocation of place though which allowed him to sell another thousand tickets: the festival area wasn't restricted to the hall only anymore, but also included a fenced in outer area where the food stands, formerly on the sides of the stage inside the hall, were to be found. There was also a big tent with all the merchandising stands which formerly filled the small entry hall. The entry hall thus became pleasantly empty containing just the official festival and band stands, an autograph stand and a wardrobe where people could hand in their jackets for a small fee. Due to these adjustments there were barely any queues into the hall, the smokers - who were to be doomed without an open air part of the festival area thanks to Bavaria's most recent "non-smoker protection laws" - and the overall increment in visitors was barely noticeable unless you tried to land a sitting spot on the hall's gallery. Of the three beverage stands inside of the hall for beer, mead and soft drinks respectively the one for beer was definitely too short of staff. The food stand was always way too crowded as well, probably also due to the more than fair prices. I haven't been to a festival before that sold French fries for merely 1.50 €, and 0.4 liters beer for 2 € ain't that bad either.
2.2 The audience
Last year the thing that probably disturbed me the most about this festival was the crowd. Last year's focus on "tr00" black metal had attracted not only a lot of elitists, but also a fair number of open nationalists. So how would it be in 2008? Would Ragnarök walk down the path the media have seen it walk along already and become established as meeting point for Nazis? Or was I going to be right with my speculations that the diversity of the lineup would hold off the rotten more-than-just-misanthropic core of the black metal scene and rather attract people with all kinds of backgrounds? Well, I've got to admit that I was quite pleasantly surprised by this year's crowd. In fact I've seen more Asians than Nazis! I guess that does say quite a lot. So whereas I've sensed xenophobia lingering in the air throughout last year's festival, I didn't notice any of that this time around. There still were some apparent Nazis running around, but those were definitely the minority. There is also to be added that visitors were urged to report merch stands selling NSBM and that the organizer himself had kicked out a vendor from the festival for selling such stuff.
So much about the festival's location and its visitors, time to talk about what's really important: the music!
3. Friday, March 28
For the first time not a local band, but rather a successful international act had the honour to open the festival. At about 3 p.m., already half an hour late, Danish newcomers Svartsot were the first to grace the stage. Iron-clad and equipped with an axe vocalist Claus Gnudtzmann gave his best to bring the crowd into the mood. Unfortunately the sound in the hall wasn't that good this early into the festival, so that Svartsot's black metal-based folk melodies came across rather tame and powerless. Nonetheless the audience got heated up quite soon, so that towards the end of Svartsot's set the first crowdsurfers could be seen.
Setlist: Tvende Ravne - Skønne Møer - Bersærkergang - Spillemandens Dåse - Skovens Kælling - Gravøllet - Jotunheimsfærden
On a festival themed around pagan religion and ancient and medieval history a band like Norther might appear slightly misplaced. Indeed the only reason why they were to perform was because they were the support act of Turisas on their European tour, hence the early slot for these Finns. Regardless of the band's rather immature lyrics and image a lot of heathens have shown up and filled the hall quite considerably. And they seemed to enjoy the gig quite a lot. Perhaps Petri's involvement in Ensiferum contributed to this fact as well. And he more or less conformed to the custom of wearing historically more or less correct costumes by putting on a plastic viking helmet during most of the gig which conjured a smile on many a visitor's face. Norther's setlist naturally consisted mostly of material from their new album simply titled "N" which I wasn't too happy about as songs like "We Rock", "Self-Righteous Fuck" and the overly melodic "Frozen Angel" just don't seem right at such a festival. Their neckbreaker "Death Unlimited", "Omen" with its beautiful piano melody and their classic "Blackhearted" fully made up for it though. Overall a nicely done gig.
Setlist: My Antichrist - Down - Blackhearted - Unleash Hell - Omen - We Rock - Frozen Angel - Death Unlimited - Black Gold - Self-Righteous Fuck
Next band on the billing was Sworn, some Norwegian band I didn't really care about. Hence I made use of the time to hook up with some friends, drink a few and return to the hall some 30 minutes later. And a few meters away from the entrance I thought by myself: "Hmm, that sounds familiar." The reason for this nearly had me burst into tears...
Yeah, Agalloch! The one band I was looking forward to the most, and I had missed half of their gig! Tentatively parts of both Agalloch's and Sworn's equipment got lost on their respective flights and as Sworn still had some hope in retrieving theirs, Agalloch offered to swap their slot with the Norwegians while lending some equipment from Skyforger ("Thanks to Skyforger for saving our asses!"). This wouldn't have been much of a problem if the organizer hadn't failed to inform the visitors of this change in program. And so hundreds of people who had wanted to see Agalloch, many of them coming to this festival just for this one band, had missed most or the entire gig of this exceptional doom/goth/post-metal outfit and were very enraged and frustrated afterwards. The few people who were at the right place at the right time were able to witness a beautiful, dense and atmospheric performance beginning in the band's early days and gradually moving on to their latest full-length; unfortunately nothing of their newest EP was played which in my opinion would have made for a great outro. Special praise goes to the light technician who engulfed the stage in a bleak green or a brooding red most of the time with the latter eternally amplifying the intensity of the closing song "Our Fortress Is Burning". A brilliant gig which was far too short and enraged plenty of visitors due to the shortcomings of the organization. Rumours have it that Agalloch are going to play at next year's edition though.
Setlist: As Embers Dress the Sky - Dead Winter Day - I Am the Wooden Doors - Not Unlike the Waves - Our Fortress Is Burning II: Bloodbirds
I was still quite pissed when the Latvian heathens entered the stage. Fortunately my mood brightened up again after the first few tunes. Skyforger are always a fun band to see live, not because their compositions are typical battle and drinking songs, but because they always manage to put a smile on one's face. Their garments are very genuine and so is the live usage of bagpipes, flutes and kokle (a type of kantele), and the speeches of frontman Peter Kvetkovskis in the language of their guest country increased the sympathy factor of the band even more. This time around the folk instruments were cut back in the mix a whole lot though, so that the performance received a considerable black metal touch. Whether this was the intention of the band or the fault of the sound techs, it definitely made for an interesting change in the band's otherwise rather tootley performances.
Setlist: Div' Dujinas - Latviešu Strelnieki - Virsaitis Nameisis - Kalejs Kala Debesis - Kauja Garozas Sila - Kauja Pie Saules - Ligo - Tirela Purva - Dzives Vismelnaka Stunda - Uz Karinu Balinš Jaja
Sworn's equipment still hasn't shown up, so Skyforger just let their stuff on stage which soon was taken over by the Norwegians. Sworn play a blend of melodic black and death metal, not unlike Dissection. Optically the band was quite impressive being one of the two bands which made use of the pyros, so that at times columns of fire lined the stage. And the band performed quite well amidst the flames. The bald-headed vocalist Max Wilson, who beared some resemblance to Nemtheanga of Primordial due to the black-lined eyes, proved to be one hell of a frontman, only his windmill-style headbanging looked a bit awkward due to his lack of hair. The rest of the band displayed a more than convincing performance as well with heavy and crushing melodic black/death riffs bordering thrash metal and creating an ethereal atmosphere for which Jon Nödtveidt still needed a synthesizer. As a tribute to their main influence Sworn closed their set with a very good rendition of Dissection's "Night's Blood". And I was actually quite glad not to have missed these guys like I initially intended to.
Setlist: Alleviation - Silhouettes of a Broken World - Vivid Visions - Heart of Decay - The Beauty of My Funeral - Night's Blood (Dissection Cover)
Even without having memorized the running order one knew exactly which band was coming up next as dozens of warriors with black and red face-paint stormed into the hall: the Varangian horde Turisas was about to take the stage and turn the whole audience into a warzone. And as always these Finns, wearing furs and the aforementioned black and red face-paint, easily succeeded in doing so. I was rather surprised by this though as the compositions from their new album "The Varangian Way", which naturally made up most of their setlist, are a lot more epic and less suited for partying and moshing than the songs from their debut. Another drawback of their new material is its live suitability - on previous concerts the violinist Olli and accordionist Lisko (who got lost on the band's latest tour and was replaced by blonde dudette Netta Skog) played a major role alongside vocalist Warlord Nygård; this time the Warlord alone was the center of attention as the band performed the bulky compositions from their new albums with minor contributions by the other musicians and major contributions by the taped orchestrations. And a performance which uses taped instruments always leaves a stale aftertaste, at least in my humble opinion, and even more so at a folk metal festival. The fans didn't respond as frenetically to the bulky new songs either, at least not until "In the Court of Jarisleif" which brought Olli Vänskä into the spotlight again as it essentially consists of one manic violin solo. And the audience loved it! This was the moment when the whole crowd turned into a moshpit and also remained so during the band's popular cover of the disco hit "Rasputin". During the less furious songs which were to follow the entire audience was singing along, which wasn't much of a surprise for the band's almost-classic drinking song "One More", but more so for "Miklagard Overture", the closer of their new album. As always the actual closer of the gig was the band's signature song, the eponymous song of their debut album "Battle Metal". One last time the band gave it their all and the audience rewarded the effort by bursting into a frenzy and celebrating the Finns. Despite of the convincing second half of Turisas' set I personally couldn't get rid of the stale aftertaste of the first half though - being a band which used to have a huge emphasis on the folk instruments it appears quite poor to depend so much on music from a tape nowadays...
Setlist: Intro - The Dnieper Rapids - To Holmgard and Beyond - A Portage to the Unknown - In the Court of Jarisleif - Rasputin (Boney M. cover) - One More - Miklagard Overture - Battle Metal
Primordial on the other hand totally failed to disappoint. Backed by a freezing cold wall of tremolo-picked guitars über-frontman Alan Nemtheanga insistently inquired "Where is the fighting man?" during "Empire Falls", sang to the slaves "[That] Rome Burns" and continued with the compulsory hymn "The Coffin Ships" - no matter what, there is barely a singer who manages to sound as desperate, emotional and convincing as Nemtheanga! Intense, dense, moving and somewhat creepy might be words that could describe the atmosphere created by Primordial, yet none of those do these genre-defying Irishmen any justice! Truly an exceptional live band which one has to witness oneself (preferably in the dark) before knowing what to expect!
Setlist: Empire Falls - Gallows Hymn - Sons of the Morrigan - As Rome Burns - The Coffin Ships - Heathen Tribes - Gods to the Godless
3.8 Sear Bliss
Talking about exceptional bands, exceptional certainly is also the usage of a trombone in black metal. The Hungarians of Sear Bliss do exactly that, atmospheric black metal assisted with a trombone. What sounds interesting in theory and isn't that bad on CD either, didn't quite seem to work out live though. The classic lineup of vocals, guitar, bass and drums made a good job, hands down, but the trombone occasionally just seemed out of place, especially when it was perpetually repeating merely two or three notes. If it hadn't been as prominent as it was I might have been able to enjoy the gig. Instead I just watched the first few songs and went for a beer afterwards.
Setlist: Blood on the Milky Way - A Deathly Illusion - Two Worlds Collide - Path to the Motherland - ...
After this extraordinary band we got something established and orthodox again. Hellsaw play black metal how it's supposed to be: evil, scornful and no-frills, corpsepaint and spikes excepted. Furious black metal attacks were alternated by dirty rock n' roll passages, frontman Aries posed with his piercing sinister stare and underlined the furiousness of the performance with two torches. The sound was rather good, but could have used a bit more bass in my opinion and overall lacked some power. On the other hand this way the guitar sound received a somewhat fragile and channelled touch which probably benefited the atmosphere. A more than decent gig which probably fully satisfied all the lovers of the underrepresented "true" black metal.
Setlist: The Ember of Your Own - Silent Landscape - Might and Hate - ...Me Crying - The Inner Revenge of Nature - Omen - Hate-War-Victory - In Memory - Frozen March - Execution
3.10 Killing Spree
It's well after 2 a.m. already, one hour behind schedule, when Killing Spree took the stage. These guys from Berlin play a sort of keyboard-assisted death metal, which doesn't quite seem to fit onto this festival. But as this was the fifth anniversary of the festival and Killing Spree had played on its second edition, when it still was rather small and at a considerably smaller location, they were invited again, as birthday guests so to speak. Their mixture of Dismember-style death metal, some melodic leads and electronic/industrial influences was quite entertaining, though far from mature. One didn't really have the impression of listening to a band with seven years of experience under their belt. Anyway, for a change their gig was interesting and quite entertaining.
And finally the last band of the night! The last sleepers on the gallery have awoken and stood in front of the stage a few minutes later. Due to the late time - it was after 3 a.m. by now - this made up no more than two rows though who wanted to witness this rather interesting band. Two years ago Winterdome created "Weltendämmerung" ("Twilight of the Worlds"), an epic/gothic/folk metal concept album about the presumptuous tribe of the Elasaj who were punished by the gods for committing hubris - one could also consider "Weltendämmerung" as an audiobook with a metal soundtrack. Just imagine Blind Guardian's "Nightfall in Middle-Earth" with the interludes done right and you get rather close. The time-consuming nature of their live presentation is also the reason why Winterdome were to play as last band of the night. Unfortunately this was so late that only about thirty-something people still were awake when Dr. Bernd Seestaedt, the narrator of the band, came on stage and introduced the listeners to the world of the Elasaj. The rest of the band made their entry soon afterwards with the energetic and eerie title song of their album. The band doesn't only pay a lot of attention to details on their album, but also to their live appearance: not only was the band clothed in garments of linen, even the guitars were covered in some kind of leather jerkin! Winterdome played as though the hall still was filled to the brim and the few listeners were more than appreciative for this captivating performance, notably shaped by frontman Henrik's appealing harsh and clean vocals and violinist Lisa's fiddling and serene voice. The band as a whole did one hell of a job, the audience was absolutely enchanted which resulted in a grand spirit of togetherness between band and crowd and the sound in the hall was really great for a change making this perhaps the best show of the whole night, if not of the whole festival! After no other gig the shouts for an encore were as loud as after Winterdome - might just be that the empty hall resonated a lot more than it usually does though -, but unfortunately due to curfew (it was about 4.30 a.m. by now) the band wasn't allowed to play anymore. And even though I regretted not to get anymore from this awesome band I was glad that I could finally get some sleep.
Setlist: Haushoch türmten sich die Wellen (narration) - Weltendämmerung - Land der Nacht - Die Elasaj - Durch unbekanntes Land (narration) - Flammentanz - Leid und Qual - In fast mondloser Nacht (narration) - Ein stiller Schrei
4. Saturday, March 29
When I opened my eyes again it was 11 a.m. - exactly the time when the next band was going to play! Actually I had hoped to have a comfortable morning with more than just a beer for breakfast, but this way all I could do was grab a bottle and run to the hall to report from the front again. *yawn*
Helritt - "Ride to Hel". Actually I've expected a band with such a stereotypical name to play the same old pagan metal every other second band seems to play nowadays. Instead we got some awesome black metal with slight pagan influences, which kicked some serious ass and had the power I was missing in Svartsot's and Hellsaw's performances the previous day. The music wasn't really outstanding, but it was a good way to fully wake up again and be prepared for the many more battles, which were to come.
Setlist: Wotans Esch - Das Mahl - Die Jagd - Berge - Brennende Stürme - Der ehrvolle Weg - Trotzend dem Niedergang
I'll be honest with you, I've never been too fond of this band. I had seen them two years ago at another festival and found them crappy. I had also listened to their demo and didn't like it either. And I have never made a secret about my dislike for Elexorien, neither in the forum of the festival back then nor in the Ragnarök forum. This time around they surprised me though. I still wasn't too fond of the symphonic power metal passages which just sounded a bit too much like Nightwish for my taste, but I've got to admit that I was rather impressed how effortlessly the band switched from power metal to black metallic riffs which became even more appealing with Iné's operatic voice hovering over the tremolos. The beginning of "The Serpent Strikes at Sunstone Hill" even had an interesting Gothenburg touch, so that the entire performance excelled through a versatility I haven't found in their studio material before.
Anyway, I've told you how I voiced my dislike for this band in several forums? It appears like frontman Lainedil was a member of all those forums as well and thus announced the last song with the words: "This last song is for Promonex - just because he hates us!"
Setlist: Running with the Wolves of War - Set in Stone - Rising of the Storm - For Those Who Remain - The Serpent Strikes at Sunstone Hill, Part II - Dryads & Trolls
Naturally I couldn't miss out the chance to "thank" Lainedil for this dedication at Elexorien's signing session. Well, no matter whether you are friend or enemy of this band's music, you cannot deny that they are fun people to hang out with
(And thanks again for the CD and for officially acknowledging me as your hatecrew )
Here comes another band I could never really get into. Trimonium's style of thrashy pagan black metal has quite some reminiscences with Immortal, but never reaches the class and grandeur of their Norwegian brethren. They pulled off a solid show nonetheless and got celebrated by their fans, lacked some esprit though and appeared to me like a second grade Sworn. Or a third grade Immortal. The gig was over after half an hour already as the organizers asked the band to cut down their set out of fear the schedule could be in danger again. And so Trimonium played only four of the planned six songs, a fact that didn't particularly sadden me though.
Setlist: Son of a Blizzard - When the Ravens Fly - Sign in the Sky - Blow the Horns
Even less so as Trollfest were the next on the billing! And it seemed like I wasn't the only one looking forward to these crazy trolls - looking at the sheer amount of people in front of stage one could think that a headliner would be coming up. And Trollfest didn't let their fans down: from the first seconds of "Legendarisk Øl" on it was obvious that Trollfest didn't plan to take any prisoners. Their straightforward polka/folk/grind/something mixture got the crowd moving at an instant and really everyone was partying, jumping, singing and moshing around. And what else could you do to the ass-kicking "Willkommen Folk Tell Drekka Fest" (in a slightly renamed version), the droll "Das Meerungeheuer" or the singalong closer "Helvetes Hunden Garm" which had most of the hall barking along? The mood in the crowd was just terrific! The band obviously had a whole lot of fun as well and displayed the probably most frantic and energetic performance of the entire festival.
Setlist: Legendarisk Øl - Brakebein - Du Kom For Seint - Willkommen Folk Tell Ragnarök - Das Meerungeheuer - EssenFest - Der erste Krieg - Uraltes Element - Helvetes Hunden Garm
4.5 Minas Morgul
After Trollfest torches were lit on stage, as always when Minas Morgul are about to make their entry. This time I was missing something about their performance though: the dazzling furball which used to be their vocalist has gone and was replaced by a new vocalist who in contrast appeared rather pallid. His performance wasn't that great either - the band explained afterwards that the new guy had actually been ill and that this had impaired his vocal performance. Valid excuse or not, Minas Morgul's gig was far from convincing and without their usual eye-catcher they didn't have anything interesting for the eye either. A rather mediocre show.
Setlist: Prolog - Aus Blut gemacht - Erinnerung - Eyn Meyster des Blutes - Der Sonne entgegen - Meer aus Blut und Stahl - Blut und Eisen
Thronar on the other hand were quite a nice surprise. These Dutch guys describe their style as "Battle Metal" and isn't the only band on this festival doing so. Unlike Turisas though Thronar didn't let a tape play some of the instruments which already made them superior to their Finnish competitors in my book. Their atmospheric viking/black metal wasn't really groundbreaking, but they definitely delivered the goods and easily transported some of the fun they had on stage onto the audience.
Setlist: To Kill and Be King - Gift from the Gods - The Hunt for Vengeance - Hannibal - Thronar - Crimnor Valora
They came, saw and... failed! Wolfchant, normally a household name in the German pagan metal scene, gave it their all, but the wrath of the sound gods was inexorable! When it comes to stage acting the band gets better and better with each gig, but this didn't save the performance at all. Especially the lead guitar was mercilessly drowned out, so that I didn't manage to identify "The Path", with its signature guitar lead actually my favourite song by this band, until frontman Lokhi sang the familiar words during the chorus. Better luck next time, guys!
4.8 XIV Dark Centuries
Time for some real pagan metal again! XIV Dark Centuries are one of the most respected bands of the scene, mostly because they don't only sing about paganism, but live and support it with every breath. And so it came as no surprise when singer Michel appealed to the audience that paganism means respect towards nature and that it sickens him to see so many people just throwing their garbage on the ground instead of into the bin. If you had seen what the forecourt looked like on the next day you would fully understand this appeal - and you'd shake your head in incomprehension as to why so many people would cheer upon this appeal. But let's get to talk about the music: XIV Dark Centuries delivered as always and conjured a sea of flying hair with their upbeat and authentic brand of pagan metal. Especially "Thing", "Runibergun" and above all "Bragarful" were definite neckbreakers. And fortunately for the fans the band, which initially had to cut their set by two songs upon the organizer's request, got to know that they still were on time and could play one more song. As always an awesome gig! I just wish they hadn't only played stuff from their last two releases though.
Setlist: Intro - Skithingi - Thing - Louvia: Die ewigen Wälder - Skiltfolk - Herzyn Harug - Runibergun - Julenzeit - Bragarful - Auf zur Schlacht
I was expecting a lot from these Tolkien worshippers, just not musical quality. While I did enjoy their first two albums quite a lot, the more recent half of their discography made my ears bleed. Due to the band's reputation as using all sorts of gimmicks on stage I decided to give them a try nonetheless. Oh boy, had I seen the setlist after having missed them, I would've truly kicked myself in the arse! Opening with the epic "Sons of Riddermark", going on with "Khazad-Dum", throwing in the beautiful "Journey to Undying Lands" and "The War of Wrath" shortly before the end of the set, all my favourites were there and made up 50% of the setlist! Especially the ethereal and hypnotizing vocals of Kaisa made this a highly enjoyable experience, while frontman Tomi swinging his sword was rather good for an occasional laugh. However, the band knew how to entertain its audience and fully convinced me. Along with Winterdome the most positive surprise for me!
Setlist: Sons of Riddermark - Khazad-Dum - House of Heroes - Ghan of the Woods - Summon the Wolves - Journey to Undying Lands - The War of Wrath - We Are the Legions
Helrunar might be fairly unknown outside of the pagan metal scene, but among connoisseurs they are one of most celebrated bands and get to headline festivals alongside Taake and Watain. The amount of people in front of the stage increased accordingly and soon afterwards a veil of coldness displaced the previously joyous atmosphere. Helrunar's brand of pagan black metal has a huge emphasis on the black metal part, the pagan influences only become manifest in the occasional epic vocals. Most of the time Skald Draugir's vocals have more of a rasping or grating tone though which combined with his authoritative and commanding appearance creates an atmosphere of grandeur and respect while the fragile sound of the guitar sends shivers down your spine. Highlight of this gig certainly was the sluggish fan favourite "Älter als das Kreuz" ("Older than the Cross") during which the perpetually repeated title words were multiplied hundred-fold by the crowd.
Setlist: Loka Lögsaga - Älter als das Kreuz - Hauch wird Sturm - Glamr - Seelenwinter - Til Jardar
After requesting them for the past two years I finally was going to see them: Arkona! And the wait was absolutely worth it! The stars of the Russian folk metal scene, who here at Ragnarök played their only second gig outside of Eastern Europe, totally shook the hall. Frontwoman Masha was constantly singing, growling, running, twisting and jumping all across the stage and repeatedly commanded the crowd to jump, cheer and sing along. The audience did as it was told and celebrated the band as though there was no tomorrow. Or to put it in the words of a fan: "I didn't know them before, but whatever that woman would have commanded me to do, I would have done it!" Go figure. For some strange reason the crowd didn't seem to be into moshing though, albeit Arkona's music definitely containing a lot of moshable parts; hence it was not before "Maslenitsa", the sixth song into the set, that I managed to get a pit started. Talking about "Maslenitsa", I was more than delighted by the setlist which featured songs from each and every of their four albums (take a leaf out of that book, XIV Dark Centuries!). In the middle of the set Masha also grabbed a shaman drum and still jumping around on stage she performed what I suppose were some traditional Russian chants displaying her incredible vocal versatility. The string pluckers of the band were a lot more "stationary" than their leader, but appeared to have lots of fun nonetheless. No wonder considering how the band was celebrated, even though being rather unknown among many visitors. Arkona were without a doubt the big winners of this festival.
Setlist: Intro - Сквозь туман веков - По сырой земле - От сердца к небу - Купала и Кострома - Катится Коло - Масленица - Русь - Ой, то не вечер
Transliteration: Intro - Skvoz Tuman Vekov - Po Syroi Zemle - Ot Serdca K Nebu - Kupala i Kostroma - Katitsya Kolo - Maslenitsa - Rus - Oy, To Ne Vecher
Menhir are one of the pioneers of the German pagan metal scene, but still are widely unacknowledged. At Ragnarök there was no doubt about the band's importance though and so a lot of people gathered to render homage to the band that started it all. The band had quite some problems to fight with - unlike some other bands they refused to start before the sound was the way they wanted it to be and so they had to start their first song three times before they were halfway satisfied with the result. This might have killed some of the atmosphere, but was definitely worth the hassle: Menhir's sound burst of power and energetic rawness and the vocals are as epic as can be. And I had my doubts whether these are the same Menhir I had seen two years ago already as this was a lot better than what I had remembered. Combine that with the authentic garments and you get an optically and acoustically flawless and entertaining gig.
Setlist: Einherjer - Wotans Runenlied - Das alte Lied des Windes - Menhir - Des Kriegers Gesicht - Hildebrandslied - Das verborgene Reich
„This is the one band that will mess up the entire running order", said the Ragnarök staffer next to me. And he was proven to be correct - the 12+ musicians of the metal orchestra Haggard definitely needed their time to find a place on the now awfully crowded stage, do their soundcheck and finally start their set half an hour later than scheduled while behind them a backdrop reading "Haggard - Tales of Ithiria" was hung up. Unfortunately my hope of hearing some new songs from the upcoming album "Tales of Ithiria" were in vain. We did get a great setlist nonetheless. But who cares about the setlist, Haggard could've played what they wanted to and the people would have loved it as the crowd seemed to be absolutely dazzled by the sheer arrangement of the band. Soprano Susanne enchanted everyone with her angelic voice, tenor Andi looked a bit underdressed next to Su's pompous dress, but made an overall good job as well and guitar wizard Claudio Quatro (gotta love that name!) banged his brains out while the string quartet behind him laid the foundation for Haggard's extraordinary sound. And the sound was - save for the soprano vocals which were a tad too loud and did cause some headaches from time to time - absolutely brilliant, every instrument received the right mix, so that my personal favourite "Per Aspera Ad Astra" sounded even clearer than on CD. After having played one awesome song after another Haggard were even allowed to play an encore by decree of the organizer, despite of gloriously failing to stay on schedule. The staffer next to me explained: "Our office is locked, none of us wanted to miss this gig. Even the organizer's granny has come to see Haggard!" I don't think she was disappointed.
Setlist: As Heaven Wept - Per Aspera Ad Astra - The Observer - In a Pale Moon's Shadow - Herr Mannelig - Prophecy Fullfilled - Eppur Si Muove - Awaking the Centuries
Enough cuddle music! Unleashed have set out to rinse our enchanted ears with a slab of finest Swedish death metal! Just look at that setlist and you know there was no way this mission could fail! Johnny and the boys had a lot of fun and made the entire crowd into the fifth band member: "My warriors, scream for me!" - "DEATH METAL VICTORY!" For my taste there were too many of these sing along games though and during "The Longships Are Coming" at latest one knew that the crowd had enough death metal for now. Less talk, more action would've been nice. This also applies to the people around me though - when I alone represented 50% of the huge, but desolate moshpit during "Into Glory Ride" I knew that something couldn't be right with all these oh-so-true-heathens... lazy fucks! This didn't stop Unleashed from delivering a solid set though and so they continued to launch one death metal grenade after another into the crowd. And during the aforementioned "Death Metal Victory" everyone was awake again to sing along the holy three words. A nice gig, but next time please with a better crowd...
Setlist: Blood of Lies - Triumph of Genocide - Never Ending Hate - Don't Want to Be Born - In Victory or Defeat - Midvinterblot - This Is Our World Now - Winterland - The Longships Are Coming - Execute Them All - Into Glory Ride - Death Metal Victory
Vreid's appearance at this year's festival was announced as a "special show" and it was said there'd by "something for the eye". Naturally I was quite curious as to what Vreid had planned. Many people speculated it could be a tribute show for Windir, the predecessor of Vreid until the death of frontman Valfar. Instead the opposite was the case and Vreid intended to put huge emphasis on the present of the band and its examination of WWII-related themes. Thus the gig started with an old Norwegian radiogram announcing the invasion of the Nazi forces before Vreid performed the title track of their new album "I Krig". There were sandbags between the monitor speakers which probably were supposed to simulate a trench, but went unnoticed by most. What was noticed though was the, err, "video" projected onto the wall behind the band. Or let's say it was supposed to be a video that was supposed to be projected onto the wall. Instead a girder was in the way, so that half of the picture was cut off and the projector seemed to have some issues as well, so that most of the time only the "Vreid" and "I Krig" logos were displayed and occasionally some video started which was interrupted by one of the logos just seconds later. Whatever this "special show" was intended to be, it was a total failure. But there still was the music. And the pyros. At least those worked. The music was what we're used of Vreid, dirty black n' roll which kicked some serious ass and delivered the goods. And the compulsory final "Pitch Black" upped the ante even more. The band's solid performance didn't hide the fact that the announced "special show" was a huge disappointment though.
Setlist: I Krig - Raped by Light - Jarnbyrd - Hengebjørki - Helvete - Under Isen - Left to Hate? - Pitch Black
4.16 Negură Bunget
I had seen Negură Bunget earlier this year already and after that experience I was absolutely looking forward to seeing them again. Negură Bunget's brand of folk/black metal, especially on their latest album "OM", creates an atmosphere which is organic, beautiful, magical and hypnotic and they easily manage to convey the grandeur of their music onto stage. A long story cut short: they did it again! These Romanians' beautiful music just invites you to close your eyes, enjoy the music and let it become the soundtrack of your own mind. Or in case you have obtained the special edition of "OM" you will most likely see the beauty of the Carpathian landscapes before your inner eye. That's what I did, and all this beauty brought tears to my eyes! It's hard to explain what a Negură Bunget gig is about without doing the band any injustice. Just try and catch them on the next best occasion, you won't regret it! (perhaps their European tour at the end of the year?)
Setlist: Inarborat - Cunoasterea Tacuta - Hora Soarelui - Norilor - Cel Din Urma Vis - Tesarul De Lumini
Last, but not least Fimbulthier closed the festival. Alright, let's cut out those phrases, Fimbulthier actually were both last and least, and only very few people had stayed awake to see these guys do a rather lousy job. Clothed in school uniforms one wondered what the hell they'd be doing on a pagan metal festival and even though their music was probably supposed to be some kind of pagan metal, it was far below par at this festival. Their only good song was the very last one and that was a cover of In Flames' "Episode 666". They still were good enough for some light-hearted entertainment though and if you're into camp you might've enjoyed this gig as well. I for my part was too tired and resigned to actually give a damn at this time of the night - thanks to the switch to summer time in the very same night it was about 5 a.m. already. High time to get to bed, not without another beer breakfast afore, and dream about the 28 bands I've seen during the past 36 hours.
Ragnarök's fifth anniversary had a lot of strengths, but also some weaknesses which were known in the past already and should have been fixed by now. The definite high point was the lineup which was far beyond awesome featuring jewels from various genres and thus avoiding the saturation one experienced at last year's black metal-focused edition. The new allocation of space within the festival area has proven very successful and it'd be great to have it the same way next year again. I was also very delighted by the heterogeneity of the audience which will probably help establish Ragnarök as an internationally renowned festival even more.
A downside of this year's edition was the sheer number of bands. A total of 28 bands in two days on just one stage meant that even the headliners only got to play about 50 minutes while many others were cut down to 30 minutes. The biggest downer of this fest still was the organization though. The usual problem of being unable to keep on schedule is well-known among regular visitors, so no one really cares about that anymore. Really annoying was the slot swap of Agalloch and Sworn though which should have definitely been announced somehow. Something similar had happened two years ago already with Skyforger and Nomans Land, so the organizers should've definitely known better by now. Another downer was the sound which sucked quite often. On the other hand that's what you expect at a festival in contrary to a club show, so except for Wolfchant's show the sound was bearable. And on a personal note, I'd like to have a more active crowd next year.
All critique aside the bands were great though and I've found this year's festival a lot more enjoyable than last year's. Definitely looking forward to Ragnarök 2009!!
6. Outlook on Ragnarök 6
Only two weeks after Ragnarök 2008 the first names for next year's edition were announced already. These names include:
Arkona (Russian pagan folk metal)
Týr (Faroese progressive viking/folk metal)
Melechesh (Dutch/ex-Israeli folk/black metal)
Midnattsol (Norwegian folk/symphonic metal)
Alestorm (Scottish pirate metal)
Fjoergyn ("Jahreszeiten" release show) (German symphonic metal)
Heidevolk (Dutch pagan metal)
Adorned Brood (German folk metal)
Yggdrasil (Swedish folk metal)
Scottish pirates Alestorm will make up for having cancelled their performance this year due to their drummer's illness. Arkona seem to have impressed the organizer so much, that he invited them again right away. The symphonic avant-garde viking metallers Fjoergyn might be worth a special mention as they consider playing with an orchestra to have an appropriate setting for the release show of their third album "Jahreszeiten" ("Seasons").
Rumours have it that next year's edition won't take place in Lichtenfels anymore though as the town council has imposed an increase in conditions to be fulfilled for the festival, less tickets to be sold among others. More details will be announced in the course of the year.
Thanks a lot to Nicolai of Nemeton Events for everything, the accreditation, the pictures and for your patience. See you soon on one of the upcoming festivals!
Thanks to Ivan for actually giving me the chance to be part of this zine. It was great to meet you, bro! And of course thanks a lot for those many pictures and for enabling me to have some fun in the pit ^^
And as every year thanks a lot to my lovely company vampir. Festivals with you have always been a pleasure and hopefully will remain so for a long, long time
All texts by Daniel Pereira for Metal Storm.
All photos by Ivan Suslin and Daniel Pereira, unless noted otherwise.
All rights reserved, do not use without permission.
All photos by Ivan Suslin and Daniel Pereira, unless noted otherwise.
All rights reserved, do not use without permission.
||Written on 06.06.2008 by Daniel "Promonex" Pereira loves to enthuse people with stuff he's enthusiastic about; as writer, photographer, promoter and DJ. Metal Storm staff since 2005.|
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