With Halloween long gone and the annual advertising onslaught for Christmas in full flow, it seems somewhat appropriate that our cousins from the colder reaches of Northern Europe descend upon London on, arguably, the coldest day of Britain’s autumn. With the weather presenting a reminder of the impending grip of winter, our born-in-the-cold chums had the trying task of providing a welcome respite from the nip of nature swirling outside one of the capital’s premier clubs: Heaven.
The venue itself is a little unconventional for your typical gig venue, harking a greater resemblance to a nightclub (because it is), but then since when has rock or metal aligned itself with conventional? An apt stage then for the night’s eclectic entertainment, then…
Árstíðir bore the mantle of the opening act for the festivities at hand and equipped themselves admirably well. A trio, the dual acoustic guitar and keyboard setup provided an unusually intimate curtain raiser – where many other a group would be going gung-ho to blow the gathering crowd, these Icelanders went about their business as their resplendent hymns required: delicately. The vocal interplay and harmonies between the trio were truly something to behold. It’s a necessity that this be spot-on, especially given the group’s core attribute, but it is more than worthy of praise given how joyous it resounded in the hall.
The beautiful 13th-Century hymn “Heyr, Himna Smiður”, made famous by a viral video of the group (then a sextet) performing at a Wuppertal, Germany, train station, sounded simply serene with its lush melodies and gentle instrumentation. Introduced with the story of the song’s rise, it was greeted with a cheer and roar of approval that provided these gents with a warm platform to perform on. There’s no place for any of the customary moshing or even movement at an Árstíðir show – it’s required that you stand and appreciate the beauty of their music. Admittedly, there’s the argument that its warmth and beauty doesn’t exactly build the energy in the room up, but the cinematic splendor it carries is more than welcome to ease the night in.
Like most gigs, there will inevitably be those who are there for the headliners alone, but still take it upon themselves to check out the support. It’s something really rather amusing watching the reactions to an artist they’re not aware of and experiencing for the first time. So when Myrkur’s Amalie Bruun effortlessly switches from sweet, soaring, enthralling singing to a terrifying, powerful black metal shriek, the jaw drops from the unaware are really rather hilarious.
With two critically-acclaimed albums of gorgeous folk and blind black metal fury under the belt, Myrkur’s show is chocked full of all the goodies one could hope for. Complete with wind machine to add drama Bruun’s performance, it’s a mesmerising affair from start to finish. Whether it’s the springing gazelle-like vocals that breathe “Mareridt” into life, the ominously dark drones of the sublime “Ulvinde” or the gritty aggression of “Måneblôt”, there’s an overarching sense of theatre that is just oh-so captivating. Similarly to Árstíðir, it begs to be observed and absorbed – let the music go all before you and let its cathartic magic charm and seduce you.
It’s the sort of the performance that also requires minimal interruption in order to keep an audience enraptured. Thankfully, Myrkur knows how to keep a room and lets the music flow, with minimal chit-chat between songs maximising the music’s impact. In fact, it’s a prevalent theme throughout the night – apparently taking a leaf out of the symphony’s book in letting everything run as smoothly as possible.
There’s a little something about the evening’s headliners. Sólstafir may not be the biggest name in rock or metal, but they hold something of a quiet reverence amongst the community – and that reverence was out in full force along the capital’s riverbank. Their welcome was of the warmest sort, and they duly delivered a set befitting the adoration in the room. Opening with latest album Berdreyminn’s curtain-raiser “Silfur-refur”, the band progressed through a sprawling set comprising some of their finest from the last decade.
“Köld”, from its titular namesake, sounded positively colossal in the packed hall of Heaven, with Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s towering vocals dripping with passion and power, whilst the epic “Fjara” felt exceptionally moving as it progressed from whispered beginnings to tumultuous crescendo – it all screamed of the breathtaking scenery of the band’s homeland. In fact, the video instantly springs to mind as the band played and one wonders whether a future addition of visuals behind them would further enhance the performance.
We go to gigs to escape reality for a few hours and enjoy ourselves, often with good music, good friends and a brew (or two). What Sólstafir are able to do with their brand of rock is provide a perfect gateway for this – submitting yourself to listening to it will take you far away to another mindset. It’s a little like swimming in a meandering river and going with the current: flowing, peaceful and cathartic. Sure, there are times when it straightens out and the mind can wander, but then a curve comes and the enjoyment returns. It’s an analogy that was particularly apparent on their performance at Heaven – a scenic, euphoric cruise through their homeland. What a ride.
It may be cold outside, but the night certainly warmed the longer it went on. It may not have been the sort to invite furious pits or relentless headbanging, but it was more than enough for to warm the heart and the head. Metalheads are often tarred with the brush that what they enjoy isn’t musical or that they don’t appreciate other forms of music. Yet those that were there to witness the grace of Árstíðir, the power of Myrkur or the majesty of the night’s headliners Sólstafir are prime evidence against that suggestion. One night in Heaven, indeed, and what a night.