October 31, 2017. Halloween Night. The night I learned that there is still hope for rock ‘n’ roll, that it does indeed have a future. And that future has a name.
It’s name is Alchemia.
We’ve made it to “Day 0”, the day before the official start of Iceland Airwaves. So far my personal theme for this year’s Airwaves is “Near Misses”, as yesterday I managed to just miss connecting with my friend Leana at Dillon when we left just as they were coming in; I missed my friend Bryan popping into Lucky Records, not because I wasn’t in the store, but because I was actually digging through some stuff in the back while he was in the front; and I missed a chance to connect with LITVL reader Paul not once but twice, last night at Dillon and this morning when we were both having breakfast at Prikið… though to be fair Paul and I have never met in person, so we only pieced our near misses together today after a forensic review of Facebook posts and photos. Hopefully we’ll cross paths again at some point this week.
The off-venue schedule didn’t get going until the afternoon, so I found myself back at Lucky Records for a while. Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I took care of all of my shopping yesterday; but I’m an addict my friends, so I walked out of there with a handful of A-Ha 12″ records for Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, a few tapes, and sweet copy of Gildran’s 1988 Hugarfóstur to fill a hole in my collection. Tomorrow I think I’ll be making my second pass through Reykjavik Record Shop, and there’s still the flea market on Saturday… so many records, so little time.
And of course we were back at Lucky Records later in the afternoon to begin our off-venue evening. Opening the night was the hardcore two-piece PHLEGM, a bassist and drummer who brought some serious intensity to their performance, doubly impressive considering that they’ve only been working together in this project for a few months. Up next was a band I recently wrote about, Mosi Frændi (left), an OG punk six-piece that reunited to put out a new release in 2017 called Óbreytt Ástand. They gang opened with a cover of the Icelandic punk classic “Ó Reykjavík” before transitioning into their original material, both old and new. It was a solid performance, all the more impressive considering the small size of the Lucky Records stage, one that wasn’t large enough to hold the entire band. We may check them out again later this week at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Which brings us to the aforementioned saviors of rock ‘n’ roll, a band we almost missed because we considered heading to a different venue following our dinner break. Fortunately for us we headed back over to Lucky to see Alchemia.
There was a time when hard rock and standard heavy metal were popular. I mean really popular. Like there were actually singles from these genres in the Top 40 and they got radio play on stations across multiple formats. But to some extent those genres imploded, victims of the excesses of the late 1980s glam metal scene and its eventual descent into self-parodying absurdity, finally succumbing to the death-blow it was dealt by grunge with the release of Nevermind in 1991. A few bands like Metallica made it through to the other side, but the rest found themselves more or less relegated to the ghettos of hard rock radio and their rabid, and still substantial, core base. Many people would lead you to believe that the days of long hair and denim were destroyed permanently, but much like the concentrated evil in Time Bandits it continued to smolder, retaining its life force and the potential to infect the world once more in concentrated form.
Alchemia is the hard rock word made real.
The four-piece (above) caused my brain to boil inside my skull. Up front they have a pair of guitarists, both of who are adept at shredding and ear-splitting solos that are an air guitarists’ dream. The bassist breaks the stoic bassist mold and looks like the happiest guy on the planet who can’t believe his good fortune at being able to lay down some heavy licks with his bandmates. And the drummer… each snare hit sounded like a rifle shot as he thrashed around behind the tiny kit like Animal. (♠) They flat-out killed it tonight and made a believer again out of this formerly lost soul who was convinced the hard rocking metal of his youth was permanently relegated to the retro tour circuit. They were everything I love about the genre – fast, loud, and with just a bit of a sense of humor. I went straight to the counter after the set and bought a copy of their 2014 CD Insanity, and I’ll be doing whatever it takes to track down their self-titled 2011 debut (both appear to be available on Bandcamp). I can only hope the CDs sound even a fraction as good as Alchemia was tonight.
From there I’d have been perfectly satisfied to go right to the airport and fly home, mission accomplished. But… damn, the festival hasn’t even officially started yet, and if I can find a surprise like this on Day 0 there’s no telling what the next five days will bring! So we soldiered on, down to KEX Hostel to catch the afro-beats of Bangoura Band (below), an ensemble that seemingly included some kind of solo by all of the ten or so members performing tonight. Their funky brand of reggae and African influenced beats was a crowd pleaser. They carried us to the night’s finale (at least the finale for us…), Kiasmos. I just wrote a week or so ago about their latest release Blurred, and the pair didn’t disappoint the completely packed house at KEX, who were swaying and gently bouncing throughout their set. We couldn’t even get close enough to the stage to take any decent photos, so you’ll just have to take our word for it that the guys were excellent as usual, playing a mix of old and new tunes.
After that it was off for a quick late-night hot dog and then to bed, as Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane and our friend Jason arrive in Reykjavik tomorrow morning, bright and earlier. The on-venue schedule doesn’t even start until tomorrow, and as near as I can tell I’m already about 10 bands deep. But I’m definitely ready for more.
(♠) Yes, I know Animal was a Muppet and that doesn’t seem very metal on the surface. But have you ever seen him play drums? Have you?? That, my friends, is metal.