DIMMA – “Eldraunir” (2017)

The amount of new music coming out of Iceland seems to be increasing exponentially in recent years, much of it generated by young and hungry bands.  But lest those whipper-snappers get a bit too cocky, some of the scene’s veterans, the performers who first put Iceland on the musical map, are putting out albums as well.  So far 2017 has given us new material from Sólstafir, Singapore Sling, and the delayed-but-soon-to-be-released latest from HAM.  And that’s not all, my friends.  Oh no.  We also got a new album from arguably the most technically perfect band in Iceland, a group that has taken NWOBHM (♠) style metal to its mountaintop, perfecting the form.  I speak, of course, of DIMMA.

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DIMMA’s path to the promised land has been an unusual one.  Their self-titled 2005 debut caught the attention of Alice Cooper and landed the band a supporting role on Alice’s tour, and they had continued success with 2008s Stigmata.  But then they added vocalist Stefán Jakobsson and drummer Birgir Jónsson, and at the same time took what was, in all likelihood, a significant risk – they decided to switch their vocals from English to their native Icelandic.  It was a bold move, and one that was likely to hurt them in terms of building an international audience, though it would certainly endear them with their fans at home.  So beginning with 2012s Myrkraverk, all of their subsequent releases have been in what may well be the least-spoken European language still in use today.

And you know what?  Icelandic is perfect for this kind of metal.

Right from the opening of the album’s first track (and first single) “Villimey” it’s clear that DIMMA still have it.  The driving rhythm section, Ingo’s guitar parts going from workman-like to intricate and back again based on the song’s needs, and Stefán’s clear and soaring vocals, it’s everything I love about DIMMA and takes me right back to the last time I saw them live, standing in the very front right up against the stage at Harpa while they just shredded it and rocked my face off.

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DIMMA’s brand of metal is generally guitar and vocal based, and given the level of talent they have in those areas that makes sense.  When you have a guitarist like Ingo Geirdal the solos and flourishes flow out of him like a torrent; if you asked him to keep all that to himself, he’d probably spontaneously combust.  And Stefán Jakobsson’s voice has to be unleashed and allowed to run the gamut of his range.  So given that, you wouldn’t be surprised if Eldraunir‘s songs and mix played down the rhythm section.  But if there’s one thing that defines DIMMA’s recordings it’s a sense of balance – there’s room here for all four performers, and all four have important contributions to make.  Jónsson’s drumming sets the tone right out of the gate on songs like “Villimey” and “Bergmál”, while Silli Geirdal’s bass bubbles up underneath “Hrægammar” and the two combine to provide the foundation for all the album’s tracks.

Eldraunir gets two thumbs up (as if there was ever any doubt in my mind…).  DIMMA continue to give us great metal with a sense of style and stage presence to match.  I hope I’ll get a chance to see them again at Iceland Airwaves in 2017.

(♠)  New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.  For more, go HERE.

Iceland Airwaves 2016 – Day 3

Today’s post is a bit like a time machine.  You see, Life in the Vinyl Lane went dark sometime during Day 3 of Iceland Airwaves, apparently due to some failure on my part in not responding to a validation email about the site’s domain name.  I wasn’t able to get that straightened out until we got home from Iceland, so now I’m sitting here on Tuesday trying to remember what the hell I did last Friday.

To keep things in sort of a chronological flow, I’m actually going to write individual blogs for Days 3-5, and post them retroactively to the days they should have fallen on the calendar. So while I’m writing this on November 8, it’ll actually appear on the blog as if it was posted on November 5 thanks to the magic of the internet.  A very simple example of why you shouldn’t believe something is true just because it’s on the web.

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Our musical schedule opened with another trip down to KEX Hostel, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues in Reykjavik, to see the hip hop collective Digable Planets (left).  They’ve certainly made an impact in the music world over the years, but I have to confess ignorance of their catalog.  That being said, after their Airwaves performance I’m going to definitely need to get my hands on some of their stuff, because they tore it up at KEX.  Rapper Ismael Butler (aka Butterfly) has Seattle ties and is part of Shabazz Palaces, so there’s a local angle there for me as well.  Definitely a top-notch show.

While on the trip our friend Andy pointed out that there were little plastic toy army men glued to various signs, ledges, and window sills throughout the city, something he’d noticed on a separate trip to Reykjavik earlier in the year.  This led to us spending a lot of time looking up as we walked around town and snapping pics of the various army men and other small action figures/toys we found about town… including one army man on our second floor apartment window sill.  We actually got to the bottom of the mystery while having a pre-lunch beer (hey, we’re on vacation…) at Prikið when we asked the bartender what the deal was.  He told us it was a guy who worked at the arcade/toy store across the street who everyone referred to as the “Toy Distributor,” and he was pretty thrilled that tourists were actually noticing this renegade street art.  Only in Reykjavik.

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After dinner we posted up in Harpa for the night, bouncing back and forth between the north and south rooms.  First up was the intriguing aYia (above), an ethereal electro trio performing some spacey ambient jams accompanied by some female vocals.  Not normally my cup of tea, but the whole thing came together with an intriguing fragility that made them a very enjoyable listen.

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Next was a band that is almost sure to make my end of festival “Best Of” list, Dream Wife (right). These ladies flat out rocked, blasting us with killer pop-punk riffs and fronted by none other than Rakel Mjöll, who we immediately recognized from her previous work with Halleluwah.  Dream Wife gives Rakel a chance to step away from the classical cabaret style vocals of Halleluwah and instead get a bit down and dirty, a fun contrast with her at times very young sounding voice.  Bella Podpadec kept the bass hard and funky throughout the set, driving the band forward.  And as for guitarist Alice Go… damn, she was one of the two best guitarists I saw on a stage anywhere at Airwaves (the other being DIMMA’s Ingo Geirdal) and she can go toe-to-toe with anyone; she’s got serious chops on the axe.  The morning after this show I was bouncing all over town looking for a copy of the band’s recent release EP01, and I finally found a copy on baby blue vinyl over at the flea market, so you’ll definitely hear about Dream Wife again on Life in the Vinyl Lane.

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Then it was time for DIMMA (left), a band that impresses me more and more every single time I see them perform.  They’re unquestionably one of the most talented bands, top to bottom, not just in Iceland but anywhere in the world.  Now, I confess, part of my appreciation of DIMMA is because I love their style of music – 1980s style heavy metal, with intricate guitar work and soaring vocals.  After their set I was talking to another American about them and he commented that he was really impressed with their sound, which got us talking about metal in general and me making a comment along the lines of “I love that they play that 1988 style of metal that I grew up with”.  The guy immediately looked down and started shaking his head and his girlfriend started laughing, so I figured they thought what I said was pretty stupid.  But no.  It turns out my man is in a 1980s metal cover band that is actually named 1988!  What are the chances of that?  I should have bought a lottery ticket.

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We stayed up front for the next band as well, Seattle’s own Thunderpussy.  If there was a trend for this year’s Airwaves it was definitely the seemingly massive increase in female bands, and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.  We’d met the ladies from Thunderpussy briefly at The Sonics’ show at KEX earlier in the week, so we were stoked to check them out.  And they brought it.  There are all kinds of reasons to love Thunderpussy’s style of hard rock / sleaze metal, and while the photographers couldn’t get enough of guitarist Whitney Petty (right) and singer Molly Sides, I personally couldn’t take my eyes off of bassist Leah Julius who was absolutely murdering those bass lines.  Julius doesn’t get fancy, she just comes to play, and play hard, shredding her side of the stage and looking every bit the part of a rock god.  This night just kept getting better and better.

We took it down a notch for the final set, grooving out to the atmospheric electronica of Kiasmos (below).  The room was absolutely packed solid with swaying, sweaty bodies, including a few who were only still standing due to the concerted efforts of their friends – amateurs!  This is Airwaves, kids; you have to pace yourself when you’ve got sets starting as late as 2:50AM on a Friday night/Saturday morning; you can’t be passed out at 1:00AM!  We didn’t stay for the whole set because despite their great laser and video show there really wasn’t a lot to actually see as part of the performance, so we called it a night and picked up a late night slice of pizza on the way back to our rental apartment.  It was a full day of great shows, and probably one of the best beginning-to-end days we’ve had at Airwaves.

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Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 2

This is the seventh consecutive Airwaves I’ve attended with Holly and our friend Norberto. Counting the first two nights of this year’s festival, that means we’ve seen 32 nights worth of official, on-venue performances – over a months worth.  And last night as we walked home, tired but fortified with late night street hot dogs, we all agreed on one simple fact:

The line-up at NASA last night (Thursday) was the the BEST full slate of bands, start-to-finish, we’ve ever seen playing together at the same location.  Ever.

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But NASA wasn’t our first stop of Day 2 of Iceland Airwaves.  Instead it was Mengi, a small space created and managed by artists used for intimate musical and other artistic performances.  It was a great little location, and on this night hosted a showcase of artists associated with one of my favorite labels, Lady Boy Records.  The first two hours were given over to a menagerie of individuals working together, moving in and out of the performance area, including Nicolas Kunysz, Sindri Geirsson, and Frímann Frímannsson (a.k.a. “Harry Knuckles“) that yielded a range of experimental electronic sounds, some beat driven and others not.  Next up was russian.girls (above), a side project by Guðlaugur Halldór Einarsson of Fufanu fame.  His set was exceptional – some heavy beats, at times moving into industrial, and also utilizing his guitar and effects pedals to contribute to the music in some very un-guitar-like ways.  Holly and I are big fans of the tape he put out with Lady Boy, and his performance last night just solidified russian.girls as a band to watch in our minds.

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Then it was off to NASA.  I wrote yesterday about our excitement that NASA is back open and part of Airwaves, and while we were certainly going to make sure to see some shows there, it was just kind of a scheduling fluke that we found ourselves posted up there for both of the first two nights.  Norberto and I really wanted to see Bubbi & DIMMA and HAM, while Holly was stoked to see Operators, so we figured we’d get there early and stake out a good location.  The fact that Börn was opening the night made it that much of an easier decision.  We’ve seen them live before and I’ve reviewed some of their music on the blog.  Börn’s style of raw punk rock has attracted some international attention, with a nice interview by Noisey and a recent month-long US tour as evidence.  They played a high-energy set that seemed to be over before it began even though it ran a good 25 or so minutes.  Next up were Icelandic post-metallers Kontinuum.  I’d heard of them before and seen them on various Airwaves schedules, but for whatever reason we’d never caught them live.  And after last night I’d like to travel back in time to some of those past Airwaves and tell myself to stop being a douche and to get out and see Kontinuum, because I dug their set.  The five-pieces includes three guitar players and they make full use of everything that offers, putting up a wall of dense and at times intricate guitar sounds.  A very pleasant surprise.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

That moved us into the heart of the night’s line-up, starting with the relatively recent partnership known as Bubbi & DIMMA (above), which last night featured most of the members of Icelandic metal band DIMMA (minus lead singer Stefán Jakobsson), with the man who is one of the originators of punk rock in Iceland, Bubbi Morthens, doing vocals.  We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from this pairing, but figured with this much musical talent in one place it had to be good.  And it was outstanding.  Bubbi burst out like a caged animal, rocking a Ramones t-shirt and looking more than a little like Stone Cold Steve Austin, and he exploded all over stage throughout the set with his energy and intensity.  I believe most of the songs, if not all, were from Bubbi’s extensive catalog, and the fans, both young and the not so young, sang along throughout.  Musically I stand by my assertion that Ingo Geirdal is probably the absolute best guitarist on the planet who you’ve probably never heard of, and his shredding was all over the music, so much so that at times I found myself watching him and not the prowling Bubbi.  The three of us agreed, without any need for detailed discussion or debate, that this set was one of the five best individual musical performances we’ve ever seen at Airwaves.  Period.

That brought us to the American/Canadian group Operators who are all the rage right now, and after their set I can see why.  A little bit of the Kills, a little Bloodgroup, and a lot of great beats and synths had the crowd dancing throughout their 30+ minutes.  I will definitely be checking out more of their music when we get back home.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

All of which led us to the apex of the night, the inverted pinnacle of hell that is the doom metal of HAM.  We are HAM!  We’d secured a spot up on one of the side risers just to the left of the stage, which was the perfect venue for watching the band, watching the crowd, and going deaf.  They opened with one of my favorites, “Dauð Hóra,” getting the head banging off to an aggressive start and the floor ate it up.  From there it was a ten-ton metal assault on our ears as the band tore through a briskly paced set that ran roughly 40 minutes.  The crowd seemed to wane a bit at the half way mark, and it felt like they would be running on fumes across the finish line… at least that is until HAM began their final song of the night and played the opening chords of their arguably all-time classic “Partýbær” (in English – “Party Town”), a song prominently featured in the popular Icelandic movie Sódóma Reykjavík.  A mosh pit immediately erupted on the floor in front of the stage which quickly engulfed roughly 30 or so active participants as well as a number who were in-and-out at various times.  It got somewhat intense, but showing all the characteristics of a classy pit when two people hit the floor late in the song a space immediately opened up and others reached down to pull them onto their feet.  We are HAM.  You are HAM.

We left NASA spent by happy, and partially deaf in our left ears.  Day 2 of Iceland Airwave is in the books, and it was a doozy.  I can’t wait to see what Day 3 brings.

DIMMA – “Myrkraverk” (2012)

I’m not sure why I pulled DIMMA’s Myrkraverk CD off the shelf on Friday.  I was working from home and craving some metal, but DIMMA hasn’t been the my regular metal rotation recently, which has been heavily weighted towards Skálmöld, Metallica, and Slayer.  But for some reason DIMMA’s soaring and epic style seemed to fill a need.

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Perhaps, however, it was fate, a harmonic convergence of sorts.  Because, you see, the opening song on Myrkraverk is called “Sólmyrkvi,” which is the Icelandic word for the solar eclipse, a word I didn’t know the meaning of until about 20 minutes ago.  And Friday just happened to be the same day that a mega awesome solar eclipse was visible in Iceland, one that seemingly all of my Icelandic friends wrote about on Facebook.  That explosion you may have just heard way off in the distance was my mind being blown.

When the norse gods speak to you in this way, you should listen.  I don’t need Loki coming over here and screwing up my day.

But back to DIMMA.  I’ve written about the band before a couple of times.  We’ve seen them live at Airwaves in each of the last two years and both times they blew me away with both the quality of their music and their stage presence.  Look, I get it, the music is the most important part.  But I like seeing a band that knows how to perform too, not just standing there like blocks of wood.  And DIMMA know how to perform.  Even on the incredibly cramped stage of Gaukurinn last year they got after it like they were on the biggest stage at Harpa.  And the crowd loved it.

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DIMMA has been around since 2004 and still includes two founding members, brothers Ingo (guitar) and Silli (bass) Geirdal.  Their current lineup solidified in 2011 with the addition of drummer Birgir Jonsson and high octane frontman Stefan Jakobsson (below), and Myrkraverk was the first full-length release by this quartet.  Google Translate tells me the dimmalive3title means “Deed of Darkness,” and it’s a word that appears with some frequency in the Icelandic metal scene, with at least one band named Myrkraverk and a few albums sharing the same title (including one by previously reviewed Carpe Noctem).  It fits with what is a somewhat darker themed album – or so I’ve read, because the whole thing is in Icelandic and I haven’t tried to translate all the lyrics.  In fact Myrkraverk is DIMMA’s first release to be sung entirely in Icelandic, a language particularly well suited for this type of music – it just sounds right.

Myrkraverk is everything that was great about late 1970s/early 1980s heavy metal.  At its best this is probably the closest thing you can get to classical music – intricate, soaring, and emotionally charged.  And that’s exactly what DIMMA gives us.  Ingo’s guitars set the mood, but there’s plenty of room left for the rhythm section to get their licks in.  One of the big advantages the band has in being able to do this type of music, alternating between doomy and fancy, is Jakobsson’s vocal range.  His voice is just so clean, regardless of whether he’s singing low or high.  No matter what the music is doing around him, he has the ability to sing within it.  The best example is the title track, a song that opens slow and low for about a minute and a half with quiet vocals, before the guitars kick it up a notch for another 30 seconds and then erupt into a driving hard rocker, allowing Jakobsson to take it to the heavens.

If I was picking favorites, I’d say that the best tracks are”Sólmyrkvi,” “Myrkraver,” and “Þungur Kross,” the last of which is the slowest, heaviest, angriest song on the album. “Þungur Kross” builds tension like it’s going to break loose and fly apart at some point, but DIMMA keep it tight, such that even when the crescendo comes just after the three minute mark you still don’t get that full release and the band brings it back down to heavy again.

For you live junkies there’s also Myrkraverk í Hörpu, a CD/DVD combo pack of a January 2013 performance at Harpa.  The set includes Myrkraverk in its entirety (though not in the same order as the songs appear on the studio album) along with some older DIMMA classics, “Dimmey,” “Dementia,” and “Black Magic.”

DIMMA has been recording with old school Icelandic punk Bubbi Morthens recently, doing some live shows and putting out a couple of new songs, and it sounds like they’ll be performing together at Airwaves this year.  I for one can’t wait to see that live and in person!  Only about seven more months until Airwaves…

Iceland Airwaves 2014 – Day 2

Today we started off by making a quick stop over at the Brim clothing store to pick up our tickets for Sunday night’s Flaming Lips show that closes out Iceland Airwaves.  We opted to just buy tickets instead of waiting in line with the hopes of getting freebies – there were folks who waited, outside, for something like 4+ hours to get Kraftwerk tix last year, and at some point you have to decide what your time and the circulation to your toes are worth to you.  We decided they were worth at least $80 apiece.  Your mileage may vary.

After that we wandered down Laugavegur and landed at DEAD Gallery, home to the artwork of Jón Sæmundur Auðarson.  Jón was super cool, and his artwork is flat-out fantastic.  What I didn’t know is that he also does designs that are screened onto actual 7″ and 12″ vinyl records (see below for examples of the 12″), and I picked up a couple of these for my record area at home.  I also got a copy of the album his band Dead Skeletons put out – a record with two songs on one side, and the other done as screened art, which will hold a place of honor in my collection.

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After that it was on to Reykjavik Record Shop to finish off the browsing I’d started there yesterday.  I came away with a few more records and had an enjoyable conversation with Reynir – his extensive personal record collection was the starting inventory for the store, something that I’m sure has made some of the early sales challenging as he watched his own records going out the doors to new homes.  It’s a great shop and I hope he has continued success.  We also hit up the 12 Tónar location at Harpa and got some CDs, including the new release from dj. flugvél go geimskip who we saw last night, as well as the new Oyama.

As if all that wasn’t enough, in the afternoon I had coffee with musician/artist Pjetur Stefánsson, who you may know from my blog post about the Icelandic band PS & Co a while back.  What a fantastic opportunity to spend some time with a local and long-time member of the music scene and talk about Icelandic society, music, and working with Megas!  We (well, at least I…) had a great time, and I look forward to seeing him again next time we’re in Iceland.

After dinner it was time to hit the streets once again.  We started our evening at Húrra to catch RVK Soundsystem, a group that has been on our list for a while now but we never seem to see.  RVK has updated the old reggae model of the selector and toaster by using both electronics and turntables.  The set started with one selector and two toasters, but quickly turned into on on-stage party as more and more people wandered into and out of the sets, including a flautist.  As it progressed it also morphed into hip hop set as a few guests joined in the fun, most notably Reykjavik’s best female rapper Cell 7.  They tore it up and it was one of the most fun shows I’ve seen this year.

The hip hop trend continued and took a decidedly weird turn with Kött Grá Pje.  They had a great sound and style, aggressive and raw, but the weird part was that one of the guys was without his shirt and had written on his chest in huge lettering:

SUCKA
THIS MA-
CHINE KILLS
FALAFEL

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So there’s that.  Fortunately there was no falafel to be seen, so I’ll have to take his word for it.  The last of the hip hop groups we saw was the all-female, something like 13 member collective known as Reykjavíkurdætur.  How they all fit on stage, I’ll never know.  For most songs there were two or three of them standing and rapping while the others sat on the stage, but at times they’d all explode upwards and join as backing vocalists.  A pretty cool experience, and I’m glad we stuck around to see them.

Following that we bounced over to the rock club Gaukurinn next door, which has been remodeled since our last visit.  In 2013 if there was one word that defined Gaukurinn for me it was LOUD.  Like loud to the point of absurdity, to the point where it’s not fun any more.  Well, since then they moved the stage around to give the performers more space, and while it was still plenty loud at no point did I contemplate leaving.  The first band we saw tonight was Termoro Tarantura from Norway who just about blew out the back walls of the room with the power of their repetitive chords.  This guys (and girl) played a tight set, really in synch with one another and their song progressions.  Their singer showed a bit of range as well and sounded particularly great when he was taking on a more dark wave vibe.

That brought us to DIMMA, who we’ve seen once before.  DIMMA is everything that is great about that soaring, epic style of heavy metal – if you took the grandiosity of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and mixed in the thrash of some earlier Metallica, put it into a bowl, heated it up on a bed of lava rocks under the northern lights, DIMMA is what would emerge from that primordial concoction.  They proved that you don’t have to be insanely loud to play shredding metal, and having the volume down just a bit gave their music so much clarity and allowed Stefán Jakobsson’s vocals to truly soar and not get drowned out in a sea of noise. Ingo Geirdal can play the guitar any way you want it from hard and fast to heart achingly slow and beautiful. Birgir Jónsson’s machine gun drums kept the time and built the framework around which the songs evolved.  But I saved my highest praise for tonights show for bassist Silli Geirdal who was a bass playing juggernaut, an unchained axe wielding beast of deep and low destruction who annihilated all that stood before him with a barrage of chest-poundig sound.  Simply put, DIMMA crushed it.

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The last stop for the night was a bar called Dolly to see our friend Ingvar of Lucky Records fame working the one-twos and spinning some afro and funk beats.  It was a great way to close out the night… and we still have three more to go!