Asgardsrei V — A first-hand account
Click play below or go here to download to the Asgardsrei-themed mixtape.
A full report by Degtyarov
While the concert is still fresh in my memory as I type this, the fifth edition of the Eastern European Asgardsrei festival is sure to go down as one of the defining live events in black metal history. Kroda, Nokturnal Mortum, Wehrwolf and Moloth represented different generations of Slavic extreme metal, with Western Europe’s finest black metal act–Peste Noire–turning the originally Slavic extreme metal/hatecore fest Asgardsrei into a proper pan-European black metal event.
For those who could not come to Kiev for this event, here is a detailed, autobiographical report of Asgardsrei V, that I hope will allow you to catch a glimpse of the atmosphere of the Wild Hunt.
DAY OF THE FEST
With my batteries depleted by a four-week flu from hell, I left the hotel after twelve hours of sleep. It was Sunday, December 18th, the day on which Asgardsrei V was to take place. The festival’s bill still seemed surreal. Peste Noire, Nokturnal Mortum and Moloth are all bands I’ve been into for a long time, and bands I wasn’t sure I would ever see live. Not to mention that Kamaedzitsa—my actual favourite band–was going to make a cameo appearance by performing a song alongside their related project Wehrwolf.
It was still noon, and the concert wasn’t scheduled to start until four in the afternoon. I went to pick up my Russian friend Sasha, who was staying in a much fancier hotel about five minutes away from me. After sharing a drink, we slowly made our way towards the venue, Kiev’s Sentrum club. While looking for a restaurant in the area to kill some time and pave our stomachs with a layer of sturdy grub (the event was supposed to last seven hours!), we saw the Peste Noire guys head into the venue. I told Famine–whom I had met very briefly the day before–“bonne chance!”, after which he laughed and slapped me on the back, telling me he didn’t recognise me at first. Peste Noire was already at the club and spirits were high, so now there was officially no reason to turn back!
With our stomachs properly filled, Sasha and I went into the club at around three, where we could already buy some merch, including the impeccably designed festival shirt. The concert hall proper was upstairs, but we could already hear Moloth playing fragments of “Slyozy oseni” and “Muzhestvo bedyot na nebesa” to check the acoustics of the venue. We realised that it might still take a while before things got going, so we decided that we would wait outside, rather than withering in a staircase for God knows how long.
As more attendees gathered outside, it became apparent how diverse the audience was. In addition to Ukrainian and Russian, I could hear French, English and German being spoken on the regular, while also spotting the national flags of Finland, Croatia, Poland, Serbia and many more countries. There were the stereotypical metalheads with battle vests and long dusty ponytails, but also many locals, who were closer to a hardcore/gym bro aesthetic, sporting track pants, New Balance shoes, tight shirts and training jackets. I fell somewhere in the middle with my short, messy hair, beard, KPN hoodie, track pants and Adidas trainers. In addition to us reliably shady blokes, a lot of women were present. Some of them looked like dedicated metalheads, but others you would never expect to see at a gig advertised under the moniker of ‘militant black metal’; only patches on their backpacks of sunwheels and Slavonic deities betrayed their interest in the dark arts. Among the audience members were also the guys of Kamaedzitsa, who I briefly got to talk to courtesy of Sasha’s skills as an interpreter.
As the sun started to set, the crowd grew bigger by the minute, and passers-by had increasing trouble making their way through what must have been a bizarre gathering for them to behold. Regularly, people affiliated with the organisation would plow through the crowd to haul stuff into the venue. Two crew members nearly bumped into me with what looked like a bunch of microphone stands from the corner of my eyes. Only when I looked down I realised what they were carrying inside: a case of Kalashnikovs.
Around five in the afternoon–almost an hour after the planned start of the first concert–we were allowed to leave the increasingly unbearable cold behind us and go into the venue. Walking up the stairs towards the concert hall, all attendees were checked for food, alcohol, weapons or other undesired objects. Security guys, who all donned black shirts saying ‘Militant Crew’, went through every backpack and purse, and searched every attendee both physically and with a scanner. This process was to be repeated everytime you went outside for a smoke or breath of fresh air during the concert, so there was no way anyone was going to try anything funny, be it an antifa mole macing band members or a bunch of drugged up muslim extremists shooting up the place like in France. This event’s security was even tighter than at most major metal events, and it is measures like these that render mooshy recitals of “Imagine” obsolete a priori.
WEHRWOLF (& KAMAEDZITSA)
As we finally made our way up and left our coats and merch at the (free!) wardrobe, the first band was about to kick off Asgardsrei V. Wehrwolf initiated the fest with their song “Armiya chyornogo solntsa”. Fronted by Artsem, who is also the guitarist and main composer of Kamaedzitsa, these Belarusians were serious about bringing some energy into the room. Most attendees were still making their way up, so during most of Wehrwolf’s short set, the very front of the stage was quite empty, which made it easier for me to snap some pictures of the man who is largely responsible for writing my perennial favourite album–Bezmolvnie slova tvoy.
Apart from playing a few songs off their latest album, Vozrozhdenye Evropy, Wehrwolf also introduced new material, which fortunately sounded a lot like Artsem’s work with Kamaedzitsa. Artsem was also the main attraction of the band, putting real energy into his stage performance, and displaying a wide range of clean, hardcore and black metal vocals. Sadly, the musicians were not always as committed to perfection as the singer, with especially the drums delving into downright sloppiness more than once. Overall, though, the gig was a more than welcome first taste of the aggressive right-wing metal we would hear so much more of that evening.
The highlight of the Belarusian delegation came at the very end when Artsem switched to lead guitar, and Aleg and Pavel of Kamaedzitsa entered the stage to perform that band’s 8-minute stunner “Molodyozh Votana”. When Aleg’s thunderous voice reverberated across the venue, the crowd went properly wild for the first time, giving us a taste of just how hectic this event was going to be.
Quite soon after Wehrwolf had finished their set, the musicians of the Russian NSBM band Moloth entered the stage. Two giant guitarists, whose similar-looking chiseled faces suggested they were brothers, flanked Moloth’s drummer, who immediately administered a lightning-fast pounding to his drum set. The bass player saluted a few people in the crowd, which was going collectively nuts already. Their foreboding black metal intro built up tension before the frontman finally made his appearance. Near the end of the song, frontman Alexey Thuleseeker entered the stage, ready to throw his tortured cries into the audience. By now it was clear: Moloth was not here to fuck around or be fucked with. A fiasco like in Montréal was never going to happen.
The energy in the venue could barely be contained as Moloth went through their set. While they were only the second band out of five to play, it was clear that plenty of people had come to Asgardsrei first and foremost to see them. Violent mosh pits tore through the center of the crowd like a whirlwind, and the stage was occasionally crowded with skinheads wearing Moloth shirts, singing along each word of their lyrics with virulent rage in their eyes. When doing his clear, semi-spoken vocals, Alexey often looked more like a revolutionary addressing his followers than a singer performing for an audience. The scene was made complete by a bunch of Kalashnikovs set up near the front of the stage, along with a skull in chainmail wearing a crown made out of bullets; it was like a small altar to the god of war. Whatever your take on the band’s views, it is undeniable that Moloth fully live up to their slogan of ‘Militant Black Metal’.
Moloth’s set itself offered a good balance between completely new tracks, recent material, and classics such as “Chyornym krylom” and “Rodniy moi krai”. Definite highlights were the songs they played from Saga o chyornom marshe, proving that their 2013 album is still the best thing the band has done so far.
After the Russian storm had passed, it was up to Peste Noire to try and deliver a gig with suchlike ferocity. With their latest tour dating back to 2008, it is safe to say that Peste Noire is not an experienced live band. In the past months, they did play a gig in France, but with their appearances in Norway and Germany cancelled due to abysmal festival organisers, seeing le Kommando live is still a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence.
In the studio, Peste Noire is effectively a two-piece band, with all regular duties divided between frontman Famine and drummer Ardraos. As such, it was quite a sight to see the band take up the entire stage as a six-piece. Ardraos was behind his trusted drum set, but he was also the main backing vocalist (apart from yours truly if you count crowd contributions). Famine concentrated on his vocals, but occasionally grabbed his guitar to play the more complex solos. The rest were session musicians, all familiars of Famine. For instance, one of the guitarist is in the Oi band Lemovice, which also features Ardraos on drums.
Famine’s stage presence was imposing. Infinitely more muscular than his near-starved self from the demo days, he donned a white Moloth wifebeater, white Adidas track pants and fittingly hideous black shoes, showing himself more dedicated to the local aesthetic than even ol’ Degtyarov himself. He was bursting with energy and aggression, and showed no indication of performing for an audience that must have been largely unfamiliar with his work.
Peste Noire’s set showed a huge amount of variety. They opened with “666 millions d’esclaves et de déchets”, and soon played another demo track–“Gisant dans la putréfaction”–showing that the burly BM veteran Famine still stands behind the art he made as a scrawny teenager. Of course, Peste Noire also played material from all of their albums (apart from L’Ordure), with songs such as “À la mortaille”, “Paysage mauvais” and “Spleen” sending the crowd increasingly insane. It was amazing to behold how the band slowly won over the crowd, with most audience members standing still at the start of the gig but recreationally beating each other near the end of it. My KPN hoodie experienced a noticeable surge in popularity after Peste Noire had played, indicating that the band can probably count on a significant amount of Eastern European orders for their next album, whenever that comes out.
Highlights of Peste Noire’s performance include “Dueil Angoisseus” (with Ardraos handling main vocals), as well as Thorwald of Baise Ma Hache helping out Famine on vocals during “Payés sur la bête” and “Des médecins malades”. The grand finale–presumably exclusive for this event–was even more remarkable. Peste Noire dedicated a cover of Absurd‘s “Mourning soul” to Hendrik Moebus, who was in the audience. It might have been the first time Famine sung publicly in English. The band even had to start the song over because he wasn’t quick enough to grab the sheet with song lyrics; a fuck-up, but a charming one that demonstrated the spontaneity of this tribute. After that, Alexey of Moloth and Nico of Lemovice entered the stage to play the Lemovice song “Beloï Army”.
All in all, Peste Noire broke the entire place down, and apart from a few sound issues and mistakes there was no indication that they’re new to playing concerts. Peste Noire can also be seen as a balancing act, offering the militance brought to the stage by Wehrwolf and Moloth as well as the classic black metal roots of the subsequent bands, Kroda and Nokturnal Mortum. It was during Peste Noire’s performance that these worlds started to melt together. During the press conference on the previous day, Alexey already stated that the contrast between his scene’s straight-edge character and Peste Noire’s bon-vivant celebration of booze was not going to cause any tension. These words rang true when Peste Noire got dozens of straight-edge blokes to go berserk over “La blonde”–the band’s joyous ode to blond brews.
Speaking of beer, the venue served it contrary to my expectations. The ticket said “smokers and drunks not allowed”, which seemed to hint at the festival being straight-edge, which is not uncommon in this scene. It didn’t take long, however, before I saw people walking around with large cans of–of all brands–Bud, although I barely witnessed any excessive drinking. The only drunk I spotted was a stereotypical aging metalhead who seemed to be British, judging by his behaviour and denture. During Peste Noire’s performance he was taking up an obnoxious amount of space as he insisted on manically headbanging while he was barely even able to stand on his feet. He got a few angry looks from the locals and started being shoved around. I didn’t see him around after that moment, so I assume he got rightfully booted out of the place.
When Kroda got started, I finally went from the front of the stage to one of the bars near the side to crack open an unfittingly American beer, and decided to remain at a more distant, comfortable position as I watched the band I was least familiar with. Kroda play a typical style of Slavic black metal, with large, sweeping melodies, synths that you can generally only still get away with in these regions, and folkloric, borderline cheesy melodies. While they were not the most spectacular act of the night, their timing couldn’t have been better. After Moloth’s militaristic NSBM and Peste Noire’s trademark hooligan black metal, it was refreshing to hear some straightforward melodic black metal to ease the tension a bit and prepare the audience for one final bit of magic.
Even though I am somewhat of a latecomer to Nokturnal Mortum, only getting into them with their Voice of steel album, I still consider myself a huge fan. Since properly starting to explore their catalogue a few years ago, I am by now familiar with most of their songs, whether it’s the flimsy keyboard black metal of old or the progressive weirdness of their later work. In any case, it was obvious to me that Nokturnal Mortum are the ultimate legends of the Ukrainian metal scene, and it is only just that a band like this should close this already terrific festival on an insanely high note. Apart from their proven track record as a live band, Nokturnal Mortum’s presence also gives legitimacy to the efforts of Peste Noire and Moloth who, while veterans in their own right, are still fairly ‘new’ bands by black metal standards. Few, however, would dispute the old-school credentials of Nokturnal Mortum, making their performance the crown on the efforts of the festival organisation.
As soon as Nokturnal Mortum took the stage, it became clear that the band had evolved a lot since Voice of steel and its correspondent tour. Not only had most of the line-up changed–with even long-time keyboard player and co-composer Saturious having said his goodbyes–but Nokturnal Mortum fully embraced the shamanistic aesthetic that radiates from their new logo and stage presence. Dressed in large gowns decorated with patterns of trees, each song was interspersed with an ambient track that consisted of droning and sounds of forests and the Great Steppe. Frontman Varggoth even saturated these moments with throat singing, whispering and religious gestures, aware that the audience was completely in his spell and would remain so until the band played its final note.
Using this mesmerising setting, Nokturnal Mortum flawlessly weaved together the highlights of two decades of their music. Starting with a few new tracks, Nokturnal Mortum revealed that their upcoming album Verity contains the same variety and complexity that had made Voice of steel such a monumental effort, contrasting the more bare-bones approach of their recent split with Graveland. Other songs include the immortal “Into the flames of burning churches” and “Oi Kolyada”. Definite highlights were the two tracks they played off Voice of steel: “White tower” and “Ukraina”. The latter is perhaps the band’s most popular song to date, both due to its appeal to the more-alive-than-ever Ukrainian patriotism, and its hymnal qualities. Indeed, all the local attendees sang along for the duration of the song, with us foreigners even joining in for the chorus. This energy, and the enthusiasm of the band itself, went back and forth, making Nokturnal Mortum’s performance the climax it was destined to be. This might have been one of their best performances so far, and we can only hope that they manage to catch a spark of this magic on their new album.
EUROPEAN BLACK METAL SUPREMACY
With the concert having started an hour later than planned, it also ended around midnight instead of at the advertised time of eleven. After the mystical experience offered by Nokturnal Mortum, it was all the harder to land back on planet Earth and realise that Asgardsrei V had finally drawn to a close. Having lost all desire for beer, I was now just looking to get rehydrated, find my concert buddy Sasha, and digest the whole experience for a while. Back at the bar with a very un-black metallish but nonetheless welcome energy drink, I whipped out my phone and browsed through the many pictures I had taken that night, as I slowly tried to reconnect myself to the world around me. Asgardsrei V was over, and it had lived up to its potential.
It was only then that I realised that what I had witnessed was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to see four of my favourite bands at the same venue. Not only because it’s just statistically unlikely that the bands I listen most decide to join forces even though they’re all from different countries, but because this was far from a logical combination of artists. Make no mistake: the pacing was excellent and the artists were all compatible within this special context, but in the end it was also clear to me that I had seen different forces at work this day. Peste Noire offers a take on black metal that is dark and pessimistic, but also funny, self-referential and at times even light-hearted. Joie de vivre is a French term for a reason, as is Le mort joyeux. Moloth, on the other hand, delivers its misanthropic militance without a shade of irony, likely because there is no time for such things in this dire, difficult and often dreary country. Meanwhile, Nokturnal Mortum is on a plane of its own with its esoteric interpretation of its own immense library. In short, for these bands to join hands and play on the same bill can only happen when the stars align as perfectly as they–luckily for us–did.
Yet, despite the bands’ differences and idiosyncrasies, there was a common thread going throughout these seven otherworldly hours. Black metal as a genre is alive, perhaps now more than ever, and it is most alive in Europe. Peste Noire, Moloth and Nokturnal Mortum all keep enriching this volatile, controversial and often plain illogical style in their own ways, whilst also ensuring that it remain a vanguard of dangerous ideas that stand at odds with the modern world, and even with the rest of the metal scene. Black metal thrives not because it is an inclusive brotherhood of weekend warriors who only care about “the riffs, dude”. It thrives exactly because it’s not that; because it is music that is not, cannot and will not be understood by the vast majority of people. This is why so many attempts are made–particularly from across the Atlantic–to reform it into something acceptable, both lyrically and musically, until it becomes unrecognisable as being actual black metal rather than an irony-drenched façade thereof; a bland hellscape of cruiseship festivals and Abbath snow globes. Those people–scenesters, opportunists and corporate whores–may lull themselves into thinking they are relevant, but in these regions, where truly violent art is being produced, their mediocrity is of no consequence. With Asgardsrei V, the barrier between the West and the East has been broken. Hopefully, it will prove to be a defining event for the future of European black metal.
Good call on how that overtly bombastic symphonic type of folk black metal is these days only really popular in Eastern Europe, which is interesting because it was all the rage over the world just 5-6 years ago. Here in the West, those epic folky BM groups that are more respected today happen to be much more sombre in their aesthetic and stick mostly to traditional metal instrumentation. (e. g. Macabre Omen, Primordial, Obsequiae, Winterfylleth)
Not to mention Dimmu Borgir and all completely went off the deep end in their Pirates of the Carribean outfits.
Maybe their career would have panned out differently if they switched to tracksuits instead. Hey, it worked for Dragged Into Sunlight…
Great review, where you feel the music taking its righteous position at the front.