Ascension Festival MMXIX
Hlégarður, Mosfellbær, Iceland 13 – 15 June 2019
Review and Photography by Johnny Wolf
Iceland is a country of beautiful nature and breath-taking scenery; this beauty reflects massively on the metal scene which has been thriving recently. From the ashes of Oration festival, a phoenix rises making promises to ascend its attendees to a higher spiritual state and keeping those promises by forming a magical line-up for a new festival with a fitting name: “Ascension Metal Festival”.
It was more of an art and beauty exhibition than a black metal event. The venue was intimate, the location was within the green landscapes, the bands were amazing, the food was delicious, the merchandise was special and full of rarities, the crowed was friendly and the atmosphere met every expectation!
On its first version it was sold out! One wouldn’t expect less from such a high standard and intimate festival. I will try and summarise the experience but I doubt my words would be able to describe enough the enjoyment this festival might bestow on its attendees.
Since it was our first time at this festival we had to make an attempt to discover the area. We drove to the venue at an early hour, but when we got there it looked nothing like you’d imagine a festival would be, a rather spacious, remote location in the green lands. We walked inside and found the engineers and the organisers setting things up and asked if we can get accredited so we won’t have to queue later, but we were nicely advised to return at doors opening time and not to worry there will be no queuing.
Upon our return, we were able to park our car easily and for free, then walked into the venue to get accredited with a nice golden wristband and a small booklet which contains all the information we might need about the festival, a very well detailed and clear instructions that answered any of our questions.
We had a look at the merch and it was full of special items, records, patches, t-shirts and hoodies you name it, also had a full set of the festival art (The Phoenix, the ascending man, the prayer hands, etc) all printed on high quality t-shirts and priced very reasonably compared to nowadays’ merch prices.
There was a resting area with small tables and leather coaches next to the bar where few types of beers were available and as promised very reasonable prices, a beer would cost between £4.5 to £7 max, and from what I gathered about Icelandic prices that was very reasonable.
The restaurant had a many option to satisfy every taste, many vegan/vegetarian options and again reasonably priced, not to mention the service was amazing; everyone was smiling at us and putting in every effort to make us as comfortable as possible.
We headed to the stage by the time the first band started as the scheduled; Rebirth Of Nefast came on stage and performed a phenomenal set, fully hooded and with amazing, blasting riffs, Icelandic black metal at its finest!
About 20 minutes before the next set we got the chance to go to the bar to grab a drink and have a look at more merch, which was arriving as more bands started arriving at the venue. Again special editions and exclusive merch you can’t easily get your hands on anywhere else!
Above Aurora gets on stage while we head back; a three-piece Polish band, very young chaps but nevertheless, amazing set!
After the set I had time to grab a quick burger and a few energy drinks and head back for Naðra! While I had high expectations for Naðra they definitely did not disappoint: they walked on stage covered in blood and black Icelandic sand, then dominated the stage with the vocalist right in my face the entire set where I could hear his screams even without a mic. I could’ve sworn his eyes were glowing like a wolf in the dark, the picture probably speaks for itself.
Now waiting for Common Eider, King Eider and I have to say I did not know what to expect. As they walked on stage the lights went off, they sat on the floor of the stage with some interesting setup, then slowly they started their healing ritual, combining the smell smells of incense, slow drums kicking in and ritualistic sounds. The man in the middle simply opened a notebook and started drawing while the others performed, each with his different art.
Mid-set the drawing man started handing out candle sticks to everyone and the entire crowd held a lit candle which illuminated the place and created a mesmerising atmosphere. I have to admit I felt the ritual in my bones, it was beautiful.
Next cometh with high anticipation a very special set and for the first time ever on stage, Nass Alcameth to play Akhlys and Aoratos! Truth be told, they had some technical difficulties which took a little while to sort out, but didn’t stop them from putting a strong set we all loved, although everyone was eager for more.
King Dude of course king of all stages, with the bluesy devilish riffs and funny humour I could see everyone dancing while enjoying the music.
Tribulation starts their set with their Gothic looks and amazing songs everybody loves and enjoys. By this stage the venue had become more crowded than earlier, still not too crowded for us, everyone had enough space to breath and feel comfortable.
Sólstafir! One of the most beautiful bands Iceland has produced (at least in my opinion), many people don’t agree because they are softer than other bands but if you ever went on a trip on top of a mountain and decided to lay down during the night to look at the world beneath you, think and meditate, what better than Sólstafir to get you in the mood?
They played a very exclusive set, their album Köld in full, and it was a mixture of colourful art and an atmosphere which had us all in tears.
At this point the exhaustion started to kick in, energy drinks effects had worn off but none of that would stop us from putting a 100% support for the next band, Misþyrming, and may I say one of the top 3 new Icelandic bands! With two albums so far (which I need to listen to on daily basis) they have done very well locally and internationally.
Covered in silver shining makeup and with fog filling the venue it was a bit hard to grab a decent picture but the set was a killer and exclusive, they played Algleymi in full and they delivered spectacularly!
After that last set, we head out to find that it’s still day outside: this season in Iceland is a full day season which means no night time and although we were exhausted we couldn’t resist mingling a bit to discuss our fascination with other friends and get involved in some shenanigans, then we headed back home to get some rest as we were looking forward for day two!
As we wake up from our slumber gallons of black coffee was an immediate requirement. I can’t say if it is the water in Iceland or the coffee brewers, but any coffee there had a distinguished taste.
After achieving our first mission of consuming as much coffee as possible we head back to the festival site, and first in mind was “We must check today’s Merch!” Not to disappoint, the merch stand was even better than we had imagined, I could easily empty my bank account at Ascension without any regrets!
Grabbed a beer and went for the first band NYIÞ; I’ve heard a lot about them but never had a chance to see them so wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise a bunch of mystic creatures walk on stage wearing balaclavas and holding all types of instruments, some I knew, some I had never seen before.
With a very interesting stage setup, they performed their art while pretty much involving the crowd – the singer walked between us and screamed at some faces. It got me excited knowing that they would be performing with another band in an hour or so!
Next walks in Vástígr, and they get right into business with their fast riffs and blast beats, some members wearing bandannas. They certainly grabbed everyone’s attention.
CARPE NOCTEM were next with a promise of a special set: they got on stage with members of NYIÞ and they delivered! Fantastic black metal with a mixture of different instruments provided by the members of NYIÞ, a well played set.
JUPITERIAN walked on stage with a very dark atmosphere, fully dressed like death descending all the way from Brazil. With heavy doom-y riffs I felt my eardrums were going to explode at any minute, and they had a very interesting logo lighting up the darkness on the projected background screen which I admired so much.
Another Icelandic band coming next, ZHRINE, with high anticipation for that band. They kick in their set with some great atmospheric riffs infused with blast beats and heavy screams. Icelandic black metal at its finest. Definitely one of the festival’s highlights.
The next band, Drab Majesty, is a very interesting one. A dark-wave project from Los Angeles with an interesting stage presence, wearing silver face paint and very large sunglasses, they definitely took everyone on a journey to another universe.
ANTAEUS would be our next band. Satanic old school black metal from France. These guys have been around since 1993! With their evil riffs and brilliant stage performance, they changed the state of the entire festival and brought all our demons out. The crowd shifted into a different line-up, their fans came forward and I even think a small mosh-pit came to form but sadly security didn’t allow it. That was something I respected as the space wasn’t enough and the general aesthetics of the festival wasn’t fit for moshing.
MITOCHONDORION came on stage, and the bar was set very high at that time of the day. This Canadian black metal band had a taste of death metal mixed with black metal. Their blistering riffs, insane chugs and lo-fi vocals, they have some serious evilness going on. They raised the bar even higher now and we’re all hyped up for what’s to come next.
SINMARA, yes!! Finally, one of the finest of Iceland’s black metal bands, the almighty Sinmara! My words fail to describe them. The stage turned red, thick fog created the right atmosphere and in they walked, kicking off a brilliant exclusive set, playing their full new album, “Hvísl stjarnanna”. The crowd was blown away with ambient rhythms and fine riffs, it felt like the world burnt with their fire, and I must’ve cried multiple times during that set.
I had to go out for a little break after this fantastic set: carrying all my emotions on my back, with eyes washed with tears, I grabbed a quick energy drink, now going back to check the final set of the day. GOST had already started their set and minutes into that the place suddenly became a rave! A very energetic performance and fun show, the best way to end a long festival day bringing out your best dance moves to such a performance.
All done now, exhaustion is taking over, alas, buddies and lovely people would force you to socialise and stay up for a bit. Fun selfies and good laughs before we head to our somehow comfy beds to recharge our energy for what’s to come tomorrow!
Knowing it’s the last day of the festival was a bit saddening but we had much to look forward to today!
Heading back to the festival site at doors time gave us the chance to grab a meal there before the bands start and the fun kicks in; the service was fantastic as expected.
Now it’s time for AKROTHEISM to rule the stage. Fine black metal from Greece, sputtering blast beats with violent deep screams that spawn from between dark. fast and atmospheric guitar riffs, a great kick-off for the day.
The Order Of Apollyon would be the next band, with an insane amount head banging during their performance accompanied with death riffs and multiple layers of blast beats, they have managed to infuse death metal and black metal perfectly.
At this point we had to take a small break to preserve our energy. We watched a bit of Auroch, nicely done, then Kælan Mikla, great Icelandic synth/darkwave performers. Then another set by a young band KALEIKR, an amazing Icelandic technical death/black metal.
We were very much looking forward to seeing ALMYRKVI, and this band set up an out-of-this-world atmosphere on stage. They performed their best songs, mainly from their latest album “Umbra”. What a phenomenal set that was!
Treha Sektori was to play next, a dark ambient musical project from France. I cannot claim I completely understand this type of art but it was definitely an atmospheric experience we all enjoyed.
Wolvennest brought hypnotic oriental aesthetic with long, arithmetic solos, and very interesting instruments especially the Theremin infused into the guitars; everything sounded and felt wonderful.
To come next is the big headliner, Svartidauði: it translates to English as “Black Death” and black death they brought down on us! They played their latest album in full, “Revelations of the Red Sword”, and hat a brilliant album that is: dissonant harmony breaking into atmospheric riffs and evil sounding vocals. It’s a formula written in agony and pain.
Last but not least comes Bölzer, which replaced Mgła at the last minute since they cancelled their appearance at Ascension few weeks before the festival. I have to say I had hoped to see Mgła there as they would’ve been perfect for the atmosphere of that festival but I’m sure they had their reasons to cancel. Nonetheless, the might and force of the Swiss Bölzer was the perfect replacement with their disorienting guitar riffs and drums, they give everyone the closure they were looking for.
This festival was a special experience. It’s much more than a musical festival, it’s an art exhibition of all sorts. Its magnificent line-up and exclusive sets, the location, the facilities, the merch, the service, in simple words it’s an emotional experience like nothing else.