Lichtenfeld (D), 5-6 April 2013
The German metal festival Ragnarök celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. There are undeniably several die hard aficionados to this yearly event: Ragnarök seems to be a magnet for pagan, black and folk metal lovers. Most of the festival goers seem to be German, Austrian and Swiss, the lucky ones that can manage getting around with no language barriers. Mastering German is a must to feel part of the whole festival marathon, as no one (from fans to the bar and the merch stand staff) seems unable (or unwilling) to speak any other language, including English. It’s about the universally known German pride, which gives the event a strong sense of cultural definition: it’s a German festival, and German is the official language, full stop. The venue, called the Stadthalle with a fair capacity of 3500 is divided in two stages next to each other, giving the audience the chance to catch all the bands in the bill, without wasting time in strenuous walks as it happens at bigger festivals (think of Wacken Open Air). On arrival, the ambience feels like a collective anticipation on what’s on the menu: the next two days will only be about great bands (Shining, Obscurity, Eluveitie, Dornenreich, Eis, Carpathian Forest just to mention few) and great fun.
Day one starts somewhat a bit too dawdling with Darkest Era and their very repetitive harmonies and lack of stage presence, they are not the best crowd warmer for the day, which evolves into a rather uninteresting sequence with Ava Inferi. Suddenly Winterstorm stand out with their all German blend of power and folk metal. They master a very good duelling of powerfully crafted riffing and solos. With the arrival of Der Weg Einer Freiheit things take an even higher gear as there seems to be many loyal fans to welcome their heroes by shouting Freiheit, in the name of freedom. The band reminds a lot of British icons Winterfylleth in both the piercing vocals and in the slayering guitar work, although they seem to have a very strong definition with their über Germanic dexterity. Der Weg Einer Freiheit are good, have lots of potential and they are very talented, definitely a band to keep an eye on. Fjoergyn offer an outlandish blend of black metal and some sort of disruptions in-between that are quite enticing. Agrypnie, as always, give a very high standard to today’s festival bill as they seem to be one of the most wanted band of the day. With Austrian stars Dornenreich, the day melts into pure bliss. As Thomas Riesner masters the violin on stage and transports the audience in the realm of frenzied fairy tales, guitarist Jochen Stock amazing surmounting of assaulting and powerfully shaped riffing and drummer Moritz Neuner brutal blast-beats complete an outstanding set. Dornenreich are definitely the best band of the day so far, it’s hard to let them go as they finish their set with a magic rendition of Wer Hat Angst Vor Einsamkeit? Having Eluveitie in a festival bill is always good news. They exhume joy and thirst for life with their fascinating and truly unique blend of Swiss folk metal. The variety of instruments on stage is astounding: pipes, flutes, mandolin, violin and more. A superb theatrical setting completes this captivating performance. Singer Christian “Chrigel” Glanzmann delivers Neverland and The Uprising from his heart, as he enchants his audience. And the atmosphere abruptly changes colours, with the sudden arrival of the mighty Swedish headliner Shining. Their set was just perfect in its total, captivating strength and insanity. Frontman Niklas Kvarforth stomping on stage drinking and spluttering Jack Daniel all over the daring font rowers will always spawn a most welcome bundle of hazardous stirs and total havoc. His vocals however outshine the mayhem, particularly with an outstanding rendition of the newest Han Som Hatar Människan. Shining’s classic Förtvivlan Min Arvedel is evil and engulfing whereas For The God Below, one of the most powerful track from Shining‘s latest album Redefining Darkness, is delivered with passion and alluring ability thanks also to guitarist Peter Huss inebriating charisma. This is absolute precision, Shining performed as a true headliner.
Day two starts in much higher spirit than the previous one with the In Vain and the Maladie ignition. The latter offer an intermittence of plague metal landscapes to die for, fuelled by formidable vocals magnificently blended in the extensive and drawing state of the art guitar work. Their dazzling set is exquisitely poisoned by a grand piano reminiscence towards the end. Maladie are followed by Eis and it is at this point of the day, still quite early, that the audience blasts into an unstoppable frenzy. The ambience feels right to welcome the quintet and their ferocious intermingling of black metal tainted by malevolent and Teutonic blasting fires from hell. Legendary Obscurity follows: too bad that no photographers were allowed in the photo-pit due to potential fire hazards. However enjoying the Obscurity performance from the upper level of the Stadthalle is definitely an experience. As they conquer the stage, the energy within the audience arises. They get such a fantastic welcome from their fans, the excitement fuels the scorching ambience in no time, delivering one great rendition after the other, connected by a thrilling sequence of pure craftsmanship. It’s hard not to head-bang for their whole set as they are simply remarkable. Über German heathen metal pagan Riger follows. Frontman Ingo Tauer masters his stunning, penetrating vocals with the confidence and the supremacy of a warrior in the midst of a battlefield. More Germanic power follows with Helrunar, with their technical and advanced state of the art black metal that generates a captivating skirmish impossible to escape from. Veteran Menhir remind a bit too much of Finnish Turisas but lack of that warrior fire that would add more definition to their set. The highest peak of day two is definitely reached with Nocte Obducta and their inexplicable, lethal mix of avant-garde and refined black metal which is powerful and strongly attractive. Solefald seem to break the synch with the rest of the performances of the day. Perhaps it’s time to take a break? If so, the Norwegian squad did a good job in breaking the atmosphere from the ritualistic ambience. More comes from Norway with old-timer Carpathian Forest, the worthy headliner of day two, no doubt. As frontman Nattefrost stomps on stage in his armour and remarkable confidence, the audience detonates at full blast. This legendary band says it all about the true meaning of black metal. Grand and darker than hell renditions of classics such as Carpathian Forest and the memorable Shut Up, There Is No Excuse To Live confirm this is the set to die for. The Norwegian path continues with a very late performance from Vreid, followed by seasoned Secrets Of The Moon: they send the beleaguered masses out of the gates beaming and roaring war cries, the perfect way to yell goodbye.