Come and shelter me here from hell

Árstíðir / Myrkur / Sólstafir – Alhambra, Paris; November 20th, 2017

Wow, what a show! Paris brought me exactly what I had hoped for: Great music, a great audience and the perfect venue for it. After Lille I knew I would have fun watching Sólstafir, but it was much more than that: I loved everything about it. The music, the energy, the emotions that came with it. Needless to say I loved Árstíðir’s set too, even though it was over in a heartbeat. Myrkur still did not do much for me, but I didn’t mind her set either. So while I had contemplated skipping Berlin before the show started, I really wanted to go when it was over. This was as good as it was going to get. 🙂

I left Lille in the pouring rain and arrived to Paris an hour later in better weather. Didn’t do much before the gig and arrived early as usual. I wasn’t the first person though, one guy was waiting already. Got a little worried about having brought my camera, because a sign on the door said they were not allowed. Asked Erin when she came out to smoke and she said she had different rules and it was fine. 🙂 While we waited Aðalbjörn came out, coffee in hand and chatted with us for a bit. It was really nice. :). About ten minutes before the doors open, Erin decided to walk me in, told everyone the camera was OK and even provided me with a photo pass. Wow! 😀 Since I was inside, I got to witness the end of Árstíðir’s soundcheck too. <3 Said hello to them briefly, before they disappeared backstage. Someone from the crew noticed that Myrkur’s backdrop was upside down and it took a while until it was fixed. The funniest part was that I was hardly able to tell the difference. 😉 Soon after the doors opened and I watched as people filed in. The venue was really nice with an upstairs seated area and a slightly rising floor downstairs that also allowed for seats, but didn’t have any that day.

At first I thought the venue was somewhat empty, but it filled up soon enough and there was a good crowd by the time the lights went down and Árstíðir walked on stage. The setlist remained the same, yet somehow everything was so much better than the previous day. It might have been the fact that the sound was brilliant, i.e. not only the singing was clear, but I could also understand every word they said. Or it might have been because I was just better rested and thus more open to everything. Either way, I loved every minute of it and felt very much in tune with the music. I noticed the girl next to me taking notes on my phone and smiled because I have done the same thing at times. This night, I just enjoyed. Took a few pictures too, but mostly just watched and smiled, especially when the audience cheered after every song. I have no idea how many of them had seen the band before, but some yelled when Ragnar asked who had seen them in Paris four years ago and I judging by the cheers I am sure many liked what they heard.

The set is a good representation of their music from powerful to slower and softer in the middle to powerful again in the end. It works well as an introduction to their music, especially moving towards the style of the upcoming album. I still love many of the old songs dearly, but I like the direction they are taking now. ‘Mute’ was brilliant. It is still growing on me every time I hear it. Can’t find the words to describe it, just that it builds up slowly and dramatically towards a strong chorus, which does not really say anything about this particular song.  You’ll just have to go see them live or wait until the album comes out. 😉 In the current set it is my favorite next to ‘Systir’. There is something about both of these songs that draws me in and resonates with me.

During the concert we learned that the current rendition of ‘Heyr, hymna smiður’ is in A minor and some other random information like how much they love French cheese or how good the backstage mood on this tour is. 🙂 This tour takes me back to 2013 in many ways, even though not only the band line-up has changed since then. I still have great memories of that tour and his one is building up to give me the same. I’m really glad I choose to see a few shows and not skip it entirely. Maybe they’ll even change the setlist a little until I see them next time. Anyway, I loved seeing them work and wished it could have been longer. It was exactly what I had hoped for. Until Airwaves I had not realized how much I’d missed seeing and hearing the guys play. <3 ‘Shades’ was the grand finale again and worked better for me this time. It is a great song, with or without string players on stage and works perfectly to close the set.

Setlist

Himinhvel
Things you said
Mute
Heyr, himna smiður
Someone who cares
Systir
Shades

I wasn’t looking forward to Myrkur all that much, but decided to give her another chance before writing it off as the part of the show I would just have to get through. Her music is alright after all, I just do not like the screaming, Once again she and her band did their job well, but it didn’t touch me at all. She has a nice voice so I listened when she didn’t scream and otherwise concentrated on the music and on taking pictures. Her outfit had changed from light the previous day to dark, this time matching with the dark clothed band members. It was all fine, it fit with he theme of the evening and overall I didn’t mind, but I will never be a fan. There were a few people who seemed to be there to see her though and they enjoyed it so I was happy they got a good show. 🙂

Setlist

Mareridt
The Serpent
Ulvinde
Onde børn
Jeg er guden, i er tjenerne
Måneblôt
Elleskudt
Skøgen skulle dø
Skaði

There was nobody to chat with since everyone around me was talking French so I just watched as the stage was changed with Daníel and Ragnar hard at work amongst others. Even Erin was helping. Only Gunnar was nowhere to be seen. They got done quickly and when the music started and Sólstafir walked on stage I cheered with everyone else. They rocked the house from the start and it already felt a lot more familiar than the first time around. This time, when they asked who had seen them before, I raised my hand along with many others. The previous night, I had simply not understood the question due to the strange sound at the venue. Must have been the typical front row problem. Tonight though, everything about the sound was perfect. I understood every word and clearly heard every note. 😀

The songs are very long and I must admit I found it difficult at times to tell when one ends and the next one starts, but that did not spoil my enjoyment. I simply got lost in the flow of the music and enjoyed seeing the band work. Each one of them knows their job well and each one of them gets into it very much. It certainly looked like they were having fun. Everything sounded much better to me than through the haze of tiredness the previous day and it had not been bad then either. Still unfamiliar with their material, I recognized a few of the songs , but was sure one or two had been changed. Only after the show I learned that it had been the same setlist. I was starting to not only really enjoy the music, but feel it. Some songs started speaking to me, move me, work their way into my heart. It came unexpected, but I welcomed it whole-heartedly. Concerts are always better when the songs speak to me in one way or another.

The audience was amazing, cheering the band on between songs and hanging on to Aðalbjörn’s every word. Since the venue had two levels he addressed each level separately when asking how we were doing. People upstairs were seated so he decided to let them do a wave – they did, all the way from one side to the other. It was great! Later on he asked us to imagine seeing Iron Maiden, “the greatest metal band in the world” and cheer as if we were at one of their concerts. Then he separated us into groups by gender and decided that the women won the cheering contest. That prompted a guy in the audience to comment that “Someone wanted to get laid later”. The answer “I am taken, but Svavar here is available.” I think he talked a lot more than the previous night or at least it felt like it.

We were right up against the stage this time without any barrier so there was no platform in front of the stage for Aðalbjörn could step on. That did not keep him from moving all the way from one end of the stage to the other though. He leaned out often and towards the end of the concert he rolled up his microphone cable and decided to venture into the crowd, right where I stood. he even used my shoulder for support as he stepped down, then moved way to the back. Eventually the cable ran out and he pulled at it. People stated helping, i.e. pulling and Daníel came running, untangling what was left of it and holding on to the connection piece. I tried to help him and he looked slightly panicky there for a moment, afraid the connection would break. It didn’t, the crowd loved the little excursion and Aðalbjörn safely made it back to the stage. 😀

Then everything got more serious. he talked about depression and how many people suffer from it in silence, with many committing Suicide. He stated that if we knew anyone who did  suffer from depression we should take care of them and keep communicating, because we might be the only people to talk to them and the only ones helping them to hold on. Reaching out is the one thing we can do and it’s important to be reminded of that once in a while. The power and passion flowing into the next song drove the point home and me close to tears.

The show ended with the band playing a crazy finale with Hallgrímur playing the drums like a madman, Svavars braids flying all over, Aðalbjörn and Sæþór dropping to their knees and Ragnar picking up the Hammond organ an playing it in the air. It instantly put the smile back on my face. It was official, I was falling for this band, thoroughly enjoying the gig and wanting to see more. When they ended the last song and came to the front for a final bow, I cheered and screamed loudly. Hell yeah, this was awesome!

Setlist

Silfur-Refur
Ótta
Lágnætti
Ísafold
Köld
Hula
Fjara
Bláfjall
Goddess of the Ages

This time the merch stand was inside the concert hall so quite a few people were still around. I waited near the stage for a while and Ragnar dropped by for a chat. I told him how much I had loved it and that I felt he was even more into it than the previous night. he confirmed that he was getting more confident with the material and having lots of fun. We also agreed that Sólstafir’s music gets under your skin. Soon he had to get back to work and we hugged goodbye. I spoke to everyone in Sólstafir too, bought their latest album after confirming the song I liked best was on there and got it signed by everyone. Had a brief chat with Erin too and finally made my way home, feeling elated, knowing that somehow, I had to make it possible to go to Berlin.

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Invisible strings, leaves and lightbulbs

Árstíðir / Myrkur / Sólstafir – Maison Folie Beaulieu, Lille; November 19th, 2017

This was one of those concerts or rather one of the tours I was not sure about at all. I always love Árstíðir, but the combination of acts was not really my thing. sure, Sólstafir were enjoyable during Iceland Airwaves, but what I had heard of Myrkur did not work for me at all. So I really wasn’t sure if listening to Árstíðir for 30 minutes would make up for having to endure the rest of it. Then again I remembered my doubts about the tour with Pain of Salvation in 2013 and how much I’d love it in the end and decided to give it a shot, fitting as many shows into my busy schedule as I could reasonably get away with at work (read: four). It worked, I enjoyed the show and that was exactly what I had come for.

Getting to Lille was surprisingly easy by train, but it did mean getting up rather early since I was in Southern Germany the day before. Despite having a window seat I did not sleep on the train at all and desperately needed a rest when I finally arrived. After that, there was not much time left to get ready, hop on a metro and go to the venue. The concert was supposed to start at 7 so I guessed the doors would open at 6 and aimed for getting there by 5. I was alone for quite a while, chatting with the security guards. Many people joined about half an hour after I got there and finally, later than expected, they let us in. It all went smoothly, I picked up my ticket and was surprised that hey did not let us straight in, but made us wait outside the “sale de spectacle” for 30 minutes or so. I got a good spot on the left, exactly where I wanted to be and watched the final show preparations.

With so few Árstíðir shows this year until now, I was happy to see them again, no matter how few songs they would play. This was my 150th concert after all. Around 7:30 the music stopped, the lights went down and the guys walked on stage. I knew they would be without string players this tour and expected something akin to the acoustic sets they had played during their concerts in the spring. I was quite looking forward to it, because it would force the to reinvent songs and I like seeing something different once in a while, Thus I was rather surprised when they started with ‘Himinhvel’ and had no only the usual intro, but also the strings playing from pre-recorded tracks. It pretty much sounded like it always does, only that the cello and violin were not visible. I should have guessed as they have had an invisible drummer for a while, but I totally had not thought about that possibility. They sounded good though and that is the main thing. 🙂

I had the feeling they were a bit nervous about playing as a trio, looked just a little bit uncomfortable on the big stage, but I might have been imagining things. After ‘Things you said’ they thanked us and I noticed then that the acoustics at the venue were strange. While I had no trouble understanding what they sang, the spoken words were somehow distorted or at least it sounded to me like parts were missing. So either it was the sound at the venue or all the concerts I’ve been to are finally taking their toll and I’m going deaf. 😉 Gunnar announced a new song, called ‘Mute’ – it was one of those they had premiered at Airwaves. I’d loved it from the first moment I heard it and the more I listen to it the more I noticed how much their style really has changed. ‘Hvel’ was already pointing in this direction, but the new songs are still vastly different from the old. It makes me quite happy. In my opinion bands need to evolve to survive and these guys constantly do.

Ragnar talked about how much they liked touring with Sólstafir and especially being back in France where they’d last been four years ago. Next was ‘Heyr, himna smiður’ and instead of gathering around one mic they all used their own. It was weird. To me the song is too delicate for this, it kinda needs a softer performance that forces people to listen. ‘Someone who cares’ worked much better and ‘Systir’ was amazing. I really love this one and keep hoping for it to be on the new album, but considering it is one of the backer songs, I doubt it will be. Maybe we’ll get a good live recording one day. The final song of their set was ‘Shades’ and while it sounded great it felt very weird to me. It is the song where I usually focus on the string players because they have such a great part there and go completely nuts towards the end. Now this time I heard the strings, but could not see them and that was a bit off. It was still a greta set and I would have loved to hear more, but this was it.

Setlist

Himinhvel
Things you said
Mute
Heyr, himna smiður
Someone who cares
Systir
Shades

Before the show I texted with Ragnar. I believed Sólstafir had a two hour set. Thus I might have to leave early if I wanted to catch the last metro back to Lille. I’d Salmiakki though and of course had a “love letter” to deliver for the guys (read: The Anatomy of Frank had written them a not the previous night that I’d promised to hand over). Anyway, he promised to come out and pick up the stuff. For now,I was watching him and Daníel work together with some others. On this tour, they all had more than one job: Ragnar playing keyboards with Sólstafir and Daníel being the sound tech for everyone. They all had to do their share of loading and unloading too so they were quite busy.

I must admit that I dreaded Myrkur, they second support act. Preparing for the tour I had checked her out, but never even made it through the first song I listened to, because metal screaming is really not for me. There was a bit of a nature / fall theme going on with leaved on the stage and her carrying a twig in her hand as she walked out. The other thing I noticed where the dark style of the band (black clothes, hood up, heavy tattoos) in stark contrast with the light dress she was wearing. Once she started singing I noticed that it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. She actually has a really nice voice. Most of the songs were still not my thing, but I found it listenable and spent the time trying to capture some good pictures. Around halfway through her set I got a bit bored, finding it difficult to take in more of a type of music I don’t care for, especially being as tired as I was. Still, I am sure for lovers of the genre it must have been great. Her last song was played solo. I liked that one.

Setlist

Mareridt
The Serpent
Ulvinde
Onde børn
Jeg er guden, i er tjenerne
Måneblôt
Elleskudt
Skøgen skulle dø
Skaði

Had a chat with Ragnar afterwards. He stepped of the stage for a moment to give me a hug and pick up the Salmiakki. It was nice to say hello and exchange a few words on the tour. Of course he wanted to know how the trio setup worked for me and I assured him it was good. 🙂

Changing the stage setup was quick, suddenly the stage seemed a lot bigger and at 9:30 it was time for the main act of the night. At Iceland Airwaves in 2016 Sólstafir had used video projections, but this time they had only a backdrop which made it easier to watch them without distraction. 😉 Other than that they had quite a few light bulbs as stage decoration and lots of other lights. It was going to be bright. Drums and keyboards were on raisers in the back, giving me a good view of everyone. I loved their stage outfits – they have some sort of metal cowboy thing going and it fits with the music. Each on of them played their hearts out, it was so much fun to watch.

Despite having seen them before, I really don’t know Sólstafir’s music at all. What was left of that previous gig was an impression of the music, but no real memory. Thus, everything I heard that night felt new and fresh to me. The songs were melodious and long, some grabbed me, some did not, but overall I enjoyed listening. Most of the lyrics were in Icelandic so Id di not understand much of the singing, but the music carried its own message and at times I allowed it to take me over and carry me. At other times I just watched, hunting for good pictures, having fun with flying hair and banging heads. From time to time I checked on Daníel who had his spot on the far right of the stage and was watching the show from their while making sure the sound was alright.

Aðalbjörn, the singer did not talk all that much or at least he did not tell stories, but he interacted with the audience a lot, stepping on the little platform in front of the stage, reaching out, taking hands and balancing on the barrier in front of us all the way from one side to the other, holding on to several of us on the way. Sweaty hands I noticed when he took mine. As he got close I watched the looks on people’s faces. Gig face all the way. 🙂 Svavar on bass and Sæþór on guitar got close too at times, using the stage monitors to rest their feet on and coming to the edge of the stage, while drummer Hallgrímur and Ragnar on keyboards were going wild in the back. There was so much action, I sometimes did not know where to look. 🙂

Due to the long wait outside I had been cold most of the night, but finally got warm during the last part of the gig and took off my hoodie. I moved in tuned with the music, but it wasn’t any crazy dancing or jumping this time around. 😉 All through the set I waited for the one song that would give me access to their music, make me more than just a witness. It was enjoyable, but I was not really in it half of the time, could still feel that I was tired. Then, finally it happened. Aðalbjörn asked if we wanted to hear a demo song or one from the new album. Most voted for Demo and it was only the next day that I realized they played a new song anyway. Not knowing the songs, I could not understand the joke. Either way, the song was fabulous (and no, I cannot exactly tell you which one it was, but I think it was ‘Bláfjall’). I have no idea what it was about, but it instantly got to me. Perfect!

Other than that the funny acoustics prevented me from understanding all that was being said during the show, which sometimes made it difficult to follow. Wait what? Why are they raising their hands now? Oh well, I just screamed along with everyone else when it seemed the right time to do so. 😉 Expecting two hours I was somewhat surprised when the announced their would not be an encore, but they’d just play a bit more and only one more song came after that after around 90 minutes. It was one hell of a last song though with Aðalbjörn dropping to his knees and Ragnar picking up the Hammond organ and holding it while playing. A crazy, wonderful, rocking finale. They gathered at the front and bowed a few times, then left. I cheered with everyone else, feeling a smile spread on my face. Hell yeah!

With time to spare I stuck around for a little bit, got some water and bought a new Árstíðir T-Shirt. Many people gathered by the merch stand where the band had come out, but I did not feel like talking to them. Soon I realized that my guys would not make an appearance, sent a goodbye message and left. Exhausted and happy I arrived back at my hotel, already looking forward to the following day’s concert.

Setlist

Silfur-Refur
Ótta
Lágnætti
Ísafold
Köld
Hula
Fjara
Bláfjall
Goddess of the Ages

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