In February ‘23 the Undergrounded team and friends once again went on a pilgrimage to the Howls Of Winter festival in Estonia’s capital of Tallinn. For its 10th installment the organizers of the Black Metal seance headed for a special lineup of bands that were welcomed before on past HoW editions. Read our full review!
Having not exclusively first offenders, but all throughout the program of its 10th installment only bands who attended the Tallinn-based Black Metal event before, made for a finely distilled arrangement of live music. The festival's first edition in 2014 was just a Thou Shell Of Death gig (the band of Ingmar Aasoja, the organizer of HoW) with some partners in crime - and after that the event developed in terms of size and international guests as well.
After several nights we already spent in Tallinn with our Estonian friends from the scene feasting on Tallinn’s varieties of pubs, medieval restaurants and in the scene’s gathering circle, the Black Magic Estonia, the festival Warmup party on Thursday marked this year’s first visit to the Rock Club Tapper in the south of the city. The cold temperatures were not as merciless as during our last visits, meaning the snow mountains and icy fields in front of the venue were missing. Visitors were greeted by a merch stand of the highly sought after Label Signal Rex, as well as a display of the works of talented Ginta Bane. Also, visitors could find their reserved T-Shirts with this year's artwork and have some great festival beers, that were labeled with the Howls of Winter logo. For the Warmup three bands were scheduled, out of which Vanhelga from Sweden served as the opening gentlemen to Howls of Winter X.
The Swedes from Linköping presented their Black Metal/Depressive Rock-sound in full spectrum with a great assortment of pieces from their whole discography. People not familiar with Vanhelga's unique approach to the genre might have frowned upon their partly ironical lyrics, sometimes clean vocals and the often whimsical Rock music elements, that stood out in contrast to the Black Metal storms that were yet to come - but this kind of colorful and imaginative musical cocktail really fascinates those who take a deeper dive into Vanhelga's opus. Newer songs like the ones from the 2021 EP "Enfin morte", especially "Dagar som denna", would captivate everyone with their progressive and melancholic temper, but also classics from the band’s repertoire such as "Sorg" made the opener a special experience. When we spoke to each other after the gig the opinions seemed to differ heavily - some were enthralled and excited, some were baffled and confused. Vanhelga delivered a strong performance and came as an interesting opener, although their multifaceted sound is not for everyone!
Vanhelga / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
Wedard from Germany struck the audience with a bleaker tone in their music: High-pitched shrieking vocals set the teeth on edge, as they presented their DSBM-hopelessness - and the crowd enjoyed the melancholic trip through the darkness very much. Wedard's setlist mostly consisted of pieces from their strong albums "Einsamer Winterweg" (2006) and "Wo die Ewigkeit die Zeit berührt" (2008), as well as the manifold Splits and EPs the band has in their portfolio. Especially songs like the opening "Himmelstreppe" and "Black Hole Sagittarius Alpha" stood out. Even though according to their social media presence a new full length release is already on the horizon, the last output of the Bavaria-based trio, "Schnee und Eis", a split release with mighty Wintergeist, already dates back to 2017 - but "My Eternal Dream Of An Endless Sky" from that collective effort marked the final song of their intense show. Wedard always deliver a great, ear-splitting experience - strong recommendation to see their rare shows in the future!
Wedard / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
Final act of the Warmup was the Finland-based devilry by Kalmankantaja. Harsh and steamrolling Black Metal soundscapes filled Rock Club Tapper, when the relentless Duo of versatile Grim666 and Tyrant stepped onto the stage accompanied by no less than four guest musicians. Kalmankantaja, who not only have a high frequency of outputs (since 2020 alone they released 8 (!) Full-length records), but also have a tendency to write quite long pieces, played only six songs at their Howls of Winter X gig, but managed to quickly captivate the audience by storm. No wonder, since they seemed to have brought some disciples from their home country with them - and on top one must admit that for several people Kalmankantaja marked the main reason for attending the 10th edition of Tallinn's Black Metal mass. Newer pieces like "Taivas palaa" were great and offered a hymn-like rallying cry for the people in the crowd - and older songs like "Menetyksen laulu" were impressive as well. Despite their controversial subject matter, Kalmankantaja's power was unquestionable - their raw and aggressive sound was a perfect match for the themes of their music, and the intensity of their performance left no doubt that they take their craft seriously. All in all, Hyvinkää-based Kalmankantaja concluded the first day in a fiery tour de force and displayed a strong first headliner show.
Kalmankantaja / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
On the second day the mayhem started at around 18:30 with the local War Metal authority Goatsmegma, surrounding Tony Wroth Desecrator and his warrior ensemble. The band presented pieces from their first two records and built up a menacing, martial atmosphere - not only are the vocals only hissed through the mouthpiece of a gas mask (about which Mr. Wroth told us later, that when he took it off there was a flood of sweat running out of it), the strikingly blatant and Goat-themed lyrics do deliver a fiendishly entertaining show. Just take songs like “Licking The Goat’s Vaginal Prolapse In The Name Of Baphomet” or “Atonement Through Deep-Throating Goat Testicles” and let the titles sink in. In comparison harsh killer songs like “Putting The Bomb Under The Church” almost seem harmless, as far as themes and lyrics are concerned. Also the combination of the threatening demeanor of Wroth posing with his machetes, being completely dehumanized by the mask, and the pressing sounds, without any chance of taking a resting breath, made the kickoff of the first regular festival day of HoW X a great fast-paced ride. Pure violence! Check out their last output "Goat Separatist Movement" immediately - that's an order.
Goatsmegma / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
The Finns of Blood Red Fog followed and also delivered an impressive gig - especially singer Vesa “B.R.F.” Lahti, the head of the project, stood out with his remarkable unique drilling vocals. Famous for many other projects such as Caestus or Sammas’ Equinox the musician seems to keep concerts a rare occasion - something one could say about many bands, who attend the Howls of Winter festival, not only this time, but also in past editions. The atmospheric performance stood out in difference to the openers and came as a deceleration in contrast. Blood Red Fog presented songs of their newer outputs like “Fields of Sorrow” (2020) and “Vampir” (2021), but also brought some older material with them, thus bringing Finnish Black Metal occultism to Estonia and granting the audience a more traditional approach in terms of the extreme genre that dominated the event.
Blood Red Fog / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
Sulphuric Night from Bosnia & Herzegovina however marked a greater highlight for some in the crowd - not only is the collective of the Black Plague Circle surrounding bands like Obskuritatem and Void Prayer, who were on stage in 2022, a very interesting underground cesspool of talented musicians, but all the manifestations of the contributing musicians seem to surround only a few creative minds like the mysterious O. (this time on the drums) and his fellowship. Sulphuric Night’s show at first glance presented a rather oldschool view of hooded gentlemen with corpsepaint, but quickly transformed from a standard Black Metal procession to a wild nightmarish hellride. The people on stage quickly made clear that the Sarajevo Black Metal sub-scene is a force to be reckoned with - and everyone who has not yet taken a glimpse into what is going on there should definitely do his homework. The single full-length album “Forever Cursed” from 2019 marks a good starting point for delving into the band and the whole BIH scene - and also the recently released EP “Black Metal Tyranny” was presented at Howls of Winter. This was a strong entry!
Next in line were one of Austria’s wildest Black Metal war horses, Kringa, who recently released their furious new emanation called “All Stillborn Fires, Lick My Heart!”. Only as a three-piece squad this time, the occult Black/Speed/Heavy metal cocktail still delivered a strong show and they played themselves in a trance-like state - seriously, if one has not witnessed the musicians’ performance, one would not believe it: Kringa’s impetus and furious vigor marked not only the boiling point of the day, but also had the crowd unleashed. Weirdest part was when the guys on the string section seemingly uncontrollably fidgeted their instruments, almost fell mid-playing or just put the microphone in their mouths to have their hands free. The new output was presented with “Ablution” and “Gardens in Bloom”, but especially the mesmerizing tone and high-speed hypnosis of “Sanguine Painter” or “Nine Prayers, Red Wine” were outstanding and come from their EP efforts. This was truly one of -if not the- strongest live appearances of this year’s HoW.
Kringa / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
Strid however were one of the “more famous” bands who performed at Howls of Winter X, even though the project only released the “End of Life”-Demo and a self-titled EP in the early 90s, as well as a Split with Malfeitor, an incarnation of -basically- themselves, before Strid was formed, re-releasing old material this way in 2007. With several inactive periods the band surrounding some glorious names such as Vicotnik (Dold Vorde Ens Navn & Dødheimsgard) on guitars, Svein Egil Hatlevik on Drums (Fleurety, Umoral) and the one and only Ravn Harjar on Guitars and Vocals, to name at least some of them, delivered a highly acclaimed show. The eccentric Vicotnik, however, was not on stage for this installment of Howls of Winter - but the ensemble made for a quite uneventful, yet atmospherically dense performance and showed once again why they are often cited as the fathers of Depressive Black Metal. Strid’s slow-paced, often overwhelmingly long pieces like “End of Life” or “Nattevandring” grasped most of the audience, but seemed to bore some as well - but to see those -in Black Metal standards, of course- famous gentlemen on stage, was an honour to everyone familiar with the Norwegian Black Metal cosmos. No wonder German Label Prophecy Productions took them under their wing, as soon as they announced doing live gigs again.
Strid / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
Final act of day 1 was the ominous entity of Black Cilice from Portugal. People from the Rock Club Tapper and the festival organizers were very strict in terms of what band wants to be filmed and photographed - Black Cilice did not want to be captured at all. Not much is known about who could be seen on stage for their satanic, occult ritual - and the project seems to keep their live appearances very rare. For the Howls of Winter gig the quartet of musicians had the stage crimsoned with constant threatening red light and the shrouded singer with a skeletal appearance held some items like precious artifacts in the air during the songs - at first, he had a heavy iron chain, then a skull, finally a lantern. It is breathtaking, how exceptionally eerie and clear the sound was - the newest release from the Portuguese occultists was released by Iron Bonehead and is called “Esoteric Atavism”, but the band also played older pieces as well. So the first regular festival day concluded with a show that had the audience experience a feeling of dread, a yet static but extremely riveting and intense Black Metal infusion.
Off to Black Magic Estonia for some aftershow madness!
The third day of HoW was opened a little earlier than scheduled by the Icelandic squad of Nornahetta, who started with their infamous improvised insanity. Sadly the hall was not yet filled with many people - our team had the impression most of the crowd still thought they would do an extended soundcheck. Only as they started with their -in this genre meant very positively- less chaotic songs and stood facing toward the crowd, people realized the gig already began. Thus, to some people the gig went past very rapidly - which was a shame, if you took into account the legendary show of 2018 at the festival in comparison. The lead singer and bass player seemed to have put everything into his vocals, however, and it was a short, but intense gig for some. We could only hope for more live appearances by the Icelandic band, as well as new material, since their last effort "Synesthetic Pareidolia" already dates back to 2017.
The Czech instance Inferno marked the first highlight of Saturday's battles for our team - Black Metal from the scene of the Bohemia/Moravia country is a wild and noteworthy field to delve into. Especially the highly philosophical lyrics and the vast Black Metal cascades this quartet delivers on their outputs stand out. Lead singer Adramelech bore the project already in the mid-90s - so Inferno can look back at a rich discography as well. Their last album "Paradeigma (Phosphenes of Aphotic Eternity)" from 2021 was a masterpiece in terms of ambitious, sophisticated yet extreme music - and their live appearance at HoW was an intense one, to say the least. Almost no lights provided for a more audio-focused show, since the hooded figures in the dark did not make for an eventful gig in terms of show elements, but had the audience close their eyes and be taken away by their bleak melodies. Another great guest in the HoW lineup - highly recommended to see Czech's Inferno live.
Inferno / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
Luctus hailing from Lithuania's city Kaunas were the only band also from the Baltics besides the locals of Goatsmegma. Their show can only be described as a real occult hellride - also Luctus seem to live for live gigs. Part of our team saw the guys already several times, also in Germany, and the band's shows surrounding the charismatic persona of Kommander L. on vocals and Bass always convince the audience of their expertise. Their last album "Užribis" from 2022 and the predecessor "Ryšys" were very strong entries in their home country's Black Metal scene - and their frenzy of a gig was not only consisting of pieces of the mentioned efforts, but also garnished by a newer song called "Antprasmė", which already gave a glimpse of future outputs. Also Luctus were the only band commenting on what is going on in Ukraine for one year now, encouraging the people and showing their solidarity with Ukrainians wanting to stay independent and free, dedicating their anthem "Už Lietuvą" to them. A fiery performance by a band that more people have to keep on their radar!
Luctus / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
German elitists Nawaharjan were next in line, presenting their Black Metal paganism in full magnificence. Their incredibly strong 2020 debut "Lokabrenna" still has not been celebrated that often on live stages (thanks to Covid19) - but the band from the cadre of Essen-based Amor Fati Productions (Häxenzijrkell, Hadopelagyal, Nubivagant, among others) quickly grasped the audience with their straight-forward and sharp Black Metal tunes. Lead singer and guitarist Skandaz made for a riveting performance, even though the band had their faces and expressions hidden behind cloth masks, reminding people in the crowd of bands like Mgła who made that look more famous in the last couple of years. But Nawaharjan, whose band name comes from the Proto-Germanic and roughly translates to "Corpse Army", did captivate the crowd with their unique sound in a matter of seconds, even though their show was of a more static temper - their sound however was a fierce one and we can only refer to their full length debut more heavily!
Nawaharjan / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
Mighty Misþyrming from Iceland stepped onto the stage next and the crowd appreciated the band's harsh sound and their strikingly creative, albeit exuberant songs. Their new album "Með hamri" was just released in Decembre and their level of prominence seems to have risen in the last couple of years immensely - not only had they been on tour recently with Kringa, among others, letting the small venues they played in burst at the seams, but their highly acclaimed outputs catapulted Misþyrming to the front of their home country's metal scene. Pieces like the opening "Orgia" made for an intense ride at the beginning of the show, and song giants such as the new "Með harmi" or "Ísland, steingelda krummaskuð" hypnotized the audience as well as shorter ones like the fan favourite "Söngur heiftar". Many people filled Rock Club Tapper for the Misþyrming gig - thus, showing that almost everyone was there to see the band, showing what a big crowd puller the organizers had invited here. The guys from Iceland made for a strong entry, delivered a sharp and flawless performance, but one of the best acts of the whole festival was yet to come.
Misþyrming / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
The occultists Hetroertzen from Sweden concluded this year's Howls of Winter. Their performance was nothing short of awesome - with their ritualistic show they delivered an intense and captivating spectacle that had the crowd completely immersed in their dark and atmospheric sounds, their haunting melodies and eerie atmosphere. With barely any front light, the absence of usual show elements contributed to the ambience that felt like an unholy satanic mass. The sound was top-notch, with each member delivering a flawless performance that perfectly complemented the others. The guitars and drums were especially impressive, with the intricate riffs and thundering rhythms creating an almost hypnotic effect. Frontman Frater D's vocals were equally impressive, ranging from menacing growls to chilling screams that added an extra layer of intensity to the band's already powerful sound. His stage presence was also noteworthy, as he commanded the audience's attention with his dark and imposing presence, wearing a red hood and moving around restlessly and eccentrically. Highlights were the opening "Uprising" and "I am Sickness, I am Death" - to which the crowd responded with enthusiastic applause. Hetroertzen feature elements of black metal, doom metal, and even some progressive rock, culminating at times in a Black'n'Roll killing spree, all melded together to create a truly unique and captivating sound.
Hetroertzen / Photo: Arttv Karvonen
The Howls of Winter X festival in Tallinn, Estonia was a resounding success, featuring a diverse lineup of some of the most talented bands in the black metal scene for its 10th installment, but always taking a deep-dive into the underground. The festival showcased a wide range of musical styles, from the atmospheric sounds of Strid to the brutal aggression of other acts like Goatsmegma, displaying the variety of the extreme genre.
Pictures: Arttv Karvonen