Once again a small division of Germans entered Estonia -even in these hard times- to visit the Howls of Winter Festival. Already in its 9th installment, the organizers around the event in Tallinn, the Baltic State's capital, called for three nights of live music under the horns with many international guests.
This year's focus, one could say, was laid on a total of four countries/regions - there were bands from Portugal, a division of musicians from Austria and Switzerland, some entries from Bosnia & Herzegovina and of course some Estonian combos were also on their home turf.
Since the 2020 event, which took place as practically one of the last metal festivals in almost all of Europe before the restrictions of Covid19, the Howls of Winter festival had to be cancelled in 2021, but everyone wanted to make the 2022 event happen. On the one hand, nothing had to be cancelled this year, on the other, however, Estonia still has a strict curfew, so that public events, live music and shows must not end later than 11pm – and this year's edition suffered from the travel restrictions of all the different countries, so that only a distilled, finely selected lineup took part. But a great one, in all truth!
Warmup (Thursday, 10.02.2022)
After the pre-pre-show at the Black Magic Estonia Club on wednesday with Süngehel and Cadaveric Incubator the organizers invited the attendees for the warmup party on Thursday for a four course diner at the Rock Club Tapper. The Undergrounded troops once again took residence at our one week headquarter at Alevi 6 not far away from the location and already enjoyed some days of culture program and celebrating with our Estonian friends, when we left for the event.
After all the required checks for the vaccination and grabbing the obligatory first festival brand beer, we were welcomed by the organizers and had some chats about the event. The festival merch only came in a limited amount and the t-shirts had to be ordered before the event – but the organizers also prepared some extremely beautiful looking wooden pins with the festival logo and tote bags with the artwork for a reasonable price. On the first day, Warhorn Records and the Portuguese fellas brought their merch – on top the talented artist Ginta Bane also displayed her works in jewelry, skull and bone art and high quality prints.
The opening band Tomb Veneration, on whom the only thing to be found out on the internet beforehand was the fact that they also come from Estonia, already stood out with their performance (seriously though, contact us, we'll place you on Metal Archives). Not only did they captivate the audience with their hypnotic, reverberating Death/Doom-infused Black Metal sound, they also turned the concept of live gigs practically upside down, when their whole performance was veiled by a semitransparent curtain. At first one must have received the impression the band still was doing a soundcheck – but the concept worked and intrigued our team. On top of that the musicians on stage were also wearing hoods, rendering their whole concert anonymous, even though we heard from the other Estonians that they know the identity of the band members anyway. Still, songs like the Opener „Moth Into Flame“ or the only piece that is to be found on Youtube, „Stench of the Glass Eyed Crone“, spoke for themselves.
When Vetala from Portugal started their show in front of a candelabra-lit altar, the audience witnessed a more puristic Black Metal approach. Being part of the Black Circle together with Irae, who would also perform on Saturday, their style can be described as a little filthy and derelict and their show had an inherent occult touch. Though seeing the project on stage only with a singer, a guitarist and a drummer some bands who abstain from a live Bass guitar come to mind, who create an even deeper, more overwhelming sound, Vetala presented their project in a good way. Still the weird gestures and dancing moves of the singer got some in the crowd irritated and gave their performance an almost ironic, kind of outlandish character.
The next band in line, however, was the international project Burial Moon, and the conglomerate consisting of musicians from Estonia, Austria and Switzerland also does not have much information out about them. But they also performed without a bass player and created an even more dense atmosphere with their sounds than Vetala did. As far as we know there is only a Demo called „Her eyes are black as a nightsky and her eyes are pale as a moonlight“ out there – and the sparsely lit stage with much fog and only some candles made for the best performance of the warmup party.
The final entry of the warmup event, Obskuritatem, was part of the Bosnia & Herzegovina-troops like Void Prayer, who would perform on Friday. Basically both consist of the same people, though Obskuritatem always was a one-man project by lead singer O., who gets his live support from his bandmates. The show can only be described as a display of sheer madness, but in a vibrant and positive yet peculiar way. What began as an atmospheric performance by the brawny lead singer became a little weird, when he basically screamed at the skull in his hands and pushed it into his lap – but still the Obskuritatem discography holds some strong pieces. Apparently the guys from Sarajevo also brought some crowd from their home country – otherwise they would not have had someone from audience enter the stage and taking over the vocals, besides the lead singer of Vetala, who also came on stage. While Void Prayer announced, that the HoW show would mark their last live show, however, before the festival started, nothing is known about Obskuritatem's future.
The first festival day became a nice prelude and a perfect nourishment for the Black Souls of the audience, as Rock Club Tapper's owner Kaido asked after the first four entries. We were hyped for the next day!
Day 1 (Friday, 11.02.2022)
Kicking off festival day one Kõdu, another project of our Estonian friends surrounding the musicians of Süngehel and Pime, served a furious entrée. Not only did the harsh and bloodcurdling Vocals of Vincent aka Count Vincent of Arkharum made the audience’s blood rush to to their heads, but also the talented musicians‘ songs were striking in sound and in songwriting. Their latest and also first album „Unusta kõik“ was released in 2021 and was solemnly presented at the Rock Club Tapper's black metal festivity. Next in line was Sisyphean from Lithuania, who also did a great job, but remained rather sallow with their atmospheric Death-infused Black Metal escapism. Still, it seemed that many fans traveled from the southern Baltics to see them - their debut "Illusions of Eternity" already dates back to 2017, but they recently released new material with their new lead singer Dainius, who joined the band in 2019 - glimpsing on their setlist, they did not present any songs from their first full-length and rather focused exclusively on new stuff. The opener "Scorched Timeless" is one of the new pieces and already marked the set's highlight.
Ziegenhorn, who had come to Tallinn from the Tartu-based scene (on which Undergrounded is planning a very special documentary), probably had the wildest and most blasting show of the whole event. Not only did the man-power of only three musicians fill the room as if their troops were twice as strong, but also they had some puristic, kind of animalic traits. Seeing the trio mostly in red light & without shirts only helped in creating a great atmosphere to the unholy rites – the German name, even if based in Estonia, stems from lead musician P. aka Kruxificator of Extragoatial Might’s origins, who immigrated to the Baltic State from Germany. The band later stated that they would like to keep their live appearances rare, in order to keep them more special. Though they only released a Demo so far, one definitely has to keep this diabolic Tartu-beast that is Ziegenhorn in mind!
After that the first band from the Austrian scene stepped onto the stage and delivered what can only be called a hellish theatre piece. Hagzissa, one of the first headliners, if you wanna call some of the band entries this way, are known for their extremely sought after first album "They Ride Along“ from 2019. Since the project started shortly before the Corona pandemic haunted Europe there have not yet been many live appearances by the weirdly entertaining yet strange and eerie guys from the Alps. We would like to call it a theatre piece because of the musicians‘ habitus on stage: lead singer B. Moser had his face painted white wearing a black gown that alluded to the image of the devil in the movie „The Seventh Seal“ by Ingmar Bergman, whilst the guitarist wore a woman’s dress, the bass player stared at the audience with widely opened, almost gazing eyes and the drummer wore a mask like a fencing uniform. We found the crowd split apart over the question whether Hagzissa’s performance was an ironic or hilarious one or a genius masterpiece of a dramatic Black Metal dive. To us, Hagzissa were a puzzling and astonishing band to see live on stage – and we can only recommend forming an opinion of one’s own on the fascinating band.
Final band of the first regular festival day was Void Prayer, who basically consist of the same musicians that were on stage at the warmup show with Obskuritatem. This time lead singer O. sat behind the drums and the vocals were mostly taken over by the bassist and the guitarist. In difference to the music of Obskuritatem the sound of Void Prayer’s roiling songs is more atmospheric and has a more hypnotizing, entrenching character. Their highly-acclaimed two full-length records "Stillbirth from the Psychotic Void" and "The Grandiose Return to the Void" definitely have to be recommended, if one would like to take a glimpse into the underground Metal scene from Bosnia & Herzegovina. The wailing vocals and sprawling instrumental overkills made for a good farewell show of the project - since the musicians, however, are involved in so many projects one will definitely have the chance to see at least some of them live in the future.
Though, if we’re being completely honest, it would have been nice to have more than five bands on stage on a festival day, that is not a warmup party or regular concert, it turned out that five bands, who are also not comparable at all, is the perfect amount to take in everyone of them properly, without having to skip one or be flooded with impressions. Still, the curfew of 11pm was a bummer – luckily the Black Magic Estonia was open again for all who got an invitation to the private aftershow party there. (Thank you notes and blessings go out to our tequila fairy K.) Also, some members of the bands attended the cosy event in the Tallinn scene’s beautiful living room.
Day 2 (Saturday, 12.02.2022)
Day 2 had us captivated as well – after Morte Incandescente’s oldschool hellride the Swiss took over the stage and totally blasted our team away with their emotional, chaos-ridden shows in three acts. Act one was Serpens Luminis, who released their debut „Bright Euphoria“ in 2019. Seeing the passionate musicians painted in blood and setting themselves in a trance-like state left us completely baffled and speechless. Especially lead singer F.J.D. and guitarist O. killed it. As the audience soon discovered, not only once throughout the evening. "The Dawn Fragrances" as an opener to the record and the show as well stupendously overwhelmed the people in the Rock Club Tapper by storm - hell, our team partly agreed that this was one of the most emotionally galvanizing performances we ever witnessed on a live stage and if you let yourself be carried away there may have been tears in your eyes. No tears of joy, no tears of grief - rather tears of emotional breach. And we're not kidding here.
Alruna, who are basically the alter egos of Hagzissa, also had an atmospheric, liturgic rite of a show prepared. Not only did they impregnate the air of the whole location with incense, they also took the visitors on yet another hypnotic ride. Those in the audience who also saw Kringa in 2019 at the Howls of Winter festival already knew some of the musicians - so it was clear that there would be another invasion from the musicians from Austria who were welcomed in the Baltics so heavily back then. Though there are also only Tape Demos by Alruna right now, they are no unsung musicians in Germany - especially the piece "Silver Dawn" is a 10 minute masterpiece.
Act two of the Switzerland hellride was started by Ancient Moon, whose live show -though in its core a one-man project featuring Mr. B. from Borgne- was also presented by the musicians from Serpens Luminis and the latter, also had captivating moments, but did not match the impact of act one. The Portuguese musicians, however, now as Irae, hailed the lightbringer with another display of puristic grandeur. Corpsepaint, three people on stage, Black’n’Roll-esque splendour with 90s charme was their motto – and if they did not get the juices of the audience flowing with their own excellent pieces, sometimes in English, sometimes in their home languge, their final Bathory-Cover of „The Return“ should have changed this, at least.
The final band of this years‘ edition, Borgne, also from the Alps, made for one the most furious finales to a festival our humble German division ever saw. Guitarist O. again showed off his masterful skills at the strings, Mr. Bornyhake quickly had the audience in his grip, Lady Kaos on the keyboards totally killed it as well, accompanying the furious and harsh sounds of the rest of the band, and the great performance by the Swiss‘ was just breathtaking und powerful. They presented a great mixture of their discography and distinguished themselves with their stomping and thrilling industrial Black Metal style. The other musicians on stage, counting six people, did present songs like „To Cut The Flesh And Feel Nothing But Stillness“, opener to the 2021 record "Temps morts", and "Je deviens mon propre abysse" from "Y" in an astounding manner. The main focus was laid on the two records "Règne des morts" and "[∞]" as far as the setlist is regarded. If our dear readers have the chance to see Borgne in the future you definitely must not miss their shows.
Photos/Videos: Grave / Phil / Haimaxia