This mix and the fact that Estonia is a beautiful country surely is enough for some crazy metal lovers to make the 2 hours flight from Frankfurt on a cold Wednesday morning. After our arrival and a quick stop at the „Superalko“, we got our stuff to the pretty, „decent“ appartment which we rented and just fired up the Sauna and the Jacuzzi. Soon we were joined by some old friends of ours to start the festival even before the official warm-up party at the Rock Club Tapper which was about to take place on the upcoming day. What we didn't know yet but was to be proven later on, the fact that the Rock Club was only 600 meters away from our appartment should be of great importance.
Thursday: warm-up party/day 1
The venue of the Howls of Winter Festival, Rock Club Tapper, can be considered rather „small“ in comparison to german clubs. Nevertheless, the couches, the bar and the smaller beer stands made it very cozy and appealing to the guests. Compared to the club's size, the concert room as well as the stage were quite big so we never got the feeling of being herded together. Also, the bands had enough space to move on the stage which was important for the more agile acts. During the whole festival. the sound which was mixed by the venue's owner, has always been on the spot and perfectly put together. That also applies to the lighting tech who did a great job to play with the mood of the listener and the presentation of the different styles of the bands.
The bands for the warm-up party on Thursday were Dissillumination, Victim Path and Svartidaudi. The first slot of the evening has been taken by Disillumination who played their first show in Estonia with a raw, unspoiled and somewhat monotone version of Black Metal. As the club slowly filled with the usual dark-clothed, evil looking kind of people, the atmosphere got even better when Victim Path from Belarus presented their kind of depressive black metal. Their style reminded us of Nocturnal Depression with higher pitched screams and an overall more agressive performance.
To have well-known Svartidaudi as headliner on the warm-up party appeared to be a perfect match to start the festival. Despite the fact that most of the visitors had to work the next day, the crowd was standing as one and ready to freak out when Svartidaudi finally started their gig. And the icelandic band really understood to blow their audience away with a pure wall of power and might. They mostly presented songs from their last album and of course their last two EP's.
After this furious warm-up party, our expectations had been set even higher for the remaining festival.
After curing our hangover from the previous night a little bit, we returned to the venue where Edasi was ready to open the first festival day. This duo was maybe the most controversal band of the whole festival, as they presented a rather unconventional experimental/atmospheric performance. The show mainly consisted of screams, electronic noises, jazz-like guitar play and other disturbing sounds that made it hard to follow. Usually, I do like experimental sounds or at least give it a chance, but in this case I got the feeling that it didn't really follow any line. It was just some random noises thrown together. I personally really couldn't take anything out of it, and I felt I wasn't the only one thinking like that as many guests used the time to get some drinks or to sneak around the merch stands.
After this unusual and rather slow start into Friday's program, Kval approached the stage. The appearance as well as the song structure could be called traditional, but with an atmospheric twist and slow, pressing, strong riffing, that suddenly bursted into an attack of blastbeats and screaming. Their performance was a good way to get rid of the last vestiges of hangover and so our expectations were set again as Malum entered the stage. The band took the audience on to a sheer path of destruction. All of a sudden, Malum Back Patches were a common sight in the crowd. What at first seemed like a „stage understatement“ (no stage props, no traditional black metal elements), Malum put even more pace into the club with their Black'n'Roll infused music that clearly had elements of Horna in it and even reminded me of Whiskey Ritual.
Winter Night Overture then even increased the pace and played an old-school set, which can be ascribed to their lack of material in the past 20 years. But the first three demo tapes worked well and the concert was a fine interlude to Friday's second half, even though the sound seemd to be rawer in comparison to other acts of that day.
Afterwards, Infinity from the Netherlands had the pleasure to play their first gig in Estonia in their 23 years of existence. The crowd at Rockclub Tapper really appreciated the concert a lot, particularly when „The Legend of the Sunken Monastery“ was played. Besides the throughout great performance, it is also worth mentioning that Balgradon Xul both played drums and shouted which is quite rare, especially in black metal.
Talking about rare things in black metal: Asagraum, as female-only-act, could easily keep up with their predecessors in this rather men-dominated black metal event and added some female excellence to the billing. As they played most of their „Potestas Magicum Diaboli“-album's material, „Daar Waar Ik Sterf“ was one of the songs which The riffing and vocals brought some more variety to the festival as Obscura's shouts reminded strongly of Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. The Netherland-based powersquad really managed to enthuse and thrill the audience which they gratefully acknowledged. So giving Asagraum the co-headlining slot on Friday has been another great choice.
Friday's peak of devastation finally arrived when Misthyrming opened their cabinet of chaos. The raw sound and the band's stage acting, in connection to the crowd's euphoria, created a deep atmosphere. The club was filled to the limit and the frontrow completely escalated during the gig as Misthyrming played an outstanding set. There's nothing more to say than they truely exceeded the audience's expectations.
So after all, the second festival day started slow, went on strong just to find it's end in a true escalation. As we all were much too excited to go back to our appartment, we put our wasted bodies to Black Magic Estonia to have some more drinks as well as some chats about this great festival day.
On Saturday, we „somehow“ had to face the same personal problems as on the day before. But soon after the obligatory hangover treatment, we headed back to the venue to see the show of Saturday's opener Havukruunu. Not only the melodic parts in their music have been really different to most of the other bands, they also added some clean vocals to the set which worked out surprisingly well. The show found it's climax in the performance of the song „Noidanhauta“, maybe one of their most well-known songs from the album „Kelle surut soi“. Even though the set was quite short, it was a great opener. And the festival day had just begun...
After Havukruunu, we got to see another „unconventional“ performance, however this time Nornahetta from Iceland turned out to be one of our personal highlights. It may have seemed odd at first that this band was completely improvising their songs live on stage. Yes, you understood perfectly right. This also may have been quite unusual for most of the audience, but nonetheless the presentation was excellent and anyone could feel that something extraordinary was happening. The band members complemented each other just perfectly. The supergroup-like combo consisted of musicians from other icelandic bands who shall not explicitly be mentioned here, but you could guess that these bands were also in Tallinn for the same reason.
Excited as we were, we didn't know yet that another great surprise was just around the corner ready to blow us away: True Black Dawn. They started with an old output called „Pitbound (The 4th Trial of Acolyte)“ with which they immediately casted an occult spell on the venue. The vocal performance was really outstading and the crowd was totally into the dark magic that the quintet from Finland was spreading. Kaosophia then arranged a setting of demolition and obviously tried to make the whole audience blow up in excitement. The band's costumes fitted perfectly with the explosive sound so the total show a builded a pretty good transition and connection to the upcoming last two bands of the festival.
One could tell that Horn as co-headliner and the only german act was one of the overall highlights for the crowd. The combo was greeted by a wall of infuriated fans that waited for Niklas to put his impressive appearance into the battle. Starting the show with „Überall und über allem“, the band delivered mainly songs from their Album „Feldpost“, like „Die Würfel rollen wieder“, but of course also a lot of material from their new output „Turm Am Hang“ which got a lot of attention from the press. Right from the beginning, the crowd completely lost control and even built up a small mosh pit where rage and hatred took over the bodies of the fans. In the end, as a raw demonstration of the pure might of the band, Horn went back 10 years in time to play „Naturkraft“ which finished the fans off completely.
After all these great performances, the time had come for the final concert and festival's headliner Thyrfing. At first the Swedish bulwark started a little slower than the previous acts, just to explode even more later on, and the audience followed right away. Thyrfing surely was the most recognized band which attended the festival this year and therefore played a lenghty set. The fans really got their value for money, not only at this last act at Howls of Winter.
To sum the festival up, one must say that the band selection and the schedule were made up outstandingly well. The festival started already on a high level and even got better day by day. In addition to that, the crowd and the crew made a great job and kept the whole place busy all the time. Let's also not forget to mention the incredible sound quality as well as the superbe lighting during the whole course of the festival. Unfortunately, the accumlated destruction and alcohol consumption over the weekend took its toll. That's why we didn't explore the beautiful city of Tallinn much, except a visit to the town center where we had dinner at the „Olde Hansa“, followed by a dark beer at the infamous Draconis medieval bar. We left Estonia with a grim grin on our faces, frostbitten toes and a hole in our livers, but we will return next year for sure. We all can only recommend to join us on the next edition of Howls Of Winter festival. Vorwärts Kameraden!
PS: special thanks to Marco Manzi for providing us with pictures! Check him out!