Festival report: THE EVIL OF SÓDÓMA – Adventures in Icelandic Rock Over Iceland Airwaves

Sódóma in central-Reykjavik is a dirty brute of a bar. It should have sticky floors and sawdust to soak up the spilled blood; however, Icelanders are a fastidiously clean and tidy bunch so it's only just a bit dark and atmospheric, but despite these shortcomings, it was the most cacophonous place to be in the North Atlantic for the latest edition of the Iceland Airwaves festival.

With less big-name international bands on the bill than previous festivals and a year that's seen riots and a pots-and-pans revolution in Iceland, the emphasis was very much on the more brutal end of the extensive local talent base to keep the natives happy and at the aforementioned bar on the Saturday night -- at the peak of the festival's four days of madness -- they exceeded expectations, with a little help from Canada's Cancer Bats. But that's not to say the local bands, amongst which some truly promising talent emerged, proved to be a disappointment.

As a dedicated metal night organised by British metal magazine Kerrang!, there was just one way for the evening to start and Ten Steps Away, a four piece from the suburban sprawl of Reykjavik's outskirts, provided ample opportunity for those floors to get some moisture. Combining some fairly radio-friendly riffs and arena-style posturing, they captured the brash confidence of the night in a stroke even if their music couldn't be considered adventurous. But what they do -- light metal with soul and not a little emotion -- they do very well and with a poise that makes them eminently watchable, if not surprisingly brilliant. Beer was spilt, but not enough.

Noise, a well-established band containing members of the sadly now defunct Sign and likened to Velvet Revolver, came up around mid-evening, just as the notoriously late-coming crowd began to trickle into town and take stock of the dozen or so shows it's possible to see at one time. They provided a more classic metal sound, grinding their way through a set of 80s old-school rock that was tighter than a puffin's backside and just as juicy (roasted in brenninvin -- a real evil brew of a spirit -- is best). Their drummer is called The Eagle and he, along with the rest of the band, showed that you can show off with your instruments without being dressed in spandex or living in decades past.

The rain might have been soaking anyone who dared make a worthy dash between venues to watch as many bands as possible, but being anchored to Sódóma felt like a cleansing antidote to some of the softer music that had dominated the first few days of the festival. The likes of the Brainlove Records day-long jam at Karamba, America's The Golden Filter and Sweden's The Tiny had all left a positive impression with a mix of airy folk (The Tiny), pumped retro synth (Golden Filter) and general goodly madness (all of Brainlove Records), but none had hit the home run just yet. Local alt-rock stalwarts Dikta came nearest but they lacked bite, despite possessing some excellent tracks that you could imagine being played on heavy rotation on mainstream radio.

It was time to make a dash to check out For A Minor Reflection at a graceful old theatre that'd been turned over to the festival for the week. The setting was perfectly suited to the young band's mildly aggressive post-rock compositions and they drew a huge crowd, many of which were chattering in admiration as they headed out into the rain again. For A Minor Reflection, in retrospect, were one of the highlights of the festival. Their grasp of instrumental rock music is staggering given their tender years and relative inexperience -- they are one band who, if anyone at the festival deserves it, will be spread far and wide across the globe just as Explosions In The Sky have been over recent years.

A brief stop at the Reykjavik Art Museum to see Britain's Cocknbullkid (they were too dull to even waste your time with, dear reader) only hastened a return to Sódóma to see Cancer Bats, who'd landed at Keflavik airport only hours before after a long flight from Canada. Perhaps being straight edge worked in their favour, considering the circumstances, and they launched into a set of explosive post-hardcore metal that had crowd surfers clamouring for the front and everyone else straining to see lead singer Liam before he took to the monitor stack. To say their performance was popular would be a gross understatement -- the atmosphere was the most volcanic of the entire festival and tracks from their highly-rated album "Hail destroyer" were despatched all too quickly for the baying audience. New material was also aired to a similar reception.

For sure, the floor was sticky now and the crowd took to subsequent bands Shogun and hardcore mainstays Klink with equal relish. "Fuck Trentemřller! Fuck Trentemřller!" announced Klink towards the end of the night, in reference to the Danish DJ who was performing at the dance-orientated NASA only a couple hundred meters away, and there wasn't a single person there who would rather have been dancing to 4/4 with some carpet under their feet. Metal ruled the festival, and long may it continue.

Words by Ben H. Murray