Guest contribution by Jasmin Hammon
Photos by Lluis Garcia
Damask Metal Fest II is a new festival in Barcelona where you can find the best national and international metal acts. The first edition of the festival took place in 2018 and only had a program for one day. Four bands (HAGGARD, Germany; DRACONIAN, Sweden; DRAGONLAND, Sweden; CELTIBEERIAN, Spain), who are all in subgenres of metal with a strong folkloric vibe, a concept that the festival maintained for this year, played at the same venue in the urban district Hospitalet de Llobregat of Barcelona.
The Sala Salamandra is well-known and has a good reputation among concert goers, it is quite small which can be a great thing when you get into close interaction with the bands you like. So, in 2019, the festival doubled up its line up and duration which shows that the first edition got enough positive feedback for the team to continue. The two evenings were mostly well organized and the concerts started punctually. From the audience’s point of view, the schedule has been maybe a bit too tightly timed, as the festival’s team didn’t let FINNTROLL finish their set. They also were very strict concerning security, which was due to the relatively tense ambiance during the demonstrations that have been going on in Barcelona for a few weeks. Despite these challenges, I liked that all members of the staff have always been friendly and helpful.
It’s been quite easy to get to the Sala Salamandra although the district Hospitalet de Llobregat is relatively far from the city center of Barcelona. The metro station is directly in front of the venue. Thus, it is doable to get there from any other part of the city. To sum up, the infrastructure is good and the festival is worth a trip to this beautiful Mediterranean city – a big plus is that the festival ended on a Saturday evening which left some time the next day to go on sightseeing before taking a flight back home.
Initially, I went to the Damask Metal Fest II to conduct interviews with Kobi Farhi (ORPHANED LAND) and Ashmedi (MELECHESH), but when I heard that FINNTROLL was playing there, too, a band that I like for quite a while now and haven’t seen live before, I knew I had to pay more attention to the bands playing there!
I missed the first band of the day, NIGHTRAGE, a Swedish and Greek melodic death metal band, because my flight had two hours of delay. I just arrived in time to see MELECHESH get the audience jump on their feet with their powerful mix of oriental rhythms (Arabic, Armenian, to be precise, and the band prefers to be labeled Mesopotamian black metal), melodies and black and thrash metal. The Irish pagan metal band PRIMORDIAL followed and their darker, more atmospheric, from doom metal inspired sound offered a nice contrast. They gathered the by far biggest audience of the evening, among them Ashmedi from MELECHESH, to whom PRIMORDIAL‘s singer Naihmass Nemtheanga dedicated one of the songs. The fans reacted with big cheers and sang along loudly!
It shouldn’t be necessary to introduce FINNTROLL to you as they are one of the most popular Finnish bands! Yet, for the readers new to the band, here’s a bit of background info. Founded in 1997, the band is based in Helsinki. After several changes in the line-up of the band, the present-day line up is Vreth (Mathias Lillmåns), Skrymer (Samuli Ponsimaa), Routa (Mikael Karlbom), Tundra (Sami Uusitalo), Trollhorn (Henri Sorvali) and MörkÖ (Heikki Saari). FINNTROLL are internationally known for their mix of death and black metal elements with traditional instruments and sounds. They particularly are known for integrating humppa in their sound which makes it impossible to not jump and dance to their energetic music! This is enhanced by off beats that you usually find in Reggae or Ska and the folkloristic melodies are strongly led by the keyboard. It’s been a while since the last album “Blodsvept” in 2013, no wonder that the fans are becoming restless for something new.
The gig in Barcelona was the second last concert in a loose row of shows, the last one was 30th of November at O2 Academy 2 in Sheffield, and no other upcoming dates are announced for now. I am lucky to have seen them before the break!
The setlist at Damask Metal Fest II was composed of many songs from the album “Blodsvept”, but FINNTROLL also performed all-time favorites from earlier albums. So it has been a good mix for people who know the band well and for those who want to discover them. Of course, the music is extremely danceable and invites the audience quickly to move, to mosh pit and sing along, as most people in the crowd seemed to have known the lyrics of the songs! The setlist has been all in all very well-arranged, showing off the band’s discography and versatility. I liked the dynamic flow of blocks of faster and cheerful songs, with a few calmer ones so the audience could catch a breath. I was surprised to read in other reviews, that journalists said that they were wondering to see that the people didn’t have much stamina. For every time that the band animated the crowd, the room got to move around again and again. Also, FINNTROLL didn’t need to wait long, only until the second song, to get a nice circle pit going. The fans enjoyed coming really close to the band in this smaller venue, as there is no stage pit between them and the musicians. It looked like the band also had a blast having the direct contact with the audience, as they were busy posing for the cameras of the professional as well as for the private photographers and giving many handshakes. A few things could have been handled better that evening, though. There had been obvious problems with the sound, for example, the sound of the bass was completely off in the middle of the set, which of course had not been ideal for the headlining band. Hopefully next time this problem will be solved or prevented by a more thorough soundcheck beforehand. Also, it has been disappointing that FINNTROLL wasn’t allowed to play their last song as they have already played longer than planned due to the technical problems.
When FINNTROLL blasted out the oldie but goldie “Svartberg”, the band nearly crashed the stage with their energy and the crowd went completely crazy! Now, finally, people showed that it is no prejudice that the people from the South have a lot of temperament! For the rest of the setlist, they stayed motivated and active, also due to the encouraging performance of the band. FINNTROLL knows how to make the crowds dance! As it’s been the first time for me to experience FINNTROLL live, I must say that I wonder how they get their elf ears to hold to their heads when they’re headbanging and jumping?! Secret glue? It’s been so much fun how they interacted with the people and enjoyed their show! The crowd’s favorite songs must have been “Skövlarens död” and “Svartberg” when they engaged in a small but brutal mosh pit and all hands were up, clapping, everyone cheering back at the band. During “Nedgång”, of which as it seemed, everyone knew the lyrics, the audience went back and forth so heavily, that I was lifted off my feet! The last song that FINNTROLL played was “Grottans Barn” which also had been one of the audience’s most popular songs.
I also enjoyed the smoother songs like “Människopesten” and “Slaget vid Blodsälv” to which the fans preferred to just sway and sing and recharge for the faster parts of the show. The whole set was well put together and FINNTROLL showed how Finnish humppa has to sound like!
To sum up, this little festival has the potential to become a nice metal meet up in winter, aside from the already extremely packed summer festival season. In November, it can still be sunny and warm in Barcelona, so I recommend to give the festival a try next year! It’s a pleasant time of the year in this beautiful city near the Mediterranean Sea and all the people I met there have been super friendly!
Concerning the festival’s line up, I liked that it’s been a well-chosen mix from international and Spanish bands. They matched well, as all of the bands have in common that they mix folkloric elements with metal. Especially the first evening was very fun and FINNTROLL was greeted warmly by the Spanish fans who would have wanted to see a much longer show!
4) Skövlarens död
7) Slaget vid Blodsälv
14) Grottans Barn
Jasmin Hammon is a researcher in comparative literature and a university teacher for German at the universities of Limoges (France), Augsburg (Germany) and Dijon (France).