All photos by Justina Lukošiūtė.
The morning on the second day of Kilkim Žaibu looks less promising. For many this may be, because they stayed up to watch the sun come out and simply miss out on the morning, but for others it is the endless rain falling down. Fortunately the visitors aren’t easily scared off by a bit of rain.
A shame is that a lot of the side program can’t take place. The films in the indoor bar can’t take place, since it is crammed with people taking shelter there. A group of enthusiastic, half-naked men do play a bit of Viking football though. That is a game where a wooden pillar needs to be hoisted up on a shield on either side of the field. Two teams strive to be the first to do so.
But we’re here for the music, so there is plenty for us to see today. The first act we hit up is the young band Velnezers from Latvia. The band started as an experiment by Roberts Blūms, but evolved into a full live band. Having taken the name from a Wagars song, the group plays something that is hard to really put in place. Groovy rock’n’roll passages and bleak black metal clash and merge in a dangerous dance, but mostly they sound very intense early on the day. Being perhaps the rare exception to play with full corpse paint (apart from the obvious Abbath), they clearly show where the allegiance lies and a pretty big crowd seems to be out and about early to see Velnezers play.
On the main stage, dubbed the Perkunas Stage (after the Baltic thunder god), the Lithuanians of Autism get to do the kick off. They play a sort of post-metal that is reflected in the rolling waves of the lake next to the podium. Steady, solid and flowing, they are a surprisingly captivating act. Sure, playing a bit after noon on a rainy stage doesn’t have the allure and show that you might wish for, but somehow the surrounding seem to meld in with the music of Autism. Somewhere between Isis and Red Sparowes, the band has that sort of hypnotic effect on the listeners. Originally this also happens to have been a solo-project, but the sound is never one dimensional. After that bit of heaviness it is nice to find a band that requires much less thought on the smaller stage. The Blast Beets are a cover band, which brings rock and metal classics with a lot of energy. The key word here is fun, but a band that pulls of a proper ‘Twist of Cain’ cover (Danzig) gets points in my book.
Khepra is another notable act on today’s bill. The Turkish band plays a bombastic mixture of death and black metal with symphonic elements strewn throughout. The band used to exist under the name Gürz, but only recently became Khepra. The band is billed as the one bringing in the heat, but the gents from Istanbul have to play agains rain and wind to a crowd that has to choose between seeing Khepra or being in a dryer spot. The band seems to realise that very well and singer Doğukan Kalender keeps urging the crowd on and speaking to them. The music of Khepra is seductively exotic at times, but also filled with the burst of furious power that remind you of Behemoth. In between we hear some oriental tunes. Eerie keyboards add the necessary atmosphere. Unfortunately, the band has to keep working against the environment, sometimes with their sound being blown away. Still a good crowd sticks around and seems to know the words to pretty much every song.
There’s a Byelorussian entry to the festival this year too, but the ethno-fusion of Shaman Jungle is a bit too far out for my tastes and apparently also for most other visitors. But let’s start with the music, because the band is definitely a talented bunch of musicians. The sound is eclectic, but also very funky and cool in a way that no other band sounds at Kilkim Žaibu today. That could be the strength of the band, but they seem to be a bit too far out to really get souls behind their cause today. Jazzy and hip, the band definitely shows how much you can do with the traditional aspects of music.
Sometimes rain works perfectly with the music you are hearing. Harakiri For The Sky fits right in with the grey, gathering clouds and the foggy tree tops across the lake. The yearning and misery are combined with the sheer beauty of the surroundings in the music that the Austrians produce from the stage. The intricate melodies that soar high speak volumes, while vocalist V. Wahntraum barks out the words. The sound feels like a stream, a flow you can submerge in while the moisture trickles down your hood onto the soil. Everything is grey, there’s a complete sadness to succumb to. When Wahntraum barks with a pained voice: “Fuck this life!” you cannot but agree with his assessment. You’d think that the band has a bit of a soft sound for a setting like this, with its polished guitar work and catchy hooks. Still, the visitor have come out and seem to enjoy them a lot. The band appears a bit stoic on stage though, a bit more interaction with the crowd might have done some wonders for the set.
While on the smaller stage the group Marga Muzika plays their own blend of various folk styles, the Estonian flags emerge and gather at the front of the main stage. In the meantime the Lithuanian group that is still playing is capturing the attention with a performance and look that combines folk with pop allure. The group manages to fortify their folk with different styles, without losing the authentic vibe thanks to some great voices. The stage jokes are not of the highest quality though and the mismatch between the bands set and the setting leads to a certain amount of awkwardness.
Kilkim Žaibu has never been averse to booking controversial acts. The festival has always maintained that their position is a-political, so a great attraction of the event is that bands play there that you might not see elsewhere soon. Loits is one of those bands that has been largely misunderstood in the music press outside of their native Estonia. Maybe even so much that it hampered their career. In a way, that’s been the fate of many Baltic bands. Loits is a band that has never been afraid to do the things they wanted to do with a complex but clear artistic vision. No surprise then, that pretty much everyone seems to be out on the field to see the legendary Estonian flak’n’roll band live.
There’s something very raw and direct in the sound of Loits, which never strays far from a rock’n’roll feel with some heavy drum work bombarding you. There’s an unmistakable groove to their sound, sets them apart and legitimises their peculiar genre name. Fronting the band since the start is Lembetu, dressed in jeans, black shirt and suspenders. For some reason he makes it work and with the typical minimalism of a grand frontman gets the crowd going effortlessly. His chanting vocal style adds a magical ingredient to the music. The conviction in his voice offers a contrast with the expressionless guitarists to his sides, who deliver in a militant, controlled way the biting riffs that make Loits such a bad ass sounding band. The fans of the band passionately embrace them today, in particular one gentleman from Normandy who is here especially for Loits. Perhaps they are one of those bands that is less known in the black metal scene, but for those that do they hold a special spot.
We stay in that militant theme with a band from Ukraine, specifically singing about World War I and the horrible trench war. For 1914 all aspects of that war deserve attention, since in their native country the impact can still be felt. Singer Dmytro Kumar is dressed in a trench uniform and covered in dirt. His microphone stand is an old rifle, which he brandishes often in threatening poses. The band plays a grim sounding mix of black and death that seems to emulate the horrific circumstances in the Great War. They sing about heroics and horrors alike on all sides, though there is a moment where we go political. One song glorifies the Ottoman Empire, as fighters on foreign soil against the Russians. It gets cheers from most visitors, but some middle fingers here and there. I suppose being a band from Ukraine dealing with historic themes, you can’t help but being a little political.
The show of force of the band is impressive. Blistering riffs hit the crowd like machine gun fire, while the rhythm section evokes the explosions and earth blinding the soldiers. This band is tough as nails live and well worth checking out if you’re not familiar with them yet.
Månegarm is the next name on the program. The band has been a steady touring partner of Skyforger through the years, so they were bound to end up in the Baltics. It’s been a while though and the band has grown older and wiser (and in my humble opinion a lot better). Two years ago the band dropped their self-titled eight album. The sound is still very close to the folk metal genre, but somehow the shredding melodic Viking sound has a unique side to it. It’s mainly those epic choruses, with howled vocals, that hold a power and swooping strength of their own. I’ve always felt that Månegarm somehow deserved a bit more than what they got through the years, their peak being the phenomenal Vargstenen in 2007. Today they get all attention from the crowd and the drinking horns are raised. This is folk metal the way it should be, full of atmosphere and calling on visions of the past, without becoming cheesy. Månegarm is, not just tonight, one of the very best.
So now we head to the small stage, where a black clad horde awaits one of those bands that are the corner stone of the genre. Archgoat has been around since 1989 and is still going as strong as ever with black metal that sounds as raw, fucked-up and punky as ever. Their t-shirts with goat-headed men defiling nuns on altars are still quite popular and the sound has hardly evolved through the years. Neither has the performance actually, with a steady flow of hyper speed guitar play that leaves little room for nuances. Blast beat after blast beat rains down on the visitors (who are already taking a good soaking), while words of sodomy, Satan and other fun activities are roared and barked at them. Listening to Archgoat live in this setting is pretty much like getting slapped with a wet towel at high speed. No banter, just fucking black metal.
In the meantime a fire has been lit. A symbolic arch, very important in Lithuanian paganism, of straw is burned on the side of the lake. Re-enactors fight in front of the burning gate, while smoke wafts over the whole terrain. It might not be ideal with the weather, but this is again a moment with its own beauty. The people witnessing this ritualistic moment are experiencing a particular connection with the elements around them. The blowing wind, the roaring fire and the water of the lake breaking in waves on the shore, all with a beautiful black metal soundtrack. All is well in this harmonious unity.
It’s a good thing to see Mgła headline today. The misanthropic nihilism of the Poles is a fitting finisher for this evening of endless rain. With the smell of burning straw still freshly in the noses, the visitors let that next wave wash over them. The band plays completely masked and does not need any other stage antics and when the band plays their songs, they sound powerful and overwhelming. The downside of this sort of performance is of course the awkward silence when things don’t go entirely to plan. Those moments are rare though, with this solid black metal machine blowing everything away.
For the set, the band doesn’t simply rely on songs from the appraised Exercises In Futility album, but takes some from their whole backlog. That still feels like a cohesive flow of doom-laden music, that just works in unity. The band members appear as machines, simply the conduit for the despair that their music brings. A phenomenal show on a fantastic day of festival, where I can only praise the perseverance of the fans in this onslaught of rain.
The ungrateful task of wrapping up things on day 2 of Kilkim Žaibu falls to Frailty from Latvia. Their mixture of doom and death is reserved for those that still cling to some dry clothes though and with their massive, colossal sound sounding through the dark trees is the soundtrack for our trek back to Varniai.