All photos by Justina Lukošiūtė. Video’s by Zarraza Filmai.
The approach to the festival grounds on day three offers a sombre sight. People are huddled around their cars and here and there visitors are leaving, battered into submission by the weather. Kilkim Žaibu has been most unfortunate with the weather this year and it’s clear that this will not change today.
In the wooden shed, the bar is selling more and more shots. The reason is simply that people are trying to keep warm. Everything is damp or moist and still the crowd is out and about early on the day for the musical action of the Saturday. The upside of it all, is that the nature looks great thanks to all the rain. The air is filled with the smell of the forest.
Early on the program, but therefore nothing less than amazing is the band Ūkanose. The band plays a fortified folk music, that you can label folk metal as well if you like. Powerful, classic sounding tunes with a distinct foggy feel are well received this afternoon. Vocalist Martynas Švedas sings with the soul and unpolished rawness of a folk singer to a captivated audience. The accordion might be a bit much for their music, but it gives the whole a jolly vibe. Sometime that makes them sound very danceable, but often it is very melancholic. Ūkanose is steeped in tradition, but feels like a band for now, they sound very relevant. Folk metal is not a genre that has unleashed much of note in recent years, but this is a rare gem with a unique sound.
Rāva from Latvia has the dubious honor to get the festival going on the main stage, but that is positioned in such a way that people standing in front of it are subject to the biting wind. So the group has to start with people just watching from a distance and a few brave listeners. Their sound is gripping, haunting and never a step away from the authentic feeling. A band that clearly deserves more. After a short break, we find ourselves back at the same mainstage for the band Pekla. The band from Šiauliai is playing around the corner so to say, so this is a show for the home crowd. The group plays something that sounds like a hybrid of hardrock and speed metal, gnarly and loud with the potential to be a party. Their live set feels a bit like Venom meets Danko Jones with Lemmy doing the vocals. The name translates as ‘Hell’, so that explains the dark themes. On the field it’s as if the rain can’t even touch the gang on stage and for a short while everything is awesome!
That is a short respite though, because on the small stage we’re not quite getting our money’s worth from the Latvian band playing there. Pulse of Nebulae may boast having an amazing drummer in Dirk Verbeuren (the man plays in Megadeth, can’t argue with that), but he’s not there. The band’s sound feels as if it should be somewhere between metalcore, melo-death and whatever it is that the Mars Volta is doing. There’s a lot of potential in the sound though, but the wacky jokes in between the songs and boasting of getting very drunk doesn’t really resonate in the late afternoon in rainy Varniai. A crowd that loves ancient traditions does seem to enjoy a bit of Star Wars banter. Disappointingly though, singer Hisham Chahrouri’s clean vocals are really nothing short of lost in space. Still, when the band is doing well, they sound amazing. Edwards Percevs keeps a solid rhythm like a boss and on that foundation the group builds complex and dynamic music.
Any feelings of unease after that show are burned away by the fury that is Valkyrja. The band is not nearly as intimidating as in an indoor venue, but that has never stopped these Swedes from crushing audiences. Their set is as solid as ever, with singer Rogier Droog roaring defiance with every word, almost physically hurling them at the audience. Though the band does everything right, they don’t succeed in really getting the crowd going today. This is in no way to blame on either parties, it is just really windy, wet and chilly and no amount of furious tremolo guitar play or blasting drums can change that. Valkyrja never falters today, and that is to their credit.
The indoor bar is filled to the brim by this time with people, because from there you can hear pretty well what is happening on the small stage. The stage antics of Au-Dessus from Lithuania may not be very crazy, but the band looks pretty awesome in their classy hoods and they have the soundtrack to match it. Call it post-black metal if you will, but fact is that there’s an elegance to the flowing, wavery sound of the group that can’t be denied. The Vilnius band has just released their debut End of Chapter, but judging by their show this is only the start for these gents. Unfortunately bands from Lithuania don’t always get noticed by the crowd at large in the black metal world, but I would like to invite anyone to give them a listen.
From the young talents, we move to the main stage for the old dogs of the Lithuanian metal scene. Obtest has pretty much been playing since the country became independent, playing pagan black metal in their early days, later shifting to the more heavy metal sound. You can still hear in their sound and see in their stage presence the eclectic style of the early Lithuanian metal scene. Singer Baalberith is dressed in a dressy shirt, giving a bit of a Dio impression, while he barks the words to the classics in a unique way. The cool thing is that the words are still very audible, because for bands like Obtest the lyrics matter. Many Lithuanian fans appear to know these words quite well and sing along. This performance is special, because it will be the only one the band will do this year. The reason is that their singer has moved to the United States and live shows have therefore become rare. We’re witnessing history here and it may be a long time before this happens again. The way fans seem to soak up every moment of it is testament to that. Highlight is when the group Ugniavijas joins the band on stage to chant along with ‘Suminti Juodi Takai’. Standing proud and tall, it’s a real Lithuanian moment.
In the Star Wars universe (yes, this appears to be a recurring theme today), the character Bossk is a reptilian bounty hunter. It’s also an atmospheric doom band that’s been on the fringes of the scene for a good decade now, with an exceptionally strong sound and a smashing debut album in Audio Noir. Live it’s immediately lift-off time with the Kent natives, with an excellent, layered sound and an exciting build-up in their set. But again the weather takes a turn for the worst and drives away much of the crowd. Those who stay get a treat of music that is immersive, full and something to get lost in by a band that plays with the passion fitting for a group that is on their second run (there was a break of a few years before 2012). A mighty show indeed, but again marred by the weather. It’s going to take a lot to get to the finish line. By this point I’m sore and soaked, the face glowing red from the constant rain and wind, but there’s a lot more goodness to come.
As if on cue, the band Vulture Industries knows exactly what their crowd is facing. Having just left the studio, singer Bjørnar Nilsen, apologised for bringing the rain with them from Bergen in Norway. They’ve just had a month of rain he claims, so he understands the feeling. The band has played here before and plays songs from their classic backlog that the crowd enjoys. Still, the band keeps it remarkably upbeat, which has much to do with the way Nilsen entertains the crowd with a lot of self-deprecating humour and whimsical jokes. The music is captivating and strangely beautiful with its swooping passages and emotional vocal delivery. The mournful beauty the band brings is a nice change from the heavy sounding bands we’ve seen this far. The love between the band and the audience is tangible as they sing together, even songs of the coming new album Stranger Tides go down like hot cakes. The high-light of the set today is the final tune ‘Blood Don’t Eliogabalus’, where singer Nilsen marches down to the crowd, waving the first flag he could get his hands on (a Bulgarian one it seems) to dans a strange polonaise to the hooky chorus of the song with a horde of fans on his heels. The party vibe is back, as a breathless singer thanks the crowd profoundly for their participation and love.
You would think that the folk singers of Ugniavijas are a very serious bunch, with their traditional garb and the way the songs need to be sung. Standing straight up, they chant their words to the drum beat. The group mostly does songs about war and we have already seen them in action with Obtest earlier. For singer Martynas Švedas this is the fourth time he is in action today, after playing with Ūkanose, Obtest and fighting with the re-enactors. A certain tension has now fallen of his shoulders and those of their bandmates, so while they never break their position, a bit of jokes and giggles seep into the set. Not a moment do they falter though, when singing those beautiful, haunting old melodies to a captivated crowd. While they play on the main field, the upturned swords are set ablaze as well, giving a radiance of fire all over the terrain for a moment. This moment feels like it captures what Kilkim Žaibu is all about.
As the fire smolders and the sparks settle in the wet grass, everyone has moved to the main stage to see the king of black metal perform. The whole day a wooden plaque with beach guard printed on it has been going around the crowds, but now it in the hands of the agitated biker-security guards. Just before the show starts, one of those gents lets this get the best of him and rockets the thing into the crowd, hitting someone hard. Luckily no one gets hurt. There’s a lot of issues with the technology, before Abbath can start playing. When the set finally kicks of, the crowd is ecstatic. This is what they’ve come for and what it is all about now, seeing this huge name live in their own country. Visitors from various countries, who have struck up friendships over the last few days, slap each other on the shoulder in celebration. And Abbath? Abbath is as always an absolute charm of a showman, doing his weird, gimmicky thing the way we all know and love.
The setlist has rarely changed during this year and this night is no exception. A mixture of Immortal favorites and songs from the eponymous debut album of Abbath himself. Surprisingly, though obviously not unprecedented, the song ‘Warriors’ from the Bathory-inspired I project is also there and delivered with a fitting fury. In between songs, the frontman entertains the crowd and keeps everyone on his toes. Still, a few difficulties plague the show, but the routine and professionalism in the band keeps most of that from harming the show during their memorable live show.
Now, it is not an unknown fact that Abbath has two bands he really loves. His love for Kiss is easy to detect and if you combine that with Motörhead, it’s pretty clear where it all comes from. Good news then, for the closing act of the day is Lithuanian/Belgian band Murder One, who act as a tribute band to the late Lemmy’s wonderful rock’n’roll machine. Abbath appearing on the stage to sing some lines on ‘Killed By Death’. It’s the last fun highlight of the festival and the end for us reporting.
Kilkim Žaibu has been a great experience, with a lot of fun and even something of a spiritual side to it. The weather was dreadful and by the time the last notes die away a lot of people are already sleeping a deep sleep. The festival has some elements that might be odd for foreign visitors, like some of the traditional symbolism and the amount of pride that people put into that. Kilkim Žaibu is not a place of politics though, but a place to celebrate, enjoy and exchange that, which makes history and culture so interesting. If you can, be sure to visit it some time.