House Of Metal

Festival Report 2017

Text: Tobias Nilsson Photo: Lunah Lauridsen

House Of Metal is a name we’ve run into from time to time during the years, but have never given it much thought.
The reasoning has simply been that it is very far away from us, the second furthest we’ve ever travelled for a festival in fact, and up till now it hasn’t had a wide plethora of bands booked we were interested in. Not any that we couldn’t see much closer to home at least.
2017 was the year that this changed however, with the booking of Vintersorg. There were other bands that we were interested in as well of course, like Pain and Dark Tranquillity to name a couple, but this was the one and only place Vintersorg would play at. Playing for the first time in more than 10 years, and with no immediate plans of repeating it. We knew we wanted to go, and just had to figure out how this would be done.

The how is not important in this context, what is important is that it worked out. Off we were, on a 12-hour long train ride, towards Umeå in the north of Sweden. Nature rushed by as we went, and huge piles of snow awaited us when we arrived. Snow, and a heavy metal sign hung above the entrance of the community hall, with menacingly red glowing letters, stating that this was the place of House Of Metal. So far, we were impressed! The catching visual expression raised our expectations, and we were now looking forward to the festival beginning more than ever. This would have to wait though, as we were still one day away. House Of Metal had indeed made a pre-party available, but for us it was checking in at the hotel that pulled the most.
Geographically, Umeå isn’t a huge city, and the centre of it is easily navigated on foot. Several hotels, restaurants, and shopping possibilities were in extremely close vicinity to the community hall where the festival took place. Even the central station is only a 10-minute walk away, which is perfect for out-of-towners traveling here from near and far.

Inside the community hall, the festival itself was sadly not quite as easily navigated. The three stages were all placed on different levels and areas of the building, and some confusion seemed to exist regarding where to enter them. Add to this, that the doors for the second stage, Studion, were always closed until just shortly before the next concert in there would begin, and you had a surefire recipe for stress for visitors wanting to see a specific band. This may have been the case for the main stage, Idun, as well, but we never encountered it, so I can’t say for sure.
In the hallways of the building, on the ground and first level, was a small but well visited metal market, with the usual sale of albums, vinyl’s and CD’s, shirts, and other memorabilia. There was of course also an official merch booth, for the festival shirt and the bands that were playing there.
There were bars in the vicinity of every stage, although we didn’t find the bar close to Idun until the end of the final day. And yes, I say in the vicinity of, because by Swedish law (the festival can’t do anything about this), you can’t just buy a beer, and walk around with it as you please. You have to stay by the bar and finish it, before you are again free to go. We missed a show because of being reminded of this too late, I’m sad to say.
The toilet facilities should have praise for one main thing – not once did I have to stand in line! Like the stages though, there seemed to be some confusion, even among the staff, about which ones were open and available, and how to get there.
Another life-saver that I feel belongs in this section, were the water dispensers. Again, placed on every level as far as I could see, free water was available at all times, which was definitely an appreciated thirst quencher. Not in the least given the bar situation.

As mentioned, House Of Metal housed (pun intended) three stages.
Idun, the main stage, had its entrance on the first floor, and was by all accounts an excellent stage. There was sufficient floor space for the number of visitors, and if you were tired or by some other reason didn’t feel like standing in the pit, it had several lines of comfy seats in the back, arranged like an amphitheatre with an excellent view of the stage, and there was a balcony as well. Both sound and lights worked as well as anyone could hope for, giving each artist a good foundation to build on.
Studion was placed in the basement, and was quite a bit smaller than Idun. This was the intimate stage, for the bands not quite as big as those playing on Idun. It had a bar in a connecting room at the back, and it was actually possible to bring your drink to the show here (although I’m not sure you were supposed to be able to do this). The sound had some issues from time to time, but was overall as good as one could hope for at a stage of this size. The lights were a different issue – there wasn’t much in the way of front lights, and those that were there, were only periodically used. The backlights were used to good effect, but much of the time we were in for a very dark experience at Studion. At times, especially at Wolf, the smoke machine was used a bit too vigorously as well, making it unpleasant to breathe close to the stage. We still had some great times at this stage, especially given that we could get so close and personal with the bands.
The last stage was called Sensus/The Tube, and was a slightly smaller stage than Studion. It was located in the restaurant called Äpplet. This was where the festival was opened both days, and it was the place for the smallest bands. Quite possibly a demo stage, although I don’t know all the bands playing here, so I can’t say for sure. Frankly, I didn’t know one single band playing here, but we caught two of them, Umeå Pop & Rockkör, and Nekrodelirium. The stage was low, but since most guests sat at tables and ate or drank while watching the show, this wasn’t as big of a problem as it could have been. It was also in this room that the meet & greet table was set up.

Our musical journey began at the very beginning, so to speak. After the pre-party the first day, the group to open the festival was Umeå Pop & Rockkör. Neither of us had any idea what this might actually be, but I had a sense of wanting to at the very least check it out, and I’m glad we did! Led by Ange Turell, who also played guitar, Umeå Pop & Rockkör was an impressively large choir, who for the sake of the House Of Metal festival had added a few metal songs to their playlist. In a style slightly reminiscent of Van Canto, they not only delivered the lyrics of the song, but also hummed some instrumentations, and they did it so very, very well! The one bad thing to say, is that the setlist wasn’t longer than the five songs they had time for, but they certainly made the most out of those! Opening with the classic horror favourite Carmina Burana (Carl Orff), they proved their quality as vocalists at the same time as laying down the atmosphere for the rest of the festival. They then moved on to Chop Suey (System Of A Down), God Of Thunder (Kiss), Indians (Anthrax), and finally The Longest Day (Iron Maiden) closed the show. In my mind, this show didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved, but luckily I’ve later found out that they drop by almost every year, so hopefully people will open their eyes and ears more and more to this choir.
I will not write as much about the rest of the bands here, Umeå Pop & Rockkör was simply too short to do a proper stand-alone review of. I will however mention that none of the bands that we were looking forward to disappointed, and we also had some first-time experiences, of a more varied quality. We saw about six shows a day, mostly concentrated to Idun and Studion. Of full shows, I managed three, including the choir. This was because of the completely incomprehensible decision to have the bands of the two main stages overlap each other. Why on Earth would you do that?! Fair enough, I can see why the demo stage ran its own race, but I can see no reasonable excuse for not opening the ball just a little earlier, and have a short break between shows on the other two stages, so that we as visitors didn’t constantly have to come either late, or leave early. Hardly seems fair for the bands, and most definitely not for the fans.
At least the shows held an overall high quality, and you have to hand it to the festival that it ran fluently, without delays or other major hiccups in the organisation and delivery.

Being restricted in an indoor locale as House Of Metal was, there were obvious restrictions on what they could do in terms of decorations and attractions, but the festival did hold a raffle (the rules escape, as I only found out about it at the award ceremony). The price was a brand-new Jackson guitar, handed over by Tomas Elofsson (Hypocrisy, Sanctification), who unceremoniously flipped the bird at the entire audience on his way out. What a guy!
I also ran into an impromptu grindcore show in the lobby during the Saturday, while actually being on my way from one stage to the other. I have no idea who they were, except for them being two guys in ski masks, one playing drums, and the other yelling into a megaphone. The show was captivating and entertaining, and I wonder how much of this type of thing I might have missed over the course of the festival.
What the festival might have lacked in decorations though, the town of Umeå around it helped fill in. Since the doors didn’t open until six in the afternoon, there was plenty of time to explore the surrounding area, if you had time to spare from various pre-parties that is. For our part, we visited Gammlia. We weren’t in the actual museum building, but took a stroll through the old-time houses and cottages, and their surrounding woods. With everything covered in a thick layer of snow, it was hard to tell exactly how some of the buildings actually looked, but it was very scenic and atmospheric. Well worth a visit, no matter what time of the year it was I would suspect.

Upon finally visiting House Of Metal, a festival that has been around for exactly as many years as we have (since 2007), I can say that it was a mixed sensation. Most of the problems I had with the place, I have highlighted above, but it is my hope that some of the good things shone through as well. And you should know that most of the problems can quite easily be accepted, all except the overlapping bands part.
I am glad I visited, and I bring several good memories with me back home (on yet another very long train ride). The Vintersorg show that I came for gave me absolutely everything I could have hoped for, and all the rest was just icing on the cake. A big cake, with a lot of icing. I wouldn’t mind another visit, but given the circumstances, it’ll probably have to be something equally extraordinarily for it to happen.

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