If anybody had told me last year I would be celebrating my birthday at a music festival in a cave…
However, that is precisely what happened last Saturday. The acclaimed German label, Prophecy Productions had chosen the Balver Hölle, a mesmerizing cave from Germanic folklore as the setting for a festival that brought together some of the finest acts on their roster.
Instead of the regular venue, you climbed up the hill to enter a massive cave, the entrance of which was shrouded in great white veils.
There you were welcomed with a nicely presented hard cover programme book and sampler CD that featured a track from each of the performing bands.
Once inside, you found yourself in an enchanting other, world: a magical, primordial womb of stone. To have such a stage for the kind of atmospheric, dark music that Prophecy is known for, simply went beyond your wildest dreams. There was something in the air, an arcane current, felt by both audience and acts who both know they were part of something unique together.
Each band gave their best to make their performance stand out from a regular show.
For opener Crone that actually meant playing live for the first time. Despite sounding somewhat uncertain in the vocal department, this moody offshoot sprouted from the roots of Secrets of the Moon, still delivered a convincing set. Next up was Lifelover, whose bizarre, eclectic take on black metal was a bewildering sight for all. They haven’t released anything for years, but instead went for a set that lavishly explored their entire discography.
Californian Amber Asylum came all the way to Balve specifically for this festival. Their violin driven ambience brought some serenity back to the cave.
The Milanese chamber music from Camerata Mediolanese invoked the spirit of the Renaissance. With 4 different vocalists this was already a polyphonic feast on a week day ,but for this performance they also brought an entire choir along of 30 people. It’s a miracle they actually all fit on the stage.
Albion’s representative, Darkher, was also highly anticipated. With just a 4 song EP under her name she already gave a stellar performance on this years’s Roadburn, but Balve’s Hölle would be her first concert on German soil. Next to the haunting pieces from the EP we were treated to some new songs that hold the promise of beautiful things coming our way on the upcoming record.
In between shows you could take some time to feast your eyes on the mysterious paintings by Tenhi’s Tyko Saarikko’, which were put on display at the back of the cave.
There you could also treat yourself to the large merchandise stand where the label had emptied their wardrobes and literally brought dozens of boxes filled to the brim with T-shirts at dumping prices.
You couldn’t imagine this festival being organized without a performance from Empyrium, the band that launched the label way back in the nineties. Incidentally, it turned out to be Schwadorf’s birthday as well, which they celebrated with a set that concentrated heavily on their first 2 albums as well as ‘The Turn of the Tides’ and their freshly pressed EP ‘The Mill’.
Because of some technical issues that had also plagued Empyrium, the Finnish masters of rural melancholy, Tenhi, only got the start their gig after an hour delay, but they didn’t let that upset the soothing aura of the cave or their music. It had been 8 years since they last played, so what difference could one hour make.
Vemod got the honor to close this festival in darkness with their spellbinding blackened mysticism. After that the buzz of headlights and traffic brought us all back from the Neolithic age to the 21th century.
Be sure to mark July 30 for next year’s edition.