Apathie, Arkona and more at Burgruine Schweinsburg (2018)

Burgruine Schweinsburg (Bornstedt, Germany)

Apathie, Arkona, Bornholm, Crimfall, Dynfari, Ereb Altor, Firtan, Gernotshagen, Havukruunu, Horn, Horna, Illdisposed, Krater, Martyrium, Mornir, Obscurity, Odroerir, Shade Empire, Skyforger, Sojourner, Soulline, The Committee, Trollort, Unlight, Waldtraene, Wederganger, Xiv Dark Centuries
  As the weather is getting warmer so follows the festival season in quantities and […]
By Erika Kuenstler & Sarunas Dreseris
May 10, 2018


As the weather is getting warmer so follows the festival season in quantities and quality of the gigs. Take that IMMORTAL and your Northern darkness! And one of the very first festivals kicking off the 2018 festival season was none other than DARK TROLL FESTIVAL, one of our favourite festivals here at Metal Temple.

And so, on one of the warmer mornings at the beginning of May, there was a clear purpose instilled in the air. It called for a pilgrimage to the castle of Bornstedt to partake in another ritual of DARK TROLL FESTIVAL. Returning for the ninth time, DARK TROLL is maybe smaller than the big players, but just as heavy, and way more scenic and intimate. If you are at first scared by the scale of it, this is definitely one instance where size really does not matter.  So without too much further babble, let us delve into this extraordinary experience.

Let's start with the location. Whilst this festival is a bit out of the way, it's certainly not impossible to reach, with the trip being a breeze if you travel by car. Other types of transportation might require more effort to pull off and probably some careful planning so keep that in mind; although car-pooling is certainly an excellent option. Coming by car, you might not think much of the location as you travel along the highways. But once you hit the more rural roads, the scenery for which DARK TROLL is so famous slowly starts to unfold.  Nestled on the edge of a hill, this festival offers a sweeping view of the surrounding countryside. As you slowly make your ascent to the top, the first thing to greet you is the ever-expanding panorama. Then comes the forest with the castle tucked away in it. Passing rolling hills blanketed in fields of blazing yellow flowers, a small track winds up a hill, with apple orchards slowly giving way to verdant forests interspersed with glades speckled with blooms. And it in these lush woods we find the ruins of an old castle. Completely enclosed by a wide wall. A renovated inner courtyard gives a sheltered niche overlooked by a stage built into the remnants of what was once possibly a bell-tower. A towering spire looms majestically over all, giving stunning vantage points not just of the stage, but also a panoramic view the surrounding countryside. The castle ruins are where you would spend most of the time at the festival, as it contains the stage, numerous alcohol reserves just waiting to be plundered, all the hot food, and a selection of merchandise. This in addition to the best chill areas I have experienced at a festival so far, with shady benches on either side of the stage, as well as an open area ensconced by the castle tower and a medieval campsite at the back of the castle.


But coming back to the consumables. There is plenty a choice of beer to drink or if you prefer something else you can find mead, cocktails, and obviously something a little stronger for the battle-hardened festival veterans. Edible items had a bigger variety from pork sandwiches or garlic bread, to Mexican food, and all the way to vegetarian fare. In addition to the food stalls, the festival also has its own kitchen, which does some mean pan fried potatoes. They also offer a regional speciality: grilled Thuringian sausages in a roll. These are so good that they even managed to seduce a hardened vegetarian friend of ours into ordering one.

Despite how amazing the castle might be at some point, preferably sooner rather than later, you will have to visit the camp sites. So continuing on the forest path, which can also be used to wander deeper into the forest (what to do there it is your preference, but having a quiet and cool lie-down after a raucous night of drinking seemed to be a popular option), let me just segue onto the next part of this description - camping. As some wise and also maybe a bit drunk person once probably said: the campsite is always the first and the last thing you see in any festival. If it is your first time as a DARK TROLL visitor this might be the most run-of-the-mill set-up.

Because of the unusual location of the festival and its ever-increasing popularity, camping is limited not only by the surrounding forest, but also by the nearby town. Whilst DARK TROLL last year was split into campsites A and B, this year saw the introduction of C, with each campsite set at increasing distances and requiring greater endurance to get to the stage. Here first come first serve applies as camping tickets go fast (as a small heads up, if you're planning on joining the festival next year).

Starting with Camp A it is of course the most coveted one (sort of Unholy Grail of DARK TROLL) as it is almost at the main entrance to the festival site. Located on a football court further up the hill, this campsite has all the amenities that you might need, including morning wake-up shrieks and unlimited beer from friendly neighbours. Jokes aside, this campsite tends to be a bit chaotic as the festival progresses, with tents sprouting up everywhere, and the flunky ball players vying for any spaces big enough for the game. Camp A also includes facilities like running water, showers, indoor toilets as well as portaloos. And the best of all – breakfast at very reasonable rates. Located at the edge of the camp site it allows you to refuel you diminishing reserves of caffeine and sandwiches without a hassle of having to exercise and trudge down to the town and back up again. camps B and C are located at the bottom of the hill with B having plenty of parking spaces for those coming with camper vans.


One of the advantages of having three campsites rather than two, despite keeping the capacity of the festival relatively stable, is that everyone had far more space to themselves. However, at least in my personal opinion, it seemed to affect the overall atmosphere of the festival, with groups of friends split between the different campsites. Gone seemed to be the debaucherous all-night parties of yesteryears. It was a peculiar feeling waking up at a festival and only being able to hear birds chirping, rather than the usual raucous party with progressively bad music coming from what sounds like a boom-box aimed at your tent.

However, one of the aspects that truly sets DARK TROLL apart year after year are the excellent lineups. Whilst most of the bigger festivals a pre-specified set of big acts that keep coming back every second or third year, DARK TROLL keeps things new and interesting, featuring a whole range of bands both big and small. This features a top-calibre selection of mainly Black and Pagan Metal bands from both Germany and abroad. Whilst some of the names are very well known, such as ARKONA, SKYFORGER, and HORNA, some of the other bands featured this year are still relatively obscure. Despite this, there are no "place fillers" in the line-up, and I have yet to come across a band choice that really disappoints.


Starting off the festival on the Thursday, as always, was WALDTRAENE, whose simplistic acoustic guitar and flute melodies have started the festival off on a traditional Folk/Pagan note since 2015. The following bands such as MORNIR, APATHIE, and ODROERIR carried on this Pagan Metal vein, each contributing a unique sound to the overall atmosphere. Also back again this year was XIV DARK CENTURIES, delivering another bombastic live performance. Following on the direction went a little more Black with FIRTAN, a German Black Metal band who have become increasingly well-known in the last few years, in part to their relentless touring and in part thanks to their infernal melodies. Their diverse show was truly captivating, and set the stage perfectly for GERNOTSHAGEN, a Thuringian Pagan Metal band. In contrast, this performance was a little more bitter-sweet, with Mike, who is also one of the organisers of DARK TROLL FESTIVAL, stepping out of the band. This show was therefore the perfect opportunity for a final farewell, amid family and friends. Headlining Thursday night was THE COMMITTEE, whose show had to be cut short last year. To make up for this, the band returned this year to deliver their mysterious and sombre show.


Friday was no less packed with kickass bands. Despite being the first up on stage on this day, MARTYRIUM already pulled quite the crowd, with their symphonic sound drawing even more of an audience as the show progressed. This was in stark contrast to the raw and uncompromising Black Metal sound delivered by KRATER, the next band on stage. After their excellent yet relentless set, the audience are offered a reprieve by the more Epic sound of CRIMFALL and the Pagan melodies of BORNHOLM. Picking up the torch was HAVUKRUUNU, a Finnish band formed back in 2013. Despite being such a relatively young band, they have already created quite a name for themselves with their Pagan Black style and were one of the most eagerly anticipated bands at the festival. They certainly did not disappoint, delivering a blistering set that soon had the crowd fully engaged, with their merch being almost completely sold out after their fiery show. Their performance was no small shoe to fill, but DYNFARI managed to do just that. This Icelandic Atmospheric Black Metal provided the perfect counter to HAVUKRUUNU's powerful performance, and their set contained several songs off their newest album "The Four Doors of the Mind", much to their fans delight. Holding up Scandinavian reputation for first class Metal bands were Finnish Black Metal act HORNA and Sweden's more Pagan tinged EREB ALTOR, each delivering tempestuous shows that really got the crowd going. Finally closing off the night was HORN, who brought the pace back down, mingling some more experimental aspects into their performance.


Despite the calibre of performances of previous two days, the most explosive day was obviously - Saturday, with some massive headliners lined up for the night. However, starting off the day was SOULLINE, giving the festival a healthy dose of Melodic Death. One of my highlights of the festival was TROLLORT, a relatively new Swiss band. This was one of their very first festival performances, as well as their very first time playing in Germany. Their sheer enjoyment and merriness on stage was infectious, generating the ultimate party in the pit. Following on from this light-hearted band, the mood becomes more serious, with first Black Metal band UNLIGHT and then Dark Metal band SHADE EMPIRE delivering more sinister music. Also returning to DARK TROLL FESTIVAL was OBSCURITY, one of the more popular German Melodic Death/Black Metal bands. As can be expected from such a prominent name, the front of the stage was completely packed, despite the relatively early timeslot. As a special treat, OBSCURITY paired up with the warriors from the Viking camp, with the fighters coming on stage and adding a visual element to the aural bombardment. Next up was ILLDISPOSED. A Danish Death Metal band, ramping up the brutality to the maximum. They had the crowd going wild, and were doubtlessly the cause of many a bangover the next day. Following on from this spectacular show, it was time to crank up the Pagan side of things again, with two excellent bands in the genre, namely SKYFORGER and ARKONA. These were some of the most memorable shows of the festival, with Latvian SKYFORGER interspersing their bombastic show with their native folklore tales, giving their haunting music more meaning and context. They were followed by ARKONA, a truly tremendously energetic band to see live. Their frontwoman Masha has achieved an almost cult-like status among fans, thanks to her uncompromising and ferocious attitude, and tempestuous stage presence. Finally it was time for the very last band of the festival, WEDERGANGER, a Dutch Black Metal band who split up after the DARK TROLL FESTIVAL, playing their very last live show.


As the saying goes, after the festival is before the festival, and it's already time to turn our thoughts to next year, a very special year for the festival, as DARK TROLL will be celebrating its 10th birthday! Already confirmed is ENISUM, whose captivating performance at DARK TROLL last year was truly spectacular. Be sure to keep your eyes on the festival's page, and give them a like on Facebook to stay up to date with what's happening. You really don't want to miss those tickets, as they get sold-out well in advance, thanks to the increasing international popularity which has fans flocking in from a whole range of countries all over Europe. Overall, this is a completely stunning festival that should be an absolute must-see for all Metal fans, particularly if you're more into Pagan and Black Metal. In short, if you've had enough of thronging masses found at larger festivals, and are looking for a small, intimate, and well-organised one, with awesome music and friendly people, look no further than DARK TROLL FESTIVAL.
See you next year!


For more photos, check out Valkyrian Photography.
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