The Hu, Hellhammer (Triumph Of Death) and more at Varnių Regional Park (2019)

Varnių Regional Park (Varniai, Lithuania)

The Hu, Hellhammer (Triumph Of Death), Primordial, Korpiklaani, Rotting Christ, Gaahls Wyrd, Legion Of The Damned, Deströyer 666, Forndom, Otava Yo, Sulphur Aeon, Debauchery Vs. Balgeroth, Metsatöll, Wormwood, Irdorath, Luctus, Rosk, Glossarium, Bestia, Ūkanose
  When it comes to metal festivals, I consider myself a hardened veteran, having been […]
By Erika Kuenstler & Sarunas Dreseris
June 20, 2019


When it comes to metal festivals, I consider myself a hardened veteran, having been to a slew of different festivals all around the world over the years. Along with all these experiences comes a certain laissez-faire: I really don't get impressed easily anymore. Yet one festival this summer has managed to blow my socks off: KILKIM ŽAIBU. This Lithuanian festival, whose name roughly translates to "arise/soar with the lightning", is probably one of the best kept secret insider tips when it comes to Pagan/Folk Metal festivals. And this year's installment was extra special, being the 20th anniversary of the festival.


Now, you might be wondering what makes this festival so special, and the short answer would probably be everything: the location, the mindblowing attention to detail, the historical atmosphere, the bands, and the plethora of activities around the festival. Let's start with the location: it would be hard to pick a more scenic and stunning backdrop for such a festival. Nestled in Varnių Regional Park on the shores of lake Lūkštas, KILKIM ŽAIBU has the best of everything. Shady forest groves where you can set up your campsite, a beautiful sandy beach from which you have a panoramic view over the lake, and spacious open fields where the main activities of the festival happen. KILKIM ŽAIBU also has several options when it comes to camping and parking: the furthest parking spots, which are unguarded, are free. But the closer to the campsite you park, the higher the cost of parking. So if you'd like to camp in the forest but have your car with you (the VIP option), then you'd pay an additional 20€ for this. And for those not wishing to camp, there are quaint little wood cabins situated around the edge of the forest which can be rented. However, these are very popular, and need to be rented far in advance.


Added to this beautiful backdrop is the historical air of the festival. Having been one of the last countries in Europe to convert to Christianity, Lithuania has a strong pagan history, which is reflected by the festival. The festival starts and ends with ancient rituals involving sacrifice and fire, taking you back to the pagan roots of the country. This revival of ancient ways is further strengthened by the group of reenactors camped close to the main stage of the festival. Here, you'll find a small medieval market where merchants, blacksmiths, and artisans will satisfy any of your needs and even teach you a bit about the history behind their craft. There are also a whole host of historical things to see and do in this area, ranging from archery and spear-throwing, to getting your hair plaited in historical styles. There was also everything from sword fighting to a display of diverse historic garb from several different European cultures. And for those who wanted to get a little more hands-on, you could try your hand at feats of strength, or even in a game of viking football, in which two teams battled against each other to carry a massive log over to the opposing team's shield, thereby effectively scoring a "goal".


Another much-loved part of the festival is the lake shore. Here, a sandy beach invites you to just chill and relax, or to take part in one of the many activities on offer. Here again I was blown away by the level of detail that the organisers of KILKIM ŽAIBU went into. The level of thought and care that went into making this festival as entertaining for everyone as possible was apparent in small details like custom-made jenga, tic-tac-toe, and checker sets which were placed around the beach area. The refreshingly cool lake was ideal to go swimming in, washing away the heat and dust of the day. For those who wanted to be a bit more active, there were several sports to choose from, such as volleyball, basketball, or even jugger. In addition to that, there were also several people who brought along frisbees, kites, or badminton sets. There was even a boat rental service from which you could lease a peddle-boat to better explore the pristine lake. Close to the beach is an old barn, in which you find all manner of drinks and food on offer, cool places to sit and relax, as well as a pool table. This is also where much of the informal after-partying happened, with music being played well until sunrise each day.


And while we're on the topic of music, what would a festival be without bands? Even here, KILKIM ŽAIBU doesn't fail to impress, featuring a diverse line-up that guarantees to have something for everyone, and more amazing bands and performances than I could mention here. Headliners on Friday, the first day of the festival, were KORPIKLAANI, a Finnish Folk Metal band. Whilst they had a fun, party-like atmosphere going, the definite highlight of the day was SKYFORGER, a Latvian Pagan Metal band that fit perfectly into the atmosphere of KILKIM ŽAIBU. This was definitely the most well-received band on Friday, with many fans coming over from neighbouring Lativia to support the band, creating an absolutely electric and infectious show. One band that also really impressed was CONCRETE AGE, an Ethnic Death Metal band based in the U.K., who delivered an absolutely crushing show despite playing without their lead guitarist/vocalist. IRDORATH, a Fantasy Folk band from Belarus, also delivered a fiery and fierce show, which had the crowd dancing along in next to no time. Closing off the first day of the festival were VĖLIŲ NAMAI, a one man Baltic Pagan dark ambient project. This was a captivating and spell-binding performance, with music firmly rooted in nature and ancient rituals, taking you on a trance-like journey through mesmerising soundscapes.


Day two of the festival was just as jam-packed with amazing bands. Here, the headliners of the day were the very well-received Irish Pagan Metal titans, PRIMORDIAL. Not only do they always deliver absolutely bombastic shows, but they are a band that always challenges you to think for yourself and not merely accept what society tells you. Another fantastic show came courtesy of WORMWOOD, a Swedish Melodic Black Metal band that is a rare treat for fans, playing just a few shows per year. One unexpected highlight was OTAVA YO, a Folk Rock band hailing from Russia. This show was a fun-filled, energetic party that had people dancing throughout the set, despite the heat. Also outstanding was FORNDOM, a project that relies less on crowd interaction than on creating an atmosphere that everyone can experience in their own way. To call this project perfectionistic is an understatement, with nothing but the best being acceptable, and causing them to restart a song that wasn't exactly as it should have been. Whilst their performance was excellent, the bright daylight did somewhat detract from their set, as this is very much a project that relies on ambience to create the atmosphere, and might have therefore been more fitting as a closing band. In stark contrast to this was the German band DEBAUCHERY'S BALGEROTH, with demonic masks adding an infernal air to their powerful songs.


All too soon it was already Monday, the last day of the festival. One of the absolute highlights of the overall festival was THE HU, a Mongolian Metal band following in the footsteps of other well-known bands such as TENNGER CAVALRY. Following on from this were the headliners of the festival, HELLHAMMER - TRIUMPH OF DEATH, who were underwhelming and mediocre, to be honest. Especially after the powerful, lively, and infectious show that THE HU put on, the headliners seemed lack-lustre and mediocre, with people leaving the show in droves or rather hanging around the bonfire that was lit at the closing ritual instead. A polar opposite of this was ROTTING CHRIST, who had one of the largest crowds of the festival, and delivering one of the most blistering and powerful shows of the entire festival. These Greek Black Metal leviathans had the crowd headbanging together, and really showing what a big and international family we metalheads really are. Absolutely phenomenal! Added to this fiery show was the closing bonfire. There is somehow nothing more soothing yet primitive and primal than gathering around flickering flames, watching as the fire consumes all.


Besides all of these activities and bands, KILKIM ŽAIBU had even more to offer, with everything from a small labyrinth to a course on tree-climbing, from a massage tent to tattoo artists. And for those who wanted something less permanent, there were also a few places doing henna tattoos or even corpse paint. And speaking of painting, you could also release your inner artist by either going to an art/printing tent where you could get creative, or even paint a part of KILKIM ŽAIBU's own canvas. And now for the cherry on top: a weekend festival pass with camping and many of the dozens of activities included free of charge will set you back 55 €. This is really an unbeatable price for such a top-not festival!


Getting to the festival has also been thought out. Whilst arriving there by car is the easiest option, it was also possible to take a bus from major cities to Varniai and then walk to the festival area. However, there was also a special shuttle bus that leaves from Vilnius, goes through Kaunas and stops at the festival. One word of warning though if you arrive by car: be prepared for the most thorough and intense car searches imaginable, especially if you arrive at an off-peak time. Bringing your own alcohol is not allowed at the festival, so the security at the gate do very extensive and exhaustive searches of cars in which literally everything and every part of the car gets searched, even up to and including removing your spare tyre. These searches can't even be topped by the notorious searches by overzealous border control cops. And even those who manage to somehow sneak alcohol into the festival be warned: I had heard from people that the security patrol through the campsite, and that if they catch you with your own alcohol, they will take it out of your hands and pour it out at your feet. However, as I didn't see this for myself, I'm not sure if this actually happens, or was just a rumour. This perhaps overly-enthusiastic security aside, the only gripe that I had with the festival was perhaps that there could have been a few more portaloos/toitois, as there was almost always a queue for the toilets. However, given all the other amazing aspects of the festival, and given that these toilets were kept fairly clean, this is barely worth mentioning.

One other thing I loved about the festival was the international air. Attracting people from all around the world, it was fantastic to see people from so many different backgrounds gathered together by a common understanding and appreciation of history, culture, and music. Overall, KILKIM ŽAIBU is one of the most special and captivating festivals in Europe, and still very much an undiscovered gem, combining the best of both historical and musical perspectives. If you're into pagan history and tradition, and would love to see some amazing bands in a stunning and unique location, this is definitely the festival for you! KILKIM ŽAIBU is an absolute must visit if not for music then the atmosphere. It's also a very family-oriented festival, with many people opting to bring along their children, and even their dogs with to the festival.


If you've never been to the festival, then I cannot stress enough how amazing KILKIM ŽAIBU is. It's not even two weeks after the festival, and I've already made plans to return next year with all of my festival friends in tow. And for those of you who already know the festival, I'm sure you've also already planned your return next year. Metal Temple looks forward to seeing you there in 2020!

For more photos, check out Valkyrian Photography.


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