Metalhead Among Swarms of Goths: My Account of Shining’s Performance at Castle Party 2018, Bolków, Poland.
I’ve always been aware there was this annual festival under the name of Castle Party. Although I’ve had completely no clue where Bolków (the town in which the annual Polish happening is held) was located, its name has nailed itself deep within my mind. I also had no knowledge of the fact that it was a festival renowned for its liking towards gothic music and culture in general. The funny thing is I have nothing in common with the gothic microcosm apart from my weakness for the gothic genre of literature (Edgar Allan Poe and William Faulkner rule!) and my recent penchant for listening to Paradise Lost. I didn’t even know there was some kind of a mass gathering devoted to gothic music! Pardon my ignorance. Anyways, let’s not divert our attention from the most important facts. Let’s make it clear, I’d not settle on to visit Bolków without any special incentive since basically, it’s not a festival of high priority to me. However, such an urge came in March when it was announced that the mighty Shining from Sweden would arrive in Bolków to perform at the Castle Party festival. I was so flabbergasted at the info that I could barely stand still. After the first wave of emotions had faded, I made myself appeal to reason and checked if the option of seeing one of my favourite bands live was viable. I only needed a few days to organize everything that needed sorting out and started familiarizing myself with the vision of experiencing depressive black metal titans live at the beginning of July. And that’s how the story unfolds…
I arrived in Bolków on Friday, the first proper day of the festival. I must confess that Shining was the only reason why I made up my mind to visit the site of the festival. Earlier on I didn’t even consider any options of travelling to the southeastern end of Poland. I checked the rest of the line-up a few times, but unfortunately, this year’s edition of the festival seemingly didn’t consist of any other bands that could attract my interest. Truth be told, I went there only for one reason and that was my only plan for the weekend. Maybe I was being a little bit narrow-minded but who cares. Let’s proceed to the core of my report, that is to say, the event itself.
Upon my arrival, I was stricken by crowds of people clothed in extravagant and, at times, bizarre black dresses, gowns, and other garments. Although at first I was pretty bewildered by that view, I started getting used to it with time. Later on, I even came to admit that the festival had one of a kind vibe and atmosphere. It can’t be found anywhere else in Poland, and that’s why people from all over the world (literally!) rushed to Bolków to spend the entire weekend at the festival site. What really surprised me was that people were really friendly to each other. Usually at different festivals one may experience acts of impoliteness, rudeness and the like, but in Bolków everyone seemed to be in pleasant disposition. It was really heartwarming to see all those people posing to photos with complete strangers, who were fascinated with their fancy and elaborate outfits. The entire event seemed to be cut out from the real world for three days. It was a paradise for goths, who could feel comfortable with their true selves without any restrictions, reproaches, etc. Definitely an otherworldly experience of which I’m really fortunate to have been part of. Despite my early discontent and confusion, it turned out to be a hell of a great time to me. Learn from thine mistakes, brethren of mine, since one should not judge the book by its cover.
Some fan video:
Before the long-awaited gig of the Swedish masterminds, I made my way to the small stage (the place where almost all metal gigs were held at Castle Party) to see a Polish band named Popiół (eng. – ash). Their gig was quite appealing, I’m not a fan of folk elements in metal music, but my compatriots did pretty well on stage. They managed to evoke a really heavy atmosphere of evil with their riffs, some of which made convincing impressions upon me. After the performance, I was impatiently awaiting the gig of Swedish masters from Shining. I was sitting right outside the venue when a hooded tall, dark figure came out of the backstage and passed through the courtyard with a bottle of strong liquor neatly hidden in a paper bag. Excited and confused at once, I chased the character and called him by the name. The dark figure was Niklas Kvarforth, the founder and the mastermind behind the Swedish depressive black metal machine from Halmstad. Niklas turned around and bid me a warm welcome. I told him how I loved and admired his music, we talked for a while about his creativity and state of health in general and took an impressive photo. Then I wished him a successful gig (something really stupid to say to a guy whose live performances are unpredictable and perilous in one, but I had one big mindfuck, you know how it is) and parted company with Niklas. I wasn’t quite aware of what had just happened. I came to Bolków with a dream to meet and greet Niklas, and it had just come true. Whoa. It was really funny that I was the only person who recognized him wearing his hoodie, and I’m incredibly happy that I decided to follow him at that moment. I was totally flabbergasted even before the beginning of the gig, and it was just a foretaste of what was about to come. I entered the venue about 20 minutes prior to the gig’s starting time. The hall was almost empty, which made me pretty angry since the band of such renown on the metal scene as Shining deserves a much larger audience. I made my way to the barriers and remained there till the very end of the performance. Fasten your seatbelts tightly, we’re setting off!
Since In the Woods… cancelled their concert at this year’s edition of Castle Party, Shining was the last band to play on the small stage that day. Much to everyone’s dismay, the soundcheck lasted about 40 minutes since the bass guitar of Marcus Hammarström did not work properly, and with his every hit to the strings an indomitable wave of sonic pressure came from the speakers, which made the audience fall back the hall in shock. The new live drummer of the band was constantly hitting his drums and cymbals in order to get the sound set properly. Finally, after everything was calibrated and sorted out, darkness enshrouded the stage and the logo of Shining was projected behind the drum kit. First sounds of the female-sung intro came from the speakers. As I remember correctly, it’s worth noting that the same intro Swedes were using back in 2007 when they were touring Europe in support of their highly acclaimed breakthrough album named after the city of their origin. When the intro faded, all instruments-wielding musicians appeared on stage. They greeted the audience, and immediately the intro of the track “Han som lurar inom” from the recent album X-Varg Utan Flock could be heard coming from the speakers. A few seconds later Niklas Kvarforth appeared on the stage screaming out loud to the microphone. He introduced the band and said it was the first time Swedes came to Poland in 9 years, which felt really great for them. And so it began. All hell broke loose and for the next hour Shining was everything one could think of. Hooded Niklas was running from one end of the stage to the other, screaming the lyrics of the opening song. The audience was ecstatic when Niklas first appeared on the stage. In one hand he was holding a microphone, while in the other he was proudly wielding a bottle of Jack Daniels. From the very beginning of the show, Niklas’ behaviour was volatile, erratic, and perilous in one. He was a completely different person on stage, and although I got to meet him about an hour before the show, he no longer seemed to be the same character. Most of the time the iconic vocalist spent in the moat, which is the space between the stage and the audience. “Han som lurar inom” sounded extremely well, and I was really glad that it was the track that was chosen to commence the unforgettable night. During the opening song a mosh pit was formed for a moment, but under the command of Niklas, it had to be stopped. As he himself said, he’d rather see people fight for real than look at some lousy attempts at moshing. Kvarforth, who seemed to be affected not only by alcohol but also by some kind of drugs, throughout the entire gig balanced on the boundary of extremity and stupidity. I guess most of the people gathered in the building were aware of his infamous stage antics, but when the controversial Swede put his hand into his own pants and then smelled it as if it was at least an incredibly delicious scent, everyone in the audience was both shocked and disgusted. Despite his beyond erratic behaviour, Niklas’ performance was definitely a stellar one. His vocals were full of strength and sounded incredibly raw. By the end of “Han som lurar inom“, Kvarforth took his belt off, which made me feel hugely uneasy. It was the only moment during the gig when I felt anxious and truly frightened. You know, a guy who spits on the cameramen and photographers isn’t the most trustworthy person on this planet. But it’s obvious it was his aim to frighten the audience; the guy who takes pride in the fact that several people committed suicide under the influence of his music isn’t the person you’d like to meet on an empty street at night. The next track played was a highly successful single from their seventh album. Förtvivlan, min arvedel made the audience go ballistic with its very first riff. “Feeling good, you fuckers? I hope we can change that!” – a classic Niklas Kvarforth quote. The tune was one of the best moments of the gig, it definitely got the loudest response from the audience. During an instrumental interlude, Niklas disappeared for a longer moment. He came back to the centre of the stage with his arms bleeding heavily. He looked eerily ecstatic and awkward at once. Niklas seemed to be impervious to the pain he inflicted upon himself. Although I firmly object to this kind of stage antics, Kvarforth’s blood and scars made the already oppressive atmosphere even denser. The Swedish vocalist is widely known for practising self-mutilation, which had become a regular activity for him since his early teens. But I still cannot fathom how the guy is allowed to bring razors with him to the concert hall. Anyways, the gig’s flow was great, and, generally, I was totally enchanted by the band. People often say that Niklas is Shining. It’s mostly true, but Niklas is lucky to be a part of an incredibly skilled group of musicians. Peter Huss, the lead guitarist of Shining, didn’t make a single mistake during the performance. The guy just seems to be resistant to committing errors. His beautiful solos (especially the ones in Seigmen cover “Ohm (Sommar med Siv)” and the closing “For the God Below” were perfect in every detail. What’s more, the emotions he channelled through his playing could be noticed on his face, which contorted with every note he produced. After the great “Förtvivlan…“, the Swedes continued with the semi-ballad entitled “Framtidsutsikter“. The song showcased Niklas’ exceptional clean vocals that are predominant in the course of the track. During prolonged instrumental moments Niklas looked awkward and uneasy, he knelt in front of the drum kit and looked as if he was about to throw up on stage. But then, all of the sudden, he stood up and jumped into the moat again. It was a funny view to see all the photographers leave their positions in fear of being frightened or spat upon. Niklas approached the audience from the right side of the stage and joined the crowd. He accosted and touched women standing behind the barriers. He was impertinent but not rude in his madness. Then, Niklas climbed the stage back and announced the next song, which, according to him, was called “Ohm“. However, the band started playing the first riff of “Jag är din fiende“. Niklas grasped his head with both hands in shame that he mistook the song from his formation’s newest output for a cover of a Norwegian band. I have to say that both new songs did very well live, and I’m a bit disappointed we didn’t get to hear “Gyllene portarnas bro“, which is my undisputed favourite off Varg utan flock. The gig was slowly coming to an end, so it was high time we heard some classics. Niklas asked if we wanted to hear something from the Halmstad album, and the audience’s response was obviously overwhelmingly positive. The drummer started kicking the pedal when Peter Huss played one of the most impressive and catchy riffs in the genre. “Låt oss ta allt från varandra” sounded extremely heavy. It was obvious the band would play it since it’s their most known song, and one cannot deny its greatness and influence. I myself was driven to a frenzy when the first notes of the song hit. The band’s biggest ‘hit’ was another great moment of the gig. And although people were a little bit confused when the track’s mid part, which contains a sampled voice from the movie ‘Prozac Nation’, came from the speakers, the ending section dispelled everybody’s doubts. Niklas’ frenetic behaviour continued, he strolled around the stage and treated his bandmates to the bottle of Jack Daniels by pouring it down their throats. The last song of the night was of course “For the God Below” from the band’s eighth album. It’s their live staple for closing gigs, so I wasn’t really surprised about it being played as the very last bit of the concert. “Kill for me, kill for yourself, kill for the devil!” shouted Niklas, who this time shared the vocals duties with the bassist Marcus Hammarström. “For The God Below” works extremely well as a closer. Kvarforth’s behaviour and stage antics didn’t wear thin until the end of the gig; this time the Swedish frontman asked a lady from the audience to spit on her palm so that he could lick it with pleasure. What’s more, he came down the stage only to grab a girl’s hair and leave his saliva on it. Huh. Niklas is the definition of idiosyncrasy (or awkwardness), his stage deeds are more than unpredictable but 100% spontaneous. The gig ended with a singalong that was commenced by Niklas. Man, I was feeling both exhilarated and exhausted in the end. The concert drained me from all power but it was definitely worth it. Niklas took his shirt off, blew his nose into it (pretty Kvarforthian, isn’t it?) and then hurled it into the crowd. Peter Huss and the other guitarist were throwing picks, and then the entire group left the stage. I was lucky enough to get the setlist (which you can see below my report) and then made my way outside the building. What a gig that was!
After everything was said and done I was standing by the merch stands when Niklas came down the stairs and welcomed his friends, who weren’t admitted to the backstage. Then several people asked the frontman to have a photo with him. Kvarforth seemed to be a different kind of a guy again now, he didn’t resemble the nice, kind, and calm person that he seemed to be prior to the gig. He was shaking and appeared to be in acute mental pain. He’s such an amazing musician at only 34, but unfortunately, he’s destroying his life gradually. The man is exceptionally creative and talented, but the evil thing that lurks within his mind is indefatigable and unyielding. After experiencing Shining’s gig at this year’s edition of Castle Party I’m definitely hungry for more. If there is any possibility of seeing them live next year, I’ll surely go for it. I recommend seeing them if you’re not squeamish; otherwise, you might be unpleasantly surprised and indignant after the gig. Anyways, I had a great time, but I feel I need some rest from Shining. The oppressive atmosphere of the gig and Niklas’ irresponsible stage antics were really frightening, and it’s not a kind of thing we see daily in our regular lives. Now I get why Shining don’t do club gigs anymore, Niklas wouldn’t stay alive after a dozen or so shows in a row with all those wide open wounds on his body. Also, their live shows are so gruelling both physically and mentally that it would be impossible for the musicians to endure. So let them just stick to their festival dates and do their job, which is just a pure work of art. Long live the Swedish Shining!
The entire festival made a favourable impression on me. I didn’t know what to expect from it, but with time I started to understand and even like it and its distinctive vibe and atmosphere. And although I didn’t partake in most of the arranged gigs, the people I met were the sole reason why I would like to come back to Bolków at some point in the future. To me it was not a typical music festival, it was a gathering of people sharing similar interests, belonging to the same subculture, and having similar music tastes. People were having fun with each other, and everybody could feel the togetherness that emanated from the air. Every person could feel on his own with his or her extravagant and distinctive outfits. You could even find a Jesus with a long wooden stick sauntering around the festival site. What more could you wish for? Castle Party is definitely a participant-friendly event that’s worth experiencing for yourself. If you have no urgent plans for the second weekend of July 2019, consider visiting Bolków. It might be the time of your life.