There was a pivotal juncture shortly before this year’s Tallinn Music Week when fortitude bloomed and the organizers threw themselves into realizing 2020’s already postponed conference-cum-festival—the Estonian government giving permission to operate at a reduced venue capacity—across the city’s broad range of indoor and outdoor stages. Braving a steady domino-fall of cancellations by visiting international acts, as red-patches proliferated, TMW understandably placed the emphasis on indigenous artists, covering most styles, including rock, jazz, folk, hip hop, electronica, ambient, pop, and modern classical. Virtually no genre was missing, but there was indeed a compelling abundance of metal grind, stamping at the extremist perimeters of the form. This included a trio of outstanding visitors from fellow Baltic lands Latvia and Lithuania.
Tallinn has its historically labyrinthine Old Town, but most of the TMW inhabited the many bars and galleries of the Telliskivi Creative City, which lies just across the main station’s train tracks in a former factory zone. Each year that your scribe visits Tallinn, there are new joints heaving up, 2020 bringing a long row of three conjoined brick edifices: winery, distillery and tap house, covering all the abstracting possibilities. Plus, encouragingly, a large new record store-cum-café bar. Gentrification is not a word to be used around Telliskivi, because these sprouting endeavors are the kind of haunts that we’ll grow to adore, and are definitely not any of those ubiquitous international intruders, those serial property-infesting produce chains.
The Sveta Baar had an uncanny ability to capture the festival’s crucially alternative acts over the course of three different showcase-themed evenings. It’s a large old warehouse structure, with a bar at one end and a stage standing simply at the other. It was a post-lockdown revelation to be able to experience physically rending guitar music in a relatively informal setting, at a definitely high volume.
Void Valley’s opening night featured heavy combos from all three of the Baltic States. This new-ish VV entity combines a pair of established promoters on a mission to push ‘“sounds of the world going to hell… while everyone is having fun.”
Eschatos describe themselves as a post-black metal band, and were the first of two back-to-back Latvian outfits from Riga. They were blessed (or cursed) by the remarkable voices of singer Kristiāna Kārkliņa, one of which belongs to Satan. She passed from high vaulting to medium-low range, pouncing on an evil, growling gutturalism, used as the burning immersion point for each song’s climax. Kārkliņa never revealed her face; hanging tresses always draped over her features. Guitar solos proliferated, but mostly cut to essential bursts, then entered regions of drone, or ambient sound-scaping, scarred whiteout (or blackout) consistently switching the dynamic plateaux. The drums, bass, twinned guitars, and electronics/keyboards possessed a symphonic layering grandeur, but with no sentimental smoothness, only a drip-formed gore-frost. They used high drama, derailed into doomed underground passageways. It turned out that Eschatos would give the best performance of the evening, but the next three bands were still extremely gripping, sprawling from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Riga’s three-piece Tesa sound aligned with post-rock, but they delineate themselves more specifically as post-metal. They’ve now been assembled for 15 years. The bladed guitar of Davis Burmeisters worked at a headlong grind, sending out some soloing shafts of light, carving geometric edifices, and continually exploding newly-formed peaks. Two-thirds in, these Latvians developed a more traditional Black Sabbath riff-pound, and after around 20 minutes, bassist Karlis Tone began bawling with his actual human voice, as drummer Janis Burmeisters stomped out a beat that was almost Chicago house, topped by bleeds of guitar texture, spangling in a polluted pool.
On their recorded work, Kannabinõid sounded like they were going to be the heaviest gang of the night, but their live set, while generally gripping, didn’t attain those same levels of power. Calling their allotted genre simply “doom,” Kannabinõid now sport short hair, and look like a post rock band, although their music still smacks of soiled biker pummeling. This Tallinn threesome’s two guitars and drums were not lacking in bass frequencies—although sluggish to start with—before the joint vocals and strobes jerked in, at times performing a partial twist towards Sonic Youth.
Egomaina represented Lithuania, hailing from Vilnius, and were stylistically apart from the preceding bands, operating in a fashion descending from The Fall, with an electro-garage bent, drumbeats aggressively machine-gunning. They adopted a lightness of tone in their stage presence, not encouraging mystery or mysticism, even creeping towards some revelation of Lithuanian surf music. The set’s final number featured their guitarist playing trombone and their drummer producing a bass synthline, all three members tackling the vocals. It was a more extroverted slant on rock extremity, but still heavy at high speeds.
Over the following nights at TMW, there was a powerful run of heavy, arty, guitar-abusing, electronics-ripping Estonian outfits on show, further names to be alert for on the road (eventually) across the international scene: Mört, Valentina Goncharova, shishi (Lithuania), Bible Club, Kreatiivmootor, Eesti Elektroonilise Muusika Seltsi Ansambel, and The Meat. Never has your scribe discovered so many unfamiliar proto-stars over so few days.