Nika Brunet is sitting at a café on out outskirts of Ljubljana ready to talk about music and a music festival she co-organizes, Metal Days, but we’d both rather talk about travel. But that’s just what the festival is about, combining tourism and heavy metal.
80 percent of the patrons who come Metal Days are foreign spectators from around the world. They flock to the gorgeous green towns Tolmin in the summer and Bohinj in the winter to experience the combination of mystical Slovenian mountains and various sub-genres of metal, a relationship that has, since its inception, had an influence on the music.
Setting has always been a part of metal. Folklore and myth have continuously been married to the dark, mystical, and triumphant styles of the genre. Particularly relevant in Scandinavian black metal, a connection to the land and wildlife has always been associated with the philosophical and lyrical content of the style, which has a reputation for extremities. It is an incongruity just below the surface.
But beyond the dark aesthetic and ethos, metal-heads are typically interested in music and a jubilant good time, surrounded by the natural world, music they love, and people they connect with. Coming all the way to Slovenia for the festival, it is a kind of pilgrimage for the like-minded metal lover.
“It’s important to make travelers feel welcome,” Brunet says over espresso and orange juice. “If you are in this business, do it well.”
Brunet, with her co-organizer and partner Boban Milunović, not only plan the Metal Days festivals almost entirely on their own, they organize a number of other music events, including Bluesland and the Overjam International Reggae Festival in Slovenia. As if they didn’t already have enough on their plates, they serve up vegan food at their restaurant Veganistra in the capital city.
Brunet has worked all kinds of jobs including as a photographer, a skill she still utilizes by documenting festivals, and as an employee of various airlines. But she loves nothing more than organizing events. “I finally do something I really love,” she says.
While she is clearly a restless personality, Brunet holds onto no delusions of grandeur. “We will do things as long as they make sense . . . This energy is unmistakable.” Up until now, creating an atmosphere where metal-heads from 89 countries around the world can come to a remote Slovene village to enjoy nature, loud music, and activities like yoga has made complete sense.
This year some of the festival’s heavy hitters include prog rock legends Dream Theatre, drone-metal icons Neurosis, symphonic black metal band Dimmu Borgir, and Finnish folk metal act Finntroll—all set to a gloriously green and peaceful organic backdrop.
Though the average listener would not connect the peaceful notions of nature and yoga to this brand of aggressive music, the environment created from a music-centered vacation has shown the people of small towns like Bohinj and Tolmin in the Soča Valley that metal-heads are typically quite a kind and respectful group, despite the negative stereotypes sometimes associated with the music.
“There is a community building around this festival,” Brunet says. This year, it should be no different. Now Brunet and Milunović are focused on preparing another welcoming experience for their international visitors. Coming back from their travels with stories of hospitality in Cuba, Indonesia, and Serbia, the organizers understand how to welcome foreigners, and they implement this knowledge in their event coordination.
After beaming about a specially prepared vegan meal in Indonesia, Brunet describes the unique experience and the hospitality their festivals aim to create. “I love to see people from our work,” she says, “knowing this is because of us . . .” She stops and simply nods her head in a gesture of satisfaction.
Ryan Beitler is a journalist, writer, and blogger who has written for Paste Magazine, The Slovenia Times, Addiction Now, OC Weekly, AI Time Journal, New Noise Magazine, and many more.