On June 11th, the gates of hell opened under ominous skies in the remote industrial area of Refshaleøen, to house the first open air metal festival ever to be held on Danish soil. Copenhell had huge expectations to answer to, and the line-up that the festival slowly disclosed over the winter only strengthened those expectations, with Deftones, Mastodon, Megadeth and Suicidal Tendencies booked as headliners – bands that regularly occupy the big-name spots at much larger, renowned festivals – and a host of infamous niche bands dotting the poster as smaller names. Looking at said poster, the festival managed to bypass the genre-fascism that usually dictates other similar-minded, if smaller, events in the country, presenting instead a variety of hard and heavy bands ranging from hard rock to black metal, and everything in between:
Deftones, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies, Hatebreed, The Damned Things, Napalm Death, Behemoth, Danko Jones, Mnemic, 3 Inches Of Blood, Whitechapel, The Psyke Project, Dead By April, Supercharger, Adept.
Alert readers will notice the absence of Mastodon on the bill – the band was unfortunately forced to cancel their summer touring plans as guitarist Bill Kelliher was diagnosed with pancreatitis and warned against touring by his doctors. But despite the loss of an important headliner, Copenhell made a commendable effort to convince The Dillinger Escape Plan to teleport themselves from an earlier performance at Greenfield Festival in Switzerland to Copenhagen and take on the revered final slot at the festival. In fact, the festival deserves huge applause for redeeming not just one, but three cancelations with equally impressive acts: the gaps left by earlier cancelations by DevilDriver and Suicide Silence were promptly filled with the recently formed supergroup The Damned Things (featuring members of Anthrax, Every Time I Die and Fall Out Boy) and tri-guitar deathcore outfit Whitechapel.
In the next few paragraphs we describe the festival in general – the amenities, festival area, and atmosphere – but if you wish to skip straight to the reviews, follow the anchor links above or simply scroll down the page. Otherwise, keep reading to get the most out of our coverage and possibly motivate yourself to attend next year.
Getting to the festival site was either a bit of a pain in the ass, or extremely simple, depending on the amount of wisdom that each person possessed about the public transport network in Copenhagen. The staff of Rockfreaks.net decided to belong to the former category, opting to take bus number 66 from the central station to the Opera House at Holmen and trek through a combination of industrial wasteland and hippie communes to get to Refshaleøen. The smarter option would have been to catch bus number 40 from the Christianshavn metro station, which took happy campers to the festival's doorstep, and had we afforded a few minutes to glance at the plentiful information about such matters provided on the festival's website, we, too, could have spared our feet and arrived on time each day.
But we did arrive, clutching a couple of warm Royal brews, to be greeted by a non-existent queue and a simple ticket-to-wristband exchange at the entrance. In order to get to the main festival area, we had to pass through a muddy, fenced-in corridor. Once there, it was obvious that like any other festival, Copenhell had placed considerable emphasis on creating the relevant atmosphere and offering more than just non-stop music. The main attractions for most were undoubtedly the large beer tent and the Jægerbus situated conveniently next to the entrance to the stages. These two establishments provided break entertainment in the form of the hottest rock and metal DJs in the country (including the famous Rock the Night Crüe), Go-Go dancers, prize competitions and drink promotions, and obviously a neverending torrent of percentile beverages to keep the minds sunny in the pouring rain. Alternative forms of entertainment could be found in the DOX:HELL cinema, which housed a mixture of spoken word and feature documentaries about heavy metal, and in the various side shows by Copenhagen Body Extremes and Fuel Girls.
The festival's partnership with Roskilde Festival ensured that Copenhell had received unprecedented promotion, and was able to strike a sponsorship deal with the local Ølfabrikken brewery to provide beer, cider and soda for thirsty moshwarriors at reasonable-ish prices (35 DKK for a pint or 5 pints for 150 DKK). These came equipped with a convenient cap containing peanuts (courtesy of Kim's), which unfortunately transformed into flying saucers and peanut battles when the overall level of intoxication grew greater. The festival's organisers had even convinced Ølfabrikken to brew a special festival beer with 6.66% alcohol content so as to heighten the raw metal experience that the venue's industrial surroundings created. Other necessities like food were also sold at reasonable prices, and from what we did try, the quality was also decent (the hot dogs and Italian paninis were particularly tasty). The Ben & Jerry's stand was also a crucial element for us, as we decided chocolate fudge brownie ice-cream was the most appropriate thing to be feasting on during a black metal show (i.e. Behemoth).
Another thing we noticed was the lax security (the most lenient, friendliest and least obtrusive security personnel we have ever experienced at a festival – thumbs up for this) which allowed the metal community to play by their own unwritten rules unlike at, say, Roskilde Festival, where moshing, crowd surfing and other such activities are essentially banned, and us to enjoy our own beers on site without commotion from some security gorilla. Yours truly even avoided a routine bag check by claiming to be carrying a sub-machine gun in there. So if you feel like bringing one of those next year, it should be fine.
The festival area was divided in three: camping, entertainment and music. The camping solution was somewhat different to other festivals that we have attended, as the tents were provided by the festival and had been bolted into the ground prior to the campers' arrival. One of these tents could be bought for 395 DKK and taken home once the festival ended. Sounds strange, but considering the restricted space afforded for camping, allowing guests to set up their own tents would probably have significantly reduced the amount of people that could have stayed in the camping zone. The entertainment area contained the aforementioned beer tent and Jægerbus, the DOX:HELL cinema, as well as bare necessities like a cash point, toilets, food stands and a merchandise stand operated by our friends at Target Distribution.
In order to get to the stages, one had to pass through a loose security bottleneck, which nonetheless did not cause much hassle or take very long. In the music area were two stages, Helvíti (the main stage) and Hades (the secondary stage), both of which had plenty of ground before them to accommodate the 4,000 expected guests, including a steep hill for those who preferred to sit down knocking back pints while observing the festivities on stage from a distance. In between the two stages were a single, large L-shaped bar and some freight containers onto which the respective running orders had been painted as graffiti – a pretty cool idea that undoubtedly spared many a tree the fate of becoming a disposable festival booklet. And speaking of stage times, Copenhell deserves a special mention for allocating full concert-length slots for every band.
Now, without further ado, the staff of Rockfreaks.net would like to tell you that from the moment we stepped on site – in fact, before we even stepped on site, we had started drinking, and so if you remember anything else than what stands in the reviews below, please do share your memories with us. But in all seriousness, Rockfreaks.net would like to label Copenhell an enormous success, and extend praise to the organisation behind the festival for catering to a previously unmet demand; to the organisation behind Roskilde Festival for lending their expertise in setting up an event of this magnitude; to the merchants who kept the crowd fed; to Ølfabrikken who kept the beer taps running; to the 4,000 metal fans who attended; and last but not least, to the 16 bands that had enough faith in an infant festival to show up and give the fans their money's worth:
FRIDAY 11. June
Supercharger @ 15:30 on Hades stage
Sun, beer and rock'n'roll, it turns out, provides exactly the kind of adrenaline rush needed to kickstart an evening of headbanging – at least if Supercharger's performance is to be used as the benchmark. Whatever pressure it must have wrought on the band to perform in the important opening slot, their mischievous and explosive performance wipes aside in a heartbeat. Supercharger are cool as fuck and they know it, but thankfully the metal crowd takes this with a hint of irony and saves the facepalms for day two, reciprocating every ounce of energy that the band dispels during songs like "Handgrenade Blues", "Join in (and Lose It)" and "Hell Motel". Sworn metalheads clad in Slayer merchandise forget their stringent inside codes and surrender their souls to the spirit of rock music, even whipping out their finest dance moves when the band tears apart Kiss' "I Was Made For Lovin' You" in the encore. Thomas Pedersen on the guitar sounds sincere when he pauses to wish that he could play "Reign in Blood" so as to thank these maniacs for their appreciation. And such appreciation is not undue, for Supercharger's energetic demeanor somehow promises that this festival is going to rock our fucking socks off.  AP
Danko Jones @ 16:30 on Helvíti stage
The three members of Danko Jones may have a numerical disadvantage opening proceedings on the sizable main stage but, as is usually the case with this Canadian rock trio, Mr. Jones' notable charisma has no problem expanding to fill the venue. Unfortunately the assembling crowd doesn't expand at quite the same rate. The frontman provides his usual dose of stand-up and rhetoric and the band doles out their attitude-fueled songs – including "Sticky Situation", "Code of the Road" and "First Date" – with commendable fervour, but Danko Jones' "metallic rock" isn't quite metallic enough for the Copenhell audience, with only the very front members (and naturally the Rockfreaks.net contingent) responding with anything approaching the right level of energy. It seems that Mr. Jones and his band are stuck in a kind of limbo between metal and rock in which the fans of either genre aren't quite sure what to make of him.  NB
The Psyke Project @ 18:00 on Hades stage
The rock'n'roll is swept aside by utter devastation, and the sky turns grey when the crowned kings of Danish metal step on stage, gathering the largest crowd yet. Martin Nielskov is still constrained by the leg brace he earned with a particularly frantic show in London earlier this year, but like the mentalist that he is, he roars that the pain can come later; right now it is time to rain utter devastation on the fragile-looking second stage. And utter devastation is promptly delivered, by the band and audience alike. Sometimes when seeing bands for the second or third time, one becomes hideously aware of the tiniest flaws and lets them diffract the overall impression, but this is the fifth time yours truly is watching The Psyke Project live and there are almost no faults to be found. Granted, Martin's demeanor is perhaps not as disorderly as in past gigs, but who can blame him with that injured leg? What creates lasting value in this band's shows is as much the torturing sound, primal beauty and entrancing drones, as the violent stage presence which usually gives bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan some domestic competition. True to tradition, there is no glamour in this show: lights are used minimally and effects are completely absent. The music speaks for itself, and judging from the first proper moshpit at Copenhell, the band's minimalism is received with enthusiasm.  AP
Hatebreed @ 19:00 on Helvíti stage
As an extremely influential hardcore band, Hatebreed has always intrigued me – not so much musically as for their supposedly great live performances. Word has it that their recent visit to Denmark as main support for the mighty Machine Head went down like a dream, and if that's true, then tonight's show must have given Danish fans a proper reload, because not one song has passed before the legendary Jamey Jasta proves his worth with unparalleled dedication. Usually songs like the opener "In Ashes They Shall Reap" bore me with their simpleton call-to-arms messages, but when delivered with such merciless conviction that Mr. Jasta musters up, yours truly is jumping in no time, pumping his fists and screaming "born to bleed, fighting to succeed, built to endure what this world throws at me" off the top of his lungs. At once it becomes clear to me why Hatebreed enjoy such stardom in the genre: the strength which the band emits is as empowering as it is infectious, and one feels defiant and able to conquer whatever obstacle life may present. And in strength the crowd finds unity: whenever a person falls into a mud pool in the violent moshpits taking place towards the front, Jasta pauses to yell "pick him up" in between his lyrics. Hatebreed make full use of their time slot, taking us through 27 songs worth of their discography, including "Defeatist", "As Diehard As They Come", "Live For This", "Perseverance", "This Is Now", a rendition of Slayer's "Ghosts of War" from the band's recent cover album "For The Lions", and of course the ultimate hardcore anthem "I Will Be Heard". Some of our staff were of the opinion that one-and-a-half hours of largely monotonous hardcore was too ambitious for the band's own good, but I for one would have no problem if Jasta's exclamation that if Copenhell was to be held again next year, Hatebreed would gladly return, came true – however static the band's musical direction may be.  AP
Megadeth @ 21:30 on Helvíti stage
If you don't play guitar then perhaps you'd have done best to head off to the Jægerbus at this point for some sickly intoxication, because Megadeth is good for pretty much one thing: shredding. If that is what you look for in a live performance then Megadeth's show wouldn't have disappointed. Dave Mustaine and Chris Broderick stand hunched over their instruments in concentration for much of the show with their guitar-virtuoso hair covering their guitar-virtuoso faces. In fact, the endless shredding takes so much out of Chris Broderick that he falls over
from the sheer effort of playing the climax of the solo in "Tornado of Souls", much to the amusement of the audience. The band plays eighteen songs from various albums, including the excellent ballad "À Tout le Monde", but most of these songs contain limited potential for engaging live performances and, although the set is a showcase for breathtaking guitar work, the band's vapid stage presence leaves much of the audience cold; a pity considering their lofty position on the programme.  NB
Deftones @ 23:59 on Helvíti stage
There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Deftones were the
headliner at Copenhell. Some have been afraid that the emotional distress wrought on the band by Chi Cheng's tragic accident might have had grave repercussions on the band's outlook and therefore permanently affected their renowned live performances, but the show that the band constructs out of little more than Chino Moreno's personality and voice should reassure anyone with such worries. He leads us into the night in a dreamlike state, drilling his emotive lyrics straight into our bones in a fantastic display of tension-and-release. Armed with a true best-of setlist the Deftones have found a perfect balance between chillingly beautiful melancholia in songs like "Knife Party", "Minerva" and "Change" and distorted, crushing heaviness in others like "Elite", "My Own Summer" and "7 Words". In the midst of it all we naturally also hear songs from the band's new album "Diamond Eyes" in the form of "Rocket Skates", the title track, "You've Seen the Butcher", "Sextape", "Prince" and "CMND/CTRL". And whatever sorrows the band has been forced to cope with are nowhere to be seen tonight, as the band performs with such intense fervour that it sends chills down our spines and inspires almost every person in the crowd to engage in some form of appreciative movement – in our case our own private moshpit in which our British scribe NB somehow damages his back as the first Rockfreak casualty of the festival. With 21 songs to play to us, Deftones drag their slot even further than Hatebreed did earlier, but thanks to the soothing, cathartic nature of the band's music and the quiet/loud dynamics that drive it, the songs blur into an enormous, explorative dream one does not want to wake up from.  AP
SATURDAY 12. June
Adept @ 15:30 on Hades stage
Although day one saw Supercharger and Danko Jones kick things off with music that has almost nothing to do with metal, Adept somehow manage to feel more out of place with their tailor-made metalcore. The crowd is thin and, apart from a small number of dedicated fans at the front, thinning with every song. Not that the band didn't do their best to dissuade us from fucking off, because the show is commendably energetic all things considered, but Adept just radiates a kind of insecurity; like they're not quite experienced enough yet to be playing these kinds of shows. The fact that they have just seven songs to throw at us also suggests that those are the exact seven songs they have rehearsed for their current touring plans and that they're afraid of deviating from or adding to it. We nonetheless receive an airing of a new song, "Grow Up, Peter Pan", as well as a satisfactory sing-along finale in the form of "Let's Celebrate, Gorgeous!" and my personal favorite, "Shark! Shark! Shark!". Nice try, but not good enough.  AP
Mnemic @ 16:30 on Helvíti stage
While our editor was busy binging at home with some friends, expressing total disinterest in Mnemic, who are one of the few domestic bands with any degree of international recognition, the rest of us were rather intrigued. After all, it cannot be for no reason that Mnemic have toured with bands like Metallica in the past. It turns out that our intuition was good – it isn't for no reason. Mnemic are probably the most professional Danish band when it comes to performing live, and yet, apart from the overly zealous vocalist who for some unexplained reason opts to deliver his stage banter in English, there is a genuine sense of fun in their demeanor. Industrial metal is not usually a genre that tickles my curiosity, but the crushing weight of the seven-string guitars, the impressive drumming and the irresistible choruses maintain my interest from start to finish. And what crowd has bothered to gather before the Helvíti stage shares my sentiments, it seems, because Mnemic are met with unanimous approval and applause in between every song. Unfortunately Mnemic have a tendency to consider themselves superior to whoever is watching them, and consequently interaction with the crowd is non-existent (well, apart from the bassist who is all grins under his Kerry King look and wins the prize for the most metal face expression at the festival) and this drags the overall impression down somewhat. Still, this is unquestionably one of the better shows at Copenhell, and when your guitarist emerges on stage wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, there's respect to be paid on my part. [7½] AP
Dead By April @ 18:00 on Hades stage
When Jimmie Strimell introduces the band's new clean vocalist Zandro Santiago to us, some vaguely intoxicated person behind us mutters "I hope he's dead by April…", and it is difficult not to adopt a similar contempt when listening to his pretentious, nasal attempt at singing. But then, it's unnecessary because the band's music is itself enough to incite a gag reaction from this scribe. The lone guitarist restricts himself to simple powerchord structures and meaningless chugging while the abundant melodies in songs like "What Can I Say" and "Losing You" comes from a backing track. Unfortunately the music is cleverly devised to be as catchy as possible, and to contain all the right elements to cater to an alarmingly large contingent of younger metal fans. At the beginning of the show, a presenter declares that Dead By April is a proud successor to legendary melodic death metal bands from Gothenburg and unsurprisingly these words go right into Dead By April's head, with the result that Strimell spends most of this banter allowance on talking down to the crowd and behaving like the proper rockstar that he isn't. To anyone with some aesthetics, not to mention an appreciation of heavy music, Dead By April is an insult, and watching their show is like watching Robbie Williams with slightly heavier instruments.  AP
The Damned Things @ 19:00 on Helvíti stage
Individually the members in this band know what to expect when they play shows – often in arena size venues – but collectively Keith Buckley, Josh Newton (the vocalist and bassist of Every Time I Die), Scott Ian, Rob Caggiano (the guitarists of Anthrax), Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley (the guitarist and drummer of Fall Out Boy) are the new kids on the block; a celebrity supergroup with little more than a Rock Sound interview and three hastily uploaded MySpace demos to account for their existence. The Damned Things are nonetheless given a heroes' welcome when they emerge from backstage. Musically, for those of you who have not heard said MySpace demos, the group sounds exactly as you would expect them to with one key exception: Keith Buckley has dropped screaming for the occasion, instead delivering absolutely monumental clean vocals that justify Scott Ian's past claim that Buckley is one of the most underrated vocalists in music. He sounds absolutely incredible, and his impeccable charisma makes for one hell of a convincing front figure.
Performance-wise the group has a certain deserved smugness, but also a newfound joy in playing something entirely different to their day-job bands, and the experience that each member is individually in possession of is channeled into professional, but far from serious rock'n'roll performance in which each member affords the other equal room on stage whilst losing himself in the music and putting on his own, personal show. These individual feats then transform into a stage presence in which no matter where you look, something interesting is going on – but most importantly, everyone is smiling; probably from the total lack of pressure that playing in a side-project like this must bring. The problem is that these really are songs you would need to know to fully appreciate, whereas in their current, unaired state they sound sophisticated and rocking but somewhat elusive. [7½] AP
Whitechapel @ 20:30 on Hades stage
The inclement weather is probably beneficial to the general atmosphere of Whitechapel's evening set. A fine mist of grey rain is being swept sideways across the stage which stands in front of the post-apocalyptic setting of a monolithic warehouse reminiscent of the Chernobyl sarcophagus (although it actually contains the Copenhagen indoor golf centre rather than deadly radiation). The impact of this dismal scene is somewhat softened when the rain prompts Whitechapel's frontman, Phil Bozeman, to emerge on the stage wearing a raincoat – hardcore. Either way, the scene is set for some brutal deathcore and the merch-bedecked youngsters have assembled to ensure it goes with a bang. Sadly, it is these audience members who provide most of the spectacle; whilst the band stands relatively still and gives an accurate reproduction of their rather vacuous records, a good two thirds of the crowd are sucked into a lively (and, for once, friendly) moshpit. The show ends with an impressive wall of death to the strains of "This Is Exile".  NB
Suicidal Tendencies @ 21:30 on Helvíti stage
Many reviews have labeled Suicidal Tendencies the most festive performance at the festival, and while a sizable and notably joyous crowd justifies these allegations, it is difficult for me to join in on the praise party. Granted, observing it through the upper deck windows of the Jægerbus probably reduces the experience somewhat, but in my book these fathers of crossover thrash, as they are dubbed, shrivel in comparison to Supercharger in pure party terms. The music itself is curiously satisfying for someone who usually loathes toughguy hardcore, but perhaps that's because Suicidal Tendencies limit the toughguy attitude to their wardrobe and play metal that sounds inventive and playful. Steve Brunner on his six-string bass guitar, in particular, churns out some mouth-watering bass licks and solos, while Dean Pleasants on lead guitar does his best to offer competition with a quirky, effect-laden riff barrage. Seated on a comfortable bean bag sheltered from the rain inside a warm bus, it's easy for me to shout criticism at the band for a performance which I could hardly even see, so to make amends, this grade is based on YouTube videos, on the joy with which the band performs on them, and on the finale, during which a large portion of the audience floods the stage on invitation and drowns the various band members in an ocean of jumping, singing, dancing, happy people – no doubt in appreciation of an excellent show.  AP
Behemoth @ 23:00 on Hades stage
When Behemoth step on stage, it is dark; very dark. It's as though the Polish veterans somehow conjured the blackest, most hellish clouds to shield us from starlight as they prepare to drag us with them into the depths of hell. We came to the festival expecting a rather boring show from Behemoth, but theirs soon turns out to be one of the best of the weekend. It contains the first decent light show, awesome pagan stage props and a solid musical performance including three songs from the band's acclaimed 2009 album "Evangelion". Behemoth is the preeminent band of the Polish underground and one of the most well known names in modern black metal, and, like many such bands, theatrics is their trade. Other writers here may disagree with me on this point but, whilst in most cases a good gig requires the band to leap about the stage (the more chaotically the better), in the genre of black metal it is quite sufficient for them to stand completely still in their corpse paint and just look badass. So, bathed in red light amidst total darkness and looking like something from a priest's nightmares, this is exactly what the band does, finally living up to the festival's diabolical name. Only with great reluctance do we tear ourselves away from this spectacle to find food and drink to sustain us during the chaos and exhaustion of the impending headline act.  NB
The Dillinger Escape Plan @ 23:59 on Helvíti stage
As soon as the last chord strums on the Hades stage, a low, threatening hum begins on the main stage as the stand-in headliners emerge from backstage, their backs against us. A few seconds pass before Greg Puciato hurls himself toward the front of stage screaming "we wrote these plans, took the order, the architecture, and followed them through the end ‘till the gears ground cold and relentless – there was no remorse" and the smallish gathering of diehard fans, including the undersigned, bursts into a dangerous frenzy. The Dillinger Escape Plan have big shoes to fill, but they're definitely not out to make new friends tonight. Whatever objects can be climbed get climbed and once the band is finished with these things, they're preferably destroyed or hurled into the crowd – as one unfortunate photographer discovers when Greg boots a monitor case off the stage. Whatever fatigue playing an earlier show in Switzerland and flying over for this headlining slot might have caused is nowhere to be seen, and The Dillinger Escape Plan do what they do best: instigate absolute mayhem. The setlist has been tailored to reflect this preference, with most of it leaning towards the chaotic mathcore stuff á la "Panasonic Youth", "Fix Your Face", "Sugar Coated Sour", "Lurch" and "The Mullet Burden", although brand new songs in the form of "Chinese Whispers", "Room Full of Eyes", "Good Neighbor" and "Farewell, Mona Lisa" are also given an airing. As expected most of the violence takes place during the more relentless musical battering, so the few moments of calm in "When Good Dogs Do Bad Things" and "Black Bubblegum" are warmly welcomed as breathing breaks before "Sunshine the Werewolf", which is usually the finale but now finds its place in the middle of the set, incites the most furious moshpit of the festival - too furious for our editor-in-chief, it turns out, as the picture below demonstrates. Rockfreak casualty number two. It is safe to say that injuries at a Dillinger Escape Plan concert are closely correlated to the quality of the performance, and as such there is little else to conclude than that The Dillinger Escape Plan are still one of the finest live bands in the world, and a worthy replacement for the mighty Mastodon. [8½] AP
I guess all that's left to say is, see you all next year!