Royal Metal Fest 2013

author MST date 22/04/13

For a large number of Danish metalheads, and especially those residing in Århus, the first rays of sunshine in March/April mark more than the imminent return of the Spring: they remind us all that the time for another edition of Royal Metal Fest is getting closer. Having attended the festival in 2011 and 2012, I counted myself among those eager to experience another weekend consisting of beer, great performances by great bands in various genres of metal and everything else included in this great festival. After last year's festival suffered from terrible ticket sales partially due to a street protest that took place right outside the premises, it was unclear for a while whether or not there would be a festival this year. Much to everyone's delight however, 2013 turned out to be one of the best years that Royal Metal Fest have had in recent years.

Obviously, what matters the most at a festival is the music, and although RMF will always focus on death metal there was definitely something for (almost) everybody in this year's line-up. But there are other important factors that make Royal Metal Fest the great event that it is. First of all, Voxhall is definitely one of the very best venues in Denmark. But compared to regular gigs at Voxhall there were a few specific differences at this year's Royal Metal Fest: the beers were cheap (5 x 33 cl Royal Plsnr or 4 x 33 cl Royal Export for 100 DKR); a "pølsevogn" was stationed right outside the entrance again this year, providing the attending audience with a quick meal at reasonable prices; and as a new feature this year, Voxhall's smaller concert venue Atlas had been transformed into a beer garden with plenty of seats for tired feet. In a horseshoe's shape around the beer garden were various booths, some that sold CD's, vinyl, merchandise and DVD's, and sponsor booths that displayed guitars and pedals as well as a Copenhell Beerbanger booth at which you could headbanging your way to a free beer. Needless to say, there was something for pretty much everyone at this year's Royal Metal Fest.

All photos by Rasmus Ejlersen and Marika Hyldmar
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Line-up:

Friday:

  • Vader
  • Hatesphere
  • Melechesh
  • Dawn Of Demise
  • Hamferð
  • Bone
  • Caro

Saturday:

  • Satyricon
  • Dream Evil
  • Cryptopsy
  • Cattle Decapitation
  • Decrepit Birth
  • Hell's Domain
  • Eyeconoclast
  • The Last Shot Of War

Friday:

Caro

The first band to play the festival was a band that seems to pop up everywhere lately. This was the fourth time I saw Caro live in the course of twelve months, after having seen them at Day of Decay and Aalborg Metal Festival, and at the 2012 WOA Metal Battle. There were a few things that made this show different compared to the last three times I saw them: bass player Rasmus Munch Nielsen left the band earlier this year to focus on touring with the Danish thrash metal band Essence. A new bass player was found in Jacob Wammen, and he seemed an apt replacement. Another difference was the setlist which featured a number of new songs.

Caro

Caro's music isn't exactly the most innovative there is, what with thrash/death metal being such an oversaturated genre pretty much everywhere, Denmark included. The influences from Hatesphere and Lamb Of God are easy to spot, but that's perfectly fine because Caro are usually a great live band. Headbanging across the board, sweat and constant energy is what awaits you at a Caro gig. Michael Olsson on vocals has proven to be a great frontman a number of times now, as he commands the stage and utters his growled vocals. Sigurd Jøhnk-Jensen is a rare example that a drummer can actually be a huge plus in a live performance, with his vocal contribution once in a while and the fact that he headbangs most of the time. This time however, the volume for his microphone was way too low, as was the volume for the snare drum. The four gentlemen in front of the stage were as energetic as ever, and guitarist Laust Normann Sørensen, who is usually the weakest link in their performances, seemed to have gotten a boost in confidence. Sadly though, the change in the setlist seemed to have been for the worse, as the new songs didn't work as well as the older ones did. There was even a slow and heavy death metal track in there, and I just wasn't feeling it. Caro's opening show at RMF 2013 didn't live up to my previous experiences with the band, but it was good enough to get me properly warmed up for the festival. [7]

Bone

This was my very first encounter with Fredericia-based Bone. The band play a mix of death, black and thrash metal with a certain old school vibe that one could perhaps even call "true", and thus the fact that the band originate from the birthing place of Metal Magic Festival doesn't surprise me the slightest. The band members go by monikers such as "Evil Ejaculator" and "D'Molisher", and the first of those two, the vocalist, wore a vest with carefully placed patches, and riveted clothing. This band is all about the extreme metal scene of the 80's, a fact that became obvious to everyone as soon as the band started playing.

Bone

Bone's performance was very simple, and quite effective. The aggressive death/black/thrash metal hymns flowing from the speakers got everyone's heads bopping, and on stage, Bone were headbanging and playing their asses off. Mr. Ejaculator wandered about the stage as he screamed his lyrics out towards the still relatively small crowd beholding the spectacle. Not much happened in terms of communication between songs, just some neutral talking, but I really just wanted the band to keep playing because I was having a great time. Bone are by no means doing anything new or special, but their homage to the underground metal scene from before they were born is so sincere and devoid of cheese that one must appreciate their effort. And although their performance was nothing out of the ordinary, it was great fun and definitely something I wouldn't mind attending again. [7½]

Hamferð

I was really surprised when the booking of Hamferð was announced, in a very positive way. Their melodic doom metal, no doubt inspired by the likes of their Danish brothers in Saturnus, stands in stark contrast to the predominantly fast and aggressive metal that makes up the rest of the line-up for the festival. Hamferð released an EP called "Vilst Er Síðsta Fet" in 2010, and the majority of the material played was from that EP. Songs like "Vráin" and "At Enda" are monumental doom metal tracks, and led by Jón Hansen's crushing guttural growls and enormously grand clean vocal arrangements, the songs are bound to make any doom metal fan fall in love with the music coming from these Faroese maestros.

Hamferð

In the live setting, Hamferð put on quite the theatrical performance. Fully suited up and ready to carry a casket to an open grave, the band look and act as though they were attending a funeral. A powerful impression at first, to say the least. Two guitarists, a bassist and a keyboard player stand perfectly still in silent mourning, while vocalist Hansen curates the performance. Those in the audience who aren't there to loudly express their negative feelings toward the genre so that everyone can hear it clearly (fuck you guys, seriously) are spellbound by the emotional nature of the music. During the songs I recognise from the band's released material, I'm definitely enjoying myself, but I'm not personally a fan of the type of theatrical performance set up by the band. I found that it limited the natural emotional reaction that the band members could've expressed, because they had to stay in that particular role they were playing. Anyone who has seen Saturnus in a live setting knows what I'm talking about. I had very high expectations for Hamferð, and it would be a terrible felony to call their performance anything less than good. But sadly, I left the stage feeling slightly disappointed because I feel that the band's music has potential to result in a much better live performance than what I saw at Royal Metal Fest. [7]

Dawn Of Demise

Dawn Of Demise

Denmark's groovy brutal death metallers in Dawn Of Demise are a pretty straightforward band to review. You always know exactly what you're going to get - no more and no less. Dawn Of Demise are tight as hell, and they know how to stir up the crowd in front of them. Led by the charismatic vocalist Scott Jensen and his brutally guttural growls, the band plow through a setlist filled to the brim with groovy death metal tracks that quickly begin to bore me, but luckily I'm not here to review the band's music. Guitarists Martin Sørensen and Thomas "Hotdogger" Egede (who played his last show with the band on this evening) played their groovy riffs to precision, and created the perfect atmosphere for mid-tempo headbanging in symbiosis with the rhythm section. Bassist Bjørn Jensen provides the occasional backing vocals as his brother Scott flashes his pregnant belly to the crowd, while said crowd worship said pregnant belly. It's all great fun, and like I've already said in an earlier review, you'd have to be a pessimist to not be enjoying yourself at a Dawn Of Demise show. [7½]

Melechesh

The first real international name to play the festival (Hamferð speak fluent Danish so they don't really count) were Melechesh. The Israeli melodic black metal band were supposed to have played Aalborg Metal Festival in 2012, but when their tour with Marduk was cancelled, they were forced to drop off the festival. Luckily for their fans their tour with Vader ended up providing Royal Metal Fest with a taste of Melechesh's "Mesopotamian" black metal.

Melechesh

As frontman Ashmedi and his band ascend the stage, the faces of touring bassist Scorpios Androctonus and the band's new stand-in guitarist (whose name I've been unable to uncover) are covered in a veil, making the mysterious band seem even more so. The music flowing from the speakers is black metal all right, but the drum patterns and odd scales being used make Melechesh a difficult band to pigeonhole. What is completely clear to me though is that I'm loving it. The mysterious veils are gone after the first song, and from that point the stage is emanating with infectious energy. Fan-favorites "Grand Gathas of Baal Sin" and "Rebirth Of The Nemesis" receive the biggest reactions, and with good reason as these are killer tracks that work excellently in a live setting. It felt as if the band had just started when all of a sudden their entire set had ended, and I wanted more. Melechesh put on the first truly great performance of the festival. [8]

Hatesphere

Like Dawn Of Demise earlier this evening, the modern Danish metal scene's oldest and most consistent band, Hatesphere, almost always deliver exactly what you expect them to deliver. The Danish death/thrash metal band has had so many members being replaced through the years, but the current line-up has been solid since 2011, and their live performances are pretty much always top notch.

Hatesphere

The setlist was weighted heavily in favor of old fans like myself. Through classic tracks like "500 Dead People", "Let Them Hate", "The Coming Of Chaos" and "Disbeliever", sole remaining original member Peter "Pepe" Lyse Hansen and the rest of the 'Sphere showed that they can still dominate the stage in their band's old home town - and the audience agreed. Having seen the band so many times already, I was admittedly having a hard time being impressed, but it was hard to dismiss the fact that Hatesphere functioned as a solid entity on this Friday night. The band's new frontman (since 2010) Esben "Esse" Hansen fulfilled his role to near perfection, though I spotted a single flaw: compared to previous experiences with the band it seemed as if Esse didn't let his vocal lines get drawn out as much as he has done earlier. Other than that though, Hatesphere circa 2013 are quite simply still amazingly rock solid. [7½]

Vader

Friday night was to be headlined by none other than the mighty Polish death metal legends in Vader. The band was touring through Europe on their Back To The Black-tour, on which the vast majority of the setlist was to consist of some of the band's oldest and most legendary material. Personally, I was only acquainted with the band's last couple of albums, but I was still very much looking forward to seeing the Polish legends after hearing so much about their great live performances.

Vader

Led by Piotr "Peter" Wiwczarek and his mighty fine axe work and truly unique death metal growls, Vader demonstrated why they are considered to be such a good live band. Furiously blasting drums and blazing guitar riffs were played to perfection in death metal classics such as "The Wrath" and "Dark Age", as well as in "Welcome To The Morbid Reich" and "Come And See My Sacrifice" from 2011's "Welcome To The Morbid Reich". Although Wiwczarek is the only current member who has been in the band for more than 3 years, Vader played as a solid entity with Wiwczarek clearly leading the charge. Sweat and headbanging spread from the stage to the audience, and the atmosphere was excellent. Vader ended their set with "Vision And The Voice" to huge applause, only to come back and play "This Is The War" from 2005's "The Art Of War" EP. No headlining Vader show is complete without a Slayer cover, but instead of the obvious "Raining Blood" we were treated to the massive "Hell Awaits" - what a way to end a great night! [8½]

Saturday:

The Last Shot Of War

The Last Shot Of War

It's hard to be the first band to play a festival - but it's even harder being the first band to play on the last day of the festival. When The Last Shot Of War from Belgium ascended the stage there were 20-30 people scattered throughout the venue, and the young deathcore band received pretty much no response from the audience. The band describe their sound as "Unhealthy Beatdown Deathcore", a genretag I happen to agree with. Mediocre growls and screams that sound exactly like what you'd expect from the genre on top of unnecessarily heavy death metal with too predictable breakdowns. So the music wasn't my cup of tea - how about that performance then? The band went on stage with energy, and there was plenty of deathcore-bounce on stage to catch your attention. Vocalist Zeghers Jérémiah made several efforts to get more people involved, but to no avail. After a few songs, the band reacted to the poor response they were getting and the energy level dropped to near zero. I always give bands in genres I don't like the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to prove themselves on stage, and who knows, maybe The Last Shot Of War triumph in front of their fans, but they didn't exactly wake the hung over audience at Royal Metal Fest from their slumber. [5]

Eyeconoclast

Eyeconoclast

Italy's Eyeconoclast caught me completely off guard. They play technical death/thrash metal with the occasional foray into melodic Gothenburg metal. I'm guessing there must've been 30-40 people present as Eyeconoclast started their set, so they too had to suffer from an early spot in the line-up. But the music coming out of the speakers definitely had the potential to wake the early birds properly. An array of aggressive riffs and ever-changing pounding drums came at us as an unstoppable force, with relatively typical shouted/semi-growled vocals on top. Frontman Giuseppe Di Giorgio required almost no time to breathe between his many, many vocal lines and he needs to be applauded for his lung capacity, but I'm afraid the praise stops there. As a frontman, Di Giorgio was incredibly anonymous, and his between song banter was almost impossible to understand behind his thick Italian accent. Bassist Paolo Ballarotto, who added some backing vocals once in a while, was the only interesting thing happening on stage. Eyeconoclast's music was a great wake up call on this early Saturday afternoon, but as a live band the Italians need to up their game. [6]

Hell's Domain

Hell's Domain

Time for some good ol' thrash metal! Hell's Domain from Århus play the Bay Area-style of thrash metal known from their countrymen in Artillery and bands like Heathen and Testament. Songs like "As Good As Dead" and "Hangman's Fracture" were characterised by catchy riffs, mid to fast-tempo drums and Alex Clausen's relatively high pitched voice not unlike the voice of Heathen's David White, although further practice would be appreciated by this reviewer. Clausen led the affairs on stage: he would explain most of the songs before they were played, which tended to drag on a little too long. Moving around the stage casually without exhausting himself, he didn't exactly emanate thrash metal aggression, but through energetic thrash metal anthems he and his band definitely left an impression on the now much larger audience that had showed up to watch their local band. Nothing impressive happened here, but good songs and a nice energetic performance was more than enough to get a thumbs up from me. [7]

Decrepit Birth

Decrepit Birth

Royal Metal Fest will always primarily be a death metal festival. That's just the way it is. This year, the bookers had found themselves an impressive tour to book, with the mighty Cryptopsy bringing along Cattle Decapitation and Decrepit Birth to what would become a massive demonstration of power from the three bands as they played after one another. First band to hit the stage was the American technical death metallers in Decrepit Birth, with the infamous Bill Robinson in the lead. Robinson is mostly known for choosing to be homeless and standing in for Suffocation's Frank Mullen when he's otherwise engaged. But Robinson and his own band can easily stand by themselves, as especially 2008's "Diminishing Between Worlds" proved beyond a shadow of doubt. The technical prowess showcased by Matt Sotelo in songs like "The Resonance" and "Diminishing Between Worlds" is enough to keep one's focus firmly places for most of the show, but Robinson's wild moving around the stage as he utters his growled vocals tended to steal the show. Robinson was indeed a great frontman, both as a performer during songs and between songs as he made everyone feel welcome with stories about his band's music and, naturally, marijuana. It should be no surprise to anyone even remotely familiar with the homeless vocalist that he loves his weed, and as part of his generally laid back personality, his stories help build a relationship between the vocalist and the audience. As if the band's great music and an approved overall performance with Robinson taking the spotlight wasn't enough, the show ended with a masterfully executed cover of the old Death classic, "Crystal Mountain", which made the reluctant onlookers give in. Decrepit Birth are very welcome to return to our humble country in this reviewer's opinion. [8]

Cattle Decapitation

Cattle Decapitation

San Diego's deathgrinders in Cattle Decapitation brought the necessary amount of insanity required for the entire festival. As a band, Cattle play as a solid entity, with guitarist Josh Elmor and bassist Derek Engemann on each side remaining rather stationary while still putting on a great show. But their role is to play the insane deathgrind from albums such as 2008's critically acclaimed "The Harvest Floor" and last year's "Monolith Of Inhumanity" to perfection, and that they did. All attention was directed towards the center of the stage where Travis Ryan proved himself one of the most maniacal frontmen in the entire metal genre. For starters anyone who has heard the band's music will know that his vocals are as mad as they are unique - relatively typical grindcore growls make up most of the vocals, but his almost clean-sounding semi-screams and actual screams are what sets him apart from everyone else. Performing some of them with his tongue trying to reach his left ear only makes him look that much more mental. If Eyeconoclast's Di Giorgio deserved praise for his lung capacity, Ryan deserves to be worshipped for pretty much everything he did on stage, from his running about like a mad man to his changing back and forth between insane vocal techniques without a trace of exhaustion to the point when he conjured up a nice snotty amount of spit, caught it mid air and sniffed it right back in. Oh yeah. Although the entire band deserve recognition for the show, the frontman who made Napalm Death's Barney Greenway look like Dave Mustaine was what really made it truly wondrous to behold. What a spectacle this was. [8½]

Cryptopsy

The last death metal band to set foot on the stage at this year's Royal Metal Fest was none other than the legendary Canadian brutal death metallers in Cryptopsy. Like quite a few older bands these days, the history of Cryptopsy is one riddled with line-up changes and the occasional shift in musical direction. 1996's "None So Vile" with Dan "Lord Worm" Greening on vocals is regarded by many as a BDM masterpiece, but from that point and onwards, members would come and go. 2008's "The Unspoken King" saw the band venture into deathcore territory, a move obviously frowned upon by most metal enthusiasts. Matt McGachy's vocals were one thing that made that album sound vastly different, but that same vocalist stayed in the band, and on the band's self-titled comeback from last year, McGachy sounds as brutal as anyone could hope for.

Cryptopsy

Because one of the band's guitarists, Jon Levasseur, appeared to be stuck in prison, the band performed as a four-piece with Christian Donaldson being the band's only guitarist. He did one hell of a job though, and with Olivier Pinard on bass covering the other side of the stage, they let McGachy dominate most of the stage. The only original member left, Flo Mounier, was hammering away behind the drumkit with surgical precision at immense speeds, as McGachy rushed around the stage uttering his completely indecipherable vocals, with his impossibly long hair hanging between his legs. Cryptopsy are an extremely tight live band, and in McGachy they have a world class frontman worthy of the legendary Lord Worm. Cryptopsy conquered the stage having given a lesson in true death metal brutality. [8]

Dream Evil

Dream Evil

Whether or not a break from the brutality that had characterised the festival for the last couple of hours was needed, the Swedish heavy/power metallers in Dream Evil were here to provide us with a fair share of stories about dragonslaying and sing-along-choruses. Though lyrically Dream Evil can be equally compared to Manowar and Hammerfall, musically the latter is definitely what comes to mind. Call it cheesy if you will because it definitely is, but if some lighthearted sing-along-friendly fun floats your boat in a live setting, Dream Evil might just be the band for you. Catchy guitar riffs and soaring power metal clean vocals came flowing from the stage, and the fans in the front row were jumping and singing along. My biggest fear approaching this gig was that vocalist Niklas Isfeldt's voice would fail to reproduce the soaring high pitched vocals required for certain moments in, say, the band's ultimate classic, "The Book Of Heavy Metal (March Of The Metallians)". Suffice to say that all fears were swept aside, and Isfeldt not only came out victorious vocal-wise but also proved to be a great frontman. The band generally seemed to be heading for perfection, until disaster struck. I was told that a flying bottle was the villain, but whatever the cause, the band's computer with their playback keyboards and whatnot malfunctioned. Isfeldt went behind the drumset to try to fix the error, and the resulting unintentional break seemed a bit too unprofessional as literally no one was leading the show for a while. Once Isfeldt came back though, the party continued, and with the aforementioned song about a certain book and the legendary "The Chosen Ones", Dream Evil satisfied the audience's craving for power metal. [7½]

Satyricon

Norway's Satyricon are one of the oldest black metal bands from the Second Wave in the early-mid nineties. After their first three albums, however, the band started experimenting, and the resulting "black 'n' roll" that I would use as the genre for their last two albums has somewhat split the fans into camps. Voxhall was packed for the headliners though, so it seemed as if fans of either side of the band had chosen to stay. Satyricon are a two-piece nowadays, with Kjetil-Vidar "Frost" Haraldstad behind the drumkit and Sigurd "Satyr" Wongraven stood behind his trident-shaped microphone stand acting as vocalist in a live setting, although he takes care of the guitars, bass and keyboards on the band's records. On stage, the band are a sextet with four hired hands playing guitars, bass and keyboards, though Satyr occasionally picks up a guitar.

Satyricon

Satyricon started the set by pleasing the fans of the older material: "Hvite Krists Død" and "Walk The Path Of Sorrow" from the band's first two records were well received, but not as well as when Satyr announced that Satyricon would be playing songs from all of their records on this evening. They continued by moving on to the band's middle-era, with songs from the band's third to fifth albums, including my personal favorite, "Filthgrinder" from 1999's "Rebel Extravaganza". Frost is a beast behind those drums, especially in the faster tracks like my aforementioned favorite, but his skills don't really show in their more groovy material. The touring musicians both played and performed professionally while still making sure that all focus remained on Satyr who, with both hands firmly placed on the outer spikes on his trident-stand when the vocals were absent, looked more self-important than evil. When shrieking hateful lyrics towards the gladly absorbing audience, the battle against the white Christ had indeed begun, but (what I perceived as) Satyr's indifferent attitude in longer periods without vocals dragged the show down significantly for me. Like the rest of the venue however, I was far too busy screaming and headbanging to think about that while Satyricon were playing. After a couple of newer songs and the legendary "Mother North", the band went backstage to wait for their name to be chanted. Ending the show with "Fuel For Hatred" and one of their most accessible songs, "K.I.N.G", Satyricon ended a brilliant festival with a good show that most seem to give a lot more praise than I am able to. Regardless of grade though, Satyricon were fitting headliners to a fantastic line-up at a fantastic festival. [7½]

Setlist:

  • Hvite Krists Død
  • Walk The Path Of Sorrow
  • Filthgrinder
  • Forhekset
  • Repined Bastard Nation
  • Now, Diabolical
  • The Wolfpack
  • Black Crow On A Tombstone
  • The Pentagram Burns
  • The Sign Of The Trident
  • To The Mountains
  • Mother North

Encore:

  • Fuel For Hatred
  • K.I.N.G

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