Slam It! 2018

author LL date 12/06/18

The Slam-It! event had its inaugural edition only last year but continues going strong in 2018. Organised by the powerhouse that is Prime Collective as well as partners from Copenhell, the focus is on a modern sound in metal and rock and sure enough, the target audience seems to be a younger demographic than for instance Copenhell. Just like last year, the line-up comprises a mix of international and national bands although this time the balance is almost half of each, making it feel even more like a contender to be reckoned with. Whereas last year had three international pop-punk names on the bill, this year the focus is more on different kinds of atmospheric and soundscapey yet still hard-hitting names that seem to share certain musical qualities although there's also definitely some variation in how they integrate and use those elements.

This year the first five names play outside on Pumpehuset's summer stage, Byhaven, which is thus open for everyone while the last four heavy-hitters take the party indoors. Only the downstairs part of the venue is used this year which is probably a good call, especially as the shows feel that much more intense and all bands seem to have a great connection with the party-ready audience. The weather is luckily sunny all day and everyone seems to be having a great time during the event, drinking beers and drinks or eating food from the incorporated Byhaven-stand serving delicious burgers, tacos, and nachos. /LL

All pictures by Kevin Zak

Royal Mob @ 16:00 at Pumpehusets Byhave

People are mostly sat down in the shade around the stage in Byhaven, sheltered from the incredibly hot summer sun, when the first band of the afternoon is about to play. Mirza Radonjica-Bang‎, the man behind this fine day of music, does succeed in drawing out a bit more people to the stage when he introduces Royal Mob, who have just released their debut album "Cinematic". Not a band I am personally familiar with before today's show, I have to admit that the very first impression was not great either. Starting out with the very first track from the new album, "Wanna Lie With You" unfortunately comes off as a bit of an uninspired piece of pop rock with indie sensibilities, that just doesn't have a powerful or catchy enough chorus to really pique my interest. The chorus just comes off as a bit flat and it does not help either that the guitar is barely intelligible in the mix. It should be said that the playing is really tight though, the falsetto singing mostly good and an energetic bass player saves the stage performance from being boring, by vigorously moving on stage while laying down some pretty sweet chops. Not off to the best start but it doesn't take long before the band really shows that there is still some potential to be found here.

That potential really shows when the focus is put on creating danceable, funky rock music instead, similar to something you would hear on a Don Broco record. The offbeat rhythms on "Snake" and the incredibly catchy chorus and fine guitar work on "Fire" stand as two of the clear highlights of the set, and this also shows in the crowd that has turned from motionless bystanders to actually bop their heads to the beat. The final song of the set, "Become", also impresses, where lead singer Gustav Bildsøe Lassen delivers the best vocal performance out of any of the songs, ranging from soft mellow deliveries to soaring hard rock melodies. A great way to finish a set that, while not bad at all, is ultimately slightly forgettable apart from some good moments here and there. Some work on making the music a bit more differentiable and a more energetic stage performance and interaction with the crowd could definitely see Royal Mob turn into the next thing in the underground Danish rock scene, but they just aren't quite there yet. [6] KW

Acres @ 16:45 at Pumpehusets Byhave

The next band to take the stage today is the British post-hardcore group Acres who draw a few die-hard fans to the fore although generally, the audience doesn't seem very familiar with them. I have been very skeptical concerning their playing on the outside stage as it does understandably have a simpler speaker setup than what can be put together inside, but whatever concerns I might have had are quickly put completely to shame as their atmospheric and dreamy sound goes through nice and clean. The only negative thing to remark in that regard is that the guitars could have been a little clearer at times but overall, the sunny outdoors is transformed through the soundscapes into something with a more melancholic flavor for the next half hour or so. The group's vocalist has excellent mic control and nails every clean note throughout their set which is always great to hear when certain post-hardcore bands these days seem to be writing material without a care in the world whether they can actually deliver live. He is fairly active on stage, moving around and also walking out into the crowd at times but it's their lead guitarist who steals the show as he spins around violently, frantically playing his battered instrument. The rest of the band space out in the songs a bit more and thus together, they communicate the different aspects of their sound well. The audience seems dazed from the warm weather and are a little slow to react so while it sounds great, we never reach magical levels, although the new single "Unwelcome" as well as the older banger "In Sickness & Health" make for specific highlights. [7½] LL

Sons Of Death Valley @ 17:30 at Pumpehusets Byhave

Another band that has mostly gone past my radar, the only experience I have with Sons of Death Valley is checking out a few songs before today's show. Playing some attitude-driven and very rock 'n' roll infused hardcore it seemed to me that this would be a great fit for a sunny day full of beer, even though the music itself might have come off as a bit simple and not all that original to me. However, Sons of Death Valley has got to be the biggest surprise for me at this year's Slam-It. From the first scream and the great confident attitude of frontman Dan Christensen, I already cannot help but let out a smile, though the sound is a bit muddy at this point yet does get better as the set progresses. Christensen spits out verses with a fury and high pitched tones like a cross between Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine and Every Time I Die's own Keith Buckley, while the other members of the band back him up with the obligatory punky gang vocals. And those two bands are actually pretty good comparisons to the music in general, with some songs relying more on heavy grooves and others on fast chaotic hardcore and Southern rock breakdowns.

The crowd definitely starts to liven up during their set and dedicated fans in front who know the lyrics are passed the mic to scream along, much to the excitement of frontman Dan who is clearly enjoying himself very much. Every member of the band performs with great energy, but it is hard not to focus on the charisma and very fitting attitude that their lead singer exudes, which in the end also leads to the first little mosh pit of the day. Ultimately, the set is just a whole lot of fun and while I might not see myself enjoying this as much on record as in a live setting, I do recommend checking them out if you get the chance (preferably a bit intoxicated). [7½] KW

Cartographs @ 18:15 at Pumpehusets Byhave

The Copenhagen group Cartographs have been around for a while but have changed their style a bit since they last released anything back in 2016. Today, then, they exclusively play all new material that has not been released or recorded yet and they do so with a burning conviction from especially their frontman Joachim Jensen. Fitting the atmospheric metal theme of the day, they perform intense songs with big, almost cinematic layers of sound that comes through on the small stage just as perfectly as they did for Acres earlier. Singer Joachim screams his way emotionally on top of this and with the veins on his neck bulging, he holds on to the mic like it was his only lifeline and never once smiles but instead gives his all to really live out the music in front of us. While he is very active, dropping to the ground or stepping out into the crowd to perform his parts at times, the rest of the band is more introverted and calm. On one hand, this gives their singer a sort of stable platform that enables him to be as torn up as he wants while the music rages on, but on the other hand, it also creates a kind of disconnect as I can only imagine the ferocity if they were all getting into it more openly. To be fair, though, the stage is not very big and I can easily see how raging about is not entirely possible for four standing people who make space for themselves around a drumkit. In general, though, it's an intense set and more than anything, its the cathartic feeling of it all that we're left with when they rock out their last chords. [7½] LL

MØL @ 19:00 at Pumpehusets Byhave

For a band previously described with descriptive words like "glacial" or "icy", playing outside in the sun at a cheeky event like this might seem like a challenge. Instead of trying to be as serious about it as possible, though, MØL are embracing the Slam-It! concept fully and arrive on stage all wearing colorful Hawaii shirts and sunglasses as their immense blackgaze starts booming out at us. For the first time tonight, the space in front of the stage seems more firmly packed and the crowd is active and moshing most of the time the band is on stage. Generally, the band is an expressive bunch, grimacing and having obvious fun while effortlessly nailing their songs, and especially vocalist Kim Song Sternkopf is on the edge of the stage constantly from the start and enters the fray in front of him several times to really get the party going. The mood is wild as the group play through tracks from their well-received debut record "Jord", where especially the riffs of "Penumbra" and the more thundering "Ligament" make great impressions. Once again, the sound mix is treating them very well and their mix of party mood and seriously well-played music comes to a climax with the appearance of two smoke bombs in yellow and white that completely cover the stage and the pit in front of it in color towards the end. MØL is already a great band, not least live, and today they show that they can party as well. Although I would always prefer more closed and dark confines to achieve full immersion in their layered music, this show provides a new and fun experience with them and is definitely one of the highlights of this year's event. [8] LL

CABAL @ 19:45 at Pumpehuset

The room is covered in darkness with only a few lights present as Mirza once again enters the stage to present the first band on the indoor stage at Pumpehuset: "Nok Danmarks tungeste band. Det er pisse grimt, det er pisse tungt. Smoke embraces the stage as dark soundscapes fill out the room and people are buzzing for what's about to go down in a well crowded (though not packed) room. The drummer hammers on the huge sounding toms while strobe lights follow his beat and then "Rah'ru" is properly kicked in with immense force. This intro alone shows that Mirza's words do not ring hollow. The sound is earth crushing as the pummeling deathcore riffs are blasted out without being able to see any of the members faces, as the only light being used on stage is the white strobe lights coming from behind. As a result, the band is only tangible as black, sinister silhouettes, completely bent over in headbangs almost reaching the floor, a perfect image for their disgusting, brutal music.

CABAL is a band I have witnessed a few times by now and I have mostly been very impressed with their shows. But from the first song alone, I can tell that this is a performance of an entirely new caliber. The sound is obliterating the room as the very Meshuggah-inspired cut "Unworthy" grooves along before delivering one of their signature, almost stupidly heavy breakdowns with a sub drop that sends shockwaves through the crowd. With every small detail and beat in the music, the strobe lights follow suit, a very nice and professional touch to the production, that once again reminds me a lot of Meshuggah and their spectacular lighting. Everything just clicks to create a thoroughly enjoyable experience, which has proven quite clearly to me that this is a band completely ready to take the international metal scene by storm.

One of the criticisms I could have with the sound is that frontman Andreas Bjulver Paarup's vocals seem to drown in the mix sometimes, yet it's not a glaring problem. The band also seems to have a rhythmic hiccup about halfway through the set where every member did not hit the tempo at the same time, yet they quickly recover and the rest of the set is dominated by incredibly tight instrumentals with razor-sharp cutouts at just the right moments. The crowd gets wild in the moshpit when "Innocent Blood" blasts out - the only track of the set that is not found on the debut record but rather the first EP. Kim Song Sternkopf, the lead singer from MØL, joins Andreas on stage to scream his lungs out in a memorable dual vocalist rendition of the track. The whole experience is finished off with the first single from "Mark of Rot", the groove infested "False Light" which brings the intensity in the crowd to the highest point as the frontman jumps in the crowd to take part in the moshing. Truly a display of the absolute force that the band currently is and what they can potentially become. I left the room in awe of what had just transpired. [9] KW

Rolo Tomassi @ 20:45 at Pumpehuset

The experimental mathcore group Rolo Tomassi from the UK is a band that has been on my radar for a long time but that I nevertheless only began listening to with the release of their 2015 album "Grievances". Since then, another album has joined their catalog, this year's "Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It". It is an album that blurs out in a lot of different directions, embracing both their more aggressive and rabid -core side as well as calm passages with fragile, clean vocals by singer Eva Spence. Live, they also embrace both and the audience filling up the open space in front of Pumpehuset's small stage take it all in, moshing for the harder parts and being visibly moved by the softer ones. The ferocious "Rituals", as well as the serene "Aftermath", both make great impressions while my personal favorite from the new album, "A Flood of Light", also makes a welcome appearance. They play with a pretty dark lighting set up, making them all stand out as shadowy figures a lot of the time as they move and headbang to their own sounds, and especially Eva Spence's low key dancing flow fits well with the circling riffs that paint huge soundscapes in the small room. James Spence on synthesizers often grabs his mic and crosses the stage from his allocated space to join her screaming in the middle, and as the rest of the group also do their best to not stand still for too long at any time, it becomes both musically and visually a dynamic set. To me, this was by far the main attraction of this year's event as the band has been a rare sight in Denmark so while the crowd could have been bigger and the show altogether a bit wilder, it was a solidly played set that lived up to my relatively high expectations without hitting it out of the park completely. [8] LL

Betraying The Martyrs @ 21:45 at Pumpehuset

One of the bigger bands on the bill, Betraying the Martyrs is a French deathcore/metalcore act that is pretty well known in the modern metal scene for their djenty, anthemic and symphonic music, and who also draws the biggest crowd of the whole day. The set is kicked off with glitchy dubstep as the six members enter the stage that seems barely able to fit their setup. Victor Guillet, their keyboardist and clean vocalist, runs across the stage with his whole keyboard in hand, swinging it furiously around to hype up the crowd. Right off the bat, the stage presence is incredible. Frontman Aaron Matts, elevated on a box in the middle of the stage, roars out deep growls while commanding the crowd, who almost broke out in a mosh pit before the set even started. Unfortunately, the performance is plagued by muddy sound where it's very hard to hear the intricacies of the instrumentation at times. To be frank, I'd hate to be the sound guy for these guys seeing as so much is going on in their music at the same time. However, like CABAL before them, their playing is very tight which is also extremely important in this type of music and the sound does get better while it never really becomes great. The only times it really works is when the kick-to-the-face breakdowns or djenty open string grooves hit you since detail to the playing isn't all that important.

That's not to say that the set is ruined by the average sound, it could have been a lot worse. Quite the opposite actually, as the room is completely on fire and the middle moshpit is almost constantly going. You simply can't deny the high energy these guys pull out of their crowds. And the set does have some musical highlights, the most memorable for me personally being the addition of "Liberate Me Ex Inferis" from their debut album to the setlist - an instrumental, dubsteppy song that sounds absolutely ridiculous and it seems the room is about to collapse during the final deathcore chugs as it leads into another crowd favourite from the debut, "Life Is Precious". I personally would have liked more tracks from "Breathe In Life" as I don’t think the two latest albums have been nearly as good (and the absence of the cover of Frozen's "Let It Go" seems like a missed, obvious opportunity for fun when you’re playing in front of loads of drunk people). Some newer tracks do stand out as well, like the title track of their newest record "The Resilient", which starts the only circle pit of the night and has people screaming along: "But we stand strong!" Another highlight comes when Aaron Marshall commands the crowd: "There’s been talk of some guy going around building walls, so let’s make our own wall of death!". "Unregistered" causes the room to turn into complete mayhem and I would have much rather ended on this high note than the honestly really boring "The Great Disillusion". In conclusion, some problems with the sound setup and the setlist cannot detract too much from the performance of a band that knows exactly what they're doing and hold a firm grip on the crowd they are playing to. It was just really entertaining to watch and for the one hour the band played, the small stage at Pumpehuset was an absolute riot. [8] KW

Being As An Ocean @ 23:00 at Pumpehuset

The Californian post-hardcore band Being As An Ocean are the last ones on the bill tonight and sadly, half the crowd present for Betraying The Martyrs seep out of the venue after their high-energy set, leaving the room only half-filled for this final performance. No matter, though, as Being As An Ocean embrace what they have when they break out their intense jams that abound with emotional almost R'n'B-ish cleans, soaring choruses, spoken/screamed word pieces, and electronic layers. More akin to the more tranquil parts of Rolo Tomassi's set than to the mayhem right before them, their set plays like a melancholic embrace of fans that wear their hearts on their sleeves, like the lyrics go in the highlight "Dissolve" from their latest album "Waiting For Morning To Come". A few of the electronic interludes from this also appear tonight, spacing out the more rough parts of the band's set and altogether, it nicely underlines my initial remarks in this article about the atmospheric, layered approach to music that connects almost all the bands on the bill here. It's especially obvious in these more subtle soundscapes that provide a great soundtrack to space out to after all the shenanigans of the day. Older fans might not have had an exact field day with the band's shift to a somewhat softer or more experimental style as the newer tracks take up most of the setlist, with the most notable exception being their old melodic hardcore hit "The Hardest Part Is Forgetting Those You Swore You Would Never Forget" from their debut record "Dear G-D...". All in all, they do the best with what they have to work with crowdwise and the venue provides a nice and intense frame for their emotional music as they end a day of almost surprisingly good quality performances. [7½] LL

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