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Darkest Hour

support Venom Prison + Justin Hate
author AP date 07/05/17 venue Beta, Copenhagen, DEN

Sundays rarely end up producing the most successful concert experiences, the combination of a hangover from the past two days and the prospect of studying or working the next day usually putting a damper on things. But for an avid fan, that is no excuse for not turning up to show the artist that there are people here in Denmark, too, willing to make sacrifices for an opportunity to see their heroes live. Darkest Hour, a band scarcely seen on these shores, may have chosen the wrong day of the week to make their long-due return but that has not deterred a good 60-or-so fans from attending, which one supposes is more than the band realistically could ask for, given the low frequency of their shows here.

All photos courtesy of Jakob Muxoll

Justin Hate

The trouble with watching bands live often though, is that unless the concerts offer something radically different from each other, it gets to be a little bit tedious, pinpointing the aspects that make or break them. Having crossed paths with Justin Hate thrice over the last six months however, that complacency has yet to hit me because the Copenhagen-based extreme metal outfit keeps coming up with exhilarating performances. As usual, the brunt of JH’s showmanship rests on the shoulders of vocalist Kim Rock, even if he does spend an inordinate amount of time asking the thin ranks of audience to step forward here. His deranged screams, bestial inhale/exhales and overall instability ensures that the band’s songs are always accompanied by an appropriate physical expression. Mind you, the setlist is geared a little bit more toward the ‘slower’ and more tempered parts of Justin Hate’s repertoire this evening, so with the exception of a single charge into and eventual collapse amidst the audience, those expressions are not as out-of-control as when the band supported Barricade and the Cavalera brothers’ “Return to Roots” last year.

On the other hand, the multiple blackened, atmospheric passages aired (which, presumably, are glimpses of the upcoming “Marrow” album) prove that the five musicians have more to offer than insanity. And even with both the musical and visible intensity toned down, Justin Hate still retains a level of energy that most Danish acts should look to with envy in their eyes. The playing is tight and done with nerve, which in turn affords the band a confident and imposing aura — and none of it comes at the expense of energy. Indeed, Justin Hate is well underway to establishing itself as one of Denmark’s premier live bands and the release of “Marrow” this summer should reveal whether they will have the musical muscle to back that reputation up.

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Venom Prison

Oddly, the puritanical take on deathcore that Venom Prison presents next is more refreshing than it should be to me — perhaps not least because a number of the heavyweights of ‘-core’ have been gravitating toward nü-metal of late. The way is thus paved for younger acts like these two year-old Britons to pick up the torch and usher in a second coming which, paradoxically, manages to sound fresh by harking back. Mind you, the five musicians have their own ideas to contribute as well, most notably the two guitarists, who have a proclivity to straying from the usual ‘the faster, the better’ paradigm of shredding and busting out grooves that seduce the neck and sensibilities of your inner stoner instead. The proggy and atmospheric touches to the likes of “Celestial Patricide” and “Corrode the Black Sun” provide further nuances for the mind to latch onto — which ultimately becomes the band’s only salvation, given how unmotivated everyone sans the violently teetering, Viserys Targaryen's female clone of a vocalist, Larissa Stupar, seems. Indeed, Venom Prison gives off the impression that they are used to playing for raging moshpits and slam-dancers and, failing at that, see no reason to exert themselves any more than is necessary. The musicianship is razor sharp but lacking the physical expression needed to make this experience intense, which is a shame considering the quality that the ‘Prison’s material sounds like it packs.

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Darkest Hour

Considering that Darkest Hour was formed in 1995 and owns what is widely regarded as one of the best metalcore albums to date (2005’s “Undoing Ruin”), it baffles me that the Washington, D.C.-born outfit has visited Denmark just twice (in 2007 and 2011) and never as the headlining act. Perhaps it is therefore an awareness of their neglect that persuades the group to look past the scanty turnout and instead focus on reconciling with their Danish fans by means of an explosive set. Kicking off with the short and blunt thrasher, “Knife in the Safe Room”, the four standing musicians immediately line up on the stage threshold as if to demonstrate that the rules of a basement punk show now apply and that they are ready to get intimate with us. And that is precisely what happens during the fan-favourite, 2005-piece “Convalescence”, with band and the frontmost portion of the audience both engaged in fierce headbanging and enthusiastically trading the song’s punchlines, ”Nothing scares me, nothing thrills me!” and ”Nothing ails me, nothing kills me”.

But by Murphy’s Law, the riveting start crashes down as a broken beer bottle knocks out the entire backline during the first chorus of “Doomsayer (The Beginning of the End)”, leaving vocalist John Henry to reinvent himself as an awkward comedian for the next ten minutes. The audience seems the humour in the situation though, with at least one patron roaring ”There is no god!” in reference to the band’s 2009-track, “No God”, and another cheekily offering, ”You suck!”, much to Henry & co.’s amusement. Once the power is restored, a powerful rendition of said song returns the show onto its steamrolling track, with especially guitarist Mike Schleibaum and bassist Aaron Deal performing with vengeful energy and drawing repeated cheers from the crowd by virtue of their badass poses. Henry, meanwhile, does his best to whip up a convivial atmosphere between the songs, treating his audience as old friends rather than fans and allowing the conversation to flow both ways — which is something of a rarity, frequent concert-goers will agree.

It was written in the stars that Darkest Hour might reward our patience with regard to their rare visits to Denmark with something truly special, and that something arrives in the shape of “For the Soul of the Savior” — a seldom-aired cut off the group’s début album, “The Mark of Judas”, which they released nearly 17 years ago. The fast-paced staccato riffage and unhinged feeling of it is pure gold for long-standing fans like myself, trumping even the timeless staples “With a Thousand Words to Say but One” and “The Sadist Nation” in terms of moshing and clapping response. The meagre turnout means that tonight’s proceedings never approach the sort of madness witnessed at e.g. Darkest Hour’s infamous show at the Camden Barfly in 2008 but there can be little disagreement about this being a solid and bracing concert in its own right. If anything, it might leave the band with an appetite for coming back soon — perhaps to even play a smaller, sweatier basement venue such as UnderWerket?

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Setlist:

  • 01. Knife in the Safe Room
  • 02. Convalescence
  • 03. Doomsayer (The Beginning of the End)
  • 04. No God
  • 05. Timeless Numbers
  • 06. Savor the Kill
  • 07. Violent by Nature
  • 08. Those Who Survived
  • 09. With a Thousand Words to Say but One
  • 10. For the Soul of the Savior
  • 11. Rapture in Exile
  • 12. The Sadist Nation

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