Coven

support Demon Head
author AP date 12/06/18 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Despite their occult nature and a famous track entitled “Black Sabbath” (which was released in 1969 — one year before the formation of the legendary British band), the Chicago, IL-based Coven never managed to become anything more than a cult act within the acid/psychedelic rock genre. Helmed by the revered Jinx Dawson, the band nonetheless enjoys a quasi-legendary status among their loyal disciples, and as such it is not surprising to discover the downstairs room at Pumpehuset bustling as our writer-photographer duo arrives just in time to watch the opening act: the Copenhagen-based ‘70s rock revivalist group Demon Head.

All photos courtesy of Stefan Frank thor Straten

Demon Head

Despite frequent opportunities to do so, remarkably I have not managed to catch Demon Head live since 2013, when the band played as the opening act for Horisont at BETA. Although the potential was there, that concert left me with mixed feelings, and those same feelings shape my expectations tonight as well — unnecessarily, it quickly turns out. The quintet has improved tremendously over the past four and a half years, both in terms of their songwriting and their abilities on stage. It does not take many seconds of “Gallows Omen” (off their 2017-album, “Thunder on the Fields”) to convince me that what we have on our hands now is one of the most exciting rock bands that Denmark has to offer. Bathed in dim lighting and armed with a sound mix which stays true to the raw and organic feel of ‘70s rock without compromising on punch in the rhythm section, the band’s performance is relentlessly intense and bristles with atmosphere, to the extent that it would not surprise me if the five musicians had watched many a Kadavar show during their transformative years and decided on charging their own sets with the same energy.

The result is a concert in which each musician breathes in the very soul of the track in question and brings it to life through expressive showmanship, whether by retreating into shadows and staring sullenly at the floor during a moody piece like “The Resistance” (the a-side of the group’s brand new single) or by wild headbanging and instrument-swinging during a more energetic rocker such as “Menneskeæderen” (another cut off the aforementioned “Thunder on the Fields”). Indeed, the band is giving it all they’ve got tonight, as best underlined by the frontman’s voice breaking in the midst of his emotive screams for the climactic finale to “Menneskeæderen”, yet it is not like they have drunk some magic potion to become so invigorating to watch — they just play good, honest rock’n’roll, but with what seems like all the passion in the world. So riveting is Demon Head’s performance here in fact, that as soon as they bow out, I am driven to tweet directly to Roadburn to implore the iconic Dutch festival to book the band for its 2019 edition. Certainly, they would be able to hold their own amongst the litany of excellent artists that play there every year, and if not, at the very least Demon Head manage to cement themselves as among the elite of the ‘70s rock revival movement tonight (as far as I am concerned, at least).

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Coven

Coven’s performance starts in theatrical fashion, as Jinx Dawson’s backing band of four musicians enters the stage in a slow procession, all wearing black hoods and congregating around an upright coffin placed at the centre of the stage. Inside this coffin is Dawson herself, and as Satanic chanting and eerie ambience fills the room, she emerges from it donning what looks like a diamond mask. Once the coffin has been carried out, however, the nature of the performance changes completely as “Out of Luck” (taken from 2013’s “Jinx” LP) airs, leaving the Satanism inherent to Coven’s music to reside in the lyrics alone. Indeed, the ‘60s psych-pop and surf-rock vibes that govern the band’s music are likely to come as a complete surprise to any novice of Coven’s repertoire in attendance, as the dramatic opening certainly suggests that it is an occult metal show we are about to witness. But even if you count yourself a fan, you would be hard pressed to argue that Dawson & co. manage to force the audience into her thrall from the get-go with tracks like the classic “Black Sabbath” and “Coven in Charing Cross”, with its chanting interludes.

No, it isn’t until the band fully embraces its psychedelic self on the deceptively uplifting “White Witch of Rose Hall” off 1969’s “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls” that the show gets underway and the trippy visuals projected onto the band and backdrop start to bind their spells unto us. Although for obvious reasons, I have no idea what Coven’s performances were like in the ‘60s and ‘70s, my impression is that even the original band was not exactly renowned for its energy on stage. Whether that is true or not, this new constellation in which Dawson is the sole original member, certainly isn’t akin to a whirlwind, with each musician locked into his or her position and at the very most, bobbing his or her head ever so slightly whilst gazing at the floor. But this actually works extremely well, particularly during the second half of the set as jams like “Choke, Thirst, Die” and “Black Swan” are rolled out and met with huge enthusiasm by the audience. In general, Dawson seems to be in a convivial mood, telling us “Well, I guess I’m still alive… contrary to popular belief” in what seems to be a recognition of the warm reception that she is getting here after an excellent rendition of “The Crematory” (off her latest release, a double-single entitled “Light the Fire” which came out in 2016), which serves as a kind of pivoting point in the concert.

After it, the show almost grows better with each passing song, culminating in a hypnotising take on “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” (or “F.U.C.K.”, as the 1969 piece is oft-nicknamed). The show ends on another standout track in the mind-altering “Blood on the Snow” (the title track to Coven’s 1974 LP), during which Dawson’s organist really makes his presence felt and sends us into the night with grins on our faces, and an experience with a genuine underground legend richer. In honesty, the languid first segment of the concert had me worried that Dawson might be well past her best before date, but once that track has wound to its conclusion, I feel I may have been converted into an actual fan rather than the curious onlooker I planned to be upon my arrival. An unexpectedly excellent showing from one of occult rock’s forgotten gems.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Out of Luck
  • 02. Black Sabbath
  • 03. Coven in Charing Cross
  • 04. White Witch of Rose Hall
  • 05. Wicked Woman
  • 06. The Crematory
  • 07. Choke, Thirst, Die
  • 08. Black Swan
  • 09. Dignitaries of Hell
  • 10. F.U.C.K.
  • 11. Epitaph
  • 12. Blood on the Snow

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