W:O:A Metal Battle Final

support Aphyxion + Blood Label + Electric Hellride + Sickseed + Caro + Defecto
author AP date 05/05/12 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Following a month or so of tight competition between 25 contesting bands in five cities across Denmark, the time came at last to separate the wolf from the sheep in the grand final of the Danish W:O:A Metal Battle. Five bands - one from each preliminary round - had battled their way to Pumpehuset, putting in everything they have for the esteemed opportunity to perform at this year's Wacken Open Air in Germany, and there compete against the winners of similar qualifiers from 33 countries across the world in the international grand final.

The five finalists - Electric Hellride, Blood Label, Sickseed, Caro and Defecto - each were given 20 minutes to show off their talent, followed by entertainment courtesy of last year's winners Aphyxion, Mantricora and cult death metal crew Dawn of Demise while the judges deliberated on which band should be sent to Wacken Open Air this summer.

Defecto

First in line are Defecto, whom I had the pleasure of watching recently when the band opened for Hatesphere and Helhorse in Lyngby. Already then the potential held by this quartet was abundantly clear, and although watching a band a second time in such a short period of time seldom yields more words than were used to describe the first show, Defecto have certainly not dampened their ambitions. There is only a handful of people in the large upstairs room of the venue when they begin their set, but still they pretend to not even notice, and deliver their 20 minutes of symphonic, metallic hard rock with charisma and intent. Sadly the sound mix is not on the band's side tonight, and it takes intense focus to separate the leads and numerous guitar solos that form the backbone of their music from an imposing wall of bass tone. But once they become audible in the mix, there is no denying the skill of musicianship that Defecto collectively possess, nor do they offer any reason to dispute their reputation as an entertaining live act. Defecto is clearly a band that loves playing live: each member is throwing smiles all around, and there seems to be an unspoken understanding between them, so that mistakes and glitches are a rare occurrence. The joy and visible passion of the band quickly infects the crowd, too, which responds with thunderous applause after each song, nevermind that only a 100 or so people are present come the set's ending.

Caro

Next up is Caro, who have journeyed here from Frederikshavn near the northern tip of Jutland, and a serving of modern death metal with slight hardcore and thrash influences, or as most people like to call it, deathcore. Although structurally the music could hardly be described as anything other than predictable, Caro are fortunately quick to showcase their strengths: namely a fearsome live presence, particularly by vocalist Michael Olsson, whose growl is one of the most uniquely impressive I've heard in Danish metal. It is obvious from the outset that Caro have taken great steps to ensure a worthwhile time for the audience, with the frequent synchronized headbanging and wind-milling providing an especially stirring sight. Caro are in our faces from the get go - at least as far as the relatively high stage and scarce audience permits - and clearly hellbent on earning the greatest amount of audience votes. And although their music is far from my genre of preference, it is easy to hear that it ranks among the best of its kind in Denmark.

Sickseed

Sickseed continue in similar vein, but given one less guitar than Caro to forge their sound from, the music sounds slightly less impressive. If there is one thing to distinguish this crew from Caro, however, it is that Sickseed are considerably more brutal in their approach, forgetting all notion of accessibility and focusing on a more old school inspired angle. But given the passionate performances witnessed just before, there is something about Sickseed's relatively static presence that doesn't quite measure up with them, though there isn't a shred of doubt that Sickseed, too, are giving this their best shot. Sadly, considering the monotonous nature of many of the band's songs, I find myself not being able to muster up the same kind of enthusiasm as about the two preceding bands, and consequently this performance marks itself as the least memorable tonight. This is of course based on my personal judgment, and should not be viewed as a benchmark or a reason to not check out Sickseed's music, because just like every other band on the bill, they have labored hard and impressed many to make it this far, leaving four other, undoubtedly awesome bands behind in the Århus qualifying round. I look forwarding to seeing more of these guys in the future.

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Electric Hellride

It seems that my predictions were correct: weeks before the first preliminary round, I was certain that Electric Hellride would be one of the finalists, given the uncompromising nature of their music. But as the band strides on stage to a roaring reception, I am initially baffled by the music, having believed that I was in for a serving of old school thrash metal. In fact, the music of Electric Hellride draws heavy influence from the archetypical Danish metal sound - it is raw, brutal and sparse in tangible melodies. What Electric Hellride can boast though, is groove, and lots of it. Even without the slightest experience with the band's music, it is nigh impossible not to be engulfed by a desire to bang your head and raise the horns, as there is something utterly irresistible about the dense guitar tone and rhythm section that underlies each song. Couple that with the look and feel of a band who live and breathe the music they make, and perform it in euphoria, and it is easy to see why the judges settled on sending this bunch to the final despite the allegedly fierce competition in Aalborg.

Blood Label

Last but not least is Blood Label - the only band here with a record deal and a full length studio album out. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that Blood Label also come across as the most seasoned and professional of the five, with songs of a quality that should earn them a following outside of Denmark regardless of their performance tonight. We are in thrash/death metal territory yet again, but with a generous helping of Gothenburg style melodies to give the music complexity and character - the brilliant "This is Not a Peace Offering" in particular sounds even more raging live than it does on record. As well as having a solid repertoire of songs to present, Blood Label have also honed the performance aspect of their product to near perfection, demonstrating confidence, prowess and skill as both musicians and entertainers to stage an energetic and engaging show which, while not reaching for the skies, guarantees a fantastic time for the crowd.

Now, before progressing to assess the performance by last year's W:O:A Metal Battle Denmark winners Aphyxion, I thought I'd draw some conclusions of my own. Having witnessed five bands with little to separate them, it was extremely difficult to settle on casting a vote for just one band.

Defecto had the unfortunate task of playing early, at a time when very few people had actually arrived, and suffered from a disappointing sound during most of their set. However, they carried themselves with the utmost professionalism and appeared unfazed by the odds against them - not to mention that their music has serious potential and would make a fine display at Wacken Open Air.

Caro were more fortunate in the blessings of the sound engineer, and impressed with a formidable vocalist and overall extremity; however, given the somewhat generic nature of their music, no doubt an artefact of their chosen genre, it was difficult to imagine Caro being able to distinguish themselves at Wacken Open Air, and put Denmark on international metal map.

Sickseed had as much to offer as Caro, except depth, and even though their old school death metal stylings would no doubt earn resounding applause at Wacken, their showmanship still requires some work before being able to challenge the more established bands in the market.

As such, it was really only Electric Hellride and Blood Label that, in my opinion, proved they had what it takes to perform at one of the biggest metal festivals in the world. Neither could boast with a truly unique style, and thus would not attract the immediate attention of the judges and audience at Wacken; however, both had a swagger to their performance that couldn't be ignored. In the end, it was the greater depth of Blood Label's music, as well as the fact that it felt to me as more representative of Danish in general than that of Electric Hellride, that drove me to submit a vote for them. The judges, and apparently a larger contingent of the audience, seemed to disagree, however, because it was Electric Hellride that was ultimately selected for the honor.

Aphyxion

As the winners of last year's W:O:A Metal Battle Denmark, it was only reasonable to expect Aphyxion to demonstrate class tonight; an example of the confidence boost that a performance at a major event like Wacken Open Air brings to a band. And true enough, Aphyxion perform as well as any international modern death metal crew, with vocalist Michael Vahl's terrifying presence in particular making for an unnerving sight. But the show aside, Aphyxion have trouble unearthing songs from their repertoire that do not all sound exactly the same, as the songs consist almost invariably of pummeling blastbeats and quick paced death metal riffs intercepted here and there by a crushing breakdown. Fortunately the band does have a knack for incorporating accessible melodies drawn from melodic death metal into their music, which, for me, prevents their performance from descending into mediocrity. Still, I cannot help but feel that nearly every one of this year's finalists is better overall than Aphyxion... which bodes well for Danish metal in general, but not so much for Aphyxion, who have yet to cause a proper stir following their return from Wacken last year. Perhaps the best is yet to come though?

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