When Copenhell Freezes Over

support Pet The Preacher + Essence + Redwood Hill + Huldre + Billy Boy In Poison + Impalers
author AP date 01/02/14 venue Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

As part of their ever growing, inventive marketing scheme, and for the second year in a row, the first Saturday of February had been dedicated by Copenhell to host a showcase for six Danish metal bands that Jeppe Nissen, the metal booker of Live Nation and the man behind the number one metal festival in the country (and possibly in Scandinavia), believes represent the pinnacle of the domestic metal underground right now.

True to tradition also, the showcase was preceded by a panel discussion themed around the lack of ambition which Emil Svendsen of Devilution.dk alleged plagues the scene here, held at Ideal Bar and well attended by both industry folk and connoisseurs of metal. Some interesting issues were raised, some glossed over, and others ignored, but it was generally agreed that what Danish metal bands lack most is daring and indifference toward the opinions of critics and fans.

Following these insights by Svendsen, Anders Bøtter of the weekly Sort Søndag radio show of DR P6, Søren Weiss Kristiansen of Blastbeast.dk, as well as Lasse Skov, vocalist of Essence, the attendees were ushered into VEGA, which was rammed to the brim with media, bookers, promoters and trusty fans - of both national and international origin. I kid you not; I've seldom seen this place as busy as tonight, and I suppose that's a heart warming testimony to the respect which Copenhell and Jeppe Nissen command in this country.

Photos courtesy of Marika Hyldmar and Peter Troest

Impalers

First to make a case are Haderslev born Teutonic thrashers Impalers, whose blistering combo of speed and thrash metal has the audience in an instant chokehold. They deliver their music with appropriately high energy and intensity, and despite rarely releasing the pedal, there are a number of interesting melodies and solos that deivate from the norm to be heard amidst the mayhem. Best song of the set initially comes with "Army of Darkness", its initial slow passage providing welcome respite; and the following "Prepare for War" also strikes a chord in me with its deep groove and headbanging drive, whilst "Death by Fire" near the end is an instant attention grabber despite its simpler mid-tempo approach.

I notice quickly that Impalers' music is utterly devoid of those squealing Slayer-solos I'm used to expecting from thrash metal bands, as this quartet seem more inclined to colour their solo work classic. But their greatest asset, without a doubt, is the enormous passion with which they play. Young though they may be, the exuberance and love of thrash is oozing out of the quartet, which comprises vocalist/guitar Søren Crawack, bassist Kenneth Frandsen, drummer Rasmus Kjær and lead guitarist Thomas Carnel. The younger segment of the audience loves it especially, even engaging itself in a rowdy two-man moshpit on the balcony during the aforemention "Death by Fire" to accompany the larger instance taking place on the floor. This is solid stuff, but Impalers would do well to differentiate their full throttle onslaught with more songs like the just mentioned - particularly if they intend to play longer sets than these 30 minutes available tonight.

7

Billy Boy In Poison

Next up is the Copenhagen based death/metalcore crew Billy Boy in Poison, whose debut album Watchers has been soliciting rave reviews in Denmark and beyond ever since its release at the beginning of December last year. A dense crowd stretching from stage to bar stands before them, some eager to judge for the first time the abilities of BBiP as a live act; some knowing full well what to expect and anticipating it with great hope. Personally, it has been too long since I last experienced them, and it is perhaps for this reason that I find their visible popularity so daunting.

Distilling their setlist primarily from the new album tonight, BBiP grind through their set with a festive attitude and quirky expressions that suggest they don't take themselves too seriously, and certainly the comically generic look of these boys, with extreme metal t-shirts all around, is part of the ploy. There's a good energy to the proceedings, particularly by virtue of borrowed bassist Dave Armstrong (the Fall of Pantheon bassist/vocalist is substituting for Troels Lehmann, who is out vacationing) and guitarist Alexander Mortensen, but as the set proceeds, a concern develops within me that even though these songs impressed me well enough on record, the choices tonight are too similar in nature to produce many a standout moment.

Those do eventually arrive with the closing duo "Corrupted Into Slaves" and "Decadent God", both of which sound absolutely devastating live and propel the crowd into a moshing frenzy. The latter, in particular, wraps things up with a mighty finish, its grandiose second half providing a stark and effective contrast to the extremity it otherwise purveys. So despite lacking somewhat in originality, I exit the room with the impression that BBiP have developed immensely since the last time I saw them, both as a live act and as song-writers.

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Huldre

Huldre are strictly not a metal band, their roots firmly grounded in folk, a genre from whence many of the six members originate. Lasse Skov called it, tongue-in-cheek of course, "tryllemetal" (magic metal), and on their Facebook, they themselves ironically dub it "New Nordic Folk Metal", alluding to the New Nordic Kitchen. They were nonetheless hyped as one of the most exciting bands in Denmark right now, and we were encouraged to keep an open mind, so having never heard - even heard of - Huldre, it is with no expectations that I enter the upstairs lounge of VEGA once again to behold this supposed spectacle.

They do take the visual aesthetic very seriously: the microphone stands and other fixtures are draped in fresh vines, the band appear on stage barefoot, and they're all clad in various traditional garb. It looks cool, and vocalist Nanna Barslev's singing sounds absolutely phenomenal, reminding me much of the Sami people and also yoddling. Why I chose to to claim Huldre aren't exactly a metal band is explained by the diminished role of the heavier instruments in the group's music, with Barslev's vocals, Laura Emilie Beck's fiddle and Troels Dueholm Nørgaard flutes & hurdy-gurdy forming the backbone of the music instead of your usual power chords and blast beats.

On stage the sextet have all the semblance of Turisas live, with strange bewitching movements ensuring Huldre are, in fact, a very decent band to watch live. Sadly, this music does not touch me in the way I had hoped, and even the less forested songs that send my thoughts toward Oktoberfest fail to drive me very jolly. It seems, however, that most people disagree with this sentiment, so I am likely just one of the grumpy elitists who prefers my metal with a big M (despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, I'd argue).

7

Redwood Hill

By now, having watched them seven times prior, Redwood Hill have consolidated themselves as a band one can always rely on for a stimulating performance. Their debut album Descender ranked among my favourites of 2013, and not once have I left one of their concerts disappointed. But tonight things escalate even more than usual, and Redwood Hill play one of those shows in which everything clicks together, reaches for the sublime, and gets there. Whether it's the stunning lighting and, as the first time for me, smoke in which the band is veiled; the hair-raising volume at which they choose to play; or the monolith of energy into which the quintet shape themselves - I don't know. Maybe it's the coalescence of all of these things. But without the slightest exaggeration, Redwood Hill deliver tonight what I believe to be one of the best concerts I have ever seen; a show of a level beginning to parallel the mastery of Meshuggah at this very venue last Spring.

It's not that Redwood Hill do much different than usual. The band are all in black, with vocalist Marco Sewohl and bassist Jens Veggerby shrouded by their customary hoods; all light is behind the band, and restricted to dim tones; and the four standing members carry themselves as silhouettes with eerie, demonic movements. But the subtle adjustments are what lift it above those past seven shows. I was not kidding, or even trying to make a metaphor when I mentioned in the previous paragraph that the volume is hair-raising: the bass has been cranked to such all consuming power that it hurts my throat and chest (there is a sticker on Veggerby's bass that says "Den som ryster jorden", translating to that which shakes the earth - he's not kidding!), standing at the very front - but thankfully so have the other instruments, resulting in a soundscape that sounds suffocating, empowering, and... well, fucking cool all at once. Add to that the increased violence of the band on stage, and an excellent choice of songs - new song "Applewhite" initiating the proceedings, "Tristesse" and "Poseidon" producing midway highlights, and the harrowing "Dybbuk" concluding things in melancholic grandeur - and there isn't a finger to place on something Redwood Hill could have done better. Well, except played longer of course. Mindblowing.

Essence

I am surprised that Essence are not headlining this thing, and that they are in fact playing in the upstairs lounge rather than on the main stage. But as soon as this always jovial quartet takes the lower and more intimate stage up there, I realise the decision was probably the right one: Essence thrive on spewing their old school (and more recently, progressive) thrash right into our faces, and judging by the frequency with which beers are spilled on me near the front by enthusiastic moshers, their fans, too, thrive in this setup.

The most striking thing to note right off the bat is that vocalist/guitarist Lasse Skov, by virtue of the vocal coaching he has been receiving of late in the build-up to their next album, which, we are told, will be produced by Danish rapper Suspekt (!); sounds rather different compared to his usual raspy self. It's not bad, but it is notable, and as a result, both old and new songs require some adjusting before they feel truly familiar. This is my sentiment, at least. Essence deliver a duo of songs off last year's "Last Night of Solace" right off the bat before embarking on tracks off their excellent debut "Lost in Violence", and unsurprisingly the ever present "Blood Culture" forms the definitive highlight.

But we all know Essence write good thrash songs. What the people watching Turisas at Pumpehuset, or any of the other plethora of gigs taking place on this day around the town, probably don't know; is that these Aalborg born boys still remain one of the country's premier live propositions, and primarily because they play their stuff with such youthful rigour. It's hard to catch a glimpse of Skov without a grin on his face and a gleam in his eyes, and the other musicians - bassist Ramus Kalke, lead guitarist Mark Drastrup and drummer Nikolaj Kjærgaard - are just as festive as well. The foursome's energy infects the audience, and vice versa. And when that happens... well, you know you've got yourself a pretty special show, don't you?

Pet The Preacher

In charge of winding the evening down is a band I personally have high hopes for: stoner blues trio Pet the Preacher. I know for a fact that I am not alone in this sentiment: vocalist/guitarist Christian Hede Madsen is probably the best rock guitarist in the country right now, and has he has proven with his Hound side-project, he could pull off a show of immense quality on his own. That he also houses a wonderfully rough, whiskey drenched, powerful voice doesn't hurt either; and neither does his symbiosis with bassist Torben Wæver Pedersen and drummer Christian von Larsen.

It's been some time since Pet the Preacher last graced my eyes and ears with a performance I was able to attend, and with a new album in sight this year, it is of course not surprising in the slightest that they choose to weigh heavily into material off that record. And I'll tell you this as a teaser: it sounds fucking good. The second song especially, entitled "Fire" on the setlist, is to die for with its intoxicating stoner riff and hypnotic feel, and rack three, tentatively dubbed "Remains", impresses with slide guitar histrionics that supercede even those heard on "The Devil's Door" off the trio's debut album "The Banjo".

But above all it is the impeccable charisma and authority of Madsen as a front figure. He exudes such confidence, and showcases such abilities on his trusty Les Paul, that it takes exactly one song before the audience (considerably thinner than earlier, probably due to the growing level of inebriation resulting from such a lengthy evening) is placed firmly in his palm and he just does whatever the fuck he feels like. His is exactly the sort of daring and brazenness that I feel most Danish rock and metal bands dearly lack, and with his song-writing ability now also firing on almost all cylinders, there's very little holding this band back from widespread success (and they did perform at the prestigious Roadburn Festival last year already!).

8

As a closing remark, huge applause must be given to Copenhell for this initiative, which gives bands that deserve the hype the opportunity to flash their abilities to people who can take them places, and fans the opportunity to come together under the festival's canopy, united in celebration of metal in Denmark. Witnessing VEGA this rammed is often a treat reserved for bigger and/or less extreme bands, and this, I feel, is a strong testimony to the fact that the scene here is very much alive.

And another round of applause to Redwood Hill, whose performance was awarded with Politiken's inaugural Metal Heart award, 25,000 DKK for marketing purposes, and a slot at this year's Copenhell!

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