Royal Metal Fest 2012

author MST date 03/04/12

The sun was shining in Århus. A few daring souls had ventured outside wearing shorts and t-shirts, and the colourful leaves of spring flowers brightened the landscape from the park opposite the venue. The spring had arrived, and with it another annual version of Royal Metal Fest. This was my second visit to the 2-day indoor festival at Voxhall in Århus (my review of the 2011 edition can be found here). Little had changed for the actual festival between 2011 and 2012. A dance group called H.O.T.E.L (House Of The Eternal Life) performed a 10-minute set on Saturday, and later on a competition draw picked a random winner of a B.C. Rich Warlock Revenge guitar. The amount of merchandise available was considerably smaller, but sadly the merchandise booth wasn't the only thing that had decreased in size; for some bands the audience was alarmingly small, and the venue never got anywhere near as packed as it was during some of the headliners last year. During the days leading up to the festival there was some speculation on various forums that the festival wouldn't be able to sell the amount of tickets that would ensure next year's festival taking place. That would be a shame, because Royal Metal Fest is a damn fine metal event.

Saturday afternoon disturbances

Coinciding with this year's Royal Metal Fest, the Danish Defense League and English Defense League had arranged an anti-islamistic demonstration that took place at Mølleparken on the Saturday of the festival, just across the road from Voxhall. The demonstration was a peaceful one, but a huge anti-fascist counterdemonstration as well as countless provocations from immigrants yelling, honking and taunting the original demonstration resulted in a demand for massive police assistance. In the end, somewhere between 50 and 80 people were arrested.

There were probably around 50 or 60 police officers who kept most of the day secure. The hot dog stand which was introduced last year was severely late due to the unrest, but that resulted in more people getting introduced to the best burger joint in the city, aptly named Byens Burger ("Burger Of The City" in English). As another effect that us peaceful metalheads felt from the turmoil outside, only smokers or people who actually intended to go somewhere were allowed in the outside area by the entrance during some of the most troublesome times, because some of the smokers on the upstairs balcony had been shouting at the demonstration. But the police and the security guards handled everything well after all. I should probably get on with the actual review already!

Line-up

Friday

  • Evergrey
  • Decapitated
  • Mercenary
  • Saturnus
  • Helhorse
  • By The Patient
  • Pariah Syndicate

Saturday:

  • Pretty Maids
  • Keep Of Kalessin
  • Taake
  • Aeon
  • Endstille
  • Crocell
  • Slow Death Factory
  • Mordax
  • Diamond Drive

Friday:

Pariah Syndicate

The honor of opening the festival had been given to the local deathcore band Pariah Syndicate. Thankfully these Århusians play a tolerable brand of deathcore, perhaps better characterized as modern death metal, without constant predictable breakdowns and annoying vocals. The music was heavy, energetic and interesting at all times. And for an opening show, the band did a pretty good job as well. Vocalist Kasper Hornstrup's abilities as a vocalist are astonishing, and while utilizing all sorts of growls, screams and squeals seemingly without effort he wandered about the stage with a beer in his hand and got the audience involved between songs. During the instrumental parts of the songs he tended to get a little too passive though. The bassist and one of the guitarists were active and interesting, but the guitarist in front of me (the short-haired one, for those who were there) was boring as hell. All in all a solid opening gig from a local band. [7]




By The Patient

The first foreign contribution came from the dark, obscure region known as Copenhagen. By The Patient play a delicious slap of modern death metal with hints of technical death metal and black metal, which is right down my alley. I'd seen the band before when they were supporting Aborted in Copenhagen in 2011, and I couldn't help thinking that they might have considered the critique I gave them back then because the band's dynamics were considerably better this time. The guitarists were still completely stationary, but the bassist and vocalist utilized the stage better and Tan Møhl-Hansen on vocals was constantly moving around or headbanging. The intensity of the guitarists and Tan's screams made the show thoroughly enjoyable without bringing anything groundbreaking to the table. By The Patient truly are one of the most insteresting bands in Denmark, and their performances are always a pleasure to behold. [7½]

Helhorse

Less brutality, more groove. Helhorse's mix of sourthern rock and melodic hardcore was a lot less serious than most of the other bands at the festival, and mainly focused on having fun. The band has two vocalists: the main vocalist was mainly notable for his clean vocals, but he ventured into hardcore territory once in a while. The second vocalist sported a high pitch scream and injected more energy into the show when he was running and jumping around in proper hardcore manner. During the more quiet clean vocal parts he would sit at a small keyboard and play some tunes that could hardly ever be heard. The interaction between the vocalists worked very well, but the rest of the band were statues except for the few seconds once in a while when they would go absolutely apeshit only to go back to being statues for 5-10 minutes. Still, Helhorse were a refreshingly different act, and the duo of vocalists made sure that no one fell asleep during their set. [7]

Saturnus

The surprise of the festival for me came from the Danish cult band Saturnus. Some call them gothic doom metal, others call them atmospheric doom metal, but whatever their brand of crushing, yet melodic doom metal is really called it was a fantastic experience. The mix of slow drums, beautiful melodic riffs and vocals going from sorrowful spoken word to Ahab-style guttural growls thoroughly convinced me to get properly into doom, starting with Saturnus. There was little movement to be seen from anyone but the bassist, and vocalist Thomas Jensen rarely ever moved at all. But the emotional nature of the music made physical stage activity almost obsolete as the empathy emanating from Jensen and lead guitarist Rune Stiassny made witnessing the band play their mesmerizing tunes truly magical to behold. And the audience seemed to agree with me. Ending the set with the fantastic "Christ Goodbye" from the band's debut album from 1996, the band thanked the audience and left the stage after having made at least one additional fan. [8½]




Mercenary

Because of a logistics error I missed the first half of Mercenary's show, so no grade will be given here. But from what I saw during the last three songs Mercenary were at the top of their game, like they were when I saw them during the Headbanger's Ball Tour 2011. They're an amazingly professional bunch. The setlist was slightly better than last time I saw them, and when I entered the venue to witness the band play their last three songs which were off the "The Hours That Remain" and "Architect of Lies" albums they had already played the four only songs that they were going to play off their new record that I dislike. Still, since I didn't even catch half of the show no grade will be given, but a thumbs up for the performance and the improved setlist are hereby sent in Mercenary's general direction.

Decapitated

And then it was time to fire up the big guns. The Polish technical death metal juggernauts in Decapitated had come to tear it up. And that was exactly what happened. Decapitated were supposed to have played a show in Denmark 5 months earlier, but they pulled out because of an accident that happened to the plane that the band were flying in while on tour. The band's Danish fans had eagerly awaited the band's return, so Decapitated's show had the highest attendance of the day although not quite filling the venue properly (a feat no band were able to pull of - the festival simply didn't sell as many tickets as last year). The only remaining member of the band, lead guitarist Vogg would play his technical riffs and headbang, and vocalist Rafał Piotrowski proved his mettle by wandering about the stage to get everyone at the front involved in the gig while still taking some time off to headbang like a crazy person with his ridiculously long dreadlocks. At this hour I had taken advantage of the cheap bar prices (2 x 0,5 liter Tuborg Gold at 50 DKK.) so I was slightly hammered and therefore do not remember many specific songs, but there was never any doubt in my mind or the minds of anyone I've talked to that Decapitated absolutely killed. But with a back catalogue of solid tracks, a guitar wizard like Vogg and a great front man like Piotrowski, this was a recipe for success right from the get go. Without further ado, here's to hoping that Decapitated return to Denmark to repeat that success. [8]

Evergrey

And then something odd happened. After one of the biggest names in technical death metal, Decapitated had finished their set, it was time for the "headliners" to end the evening. I had never even heard of Evergrey before they were added to the Royal Metal Fest 2012 lineup, and considering the fact that the attendance for the headliners matched the attendance for the relatively small Danish bands at the festival (there must've been around 50 people there) I wasn't the only one who couldn't care less about these Swedes. Evergrey play dark melodic power metal, a genre that calls for very little energy, but the band's music lacked the emotional intensity of, say, Saturnus who played earlier on, and no matter what type of performance you compare Evergrey's performance to, the band fell short of delivering anything worthwhile. They played their set to the few dedicated fans who had stayed, but those who left really didn't miss anything. The headliners were forgettable at best while not being completely awful. [5]

Saturday

Diamond Drive

Saturday afternoon at 14:00 the second day of the festival was started. Naturally, I had been struggling with a massive hangover for a few hours, but it got better as the day went by. The first band of the day were another local band, namely Diamond Drive. They play a mix of hard rock and modern metal with occasional hardcore influences, such as a few breakdowns thrown in here and there. Lead by vocalist Troels who delivered hardcore screams/shouts and some excellent clean vocals, the band marched through energetic songs with an energy seldom seen in the early hours of the day. Troels made sure to thank the approximately 15 people in the audience for showing up so early, and then continued to plow through energetic tracks as if there were 10 times as many people there. Diamond Drive are a very promising live band, and thus the Saturday of Royal Metal Fest 2012 was kickstarted. [7½]

Mordax

Next up were Mordax, a young band from Copenhagen who recently released their debut record. Mordax play thrash-infused death metal, characterized by heavy, energetic riffs and growled vocals. The band seemed very confident on stage, but they were clearly affected by the scarce crowd in front of them and thus ended up just playing their tunes, headbanging, smiling, looking at each other and occasionally nodding and smiling at the audience. Ending the set with a cover of Metallica's classic "Ride The Lightning" woke the audience from their slumber, but it wasnt enough to salvage the show. Vocalist Asbjørn Steffensen walked around the center of the stage with his signature Mordax microphone stand with no spark, no apparent anger or energy to infuse into the empty pit. It can be hard to energize a crowd, but if you enjoy playing music you should at least give it a shot instead of enabling the auto pilot, thus ensuring that you get an average review such as this one. [6½]

Slow Death Factory

After a short break, it was time for more death metal, this time courtesy of the reincarnated Danish death metal band Slow Death Factory. The band released their debut full length in 2008 and have since broken up, only to return in 2012 to play Royal Metal Fest 2012. Atleast one replacement had been necessary though, as the presence of Pitchblack's Daniel Fonseca on vocals made evidently clear. The band play groovy death metal with slight hints at thrash metal, and it doesn't sound half bad, but in the long run it gets a little monotonous. And to say that I dislike Daniel Fonseca's vocals is a big understatement. The band were stationary through the entirety of the show, and the fact that the headbanging of the guitarists and the bassist were the most interesting factors of the show hints at how uninteresting Daniel Fonseca is. But that's enough bashing for now. Slow Death Factory's first gig after the reincarnation is perhaps best described by the guitarist's instrument after the last song had been played: he smashed it to pieces. I doubt that Slow Death Factory got anyone excited who weren't already fans of the band. [6]

Crocell

As Crocell ascended the stage, it was immediately clear to us (Marika 'MH' Hyldmar and I) that we should have skipped one of the two previous bands who turned out to be boring as hell, because we needed a break to get some food during the 11 hours of metal on this Saturday. Sadly though, that band had to be Crocell because the international bands following said Århusian death metal band were too important to miss, and the short dance session by H.O.T.E.L between Crocell and Endstille was completely irrelevant. We stayed for the first 15 minutes of Crocell's set before we left to stuff ourselves at Byens Burger, and therefore it wouldn't be fair to grade the set. What we saw was definitely an improvement over the two previous bands but without being anything spectacular.

Endstille

And then it was time to get blastphemous (yes, I meant to spell it that way)! The German black metallers in Endstille had one agenda: to go nuts and spread some hatred. Clad in tattered garments with the obligatory corpsepaint and fake blood, the band raced through a set full of spiteful blasphemy at insane speeds. The almost constantly blasting drums were accompanied by razorblade riffs and lunatic vocals courtesy of vocalist Zingultus whose maniacal behavior was only strengthened by the fact that he was completely shitfaced. He would run around the stage in a drunken rampage while still being able to utter his malevolent preachings. The corpsepainted guitarist and the bassist were appropriately evil and active, but the guitarist on the opposite side from where I was standing looked like he had woken up with a hangover 2 minutes before the band were supposed to go on stage. He almost didn't move, and he didn't wear corpsepaint. But apart from the prolonged breaks between songs the guitarist was the only downside to the otherwise maniacal show. Ending the show with crowd favorite "Navigator" from the album of the same name, Endstille made perfectly clear that when it comes to chaotic black metal they're in the top of their league. [8]

Aeon

Never have I been so disappointed while still enjoying myself. Aeon are one of my absolute favorite death metal bands, and I'd been looking forward to hearing their blasphemous tunes at Royal Metal Fest 2012 with great expectations. But alas, Aeon's show was the biggest disappointment of the festival. As if the guitarists and the bassist being stationary and doing nothing but headbanging wasn't enough of a routine performance, the vocalist Tommy Dahlström was equally stationary and only ventured more than one step away from his safezone when he let us fanboys scream the lyrics to select choruses. Granted, I loved getting to scream the chorus of "Kill Them All" twice, but as the set progressed it started to sound like he had to let the audience do the vocals, because about halfway through the show his vocals started to malfunction completely: his screams sounded extremely whiny, and his voice eventually dried out so bad that his growls sounded pathetic. From fanboy's perspective I guess I should say that the setlist spread all over their discography was pretty good, but the performance was ridiculously bad. [4]

Taake

One more blasphemous band was awaiting behind the stage: the infamous Taake from Norway. I'd feared that something would happen involving Taake and the demonstration outside of the venue because of Taake vocalist Ørjan "Ulvhedin Hoest" Stedjeberg, simply known as Hoest, and the controversy surrounding his person. The band have previously had to cancel an entire tour because Hoest showed up at a gig in Germany with a swastika, and the band's recent Spellemann nomination caused an outrage because of the lyrics "Til helvete med Muhammed og Muhammedanerne" in the song "Orkan" from the band's latest output "Noregs Vaapen", a song that they played at RMF.

Thankfully everything went on quite peacefully, and Taake did nothing to provoke anyone or anything, not even when the band were abruptly forced to stop and get off stage after they had played for too long and the stagehand simply began pulling the carpet in front of the stage while Hoest was getting ready to play another song. Apparantly Taake weren't keeping track of time, and neither were anyone else, because Taake's performance was astonishingly captivating. Compared to the chaos of Endstille's maniacal set earlier on, Taake's brand of slower black metal was based on long compositions and important integration of the lyrics. While each member playing an instrument were sufficiently evil, all attention was on vocalist Hoest and his mighty appearance. Entering the stage wearing a Norwegian flag, he threw the cloth to the ground and started uttering shrieked vocal lines that demanded attention from all the attending fans. Wearing a Norwegian flag as a belt buckle right under a tattooed inverted cross on his belly, he would prance about the stage to praise aplenty. No one noticed that Taake had played longer than they were allowed when the stagehand signaled Hoest that it was time to end the show. The crowd demanded more, but unfortunately there wasn't time for more. Taake's fans had already witnessed a true demonstration of power though, so I highly doubt that anyone walked away feeling unsatisfied by that intense hour of black metal. [8½]

Keep Of Kalessin

It was time for me to secure a spot in the front row, because I'd been a fan of Keep Of Kalessin for a long time. I'd heard bad things about the band's live performance, but I demanded satisfaction from the terrible disappointment that was Aeon's performance earlier in the evening. And I was positively surprised. Keep Of Kalessin's music incorporates various genres into what the band call epic extreme metal, but in that formula lies a foundation of black metal made extremely accessible with added ingredients of death metal and thrash metal. Most of the time the drums are hammering away at extreme velocities, but watching Vyl behind the drumset, it looked like he didn't even have to try particularly hard. Wizziac on bass spent most of the gig practising for a headbanging contest against Corpsegrinder, but Obsidian C. on guitar duty and Thebon on vocals were charismatic performers who looked like they genuinely enjoyed playing. The show wasn't anything particularly special though, and the fact that Obsidian C. is the band's only guitarist means that the music sounds a bit thin when he's playing solos. On top of that, 75% of the songs played were from 2010's "Reptilian", and although that is a great album (sans the Eurovision Song Contest experiment known as "The Dragontower" that they actually wasted time on playing) there should have been room for at least a few songs off the brilliant "Armada" album from 2006. It's been two years since "Reptilian" was released, the time for promotion is over. In conclusion, Keep Of Kalessin were a positive surprise, but only because I had low expectations. Compared to most of the international bands at this festival, Keep Of Kalessin's show was good, but not quite great. [7½]

Pretty Maids

After all the mayhem, blasphemy and blast beats, it was time to slow down and end this year's edition of the Royal Metal Fest with some good old heavy metal, courtesy of Denmark's own Pretty Maids. The band have consistently released records since their first EP from 1983 (their 12th release having been released in 2010), and if the band's performance on this Saturday night was anything to go by, us Danes have something to be proud of. These old timers played with a charisma, professionalism and enthusiasm so immensely captivating that I was astonished when singer Paul "Ronnie Atkins" Christensen adressed the audience in Danish and I remembered that this wasn't a renowned international band playing a show in a big arena.

Drummer Allan Tschicaja played with a surplus of energy and a constant smile on his face, and he even had time to get up from his chair to adress the audience from behind the rest of the band. Bassist René "Shades" Sehic was wearing a white suit and a black top hat, and when he wasn't spinning around or falling on the ground from movement, he was active and there was always a reason for attention to be directed towards him. There are only two original members in the lineup, and one of them is Kenneth "Ken Hammer" Hansen on guitars, a real old timer who obviously had a lot of years behind him but still managed to pull off the rock n' roll look while playing his tunes with charisma and energy. The other founding member, vocalist Paul "Ronnie Atkins" Christensen is still a great frontman at his age and his voice is incredibly powerful considering the circumstances. He would sing his ass off during classics like "Back To Back", "Future World" and "Red, Hot and Heavy" and keep the crowd fully involved during breaks between songs. The only thing that could possibly have been better was the man behind the keyboard, ex-Mercenary keyboardist Morten Sandager whose demeanor was a big contrast to the party-time performance of the rest of the band. But that was a minor flaw in my book. Adding a cover of John Sykes's "Please Don't Leave Me" and an integrated cover of Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" in the classic Pretty Maids song "Red, Hot and Heavy" to the already brilliant setlist, Pretty Maids closed the Royal Metal Fest 2012 with a sonic boom the magnitude of a nuclear warhead. Red, hot and heavy indeed! [9½]

More photos from the festival can be found in Marika 'MH' Hyldmar's gallery.

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