Copenhell 2012

author AP date 27/06/12

Even though the festival has barely existed three years, Copenhell 2012 was one of the most highly anticipated events on my calendar this year. Two days of heavy metal, free of the woes of everyday life, enjoyed with some of your best friends in (mostly) brilliant sunshine and with plenty of beer flowing through your veins is, to me, close to perfection. With double the capacity and much bigger bands on the bill, this year’s Copenhell certainly tried to impress – and with success. I’m not going to blabber on about random things in this preamble, so to cut to the chase: here’s our report of the festival. It was brought to you by myself, our Bulgarian scribe Alex Zafirov (AZ), our web designer Nick Bishop (NB), and our photographers Lykke Nielsen (LN) and Marika Hyldmar (MH). Enjoy!

Line-up

In stark contrast to the previous two years, Copenhell had invested heavily in big international names that were guaranteed to pull huge crowds this time, all with recent or imminent new releases to showcase. Of course, this decision drew some criticism from the Danish metal scene, since it left no room for the larger domestic bands on either of the two main stages, but while the absence of bands like Hatesphere or Mercenary on the bill was quite surprising, the local scene was still well represented in the up-and-coming class, on the brand new Pandæmonium stage (a sizable upgrade from last year’s up-and-coming stage).

One of the key things to note about the line-up overall is that commendably, Copenhell had chosen not to align themselves with a specific niche or genre within metal. Instead, the line-up boasted a huge variety of styles across the 23 bands on the bill, ensuring that the festival was able to cater both to diehard fans of a specific genre with at least one excellent band, and to those yearning to experience metal from all of its facets. Thrash, death, black, sludge, progressive, heavy, industrial, groove, djent, post-, hardcore, metalcore… you name it – it was there in some shape or form.

Slayer, Marilyn Manson, Mastodon, Lamb Of God, Gojira, Soulfly, Anthrax, Immortal, Killswitch Engage, Meshuggah, Saxon, All Shall Perish, Trivium, Brutal Truth, Korpiklaani, Skeletonwitch, Dying Fetus, The Interbeing, The Kandidate, Rising, Cerekloth, Barricade & Redwood Hill.

Festival area

Copenhell takes place in the Refshaleøen industrial area of Copenhagen, a setting that provides the perfect backdrop to watching and listening to metal. But, much in the vein of the famous Roskilde Festival, Copenhell offers much more than music – it offers the unique opportunity to truly experience metal culture. As much became apparent already at the shuttle bus drop-off point, where an extension of the camping site had been set up due to extremely high demand – it was aptly dedicated to the recently deceased Ronnie James Dio, while the main component of the camping site closer to the festival area itself paid tribute to Cliff Burton.

Upon arriving at the entrance some 200 meters from the drop-off point, the Rockfreaks.net party was by three containers stacked together to form a gate – guarded on top by two goats. Queues were non-existent, at least at 14:00 when the festival officially opened, and within a few minutes we found ourselves walking down the “Highway to Hell”, surrounded on both sides by snapshots from the previous two years and, somewhat unexpectedly, a small pack of zombies rummaging in a corner. At its end, another gate bids us “Welcome to Hell” before the festival area extends before us. The food court is situated immediately after the entrance; to the right is a new shopping street featuring a couple of typical metal gear merchandisers and the “Smoke n’ Hell” rum & cigar bar (which we sadly found no time to try), which leads to the DOX:HELL cinema and a photo exhibition by Peter Beste in an abandoned warehouse.

The DOX:HELL cinema has been a part of Copenhell since the beginning, and with good reason. Its program consists of a variety of documentaries focusing on the metal genre and subculture, with “Heavy Metal Parking Lot”, “Metal Evolution”, “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne”, “True Norwegian Black Metal”, “Last Days Here”, “Black Noise”, “Bändet Mareridt” and “The Killing of America”, some preceded by speeches by the director or other associated personnel. The Rockfreaks.net staff did not find the time to check some of these out due to our intensive band coverage, but the general sentiment seemed to be that DOX:HELL is a vital and cherished part of the Copenhell experience.

We (myself and NB) did have time to check out Peter Beste’s photo exhibition featuring unique personal snapshots of Norway’s infamous black metal scene on the second day of the festival, but the consensus among the two of us was that the subset of photos from the actual collection that was exhibited here was all too small to make a profound impact. There were some great photos of course, but what was missing was some story to put the images in a context.

Directly ahead of the food court was what is perhaps best described as the alcohol court, which consisted of the trusted Jägerbus, the Vodka Bar (with a nice shaded terrace on top for enjoying cocktails infused with Copenhell vodka – which did not run out at any point this year!), several Tuborg beverage stands, a shop selling official merchandise from Copenhell and the artists performing each day, as well as of course the Biergarten tent, which featured DJ:s, “Openhell” live metal karaoke and massive sing-alongs all day and late into the night on long tables overlooked by an upside cross with what looked like some unspecified animal carcasses strapped to it.

To the right of the alcohol court was the Pandæmonium stage (where the Hades stage stood last year), which provided a much better experience for the Danish bands than last year’s measly up-and-coming stage. To the left, a Red Bull tent and the familiar “Burning Man” guarded the entrance to the primary stage area, with main stage Helvíti looking especially imposing this year, and the slightly smaller Hades stage positioned where it was at the first Copenhell festival in 2010. Next to it was “Smadreland”, a closed off catharsis area which allowed people to smash things into pieces with whatever tools were available. All three stages were overlooked by a large grassy hill that enabled the more casual festival goers to watch concerts while seated.

Food & drink

Copenhell received a lot of criticism from its audience last year for the poor quality and choice of food, not to mention the price of beer after it had been taken over by Royal Unibrew from the original Ølfabrikken, and rightly so. Fortunately such comments were taken to heart by the festival organizers, and this year the situation was far better – at least in the food department.

The selection this year included savory Thai food (red curry, spring rolls and prawn crisps), durum kebabs, roast pork and beef béarnaise sandwiches, chili con carne (albeit without any rice), crêpes (both desert and with minced beef, chicken or salad) and grilled hot dogs alongside the usual deep fried shitfest, which understandably had lost much of its popularity this year. We did not have sufficient time or stomach capacity to try everything that was available of course, but our general impression was that overall the quality, and certainly the choice, was much better this year.

Beer and soft drink sales had been taken over by Tuborg this year, and as expected, there was no significant change in prices. Beers cost 40 DKK a piece (soda and water was going at 25 DKK a piece), though the plastic cups this year held 0.4 liters instead of 0.5 liters last year, or could alternatively be bought five-at-once for 175 DKK (thus saving 5 DKK per beer). To us this was a good deal since there were five of us at any given time, but the 40 DKK individual beers will likely have caused a significant dent in other people’s wallets. A very welcome addition this year, however, was the introduction of two happy hours from 12:00 to 14:00 on the second day, during which beers were sold half-price – something that we at least exploited to the fullest extent.

Reviews

Friday, June 15th

Barricade

Barricade @ 14:30 on Pandæmonium Stage

The distinguished honor of opening the proceedings at this year’s festival (well, discounting the three bands that played on the Pandæmonium stage the day before to entertain the camping crowd) has befallen Barricade, who secured the spot by winning this year’s Mighty Fight Night. With two drummers, the band makes an impressive sight on stage, though their combined impact never strokes the texture and depth of bands like Kylesa, who also use this setup. With Barricade, it seems, the presence of two drummers is instead justified by an extremely bass-heavy sound that affords their sludge and hardcore mixture some additional meat. In the beginning of their set, this meat is sadly the only thing resonating from the speakers, with the effect that the first two songs achieve little more than confusion among those not familiar with the band’s music. As their set progresses, however, the melodic elements in their music become increasingly audible, and combined with a satisfying stage presence, Barricade makes a solid impression on the early afternoon crowd. [6] AP

Rising @ 15:30 on Pandæmonium Stage

Second in the paltry selection of homegrown acts to be selected for this year’s Copenhell is Rising, and they seem to have an even smaller group of spectators before them than Barricade had achieved. This is probably because Skeletonwitch are busy opening proceedings on the Hades stage just as the local three piece comes into sight on Pandæmonium. These scheduling conflicts seem to add insult to the already grievous injury - of early starts and small names - that the organisers have already dealt the Danish metal scene this year. Sadly they probably had no option when faced with the choice between a spectacular international line-up or the same selection of mid-range Danish acts that this audience has probably already seen several times in the last twelve months. Nonetheless, Rising don’t shy away from the challenge, delivering their raw, slow, deliberate and aggressive brand of metal with as much conviction and brutality as is possible in the bright sunlight of this mid-June afternoon. The sound generated by this modest ensemble of instruments is surprisingly thick and varied, and is further strengthened by the powerful, though sometimes off-tune, vocals of Henrik Hald. Unfortunately, not much can be done with this smattering of onlookers and the band leave the stage without making much of an impact in my album of festival memories. [6] NB

Chance Garnette of Skeletonwitch

Skeletonwitch @ 15:30 on Hades Stage

While AZ is off interviewing Mario Duplantier of Gojira, and NB is jotting down his thoughts on Rising, I find myself alone in watching stateside blackened thrashers Skeletonwitch. With a setlist that dips into each of the band’s four studio albums in equal measure to provide an enthralling mix of speed, intensity and bleakness, Skeletonwitch are in much better form than last time they visited Copenhagen a year and a half ago – not to mention in much higher spirits. There is talk of smoking weed in conjunction with the obligatory references to Christiania that bands with no real knowledge of the city’s wonders tend to make, courtesy of an enthusiastically smiling Chance Garnette, and when the music is blazing from the speakers, each member is synchronously headbanging amid flickering stage lights to create a sight to behold. I cannot say for certain whether it is the jolly mood of the five musicians on stage, the better-than-expected response from the notoriously selective Danish crowd, or simply the quality and clarity of the songs aired that drives me to scribble notes of approval into my smartphone, but the overwhelming consensus among the people watching this show seems to be that Skeletonwitch are doing a very good job indeed at warming up the crowd for the metal extravaganza that is to follow. [7½] AP

Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage

Killswitch Engage @ 16:30 on Helvíti Stage

Whatever anxiety people may have suffered with regard to new old vocalist Jesse Leach taking the reins from Howard Jones is swept aside in no time when this mohawk-toting maniac lets rip. Not only is his singing and screaming better suited for Killswitch Engage – even on songs he had no part in writing, his presence and demeanor on stage is a far cry from the disinterested antics of Jones during his years of personal battles. Leach is visibly enthusiastic to be reunited with his old pals Adam Dutkiewicz, Joel Stroetzel, Mike D’Antonio and Justin Foley, and coupled with the characteristic jesting of Dutkiewicz in particular, the result is a reinvigorated, rejuvenated, and infinitely entertaining Killswitch Engage that even the most sworn decriers of metalcore are forced to admit to liking. Understandably the setlist features zero songs from the most recent, second self-titled album with which the band, according to Stroetzel, is less than satisfied with, and a wealth of old pre-Howard material in “Fixation on the Darkness”, “Numbered Days”, “Self Revolution”, “Vida Infra”, “Temple from the Within”, “Life to Lifeless”, and the default sing-song “My Last Serenade”. These mingle seamlessly with newer cuts like “Rose of Sharyn”, “This is Absolution”, “My Curse” and “The End of Heartache”, during which the capacity of Leach’s pipes becomes ever so apparent – damn this guy sings well. In stark contrast to Jones’ clinical howling, his strained singing technique is as emotive as it is powerful, and affords a newfound glory to the aforementioned Killswitch classics. Even the obligatory cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver” goes down smoothly with his different style to conclude the set in triumphant fashion. [8] AP

Jacob Hansen of The Interbeing

The Interbeing @ 18:00 on Pandæmonium Stage

Meanwhile at the Pandæmonium stage, native tech metal band The Interbeing is taking a different approach to entertaining the people at Copenhell. First off: their stage performance is solid. Obviously paying attention to the visual interaction between band and crowd, the guys are headbanging in unison, while executing their music with the necessary precision that the genre demands. People in the audience seem to enjoy this – even the ones sitting way back on the hill, drinking calmly. The Interbeing is an infectious live act, with their sweet djent grooves and hypnotic synth backing tracks, so be sure to check them out, especially if they continue in this fashion. [7] AZ

Erik Burke of Brutal Truth

Brutal Truth @ 18:00 on Hades Stage

Now the time is right for something brutal. We arrive at the Hades stage just in time to catch the four-piece grindcore band from New York finishing off their set. With the intensity that is intrinsic to any act from the genre, Brutal Truth unleashes a meat wagon that aims to collect all the ears that it can from the crowd. Stoned the f*ck out of his mind, cowboy/trucker/vocalist Kevin Sharp yells into his microphone with severity, while trying to find out where the stage and the audience actually are; the rest of the band have dedicated themselves to headbanging and trying to adhere to the metronome. The audience seems rather stupefied by the massive amount of noise being poured on them, but some heads are still banging and trying to cope with the ridiculous tempo that the band at times works with. [5] AZ

Anthrax’s Frank Bello having a blast

Anthrax @ 19:00 on Helvíti Stage

Second onto the main stage is Anthrax, a veteran of heavy metal with over thirty years experience and as the well known strains of “Caught in a Mosh” begin to boom out across the festival area it is obvious just how many more people have turned up to Copenhell this year: the arena in front of the main stage is already filled nearly to capacity at 7PM. Anthrax’s music is unashamedly simple, loud and unsubtle but, what the band do, they do well. Joey Belladona wastes no time in getting the audience fired up, not-least with the chanting “war dance” section from “Indians”. Even when the sound from the main speakers cuts out for quite a few seconds in the middle of the set it doesn’t break Anthrax’s stride as the band, unaware of the problem, keep going at full pelt. Classics such as Trust’s “Antisocial”, one of three covers played today, and encore finale “I Am the Law” predictably bring the biggest response out of the crowd. Although, from my vantage point on the grass bank, the strong wind causes significant interference with the sound (a problem which could probably be resolved in the future with the introduction of speaker towers behind the sound tent), this and the other technical difficulties do little to spoil our whistle-stop tour of the discography of one of the icons of ‘80s heavy metal. [7] NB

Francesco Artusato of All Shall Perish

All Shall Perish @ 20:30 on Hades Stage

We already spoke of brutality earlier, but only of the raw and in-your-face kind. If we take Brutal Truth and add seven-string guitars and more band members; make them play tighter, and put a bass drop into the concoction, we would still be quite far from what All Shall Perish present tonight. The guys are simply beasts on stage, and tend to create hazardous conditions for every person that has come to watch their shows. The minute they launch into songs like “Royalty into Exile” and “The Price of Existence”, you know that it’s time to get your mosh mode on – or, as vocalist Eddie Hermida puts it, to “become a real Viking in the pit”. So it should be easy to comprehend when I say that the guys sitting on the hill are enjoying the show with the least amount of pain inflicted on them; as for the guys in front of the Hades stage, the experience is akin to a tornado of dust wreaking massive havoc. In short: circle pits, slam dancing, crowd surfing and a wall of death, of course, are the main appetizers. [8] AZ

Troy Sanders of Mastodon

Mastodon @ 21:30 on Helvíti Stage

As if on cue, a faltering rain shower begins to issue from an ominous, dark grey sky as Mastodon takes to the main stage... only two years late (originally having been scheduled to headline Copenhell 2010). The grotesque image of A J Fosik’s stag’s head sculpture, the cover artwork from Mastodon’s latest, universally acclaimed record, looms behind the band, drenched in deep red stage lights. It’s a clear statement of how things are going to do down tonight. Rightfully satisfied with how “The Hunter” turned out, the band fills nine out of sixteen slots on their set-list with new tracks, launching into the set with the majestic intro of “Black Tongue”. This is a wise decision, as the short, fast paced, punchy style adopted on this album makes for a much more successful live performance than the ponderous, abstract works of “Crack the Skye”, only one of which is played here.

The band has not much changed its approach to live performances, however, with each member planting himself in one position on stage and bringing character to the music with a wide variety of rather theatrical facial expressions instead of bounding around the venue with the juvenile vigour more normally found in rock and metal shows. It is only bassist and de facto frontman Troy Sanders who ventures occasionally from his central posting and strikes a wild pose at the extremities of the stage, all the while maintaining his unhinged and anguished glare. Nor have the band improved as conversationalists, only occasionally uttering even a single word to the audience. While some critics evidently find this feature of Mastodon’s shows disappointing, I see it as very much in keeping with the band’s style and an important part of the carefully refined atmosphere of a Mastodon gig; the atmosphere which is currently washing over the largest crowd of the festival so far, who seem to share my sentiments.

As always Mastodon execute the complexities of their set with expert precision and easily reproduce the raw but intricate sound heard on record. That is, with the possible exception of Saunders, whose voice seems to falter occasionally in the clean sections tonight. But this is a minor complaint in an otherwise pretty flawless show. Popular as the new songs are, the set is finished off with the classics, finally ending on the near legendary “Blood and Thunder” after which, uncharacteristically, and maybe even in response to AP’s broaching of the issue in interview earlier in the day, as the band leaves the stage, Brann Dailor comes front-centre to dispose of his sticks and thank the audience. [9] NB

Christian Andreu of Gojira

Gojira @ 23:00 on Hades Stage

And so we come to the closing act of the Hades stage; the second last band to play on the first day of Copenhell ’12. That’s right: Gojira, the mighty mythological creature that took the metal scene by storm – first in France and then worldwide – by redefining the genre and modeling it in a completely different way. Touching upon topics like the human spirit, the universe, matter and nature, the quartet, led by brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier (on guitars/vocals and drums, respectively) is one of the most anticipated bands at the festival this year.

At 23:00 the band takes the stage, and without any regret for human life, begins to stomp the ground we are occupying. Systematically conquering the minds of the people in the audience, leaving only the “bang your head hard” brain function behind, Gojira are alive in flesh and spirit. The energy they produce on stage, though frightening at times, is brilliantly infectious, while the setlist, comprising only major head crushers like “Remembrance”, “Flying Whales”, Backbone”, “The Heaviest Matter of the Universe” and the fantastic “Vacuity” – as well as the teasing title track off the new record, “L’Enfant Sauvage”, which provides a good mix of typical Gojira and new creative ideas – and played at maximum volume, impresses with its intensity and sheer headbanging capacity. Halfway through the set, Mario is forced to take a pause to step down from behind his kit simply to grasp how many people are actually at this show, and, looking genuinely taken aback by the spectacle themselves, the band then proceeds to escalate their performance into Dillinger Escape Plan-like madness – a most unexpected scenario given the criticism some people have thrown at Gojira for their supposedly static stage presence.

Did I want to see Gojira on the main stage? Yes and no. Yes – just to see that circle pit during “Flying Whales” take massive proportions and give the band the space that they need to expand that vacuum they create while playing. No – because I’m greedy, and I want to keep that contact between band and audience as strong as possible. [9] AZ

Slayer’s Kerry King punishing his guitar

Slayer @ 00:00 on Helvíti Stage

“Play some Slayer!” is probably the most widespread intern joke in the global metal community; “book Slayer!” is probably the most common answer to any metal festival’s suggestion scouting for the line-up. Yet both demands are seldom met by Danish venues and festivals, something that Copenhell decided to rectify this year by meeting both with one stroke: Slayer, playing Slayer, like Slayer. Now, that might sound like a confusing statement; however, anyone who has seen the band perform more than once will know exactly what it implies: there is little doubt as to what can be expected from these thrash metal titans. Slayer is without a doubt one of the most influential metal bands in history, with a following more akin to a cult than a fanbase, but none of the infamy that surrounds the band stems from their qualities as a live band. Granted, these four ancients (though Jeff Hanemann is missing from the line-up on this tour due to a venomous spider bite; Exodus’ Gary Holt is performing in his stead) are tighter than virgin snatch instrumentally speaking, the light show that engulfs the pitch black is without a doubt the most spectacular seen at Copenhell this year, and all the classics and fan favorites are given an airing in what can only be described as a display of stunning supremacy. But as a non-cultist, with only limited or superficial familiarity with the band through songs like “South of Heaven” – tonight’s opener, “War Ensemble”, “Dead Skin Mask” and “Raining Blood”, the music has the inevitable quality of becoming extremely repetitive after a while – and the largely static Tom Araya does little to compensate in visual terms. To put it simply: Slayer is not a particularly stimulating live force for those of us not obsessively passionate about the band’s institution. That is not to say, however, that Slayer does not impress in their own way, as Kerry King in particular is a truly fearsome sight with his evil-spewing eyes, imposing tribal tattoos, shaved head and braided beard. But once again, I must confess that I am still not a convert, and that I find other thrash metal groups such as Death Angel to be much more rewarding experiences in the live setting. [8] AP

Saturday, June 16th

Redwood Hill’s bassist Jens concentrating…

Redwood Hill @ 13:30 on Pandæmonium Stage

Not a whole lot of people have braved their hangovers to exploit the two happy hours, and watch one of the most exciting new bands in Denmark in my opinion: Redwood Hill. Their bleak, depressive post-metal stands in stark contrast to the clear blue sky and scorching afternoon sun, but with the help of thick plumes of dry ice, the band is nonetheless able to shroud the small audience in shades of blue, white, grey and black. The setting is sub-optimal, and prevents Redwood Hill from achieving the sort of grandeur they’re capable of in the dark, but the band shows absolutely no relent in terms of their performance. This band shows such attention to detail without appearing choreographed, so that during the many quiet clean lulls in songs like “Dybbuk”, “Nadir” and “September”, vocalist Marco Sewohl retreats into a fetal posture with a hood over his head, thus shifting the focus to the remaining musicians; and when the music explodes, he bursts into a tantrum not unlike Martin Nielskov (of The Psyke Project). But the best part about Redwood Hill is that their live shows can be enjoyed in two ways: by closing your eyes and letting one wave after another of beautiful, textured music stroke your ears, or by opening them to witness what must surely be one of the best live bands in Denmark by now. [7½] AP

Fuck you, youngsters – Biff Byford’s still the boss!

Saxon @ 14:30 on Helvíti Stage

After that rush of melancholy, it is time for something much more light-hearted: a facet of the new wave of British heavy metal, courtesy of the aging gentlemen of Saxon. Age, however, is not an issue that keeps the band from spewing out more enthusiasm than most of their younger colleagues at this festival, nor from executing their “Heavy Metal Thunder” with admirable flare. Nearly three decades of touring have certainly not taken a toll on the band – on the contrary. I must admit to having only heard of Saxon prior to this festival, and so I have a hard time relating to their music on a higher level than “damn, that’s a nice riff” or “damn, that’s a sweet solo”. But even so, these gentlemen provide an excellent blast from the past for a second day packing some of the biggest contemporary metal bands, and while it is not the most exhilarating of performances in terms of its visual aspects, one cannot but bow in respect to the fact that even today, these 60-something year-olds still pack more power than most bands of their kind today. [7½] AP

JBP of Cerekloth

Cerekloth @ 15:30 on Pandæmonium Stage

Next on my schedule is the second Danish band of the day: Cerekloth, whose influences lie within extreme metal. I am pleased to find that unlike so many other death metal bands this country has to offer, Cerekloth explore musical territories that are in many ways similar to By the Patient, texturing the extremity with solid helpings of melody and ambience. Some might call it blackened, but I prefer to call it modern; as Cerekloth clearly have an awareness of what the current generation of metal heads is looking for. As such, there is no stubborn disposition for the old school or true to be heard here; only the sound of a band writing good songs that work well in a live setting (and probably also on record). The performance itself is quite archetypical of death metal, with the focus on executing technically demanding music and not on stimulating the audience with a particularly energetic or invigorating live show. Sadly, in wanting to cover every band at this festival for your reading pleasure, I am forced to head over to the Hades stage to catch the latter half of Dying Fetus’ set before Cerekloth conclude theirs – but from what I have time to watch, Cerekloth manage to convince me of their potential. [7] AP

Sean Beasley of Dying Fetus headbanging

Dying Fetus @ 15:30 on Hades Stage

It quickly turns out, however, that my decision to watch Dying Fetus is a mistake. Now, it might just be that the trio’s music exists so far out of my comfort zone, in the extreme end of death metal, but to me it all seems rather disappointing. Granted, the music is technically impressive, and executed with admirable precision, but the band’s interaction with the audience is rare and indifferent, while any notion of a performance is non-existent. It seems to me as though a band like Dying Fetus is best enjoyed on the stereo where every intricacy of their music is audible and not on stage where the sheer velocity and complexity of their music prevents them from staging a real show. The smallest crowd at the festival yet for an international act confirms my opinion, though a small contingent of fans seems to be getting their money’s worth up front. [5] AP

Jens Kidman of Meshuggah

Meshuggah @ 16:30 on Helvíti Stage

Meshuggah, on the other hand, are an instantly gripping sight – despite their limited movement as well. It is difficult to explain exactly what it is that makes watching these Swedish time-benders such a stirring experience, as most of the “show” manifests itself as mere jaw-dropping awe at the ease and arrogance with which the various members execute music as challenging as theirs. It is also because of their knack for switching time signature almost arbitrarily that timed headbanging is rarely an option. Meshuggah is very much a band you watch and behold whilst one mighty djent groove after another resonates from Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström’s 8-string guitars and Dick Lövgren’s bass. Throw in a demonical Jens Kidman, whose slow headbanging and the white of his eyes exposed makes him seem but a vessel for some ancient evil, and the inhuman drumming of Tomas Haake, and you’ve got a recipe for success. We watch, in a state of trance, as the band takes us through five of their seven studio albums, including “Demiurge” (the set opener), “Do Not Look Down” and “The Hurt That Finds You First” from their most recent album “Koloss”; “Pravus”, “Combustion”, “Lethargica”, “Bleed” (which incites a sizable moshpit), as well as the brooding “Dancers to a Discordant System” from “obZen”; and a small selection of older fan favorites in “Rational Gaze”, “New Millennium Cyanide Christ” and “Future Breed Machine”. It is of course a damn shame that once again, Meshuggah are not billed high enough to warrant an evening set, which would enable their light production to give them that additional edge (in my opinion the much less influential Soulfly should have been occupying this slot and Meshuggah headlining the Hades stage). But with a strong setlist, instrumental proficiency and an excellent sound mix, their late afternoon set is nonetheless nothing less than a triumph. [8½] AP

The Kandidate’s Jacob Bredahl has just spotted a naked dude pissing…

The Kandidate @ 18:00 on Pandæmonium Stage

Of all the Danish bands at this festival, The Kandidate manage to gather the largest crowd – and not without reason. Comprising mainly experienced former members of well-known, revered Danish metal bands such as Hatesphere and The Downward Candidate, these four are no strangers to playing big shows. But as ever, the rather monotonous character of the band’s music poses the greatest hindrance to their success, as for anyone unfamiliar with the band’s material the selection of songs is likely to go down as extremely repetitive. On the other hand, the impression is probably less important for those participating in the pit, as well as those pumping their fists upfront, as the primary hardcore influence provides the perfect pretext for audience participation. I watch only five songs or so in order to have time to catch Finnish folk metal group Korpiklaani on the Hades stage, but based on my observations the band puts on a decent performance, if not one that will go down as particularly memorable. [7] AP

Korpiklaani

Korpiklaani @ 18:00 on Hades Stage

Korpiklaani is a cross between a ‘80s glam-rock band and a tree. If that metaphor needs a little explaining, imagine arming the “ents” from Lord of the Rings with electric guitars, a violin and an accordion... and setting them loose in a liquor store. Whenever these very folky, very beardy and very drunk Finns take to the stage, even the tr00est of metal audiences gets temporarily roused into dance mode like it’s a group of ten-year olds at a birthday party. This afternoon is no exception with the pit area, and hill behind, suddenly filled with serious metal dudes linking arms and prancing in circles, people singing along to the band’s upbeat repertoire and other general silliness that only folk metal can provoke.

The band might as well have have selected their Copenhell set-list by scanning the back wall optics of your average bar: “Vodka”, “Wooden Pints”, “Tequila”, “Happy Little Boozer” and “Beer Beer” being today’s cocktail of alcohol themed numbers. These naturally get a good reaction from the audience, who, by this time in the afternoon, are fairly well acquainted with such topics themselves. Violinist Tuomas Rounakari, apparently dressed as a Jedi today, also receives a warm response with a cozy, seated solo in the middle of the set. As always, upbeat songs, enthusiastic on-stage antics and no-so-witty audience interaction provide ample excitement and mean that Korpiklaani, despite being one of the most prolific metal bands in existence (having churned out eight nearly identical, full-length studio albums in the last ten years) and therefore probably not being your first choice for private listening, do turn out to be sure-fire festival favourite [7½] NB



Apollyon of Immortal

Immortal @ 19:00 on Helvíti Stage

Following the joyous affair that was Korpiklaani, the grimness of Immortal comes as an initial shock. Standing before massive stacks of Marshall Amplifiers and lit with dim shades of blue and white, guitarist and vocalist Abbath Doom Occulta and his compatriots, bassist Apollyon and drummer Horgh, make a fearsome sight in his corpse paint – in fact the stage setup, lights and the band’s costume makes it all look rather like an old black and white horror movie, most appropriately for this journey into Blashyrkh, the fictive kingdom of eternal frost. The effect is so strong, the band’s aggression so great, that it obscures the evening sun and offers without a doubt the most grandiose and humbling performance of the festival. Immortal demonstrate supremacy like no other, with songs like “All Shall Fall”, “Triumph”, “Withstand the Fall of Time”, “Sons of Northern Darkness” and “One by One” delivering massive blows into a raging moshpit. But well aware of their somewhat comical fixation on fantasy, the trio is not afraid to flash a smile or throw an amusing facial expression into the mix so as to not seem too menacing – this is black metal of the mainstream kind after all. “The Sun No Longer Rises” from the classic “Pure Holocaust” album is the icing on the cake of a concert of biblical proportions. [8] AP

Matt Heafy of Trivium

Trivium @ 20:30 on Hades Stage

Finally the time comes for some modern metal. Yes, Trivium is about to hit the stage with what I would consider their best effort to date: “In Waves”. The minute the intro from that record, “Capsizing the Sea”, is over, guitar-toting vocalist Matt Heafy takes control over the crowd, and unleashes a powerful wave that drowns everyone in front of the stage. Full of energy and emotion, co-guitarist Corey Beaulieu, bassist Paolo Gregoletto, and drummer Nick Augusto then join the front man in kicking some serious ass. Skillfully incorporating crafty guitar work and a rock-out stage presence, the band fires up the crowd on tracks like “Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr” and “Down from the Sky”, and the constant interaction between Heafy and the audience is paying off: people are singing along to every song, jumping in the air, and running in circle pits throughout the band’s set. And no wonder – the “California boys”, as Heafy calls them – use the best they have in their arsenal and aim straight for the crowd’s hearts. Playing on a smaller stage, and with a shorter set length than usual, Trivium are not able to capitalize fully on their potential, but the performance is still a great appetizer for a follow-up show Heafy reveals the band will be headlining in the fall in Copenhagen (with support from As I Lay Dying, Caliban and Upon A Burning Body). [8] AZ

Mike Morton of Lamb of God

Lamb Of God @ 21:30 on Helvíti Stage

As we approach the end of this year’s Copenhell festival, we stand before the Helvíti stage awaiting the arrival of the metal titans from Richmond, VA – and when, at last, the sounds of the intro track start growing louder than the expectant chanting of the crowd, Lamb of God finally emerge into the spotlight. Drummer Chris Adler rains in the opening beat to “Desolation”, quickly followed by bassist John Campbell and guitarist-duo Willie Adler & Mark Morton – and finally, when the moshing has already begun, Randy Blythe joins in with his characteristic barking. The full impact of Lamb of God’s music cannot be described with words. There is so much raw power dripping from the guitars and drums, blending into an almighty fist that constantly smacks the listener in his or her face. Years of touring have made the band as tight as they come – almost like a machine. And regardless of the fact that metal is their primary tag, Lamb of God still provide a sweet rock’n’roll feel to the madness courtesy of Mr. Morton.

The crowd is pumped up and the soundtrack that the quintet provides is more than enough to make Copenhell explode in absolutely breathtaking fashion. Constant moshing, crowd surfing, and a stream of people eagerly joining the party with each passing song make this performance the very definition of a proper metal concert; the enormous circle pit that Mr. Blythe calls the biggest of the tour so far, and the wall of death that follows during the encore comprising “Redneck” and “Black Label”, respectively, should be cried out as one of the absolute highlight moments of not just the band’s set, but the festival as a whole. [10] AZ

Soulfly’s Marc Rizzo delivering one of many solos…

Soulfly @ 23:00 on Hades Stage

Soulfly seem to be a heavily anticipated act, judging from the large mass of people that has gathered to see their stage-headlining show at Hades. But even though Soulfly certainly have strong material of their own to choose from, and to justify their popularity, two out of ten songs tonight are covers of Sepultura’s “Refuse/Resist” and “Roots Bloody Roots”, and I cannot help but feel it is for the sake of hearing Max Cavalera’s original touch on these classics that most people still care about the band. When they are played, the crowd response borders on ecstatic, while during the band’s own cuts like “World Scum” and “Prophecy” the reaction is slightly less riotous. Refusing to let this sour their mood, however, Soulfly perform with intrinsic Latin charisma and provide decent entertainment through David Kinkade’s tribal drumming style, Marc Rizzo’s magnificent guitar work, and Max Cavalera’s attitude. True to tradition, he has brought two of his children along for this tour: Igor Jr. and Richie, both of whom deliver guest vocals on “Tree of Pain” toward the end of Soulfly’s set to varying degrees of success (Igor Jr. is a drummer, not a vocalist – let’s just leave it at that). “Intervention” is interrupted by a brief jam of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, while the lone encore mash-up of “Jumpdafuckup” and “Eye for an Eye” is preceded by the intro to “Angel of Death”, cementing my impression that this is Cavalera’s vessel for having fun. As such, this closing Hades set does not even come close to the force with which Gojira asserted themselves the day before. That is not to say, however, that the crowd isn’t having a blast. [7] AP

Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson @ 00:00 on Helvíti Stage

Gone are the days when Marilyn Manson was considered one of the most controversial musicians in the world, and blamed by some even to be indirectly responsible for mass murder; today the 43 year-old shock rocker is, strictly speaking, a mainstream pop phenomenon. At Copenhell he and his troop of hired guns stick out like a sore thumb, and it is hardly a surprise that a large contingent of the festival audience begins to dissipate even before he arrives on stage – fashionably late of course. The performance is best described as theatrical, as one gets the sense that most of the stuff going on is scripted – from Manson’s odd acrobatics during “Disposable Teens”, through the countless sexual innuendos and snorting coke (or possibly just flour) off the head of a guitar during “The Dope Show”, to tearing a bible apart during “Antichrist Superstar”. It is entertaining in a very superficial way, yet given the relatively low volume and numerous instances of playback, it is impossible to take it seriously. Hearing all the hits – “Rock is Dead” et al. is a mildly rewarding experience, but as a whole – in my opinion – Marilyn Manson’s show here goes down as one of the most disappointing, and certainly the most out-of-place concerts at the festival. This annoys me because it makes for an anti-climactic conclusion to an otherwise fantastic festival (the fact that the Burning Man fails to catch fire afterward does nothing to help), and I can’t help but feel Lamb of God should have been billed as the Saturday headliner this year. [6] AP

Overall impression & closing remarks

As a whole, it is safe to say that Copenhell met our, and probably everyone else’s expectations and then some. Given the 8500 or so tickets sold this year, plus the 1500 or so volunteers, press, technicians, vendors, etc., almost every concert pulled a sizable crowd – much to many of the billed bands’ benefit. It is my hope that the festival will continue to expand, or at least be able to include even more bands of equivalent quality and size on the bill next year (without sacrificing the concert-length set times, mind you).

But what is still most awesome about Copenhell is the absolutely amazing atmosphere that reigns over Refshaleøen during the two days of festivities. There were no fights, no thefts (to my knowledge), and no serious problems to report, which leads me to reiterate that despite most people’s preconceptions, the metal crowd is one of the jolliest, most peaceful subcultures in music. People come to Copenhell for the music – not just to get drunk. And when they do get drunk, they do so with good humor.

As ever though, there are a few things that Copenhell could still consider tightening for next year:

First: given the propensity for wind at Refshaleøen, the sound quality and volume were sometimes suboptimal if you happened to be sitting on the hill. This could easily be remedied by setting up two additional speaker towers some 50 meters from the two main stages!

Second: why was it not possible to get water without paying 25 DKK for it? This needs to change, as moshing can be a rather trying physical activity.

Third: the shopping street was a good idea, but come on – two shops, neither of which was selling CDs, vinyls and so on?

That’s it – only three tiny things to fix! Overall, however, Copenhell 2012 deserves tremendous applause, and for anyone wanting to check out a metal festival outside of their own country next year, I urge you come check out this one – if not for what will surely be a mental line-up once again, then for the sheer atmosphere of metal!

See you next year!

To see even more photos, check out Marika Hyldmar and Lykke Nielsen's Flickr pages.

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