A Colossal Weekend 2016

author LF date 17/05/16

The booking agency COLOSSAL has been present on the Copenhagen scene for a while now, pulling the strings behind some great post-rock and post-metal shows as well as reaching into related areas of doom, psych, math and hardcore as well. Those genres and the culture surrounding them are also exactly what is at the heart of this sold-out weekend-event that has been realised in the very professional confines of VEGA. Using both the Lille VEGA stage and the rarely used smaller VEGA Lounge upstairs, the event has a festival feel to it even though it only lasts two days. The arrangers deserve much applause first and foremost for the great bookings but also importantly for the very thoughtful organization of the whole thing that ensures no overlaps between the bands. Other notable nice features of the festival include: a pop-up burger stall on the outside balcony, extensive merchandise space including a label distro, the showing of the documentary "Blood, Sweat + Vinyl: DIY in the 21st century" on Saturday, an official after-party in VEGA's own Ideal Bar on Friday, and cheaper bar prices than normally with a regular pint priced at 40 DKK. All in all, it turned out a very successful event and you can read on to see how each band fared. LF

All photos by Peter Troest, troest.nu.

FRIDAY

Recitation

Recitation 19:00-19:30 @ VEGA Lounge

The Danish doom-trio Recitation has the task of opening the festival on the smaller of the two stages and they do a fine job considering that it takes a while to warm up the headbanging muscles of the audience. Not many members of the audience seem familiar with the band beforehand and it takes some time to win them over, and thus there is no remarkable response when the vocalist mentions about ten minutes in that this is, by the way, their last show. They play crushingly heavy music with no real breaks for the half hour their set lasts so instead of individual songs, the dynamic of the set consists in the music circling between quieter droning sections and louder shredding accompanied by faster drumming and some gruelling growls. A guitar solo sparks some energy at one point and the vocals also change their character for a short while somewhere in the middle of the set but otherwise the shifts seem very similar as they repeat the same pattern after we've been through the first cycle. Compared to their album, "Carrion", the little variations do come through clearer here, though, and there's no denying that they do what they do very well although the music gets a bit one-tracked. [6] LF

Town Portal

Town Portal 20:00-20:45 @ Lille VEGA

Since I wasn’t able to cut it short from work today, the first band I’m seeing this Friday is Town Portal from our very own Copenhagen. My first impression as the three guys enter the stage and fire up their instruments is that the sound is very loud. Not too loud, but loud enough not to hear the people in the back talking. I’m thinking to myself: "Finally, a new festival that’s not afraid to let the bands really kick out the jams". During the first fifteen minutes everything runs along smoothly and the band plays their instrumental progressive math-rock convincingly with surefire precision. Due to the odd time-signatures displayed in their music, the lack of vocals and the brilliant interplay between drums and bass, it’s hard not to think of classic prog-band Rush’s instrumental "YYZ" (if you are unfamiliar with the music of Rush, know that this is a compliment). Unfortunately, something happens during the set that makes the bass rumble too much in comparison to the rest of the equipment. Luckily it’s fixed within a few songs, but it does momentarily take us away from the journey that Town Portal’s taken us on. No other problems occur for the remainder of the set, and we’re left to enjoy the beautiful compositions the band creates. Especially the last few songs feature some impressive cymbal-work by the band’s drummer, and an electric guitar solo establishes the band’s prowess. Watching Town Portal was definitely a great way to start an excellent day, and the positive response from the crowd tells the same. [7½] MIN

Vasa

Vasa 21:00-21:30 @ VEGA Lounge

Next up is Vasa who play a batch of high-octane instrumental post-rock songs with some very technical math rock riffs. Having just reviewed their debut album Colours, I am looking immensely forward to their set and just as on record, the band throws themselves into the music like there's no time to waste. For the most part, they are accompanied by intensely flashing lights that only push the experience even more insistently in our faces and there's really nothing to do but just stand there and listen in awe for the first few minutes. I soon recognise the dynamic “Fat Ronaldo” which is definitely a highlight of the show with its interesting composition. They play loud and the sound mix ensures that their quick, fluttery guitar riffs are solidly anchored in a gut-punching bass but this also makes most of the individual songs blend together and they don't stand apart here as much as on the album. The joy and ferociousness translate perfectly, though, and it's obvious from the headbanging and the great energy exchange between crowd and band throughout, that they have instantly won some new fans tonight. [7½] LF

Pelican

Pelican 21:45-22:45 @ Lille VEGA

At the time Pelican goes on stage, I'm already getting a little tired and expect that I might have to firmly drag myself through their performance. I am soon convinced otherwise, however, as the American post-metal quartet (interestingly from Chicago, Illinois just as tonight's headliner) begin playing a relentless groove that's going to be present in every song they play tonight. As I'm not too familiar with their discography, every song seems very similar to me as that rhythm is what stands in the foreground much of the time with its very sludgy quality. I'm soon mesmerized as I let the music work on me until I get flashbacks to the trance-like state of the Sunn O))) show that I witnessed last year. Pelican's music is undoubtedly lighter than those extreme reverberating drones but nonetheless heavy in its own right, as well as melodic in a very different way which ensures that we are called back from our trance from time to time to notice what’s going on behind the beats. The three silhouettes that we see playing guitars and bass in front of white flashes of light are etched out as powerful figures on their own and the violent way they bang their entire bodies through most of the songs only serves to underline the crushing quality of the riffs. All around the filled venue there are heads banging as well as fists in the air from time to time acknowledging the majestic performance. Towards the end, "Last Days of Winter" brings in a different somewhat lighter and more explicitly melodic atmosphere that makes it stand out from the other songs played tonight and come the last song "Mammoth", most people in the filled venue seem overwhelmed with impressions but in that cathartic way that post-metal and post-rock is so good at facilitating. I leave the set more drained than I came but definitely in better spirits. [8½] LF

Penguinsmeat

Penguinsmeat 23:00-23:30 @ VEGA Lounge

After Pelican has just shaken our foundations, most people must’ve decided to take a break from the music. At least it looks that way since very few have decided to show up for Penguinsmeat’s set. Like many other bands tonight, these Russians only have three members, but a key difference is that their setup is both electronic and organic. Drums, a laptop and a keyboard kick off the set with an intro that overstays a little, but once the guitars join in, some very interesting music and atmosphere emerges. After a little while some excellent danceable beats are joined by impressive guitars, and as the show progresses the band actually manages to keep me interested throughout despite my initial skepticism. The band transcends from post- and math rock to something I’ve jotted down in my notes as “electronic space rock power jam disco dance”. During the last few minutes of the show, Penguinsmeat display some great dynamics in their music with contrasts ranging from very chill to rather abrasive electronic beats, and by the end of the set things get dark and heavy. Ultimately, this was a really great show from a band that should’ve had a larger crowd. I believe that those of us who saw the entire set were greatly entertained. [7] MIN

Russian Circles 23:45-01:05 @ Lille VEGA

Tonight’s headliner is the post-rock/metal band Russian Circles from Chicago, Illinois. Over the last few years the band’s garnered quite the reputation as an impressive live band, and since I haven’t personally experienced them live I enter Lille Vega with much anticipation. Personally, I’ve only heard the band’s album "Memorial", but I’m quite sure that "Deficit" off that record is what opens tonight’s set. The first few minutes of the song leads us into a doomy, post-apocalyptic soundscape where the drums project the vision of a giant watchtower and the guitar notes fall like hard rain. After a few minutes the set turns into complete riff carnage which sets off mass-headbanging from the crowd, and by the end of the song we’re left in the pouring rain once again.

Russian Circles

The next song starts with some feedback-toying from the guitarist, and straight afterwards we’re lead into a galloping rhythm that gets the neck muscles working. Most of the band’s set features slow and beautiful passages that lead into these aforementioned galloping walls of sound, and the way the band plays with dynamics is truly remarkable. For a band to make this much sound is a feat on its own, but taking into account the fact that Russian Circles only have three members makes it all the more impressive. At one point the band manages to create mathy and chaotic riffs, at another they build up those elements and construct a beautifully noisy catharsis that shakes the walls of the room. The band ends their set with the song "Youngblood" which is quite spectacular and thus finishes a pretty epic set. But despite the music being flawless, I can’t help but feel like something’s missing. Obviously, there’s not a finger to put on the musicians’ performances, but the set never manages to transport me to another plateau. Occasionally the interludes between songs were too long, and although I know that building suspense is part of the job description when we’re talking post-rock, Russian Circles just didn’t make use of the time they had during these breaks the way that other bands do. Thus tonight’s show will merely be classified as excellent instead of unforgettable. [8] MIN

SATURDAY

pg.lost

pg.lost 18:45-19:25 @ Lille VEGA

Most bands playing this event have been graced so far with relatively filled rooms but I am still surprised that so many people have chosen to come out early today for the Swedes in pg.lost. Lille Vega is filled pleasantly so that there's still room to breathe and the band gets loud applause in between songs. Their almost exclusively instrumental post-rock is something I've wanted to check out properly for a while and this show only eggs me on even more. Compared to the more mathy outfits we witnessed yesterday, today we're treated to slower, more stretched out and dramatic post-rock and with this particular constellation it doesn't take long before I'm thinking of the Danish band Mew as well as to some extent the Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Rós. This is especially because of the light and dreamy quality in the music but also the vocals featured that don't consist of words but rather high-pitched falsetto notes stretched out on top of the airy music. It's all very soothing to listen to but there's also a great progression in the set with the music turning heavier and more insistent as time passes until it all climaxes in the end. In a line-up bursting with great bookings, pg.lost is definitely one of the bands that intrigue me the most, their performance only confirming that I should really get it together and familiarise myself with their records. [7½] LF

SVIN

SVIN 19:30-20:05 @ VEGA Lounge

Having just had time to catch a burger before the show, I confine myself on the balcony above the scene to watch the spectacle that is SVIN from Copenhagen. The first thing I notice when the band starts playing is the massive sound they create through saxophone and keyboard. But we’re not just talking loud noises for the sake of being loud. No, we're talking a huge wall of cacophonic sound driven by an underlying melody that’s constantly evolving below the tenor saxophone’s abrasive tones. The guitarist is extremely talented at throwing in several curve balls with his chord progressions, and the drummer is constantly pounding and slapping the skins along to the rhythm or deviating from it consciously. The band also plays several very different sections, ranging from ceremonial keyboard pieces to jam sessions: During a single song the band manages to at one point feature a keyboard solo that sounds like it’s taken straight off the 1975 classic "The Snow Goose" by progressive rock band Camel, and a few minutes later turn that same tune into something similar to Preoccupation’s (previously Viet Cong) "March of Progress". SVIN’s music sure is strange, but damn is it well-executed and progressive as hell! The last few songs feature everything from krautrockish droning to mathy stadium rock with guitar solos, and when the crowd calls for another song the band plays a short noisy one with multiple breaks that are masterly timed betwixt the musicians. After the show’s over, I’m both dazed and confused but in a really good way. I only wish the set had been longer, but the band actually did go over time by five or ten minutes. [8] MIN

Solbrud

Solbrud 20:15-20:55 @ Lille VEGA

Before today’s shows even started, I proclaimed that Solbrud’s set was probably going to be one of the best of the weekend. I’ve seen the band a few times before, and especially their show at Copenhell 2015 backs up the claim I made. However, what we’re met with during the first twenty minutes of Solbrud’s show is really poor sound where the bass overshadows everything else in the mix. The deep, dark, murky bass (which actually sounds like a pretty good thing on paper) makes it almost impossible to hear the guitars, but at least the band notices the problem themselves. After the first song, Ole Luk (vocalist) proclaims that they’re having troubles with the monitor, and the bassist and the drummer leaves the stage. Several minutes go by, and suddenly the band returns with a much cleaner sound. There are still a few difficulties during the first few minutes of the next song, but luckily these are fixed quickly and we’re off to 25 minutes of intense, melodic black metal (the set is prolonged by approximately ten minutes). The band doesn’t let the aforementioned issues bother them as they’re now playing as if their lives depended on it, and half an hour is still plenty of time for them to suck us in and delve into their ominous, atmospheric soundscape. Bathed in epileptic lights, the band members stride majestically like the four horsemen of the apocalypse through a cold winter’s night, taking no prisoners and leaving everything charcoaled and black in the set’s aftermath. So although the first half of Solbrud’s set was nothing more than a huge bummer, the band rose to create embers out of sparks afterwards. So I guess my initial statement was half right. [7] MIN

Late Night Venture

Late Night Venture 21:15-21:50 @ VEGA Lounge

Another local band, the heavy post-rock band Late Night Venture is the only ones of the festival to feature an elaborate visual element in their performance. Behind their keyboardist, a white circle marks the background for geometric shapes, clouds and old astronomy-drawings to dance across, the latter pointing to how the band as far as I can tell mostly plays material from their latest album "Tychonians" tonight. The small stage has the band crammed together with their five members spanning guitars, bass, drums and keyboards as well as two vocalists. This is no challenge to the sound mix though as their music packs a solid punch and the dark doomy atmosphere seeps out into the room and envelops us all. The psyched-out track "Moon Shone on White Rock" works really well early in the set with it's dual vocals, just as "Nebula" quickly sets the pace even though the iconic keyboards seem too low in the mix for a while. This is fixed later, though, and while the room was not filled from the beginning, people soon join and stick around till the end. Up front, the irresistible groove is definitely felt and with a longer set, the band could make some very cool progressions in the sinister atmosphere they set so well. [7] LF

This Will Destroy You

This Will Destroy You 22:00-22:55 @ Lille VEGA

Even though This Will Destroy You from Austin/Dallas, Texas are one of the post-rock bands I am most familiar with here, I am still undecided as to whether I like their live shows or not. While they play immersive, extended compositions that slowly build up to crash like huge waves against the listeners, the pay-offs happen very suddenly and, especially tonight, they feel very similar in their dynamics. It doesn't help at all that the rumbling bass that plagued Solbrud earlier has returned in a slightly more acceptable version for this set. It's a shame as it means that the more delicate guitar picking gets hidden beneath a more crushing sound that makes the band sound somewhat heavier than what is ideal. Still, there's a reason that This Will Destroy You is mentioned among the big post-rock names and their slow and captivating compositions carry through nonetheless. Instead of the intense lighting we have become used to these two days, the band only has some very dimmed yellow projectors lit in the back while two of the four members instead wear headlights that shine two sharp beacons of light. This has a curious effect where we're completely free to sink into the music and forget where we are in the darkness while we can also track the headbanging of the band as the lights pass over our faces rhythmically. In addition, it has a practical reason as their middle guitarist needs light to regulate the sound boards he has set up next to him, this giving us a sense that we're in fact watching four sound technicians, meticulously crafting their music with acute precision, rather than just any other rock band. While the band thus succeeds in creating a special atmosphere around them, the sound quality takes the magic down a notch for me and I end up with mixed feelings even though there's normally no denying the band's talent for writing immersive music. [7] LF

LLNN

LLNN 23:15-23:50 @ VEGA Lounge

Sludgy post-metallers LLNN, featuring ex-members of The Psyke Project, have the honor of playing the last show at the Lounge stage this weekend, and since their material on record is probably the one that’s going to stir up the most raucous in the crowd during this festival, I’m excited to see how well it’ll unfold live. Unfortunately, what we’re met with during the show is nothing less than an outrageously bad sound mix. It’s difficult to hear any details at all from the guitars and bass that combined sound like one thick mass without any real substance, and although the dual vocals actually sound really good together, it’s undermined by the terrible soundscape the band is faced with. The band seem like they’re having a good time and are moving around a lot, doing their part the way they should, but the conditions they’re faced with are unfair. There are definitely people in the crowd enjoying the show, but no matter where I stand, nothing seems to work. The band definitely has some good material, but it’s hard to enjoy it tonight. I’m looking forward to seeing LLNN some other time where things work out a lot better, because they definitely have the material for it. [5½] MIN

Cult of Luna 00:00-01:10 @ Lille VEGA

Finally, the time has come for the mighty Cult of Luna to play their classic album "Somewhere Along the Highway" from 2006 in its entirety. Lille Vega is filled up nicely, and as the band enters the stage to much applause, bathed in green light, my aching back is numbed with excitement and anticipation. As the song working as an introduction to the album "Marching to the Heartbeats" transcends into the colossal epic “Finland”, it quickly becomes apparent why the band has decided to bring in an additional percussionist and guitarist for the show: The music they make is gigantic, and every detail in the soundscape rings crystal clear, whether it’s the barbaric vocals punching you in the gut or the more intricate guitar picking during the song’s more intimate sections. The lightshow is phenomenal and changes with every nuance presented in the band’s music, adding a nice flavor to the show, and especially in such an intimate setting like this it truly complements the full concert. The band members don’t interact with the crowd in any way, but they don’t need to. Their music speaks for itself, and no momentum is wasted as every song flows delicately into each other without ever letting go of the grip the band holds us in.

Cult of Luna

The only minor issue that could detract anything from tonight’s set is when the quiet "And With Her Came the Birds" is played, as the sound of the longing guitar notes is a little abrasive, occasionally, after having just presented the crushing guitar riffs of the previous song "Back to Chapel Town". It’s fixed during the song, however, and luckily it doesn’t detract the overwhelming feeling of loneliness normally showcased in the track: The mesmerizing guitar parts and slow, quiet vocals draw you in, and I can’t help but feel the song’s been important to bands that later have made similar songs, such as Converge ("Wretched World") or Cult Leader ("Lightless Walk"). "Thirtyfour" brings us back into a feast of crushing riffs which causes united headbanging from most people present, and when the final song "Dark City, Dead Man" ends, having flooded us with waves of beautiful guitars, powerful vocals and climactic crescendos, I feel rejuvenated. Tonight’s set has been a rollercoaster of intimate melodies and epic catharses, and when the band leaves the stage, the massive applause speaks for itself: Cult of Luna delivered the best show of A Colossal Weekend, a show where everything turned into total bliss.[9] MIN

Here’s to hopefully seeing you return in the future, Colossal Weekend!

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