Royal Metal Fest 2018

author RUB date 15/04/18

After weeks and weeks of waiting, the weather finally looks like proper spring has arrived. The sun is out, the temperature is in the two digits Celsius, so what better way to celebrate could you possibly need for the weekend-metal-extravaganza that is Royal Metal Fest in the second largest city in Denmark: Aarhus - the city of smiles. For the 11th edition of the festival, I’ve been told that they’ve upped the budget for the festival, which definitely shows in the line-up. Several larger and down-right big names are present on this year’s bill with the obvious ones Ensiferum and Bloodbath being the largest. But what is perhaps the most noticeable thing about this year’s line-up is that instead of mainly covering the darker and more extreme genres of metal the two last bands of Saturday are a melodic and folk metal duo. Not that the festival hasn’t had bigger names of those particular genres before, like Týr back in 2015, but a down-right headliner of those genres must definitely please a different segment of the metal crowd.

The extreme metal crowd will of course not go home disappointed as Bloodbath will close Friday, and with bands like Origin, Shining, Allegaeon, Hideous Divinity and Denmark's own Crocell on the bill as well, it is bound to kick-start some big mosh pits for the metal hungry crowd. Sadly, French Svart Crown had to cancel their entire tour, but luckily the festival managed to get Danish Horned Almighty to fill in on short notice. Lastly, there’s the handful of bands I’ve never heard of prior to their announcement to this festival. Especially Lebenssucht and (O) in particular are two I’m looking forward to. Both bands mix black metal with various different genres, which should make for an interesting listen.

For this edition of the fest, there's a new addition to the festival. The so-called Metal Lounge next to the bar at the main venue would have the Danish metal radio “Den Tunge Radio” (“The Heavy Radio”) as DJs, but would also feature interviews with various guests. This ensured that the guests were entertained between sets if they weren’t outside enjoying the weather.

All in all, it is hard to complain. The festival has managed to book bands of so many different styles and genres that there should be something for every metal fan. From the brutal death metal in Bloodbath to the almost-dreamy blackgaze of Møl, to the progressive and melodic of Ne Obliviscaris and the down-right strange power metal of Wind Rose, who supposedly sing about dwarfs - there is no doubt that this should be a weekend to remember!

All photos courtesy of Sebastian Dammark & Jason Champney

FRIDAY

Shining

Sadly, I was unable to arrive in time to catch the first three bands of the day and just managed to enter the venue, visit the bathroom and grab myself a nice cold beer, before the intense suffering of the suicidal and depressive black metallers Shining entered the stage.

If you by any chance don’t know the band prior to the concert, you would quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer malevolent feeling that seem to surround everything Shining touches. A big part of the band is of course frontman Niklas Kvarforth, whose stage presence is the most apparent one. He raises the microphone stand above his head in a demeaning fashion. Several tracks from their newest outing “X – Varg Utan Flock” are aired, for example “Ham Som Lurar Inom”, which helps underline how Kvarforth’s vocals works as an instrument on its own. With all the demonic shrieks and yells of “uuurrghh” and “aarrggjj” which almost makes it sound like he has some sort of tremolo on his voice; just as it does on record. He would pace back and forth on stage like a possessed madman, which just adds to the maniacal nature of the songs, but he even manages, on several occasions, to prove that he’s actually a pretty decent singer live as well!

Unfortunately, it becomes obvious that the atmosphere necessary for music like this is not quite insane yet, as people still chat loudly in the back of the room. This ruins the whole experience, especially during the more quieter passages, but the volume is loud enough during the heavier ones, so that’s something at least. Luckily, one can just observe Kvarforth’s stage persona unfold on stage. He’s walking around in what looks like a universe of his own, squealing out random sounds and shrieks while just pacing to the beats. With “Jag Är Din Fiende, one of the better tracks of their new release, Jack Daniel’s is offered to the crowd just as even more black metal “UGGHH”s are screamed in the faces of the audience. Perhaps was the concert negatively marked by the light of day still lurking outside, since music like this would be more fitting for a later spot at the festival. But all in all, it was still a good gig. Shining still managed to combine the very melancholic and beautiful with the down-right insane and menacing; just like on record! Hopefully, though, will the band be offered a later spot next time I see Shining and Kvarforth unleash their inner demons since it could perhaps then have the potential to go from good to the extraordinaire.

[7½]

Blood Eagle

Onwards to the next concert in the next-door-venue of Atlas, it becomes apparent that the venue is much smaller than its counterpart. The venue was shut due to the capacity had been reached, so a somewhat large line had already formed (*note to self for the remainder of the festival). Luckily, I manage to get in only a track or two into their setlist, and the intensity and energy are already very visible.

The Danish supergroup already has a decent grip on the crowd. Vocalist Michael Olsson does a good job of getting in the crowd’s faces and quickly sparks some moshing. Their style is fairly standard Danish death metal, but where the band really excels is with the energy and intensity it is delivered in the small, jam-packed venue. At times the songs do kind of blend together because of the somewhat generic nature they have, but they still manage to pack plenty of punch to please the crowd. Again, as was the case with the former gig, the crowd is not quite there yet, because apart from the early movement, they actually don’t move that much. This doesn’t take anything away from the band, who does an ok job delivering some crushing modern and groovy death metal.

[6]

Origin

In my book you can’t spell “grindcore” without Origin. Their ability to write such insane and fascinating songs, and of course perform them live never seizes to amaze me. And without any intro the carnage of neck breaking and cutthroat tempo begin. I’m quickly taken back to my last experience with the band as I’m once again struck with awe of how in the world this insanity can unfold in front of my eyes, since I’m fairly certain that most would lose their breaths trying to keep up with either of the musicians. The fast-paced music pays off as a mosh pit is formed during the first track. This is not enough for frontman Jason Keyser, as he demands more. As this year marks the 10-year anniversary of one of their acclaimed works “Antithesis”, several tracks are aired from it, which once again opens the dance floor. The entire setlist is a mixture of both old and new songs, since they don’t want to do back-to-back albums, Keyser tells the crowd.

Every instrument is played like clockwork: insanely tight and fast as lightning, which is one of the many reasons I’ve grown into such a big fan of Origin. If your feet don’t swiftly move you into the pit it must be because you’re trying to comprehend how the strokes or blasts attacking you face-first from the stage is played. The vortex of pure grind continues after a short statement from Keyser about one of the songs from last year’s “Unparalleled Universe”. “Truthslayer is our apology to the world. We’re not trying to be too political – but we’re sorry! ”, which doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what it’s about, as the band's origins (pun intended) from the USA. To me, it’s just so rare that you come across a band that manages to transform such intense and fierce grindcore played on record into a live setting.

Since the music is as demanding the only movement is by Keyser, but you wouldn’t want it any other way. Take for example bass player virtuoso Mike Flores. What he doesn’t display in actual movement on stage, he transforms into an intensive blast on his strings, as his fingers fly over the fretboard in such a frantic manner that I’m not sure I’ll see anything like it ever again. Apart from the music being as brutal and technical as it is, they still manage to stay both fun and fresh. Apparently is drummer John Longstreth practicing as hard as he is, so he can become as talented as his icon Lars Ulrich, which really underlines the showmanship this band poses, as it sends massive laughs through the crowd. Before the last couple of songs, Keyser announces how “we’ve had a mosh pit, we’ve had a circle pit – what do we miss? A WALL OF DEATH! ”, which splits the room into two. After yet another grindcore-infused vortex, he once again addresses the audience: “Maybe we’ll get a stage diver! ”, which makes a guy jump the stage. But instead of letting him take the plunge into the crowd, Keyser steals the surf during yet another song from “Antithesis”, namely “The Aftermath”, which once again sends huge laughs and applause through the crowd, as he is carried down to the bar. What a show! This makes Keyser invite more people on stage to dive and people simply flood the stage. All this is happening as the grind continues to race out the suffering speakers. As my apparent wall of text is a testimony to, I am once again amazed. Amazed at how they time and time again can surprise me with their skills and abilities, and simply put on one of the most hard-hitting and insane concerts I have seen in quite a while. It might be too early to call it, but I’m pretty sure Origin will be amongst the best concerts of the year when 2018 comes to an end. What a show of grindcore force!

[9½]

Møl

With a special visual set, the next act Møl was ready to destroy the smallest venue of Atlas. With their dreamy and yet chaotic take on the shoegaze genre, what they themselves call blackgaze, the, yet again, the jam-packed room looked ready. Prior to show start, they had handed out glow sticks to the audience to give the entire venue an extra notch of visual display. Bathed in purple and pink colors their music quickly began to unfold in both a beautiful and aggressive way. The sound was crisp as you would expect for a show like this. Every beat, note, and syllable is performed with so much vigor and virtuosity that you really feel the energy pounding in your chest.

I’m still amazed at how well Møl perform live when you take into account that the band only existed a couple of years. The maturity in both songs and their stage presence is simply astonishing, and help create the perfect atmosphere for music like this. So, apart from the “special” visual display mentioned in the first paragraph, which basically wasn’t something that, well, special, the concert was sublime. As far as I was concerned it only consisted of the glow sticks, some metal displays spelling “møl” in the upper corners of the stage and perhaps some different lights than usual. Møl is just that good live that they don’t need to rely on something special or out of the ordinary because both their stage presence and music can perfectly do that on their own. In case you haven’t noticed by now: this band is going places in the atmospheric and gaze-kind of metal. Catch them before it’s too late because this band is heading into international waters and there’s simply no way of stopping them!

[8½]

Bloodbath

The last band of the night is Bloodbath. A band I’ve personally looked very much forward to experiencing in a smaller and more intimate live setting than previously. The sound is gritty and snarled from the start, just like you want it to be. But the malevolent and killer start quickly transformed into despair as the entire sound was lost during track two. Apparently, it had something to do with the bass, and they didn’t have a spare one ready. That was surprisingly unprofessional. Whether the reason, as quickly as the atmosphere had emerged, as quickly was it gone again. After eagerly waiting for some-10 minutes, the band returns to the stage, but it takes some time to get back into the mood to really enjoy the music once again. Some members drenched in blood others in black outfits or robes Bloodbath still manage to establish both a better sound than previously and their menacing atmosphere is yet again restored, as they take the spectators back to their first full-length with “So You Die”.

As they continue playing I notice how low the guitars are in the mix, maybe even a bit too low from where I’m standing. The guitar melody tends to blur out in between the vocals and drums. Even during one of my all-time favorite Bloodbath songs, “Weak Aside”, I don’t get that magical feeling of goosebumps and “holy s**t this is good”-vibe. So apparently, there’s still something off about the sound. I was told to move upstairs for a better sound, and rightly so, the entire soundscape is much clearer and crisp than before. To me, this was very baffling, as I’ve never tried this at this venue before, or any venue for that matter. And what just adds to the confusion is as I go downstairs again, this time to the right side of the venue, the sound is perfect there as well. Both vocals and guitars are now much more visible in the mix, and even though it is hard to tell whether it was the case everywhere, I still find it very odd. It seems like everything about this review has something to do with the many sound issues, but let’s not forget the actual concert. The entire band performs well, and even though Nick Holmes isn’t my personal favorite Bloodbath singer, it’s still obvious he’s a very talented vocalist, but it’s just hard not to draw comparisons. The final concert of the day ends on a very high note with “Eaten” that ensures the entire venue does its best to simulate the malicious chorus of the songs, but one can’t help but feel a lot of things were off tonight as the sound clearly wasn’t with the band. By all means, it wasn’t a bad concert, but when you know the band can perform so much better it’s hard not to think that.

[7]

Setlist:

  • 01. Let the Stillborn Come to Me
  • 02. Lesous
  • 03. So You Die
  • 04. Breeding Death
  • 05. Anne
  • 06. Cancer of the Soul
  • 07. Weak Aside
  • 08. Church of Vastitas
  • 09. Like Fire
  • 10. Outnumbering the Day
  • 11. Beyond Cremation
  • 12. Bathe in Blood
  • 13. Mock the Cross
  • — Encore —
  • 14. Blood Bath
  • 16. Eaten

SATURDAY

Wind Rose

Power to the people! The first band of the day for yours truly is Italian Wind Rose. Never have I been so intrigued to check out an unknown band, as this particular band sings about dwarfs! Let that one sink in for a moment. Later on, I was told that they’re inspired by Tolkien’s universe, which shouldn’t come as a surprise when you look at how they were dressed. Wearing armored outfits just out of the World of Warcraft or Tolkien’s universe, you really get the feeling that they just returned from slaying a huge dragon, finding impressive treasures or fighting massive battles. Even though their idea with the band comes across as clear as day, it all just seems a bit cheesy and gimmicky. They do however still manage to start a (small) party, and though it’s still very early a decent amount has shown up.

The music is jolly with the very cheeky keyboards to back it up. I’ll be honest, it’s not my type of music so it is fairly hard to grade, but from what I can see they actually managed to get parts of the tired crowd going, and even a small but short mosh pit in the front. Towards the end frontman Francesco Cavalieri asks us in a fairly gimmicky way: “What is better than dwarves? DRUNKEN DWARVES!!”, as build up to one of their last songs. And that sums the entire concert nicely up: they are doing their best to wake up the tired crowd with some easily digestible tunes, but it all comes across a bit cheesy. Perhaps after a few more pints, this could have been that more enjoyable, but at this point, it wasn’t better than just decent. [5½]

Allegaeon

And now for something completely different. On this, the first European visit by the American five-piece, we’re treated to technical and progressive death metal with both clean and growled vocals. As I gaze upon the two guitars, both with plenty of strings, which of course also suggests what genre we’re about to see. Having listened to a couple of their tracks prior to the show, I knew what to expect: a fast and blazing song structure but with room for the quitter progressive passages. And rightly so. Both guitars are insanely tight, which helps the band fixate the listener's attention to the massive soundscape. Generally, it seems like people dig it, even though I overheard a guy say that some of their more progressive and quieter passages were somewhat cheesy.

With both guitars constantly going at it with fretting, solos or what have you, there’s always something happening on stage, and with the dynamic of the new vocalist, Riley McShane, it all comes together in a well-composed symbiosis and works really well. It is understandable that some might find this a bit too overwhelming, as the music is so demanding and rapid, and one has to at least try and keep up with the crazy tempo the band demonstrates, it might lose some along the way. But if you give it time and patience it’s sure to reward you in the end.

[7½]

(0)

It would seem like this next act only had 30-35 minutes, so they don’t waste their time. What first catches my eyes is the quite impressive back-drop which is displayed in the back of the stage, but it doesn’t really give anything away of what genre this band plays. Starting things off is a mixture of doom and black, which makes it a bit difficult to get into, as I have no prior experience with this band. On to the second song, a major shift in style is quickly audible. Instead of the slower first song, it is now some sort of sludge or stoner but played with high velocity. Apart from the strangeness in the major genre shift, it actually works rather well, but it would perhaps have been nice to know them before this concert, which by the way is their first ever, I was told.

The crowd interaction is close to non-existing, but a canny joke about the location of the festival and the apparent lack of movement from the audience still send laughs throughout the venue (“Is this Horsens? Isn’t it where we are? No, well come on, Aarhus!!”). The third track is an interesting take on the progressive death metal genre, so again is the blend of genres confusing, but still very note-worthy. Individually are the tracks pretty damned good, but it could take some getting used to the shifts in genres. I still felt I had to see the entire concert, as I was excited about what they would play next because you simply didn’t know. So, if you’re flexible when it comes to different genres within a single concert, and appreciate different genres, of course, you should definitely check out (0), as they put on a surprisingly and unexpectedly good first concert.

[7]

Crocell

As this is one of the larger Danish death metal bands, I was surprised to find an empty venue. Especially considering how Crocell kicked things off. Fierce and crushing tunes from the very beginning, and I just have to mention that it warms my aging metal heart to see a drummer, who not only slays behind the kit, but also manage to head spin. That is a trade that too few seem to exercise nowadays. Crocell instantly show that they’re here to play death. Slowly but surely more people arrive, which ensures that Crocell manage to get the crowd going as well, and since the hour now has surpassed six PM, people should no longer be able to complain about being too tired.

The music continues to crush, and during a highlight from their newest release Relics, “Black Death Redemption” truly display how insanely well it works in a live setting. Apart from the killer riff, I again have to highlight drummer Andreas Posselt, who is absolutely slaying tonight. The double drum is simply galloping on as the song reaches the chorus. This sparks a mosh pit in the middle of the venue, but besides that people a rather stationary. While the band continue crushing their modern-sounding take on death metal, the infamous Crocell schnapps is passed around amongst the audience, as of course is tradition. Even though their songs become a tad generic in the long run, they still manage to put on a show worthy of high praise. During the last couple of songs, they even invite people and stage, which ensures plenty of spectators take the plunge into the crowd. It would seem like Crocell managed what Bloodbath didn’t yesterday: reach the crowd. And especially in Crocell’s case: to entertain. Because who doesn’t like your schnapps with your metal, right? [8]

Altar of Oblivion

If you thought Voxhall started out empty, then Atlas was close to deserted. Less than half-full as Danish doom/heavy metallers Altar of Oblivion takes the stage. And to be honest, I can see why. The sound strikes me as pretty thin, especially if one compared it to other doom metal bands, since it doesn’t pack the same amount of punch. My mind starts to wander since there’s not much about the sound or what’s going on stage that manages to maintain my interest. The vocals are clean, but when lead singer Mik Mentor tries the deeper tones, it falls rather short. The atmosphere is simply flat, and I’m not grasped by it either. On the other hand, when he reaches the higher notes, it sounds so much better and I even begin to get a taste of that doomy/epic heavy metal feel.

Sadly, I just expected so much more. And apart from a few die-hard fans in the front, it looks like most of the scattered audience would agree with me. Just to add insult to injury the chatter at the bar in-between songs are just so damned loud, that the overall expression is just that sadder. The band tries, but needless to say, it just doesn’t work this time around and might be one of the worst concerts at this year’s festival. [5]

Horned Almighty

As a last-minute replacement for the French Svart Crown, Danish Horned Almighty is ready to bring their black‘n'death to Royal Metal Fest. Since a man has to eat, I arrived a bit late to the kickoff; but only by a track or two. Everything sounds and looks like the Horned Almighty you know. The floor is already packed with people, and moshing is taking place on several occasions; it’s clear that the majority of people finally managed to wake up. At first glance nothing seems or looks new. The stage looks menacingly bathed in murky lights and smoke, and people really seem to like it as expressed with high cheers, plenty of horns in the air and of course the pretty much constant moshing.

Horned Almighty always delivers in my book, but tonight the entire concert feels a bit “forced” for lack of a better word to describe it. By all means, it’s still a good concert, but I’ve just seen them better on several occasions. But to be honest, if this is Horned at their worst or lowest, I would without hesitation still pay to go see them, because this is pretty much as good as it gets with this genre within the confined borders of Denmark, but tonight Crocell took the crown between the two. [7]

Lebenssucht

Lebenssucht is a rather new transnational band from Germany, Bulgaria, and Belgium. With only one released EP I was eager to hear how they would manage to use the time assigned to them, but also to check their take on depressive black metal out in a live setting. I had tried to do my homework and listened to some of the bands I had no previous encounter with, one of them being this band in question. With a female lead singer (apparently, which one definitely couldn’t hear on the record, as her voice is just as evil and malicious as any other black metal singer’s), the band entered the stage drenched in blood. Later I was told it was blood from pigs, each to their own, I guess. I praise myself lucky that I didn’t have to clean any of that since it supposedly smelled incredibly bad. So bad that the front rows took notice of it.

Anyway, as the band comes on stage, frontwoman S Caedes was wearing what looked like a huge white wedding gown, also covered with swine blood. In her hand, she had what looked like a fake, butcher’s knife. It looked fake, but I do hope it wasn’t. That would be very sad and not really in any way suitable for a band drenched in swine blood. They do, however, really look quite theoretical and impressive. The venue, sadly, was not as impressive. Perhaps some were scared away by the swine blood because not many people were present even a few songs into the set. And those who stayed behind didn’t look too much into it either. To be honest, I had expected much more from what I’ve heard prior to the festival. It was obvious they tried on stage, but perhaps it was just the lack of experience that got the best of them because they fell rather short; at least in my book. [5]

Ne Obliviscaris

And now for one of this evening absolute highlights. The sextet from the land down under was booked in cooperation with a sort of “heavy metal union” located in Aarhus, so understandably there was quite the hype surrounding them, which was also visible in the turnout at Voxhall. One of the many interesting things about them is that they consist of no less than two vocalists; one for growls and one for cleans. When Tim Charles, the man doing the cleans, isn’t singing he plays the violin, which adds a different aspect to the very challenging and impressive soundscape. The violin is actually given so much room in the songs, and it really helps elevate the songs to a whole new level, and sometimes you even get the feeling that the songs themselves are structured around it. And that’s another thing to take notice of their songs. Even though they’re listed as an extreme progressive band, they manage to pack so many different genres and styles into their compositions which is quite the challenge if you’re not that much into their tracks. At times it can be both jazzy and mesmerizing, but before you know it the track will explode in an inferno of blast beats or tremolo of drumming.

The vocal duo of Charles and Xenoyr works incredibly well, and I continue being amazed at it. Sometimes they do however fall into some rather cliché-like traps as some progressive metal band tends to do, but they’re just of lesser importance when you execute your performance as flawless as Ne Obliviscaris do. Personally, I felt it dragged out a bit too long, but that is only because the music is so demanding and therefore might feel a bit exhausting as you have to pay attention to every little note an aspect of the music. However, if you’re able to give the music time and stay focused throughout the entire concert, you’re definitely in for a treat, as the songs will grow on you because the sound is just so vast and impressive. So, if you’re into the progressive corners of metal, you should most definitely give the Aussies a spin or two! [8]

Ex Deo

Just as it was the case with Wind Rose, Ex Deo has a sort of a gimmicky theme of choice as well. Their songs revolve around Roman history, so strap on your gladiator armor and off to battle. Where they differ from Wind Rose is that this is not folk or power metal; it is melodic death and sometimes even some sludgy riffs, but still with plenty of symphonic backings. The band themselves are dressed in gladiator-like outfits, and it really helps entice the audience, because they are simply going at it! Apart from the obvious genre difference, the biggest difference when compared to Wind Rose was probably that Ex Deo had the privilege to play in a later slot. This ensured that the audience was with them from the very beginning, and thus does not come across just as cheesy as the early slotted Wind Rose.

Instead the audience got a small, but very lively, roman fantasy metal part with plenty of dancing, moshing and the feeling that you’re right in the middle of a gladiator battle. Sometimes, all it takes for a concert to reach the next level you just need to be in the perfect mood, to able to truly enjoy what’s actually just in front of you. This served as the perfect warm-up for the final band of the festival: Ensiferum who would try to take the folk metal to a whole new level. [7½]

Ensiferum

For this final concert of this year’s Royal Metal Fest, it’s time to hunt and slay dragons. Queuing theme: Ensiferum. It is rather obvious that this is a highlight for many, even though the venue isn’t exactly packed. This is the first time I’m seeing Ensiferum ever since they parted way with first their keyboard player Emmi Silvennoinen and since Netta Skog on the accordion. Since it was the only quartet now, it should be interesting to see whether they could live up to the massive expectation many had to the final headliner. Right from the start, it seems like they’re ready to party. The backtrack is ready and so is the band. All smiles, you see all members giving it their utmost to keep the epic folk metal party going. Petri Lindroos on the second guitar was spinning round and round while playing, and generally looked so alive on stage. The same goes for bassist Sami Hinkka as he ran from side to side of the stage trying to get the crowd wild up. In fact, I don’t remember if I’ve ever seen the Finns shine with so much energy and vitality in the handful of concerts I’ve seen with them. What’s best is that it doesn’t look forced, static or on autopilot. They genuinely look like they want to play here, and really enjoying being here.

The lights for this concert were pretty insane as well. Sometimes the entire venue was lit up by crazy strobe lights or insane flashes, and it made it look like the stage and crowd area was alive. At this one time they even spiced up their set with some jazz elements in one of the intros, which just added to the good and jolly atmosphere and general mood. To be honest, it must’ve been quite a blow to lose their 5th member as it is such a big part of their overall sound as a whole. But to be frank, I don’t remember seeing Ensiferum looking this good live for ages. In fact, this is quite possibly the best concert I’ve ever seen with them to date, so that was very surprising, to say the least! Well done, you crazy Finns. And what a party to end an amazing Royal Metal Fest yet again. See you next year in the city of smiles!

[8]

Setlist:

  • 01. Atattomasta Unesta
  • 02. For Those About to Fight for Metal
  • 03. Way of the Warrior
  • 04. Heathen Horde
  • 05. Twillight Tavern
  • 06. Treacherous Gods
  • 07. Lai Lai Hei
  • 08. Is My Sword I Trust
  • 09. Into Battle
  • — Encore —
  • 10. Iron

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