Aalborg Metal Festival 2018

author RUB date 10/11/18

Once again, it is the time of the year when the Danish metalheads venture far north in search their fix of hard and heavy music in the confined space of the student house of Aalborg, and as per usual, the line-up is packed with interesting artists — hopefully ones both familiar and new to the crowd. Personally, there’s both artists I’ve never heard of, artists I’ve seen before but looking forward to seeing again, and of course artists I have wanted to see for a while, but haven’t been able to cross off my list just yet. Yes, the bookers, staff and crew behind one of the oldest, if not the oldest heavy metal festival in Denmark never fail to deliver, despite the fact that this year’s edition represents the 17th year in a row that Aalborg Metal Festival has taken place.

Little has changed in the department of the various options for buying food and beer, or hanging out in cozy areas around the café, although there is one ‘new’ and very important thing to take notice of: at last, the famous metal karaoke has moved back to its regular spot on the first floor, making more room in the café for the metal DJ to play his tunes. This is definitely a huge plus, since that particular area has been insanely crowded in previous years. The upstairs area is also no longer called ‘the Jäger Grotto’, since the Danish metal radio, Den tunge radio (in English: The Heavy Radio), was given permission to use the space for what you could call talk shows or interviews in the first few hours of each day, with the audience able to watch if one so desired. Therefore, it is now referred to as Den tunge lounge (in English: The Heavy Lounge). Jon’s metal sausages were still served just outside the venue and were still very tasty, but since the venue is located dead-center in the city, there’s still many, many other options for food as well.

For this edition of the festival, Rockfreaks.net was able to send two writers to cover the festivities, in hopes of covering the entire line-up. Sadly, we still missed a single band in the process, but one can’t live off grilled sausages alone, even though our work this time is still very much an improvement from last year on the count of bands.

All photos courtesy of Jannie Ravn Madsen

THURSDAY

Xenoblight

Xenoblight @ 19:00

Xenoblight seems like the right choice as the band to kick things off at Aalborg Metal Festival 2018. Having received quite a lot of attention after coming in 4th at this year’s Wacken Metal Battle, I am quite keen to witness these tech/prog/death/thrash-metallers for the second time. At first it seems that people haven’t really noticed that the first band is finally on, as the band is met by a largely empty room, but frontwoman Marika Hyldmar does not seem to care in the slightest as she walks on stage exuding confidence, commanding people to move closer to the stage. Xenoblight’s music is a fairly unique blend of progressive death and thrash metal and it is clear off the bat that the musicians present here all know their craft really well. But especially the drumming takes the spotlight for me here, with incredibly tight playing filled to the brim with blasts and drum rolls. The mix isn’t quite there out of the gate though, missing some clarity in the guitar department, and while the instrumentals are all flashy and well composed, the musicians are so focused on their technical riffage that they are mostly fairly static in their stage presence throughout the set. Good thing that Marika is such a fantastic and expressive frontwoman though, gazing with wild eyes at the crowd while delivering each convincing banshee scream after the next. The music does start to grab me more as we get further into the set: one song sounds like some old school Opeth mixed with groovy trash vibes, while another one titled “Transcendence” is introduced by Marika with ”Er I klar på en thrasher?!” and this one gives me some clear progressive thrash vibes like you’d hear on a Vektor record. We are also treated to a brand new track straight from the rehearsal space, “Oblivion” continues the intensity with pitch black sounding riffs and blast beats before culminating in a fantastic chugging “breakdown” of sorts, a sound that I haven’t really heard from the band as of yet.

The last track of the show is also a definite highlight and I would’ve expected a circle pit by now by the raw power behind this track, but being the first band of the festival it is understandable that people might just need some more beers down the drain before the pits start moving. I am not really the biggest thrash-metal fan but I’m definitely down with this, and it sits as a great conclusion to a generally really good first show of the festival. Xenoblight ultimately delivers a show that kept growing in both intensity and sound, from a bit of a slow start to some impressive last two tracks. Albeit not the most engaging band to watch on the instrumental side of things, but the entertainment value of the show is saved by having one of the most energetic and expressive front figures in Danish metal. [7½] KW

Brought By Pain

Brought By Pain @ 19:45

The bloody logo on the backdrop for this next band leads me to believe we’re in for some brutal, gory death metal of sorts, as Brought By Pain are completely unknown to me, but as soon as the members walk on stage I can’t help but giggle a little. You see, what I’m greeted with is no less than two 8-string guitars and a 6-string bass, all of the headless variety that the tech/prog community has grown so fond of in recent years. So I all of a sudden have absolutely no doubt that this next act is gonna be tech as fuck. And it takes about 10 seconds after an acoustic backing track intro to confirm my suspicions. Wild tapping riffs, lightning fast tremolo picking, and double pedals burst out the speakers, but the focus immediately lands on the bass sounds that sounds weirdly familiar. The bassist effortlessly alternates between tapping, slapping and anything in between and the sound mix gives the bass headroom to have it’s own place in the melody instead of just following the root notes of the tune all the time like most bands. ”Hmm, which other band is known for having this much focus on the bass in the tech scene?” I think to myself, and sure enough the bassist is none other than Hugo Doyon-Karout from Beyond Creation, another band playing later this night. I have to give props to him for having such a distinguishable sound, that even though I didn’t remember his face, I could still recognise him in a completely different band.

Unfortunately, Brought By Pain’s music is quite far away from the brilliance of Beyond Creation in my opinion and isn’t exactly supported by the tight playing which music like this requires to not feel jumbled. Some stumbling double bass drumming here and there, a Gojira-inspired dual harmony tapping riff from the two guitarists slightly sloppy which causes the harmonies to not sing and overall the songwriting just seems fairly random at times and doesn’t have a clear flow to them. It’s an art to make all the twists and turns in tech death feel natural, which just isn’t always the case here. That’s not to say that there aren’t some redeeming elements to be found here: some fun little genre inputs in the form of a swing groove, jazzy elements and even a reggae inspired section that gets some disbelieved smiles out of the audience. Vocalist Samuel Ouimet is visibly happy to be here, playing what is apparently their first show out of Canada, and provides some pretty fantastic guttural growls reminiscent of Corpsegrinder from Cannibal Corpse. His mood is very infectious from start to finish and ends up making me enjoy the set quite a bit more. And while Brought By Pain ended playing a fine little set of technical death metal, their music is just not all that exciting to me compared to other outlets in the genre. [6] KW

Entheos

Entheos @ 20:30

This Thursday really is the tech night of Aalborg Metal Festival 2018 and Entheos from the US is here to bring even more mind-bending riffage to our ears. Being somewhat of a supergroup, consisting of prolific musicians such as Navene Koperweis (ex-Animals as Leaders drummer) and Evan Brewer (ex-The Faceless bassist), my expectations were quite high going into the set. But it’s actually vocalist Chaney Crabb that immediately impresses, the amount of power in the varied shrieks and noises coming from this woman is almost unbelievable, and might simply be the most impressive live unclean vocals I’ve heard out of a female front figure yet. The set is started out in a slow sinister groove, which sounds completely clear due to an out of the gate great sound production before developing into a more djent-oriented groove as Crabb walks to the other mic-stand which is smothered in a weird glitchy effect, cutting out her vocals like a virus has infected the sound system. It’s nice little touch that becomes a prevalent gimmick throughout the show, giving the music a dark sci-fi vibe which suits the almost mechanical music perfectly. Thankfully, even though the performance here is almost robotic in its tightness, this doesn’t cause the musicians to just stand still and stare at their fretboard, which can be the downfall of many instrumentally challenging gigs. There is genuine enjoyment to be found on everyone's faces and actual movement on stage.

Though I do have my qualms with extended use of backing track, fortunately here it’s mostly used as an effect to further cement this robotic vibe, with melodic synths playing in the background during “Pulse Of A New Era”. This track’s djenty mid-tempo groove makes it almost impossible to not bang your head and the tapping interplay between the bass and guitar is simply a joy to behold, backed by Crabb’s masterful vocal performance. Crabb exclaims happily that this is their first European show ever before going back into her oppressive vocal lines. It is quite funny to witness her huge smile in between vocal lines, just to devolve into the demonic growls again and again, which gives the impression that she’s not overly serious about putting on some tough stage persona. I am clearly not the only one thoroughly enjoying the set, as the crowd responds to the fast jam “Sunshift” with the first mosh of the festival, which combines crackling computer noises and that weird glitch vocal effect to create a unique and unsettling aesthetic. Oddly, being the disgusting modern djent-kid I am, I realise I actually prefer their more extreme uptempo stuff here to the simpler groove-oriented stuff, it really shines when the riffs get mind-breaking and sporadic I think. Still, what an exciting first European show Entheos put on, and I wholeheartedly hope they will return here sooner rather than later. [8½] KW

Gorod

Gorod @ 21:15

The barrage of tech bands is not stopping anytime soon and next up is an older one of the genre in the form of French band Gorod. Known for their relentless technical ability, I was fully expecting another noodly show of brutality, and that’s what’s being served straight away. The epic melodic tapping intro to “Bekhten’s Curse” from their newest album “Aethra” is first on the line, but unfortunately the sound is muddy and the vocals barely audible at times and screeching to the ears when the high screams do come out, but the start/stop nature of the flood of notes is really fun to listen to. The band seems a bit sluggish through the first few tracks, but seems to connect way more with the music as soon as the set reaches the halfway point, also coinciding with the sound becoming decent. The main focus on the stage is of course vocalist Nutz’ highly energetic and expressive performance, a frontman who just completely owns the stage he stands on, and this energy visibly transfers to an ecstatic moshing crowd which is also by far the biggest crowd of the night so far. This is also the first gig of their new tour in support of their new album, which might explain the somewhat underwhelming start of new tracks, seeing as they might not be as comfortable to play as their back catalogue.

The turning point, where I finally start to wake up completely, comes when the kick-ass groove of “Celestial Nature” is executed, all played inhumanely tight with some fiery tapping sections and cheeky “see what we can do” smiles from both guitarists to boot. Another new track does dampen my enjoyment a bit though, as “Aethra” sees Gorod take a way more prog focused approach to their music. I would even go as far as saying that the intro sounds like Crack The Skye-era Mastodon (which is normally a really high praise from me). But I’m just not really feeling this sound for them and feel like there are numerous other bands that do it better. The song’s progressive structure just doesn’t seem to go anywhere interesting. Luckily the set does end on a high note with the absolutely brutal performances of “The Axe of God” and “Disavow Your God” which shows the insane technical ability behind every single member of the band. All in all, a slow start kept the gig from reaching true greatness but when it all clicked, Gorod did succeed in handing out musical beatings to a thrilled audience. [7] KW

Beyond Creation

Beyond Creation @ 21:15

My personal headliner of the day, Beyond Creation are up next, as I start to wonder if perhaps putting this many tech bands in a row is a bit too much, which is a ridiculous thought coming from such a big fan of the genre as I am. A bit of diversity would have been nice though, but nevertheless I am very much excited to finally witness one of the very big players in the scene for the first time. My first impression when the first track kicks in is not that great however. Tech metal demands clarity in the sound production to sound coherent, especially in a band as fairly static stage-wise as Beyond Creation, and unfortunately the guitar sound is muddy, though the signature jazzy bass sound that Beyond Creation are known for sits well in the mix (albeit perhaps a bit too loud), causing the fiery tapping sections from both guitars to drown out. The drums are absolutely stellar though, Phillippe Boucher never misses a beat and while he does play the drums like a machine, small dynamic touches keeps it from sounding sterile. The room is packed with people for the set, yet not much movement is seen in the crowd who instead just stand in awe to take it all in.

I haven’t gotten around to listen to their latest album “Algorythm” yet, but this next track shows me that I definitely need to. What makes Beyond Creation stick out to me is their effortlessness in weaving in clean atmospheric passages with the onslaught of technical death metal. There’s a hypnotic quality to this intro with its Gojira-esque tapping riff while the bassist takes over the reins of providing the overlaying melody, truly a fantastic track spiced with some fantastic powerful vocals from both guitarists Simon Girard and Kévin Chartré. More “Algorythm” songs are next after the band takes a brief break while an epic orchestral interlude builds up. ”Make some fucking noise Aalborg!” gives way to the heaviest track so far “In Adversity” and now the sound mixing seems more levelled as the crowd starts to wake up because of this pummeling of blasts and grooves. And as soon as the next track “Inversion” comes on, the sound becomes spot on for the rest of the set. The mellow somberness over the constant blast beats and ferocious unclean vocals show me right here why Beyond Creation are the pinnacle of the genre when they get it right. Where Brought By Pain’s transitions felt forced, here there’s a sense of flow and direction that keeps everything from sounding abrupt. Though this is definitely a heavy tech death band, it is quite amusing to see almost no moshing as if people aren’t enjoying it, only to get confirmation from the roaring applauses they receive after each track. Truly more of a sonic pleasure band rather than a “drink beers and go nuts” band. Their breakthrough track “Omnipresent Perception” rounds off the set nicely, which results in a show that kinda felt flat for me through the first 3 or so songs, only to develop into something truly awe-inspiring by the halfway point. All in all a great first show for me personally. [8] KW

Vreid

Vreid @ 24:00

Vreid became somewhat of a hot topic after releasing a promo video for this show at AMF 2018 featuring Casper Christensen of Klovn fame. So many questions arose: is Christensen even a metal fan? How did he end up shooting this video? What is his connection? Was he gonna turn up this Thursday at Aalborg? Apparently not some questions we were gonna get answers for and in the end Casper Christensen is nowhere to be found, so instead it’s time for some black metal to replace all of the thousands of widdly notes the numerous tech death bands served us earlier. And in pure black metal fashion, the band has brought several candlesticks placed behind them to further purvey the dark atmosphere. What I am treated to is some pretty solid black metal, which does come with a few surprises I didn’t see coming, being pretty ignorant to the band before the show. “Lifehunger” includes this awesome chugging groove riff in the intro that gets a gurn of approval out of me before developing into more traditional sinister riffing and shrieks. “One Hundred Years” sounds weirdly along the lines of uplifting post-black than the satanic tendencies I thought was gonna happen. “Pitch Black” has this black n’ roll riff to it that is pretty catchy and fun, but I can’t say the music is exactly anything that special to me either. Additionally, they aren’t really the most engaging band to watch on stage, and the crowd starts to thin out towards the end maybe as a result. The ones left are having a total blast though, so there are definitely some hardcore fans here, and even though I was still decently entertained and it was some fairly solid black metal, I can’t say I was blown away. [7] KW

FRIDAY

Mortal Dread

Mortal Dread @ 15:00

Kicking things off this Friday are the once-local death-thrashers in Mortal Dread. Now located in Copenhagen, this trio resurfaced last year after having been dormant since the mid-‘90s. I have no knowledge of the band past or present, but their live expression is very old school. The vocals are yelled and come across as a mixture of Metallica and Kreator, which becomes even clearer to me when they even air a cover of the classic “Whiplash” by the former, which admittedly works pretty well. There’s little to no interaction with the crowd though, which, to me, is quite essential when a band is as unfamiliar to me as this, in that in case the musical expression doesn’t speak to you, perhaps the interaction will? “Celebration of Fear” sees the band play a fairly Kreator-like thrash metal tune, but without any movement the entire display feels pretty lukewarm. On a positive note, it seems like they’re enjoying themselves, but it is very tough to open the stage on a Friday. The majority of the crowd actually stays until the end and the turnout is also pretty acceptable, but again: this really is nothing spectacular or memorable in my book. [4] RUB

Rising

Rising @ 16:00

The difference between the first and the second artist of the day is like night and day. Even though I actually know this band, you can see the difference in confidence right away as they walk onto the stage, which is just one of the reasons I’m actually whole-heartedly beginning to look forward to Rising’s concert. The style in question is sludgy, but instead of deep growls or raw bellows, it is mixed with the beautiful singing of Morten Grønnegaard. This blend ensures that the tracks are packing plenty of punch, power and aggression in both the musical and vocal aspects. It’s heavy and crunchy, but with the clean singing, it has plenty of the edge needed for standing out — both on record and live — and all of this is carried out in a surprisingly energetic format live. All of this was unthinkable to me after their musical transformation two records ago, but time has indeed proven how well it works for the band, and I now find their music so much better, broader and stronger than the earliest Rising tracks. And for that, I tip my hat to them!

For this gig the, sound is not lacking any depth or power either, as even the vocals are turned up after the first couple of tracks, making them near-perfect to me. Newer tracks are aired as well, and even though I don’t catch the titles, I am still able to hear how much power and crunch they pack, just like you would expect from a band like Rising. The aggression nears a climax with one of my personal favorites, “Old Jealousy”, which is just such a good track. As my colleague Kristoffer ‘KW’ Witt says to me after the show, “you get that Mastodon vibe, but then you don’t”. This is meant in the most positive way (I mean, what else could be the case with Mastodon?), with the music being so heavy, yet still very melodic and also groovy. It’s all constantly changing, which makes these songs such an interesting and pleasant listen. Rising is without a doubt one of the bands Denmark can be very proud of right now. [8] RUB

Whoredom Rife

Whoredom Rife @ 17:00

The corpse-painted, Norwegian maniacs in Whoredom Rife are next this Friday afternoon, so I am expecting no less than evil incarnate here. The lead vocalist K.R dons the signature black metal contorted cupped hand as he enters the stage, and as I thought, a constant barrage of satanic black metal riffs and constant blast beats hit me. K.R walks sinisterly from side to side of the stage to perform his nasty shrieks, while pumping his chest to assert dominance over the crowd. The sound is actually surprisingly clear considering the cultish chaos going on here and the playing really tight across the board. I do start to think if blasting and tremolo picking is all the band is capable of, right as the tempo is turned all the way down in the nastiest clash of dissonant chords. It’s really nice to see the band veer in different dynamics instead of just keeping at the high tempo prevalent through most of the start of the show. Some of it sounds like newer Dark Funeral, some of the more epic melodic stuff makes me think of some Watain passages, while some slower brooding verses gives off some clear Satyricon vibes. And herein lies my main qualm with Whoredom Rife’s performance, as it’s not exactly the most original black metal I’ve heard. However, it is not a massive subtractor when it’s this convincingly performed, and the last couple of tracks sit really well with me. One incorporates a female doomsday choir to give it that cultish mass feeling, while another has some really interesting melodic and structure choices, going from weirdly uplifting soaring melodies only to be plunged into utter hopelessness and sorrow. The second half of the show definitely impressed me, and Whoredom Rife ends up being one of the bigger personal surprises for me at Aalborg Metal Festival 2018. Just a rock solid display of evil theatrics. [8] KW

Blood Eagle

Blood Eagle @ 18:00

It always helps to be ‘local’ and play death metal in a country like Denmark. Even though the artist in question is actually listed as hailing from Copenhagen, this band is probably best described as an all-star supergroup, as many of the members have played in some of the biggest bands this country has had to offer. What Blood Eagle does best though, is getting the crowd riled up. Whether you like this style of death metal or not, the group performs with a velocity, vigor and flair for crowd-control that can only come from years of experience. Whether this is due to frontman Michael Olsson (of Caro fame), or just the fierce attack of every single instrument, I cannot say for sure, but even though I tend to find this sort of death metal quite tedious and repetitive, I must say — just as I did when I saw them in Århus for Royal Metal Festival earlier this year — that they do deliver quite the live show, even sparking up the first moshpit of the day. With the heavy tunes and groovy melodies of that typical Danish take on death metal, which has been seen so many times before — perhaps most famously in HateSphere — the atmosphere and attitude emanating from the stage feels strangely familiar. A quick visit to the front rows is also included in the performance of Olsson, which just underlines how great the live energy of this band is. Their music might be tedious to me, but the crowd loves it, and to be frank, a little piece of me is loving it as well. [7] RUB

Illdisposed

Illdisposed @ 19:00

I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this Århus-based death metal outfit, but they always strike me as very entertaining. After the easily recognizable intro, “Psychic Cyclus I-III” starts the party in classic fashion. What I usually love about their performance is the in-between song banter, spearheaded by the infamous frontman Bo Sommer, but tonight he strikes me as strangely quiet, although the rest of the band are still banging their heads at high velocity. Whatever the case, the band is plowing their way through one classic after another, with “Dark” aired as the third track of the evening. With this one, it becomes evident that this is not one of their “we’ll only play songs off “Submit” and “There’s Something Rotten…” -type of concert, which they have been doing recently and as at least some people in the audience had expected.

Always good for a laugh or two, we’re treated to the ‘encore’ of the evening halfway through the set, when the band airs “Throw Your Bolts” off the “Burn Me Wicked” album. The show, however, still comes off as somewhat barren and sterile, as it’s sadly not Illdisposed at their very best. Eventually, we’re treated to the happy-go-lucky, ”woop, woop! exclamation by Sommer coupled with some humorous jokes, and even though the show finally starts to pick up from here, I still feel it lacks something. Some of the memorabilia comes from the brilliant “Weak as Your God”, but even if the gig finishes off with two tracks off “Submit”, I’m still quite convinced that this was not their best effort. We still get a few jokes, some laughs and a few ”woop woop!”’s here and there, but the last and final spark never comes this time around. Still, to be honest, if this really is a weaker rendition of Illdisposed, I still won’t hesitate to catch their performance at the earliest next opportunity. [7] RUB

Gaahl’s Wyrd

Gaahl’s Wyrd @ 20:15

This next band is definitely one I have been looking forward to watching. I suggest anyone not familiar with the infamous persona of Gaahl to stop reading here and quickly make a Google search, because he is both fascinating and, frankly, quite frightening at the same time, as history will reveal. The show gets off to a slow start but in a good sense, as it helps conjure the thick and dense atmosphere necessary for a black metal band like this. On stage, Gaahl is the last person to enter and he looks truly terrifying, like a black-haired Saruman, with equally long nails and a demonic appearance. The man is a genuinely horrifying sight (although I am told by another journalist in attendance that he is, in fact, a very pleasant person to talk to in an interview capacity).

The atmosphere is probably best described as chilling, since you can almost feel Gaahl’s eyes pierce into your soul as he slowly walks around the stage, casting his spells through a very true style of Norwegian black metal. It quickly becomes evident that he owns the stage and the room. The songs on tonight’s setlist consist of covers of Gaahl’s past and present projects Gorgoroth, God Seed and Trelldom, helping to elevate the mystical and satanic feel of the show. Even though my knowledge of the individual songs is fairly limited, it still comes across as quite enticing due to the evil nature of the music; you’re just so mesmerized by what’s happening on the stage regardless of the limited movement and crowd interaction. But this is just not necessary given the atmosphere the music gives rise to. Many people would describe Gaahl as Satan on Earth due to his strong feelings toward Christianity and Satanism, so in case there is a God, I hope he won’t strike me down because of this grade: [8½] RUB

Anaal Nathrakh

Anaal Nathrakh @ 21:45

Anaal Nathrakh have, over the years, become the very definition of the ambiguous ‘extreme metal’ genre because of their malevolent and eerie sound, which sometimes is rather unpleasant to listen to. The setlist for tonight’s gig has, for obvious reasons, a great focus on the band’s latest outing “A New Kind Of Horror”, but the crowd is also treated to a number of visits to earlier material. Things start off with “Obscene as Cancer” and instantly, the British group has the crowd in the palms of their hands. The minor sound issues are resolved quickly, resulting in a sound that very much resembles that you hear on the aforementioned record, with the only difference being that it’s happening right in front of your eyes. The soundscape is massive, and one can really feel the hard-hitting bass lines pounding at one’s chest.

Even though this is, without a doubt, an extreme gig, frontman V.I.T.R.I.O.L. makes sure we get a few laughs out of it as well. His dry British humor ensures that there is a clear juxtaposition of the extreme nature of the music and his crazed stage persona, which you might sometimes mistake for that of a wild animal pouncing around the stage. The extremity of Anaal Nathrakh’s music also translates well into the live setting when V.I.T.R.I.O.L. proclaims that ”If you’re gonna stage dive, were not gonna stop you”, and coupled with a tour-de-force of one great track after another, the show ends up being great on so many levels and justifying the band’s headlining status here. With tracks like “Depravity Favours the Bold”, “Forging Towards the Sunset” and “In the Constellation of the Black Widow” all included on the setlist, I’m certain that most of the crowd leaves the concert satisfied by the extreme nature of the atmosphere, and the entertainment value of the songs. [8] RUB

Enslaved

Enslaved @ 23:30

We’ve reached the Friday headliner, which is also noticeable by a 20 minute delay before the doors open, forming a significant queue of excited metalheads outside the stage. Enslaved’s mix of extreme and prog metal is apparently in high demand, which is understandable. As a result, this is the most people I have seen at the stage so far, the room is buzzing with drunk metalheads who are ready to receive the very last dose of noise before heading out into the night. Enslaved has changed their sound quite drastically in recent years coming from pure atmospheric black metal to a more prog oriented melodic sound on records such as “E” and “In Times”. I could’ve guessed that the focus would land on this newer sound, but boy was I wrong. After a mellow synth intro the band enters the stage only to go all the way back to 1994 with the badass black metal riffs of “Loke” and afterwards more ice cold chords and shrieks from frontman Grutle Kjellson in Vetrarnótt. The sound is massive, and the playing tight which cements the band as the complete right choice as the headliner on this night. Kjellson also seems in high spirits this night, with funny Norwegian stage banter going on in between songs. There’s a definite sense of momentum in these first older tracks, and at one point the wall of sound stops while the crowd roars, only to instantly come back to deliver the final blow of blasts to end off this first section of older songs. That’s when the slower syncopated intro of “Ruun” signals: here comes to prog. Anthemic clean vocals are introduced from keyboardist Ivar Bjørnson alongside headbang worthy grooves and the progressive sensibilities do not stop as “Storm Son” from their latest album continues to challenge to audience with long winding song structures (almost sounding Pink Floyd-ish in some of the clean parts), including a wide array of sounds that just seamlessly fit together. This choice to start out with a blast from the past with incredibly high intensity to this newer atmospheric sound works wonders from the band, the flow of the setlist seems very carefully calculated. I find myself mesmerized by the 4 piece vocal harmonies and delicate guitar riffs, but unfortunately the set sees a couple of technical problems. It sounds like the PA cuts out at different times, which does break the firm spell Enslaved had cast on me. Aside from these missteps, everything comes together nicely to send everyone off to sleep. From the great sound mix, convincing instrumentals, carefully put together setlist and professional stage antics, the vikings of Enslaved conquered this year’s Aalborg Metal Festival. [8½] KW

SATURDAY

Nyt Liv

Nyt Liv @ 14:00

There’s about 30 people in front of the stage for the first band of this last day of Aalborg Metal Festival ’19. Lead singer Michael Aagesen quickly notices this and exclaims ”Det er tidligt, hva’?” before beginning his ferocious shouts over the melodic hardcore at display here. Nyt Liv is a new-ish hardcore act from Copenhagen (formed in 2016), and basically one of the only ‘core’ bands present here at the festival — perhaps even a bit too ‘core’ for the average death/black metal fan who usually attends this festival, which might explain the embarrassingly low turnout. Anyway, this first song runs some fairly straight forward mid-tempo riffs that are noticeably mosh-friendly, but the lack of people here keeps the intensity in the crowd to a bare minimum. The sound is good though and there are some cool melodic moments on display here in between the macho power chords, accompanied by huge sounding bridges. The tempo is turned all the way up for a short blast a punk attitude, but I think the low turnout has hit the excitement of the band who are mostly fairly boring to watch. Aagesen looks tired and provides minimal interaction with the people who actually turned up, mostly screaming at the sides of the stage or into the ground. It’s a good performance musically, but then again I don’t find the music itself that inspired and the generally low energy coming from the band itself doesn’t help. I get that it’s a disappointment to be greeted with such a poor turnout, but I’ve seen bands handle it better than here. Just an above average performance that did have its moments here and there. [6] KW

Portrait

Portrait @ 14:50

Starting the final day of the festival for me is the Swedish heavy metal band Portrait. My first thoughts about them are that they play heavy metal with capital H and M: black leather, long hair, and of course a see-through string vest, as well as what I believe to be mascara. All the boxes are checked for this genre. They’re on tour with Bullet and Ross the Boss, which does go some way toward explaining the style of their music, but in fact, they strike me as very similar to Steel Panther if that band took itself more seriously. Sadly though, they don’t really strike a chord with me despite a couple of intriguing moments. The bass is extremely audible in the mix, which tends to be a nice thing, especially when the songs are rather unknown or unfamiliar to you. The band manages to keep their energy high despite the fact that people don’t really seem to be that into it, but I won’t lie, I have more been looking forward to the headliner of this tour later tonight. [6] RUB

Bullet

Bullet @ 15:40

I have to be completely transparent here and state for the record: the type of classic heavy metal Bullet from Sweden delves in is not my cup of tea… like, at all. So you can take this with a grain of salt if you’d like. Nevertheless, I try to keep an open mind with everything in music, so I am at least ready to give these older gentlemen a fair chance. There’s no lack of leather and rivets when the visibly happy Swedes enter the stage to deliver one singalong chorus after the other, sounding like a slightly heavier AC/DC instrumentally and vocally also like a slightly weaker Brian Johnson. There’s a decent amount of people here and some diehard fans at the barrier throwing horns and swinging their hair. I can’t say that I’m a fan by any stretch of the imagination, but the playing is actually really tight and the sound is punchy, but it still sounds exactly like the countless other heavy metal bands I’ve heard before and it seems the band is heavily relying on nostalgia rather than actually conjure up something new. Everything just feels a bit tacky, and not the tongue in cheek kind you’d find at a Steel Panther show: the clear rehearsed synchronized swaying back and forth side by side from the two guitarists, playing solos on their knees, flirty facial expressions, and the whole “present the band members” thing by the end of the. It’s entertaining enough though and not actually as bad as I thought it would be. At least it’s catchy and really tightly performed backed by some truly pumping drums, but Bullet didn’t succeed in making me any more or less of a classic heavy metal fan. [5] KW

Bersærk

Bersærk @ 16:40

As far as I remember, this is going to be my 5th time watching the sludgy sweethearts from Aarhus in Bersærk. And out of those 4 times, I have never seen them play a bad show, not even just an average one. There is some weight behind the title they have gotten as one of the best Danish live metal bands around right now, and I am fairly certain this Sunday afternoon will be no exception. I am clearly not the only one excited for this set, as the band pulls an impressive amount of people this “early”. Bersærk has invited us all to a set of drunken rage and dirty riffs, and the initial impact hits me like a sledgehammer. The sound is monstrous, by far the best sound I have heard at the festival so far, and the energetic performance and filth drenched guitar tones sound international levels of massive. Casper Popp’s raspy vocals sounds as great as ever, from the catchy rock n’ roll choruses to the almighty war screams he pulls off to perfection. And the fact that it’s actually Popp’s birthday today might explain why the atmosphere is simply sparkling in here, the banter between audience and band is simply hilarious as Popp misplaces his beer at one point, asking who took it, as a large part of the front row shouts ”Simooooon!” (Simon Gleerup Meiner, the drummer). It’s just a complete party in here, with a house band that is hellbent on playing the most memorable show they can. Bersærk sounds somewhere between some old school Queens of the Stone Age and Red Fang, alternating between anthemic choruses and fuzzy riffs, and some of the highlights this night include the fantastic main riff and personal favourite track of mine in “Tordensol”, the war induced blood rage of “Fimbuls børn” (”Så kæmp for alt hvad du har kært!”), the sludgy groove of “Skyggeland”, and the quirky, danceable Queens of the Stone Age-esque riff of “Nattesyn”, but also a really bold ending track, which turns the energy way down and the vibe way more gloomy. It’s pretty normal to end with your biggest catchy banger, but Bersærk switches direction completely and ends on a soaring, atmospheric high note that sends chills down my very spine. This is simply Bersærk in absolute top form, and it all combines to one of the very best sets I’ve seen this year and the very best I’ve seen Bersærk so far. Bersærk fully deserves all the praise they get, few Danish bands deliver this solidly time and time again. Take a bow. [9] KW

Necrophobic

Necrophobic @ 19:15

As mentioned in the introduction of this feature article, we sadly had to miss a few bands this year because we had been reviewing the entire day and not had the chance to take a break from the busy schedule to get anything larger than a sausage to eat. This meant that we needed to skip Saturnus’ concert in order to grab something more wholesome, and obviously we’re sorry about that. But with renewed power, we were then ready to tackle Necrophobic from Sweden.

Even though the existence of this band dates all the way back to 1989, I hadn’t heard about them before they were announced for this festival, which is actually quite strange, as their blend of death and black metal fits right into my taste spectrum. The entire ensemble of musicians coming onto the stage are covered in corpse paint, and right from the bat the band is ready. Even though the music is really black, as one would expect, it also contains some more melodic elements, which is always a welcome surprise in this genre, for yours truly at least. Having released a new album called “Mark of the Necrogram” earlier this year, I would have to check it out when I return from this festival, because it turns out to be really, really good [ed., I have now done this and can only say that you should check it out too.]. And what’s more, the sound is top-notch as well, putting the icing on the cake of a good gig which is only really hampered by my virtually non-existent knowledge of the band’s repertoire. Definitely worth checking out if you like your black metal in the vein of Dark Funeral and Dissection! [7] RUB

Elder

Elder @ 20:30

A band I have only known by name and never gotten around to actually check out, on paper Elder sounds right up my alley. I have recently grown very fond of the wave of progressive sludge bands that have appeared the last couple of years such as Dvne and Anciients, so I thoroughly expect more wild progressive song structures and flashy guitar work as I walk into this next set. And this is just what I’m served, and the sound is once again excellent as the rumbling bass and ghost note filled drums of “Dead Roots Stirring” fills the room. It is quite clear that Elder is an outlier in this mostly extreme metal ridden lineup, but I am glad that Aalborg Metal Festival takes the chance to put something entirely different in between all the blasting and demonic growls. The band nevertheless draws a decently sized crowd, though kinda small for a band this high up on the bill.

The vibe is spacey and hypnotic from reverb drenched guitar sounds, but one thing that catches the eye quickly is the fact that lead vocalist and guitarist Nick DiSalvo is positioned at the side instead of the middle, while their bassist Jack Donovan takes the focus in the middle of the stage. It is quite clear why this is though, as Donovan is simply such an entertaining musician to behold, feeling every groove in his body while laying down some filthy tones. It is easy to get lost in the heavy psychedelic moods of this first track and I am already in love with everything this band does. It’s a nice change of pace, which continues after some minor technical difficulties on “Blind” from their newest record “Reflections of a Floating World”, a no less than 13 minute track of engaging odd time signatures, haunting vocals from DiSalvo and thunderous guitar harmonies. It has this nasty tone, yet still sounds uplifting at the same time and the interplay between these guys is just bafflingly good. I am completely sucked into their world, so much that I almost feel high from just listening to this brilliant psychedelic stoner rock. Each track is complex to digest but at the same time just really interesting to unveil as well, which is also the case with tracks like “III” where the heaviness reaches almost post-metal levels of roaring and the closing track “The Falling Veil” which gives me some definite Crack The Skye Mastodon vibes, ending off on an amazing groove with long somber drawn out single guitar notes layered on top. Elder instantly wins a new fan in me as the set comes to a close, and ends up playing one of the very best sets of the festival. Now I’m gonna go rinse every single album they’ve ever released. [9] KW

Ross The Boss

Ross The Boss @ 22:00

OK, I have a small disclaimer: I’m a fan of Manowar. There, I said it. With this in mind, it is possible that I’m a bit coloured in my judgement of the next performer, as it is the former guitarist of that legendary band that you either love or hate: Ross Friedman, a.k.a Ross the Boss. Kicking things off with “Blood of a King”, it is easy to see that this will be one big heavy metal singalong party. People are flashing their air guitars and making the Manowar wrist grab whilst trying to best vocalist Marc Lopes in the many metal classics aired tonight. Worth noticing is that the band Ross the Boss has actually released three full-length albums, the newest of these being “By Blood Sworn” from 2018, but the entire setlist for tonight’s show consists entirely of Manowar material, apart from a single song. To be fair, I don’t think anyone minds this, as the people attending look to be having one hell of a time all the same.

Already from the second song, it is clear to me that this is Ross’ band, as if the name of the band didn’t give that away already; the spotlight is very much on him, especially during the guitar solo. But even so, one shouldn’t take anything away from the other members, as they all look come across as very energetic in their jumping around the stage. Up next is “Wheels of Fire” — yet another classic song which makes people even more crazed. This is close to being actual Manowar to me, and even though one tends to focus solely on Friedman himself, it all just works really well. The most energetic of the remaining lot is Marc Lopes, who works hard to keep the crowd entertained. But it is nonetheless clear that people have come here to get their fix of Manowar, or at the very least the next best thing: Ross the Boss. The crowd sings along to as many songs as they know, with tracks like “Sign of the Hammer”, “Fighting the World” and “Hail and Kill” inviting huge singalongs. If you don’t like Manowar you would probably have stayed upstairs to experience the ‘other’ metal karaoke, because down here in the concert area, the Manowar karaoke is in full flare, leaving me quite impressed and definitely entertained. [8½] RUB

Decapitated

Decapitated @ 00:00

The Saturday night headliner is none other than the Polish technical death/groove metal outfit Decapitated. They start the concert with an impressive blast, as they first air “Deathvaluation” and “Kill the Cult” off last year’s “Anticult”. And oh my, does this sit well with the venue, which is packed to the limit. People seem like they want to give it their best to end this year’s festivities with a bang, and they manage to do so with the most impressive moshpit of the festival this year. The band themselves deliver their songs with vigor and precision, blessed with an excellent sound mix.

The classic “Spheres of Madness” is aired 2/3’s of the way through the set, and even though the Poles have released some smashing albums of late, the crowd definitely hasn’t forgotten about this gem. The main focus is still on their latest release, “Anticult”, however, which should be obvious, since the tour is named thereafter, and as a result, almost half of the songs on the setlist stem from that particular record. This is all fine and dandy for yours truly, since the band has a knack of delivering those tracks live in a super convincing way, which makes it hard to grasp that this is all happening in one take! The intensity and energy is kept at a high level throughout the entire show, and just as one thought it is about to come to an end, and some of the audience has, in fact, already started to leave, Decapitated airs the definitive last song of the night in “Amen”, which is actually quite a fitting song to end such an impressive, near-religious display. Indeed, one can once again conclude that Aalborg Metal Festival has managed to book a headliner worthy of the big letters, which only further convinces me that I have to keep coming back to this epic event year after year. Until next time! [8½] RUB

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