Royal Metal Fest 2019

author AP date 17/04/19

In Denmark, I have never been to a festival outside of Copenhagen and Roskilde, but with a strong line-up beckoning from Århus, the time had come at last for me to visit the mainland and meet up with some of our Jutland-based contributors on their home turf. The event in question is the annual Royal Metal Fest, which is the third biggest metal festival in Denmark after Copenhell and Aalborg Metal Festival, and actually very easy to get to from the capital: a (cheap) 90-minute bus ride, 90 minutes on a comfortable high-speed catamaran and bam, you’re smack in the centre of Denmark’s second city with an enticing street food hall next to you and the festival venues a short walk away. If you’re feeling adventurous, however, it is also possible to fly from Copenhagen to Århus with a seaplane… just sayin’.

Speaking of venues, this is apparently the first year that the festival has incorporated a third venue (Radar) about 500 metres from the main cluster (Atlas & VoxHall), paving the way for presenting their biggest line-up yet and giving regular attendees the opportunity to experience something new this year. For yours truly, it is all new of course, and one of the most welcome aspects that I immediately notice about the venues is the excellent beer selection, with plenty of regular and craft options on tap and a tonne of bottles available on top of those. As someone used to clenching my teeth and dealing with generic lagers, it really is a pleasure to switch it up with a sharp and refreshing artisanal Kölsch, a bitter and complex IPA, or even a thick and supremely flavourful imperial milk stout. What I am less excited about is I am not allowed to bring these beverages outside to enjoy in the glorious Spring weather or with me when I transfer between the three venues — which, I am told, is a consequence of the municipal government refusing to license outdoor serving for them. This is a shame because it means that the local shops and kiosks are taking a sizeable bite out of the festival goers’ budgets when they want to sit by the canal adjacent to Atlas & VoxHall or dig the raw, industrial surroundings at Radar in an old disused train depot. Hopefully, the festival and municipality can come to an understanding soon so that this hiccup can be corrected.

In terms of eateries, there really is very little to tell. Apart from a truck serving excellent hot dogs and another some good ol’ doner kebab in front of VoxHall, festival goers are left to wander the city in search of food, with the nearby street food market providing probably the best option, as all three of us writers agreed and lunched at before the concerts each day. Similarly, in comparison to other city centre festivals, Royal Metal Fest is quite barren when it comes to a side program. There is the traditional Metal Bingo early on the second day and… that’s pretty much it. As a result, Royal Metal Fest does not really have a unique atmosphere (or any atmosphere) — just lots of bands to watch, and lots of beers to drink, with the crowded foyer area of VoxHall providing the best space for the latter activity. If I had traveled from abroad for this, and especially if it then happened that none of the concerts stood out, I would be pretty disappointed. Fortunately as the reviews below will reveal, musical quality was never an issue during the two and a half days, and if you were in need of a break, Århus will have presented itself as an interesting and walkable city with plenty to explore.

And now, without further ado, let’s dig into the artists on the programme themselves!

All photos courtesy of Sebastian Dammark

THURSDAY, APRIL 04TH

Black Swamp Water @ 20:30 at Radar

First band up on this Thursday warmup gig is Black Swamp Water, a band not familiar to me before tonight’s escapades but the crowd is actually quite big in this smaller stage at Radar, which might or might not have something to do with the Aarhus favourites at the headlining slot. A bluesy acoustic guitar backed by rain and thunder sounds serve as the dramatic intro, leading into some pretty cool dual lead harmonies that kinda reminds me of a sound Clutch could produce. The vocalist isn’t anywhere to be found on stage which at first seems a bit odd to me, but I quickly spot him walking around the crowd handing out free hugs to everyone with a smile on his face as he sings his high pitch southern inspired vocals. It serves a nice little touch that definitely lightened the mood and perhaps also relaxed this reviewer’s critical mindset.

The sound mixing is decent, the music pretty groovy and riffy (albeit not really unique either) and provides mental images of driving around in your pickup truck in the great south, chugging beers till the break of dawn. One track has Iron Maiden classic written all over it, where the vocals definitely resemble Bruce Dickinson, veering on being dangerously similar, but at least the solos are well performed and fiery here, which unfortunately is not the case as the gig progresses. ”Vi er også et band der har noget til damerne,” frontman Bjørn Bølling Nyholm cheesily proclaims before completely losing any good will I had with the gig before this moment. A low tempo hard rock ballad of incredibly boring and cheesy proportions follows, with a solo that flops pretty hard with wince-inducing, out of tune bends. The badass banjo riff of “Bitter Harvest” luckily lifts me up again from the hole I just fell into, but the guitarists’ solo performances seem to become worse and worse and I’m not entirely sure why, ‘cause the initial impression I had of their technical ability was a quite impressed one. Another slow tempo jam that does absolutely nothing for me breaks the pace awkwardly again, making me conclude that this band is definitely one that thrives more when playing fast heavy metal instead of trying to croon the ladies with melodramatic hair metal style ballads. It ends up being a gig that did its job as a support gig fairly well, and the band were energetic and visibly happy to be there, but it did not wow me in the slightest either. [6] KW


Bersærk @ 21:30 at Radar

I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing Aarhus sludge powerhouse Bersærk quite a few times already, lastly providing one of my favourite gigs of 2018 at Aalborg Metal Festival. A scarily consistent live band, I expect no less at this completely packed show at Radar. Lead yeller Casper Popp walks in beer in hand to the eerie words of “De Glemte”: ”Hvem er det der tramper på min bro?” The sound is once again colossal when the heavy groove riff kicks in properly and right out of the gate Popp once again solidifies why he’s one of the absolute best vocalists in the Danish metal scene at the moment, providing one powerful, charismatic phrase after the other, I will simply never grow tired of his massive screams. The band is quite clearly on home turf here as the crowd is already completely fired up, chanting war cries back at the band at command. Popp definitely notices their firm grip on the crowd as he jokingly exclaims ”I kan næsten teksten bedre end jeg kan!” before the catchy syncopated riff of “Skyggeland” provides even more singalong material to the riff (and beer) thirsty crowd and I definitely cannot keep my head steady. But Bersærk also master the down tempo, mellow side of their music which successfully breaks of the pace without sacrificing intensity with “Intet glemt, før alt er brændt” and “År nul”, even though the crowd temperature might have dropped a few degrees. Fan favourite “Fimbuls børn” turns that around though with its war drums and call to arms lyrics before the band surprisingly leaves the stage in the hands of drummer Simon Gleerup Meiner to perform an impressive enough drum solo, that shows off a more technical side to his playing that might not always be expressed through Bersærk’s music, but in my humble opinion, drum solos can really suck out the pacing of a show if it drags on too long, which is unfortunately what happens here. An ear shatteringly heavy rendition of a personal favourite of mine “Tordensol” with its incredibly catchy while sinister main riff fortunately overcomes that small hiccup perfectly, and at one point the sound is so loud and insanely heavy that it sounds like the speakers might give out at any moment. It is a testament to the tightness and entertainment factor of this band, that after watching them numerous times in a relatively small timespan, I never get tired of getting my ears blasted out. While the show didn’t exactly reach the heights of that pinnacle Aalborg Metal Festival show, Bersærk continues their absolute crusade of consistency. [8] KW

FRIDAY, APRIL 05TH

Deadnate @ 16:00 at Atlas

Time to kick things off properly at this year’s Royal Metal Fest with a strong upcoming band. Deadnate is fairly new in the scene having only released one EP of progressive metal, but the band isn’t really visibly still in the infancy phase. The sound is pretty great and the playing incredibly tight ranging from tapped guitar riffs, odd time signatures and raging screams growls from both guitarists. It’s technical but still has an organic quality to it, but the technicality of the songs themselves luckily doesn’t keep the band from headbanging wildly and putting on a show which can happen all too often for this type of gig. So not really a lot to complain about here, am I right? Well my main gripe with the show stems from the music itself, which is blatantly heavily inspired by Gojira right from the yelled vocal style, heavy use of tapping, pick scrapes, open chords, even the drumming eerily resembles the legend himself Mario Duplantier. Being a massive Gojira fan myself though, I am not going to give them too much shit when it’s at least a very competent imitation of one of my favourite bands. The last two tracks definitely impresses the most and really shows off the clear technical talent the band possess, with razor sharp playing and fantastic melodic writing, from the two finger tapping of that intro in “Black Lung” (giving some nods to “Born in Winter” by Gojira), to the instrumental mellow jam of “Concrete Flood” where the bass guitar gets some warranted focus as he joins in on the tapping fun. Despite my criticisms when it comes to their overt use of influence from other bands, I would happily watch this band again and actually think they could grow into a prime Danish heavy musical act, capable of making shockwaves through the industry, if they manage to find a stronger identity that they can truly call their own. [7] KW


The Interbeing @ 16:45 at VoxHall

Yikes, there are not a lot of people present here before one of Denmark industrial metal powerhouses and a personal favourite of mine. I think it might be a combination of the early slot and the general crowd of the festival being more into the older school types of metal, but already out of the gate it’s a bit awkward to see Voxhall’s moderately large stage housing only about 30 people. A sci-fi horror ambient intro starts with a professional lighting setup that follows along with the creepy sounds as the band walks on to moderate cheer, before culminating into the fantastic djenty opener “Spiral into Existence” from their newest album. The sound is decent and the band don’t seem fazed by the low turnout. Frontman Dara’s signature high pitched screams are monstrous as always, and the siren filled banger of “Deceptive Signal” really shows off new clean vocalist/guitarist Andreas Bjerno’s chops who has filled in perfectly for the band, providing some solid and convincing vocals during the earworm of a chorus ”I revitalize, summoned by the opaque!”

Drummer Kristoffer Egefelt seems to be having some trouble with his drumset with a cymbal stack trying to escape him and some stick fumbling, but he gets over the trouble fairly quickly and bangs out some more syncopated grooves. The room has filled a bit more as their newest song “Depressor” is blasted out, but the chorus in this song just hasn’t really caught my attention yet, and I really think The Interbeing shines when interplaying the brutal grooves with soaring choruses. And that’s actually a gripe I have with the setlist generally, all the bangers from their debut album have been left out in favor of some of the less than stellar cuts from the newest one. I’d much rather have seen “Tongue of the Soiled”, “Face Deletion” and “Shadow Drift” than the drawn out outro of “Purge the Deviant” and the forgettable chorus of “Pinnacle of the Strain”, and at one point I wonder if they’re even going to play any of their older stuff. Right by the end my wish is fulfilled with what could be considered their classic “Pulse within the Paradox” which is performed with the fierce energy I expect from the band. Unfortunately, the shows ends up being one of my least favourite of theirs out of the numerous times I’ve seen them, mainly due to a weak setlist in my opinion, technical problems and small turnout. Bjerno did convince me thoroughly that he’s a perfect fit for the band though, so I don’t think the band will slow down anytime soon, and the show was still pretty good for what it’s worth. [7] KW


Lingua Ignota @ 17:45 at Atlas

One of my more anticipated shows of the festival and quite an outlier, I actually don’t really know what to expect apart from hearing that her shows are crazy and eccentric. And that’s just what is served right out of the gate, as Lingua Ignota (Kristin Hayter) has decided to not even use the stage at Atlas but rather put her synthesizer setup in front of it and manically swings around what looks like a nine tailed whip with light bulbs at the end in complete darkness while screaming harrowing noises into the microphone while backed by impossibly dark rumbling synth noises. Unfortunately, the mic does not seem to be producing any sounds which makes things a bit awkward, but you can vaguely make out that she’s screaming her lungs out, while the audience gathered around her stand around with mostly bewildered facial expression, and I’m right there with them. I have no idea what’s going on, and while it’s not exactly really musical in any form with the atonal rumblings, it’s definitely intriguing and unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The madness of the first track ends as she walks back to her synthesizer and finally the mic is fixed to finally reveal what actually turns out to be one of the most emotionally evocative vocals I’ve heard in awhile, making me think of the ever intense vocals of Julie Christmas and a bit of Björk as well. Her angelic voice is layered with some truly demonic vocal effects making it sound like she’s possessed by a demon, while intermingling some ferocious black metal screams in between the beautifully sinister. The music is slow moving and more so a soundscape rather than rhythmic, but it all comes together in a properly hypnotizing, cultish experience as she repeats ”Burn everything, burn everything, burn everything …” over and over again, like some kind of apocalyptic mantra. Never in a million years did I think I would experience something this out there at Royal Metal Fest, who mostly stick to death and black metal with the occasional outlier, but this is something else. She finishes off to great applause from a mostly awestruck crowd, or at least people thought so, because while the lights and break music from the PA is turned, she all of a sudden starts singing again without her mic or anything, revealing what an absolute master of her voice she is. She has complete control, making it sounds like she’s on the verge of tears through a mental breakdown in one moment and having the most beautiful, lush voice in the next. My jaw has officially hit the floor, it is one of the most memorable and unique ways to end a gig I have ever seen and would only work if people weren’t too drunk to be quite and take it in. Luckily, the entire room seems just a dumbstruck as I am and don’t utter a word. I left the room not even knowing how to score this because I couldn’t think of the basis to compare it to, or if I even really enjoyed it from a musical standpoint, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how special it was and had it not been for technical problems kind of ruining the initial impression, this could’ve well been one of the best shows of the year. [8] KW


Skinned @ 17:45 at Radar

For my first review of the festival, I am treated to some grindcore-influenced death metal — just my type of music. As the new addition to the festival, this show is taking place in the Radar venue, as some of the previous reviews have already mentioned. The music has hints of melodic aspects, but this is definitely not a necessity for any of the songs, as the music is very much centered on being brutal to the core; think Origin — especially in terms of the drumming, as well as Dying Fetus — as this is very fast and technical stuff that’s definitely not lacking in the brutality department. The entire segment of crowd members up front is banging their heads like madmen, and the sound is crisp and great, which manages to create that special atmosphere needed to render such technically demanding music as this great in the live setting. There are both heavy and brutal elements that manage to pull the long hairs all the way down to the floor, albeit not quite enough to really blow yours truly away. But with a name like Skinned, the band still manages to deliver a great round of death metal, and the sizeable crowd the venue has pulled looks to agree. What is even more impressive: there are only three musicians on stage and, as far as I can tell, they’re supposed to be five, so when taking that into account the sound they produce is insane (and naturally turns the grade slightly up). I would very much like to witness this band again! [7½] RUB


Faanefjell @ 18:35 at VoxHall

As any larger music festival should, Royal Metal Festival has written a small biography about each of the featured artists, and among these I read in the one belonging to Faanefjell that they tend to sort of transform into a special kind of persona when they enter the stage, becoming characters as well as musicians. It is clear to me that this persona, as mentioned in the aforementioned biography, is something of a troll, which one can also seen in the stage names (Syrtroll, Grimtroll…). Lead singer Syrtroll is sporting the wildling look from Game of Thrones, which he eventually drops however as the concert proceeds. Now, looking more in the vein of a proper Viking, the music truly starts. It’s a mix of folk, black and death metal, with the soundscape mixed with plenty of melodic elements (most likely from the folk genre, duh), and already by the third song they have wheeled me in; this is actually pretty good. The vast majority of the crowd are pretty natural, however, but that still doesn’t take anything away from what’s going on on stage.

A small and perhaps rather strange point has to be made. When a band makes so much fuss about something special about them — in this case the stage personas — it really should be more visible than it is tonight. It is fine by me if on stage you identify as trolls, but then I want to see crawling on all fours with your best Gollum impression, twisted grimaces and hideous snarls; I want to see some unnatural creeping around. This is not the case here. The music is still pretty good, but when you try to put yourself up to be something bigger or different, you have to be able to deliver. Otherwise you might as well play your instruments and sing your songs. [6½] RUB


Defeated Sanity @ 19:35 at Radar

After we divided the concerts amongst the three of us writers, it struck me that somehow, reviewing virtually all of the most extreme death metal artists playing at the festival this year had landed on my table. I am no opponent to the genre, but I have to admit that the likes of Defeated Sanity from Berlin are not bands I would ordinarily listen to, let alone go out of my way to watch live. Still, the quartet makes an instant impression on me, both by virtue of Lille Gruber’s drumming, which mixes blastbeats that sound like automatic gunfire with a free jazz influence, and also the sheer, terrifying atmosphere of tracks like “Engulfed in Excruciation” off the band’s latest album, 2018’s “Chapter of Repugnance”. Sometimes it is an experience in itself to discover the extremities to which musicians are willing and able to push themselves, and exactly that discovery is at the heart of why I derive an unexpected amount of enjoyment from this onslaught. Whether it is to the bulldozing groove of the aforementioned song, the jagged dynamics of “Fatal Self Inflicted Disfigurement” (taken from the “Psalms of the Moribund” LP from 2008), or the unsettling sound of tremolo picked harmonic notes in “Butchered Identity” off that same record, my reaction throughout this 45-minute performance is one of approval, and to a certain extent also amusement at how many times vocalist Josh Welshman manages to call us all motherfuckers. This concert is an exercise in seeking boundaries with music that seems to grow scarier and more chaotic with each passing song, grimly emphasised by the imposing, at times almost inhuman manner of the band’s showmanship. [7] AP


Xenoblight @ 19:35 at Atlas

The local extreme metallers in Xenoblight have quickly risen to fame, and when one listens to their songs it is easy to understand why. Not only do they boast what is perhaps the best female vocalist Denmark has to offer in terms of both stage presence and grim snarls, but they also have the song structures and riffs to back it all up. And speaking about the vocalist, Marika Hyldmar: she truly understands the essence of getting over the edge of the stage, where a pretty full Atlas venue is eagerly awaiting her and her colleagues. What is most noticeable as well, is how much they have improved as a live band in recent times, thanks in no small part to their impressive third place at the Wacken Metal Battle and their support gigs for HateSphere earlier this year. Both the crowd interaction and the general timing of the band has gotten so much better. Music-wise, we’re dealing with all sorts of extreme metal, with death, evil black and blistering thrash elements all audible in the mix. My notes keep mentioning how good the riffs are, and even the sober me has to concur: this band has international class. They even incorporate some more progressive elements into the otherwise brutal and extreme soundscape, which just makes them that more captivating to watch and listen to, simply begging for you to bang your head. Good stuff! [7½] RUB


Vomitory @ 20:35 at VoxHall

Finally back from the dead after being on hiatus for about six years, it is once again time to see the Swedish death metal barrage of Vomitory. Standing right behind the mixing desk, I am ready to take it all in, because this is sure to be both gritty, brutal and fast, yet still mixed with a good sense of humor and plenty of groove. And sure enough: they’ve still got it! Both scene and crowd area have now erupted in complete and utter headbanging, and one simply cannot help but join in. On several occasions the entire middle of the floor becomes a vortex of moshing to the high-powered riffs, and it is truly impressive to see how a band that has been away for so many years still manages to play like this; still gritty, still moshing — still good. The gig is delivered with so much force and attitude, that one should have thought that this band had been dormant for years. Indeed, this is how a comeback should be executed: with true showmanship and a tour de force of death metal. Nearing the end of the set, it is peculiar that the crowd aren’t quite as energetic anymore as one might’ve expected, but the lasting impression has nonetheless been made, and hopefully it won’t be as many years before I get to see Vomitory once again. [8½] RUB


Author & Punisher @ 21:50 at Atlas

Now it’s time for another complete outlier of the festival and funnily enough Lingua Ignota’s tour mate, another intriguing act with a mission to make the dirties industrial noises possible. Author & Punisher is Tristan Shone’s project where he takes the word industrial very literally by having mechanically engineered his own noise-making, monstrous contraption to play with. I’m greeted by dirty banging beats and buzzsaw noises and the first impression going through my mind is ”What the fuck, this is unbelievably heavy!” And while the heaviness factor doesn’t leave at any point, I can’t help but think this is more of an art installation than actual music as the gig progresses. It’s the nastiest electronic sounds I’ve ever heard, but while it’s definitely interesting to behold the robotic movements and the light show compliments this doomsday project perfectly, the tunes themselves just kinda start blending together and aren’t all that memorable. It’s actually just too extreme industrial “music” for my taste and while I get that’s what he’s going for, almost channeling violence as an art, the mechanical nature of it leaves no real emotion to be found. It works for a few tracks in the beginning by the sheer brute force element of it, but for a whole gig the gimmick quickly wears thin. I’d recommend checking it out if you have the chance for just how unique it is, but I don’t see myself indulging in his music more in the future. I know how much metal fans get the following sentiment from anyone outside the scene and how annoying it is, but to me “it’s just noise”. [6] KW


Incantation @ 21:50 at Radar

Pennsylvanian death metal veterans Incantation waste no time in establishing an eerie atmosphere, walking on stage as a crackling radio voice explains about the Sumerian civilisation’s Book of the Dead. It is the perfect lead-up to the slow and esoteric instrumental sections interspersing the otherwise dense and old-school style of brutality heaped unto us by the opening track, “Christening the Afterbirth” off the band’s 1992 album “Onward to Golgotha”. With three decades of experience, it does not surprise me that these four musicians handle the set with such a steady hand, reminding us all that there are good reasons as to why Incantation is considered an important influence to the development of death metal. Indeed, despite the fact that the song actually stems from the group’s latest album (2017’s “Profane Nexus”), “Lus Sepulcri” could not offer a better representation of the genre, striking a perfect balance between a blackened melody, thick groove and sheer chaos. There is, however, very little interaction with the audience by frontman John McEntee (the only remaining original member of the band), resulting in a disinterested response from much of the crowd. The best old-school sets I have seen are those in which the vocalist essentially narrates the historical arc formed by the selected songs, but there is no such experience to be had here. The performance of the music is of course extremely tight, and there are a handful of moments — such as McEntee’s deranged inhale/exhale growls in “Profound Loathing” off 2012’s “Vanquish in Vengeance” or the murderous look of all four musicians while they unleash the older “Immortal Cessation” — that stand out enough to keep my attention locked. But my overall impression of the concert suffers from how ordinary it feels, regardless of the obvious quality of the music itself. Alas, these Johnstown-based veterans do not make a fan out of me tonight. [6] AP


Taake @ 23:05 at VoxHall

Many controversies have surrounded Taake through the years primarily due to the notorious frontman, Hoest, who is also the sole official member of the band. It is with a sort of anxiousness then, that the crowd awaits the entire ensemble to enter, because the controversies are not without reason. It has been many years since he did something truly horrific on stage, so the crowd should not fear any swastikas or what have you anymore, mind you. Entering, Hoest instead now sports a completely bald head with menacing-looking corpse paint; a true black metal horror and legend is now present, albeit without either the demonic black hood or robe.

The songs delivered are staggeringly evil, with the haunting shrieks and the true Norwegian black metal guitar sound that the likes of e.g. Gaahl are so renowned for. Hoest’s presence on the stage sends chills down your spine, and when his band blasts out one no-bullshit black metal track after the other, it’s hard not to be captivated. The stage is mostly bathed in dark blue colors that add to the icy atmosphere that helps elevate this concert to something truly epic. Intensity runs thick in the venue thus, surpassing even his performance at Copenhell back in 2014, with the rest of the audience seemingly just as captivated by the horrifying scenery as me, underlining how this type of headliner should leave a mark on the listener: wanting for more, but afraid of what they’ll get if they dare to ask. Without anything spectacular or mind-blowing, Taake thus pulls the listener into his web of pure and utter darkness, and everyone present with a taste for the obscure and black — or, in his own words, true Norwegian black metal — should wish for Taake to return to Danish soil soon, because it would seem that they cannot put on merely a decent show; they always excel. [9] RUB


Impalers @ 00:20 at Atlas

The honour of closing the first day’s proceedings befalls the local troop of Impalers, who uphold the proud Danish tradition of bowing out much too early into a promising career. This is the second last concert the Århus/Haderslev-born are set to play, yet against expectation, the size of the audience in no way suggests that this is the case. The begins in a majestic manner, horns blazing as the band triumphantly enters, but the dramatics are short-lived — almost instantly, the quartet launches into one of their signature blistering thrash metal assaults. Given that this is their penultimate show, the four musicians are naturally giving it their all on stage, clenching their teeth and windmilling, and striking their instruments with such a vengeance that one would not be surprised if they were all discarded the following night when the band’s short career winds to a conclusion. But if one thinks back, Impalers have always delivered performances of this calibre — even when, as tonight, the audience seems more interested in getting some shuteye than engaging with the show. And this of course makes it disappointing that the group is calling it a day. After Essence transformed into a more mainstream metal act and then promptly disappeared from the scene, Denmark has had a very limited supply of thrash metal bands with the ability and balls to stand out. Impalers has been one of these few, winning over both critics and regular joes with their groovy riffs, memorable choruses, sheer intensity and an attitude in the live setting that would surely have kept them afloat if they had chosen to continue. Alas, we must say our farewells now, and it bugs me that it should happen in such an unceremonious manner as this. [6] AP

SATURDAY, APRIL 06TH

World War 5 @ 14:15 at Atlas

It gets me in a spiteful mood when I discover band names as cringeworthy as World War 5, but seeing as this Århusian outfit features a number of veterans of the Danish metal scene in their ranks (former Illdisposed guitarists Lasse Bak & Tore Mogensen, and ex-Barcode vocalist Knud Lind Therkildsen), I nonetheless manage to muster up some hope for the second day’s opening act. It is a law of nature that in Denmark, all bands gravitate toward a hybrid of death and thrash metal, and as it turns out, World War 5 is no exception. The music, which we are told stems from the long due début album presently being mixed by Tue Madsen, is extremely similar to the material produced by HateSphere and The Haunted: full of groovy chug riffs and played with an uncompromising attitude. But one has to look far and wide for its lasting value, with the entertainment value instead resting on the group’s showmanship, and in particular that of Therkildsen. Whilst his compatriots remain fixed to their positions headbanging, he paces the stage from side to side throwing t-shirts from other bands (albeit with the WW5 logo spray-painted over them) into the audience, and cracks the driest of jokes in between the songs to ensure that the afternoon kicks off on an amusing note. This is a light-hearted concert then, one which gets the job done — yet it would surprise me if anyone’s jaw has dropped by the time it winds to a conclusion. [6] AP


DarkRise @ 15:20 at Atlas

For this rather early slot, it’s time for some brutal death metal. The crowd of yesterday is still not very much alive, as is visible from the half-empty venue. DarkRise from Switzerland, however, are starting out well. Their brutal tunes are nicely accompanied with plenty of groove, but sadly this is pretty much it. It sounds like they actually have some good songs, albeit ones that necessitate knowing them beforehand, and as someone who has never heard of them prior to this show, these tracks actually just sound like your dime a dozen death metal; not bad, but rather standard fare. I would like to recommend them to any fan of death metal, as I believe they could be worth checking out, but as far as this reviewer is concerned, this gig has nothing special about it — especially when taking into account that they have more than two decades of experience. One expected so much more! [5] RUB


Nordjevel @ 16:05 at VoxHall

Having seen Nordjevel before at Aalborg Metal Festival back in 2016, I know what to expect: black metal in every sense of the word. Inverted crosses adorn the stage, huge metal spikes fret out of the musicians’ arms and legs to put out your eyes and there’s plenty of corpse paint on all of them, while the songs themselves are filled to the brim with blastbeats and snarly vocals, creating a strange juxtaposition with the warmth of the sun just outside. The drumming is immensely tight, so it should come as no surprise that Nils Fjellström is blasting the skins for 1349 live as well. In fact, the music is very similar to that of 1349 as a whole, with equally an menacing black metal style. The half-packed venue struggles with the nice weather outside, but still the band prevails. They put on a good show, whilst not completely stunning you, as at times it seems to be sort of a general run of the mill for them. A standout point is definitely the drumming, which plain and simple is insanely tight, and a definite highlight for yours truly. During the last song, vocalist Doedsadmiral (admiral of death) even pours what I assume to be blood onto his face for added effect, using a theatrical chalice, which once again underlines the sort of image this band caters to. [7] RUB


Ethereal Kingdoms @ 17:00 at Radar

Having heard that the Ethereal Kingdoms show would be something unique this time around, I was looking forward to what this upcoming symphonic metal band would have in store in terms of surprises. Frontwoman Sofia Schmidt walks on stage with glittery face paint and as soon as the first heavy note is struck after an epic symphonic intro, her signature elegant prancing on stage delightfully contrasts her brutal growls and screams. She is known for being a very expressive vocalist and this time is no exception, almost blending acting with the usual fronting duties. Ethereal Kingdoms’ music could best be described as progressive symphonic metal, blending all sorts of sounds into a, mostly, rather interesting concoction. This first track blends blast beats, black metal sounds and opera singing to great effect, and I am already enjoying the show way more than I remember enjoying it the first time I saw them, it seems everything has just been turned up a notch, showing what rapid development the band is currently experiencing. But the theatrical aspects of the show is what really takes it to the next level, with Schmidt reciting poetry in one minute and tearing it to pieces and throwing it at the audience the next. ”It’s all yours to keep!” she wails before once again expressing her phenomenal vocal talent, and just for added epic cheesiness a blowing fan has been placed in front to blow back Schmidt’s hair. It almost feels a bit too big in production for the small stage a Radar, but it’s hella entertaining.

A new song from the upcoming record is played which consists of some melodeath riffs à la Amorphis or Soilwork which later transforms into Nightwish worship. I have to admit that it all gets a bit too Nightwish for my personal taste, not being a fan of the band at all, but the incredible vocal delivery does succeed in sending chills down my spine numerous times. It is hard not to completely focus on Sofia’s feminine prowess and captivating stage performance sometimes, but props definitely has to go out to the musicians who pretty effortlessly change between these different styles. Then two cloaked figures with white masks all of a sudden walk on stage and I’ve got the feeling that the surprises in store are really about to kick off. Schmidt fights these inner demons off dramatically before the big projection behind signals that “Act II” is about to happen.

It’s more like a musical at this point than an actual concert, and the fact that a band of this small size has the balls and ideas to pull a show of this calibre already speaks volumes to what they could potentially evolve into in the future. Three male choir singers now also appear at the right side of the stage, acting along to the theatrics and even though I’m not really sure what all of it is actually about, it’s definitely captivating and adds some depth to the show. Schmidt is given a red violin by one of the choir singers and proceeds to smash it to pieces on stage while screaming panicky. Now the music turns incredibly groovy with heavy chugging and sinister overtones, and while an evil blast beat part erupts, Schmidt, covered in blood, let’s out one of the most harrowing banshee shrieks I have ever heard. It is simply mind blowing what this woman is able to produce with her voice in both extremes of the spectrum. The show is ended off on a more mellow note with blasts and melodic riffing that gives off some heavy Insomnium vibes, a band I absolutely adore, so this is definitely right up my alley. More of this, less Nightwish please. It concludes in a very special show of RMF 2019, and I had never expected this to actually be one of my favourite performances of the weekend before I went in. I think it serves as a sneak peak into the grandiosity the band could produce with the right exposure and backing in the future and some light tweaking in the songwriting department. Definitely one to watch out for, these guys are going places. [8½] KW


Tongues @ 17:00 at Atlas

Despite having existed since 2012, Tongues from Århus have managed to evade my gaze until now. While their visual aesthetic is one of a ‘true’ black metal band (corpse paint, taxidermy and floods of red light), the style of their music is more avant-garde, with the guitars taking on a dissonant sound and the vocals alternating between deranged yells, messianic chants and those more typical growls one expects to hear in the extreme metal genres. Speaking of genres, the band also mixes it up in this department, traversing through black, death and doom metal — sometimes within the space of a single song — and roping in melodic and psychedelic elements respectively in the vein of “Lunar Strain”-era In Flames and Oranssi Pazuzu along the way. Although the music is not very accessible, the broad variety of influences in it thus keeps the crowd on their toes while also affording Tongues a quite original sound. It also helps that the group have placed so much emphasis on creating an atmospheric stage performance which at times has a darkly ritualistic feel about it. If only the songs had a couple more hooks to cling onto, Tongues might have been able to elevate what is presently an intriguing concept into something majestic. Be that as it may, their show nonetheless establishes itself as one of the more interesting gigs of Royal Metal Fest this year. [7] AP


God Dethroned @ 18:00 at VoxHall

With a mix of semi-groovy death metal and plenty of melody, the Netherlanders in God Dethroned take the VoxHall stage next. I remember seeing this band at least a few times before, but just like Vomitory yesterday and the festival closers Urkraft later this day, God Dethroned have had their share of hiatuses. They should nonetheless be an all-around good band for a festival like this, as their music pretty much caters to every sort of metal fan you would imagine to find here. The vocals are growled and mean, and suits the heavy, fast-paced and rather brutal blackened death metal music well, and I’d be lying if the music didn’t make my head not on several occasions, but to be fair, it doesn’t really do much for me. Luckily, it seems like parts of the audience enjoy this more than myself, even when I am getting the overall feeling that it is rather bland, generic and even more so, a bit boring. Perhaps it has something to do with having seen bands of pretty much the same genre, such as Vomitory yesterday, absolutely slay it yesterday, but in any case this is not God Dethroned’s evening in my eyes and ears. [6] RUB


Alkymist @ 19:00 at Atlas

Doom has arrived at the festival at last. With their slow, heavy and stoning style of metal, the Danes in Alkymist are quickly becoming a household name, even though in my opinion it is sometimes hard for doom metal bands to win over crowds in the live setting — especially at metal festivals. Either they bring something positive and enthralling in their atmosphere and soundscape that really adds to the whole festival experience, or they sort of make everything turn into a mellow ‘break’ in between the otherwise brutal artists. Luckily, this gig is of the former kind, a loud and intense barrage of captivating stoner doom. I cannot color myself a massive fan yet, but I think the band achieves what they came to do, and hopefully I will be able to catch their act again when they play at this coming summer’s edition of the Roskilde Festival. The seasoned bunch in this four-piece have so much to offer and I am definitely not done with them just yet. [7] RUB


Implore @ 19:00 at Radar

Unfortunately, not a lot of people are to be found here at Radar before the next act Implore is about to play. Grinding noise sets the tone and I am expecting no less than a musical beating to hit me in a minute. And that is exactly what is served - auditory punches in droves. Implore starts out with some black metal infused crust punk and the sound is absolutely crushing right out of the gate, with powerful feral screams from bassist and vocalist Gabbo complimenting the heavy power chords and screeching dissonance greatly. It is unbelievably heavy, disgustingly dirty, fast and tight, with some stellar drumming from Guido Montanarin, ranging from ferocious d-beats, blasting and two-step hardcore, and despite the low turnout, the band has the high energy expected of this type of show, with guitars and hair being thrown around wildly. But Implore’s strength musically comes from the great variety in extreme metal sounds, as this next songs turns it all sludgy and heavy before evolving into more absolutely relentless savagery.

The band never misses a beat and never gives the audience a chance to breathe, it is simply one of the most fun and heavy shows I have seen in a while, and it’s really such a shame that no more people have turned up to witness this tour de force of brutality, as I am sure they could’ve instigated some really savage pit action. Gabbo proclaims that it is the last show of their tour with Rotten Sound (a band Implore surely has gotten a lot of inspiration from) and you can definitely feel that this is a band expending every last bit of energy left in their bodies, spitting on themselves, headbanging to whiplash-inducing degrees and whipping out one heavy riff after the other. In real hardcore fashion, the guitarists proceed to smash their equipment before leaving the stage in a shroud of pure noise. The show went by fast, being one of the shorter sets of the weekend, but in the about 30 minutes they played, they convinced me that they are one of the heaviest live bands around now. An absolute rager of a performance and my favourite set of the weekend. Do not miss these guys if they play near you. [9] KW


Asphyx @ 20:00 at VoxHall

”Fuck yes, it’s good to be here!”, yells frontman Martin van Drunen, his attitude simply shining so brightly through the Dutch death metal legends of Asphyx, even when compared to some of the other excellent acts here. The evil-sounding tunes make for an impressive soundscape, as they mix death metal with doom, proving once and for all that despite their veteran age, Asphyx are still very much alive. Once again, I wouldn’t color myself a massive fan of this band, but that is only because I haven’t really gotten around to properly checking them out yet. However, their name keeps popping up around me, so of course I had to see what all the fuss is about, and boy, am I glad I did. They manage to stick so much out when juxtaposed with many of the previous death metal acts playing at this festival, and largely just on the basis of the sheer quality of their songs.

Even the crowd up front is completely compelled by the force these Netherlanders possess. The tunes are equal parts heavy and brutal, and induce every single neck present at tonight’s gig to get a good workout by virtue of the overwhelming soundscape. And the behaviour of the audience really speaks to how much of a scoop the booking of this band is for Royal Metal Fest, ranking amongst the biggest and most influential artists I have seen this year. The band manages to bring back the ‘old school’ in old school death metal, and in such an impressive and striking way that it leaves a significant impression on both my ears, my neck and my memory. I’m not entirely sure why this surprises me so much, but Asphyx absolutely stuns me with a breathtaking performance. [8½] RUB


Decline Of The I @ 21:15 at Atlas

This Parisians are the second band I am watching today whom I have no previous experience with. Marketed as post-black metal though their music is, I would rather describe it as experimental black metal given the wealth of unconventional elements mixed into it, ranging from prominent electronic samples to druidic chanting and even some rap-style spoken word. All of this is presented in a way that feels like a horror movie playing out on stage — best embodied by the female bassist, whose unchanging expression and twitchy movements make her look like a child’s doll come to life. The ghoul’s wail of a voice that guitarist Judicaël employs likewise contributes its fair share of disquiet to the proceedings, and as a result it seems like the entire room succumbs to a collective paralysis. Indeed, the esoteric and at times psychedelic atmosphere combines well with loud volume to render Decline of the I’s performance extremely fixating in spite of the songs themselves lacking somewhat in terms of hooks. Like the concert by Tongues earlier, this feels more like being a spectator to an obscure séance of some kind, though one that is slightly too experimental and uninviting to really suck me in. Still, out of the many, many traditionally disposed artists performing at the festival this year, these Frenchmen manage to stand out and make a solid impression on me nonetheless. I will certainly be looking into their discography based on this experience. [7] AP


Rotten Sound @ 21:15 at Radar

After that insane Implore show, I don’t expect tour mates Rotten Sound to be any less unforgiving, and they have managed to pull a way greater crowd, by virtue of being quite the grindcore legends. Feedback starts as frontman Keijo commands everyone to move closer with a smile on this face. And then the non stop barrage of grinding guitar noise starts, the guitars sound like buzzsaws and the drumming is insanely fast while still sounding organic, the band has this unique ability to do these small tempo changes completely fluently which keeps it from sounding mechanical. Keijo has some of the most powerful screams I’ve heard in a live setting as of late, but even though the heaviness is punishing and brutal in tone, the band is visibly having a lot of fun blasting out the one last show to end off the tour. The show mainly consists of short outbursts of unadulterated filth which also instigates the most violent pit I have witnessed at the festival, with people wildly tackling each other and pushing each other into the pit if one decides to take a breather. It is spectacularly heavy and noisy and simply doesn’t get much more extreme than this, but this is also one of my main gripes with the show as the barrage of sounds can grow a bit tiresome with a 45 minute showtime, compared to the 25 odd minutes a Rotten Sound album usually includes. Luckily the band does throw in the occasional slower sludge jam to give a bit more variety, like the black-hole-heavy “Choose” where the significantly low-end focused sound mix really shines as every fibre of my body shakes. The audience are loving the insanity though, shown through constant pit action, and Rotten Sound did succeed in providing Royal Metal Fest with one of the heaviest sets of the weekend, at times to its own detriment. [8] KW


Tribulation @ 22:20 at VoxHall

Alongside Taake on the previous night, Tribulation was the band that decided it for me that I would lose my RMF virginity this year. The reason behind this is that in spite of finding an instant fan in me by virtue of their 2015 album, “The Children of the Night”, I have only had one opportunity to watch them live since then: at the 2016 edition of Copenhell beneath a blinding sun. It comes as no surprise to me then, that the quartet’s enchanting fusion of blackened death metal and Gothic rock only truly unfurls in darkness, where the vampyrean stage personas of the four musicians feel at home. Kicking off with the stomping “Lady Death” (one of the singles from last year’s “Down Below” LP), the crowd, myself included, is in thrall of Tribulation at once, mesmerised not only by the infectiousness of this tune, but also by their exhilarating showmanship. They always have been a theatrical live act, but it feels like all four musicians — and especially guitarist Jonathan Hultén — have upped the ante since their previous festival concert here. The ever androgynous-looking Hultén, rocking heels and tatters of thin black veil, leads the way in this seductively witchy mass, twirling, jumping and darting across the stage like some satanic ballet dancer, while his three colleagues wildly rock out in his periphery to lend some weight to the suggestion that songs like “Melancholia” and “The Motherhood of God” are essentially what Type O Negative might have sounded like if they had been a black metal band. There is virtually no interaction between bassist/vocalist Johannes Andersson and the audience, but this actually works to Tribulation’s advantage, helping to keep the dark and mysterious atmosphere intact for the duration of their hourlong showing. It is evocative, riveting and spellbinding all at once in both music and performance, resulting in one of the absolute best sets of the festival. [9] AP


Urkraft @ 23:35 at Atlas

The last gig for me to review at this year’s edition of the festival is one I have been looking forward to ever since the band in question was announced. Still remembering the songs off Urkraft’s 2006 outing, “The Inhuman Aberration”, and still owning the CD, I am eager to find out how the decade(!) of hiatus has affected this Danish cult melodic death metal outfit. Again, they bring the groove to the venue, as has been done many times this festival already, and it is easy to discern that they have been looking forward to playing here, their grins and smiles as wide as one had hoped for. Indeed, one can tell that they really want to be here and as such they have plenty of surprises in the bag, including inviting vocalist Asbjørn Steffensen of Crocell on stage for a cameo whilst shots are being passed around. This helps elevate the otherwise worn-out crowd, underlining the fact that clearly, it was the right choice to close the proceedings at this venue with Urkraft, whose energetic songs should be able to make everyone give it their last bit.

Having also just released a new record in “Our Treacherous Fathers”, the musicians of Urkraft are all stoked about showing off their latest material, but perhaps it would have been best to stick to the classics that people actually know, since this is their first reunion gig after 10 years in the dark after all. The new songs, however, sound like you would expect, and it is good to see the group return after so many years. Perhaps I had placed my hopes a bit too high, but so many of the great tracks I personally remember are missing off tonight’s setlist (given that this is something of a release party, I think?) that I find it a bit difficult to really feel like my expectations are being met. Does this mean Urkraft is back for good? It’s difficult to tell after just one show, but hopefully, when the dust settles, they will announce more gigs and give all their classics hits a few more spins. And when they do, I’ll be there. [7] RUB


Suffocation @ 00:35 at VoxHall

For brains and necks now aching after two days of abuse, what better outfit to deliver one last kick to your guts than the godfathers of technical death metal? Indeed — the hour may be late but this is one of the biggest crowds the festival has seen this year, and as soon as “Thrones of Blood” (taken from 1995’s “Pierced from Within”) gets things moving, it becomes obvious that people still haven’t expended all of their energy. At a festival generally marred by a lack of crowd participation, there is no such issue here, with both moshing and especially violent headbanging a constant sight on the floor below my vantage point on the balcony. It is said that Suffocation invented the breakdown, so the response from the audience is not something that catches me off guard when listening to songs like “Cataclysmic Purification” (off 2009’s “Blood Oath”), in particular because the Long Island-based mob’s delivery of them is so brutally precise. While there is not much by way of stage antics to be beheld from the five musicians, what Suffocation do extremely well is creating a truly menacing atmosphere inside the venue. Bassist Derek Boyer could scarcely look more badass with his instrument strung low and at times resting against the ground as if he were plucking a double bass, while current live vocalist Ricky Myers does a fine job filling the shoes of the legendary Frank Mullen, taking on an instigating character that seems to sit well with the raging crowd. These NY legends may play like a machine, which is only appropriate taking into account the brutal and technically complex nature of their music, demolishing their way through the 13-song setlist without any sign of mercy and drilling all of their most revered classics such as the punishing “Effigy of the Forgotten” (the title track to their 1991 offering) and “Infecting the Crypts” into the brains of us helpless subjects in the process. So although I would personally have preferred for Royal Metal Fest to end on a more triumphant, theatrical note à la what Tribulation did earlier, I will not complain about being ground to dust by the Suffocation bulldozer either. [8] AP

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