Royal Metal Fest 2022

author KW date 13/04/22

It’s been 3 years without Royal Metal Fest in the heart of Aarhus but now it is finally time to train our necks once more. It is not the usual warm spring weather this time around but bloody cold though the vibes are running high and the anticipation palpable. Not much has changed since 2019 when it comes to stage setup, except ownership: Voxhall, Turkis (the old Atlas with new owners and a focus on the “weirder” side of metal), and Radar a little 5 min walk away over at Godsbanen. Generally, I surprisingly thought Radar delivered the best sound this year and Voxhall was not entirely consistent on that front, but I, fortunately, didn’t hear anything particularly awful either and everything was fixed fairly quickly if issues were present.

I have one major gripe that I have to vent about though and that is the drinks situation going on in Voxhall. First hearing the news that a partnership with To Øl has been established at Voxhall seemed fantastic and indeed, in itself, was so: tasty IPAs, real cider, stouts, everything a craft beer enthusiast could want was available. But that, unfortunately, came at the cost of just a regular, normal, boring pilsner, but come on… I enjoy craft beer as much as the next guy, but let’s not go overboard in hipsterdom, please? Sometimes you just want a goddamn Royal Export to wash down the bitterness of the constant stream of IPA but that was nowhere to be found. Please get some normal cans for next year as well. But that wasn’t even the worst part. For whiskey-coke fiends such as myself, when I’ve had too many beers, I disappointedly got rejected at the bar with the information that they simply did not have any soda at the bar. I have never in my life been to a venue that didn’t sell at least some kind of cola but then I just had to take the whiskey straight instead. Boo-hoo.

But apart from that little rant, everything was generally managed really well and the traditional “pølsevogn” outside Voxhall was back where the extravagant “Crocell-dog” is a clear recommendation.

Even though I thought the lineup itself was way less interesting than usual (and I heard this repeated over and over again from people I spoke to), probably still suffering from some covid-related obstacles and some annoying cancellations, the bar was generally really high for all the bands I saw, where nothing stood out to me as even particularly average. So let’s get into them, shall we?

All photos courtesy of Jacob Dinesen / Devilution.dk

FRIDAY

Ethereal Kingdoms @ 17:00 in Voxhall

To kick things off we have a band that very much impressed me the last time I had the pleasure of witnessing the Danish progressive symphonic powerhouse that is Ethereal Kingdoms - and that last time just so happens to be at the self-same festival in 2019. Since then, a lot has happened in the old kingdom; almost every member has been replaced except for frontwoman Sophia Schmidt yet the theatrics are oh so familiarly ambitious. Two classical bass choir singers, an additional sinister actress, enough costume changes to make me think I accidentally walked into an episode of Project Runway instead, canvases splattered with fake blood, violins getting smashed to ear shredding screams. As you can tell, Ethereal Kingdoms is a band that’s really demanding to take notes of as a reviewer as something new and interesting happens all the time. I’m not sure I really follow the story being expressed at all but I can’t help but smile throughout most of this anyway because of the sheer spectacle it is. And the new song they started out this whole ordeal with was really something else - a bombastic amalgamation of doomsday choirs, odd-meter angular drumming from drummer Mads Mortensen, alien-noise guitar shredding, and Sophia Schmidt’s signature fae-like falsetto singing and visceral growls. This alone made me very interested to see what new sounds the new record will bring to the table - which apparently is a lot.

While the entertainment value is definitely here, one of the arguably most important parts of a gig - the sound - is lacking enough to leave an unsatisfactory impression. It is all a little messy apart from the vocals (though to be fair, this is also a very unforgiving job for a sound engineer with all the different layers going on) and the guitars have a very hard time cutting through when the heavy parts are supposed to rip you in half, except a gorgeous guitar solo played alone on stage with some real David Gilmour vibes in both feel and tone. It really is a shame that this aspect is not completely nailed, since the Insomnium-esque melodeath riff and symphonics of “Endings” do not get the triumph it deserves as it ends off the show. But some kudos has to be given for even daring to attempt something this ambitious. An Ethereal Kingdoms show is almost more a theater performance than a music gig, which is a sea of generic metal bands that is new and refreshing. [7½]

Clients @ 18:00 in Radar

Smothered in red light with a foreboding horror intro backing track behind them, Copenhagen-based blackened death purveyors, Clients, are met with a thinly crowded room but quickly show that this does not phase them. “Mouth of Exile” blasts with full throttle over the audience in which frontman Nick Demant has already joined on the floor, trying to rile them up as hard as he can, and while it is obviously not the most successful endeavor as people are still a little stiff, I respect the 100% commitment the band is showing in the face of less than ideal turnout. It has been a while since I saw the band last, but the general improvement in the stage presence department is ever-apparent and especially Demant shows a level of showmanship and confidence that is impossible for me not to get swept up by.

Their newer, more black metal-focused direction is shown with great force and sound as “Into the Great Unknown” crushes me, while the blackened Gojira grooves of “We Unlove With Ease” see Demant once again join the crowd and successfully start a little rowdiness. But one of the big highlights comes to the tones of “The Drop and the Current” - a raging, groove-laden, almost black ‘n’ roll track with a massive transition in the middle that blows my head clean off with a sound mix that has reached the heights this music deserves. The grandiosity of the blackgazy “Coma Throne” ends what could’ve easily been one of the highlights of the festival had there been 10 times the people in here to help set the place on fire, but nevertheless, what I witnessed tonight was a matured band who is that much closer to reaching their potential than I have ever seen them and a clear demonstration of how you have to act when faced with less than ideal circumstances. The show must go on. [8]

Lamentari @ 19:00 in Voxhall

The hype surrounding Lamentari has been all the rage in the Danish metal scene recently though I have not personally come around to checking them out until now, yet something tells me I should have, when I walk into a crowded Voxhall. The smell of incense engulfs the air, candles are spread throughout the stage and evil symphonic tones fill the room as hooded figures in corpse paint. Everything is covered in black, even the piano, as Dimmu Borgir symphonic black metal, complete with doomsday choirs and menacing theatrics meets an audience who are clearly enamored. If you’ve ever seen the aforementioned titans of symphonic black or a Batushka show, it isn’t the most original aesthetic you’ll ever see but is executed extremely well. And while I was perhaps fearing some dime-a-dozen black metal here with more style over substance, Lamentari confidently proves me wrong.

On the surface, yes, it might appear as very standard symphonic metal, but so many amazing details elevate it to higher ground. Whether it’s the dramatic piano breaks from Max Uldahl Pedersens between songs, the surprisingly shreddy, squealing guitar solos, or the syncopated chugging grooves, Lamentari keeps finding ways to make me go “huh, didn’t see that one coming!”. It is incredibly on the nose, bombastic (I mean, frontman Daniel Lønberg literally signifies this next track with screaming “Lucifeeeeeeeer!”) but effective nonetheless, and the demonic wall of sound that hits me in this whirlwind of disgusting sweep picking and machine-gun double pedal drumming is nothing short of jaw-dropping. I have definitely been turned into an acolyte for Lamentari through this one gig - an international caliber symphonic black experience that should be getting just as much notoriety worldwide as the other big players in this niche. [8½]

Valkyrja @ 21:15 in Voxhall

Since In Mourning apparently have a delayed flight, their Swedish fellow countrymen in Valkyrja have valiantly agreed to switch times and if I felt like there wasn’t enough Satan-worshiping and corpse paint at the Lamentari gig earlier, Valkyrja is here to seal the deal. Even though one could very well be fooled into thinking we were going raiding some Viking metal with a name like this, ferocious old-school black metal is the name of the game. Blast beats galore and a flurry of tremolo-picking. There are some doomy transitions to break up the pace, but at first, do not really strike me as anything super special - an, albeit well played, very Watain-like display of evil black metal with a pinch of death added to the mix. Yet the most egregious thing happening is the vocals, where I at first can’t really tell if some weird effect has been added to it or perhaps there’s some malfunction, but it sounds like frontman S.Wizen is screaming directly into an empty can of beans. Luckily, it turned out to be an error and after it is finally fixed, everything seems to come together a little better to finally win me over. The overly tinny and trebly sound mix gets some much-deserved definition. There’s a cool swingy groove, some circle pit-inducing duka-duka thrash-inspired aggression and the old tried and true combo of strobe and wall of blasts. It’s a shame it took this long to get going properly cause everything ended way more convincingly than it started out. [7]

Psycho Brahe @ 22:30 in Turkis

What in Monty Python’s Flying Circus fuck is going on in here? Someone must’ve slipped something into my drink on my first trip to the “new” stage Turkis, cause all I see on stage is a bunch of clowns running around on stage to the sound of chaotic mathcore-y mayhem... Now it’s psychedelic soundscapes. Now it’s angular math-rock. Now it’s old-school Kashmir-sounding. Now it’s raging protest punk. The musical palette is as schizophrenic as it is entertaining. Like if Red Warszawa listened too much to Mr. Bungle and were actually proficient at their instruments. The lead clown proclaims in a very convincing Cirkus Benneweis clown-accent: “Jeg er en meget glaj’ klovn”, before some random nonsense about “Jesus Fritzl” sends the music into some non-ironically cool spacy sounds before once again breaking into some heavy punk aggression. See this performance could have easily been too goofy for its own good and maybe it actually is. Maybe I’ve had too many beers at this point but this is one of the most chaotic and entertaining shows I’ve seen in a while, yet the actual musicianship here is undeniably great and my cheeks hurt from smiling this much. And when the less silly and chaotic songs are introduced, like this last one that sounds like a Clutch-esque tribute to drinking beer, it actually sounds great. Psycho Brahe played an inarguably silly show, but sometimes metalheads shouldn’t take themselves too seriously and just have fun. And for this purpose, I have a hard time imagining someone more up to the task than the 5 clowns on stage. [8]

In Mourning @ 23:30 in Voxhall

The late Swedes have finally graced us with their presence and what a presence indeed. Right from the get-go, the proggy melodic death of In Mourning manages to captivate me. The band sports no less than three guitarists but actually finds an interesting use for them with exquisite details found everywhere in the vast ocean of their melancholic sound. Most impressive of all though is probably frontman Tobias Netzell’s divine clean vocals. It is not often you are treated to some vocals that actually sound better live than on record and it is absolutely glorious. Every time a catchy hook is belted out by this guy, like the grandiose chorus to “At the Behest of Night”, it sends chills down my spine. That is not to say he’s the only attraction here - In Mourning is an all-around excellent band to behold. Even though they had some difficulties with traveling here, everyone is all smiles, the sound is fantastic and the execution is razor-sharp. Whether it’s the tasty Opeth-like clean sections, the multiple vocal harmonies, or the rich prog-drumming, everything sounds pristine. Having listened to the band for a while now yet never seen them live - this is everything I could have hoped for and more. “A Vow To Conquer The Ocean” stands as a monolithic moment of the set with its ever-changing structure and insanely infectious Gojira-ish breakdown while the gigantic atmospheric banger “Colossus” sends us on our way in perfect fashion with an amazing prolonged, mesmerizing instrumental finish. The audience seemed to thin out a little by the end of the show - I personally have no clue why because what I just witnessed is going to be hard to beat for the title of the best show of Royal Metal Fest 2022. A crowning moment. [9]

Trold @ 23:30 in Turkis

It’s getting late for this first day of Royal Metal Fest and walking into Turkis once again. It’s quite evident that the alcohol levels are reaching goofy levels in the remaining attendants who are still alive, but what better way to end off your bender with some folk metal. And of course, drunk people love this kinda shit and even though I might be a little grumpy towards folk metal in general, I can’t help but crack a smile - there’s chain dancing, human trains running around in circles, and just a really lovely vibe. It also helps that the band plays their troll-inspired folk anthems with great conviction, all dressed in dirty garments as they’ve just dug themselves out of the ground - “lalalalala” in one moment, mandolins and flutes are brought on stage in the next to the catchy melodic death metal riffs, all backed by a punchy loud sound mix. The lead singer convincingly plays his troll alter ego with genuinely visceral growls and presents every new national anthem of the trolls with snide laughter and gurgly voices. Is it the most original folk metal I’ve heard? Not by a long shot, but it’s a helluva lot of fun. If you can bring a naysayer of the genre like me to your side, you’re doing something right at least. [7½]

SATURDAY

The Arcane Order @ 16:00 in Radar

For a set, this early, Radar is impressively packed for this resurrected melodic death metal force that is The Arcane Order. The newest addition to the team, Kim Song Sternkopf, most well-known from MØL, seems to have been the perfect fit as they blast out the new song “Cry of Olympus”. The Strapping Young Lad vibes are massive in this wall of blast beats and giant menacing chords and Sternkopf’s vocals are absolutely massive. It is a joy to hear his commanding deep roars you don’t hear that often in his other band and once again cements his status as one of the very best frontmen in Danish metal with his majestic stage presence - gesturing like he’s sucking the life force out of the front row and tearing a hole in the fabric of reality itself.

Yet even though the room is packed, it seems yesterday’s drunken escapades have taken its toll on a still half-asleep crowd who only gently nods along so far to these nice offbeat grooves and modulations (myself included, guilty as charged). The instrumental side is generally tight with a few hiccups here and there at first, the light show greatly complimenting the sinister vibe and it’s good to hear a sound mix where the bass cuts through nicely. As Sternkopf anecdotes on how he’s grateful to find himself in a band he once hung on the walls in his “efterskoleværelse”, an absolutely nasty barrage of sound bursts out with a sweeping, fiery, 100-notes-per-second solo and as a response, the zombie-audience understandably finally break out in a decent frenzy. The hair of the dog is starting to work it seems and it serves as a nice pay-off to a rock-solid performance that never quite reached the boiling point it deserved. I could’ve hoped for a later set to really kick things off, but as a wake-up-punch-to-the-face, The Arcane Order did its job. [8]

Sinister @ 17:00 in Voxhall

Time to demolish Voxhall with some old-school death metal all the way from the 80s. Sinister from Holland waste no time before doing their best of pummeling its audience into a bloody pulp. A serving of disgusting brutal death metal ala Deicide or Cannibal Corpse with the signature ringy snare sound overpowering everything is what’s on the menu and it certainly is merciless. “Blood Ecstasy” showcases a really cool tapping riff and their lead guitarist not only kinda (okay, vaguely) looks like Kerry King but sloppily whips out a dissonant, noodly solo in the same vein as well. Some of the crowd desperately shouts “come on!” to the surrounding audience to get some pit action going and somewhat succeed in their battle cry. While the instrumental competencies are definitely here, especially in the drumming department who impresses with his insane, never-ending speed, the guitars are way too muddy to make much out of the barrage of tremolo picking and chugs. Everything starts to blend together because of this, which is a shame since it is clearly weathered professionals we are dealing with here, who have also brought smoke cannons to the front of the stage for extra intensity. Out of breath from all his unholy, throaty growling, frontman Aad Kloosterwaard thanks everyone and thinks it’s “really cool to be back in Denmark after many years,” before we are subjected to another beating of death metal. The sound definitely improves here a lot and as a horror sample leads to a thunderous single snare hit, all hell breaks loose in relentless fashion with the aptly titled “The Carnage Ending”, a complete onslaught on the senses, as death metal should be. Had only the rest of the show been as strong as this finisher, I might've been more engaged, but it was a fun, unforgiving time nonetheless with these older Dutch dudes. [7]

Unseen Faith @ 18:15 in Radar

It’s been a month since I last reviewed the deathcore household name in Aarhus, Unseen Faith, but here I am again. Unfortunately, it is a mostly empty room that awaits the band but frontman Alexander Eriksen tells people to “move closer and get warm” anyway while he belts out his diabolic screams and gurgles, backed by some impressive screaming from bassist Christian Jensen too. Eriksen has apparently just come out of a 3-day fever, so he does an even more impressive job with this in consideration. The djenty chugs and sub drops shaking the room are empowered by the single best sound mix I’ve heard at Radar as of yet, even if the room is only at maybe 10% capacity. It’s surgically precise and punchy as fuck, just the way modern deathcore should sound. There’s basically not a whole lot to complain about on the band’s side, so it is that much more of a shame that the crowd is not on their side. Not even a feature from Andreas Bjulver of CABAL in the insane atmospheres of “The Perfect Human”, or the fantastic renditions of “Lost World” and “Dystopia” can get the crowd going as much as they deserve. I have a hard time not sounding like a broken record here since I already praised these guys so much in the aforementioned review but here it is: I truly believe Unseen Faith has grown into one of those bands that are simply incapable of delivering a sub 8/10 show for me. The level of professionalism they show even when faced with a less than average crowd is nothing short of amicable and the playing and sound mix is just amazingly tight. Every. Single. Time. [8]

MØL @ 19:15 in Voxhall

The Danish blackgaze heroes are back in their hometown with a new album behind them and a ton of international hype. For the initiated who have been following MØL for years, it is not hard to understand why and tonight's no exception. Drenched in their signature purple light show, perfectly setting the stage for their intense melancholy, “Vestige” showcases a way more rock and catchy focus than the band has ever done, with bright lead guitar melodies that burrow their way into your brain. Kim Song Sternkopf wields his mic stand as a battle staff as he powerfully screams his lungs out but also shows some new vulnerability in some nice clean vocal passages that compliment MØLs sound beautifully. “Husk det her er lige så meget jeres some det er vores: velkommen,” he proclaims as the beautiful post-rock atmospheres and Ken Lund Klejs’ groovy off-beat drumming with matching purple diodes all over his drum set in “Redacted” crashes over me before jumping out into a crowd surf, which for a moment looks like it could go terribly wrong as the unsuspecting audience is not completely ready to catch the wild frontman but manage to save it in the end. Sternkopf really takes this connection between band and audience very seriously, always engaged with everyone around him, which is one of the main factors of what makes a MØL show so special. Well apart from the fantastic writing in their music and always pristine performance. “Serf” sounds almost 2000s post-hardcore in the guitar department; that lead run could’ve easily shown up on a Saosin record, I swear. I feel myself getting mentally transported away somewhere for a moment here, the sign of an emotionally impactful gig that reaches its highest highs in what could probably be called their classic song by now, “Bruma”, the atmospheric black metal gem they have conjured for themselves. Lights, sound, and stage presence culminate into perfection right at this moment, a transcendental way to end a, once again, fantastic set from one of the prime exports in the Danish metal scene. [9]

Deadnate @ 20:30 in Radar

The last time I reviewed Deadnate, they were still in the younger stages as a band, and incidentally, it was also at Royal Metal Fest 2019. While I remember being very impressed with their technical ability, I also criticized the songs for perhaps leaning a little too heavily into their obvious main inspiration: Gojira. A lot can happen in 3 years and a lot certainly has. It is clearly a more mature band present here at Radar and to an impressive-sized crowd for such an arguably still small band and it doesn’t take long for their long hair to start flying around in frenzied whirlwinds. While the DNA is still obviously present, these new tracks showcase a sound that is becoming way more their own. It is proggy, technical, and ever-changing but keeps a steady foundational groovy beneath it all to tie things together. The combination of guitarists and vocalists Kenneth Kejlstrup and Simon Juul has always been one of their more unique selling points, producing some ominous clean vocal harmonies and wildly different approaches to screaming - one shrill and punky, the other more low, traditional growls. When the two are busy singing, bassist Frederik Fammé does an excellent job of never letting the energy go below boiling point with an intense stage presence and also impresses with just how many Underberg he can chug between songs without falling headfirst off stage (or just drink that vile shit generally) and still keep a rock-solid rhythm section going at all times. New song “The North Sea” twists and twirls with highly technical drumming from Ole Frank who makes it seem as easy as tying your shoes throughout, while the awesome tapping riff in the ending song “Black Lung” causes the biggest mosh pit Radar has seen thus far to erupt in epic fashion. It is obvious from this that Deadnate is one giant step closer to fulfilling the potential I saw 3 years ago and is coming into its own with convincing power and bravado with a crowd who responded in kind to an amazingly high energy show. [8]

Ihsahn @ 21:30 in Voxhall

Ihsahn - legendary black metal extraordinaire and Emperor frontman - is back in Denmark and here to set Voxhall ablaze. And it is clear that he’s been looking forward to this one. No other artist has exuded so much joy as Ihsahn as he walks on stage and it is extremely infectious. I saw someone mention Ihsahn as the “Devin Townsend of prog-black” and in both prog-metal exploration prowess and unending charisma, this seems like a fitting comparison as any. The musical endeavors reach far and wide into different styles - some looking back at the more traditional black metal roots, others with both hands in the classic heavy metal soil like the catchy “Until I Too Dissolve”, complete with fiery guitar leads and AC/DC drums while “My Heart Is Of The North” turns up the traditional prog metal vibes with organ layers and heavy arpeggios. Perhaps the dad vibes are dangerously close to reaching enough cheese when we are treated to not one but two classic rock covers: Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock and Roll Is Dead” and Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild” but I would be lying if it wasn’t a lot of fun. But I think the show really shines when the more thoughtful compositions go front and center like the dramatic and heavy “Lend Me The Eyes Of Millennia” where I am floored by Ihsahn’s iconic, raw and shrill black metal screaming - one of the best vocals in the entire game. This track in particular lives up to the name “prog-black” - there are blast beats and tremolo chords but so many cool additional details like the orchestral layers and synth arpeggios while the tapping guitar lead in this midsection break absolutely swallows me up. What a powerful song and one of the clear highlights of the whole festival. Apart from a few hiccups in the technical department, Ihsahn came, saw, and conquered, sporting a massive smile on his face while doing so. And everyone, including yours truly, was right there with him. [8½]

Soilwork @ 23:45 in Voxhall

It’s time for the curtain call at Voxhall, where a band I very much enjoy but haven’t seen in 13 years is set to deliver an epic showcase of powerful melodeath. But the show starts on less than stellar ground with very messy sound and generally really low volume that does such a disservice to the awesome dual guitar harmonies of the singalong banger “This Momentary Bliss”. It’s only after a rocky “Full Moon Shoals”, which sees the sound of Björn Strid’s other 80s-inspired rock band The Night Flight Orchestra seep into their melodic death metal, that everything seems to come under control again and the band gets visibly more engaged too. Charismatic guitarist Sylvain Coudret smiles and sticks his tongue out, Bastian Thusgaard punishes the drums in a clinical fashion while Strid’s fantastic screams shine on “The Living Infinite”. “It’s time,” Strid commands, motioning a circle with his hand before the heavy circle pit anthem “Bastard Chain” finally breaks the mold and turns a good show into an absolutely fantastic one. The crowd is invigorated, providing some of the rowdiest pit action of the festival and the hits keep coming in one after the other. “The Ride Majestic” and “Death Diviner” clearly highlight Strid’s amazing vocal talent in some standing-on-a-mountain-top-level epic choruses, while classics “Stabbing The Drama” and “Nerve” are shots of nostalgia that everyone is drinking up whole and keeps the pit going.

This wasn’t the complete masterful show I hoped for due to a stumbling start, but Soilwork thankfully saved it pretty quickly and still delivered a very solid closing show of this year’s Royal Metal Fest. Thanks to everyone involved. See you next year! [8]

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