Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
The New Shit Showcase IVPrevious Next
support Svartmàlm + Bæst + Iotunn + The Ritual + Dreich + Silhouette
author AP date 07/01/17 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN
For the fourth year running the concert year begins with The New Shit Showcase — an initiative designed by the Danish metal blog Blastbeast.dk to shine a light on some of the up-and-coming bands rumbling in the country’s underground at the moment. A number of the artists presented over the past three years have gone on to forge relatively successful careers, with Bersærk perhaps the best example, so in terms of staying ahead of the curve, Pumpehuset is place to be on each year’s Saturday numero uno.
Once again, the event sweeps across a variety of rock and metal styles and as such, has invited a large and diverse audience, which at more than 300 patrons, far surpasses the previous three editions of the event (our impressions of which can be found here, here and here). The setting is festive and expectant, all of us eager to unearth the next ‘thing’ in Denmark’s musical offering, and as tradition would have it, one of the bands does seize the opportunity and set themselves up to take the leap, as it were.
That band, it quickly and somewhat unexpectedly turns out, is the one charged with opening the proceedings: the Fredericia-born Silhouette, whose style is best described as a potpourri of Black Sabbath, Kadavar and Pink Floyd. The sound mix is near-perfect from the get-go, which allows the quartet to assert their qualities unimpeded. And the level onto which Silhouette sets the bar seems almost unfair to the other acts presented tonight; their carefully tuned symbiosis, tightness, energy and skill at songwriting render the band unsuitable to be performing at an up-and-coming showcase such as this, as really, the four musicians are already operating with a confidence that belies their age.
Of the handful of songs they air tonight, not one strikes me as amateurish or has me counting the seconds to its conclusion. On the contrary: the doomy, Hammond organ-infused retro rock pieces have an international class about them, the riffs reflecting a band not interested in mere idolatry, but in carving out their own niche within this burgeoning scene. It remains to be seen whether Silhouette have the consistency to deliver a headlining-length concert yet of course, but on the basis of their exploits here, success is there for their taking. Certainly, judging by the constant flurry of Kadavar-esque movement (drummer Tomie especially resembles the German group’s Christoph ‘Tiger’ Bartelt) of which the band is also capable, Silhouette already has a firm handle on the art of staging a captivating performance with the material they do possess, and I, for one, will be keeping a close eye on this troop’s progress.
Before coming here tonight, I take the courtesy of checking out the bands playing, and Dreich instantly hits me as the heaviest breed, in the word’s truest form. And so they are live: for the first few minutes, their doom metal, not unlike that of fellow Danish band Recitation, runs you over like a bulldozer. But suddenly the song picks up speed and ventures into something closer to death n’ roll than the doom that I was expecting. It’s a nice change of pace and gets people nodding along — especially as the band’s vocalist is good at stirring up some movement, throws himself and his long dreadlocks around when he headbangs and making sure that there’s always something going on on-stage. What strikes me as most impressive about the show though, are his vocals: his range goes from deep, guttural growls in the vein of Cannibal Corpse over screamo-like shrieks into menacing rasps that lead my thoughts to In Flames. I can’t help but think that this change couldn’t possibly be healthy for his vocal chords, but the guy must have some killer techniques since he’s able to pull it off so well without injuring his voice. Kudos.
Unfortunately, not everything runs smoothly. Throughout most of the set, the drummer’s hi-hat is too dominant, excluding some of the other instruments — which really is a shame, considering the excellent conditions that Silhouette had just before Dreich. Furthermore, the show is a classic case of bass and drums taking charge without letting the guitars have a say. The band mixes some exciting genres that most of the time work really well, but sometimes I miss some musical excursions to keep me interested. But ultimately, Dreich showcases some real potential. There’s definitely room for improvement, but I’m interested in seeing where they’ll go from here.
The Ritual is without a doubt the most anticipated band of the night so far. In front of the stage a handful of fans have already begun chanting tribal hymns several minutes prior to the show’s start, and once the band enters the stage, the fans go crazy — which is why I can’t help but be sorely disappointed after just a few minutes of performance. Sure, the band is doing their thing and playing their songs like they should (the vocalist even makes a pretty good scream and shout now and then), but the material is just unbelievably unimaginative and repetitive. The band’s music is retro/heritage rock with a twist of Native American flavour, which features a lot of chanting that’s easy to hum along to, but it’ll only get you so far. Like the smoke-rings that rise from a campfire — tiny rings that expand as they draw closer to the sky, only to be recreated by the embers once more — it feels as if the band’s music is running in circles, constantly chasing some kind of climax it never reaches. One of the guitarists almost deviates from this pattern by throwing in a little solo in the last song, but too fast he withdraws instead of letting it flourish. I’m sorry to sound like a grumpy old man when so many people up front seemingly have a good time, but The Ritual just feels really out of place at Blastbeast’s New S**t Showcase.
The four Copenhageners of Iotunn are advertised as a melodic progressive metal act, which by virtue of my bias tends to set the alarm bells ringing — is it not just another term for ‘power metal’? Certainly the way in which vocalist/bassist Benjamin Jensen dramatises every third or fourth word with a sort of prolonged tremolo effect during the opening piece points in that direction. But admittedly, there is something more elusive about Iotunn as well. The second song rolls out with a huge, engaging melody and powerful strained singing à la Primordial’s Alan Averill at his cleanest, and unveils a pair of guitarists — brothers Jesper & Jens Nicolai Gräs — armed with a serious skill-set. Indeed, if there are two things to praise this ensemble for, it would be the four musicians’ proficiency at their respective instruments, and the seamlessness with which they execute the frequent shifts in the style of their music.
Iotunn is much more hard-hitting than your usual power metal, but while the blazing guitar solos do have their charm and the band masters engaging the audience with an intense and present showmanship, the music itself has trouble making me feel anything. It is as though the technical aspects weigh much heavier on Iotunn’s agenda than injecting the songs with a sense of soul. The talent is there, but in order to continue moving forward, it seems to me that the quartet still has some songwriting creases to iron out before they are ready to take the next step. The final track is a good starting point: not only does it feature the most dizzying instrumental work of the set, the way its grandiosity swells with each passing second in the crescendo to end the concert on a triumphant note has the capacity to sweep you off your feet.
As soon as Bæst takes the stage it quickly becomes clear that this concert will be one of the most thrilling shows tonight. Setting things off with a bang, vocalist Simon Olsen gets the crowd going without a problem. The band’s take on death metal fits the event a lot better than some of the previous bands presented tonight, and it’s nice to see the fierce crowd interaction of Olsen constantly getting down to people upfront and even crowd-surfing at one point. His vocals are a little muffled and occasionally inaudible in the mix, but he gets the point across and the energy is infectious.
The music itself draws on a broad variety of death metal bands, all the way from the Swedish scene to America — the members’ clothes actually represent such bands as Obituary and even Deathwish crust-punks Young and in the Way. There’s not much time for fooling around between the riffs and solos, but there is a point during the band’s second song that a break occurs and some whoa-ohs are being sung by both band and crowd, adding an extra little layer. Bæst’s show provides the first moshpit and wall-of-death, and I can’t honestly say that I need anything else now that the beer has started flowing. Whether the band’s music can withstand a longer set than these twenty minutes remains to be seen, but as for now, I’m highly entertained.
As a novel addition to the New Shit concept, the Blastbeast team decided to invite their first ‘foreign’ band ever to participate in the form of the Faroese black metal trio Svartmàlm, who won the islands’ edition of the W:O:A Metal Battle in 2016. Appearing on stage wearing black executioner hoods and with a ram’s skull mounted on the frontman’s microphone, it goes without saying that the band has put some thought into the visual aesthetic. Svartmàlm’s style of black metal is quite atypical in the sense that it rarely becomes fast, preferring instead to linger and haunt through the slow deployment of atmosphere. There is something quite intoxicating about the three musicians taking their time to build that atmosphere, letting it envelop the room little by little, and expressing themselves through slow, considered movements.
At the same time, however, what seems to be missing from Svartmàlm’s music is the sense of intensity that one expects to find in black metal. It is an art that relies not so much on speed as it does on gradually winding the music to be more and more suffocating until it becomes almost intolerable — and then releasing that tension. In the case of these Faroese gentlemen, that sensation never arrives. The performance is moody in its insistence on pure darkness, but just as it was the case with the majority of Iotunn’s material tonight as well, Svartmàlm has trouble making me feel the emotions (or lack thereof?) that they hope to convey. The band is onto something in being so antithetically focused on wading rather than racing, but there is work to be done still.