When Copenhell Freezes Over

support SEA + Aphyxion + WOES + Forever Still + LLNN + Defecto
author AP date 28/01/17 venue Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

In Copenhagen, a tradition has been established to harness the cold and dark period of January for showcasing the most exciting prospects in the Danish rock and metal scene. Earlier in the month, it was the least established of these that were presented at the New Shit Showcase and tonight, the opportunity is given to some of the more prominent underground artists just verging on a breakthrough by Denmark’s premier metal festival, Copenhell.

Contrary to the previous three occasions, this fourth edition of the When Copenhell Freezes Over showcase does not include a panel debate on the state of the Danish rock and metal industry, so conferencier Anders Bøtter (host of the Sort Søndag radio show, which is soon to return as a podcast) has little else to do than rile up the crowd before each band in order that the large representation of international media, bookers and record label personnel in attendance might get the best possible impression of them. After all, the motivation behind WCFO is to try to push some, preferably all of these bands past the threshold.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Defecto

The honour of kicking off the proceedings falls to Defecto, whose frontman Nicklas Sonne broke his kneecap at a concert two weeks ago — quite rock’n’roll, if you ask me. Needless to say, the man is not his usual, energetic self tonight, but he does his utmost to compensate with over-neck picking, impassioned face expressions and, crucially, one of his best vocal performances yet. That Sonne has some mighty pipes is not news, but with little else to do than focus all of his energy into singing, he pushes them onto another level and has me wondering if indeed he might be the most able vocalist in Danish metal right now. It distracts me from the only concern that I have when it comes to Defecto: namely, that the band still has some work to do in terms of packing their songs with lasting value. In a way, the fact that their sound is so multifaceted, incorporating power, thrash, groove and progressive metal all at once, means that sometimes the music seems to lack a clear focus.

There are exceptions of course, such as “Drifting into Blackness” with its riveting neo-classical solo/lead, and the stomping single “Sovereign” — and even when Defecto seem a little lost in their influences, guitarist Frederik Møller swoops to the rescue with his seven-string wizardry and cool swagger. In fact — and this is not meant as a slight to the solid rhythmic foundation provided by bassist Thomas Bartholin and drummer Henrik Been — he and Sonne are two of the most talented musicians that Danish metal has to offer, both verging on virtuosity in their respective trades. Helped along by a clear, loud and heavy sound mix, Defecto thus manage to stage one of the better shows I have seen from them, though more than anything, I look forward to an eventual sophomore album on which the band will (hopefully) address the issue of memorabilia, and realise their full potential.

7

LLNN

As one of only two bands on the bill, whose music has never found its way into my earphones, LLNN has a proverbial clean slate on which to etch an impression. With two members of The Psyke Project among their ranks (guitarist/vocalist Christian Bonnesen & drummer Rasmus Sejersen), it is to be expected that there would linger some revenants of that band in LLNN’s soundscape, but the degree to which this is the case still comes as a surprise. Bluntly put, the riffing style and cold, mechanistic percussion are direct transfers from the Psyke’ palette, and were it not for the infusion of eerie, extraterrestrial keys and samples, one would be hard pressed to point out real differences between the two bands. The one that I can think of, regrettably, is that these songs are far less riveting than their ancestors, and as such, I have a difficult time finding the necessary anchors to really get into LLNN’s music.

Although LLNN is not the explosive force that Psyke’ was, the band nonetheless exhibits the same sort of twitchy energy that, ironically, the not-present members of the ‘Project made their hallmark. The craze is strongest during the third track, “Solstorm”, the repeating low-down chords and odd rhythm of which sounds like a page out of The Chariot’s rulebook. Bizarrely, neither the violent energy nor Bonnesen’s visible passion — conveyed by the veins on his forehead threatening to burst at any moment — bridges into the audience, which remains largely static throughout. One would have expected some sort of reaction… But then, the fact that LLNN’s music is more about conjuring a dark and mysterious atmosphere than firing frenzied singles at us, probably just means that people are too lost in it to muster any physical activity.

6

Forever Still

The mantra that hard work pays off certainly applies to Forever Still, who not only managed to get themselves booked as support on Lacuna Coil’s extensive European tour last year, but also landed an enviable record deal with Nuclear Blast — all of this allegedly achieved with a DIY mentality and strong work ethic. And it shows: this young quartet is one of the most professional live acts from Denmark still in the infant stage of their career that I have witnessed. Inspired by the insatiable drive of vocalist Maja Shining, the band ticks all the boxes of a streamlined, crowd-pleasing, alternative metal machine; they know how to entertain a large audience, but the music exposes a shocking lack of depth, particularly in the instrumental department.

It is a good thing that Ms. Shining is so charismatic, so energetic in her showmanship, and is in possession of such a phenomenal set of vocal chords (as witnessed by a chilling rendition of the ballad, “Miss Madness”), because the inexplicable promotion of the instrumental aspects in the sound mix (without sounding as powerful as on record, however!) does her no favours. This sounds harsh, but aside from a single decent guitar solo, the music feels like a mere conduit for her singing. It is much too manufactured and risk-averse for my liking. It is also a good thing that Shining and her trusty cohort, bassist Mikkel Haastrup come across as seasoned performers, taking every opportunity to kneel, jump, gesticulate and throw badass poses much to the crowd’s (and the photographers’?) liking, because it is above all by virtue of the performance that Forever Still leaves a lasting mark. The songs are catchy, yes, but this is all Maja’s doing.

7

WOES

Upstairs, WOES present the antithesis to the mainstream-dom just witnessed — there is nothing catchy or welcoming about the cascades of blackened noise they unleash. Instead, the music is comparable to that of Hexis, though WOES prefer to shift their balance of influences to favour hardcore rather than black metal. The interesting thing is that this has not struck me before despite having watched the band multiple times. I thought the meat of it was just blastbeats and incessant tremolo, but it turns out there is a strong presence of punk in the music as well. The type of sound that WOES work with is challenging to mix so that it sounds both extreme and well-defined, but the engineer on duty manages the feat tonight; every melody, d-beat and deranged scream cuts through and for the first time, I can actually enjoy WOES’ music as well as their performance.

Few other Danish artists can hold a candle to this band when it comes to showmanship. Inspired by the likes of The Chariot, Dillinger Escape Plan and Trash Talk, WOES assign a new meaning to ‘high-energy’, coming across as an incessant, dizzying blur of cacophony. Unsuspected, the beginning of the concert sees vocalist Nicholas Meents emerge in the middle of the crowd like some random concert goer deciding to grab the microphone, and he spends the majority of the set in there, instigating and ensuring that the moshpit remains operational and violent throughout. The rest of the band remains on stage, but they, too, exhibit the sort of behaviour that made The Chariot’s bassist Jon ‘KC Wolf’ Kindler & guitarist Stephen Harrison such a sight to behold. They are always engaged in some extreme physical embodiment of the songs. WOES are mental in all the right ways, and now with some semblance of actual songs audible as well, this is the best I’ve ever seen them.

8

Aphyxion

Downstairs again, and the time has come to behold Aphyxion, which, oddly enough, is being marketed as a melodic death metal band. Certainly the presence of death metal is there, but honestly, this young, Ribe-based outfit could not sound more similar to Parkway Drive if they tried. The music is laden with staccato riffs, dense chugs and breakdowns, all staples of the metalcore genre. What the band is marketed as makes no matter, however — what does matter is that Aphyxion exposes itself as a very potent live act here. Vocalist Michael Vahl has clearly been keeping tabs on Jake Luhrs (August Burns Red), Daniel Winter-Bates (Bury Tomorrow) and indeed Winston McCall (Parkway Drive), adopting the same sort of formidable imposition as those more experienced gentlemen. Menacing over the audience, crouching over monitors, standing with one arm behind the back in that classic metalcore vocalist pose… everything about Vahl oozes experience.

The remaining musicians in the band do their part in generating an intense atmosphere, too, and the crowd is absolutely loving it. As WOES just before, Aphyxion seems to form a deep bond with the attendance, which responds to the convincing showing with a sizeable moshpit — the only one to appear besides the maelstrom in front of WOES tonight. Although those genuine standout moments are still hard to detect in Aphyxion’s music, it is easy to see why there is so much hype surrounding this band right now, and even easier to believe that a leap toward wider recognition might be just around the corner.

SEA

On paper, the heavy classic rock of SEA sounds like the ideal way to conclude an evening such as this. The quartet, led by guitarist/vocalist Anders Brink, has a reputation of always keeping it tight and certainly there is nothing to complain about from a technical standpoint this time, either. But something just does not click. There is a serious lack of energy to the proceedings and as a result, SEA fails to create a connection with an audience that has been boozing for at least five hours and wants to party. The setlist seems to favour the band’s slow and mid-tempo material, which naturally paints Brink and his colleagues, guitarist Anders Kargaard, bassist Maico Thyge and drummer Jonas Bangstrup, in a kind light simply because the four are such talented musicians, and have this symbiotic way of palying together, jamming things out.

But the leisurely pace seems to make the crowd restless, and as easy on the ear as those lengthy jams and forays into balladry are, what is really needed here is the hard-hitting, classic rock party that we witnessed at last summer’s Copenhell and Nordic Noise festivals. This is a disappointing anomaly from a band that nearly always can be trusted to deliver a solid performance, and as a conclusion, leaves a bit of a sour aftertaste for the journey home or onwards.

5

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