Heaven Shall Burn

support August Burns Red + Whitechapel + In Hearts Wake
author AP date 12/03/18 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Most of Copenhagen’s connoisseurs of all things ‘core’ are surely attending Pumpehuset tonight — such is the strength of the tour that has stopped at the venue on this rainy, early Spring evening. And although my interest in those genres has long since waned, the opportunity to find out how the material from August Burns Red’s brilliant latest album, “Phantom Anthem”, would fare in the live setting proved too tempting to miss out on. The night would also enable me to watch Whitechapel for the first time since 2010 and the German heavyweights of melodic death metal, Heaven Shall Burn, for the first time ever, so the stars were aligned indeed, to produce a memorable show.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

In Hearts Wake

With such a wide variety of ‘core’ artists on the bill, it was inevitable that the generic compartment of the genre would be represented as well, and this dubious honour befalls Byron Bay, Australia’s In Hearts Wake. The six songs they present all subscribe to a run-of-the-mill formula in which cleanly sung, Linkin Park-esque choruses and breakdowns deployed at high frequency form the backbone — and in neither of these staples of metalcore can the band be said to excel. In Hearts Wake has the showmanship, however, to lift a sizeable portion of the audience off its feet during the likes of the djent-y “Healer” (off the quintet’s 2014 sophomore outing, “Earthwalker”), and so it is undoubtedly the forgettable nature of their music that explains why — four albums into its career after releasing “Ark” last year — the band is yet to mount a breakthrough. This is a disappointing introduction to In Hearts Wake then, alleviated somewhat by an excellent lighting display and the imposing presence of vocalist Jake Taylor, whose surfing the crowd in a rubber boat during “Breakaway” (taken from 2015’s “Skydancer”) produces the only truly memorable moment in the short set.

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Whitechapel

Anyone in doubt about what the heaviest band on the bill tonight was going to be is given a rude awakening by Whitechapel’s choice of opening track: “I, Dementia” off their eponymous 2012 album (reviewed here). It spells out the approach that these Knoxville, TN-born gentlemen have decided to take tonight, focusing on the slowest and most devastating outtakes from their six-album discography. But while the likes of “Elitist Ones” (taken from 2016’s “Mark of the Blade”) certainly make a point out of sounding as brutal as possible, there is plenty of eerie melodies in the music as well, to create an atmosphere. This is dark and punishing stuff, delivered by a sextet who have the appearance of murderers and WWE wrestlers — and no matter how much I tend to despise the deathcore genre, it feels like Whitechapel have mastered it to a degree that is impossible to resist. Their bullish attitude, including vocalist Phil Bozeman growling ”Take that shit!” during the punky title track to 2014’s “Our Endless War”, is like jet fuel for the fans, who have turned up en masse to keep the mosh- and circlepits incessantly raging until the groovy “Saw Is the Law” brings the proceedings to a violent conclusion.

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August Burns Red

It is not too long ago that this Lancaster, PA-born outfit last graced Denmark with their presence, but the focus on that occasion was on celebrating the 10th Anniversary of their landmark “Messengers” album. Tonight, the emphasis is on last year’s “Phantom Anthem”, which occupies half of the setlist and cements itself as a staple source of hit material for future August Burns Red concerts. The likes of “The Frost” and “Dangerous” incite euphoria in the audience as if they were revered classics already and once again underline the staggering prowess of the five musicians, who never seem to break a sweat as they make the noodling melodies, syncopated rhythms and jazzy interludes seem like child’s play. The moshpit remains active throughout thanks to the wealth of breakdowns that also exist in the band’s music, and while guitarists John Benjamin Brubaker & Brent Rambler and bassist Dustin Davidson focus on delivering razor sharp renditions of the songs, vocalist Jake Luhrs hovers over the audience in his typical imposing manner to create the impression of a band in tune with their audience.

At the same time, one cannot help but feel that something is a bit off today; the show feels less intense than usual, and the track choices dictate that there is very little of the variety that an “Indonesia”, “Internal Cannon”, “Meddler” or “Salt & Light” could introduce present. Instead, August Burns Red seems to have settled for the more accessible pieces of their repertoire, which might be a wise choice if the brunt of the audience was made up of Heaven Shall Burn’s fanbase. Judging by the vigour with which the moshpit is operating during tracks like the empowering “Spirit Breaker” and the sing-song-inducing “Ghosts”, however, the Pennsylvanians are the main act for a big segment of the crowd — and although both songs, like most of what August Burns Red has released, are quality approved, they do represent the more ‘generic’ facet of the band’s technical brand of metalcore. I am thus left with a quite flat feeling after “White Washed” has rounded the set off, hoping for the enthusiasm I had worked up during Whitechapel to be restored by the headlining act.

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Heaven Shall Burn

Alas, diversity is not the brightest beacon in Heaven Shall Burn’s repertoire either. I will concede that the Thuringia, Germany-based icons have done their homework for Gothenburg 101 and assembled a collection of songs bristling with melancholia and effective staccato riffs. One would have to be very disgruntled by melodic death metal not to be swept away by the melodies in “Downshifter” (off 2016’s “Wanderer”) and “Land of the Upright Ones” (off 2013’s “Veto”) early on, but as the set moves forward, it becomes apparent that the band has little else to offer than those melodies. It is fortunate that two decades of experience have moulded Heaven Shall Burn into an excellent live act then, with the perfectly synced strobe lighting and the confident demeanour of the five musicians (one of whom is Alestorm’s Máté Bodor, filling in for Maik Wichert, who was unable to join this tour due to a back injury) creating the impression of a band who know what they’re doing. And to be fair, the lack of differentiation between one song and the next aside, some of the tunes aired do nonetheless transform into spine-tingling moments, as exemplified by the famous cover of Edge of Sanity’s “Black Tears”, as well as “Passage of the Crane” and the older “Profane Believers”.

It is no secret that Heaven Shall Burn’s music comes with a strong wildlife protectionist message, with “Voice of the Voiceless” and “Hunters Will Be Hunted” emerging as the most vocal proponents of the band’s philosophy tonight, and it seems to resonate well with the audience. Once again, the moshpit is full and in constant movement during the 15 tracks to which we are treated and, noting the devotion of the crowd, vocalist Marcus Bischoff feels humbled enough to offer heartfelt tributes and thank yous to what he calls one of his “favourite cities in the world." His willingness to interact with the audience in non-generic terms is a valuable lesson to other bands on the verge of a big breakthrough to always stay grounded (Heaven Shall Burn apparently absolutely nailed their late-night slot on Wacken Open Air’s main stage a few years ago); this is how you ensure your fans will continue to flock to your shows even when you’re not at your best. Given that this is my first encounter with Heaven Shall Burn, however, it is of course difficult for me to gauge the degree to which they meet expectations tonight. But that does not change the fact that after 14 songs that all seem to follow the same pattern, it is the cover of Blind Guardian’s “Valhalla” at the end of the encore that emerges as the consummate highlight of the evening. Indeed, convincing though the show turns out to be, it is a little too generic to get me properly excited.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Downshifter
  • 02. Bring the War Home
  • 03. The Weapon They Fear
  • 04. Land of the Upright Ones
  • 05. Counterweight
  • 06. Black Tears (Edge Of Sanity cover)
  • 07. Corium
  • 08. The Final March
  • 09. Passage of the Crane
  • 10. Profane Believers
  • 11. Combat
  • 12. Voice of the Voiceless
  • 13. Hunters Will Be Hunted

— Encore —

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