BAEST – photo by Bransholm Photography
(A Seattle-based writer who we’ll call Gonzo ventured to Denmark for the 2019 edition of the Copenhell festival, which ran from June 19th through June 22nd. Today’s post covers performances at the third day of the fest. To read about Gonzo‘s experiences during the first two days, go here and here. The wrap-up comes tomorrow.)
After a rough start to the morning due to the sun’s fiendishly bright rays at a truly ungodly hour, coffee began replacing the hope of getting any more sleep. A risky endeavor, especially since the day would be pretty warm, and I am not built for the heat. My hope was that it would be cooler by the harbor at Refshaleøen, but we’d soon find out. Once more into the breach.
The unmistakable smell of barbecued meat and fried food on our way into the festival welcomed us once again. If I wasn’t busy watching bands today, I’d be rolling down the hill after eating my way through this place. Today would be the day I would eat several of whatever these “flying pancakes from hell” were. I didn’t know what made them special, but what I did know was that I didn’t want to have any other type of pancake ever again.
On to the music, though. My somewhat late start cost me a look at Cabal. It was going to be basically impossible to catch every band today, though, which is a conclusion any festival goer will agree with on any given day of any given festival. Sometimes, you gotta take the L. I heard they were damn good, and according to the festival’s Instagram story, they started a mosh pit just after noon. Clearly we’d be living our best lives today.
Danish power/prog rockers Manticora wasted no time getting weird. Human props lined the stage during the set, and were eventually used in, uh, interesting ways. The band absolutely shredded, though – rapid-fire double-bass accompanied staccato riffing and driving tempos. Note to self, I thought: Find their music later and crank it up. Like Sweden, there seemed to be something in the water in Denmark that produces some truly fucking solid under-the-radar metal bands.
photo by Peter Troest
Trivium got things started on the main stage next. I still remember the hair on the back of my neck standing up in 2005 when I first heard “Like Light to the Flies” off the Ascendancy record, and being more or less underwhelmed with most of their output ever since. Matt Heafy and co. decided to blast that one out of the vault for their third song. Most of the other tracks between that and closer “Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr” went down nicely with the crowd, and we even were treated to an encore of “In Waves.” I ended up headbanging my face off and shouting along with the chorus. It was only then that I noticed my beer glass was empty; a rookie mistake I remedied quickly.
I came by the Hades stage on the way to get another beer and caught a bit of TesseracaT with the hope that their groovy, layered prog wouldn’t be too mind-bending for 3 in the afternoon. The UK-based groove merchants laid down the first three tracks of the “Concealing Fate” opus from their first album, and that satiated me just fine while on my quest for more ale. I didn’t have to go very far. The thing about TesseracT, though, is their music demands attention, and I didn’t have much of it to give at this point in the day.
Viking metal legends Unleashed were next, and it would’ve felt weird to watch them without drinking a beer. The heaviest band to appear on the Pandemonium stage so far (at least that I’d seen) powered through a set that was marred by brain-melting leads and guttural vocals. I held up my beer in solidarity with their bludgeoning 30 minutes of knuckle-dragging death metal. The hangover and sleep deprivation were slowly fading away. Headbanging and beer drinking was obviously the solution to all of my problems. Today was off to a good start.
Somehow I ended up in the beer tent during Pretty Maids, but witnessing the outstanding spectacle of drunk people partying their asses off inside a huge tent with Metallica and Megadeth blasting from the speakers was a good way to spend some of the afternoon. For the record, the Danes are some of my favorite people to drink with. This trip was rapidly proving that point. Huge men in battle jackets were jumping on tables, diving off the bar into each other, and basically having the time of their fucking lives. Incredibly, I didn’t see one hostile interaction between people at all — not even when these people were at their drunkest and rowdiest. I can’t say that for other places I’ve been. Danes really are just in it for the party.
We stumbled out of the cover of the tent and into the unforgiving sun. Reapplying the sunscreen at this point was priority #1, because the tan lines were definitely forming. I wasn’t looking forward to the thought of being sunburnt for the next two days. We hauled ass to the other side of Refshaleøen in time to catch another Danish band, BAEST. From what I heard on the festival’s Spotify playlist, these guys were heavier than hell. I imagined a live show that would match the intensity of the music I was hearing.
I was not wrong.
BAEST fucking chugged, growled, and pounded their way through an absolutely monstrous set that drew a bigger crowd than most of the other bands had so far today. Their brand of death metal was riff-driven, primal, and still somehow catchy as hell. I’d later learn that they’d be filming a video for a track called “As Above, So Below” during the performance. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. (No, it’s not a Behemoth cover. Sorry to burst your bubble.) Relentless and brutal, BAEST quickly became my favorite discovery of the festival so far.
Meanwhile, back at the Pandemonium stage, the dust was still settling from the wicked fury unleashed by…. Unleashed. Alien Weaponry, one of New Zealand’s heaviest exports, were next. Judging by the mixed reaction when a Haka war dance instructor came out to teach 5,000 people the traditional ways of his people before Alien Weaponry’s set, most people didn’t know who the hell this band was. But that didn’t stop anyone from getting into the Haka dance like a battalion of warriors getting ready for battle.
As if learning the Haka war dance wasn’t a freaking awesome experience by itself, a Maori native man came out to fire up the crowd and, seemingly, to inoculate the stage while the band came on. For a trio that started in 2010 when two of the members were just 8 and 10 years old, Alien Weaponry absolutely killed it. With lyrics partially sung in the Maori language on top of a tribal Roots-era Sepultura rhythm section, the Kiwi trio proved very quickly they fit right in with the rest of the bands at Copenhell. And hey, it was culturally enriching.
photo by Morten Skovgaard
Still riveted by the spectacle that just tore up Pandemonium, I took my festival-high and rushed over to the Helvete stage in time to watch Lamb of God absolutely decimate this festival. Randy Blythe is a man who knows how to play a crowd, and his band came to bring it, “Hourglass,” “512,” “Laid to Rest,” and “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For” had never sounded better. The hot sun didn’t deter anyone from creating a giant dust storm in the mosh pit, with crowd surfers fearlessly jumped the barricade in front of the stage. It was total madness, and every second of it was absolutely glorious.
At this point, the magnitude of this festival and experiencing it in a country like Denmark was really starting to sink in. This place was almost too perfect. Was this real life? How was I supposed to know this wasn’t some insane alternate dimension I’ve wandered into, where the beer flows from everywhere with a black tent over it, the food is worthy of Valhalla, and the music never stops? Ye fucking gods. I might never leave, I thought to myself as I wolfed down one of the best burritos I’ve ever eaten in my life.
With food in us and feeling rejuvenated, we wandered over to catch a bit of Whitechapel. I’m not a fan of deathcore in the slightest, but their new album The Valley caught my attention — mostly because of its departure from said deathcore. Vocalist Phil Bozeman barked like a drill sergeant while an inexplicable three guitarists strummed out the opening notes of “Brimstone.” Maybe it was the fact that I was still recovering from the audial pummeling dished out by Lamb of God minutes before, but I just wasn’t feeling what Whitechapel were doing. They were intense, catchy, and energetic, but inexplicably enough, it just wasn’t doing it for me
Then, I glanced at the festival app and declared it was time we make our way back to Hades. I was still riding the massive festival high from the sheer epic volume of amazing music I’d already seen, BUT the bar was about to be raised — again.
If you know me, you’ll know that Clutch are one band I can never shut up about. Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen frontman Neil Fallon and his band of merry men play some of the greatest goddamn rock & roll shows I’ve ever witnessed in 30 years of going to shows. They’re a band that, I would argue, has never put out a bad record. They’re all just varying degrees of out-fucking-standing. Needless to say, my expectations for Clutch at Copenhell were reasonably high.
It was only when they belted out the opening few notes of “Ghoul Wrangler” that I remembered something else about Clutch: They consistently change their setlist like most other bands change their underwear. (Well, probably with the exception of Watain.) Every time I’ve seen them, it’s a totally different show – with no sacrifice to quality. They expertly navigated through newer material from Book of Bad Decisions while mixing it up with old standouts such as “Escape from the Prison Planet,” “The Mob Goes Wild,” and “Electric Worry;” the latter of which saw an enthusiastic crowd chanting the “BANG BANG BANG BANG” chorus loud enough to be heard from Sweden.
The real highlight, though, was bringing out Mr. Randy Blythe himself to assist with vocals on the old Clutch demo track “Passive Restraints,” which Fallon said was pulled out of the vault and dusted off for this show. Following that up with the rock & roll perfection that was “In Walks Barbarella” and closing with “Gimme the Keys,” Clutch had just put on the show of the weekend so far. The set firmly cemented why I love this goddamn band like I do — fantastic stage presence, perfect song selection, and the kind of unique, infectious energy that could make a fan out of the most skeptical music curmudgeon. That set, I thought, was a 10. As if I couldn’t love them more.
Staying for all of Clutch meant I’d missed Slaegt, blackened rock & roll from Denmark. Alas, recovering for a bit became essential, because the main event was upon us: Slipknot.
I hadn’t seen Slipknot live since 2001, and I’d honestly lost track of their activity as a band somewhere between 2005 and now. During that time, though, they’ve endured quite a bit — three hiatuses, the death of bassist Paul Gray, and members juggling other projects — so I was intrigued to see them again and how the years had treated them.
From the minute the giant curtain dropped and all eight current members of Slipknot ripped into “People = Shit,” chaos ensued. Chaos of the absolute highest order. Masked men were jumping around everywhere. Corey Taylor paced across the stage like an angry tiger while rapid-firing vocal lines without so much as taking a breath. Shawn Crahan stood on top of his drums and pounded on them like they’d insulted his mother. Mick Thomson stared into the crowd with a malevolent gaze in his eyes while shredding through riffs from albums new and old.
“Chaotic” doesn’t even begin to capture the mayhem that took place on stage. Pyrotechnics and Taylor’s unrelenting commitment to making crowds go totally bonkers were the dominant stories of the night, but so were the group of Danes in front of me, dramatically acting out all the lyrics. I was just thankful that there was no actual pushing of fingers into anyone’s eyes during “Duality.” At least, not that I saw.
By the time they closed with “Spit it Out” and “Surfacing,” the crowd was whipped into an absolute frenzy. That infectious energy I mentioned earlier that Clutch did so well? Slipknot took that and fired it out of a cannon for 80 minutes. When they left the stage, the sky picked itself up off the ground and dusted itself off. All you could hear were the exhilarated whoops and howls from a sea of satisfied metalheads.
To follow that performance, we had a choice: Austrian death metallers Belphegor on the Pandemonium stage, where half the festival was heading to either watch them play, continue partying like recently escaped mental patients in the beer garden, or go home and fall down a lot. The other choice was Danish experimental folk unit Heilung. Feeling a bit beaten down, we opted away from more death metal in favor of something…different.
It may have been the best decision I’d made all weekend.
photo by Jacob Ehrbahn
The members of Heilung, meaning “healing” in German, describe their own music as “amplified history.” There was not a guitar or bass to be found within their ensemble performance — just instruments and props designed to look like they did in the Iron Age, such as bones, drums, and spears. This alone was enough to differentiate them from every one of their peers on this festival, but how would that hold up at 1:15 a.m. after a blistering set from Slipknot?
Within five minutes, I had my answer. Heilung’s live show was like being pulled into another realm. Imagine if the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream took acid and formed a Dead Can Dance cover band, and you’ve got a start. Band members were adorned in everything from elk horns and masks to Viking armor and helmets. Drumbeats were constant and steady — I wouldn’t call the music “heavy,” but I would use “ethereal” to describe the experimental folk that these mysterious humans were playing on the foggy stage in front of me. It was not just a performance, but a ritual. It felt like something I wasn’t supposed to see.
Sometimes, if it hits you in just the right way, music can take you on a journey. That journey can lead you to unexpected, fascinating places; the destination remaining unknown until you buy the ticket and take the ride. There was perhaps no better example of this than watching Heilung perform. It might sound bizarre to cap off a day of nonstop rock and metal by climbing into a time capsule with a band that looked like they had just stepped out of an alternate timeline, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m not one for cliched descriptors, but there was something uniquely magical about witnessing the live show that Heilung played. If I see anything else like what I saw on that stage again, it’ll be a truly amazing experience. But I honestly doubt I will.
When I climbed into bed that night, I could still feel Heilung’s drums beating in my chest, and hear their Mongolian-inspired throat singing echoing in my head. What a rush. What a day. What a festival. And we had one more day of it starting in less than 12 hours.
Copenhell, you know how to throw a party.