(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 on the fourth and final day of the fest. To read about Gonzo‘s experiences during the first three days, go here, here, and here.)
According to a poll on Copenhell’s Instagram story as of 10:21 a.m. Saturday morning, 64% of festival goers are tired as fuck. I counted myself among them. With a good night’s rest and wearing enough sunscreen to make myself flame retardant, though, we set a course on the 666 express to Refshaleøen once again. If we weren’t tired by this point, we’d be the exception.
Today was the final day of Copenhell 2019. The executive decision to eat something healthy for breakfast, I think, ended up being a wise choice. More fried food was wolfed down at lunch, just as While She Sleeps were getting ready to rock the Pandemonium stage. When we walked in, we could hear Candlebox closing out their set with the unmistakable chorus of “You,” but that would be all we’d get of our hometown grunge rockers.
While She Sleeps plowed through a set rife with potent hooks and pit-inducing breakdowns. The English metalcore unit brought plenty of energy to the stage, enough to keep my attention for a few songs. If I had discovered While She Sleeps closer to their inception in 2006, I probably would’ve liked them a lot more. The harsh-to-melodic song structure is what bands like Killswitch Engage continue to be purveyors of, but as is the case with most metalcore these days, I really didn’t care for WSS’s vocals. They’re what metal neophytes would probably dismiss as “screamo.” Still, the set was enough to hold my attention during the first beer of the day.
Eluveitie, however, is more of my cup of tea. Their 2008 album Slania was an absolute game-changer of an album for me, and I still use it as a measuring stick when listening to all other self-proclaimed folk metal acts. There are some damn good ones, to be sure – Moonsorrow, Orphaned Land, Tengger Cavalry (RIP) – but seeing Eluveitie’s live performance many times over the years only reinforces my stance on them.
Today would be the first day I’d be seeing them without hurdy-gurdy player Anna Murphy, though. Save founding member/lead vocalist Chrigel Glanzmann and bassist Kay Brem, the rest of the members have been with the band since 2012. I was curious how such a dramatic and recent lineup change would translate to the stage.
New hurdy-gurdy player Michalina Malisz ended up being a serviceable replacement for Murphy, even with the absence of bagpiper Matteo Sisti, whom Glanzmann announced was off getting married. The remaining eight members drew heavily from most recent album Ategnatos, which I expected. The new material sounded fresh and energetic, with Glanzmann alternating adroitly between harsh vocals, harp, guitar, mandola, and tin whistle. Their closer “Inis Mona” from Slania proved to be a nice finishing touch on a solid set that didn’t disappoint.
On the Helviti stage, Living Colour were about to assume the role of coolest dudes of the hour. Vocalist Corey Glover strolled out with his New York-based funk rockers, wearing a jacket and hat that I can only describe as “loud.” When they kicked into “Cult of Personality” as their second track, my head began involuntarily bobbing along. In this writer’s humble opinion, that song’s hook should be bottled and sold on street corners as one of the best grooves in the history of rock.
My only complaint was the crowd’s largely ho-hum reaction to the bulk of their set, but I’ll assume that was mostly for lack of familiarity with the band. They ended things on a high note with a timely cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and I had to wonder if that was directed at the audience. We’ll never know the truth.
Before this festival, I had no idea former Deep Purple guitarist Glenn Hughes was still playing shows. Some quick research revealed he’s still very active, releasing an album as recently as 2016 as a solo act. Assuming he’d be showcasing some newer stuff for the huge crowd at the Hades stage, imagine my shock when he came out and absolutely ripped my face off with a roaring rendition of Deep Purple’s “Stormbreaker.” (Sorry, Grand Magus, but nothing holds a candle to hearing this one from the horse’s mouth.)
Hughes’s voice, at 67, hasn’t aged a bit. He nailed high notes only reachable by air raid sirens and smoke alarms. Even more of a delight was the entirety of his song selection – he jammed out “Smoke on the Water,” “Burn” and “Highway Star” like they were just another day at the office. And for a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, well, they were. It’s Glenn Hughes’s world – we’re just living in it.
English sludge lords Orange Goblin are always an entertaining show, so after a beer refill and an exhilarated “can-you-believe-that-happened” exchange with my travel companion about Hughes on the way, we wandered back over to Pandemonium. Orange Goblin were already well into their set by the time we got there. It was then that I remembered stoner metal always makes me have an insatiable craving for weed. Of course it does, I thought. The Freetown of Christiania, with its plethora of green offerings, was only a 10-minute walk from the festival, but I opted for more beer instead. At this point, wading through the masses to get closer to vocalist Ben Ward’s gravely chortle would be a daunting endeavor, so back to the beer tent it was. The added bonus of still being in earshot of the stage wasn’t bad either.
I can’t say I was let down by the Brits’ aural onslaught, though. They played a smattering of tracks that spanned their entire catalog, capping things off with a Motörhead cover of “No Class.” Why not?
photo by Mercedes Lindman
We chose to move on from the beer tent quickly. It was absolutely imperative that I primed myself for Amon Amarth as much as possible. One glance at the stage was all it took to be assured that the purveyors of Swedish melodeath would be in top form today, as always: Their giant Viking helmet was sitting comfortably in the middle, with the drum set resting on top. It was only natural, then, that the band chose to whip the crowd into a total frenzy by opening with “The Pursuit of Vikings.”
Within one minute, everything else at this festival was temporarily torched into Valhalla. Nothing existed except Johann Hegg shouting “ODIN! GUIDE OUR SHIPS, OUR AXES, SPEARS AND SWOOORDS” with the added support of thousands of other voices. Holy fuck, I thought. It turns out seeing Amon Amarth just across the water from their home country might just destroy seeing them in the States. Hegg’s powerful bark seemed to channel Thor himself during “Deceiver of the Gods,” while guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Soderberg could’ve ripped a hole in the space-time continuum with their ferocious shredding on “Raven’s Flight.” The added plus of bringing out two armor-clad warriors to do battle during “The Way of Vikings” fit the bill down to every last rune. And I’d be remiss not to mention the huge purple dragon that rose from the stage to close out their set.
But the best moment came when a sea of people in front of the stage sat in the dirt together to perform a “row,” as if they were seated on an actual Viking ship. Is this a thing in Scandinavia? Does it happen all the time at Amon Amarth shows in this part of the world? I had so many questions. Their form was spot-on, suggesting that real Vikings were in fact, still among us – at least, at festivals in Denmark.
Did I mention Amon Amarth absolutely crushed it? Because they absolutely crushed it. Inject this shit into my veins and row me out to sea. I would’ve died happy.
To commemorate 10 years of Copenhell’s existence, what I can only ascertain was a tribute band called Ti Ar i Helvede, which translates to “Ten Years in Hell”, came next. Since the entire announcement was in Danish, and my three months of Duolingo’s Danish course proved to be helpful but not good enough to understand inebriated native speakers, I can only assume that the tribute band was made of other famous Danish musicians. They even played a song called “Copenhell” to kick off their time on the Hades stage, and closed with covers that included Slayer’s “Angel of Death.” Y’know, for posterity. I thought about asking someone what it all meant, but I preferred to be the silent chameleon and blend in this time.
Either way, Ti Ar i Helvede kept the party going and thrilled the hell out of most everyone in attendance. Raising their glasses with a good throaty “SKÅL!” was as good of a sign-off as anyone could ask for.
photo by Mercedes Lindman
It was only appropriate, then, that Municipal Waste came on to keep the party roaring. Much like it’s tough to watch Orange Goblin without a joint, it’s equally difficult – or just plain wrong – to watch Municipal Waste without a beer in your hand. It feels like some kind of sacrilege. The party animals from Virginia tore through anthems such as “Beer Pressure” and “Headbanger Face Rip” at a breakneck pace. Their time slot was ideal as well – the sun was finally starting to go down at 9:45 p.m., but I had the distinct impression that the party was only just beginning. How that was even possible at this point in the festival was a true testament to the resilience of the average Dane’s liver. Credit to Ryan Waste and company for reinjecting the crowd with a dose of whatever the hell kind of high they were riding.
Rob Zombie was also none too shy about commenting on the sun’s refusal to set. “Does the sun ever go DOWN here?”, exclaimed the longtime vocalist/White Zombie mastermind/horror director. After his brief rant about the borderline-awkward spectacle of seeing his band’s show in broad daylight, I was almost surprised to hear “More Human than Human” next. But that would just be a sample of what was to come: “Thunder Kiss ’65” came next, along with a Beatles cover of “Helter Skelter,” and then the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
Being the career showman he is, Mr. Zombie clearly planned out this set with the festival audience in mind.
Zombie enlightened us with a quick story about clothes shopping in Copenhagen, and at that moment, I imagined what it would be like to bump into Rob Fucking Zombie trying on costumes and clothes in stores throughout the city. I ventured it probably would’ve been worth the price of airfare by itself. Somewhere, no doubt, there’s a shop owner telling a truly amazing story about this.
If it was anyone else, the band’s set would be written off as tacky and full of Hot Topic models from 1998. But because it was Rob Zombie, you just expect it. I’m not sure if that says more about the imitators he’s inspired over the years or Zombie himself, but either way, the set was exactly what I expected it to be – over the top and deliciously ghoulish.
With darkness falling and the heavy hitters now coming out on every stage, overlap was going to soon be a problem. I decided to prioritize Dimmu Borgir over reformed Danish hardcore legends The Psyke Project – at least for now. Dimmu announced they were commemorating 25 years as a band this summer, which promptly made me feel old. When Dimmu blasted straight into “Interdimensional Summit,” though, age became just a number. The Norwegian black metal stalwarts crushed it out of the gates, with vocalist Shagrath pacing across the stage like a tiger in corpse paint. Symphonic passages on “Summit” and “Council of Wolves and Snakes” translated perfectly from their first output in eight years, Eonian.
Finally, I got my wish when they blew the dust off “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” towards the end of their set. That song’s mammoth opening riff with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra backing it up is a true gem to listen to. With the way Dimmu sounded, you’d almost believe the entire orchestra was on stage with them.
There’s a reason why Dimmu Borgir have been around for as long as they have – they’re damn good at what they do.
I ran back to catch the end of Psyke Project, a legendary band in Denmark but one that’s all but unknown in North America. They had recently reunited, and their late addition to the festival bill definitely stirred up a fair amount of chatter online in the weeks leading up to tonight. Turns out, their angular, down-tuned hardcore put them in the same territory as Converge, Old Man Gloom, and Terror. Fans were definitely eating it up – the pit was as big as it had been all day. After 10 hours of nonstop music and partying, this crowd was as fired up as it was on Friday. Either that or alcohol’s a helluva drug. Maybe both?
And now, the moment everyone had been waiting for was finally upon us: The Scorpions were about to rock us like a hurricane on the Helviti stage. Of all the bands at the festival, the only one that could compete with the Germans in terms of video screen effects would’ve been Tool, but where Tool’s effects took your mind for a ride, The Scorpions were all about being completely over the top. It would’ve been an epileptic’s worst nightmare.
The band’s logo was slung across the screen in varying neon colors, while the brightly colored effects matched the music down to every last note. In true rock star form, the band’s two guitarists, Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs, walked out along a platform that stretched well into the crowd to chug out the first two minutes of “The Zoo.” Considering Schenker has been at this whole “rock star” thing with this band since 1965 (!!!) and Jabs since 1978, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guitar duo with more mileage under the belts in music today. And, like Glenn Hughes earlier in the day, The Scorpions were living proof that age really is just a number.
Further cementing that fact was former Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee absolutely destroying his kit during a fantastic drum solo. Unless it’s Dream Theater’s Mike Mangini or a handful of others, I could really do without drum solos, but this seemed oddly on theme for The Scorps.
When the band closed out with a back-to-back assault of “Blackout” and “Big City Nights,” I was shocked to see them leave the stage. No “Rock You Like a Hurricane?” Isn’t that a criminal offense punishable by the metal gods?
Much to my relief, the Germans came back out for an encore, and they delivered. Let me tell you – “Hurricane” is one of the greatest hard rock anthems of all time for good reason. Vocalist Klaus Meine was all but drowned out during the chorus by thousands of voices, closing out the final headlining set of Copenhell with the most appropriate bang imaginable. If you had told me there was a greater time to be had somewhere other than here, I wouldn’t have believed you.
But! Before we escaped the dark, suddenly chilly grounds of Refshaleøen for the last time, there was one final ritual we needed to witness: Portland’s very own UADA.
The Cascadian blackened thrash quartet were scheduled to play during the same 1:15 a.m. time slot as Kvelertak, which disappointed me. My tank was running on empty, so a decision for one or the other was all I could muster. UADA seemed like the perfect way to cap things off – dark, shadowy figures playing blisteringly fast riffs under a thin veneer of the occult looming over the stage. I love me some Kvelertak, but I had to get close to the stage for UADA and stay there. They tend to command your attention once they start playing.
The stage lights went dark, and the fog machines coated the stage in an eerie mist. The howls of wolves was the only sound we could hear as the mysterious black-clad figures took the stage. Launching straight into the beautiful savagery that is “The Purging Fire” from their superb second album Cult of a Dying Sun, the band drew a curious crowd on their outing from the Hades stage. Vocalist/guitarist Jake Superchi is an absolute beast vocally – his shrill howl transitioning to guttural roar had never sounded better; the weary crowd even held up the horns high in the air as they gathered closer.
Even at such an ungodly hour after 12 hours of bands, UADA was none too subtly slaying this festival. The head-nodding main riff of “Devoid of Light” expertly followed the memorable choruses of “Snakes & Vultures.” Every note was just as tight as it was on record. Superchi has obviously been feeding his band some kind of occult brand of steroids to be able to hang this late with this much raw power. I can’t wait to see them evolve over the coming years, because there aren’t many new bands in metal that can touch the level UADA is on right now.
By the time it was over, and it was finally the witching hour of 2 a.m., the sun started to crack a ray of light through the clouds. It seemed oddly poetic as we waited in the queue for one last ride on the 666 express, back into civilization yet again. Ha, I thought. Even the daystar was scared to come out before UADA stopped playing. We are, after all, all just members of the cult of the dying sun.
Copenhell is quietly becoming a festival for the ages. It checks off every box, including some you wouldn’t expect – clean facilities, great food, beer around every corner and then some, closely located from town, and of course, a consistently stellar lineup. As far as European festivals are concerned, you really can’t do much better. To see some of the best photos from the weekend, check out their Instagram account.