Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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June 2018

LIVE REVIEW: Copenhell Festival, 20-23.06.2018

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Beneath the swathes of denim jackets, bullet belts and Iron Maiden back-patches, Copenhell is a pleasingly diverse gem of an alternative musical festival that refuses to cater solely to the metal old guard. Of course, some of this year’s big names are cornerstones of the heavy world — from Avenged Sevenfold to W.A.S.P. and Ozzy — but the meaty line-up is pitted with artists that draw on everything from EDM to opera.

Even before the festival kicks off in earnest — on the inadequately titled ‘warm-up’ night — Copenhell makes a bruising statement of intent by hosting the grandfathers of post-metal, Neurosis. With only the festival’s smallest stage open to them, Neurosis work through a set made up of swaggering slabs of riffs and passages that wind to dead ends. The band’s tone is thick and cloying, almost claustrophobic — the sort usually reserved for small sweatboxes— but sounding satisfyingly heavy outdoors thanks to some deft sound-work.

In the harsh light of the festival’s official first day, Copenhell reveals its true bounty. The standard festival fare of food and merch stalls and bizarre sideshows are well put-together, but it’s Refshaleøen’s harsh industrial backdrop that really sets the mood. The 2000 metre2 unfaltering gaze of Fenrisulven — the Copenhagen wolf — watches over the weekend’s proceedings as 23,000 alternative music fans flood into the festival.

On paper, the opening day looks the weakest. The business end of Thursday hosts the likes of symphonic stalwarts Nightwish and bro-metallers Avenged Sevenfold, big crowd-pleasing acts that lack something in the way of nuance.

Lower down the bill, buried in the line-up, there’s much more to be had if the in-your-face stuff isn’t really your bag. While Parkway Drive are hardly subtle, their eco-metal manages both aggression and poignance. As the opening act on the main stage, Helviti, they have the dubious honour of setting the pace for the rest of the weekend and they do so with fiery aplomb.

Over on the smaller stage, gospel-cum-black metal act Zeal & Ardor are a different beast altogether. Their records have created a bit of a stir, so it’s gratifying to see their mix of spiritual chants from slave-era America and frosty screams land so well in the middle of the day. In less able hands, their Satan-fuelled ritualistic chants might seem trite or forced but a few songs in, the band have the crowd caught up in their thrall and chanting along.

Another black metal act, Danish born Møl, don’t quite summon the same trance-like state. As last minute replacements for bottled energy merchants Skindred, something gets lost in the mix. Their sensational new album, Jord, relies so much on high-end guitar to offset the grinding backdrop but it’s far too quiet and loses the flourishes that sets them apart from less by-the-book black metal acts.

Friday is an absolutely creaking with the prowess of its line-up so after inhaling all the caffeine and painkillers, we dive in.

Copenhell’s tendency to open the main stage with brutally high-energy acts continues. Nu-metal darlings Deftones could be a bit of an odd fit for this fairly traditional crowd, but they whip up a chaotic whirlpool in front of the stage with the likes of ‘Shove It’, ‘Rocket Skates’ and dripping-with-groove ‘Swerve City’. Chino is on masterly form, flinging himself around the stage and genuinely seeming to enjoy his crowd’s frenetic reception.

Yet more displays of kineticism comes from Japanese electronicore outfit Crossfaith. In front of a hard-drinking Danish crowd, their weird mash-up of EDM, blast beats and songs called things like ‘Jagerbomb’ goes off like a bomb.

After two back-to-back sweat-sets, Alice in Chains bring a pleasing and much-needed change of pace. The endless debates over Will Duvall’s suitability to replace deceased vocalist Layne Staley have finally — thankfully — seemed to abated. Duvall is a gold-standard frontman, easily as comfortable getting the crowd to bounce along to pulsing classic ‘Man in a Box’, wrenching heartstrings with the stripped-back ‘Nutshell’ or calling on the crowd to sing-along to new-era favourites like ‘Stone’.

The focal point of the weekend, Ozzy Osbourne, easily draws the biggest crowd. The man himself is on fantastic form, thundering around the stage and looking far more lively than he has in years, his live performances tempered to perfection by Black Sabbath’s wide-ranging The End tour last year.

Perhaps the biggest joy of the weekend comes from the addition of Zakk Wylde to Ozzy’s line-up. Wylde is a decidedly unsubtle guitarist, inserting pinch-harmonics into the least likely — and sometimes least appropriate — riffs and always on the cusp of dropping into a roaring solo. A big presence on stage, he isn’t eclipsed by the main man and intermittently steps forward and let’s rip.

The set is pretty close to spot on too, with three Black Sabbath covers — including the unexpected ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ — and packed with fist-pumping, cheesy classics that have defined Ozzy’s career.

Saturday is no less eclectic in its variety, and caters to all manner of tastes; whether you’re into experimental French avant-garde breakcore (Igorrr), cock-rock (Steel Panther) or even swashbuckling pirate metal (Alestorm), the final day of the festival is a veritable smorgasbord of heaviness.

The anticipation of the festival’s main stage closing act, Ghost, has built to fever pitch by the time frontman Cardinal Copia and his unnamed ghouls and ghulehs take to the stage, which is mocked up, fittingly, like a cathedral.

When Ghost started out they were a bit of sideshow, with fans as interested in the band’s Satanic garb as their music. Recent albums have completely overturned this misconception; Copia is undoubtedly theatrical but their musical content is bold and has hooks for days.

Songs like ‘Square Hammer’, ‘He Is’ and ‘Faith’ could comfortably be delivered by globe-straddling pop stars were the lyrics not about giving souls over to Satan. But when you think they are at risk of taking themselves too seriously, they escort out some geriatric black mass bishop to deliver the sax solo in ‘Miasma’.

The whole set is uplifting, amusing and mesmerising, in a way that only these Swedish rockers can be. A fitting end to a festival that refuses to be painted into a box.

LIVE REVIEW: The Dead C, Alice, 07.06.2018

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The Dead C live at Alice, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Dead C are considered a bit of an anomaly in the New Zealand music scene. While their contemporaries were engaging in the jangly pop-punk associated with the Flying Nun label, the trio were honing noise-scapes both brash and thoughtful. Three decades later, Bruce Russell, Michael Morley and Robbie Yeats are still going strong as a fiercely independent improvisational act.

Walking on stage to a sound collage of crackling voices and noises, the trio slowly start to disclose their separate functions, distinct enough to that you could tell, knowing nothing of them, that they’re dynamics have been honed over decades of playing together. Morley’s guitar is washed in reverb, delay, looping in on itself, a rough seascape over which his chants are occasionally just loud enough to cut through. In stark juxtaposition to this are the heavily distorted wails, drones and bleeps from Russell. His tiny amp has a pickup taped to the speaker, a technique I vaguely recall being used by Dead C fan Thurston Moore.

The drums follow the guitars rather than vice versa, their rudimentary rhythms there to enhance the chaos of Yeat’s bandmates. The impossibility of the task to impose a structure seems a premeditated satire of the idea of structure itself, couple with a distant, romantic reminder that at their heart the Dead C are a rock band.

You see this in Russell’s increasingly convoluted guitar techniques, as he abandons his strap to drag the instrument upside down on the floor, grating the strings with a beer can or abandoning it altogether to fiddle with his pedals. Because of that extra pickup taped to the amp itself the signal chain is so odd that the most improbable sounds start to emerge. Apparently satisfied with his latest effort, Russell turns to Morley with an obvious look of “I’ve done my part, let’s bugger off”, and after a few more truculent loops from his bandmate, eventually they do.

LIVE REVIEW: Çiğdem Aslan, Alice, 01.06.2018

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Çiğdem Aslan live at Alice in Copenhagen, Denmark

Istanbul-born performer Çiğdem Aslan stands at the centre of a whirl of cultures, languages and musical traditions. Her solo work focuses on the rebetiko tradition that grew out of cities in modern day Greece and Turkey during the Ottoman period, and as such featurues songs in both languages. These are songs of love and vice, full of drama and, if the exegeses to the songs are to go by, a certain amount of rebellious humour.

Tonight Çiğdem Aslan is accompanied by double bass, percussion and the kanun (or kanonaki for Greek fans)—a harp-like instrument played horizontally across the lap—a reduced set of instruments compared to her recorded material, but more than enough to summon the passion and melodrama of rebetiko. The double bass adds a touch of jazz to the sound, and the kanun moves from dreamy glissandos to tempestuous trills. Çiğdem summons the character of the mortissa, after which her first album is named—the rebellious barfly and chanteuse of the Aegean.

As dramatic and controlled as she is a performer, Çiğdem is also an enthusiastic storyteller, providing the audience with brief translated summaries of the songs. There’s something for everyone, from tales of a jilted wife hooking up with a young butcher in Smyrne, to reveries of hashish-induced bouzouki jams. A particular favourite of mine seems to sum up the quintessentially Mediterranean experience: a woman asks her lover to let her sleep over, promising him his mother won’t find out.

Slowly over the evening the audience is coaxed out of its nordic reticence, with girls from a local dance class twirling wildly in front of the stage, and people singing along in both Greek and Turkish. The atmosphere is contagious and before long you would be forgiven for thinking you could hear the sea lapping against the shore of some Cycladic island just outside.

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