Aalborg Metal Festival
Venue: Studenterhuset, Aalborg, Denmark
Dates: 11th and 12th of November
For those of you ignorant wretches out there who know nothing about Danish geography, I can share that Aalborg is a town in the north of Denmark with a population of approximately 135.000. It not only has a university and other higher educational institutions, it also has an indoor metal festival, which takes place every year in November.
This year’s festival starts off on a terrible note – weeks before the actual festival. Enormous was the joy when it was announced that Life Of Agony would visit Studenterhuset in Aalborg this year. Equally gigantic was the disappointment when the promoters of the festival were then later forced to inform us that LOA was cancelled – due to a cock up in terms of schedules. Buuuaaaah!
Right, so we have to do with Annihilator, Pain, Vision Bleak and other fine bands. Well, actually, I know or know off approximately one third of the bands on the bill, and at least a couple I don’t really care about.
Come Thursday the 11th, where Pain and Vision Bleak are scheduled to play, I realise that I simply won’t be able to make it as something explodes at work and I have to deal with it. Phil is also not able to make it before Friday – so, tough shit! There goes two of the bands we wanted to see.
Friday we are settling in at our brother-in-law’s place where we’re staying for the weekend, and we head for Studenterhuset. Upon our arrival, we realise that our favourite Chinese take-away place is closed! Bummer! Disaster!
So, you will appreciate that we’re off to a bad start for this year’s festival. But let’s see what happens.
It is never easy to hit the stage as first band of the day, with a reduced audience which often knows nothing about your music. Henrik does not care and growls like hell, while his buddies are not holding back either. The winner of the Wacken Metal Battle for Denmark, SUNLESS DAWN from Copenhagen deliver a blackish avant-garde death metal on acid, with atonal harmonies and several interesting ideas. They make diverse influences theirs: check out the track Sovereign, which they have made available online. [Phil]
RIVERS OF NIHIL from the States are neither black nor avant-garde, but they are certainly death metal and also on the technical side of the spectrum. They probably also smoke weed. I’ve been fairly impressed with their latest offering, ‘Monarchy’, a rock solid piece of technical death metal. Also this afternoon, the Pennsylvanians deliver a solid performance in front of a small, but approving crowd. For me, technical death metal is a double-edged sword. Whereas Phil is all for very complex music, I’m a simpler guy, and Rivers of Nihil are the least complex (and most comprehensible) of the veritable possé of technical death metal bands on this Friday, where we see more guitar and bass strings than on two normal Aalborg Metal Festivals combined. [Thomas]
It seems I have an annual rendezvous in Denmark with my distant cousins from the Québec province of Canada. In 2015, I had a dream day with Voivod : http://powerofmetal.dk/2015/11/a-day-with-voivod-aalborg-metal-festival/
This year, I am happy to meet the new generation: BEYOND CREATION from Montréal. As a big fan of this progressive death metal scene from La Belle Province since I discovered the band Augury in the early 2000s, I rushed on Beyond Creation’s The Aura (2011) and Earthborn Evolution (2014). My objectivity can be questioned there of course, so please go back to the review Rob Pociluk wrote two years ago, if you seek a second opinion : http://powerofmetal.dk/reviews14/beyond_creation_review.html
The question is: can these complex compositions work live, especially for people who do not know the band’s recordings. The answer is definitely yes, because these songs are fresh and fluid as they are technical and original, executed with passion and a communicative enthusiasm, and last but not the least, with a perfect sound. In order to give a groove to these advanced musical pieces, you need musicians playing in total symbiosis. It looks like it is almost easy for the quartet, but think about years of hard work to reach this level of excellency.
I am deeply in love with my Mayones Regius 7-strings left-handed guitar. But look at these Stranberg Boden 8-strings guitars and how Kevin and Simon play tapping on them. And what about Hugo’s Kiesel Vader bass : a pleasure for the eyes and for the ears.
Beyond Creation is not only four music prodigies. After spending two festival days with them, I can tell you that Kevin, Simon, Philippe and Hugo are a bunch of wonderful mad youngsters. Wish you the best: you really deserve it. [Phil]
And now…a band with regular guitars with only six strings! Danish death metal veterans and forerunners INIQUITY. The band was formed during the beginning of the nineties, and released three full-lengths plus demos, an EP and a single. This is Iniquity’s third or fourth reunion, it’s honestly a bit hard to keep track of, especially when you’re not a diehard fan. Martin Rosendahl, Brian Eriksen, drummer Jesper Frost and new bassist Mike Sabroe play a decent round of death metal (think Morbid Angel and lots of pinch harmonics), but it’s not with the same intensity as in this same venue in 2012. Frankly, Iniquity seem a bit rusty, perhaps too focused on getting it right, and consequently don’t manage to convince 100 %. A shame, that.
More strings! Technical death thrash metal outfit REVOCATION from Boston are also unknown to both Phil and myself. More accessible to me than Beyond Creation and some of the acts to come tonight, Revocation remind me more of Trivium than Death, although there are also those influences present. And unlike Iniquity, there’s certainly more self-confidence to detect with vocalist/guitarist David Davidson. Althought I’m at a loss when we he says ‘You all know this one’, some in the audience actually seem to do just that. Good show, good entertainment and energy, especially as Revocation is joined for one song by the singer of Rivers of Nihil, even if all of Revocation’s music doesn’t exactly hits home with me. [Thomas]
The more I listen to Akroasis, released a few months ago, the more I love it. All of OBSCURA’s discography is taylor-made for my taste: progressive death metal, with a sprinkle of jazz. They worship Chuck Schuldiner, which is absolutely normal if you are a person of good taste (please receive my full contempt if you disagree with that…): check out the tribute song Incarnated from Cosmogenesis (2009), which just kills live.
The German quartet from Landshut is as far as I am concerned the best heir-apparent of Death, Cynic or Atheist. But it is not, absolutely not a copycat: its compositions are unique and magnificent. I was desperate I had never seen them live… until today (look at the bright smile on my ugly face).
As for Beyond Creation, this genre demands musicians at the top of their art, all for one and one for all, in order to work live, beyond a simple demonstration of technique. Obscura faces the challenge with passion and virtuosity. Songs like Perpetual Infinity or The Anticosmic Overload are simply irresistible.
Sebastian Lanser is a drumming H-bomb. Rafael Trujillo is not so extroverted, but his fingers are literally dancing on the fretboard. Linus Klausenitzer, being one with his bass, seems to be the happiest man in the world. Steffen Kummerer, as humble as he is talented, is sincerely amazed by the enthusiasm of the audience. It is not just a show, but a progressive death metal communion.
I meet Steffen after the gig and it is a simple, but great pleasure to share some words with him. Vielen Dank und Servus, sehr geehrte Herren.
There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that ILLDISPOSED are top of my list among death metal bands. Their groove is unique and unequalled in my view – they have a special touch, which I’ve never found in any other band. Bo Summer is in a talkative mood, also tonight. He talks about being sober on stage, about being 45 and his intent to stay on until he turns 50, about him coming in third in the Danish electric boogey championships in 1984. Of course, there are also completely narly remarks like ‘We are Birmingham and we are from Aarhus,” obviously a nod, however non-sensical, to Napalm Death. As entertaining as Summer is, this is not the most intense Illdisposed concert I’ve witnessed. Something is missing in terms of energy, and I can’t quite determine what it is. The batteries don’t seem to be fully loaded or something. But, still, Illdisposed on 50 % batteries would still blow most bands right off stage, especially with songs like I Believe In Me, Still Sane, Weak Is Your God, Throw Your Bolts, Reversed (old school yes!) and Submit. [Thomas]
It hurts when you realise that one of your heroes is misplaced or simply slighty irrelevant in a certain setting. This is the general feeling tonight as Jeff Waters and ANNIHILATOR hit the stage. Annihilator are basically the main reason why I’m at the festival this year, having been a fan of the band since the release of ‘Alice In Hell’ in 1989. There’s been creative ups and downs throughout the years, but Waters with his massive talent as a guitarist has been a constant in the scene nonetheless and has created a string of real classics.
One of the low points of Annihilators career was definitely ‘Refresh the Demon’ from 1996, where Waters himself took on the vocal duties, and it was therefore with considerable concern that we learned some time ago that long-time singer Dave Padden had left and that the super guitarist had decided to sing again. ‘Suicide Society’ kind of calmed us down. The vocal performance was actually really ok! The gig at Wacken 2015 was also alright, although it does feel best to have a ‘real’ singer in front of Annihilator and Waters focusing on the instrument he’s best at.
Any singer can be faced with a cold and a sore throat. And that’s the case for Waters, and it’s been like that for a few days. Our man in Germany, Markus, hasn’t been able to interview Waters before their Cologne gig because of this cold. I can see from my position in the photo pit that the title track from the new album is the first song, but that’s not the case. Is it too hard for Waters to sing tonight? Bassist Rick Hincks actually takes over on a couple of songs, and, well, it’s not working out perfectly. But it’s not as if the setlist isn’t good. King of the Kill, Set the World on Fire, Stonewall, Synth Kill II, Alison Hell, Phantasmagoria, Second to None, Brain Dance with an alternative clean intro, there’s plenty of classic material to enjoy, and those of us who stay throughout the entire gig are more than thrilled by the concluding hammers Welcome to Your Death and Insecticide. The reason why I say ‘those of us who stay’ is that people actually begin to leave around mid-set. Most leave for the bar and karaoke outside, some have to catch the last bus or whatever, but fact is that this is certainly not a full house. Annihilator never have been big in Denmark, admittedly, and on a day of practially only technical death metal, I’m not sure this was the most relevant booking. So, all in all not the most impressive Annihilator experience I’ve had throughout the years – no matter how impeccable and tight Waters and his hired guns can play it!
So, the Friday of Aalborg Metal Festival was a real high for Phil, whereas I was slightly less impressed with the day. Still, Aalborg Metal Festival is a pleasant place to hang out, and the atmosphere is relaxed and nice. That’s always great. And, well, the metal karaoke is also a sight to behold…let’s see what tomorrow brings!
Saturday afternoon, and we’re ready for a programme where we know just about…none of the bands! Highly unusual situation. There’s usually at least one or two bands that either Phil or I know between us, but not today. Yes, we’ve heard Immortal in the past, but Abbath solo – never. And it’s not as if we’re big on black metal any of us, and this is certainly a black day.
Anyhoo, starting off in front of 30 people or so, Porto-Latvian outfit RELICSEED have the honour. They call themselves Porto-Latvian because the singer/guitarist and the bassist are Latvian and the drummer Portuguese. The trio play thrash metal, and in they partly do it well. Partly because the songs are bad, the guitar work is fine and the drumming is actually very good in a number of instances. The vocals, however, are not fortunate, and although the band and in particular singer Edgars come as across as very sympathetic, the overall impression is that this band needs a lot more live experience and a real singer. The bassist kind of lives in his own world, does his own wee dance and never once looks up at the audience. Eh? [Thomas]
The next singer on stage is also somewhat challenged. Although XAON from Switzerland come across as being much, much more professional and in your face, singer Rob has a real problem hitting the right key in the clean parts. Whether this is symphonic death metal as proclaimed, I’m not sure, but their attitude and vigour is admirable and infectious, and the music is indeed varied, which is always good. Still, this is a young band and there’s much to learn – but good show with lots of energy and lots of telling us how beautiful we are and how much we are loved by the band… [Thomas]
Speaking of beautiful. How can it not excite a metal fan to see a lovely maiden strap on the leather armour before venturing onto the stage? I’m not really a fan of the kind of power metal that UNLEASH THE ARCHERS plays, but, hell, Brittney Slayes and her merry men do everything right this evening. Full blast, guitars screaming, Brittney letting her high-pitched vocals resound all over Studenterhuset. Again, great entertainment, even if Phil and I are not loving the music. Quote Phil: ‘This has to become big in Germany!’ I believe he’s right. You might as well move there, guys and gals. [Thomas]
Enter the first of four black metal bands on this evening. ORM from Denmark were originally cloaked in mystique when they launched themselves. The four members came from other established metal bands, and what they introduced was a mixture of (post) black metal shoegaze with a twist. When candles in a Viking boat are put on the front of the stage, you know that this is not like the average metal concert. And this is special. Orm is like a cathartic drone. There are dual vocals by the two guitarists, forming an almost demonic tension. The bassist is centre stage, behind the candles. This is atmosphere as thick as marmite, dark as the soul of Satan himself. The music itself doesn’t resonate with Phil nor myself, but the atmosphere is hypnotising. This is special stuff and Orm are definitely on to something that could grow big. [Thomas]
Also aiming for the spectacular are Norwegian black metal outfit NORDJEVEL. This, unlike Orm, is just plain boring. After five minutes you get used to the extremely effectful corpse paint and contact lenses of the Norwegians, and then you realise that this is traditional black metal of the worst kind. Oh, and the singer looks like a combination of Santa Claus and the Emperor from Star Wars. Not interesting. Next, please! [Thomas]
It would seem that tonight, the Danish black metal bands are more interesting than the Norwegian ones. HORNED ALMIGHTY have been around for ages, but it’s the first time I manage to see (and hear) them play their black and roll. Not totally my cup of tea, certainly not, but much more interesting than Nordjevel because the rock and thrash element is more dominant, and singer S is a haunted figure and has absolutely nothing to do with neither Santa nor Emperor Palpatin. [Thomas]
TÝR form the Faroe Islands have had a weird tour. Because of front man Heri’s partaking in the annual killing of pilot whales in his native country, something that has been done there for centuries, animal wellfare activitists have tried to stop the band from playing throughout Europe. This, paradoxically, has created a wave of sympathy for the band here in Denmark. And the reception of the band is near-euphoric tonight. Having never listened to their music before, I’m of course open and ready, but the thing is that the atmosphere and mood at Studenterhuset is completely infectious. Everyone is loving Týr. I mean, Heri is not the new Geoff Tate, that’s for sure, and even if he’s completely out of key from time to time, it simply works. It’s good. It’s great. After almost two days with no amazing shows, this is a much sought for relief: finally a show where the entire house gives its all. I have no clue about the songs or anything, but I like folk metal, and, hey, now I like Týr! [Thomas]
I’m being told be someone in the photo pit that SIRENIA have played in front of very, very small crowds on this tour. Having done great things with Trisania in the past, composer/guitarist/singer Morten Veland is trying his luck with this new band, featuring French singer Emmanuelle. It could possibly be because of the previous experiences with small audiences that the band and Emanuelle in particular seem a trifle nervous and seem to be holding back their fire. The French woman has a beautiful voice and she looks like a million, so it’s kind of frustrating to watch. Let loose, goddammit!
Although this is not the biggest crowd of the festival, there are people in front of the stage, and eventually, it feels as if there is more self-confidence coming across the stage. Sirenia sound good, they really do, but they also have to if they want to make a living in a genre that is not as big as it was and where there are many rivals. [Thomas]
And tonight’s main attraction…ABBATH! I.e. more black metal. Look, the last time I encountered Immortal was in 1996. That was the last time I listened to their music. I had no particular need to do so again. And here we are, 20 years later, and Abbath plays a lot of Immortal material I have no clue about.
But, hey, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. There are extremely heavy parts in his music, and some of it even catchy. Will I be going the next time Abbath plays at a venue near me? Probably not. Is it entertaining to watch? Well, yeah, he’s got his crab walk, his Kiss tongue trick and he does his best to speak Danish, which becomes a bit annoying eventually, but, hey, the man’s first and foremost an entertainer. [Thomas]
This concludes the Aalborg Metal Festival that has had the probably least interesting programme ever. Big focus on technical death metal on the Friday, big focus on black metal on the Saturday. Not the most fortunate for me, but Phil was quite thrilled about the Friday. Good for him.
BUT as always, we have to thank all the all the volunteers who every year bring this festival to life. Always with a loud and clear sound, always a great and relaxed atmosphere where bands and audience hang out in the bar and around the merch stand. No matter what, this wee festival is always worth a visit – so you’ll most likely find us there again in 2017! See ya!