All photos by Al Case
Being one of the few major European loud music events located basically at the city center, Copenhell is situated in a historic metal industry area, Refshaleøen, which is estimated to become a home for 23,000 metal fans for three days packed with some of the strongest names in the industry.
There are many ways leading to the Hell from Aarhus, but one thing is for sure – no matter which route you choose, Copenhell already begins way before reaching the festival site, let it be the festival bus collecting loud music fans from Denmark’s main cities, or a ferry packed with people wearing the must-have metal attire (patched leather jackets, heavy boots, band t-shirts), mostly guys, of course, sitting down at the bistro with the regular folks trying really hard not to stare at this beautifully outrageous pack while sipping their morning juice.
I myself managed to get myself into a hellish fever, literally, right before the festival, however, there was no way I would be missing Denmark’s metal event of the year, so I had no other option but to man up, pack as much rain proof items as I could and hope for the best (or at least that our tent wouldn’t drown the very first night which in fact did happen, but let’s get to the important part now).
Thursday’s one-day tickets were sold out first, which is not surprising considering the scope of powerful acts opening hell’s gates: the reunited and highly anticipated System of a Down, UK’s leading metalcore act Architects, freshly formed yet already hyped Americans Prophets of Rage, classical must-sees In Flames, Saxon and Ministry as well as the very likeable Copenhell freshmen Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and one of the most legendary Danish metal bands Invocator.
It was a shame that the festival’s kick-off act Devildriver did not deliver to the extent they sound on the records, most likely not because of the band itself, but a rather poor sound arrangement, especially as it came to lower frequencies and prominence of the rhythmic guitar. The following performance on the Helvíti stage – In Flames – washed the after-taste down with a sweet mixture of their signature style of a little bit of everything they have produced throughout the years – from powerful, heavy and dynamic, to melodic, melancholic and downright sentimental.
Everytime I Die’s heartfelt energetic explosion in pure daylight (by the way, the vocalist Sam Carter of Architects was filling in for Keith Buckley in his absence and was wearing a Mayhem tank top, which I found to be a very nice gesture of open-mindedness for a metalcore act). The presence of hardcore bands in Copenhell provides a refreshing break from old-school heavy rock and metal and is likely more appealing to the generation (myself included) that might have missed out on the good old days of the classics, yet happen to be in the same sort of need for a powerful, unifying and outrageous creative edge.
PROPHETS OF RAGE, carrying a personal legacy of such politically oriented powerhouses as Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, seemingly did their best in conducting a little riot on the main stage in order to potentially “unfuck the world” with their own and Rage Against the Machine cover capacities, and the crowd was loving it too. You know, political criticism while wearing a keffiyeh and rap metal kind of riot.
A while after, System of a Down delivered their all-time-favourite-the-best-of performance, which appeared to have an extra layer of nihilism in the context of both their recent reunion and current political climate that somehow makes classics with a political message regain their relevance. The latter was bitterly exclaimed by Serj Tankian during the heat of performance to the tightly packed crowd: “whatever you’re doing here, <presumably in Denmark or Europe> spread it to the fucking planet ’cause we need it”. Powerful message, however, the universal faults of society they might have in mind were within the hand’s reach already passing through the festival gates, where one of the guards was shouting at a homeless person for trying to pick some empty bottles out of a container which was technically not on the festival site.
When you’re one of the first people in the line waiting for Architects meanwhile System of a Down are still playing on the next stage, chances are, you’re in a pretty good event. The performance was meticulously polished yet seemingly effortless, the crowd went completely crazy in an all-swiping moshpit, masterfully conducted by Sam Carter and Adam Christianson – the heart and the soul of the band. However, the band did not get to finish their setlist, since the sound systems burned down, supposedly because of the heavy rain. And hell knows they tried. Over and over again, increasingly frustrated after each session of unsuccessful attempts, while professionally managing to keep the action going by cracking some jokes, provoking ovations or making a stage-hand scream as hard as he could to the cheering crowd. Finally, they had to give up, saying their last goodbyes with no working microphone available to the fans soaked in the rain.
After the headlining performances, the festival gates were flooding with water and people, and the lack of openings made everyone stand in pouring rain more than necessary. Which brings us to, in my opinion, the biggest issue of the event – the festival site closing for the night at 2 am, leaving unhappy campers without a decent shelter from the rain – let alone an afterparty – trying to get to their tents or the city as rapidly as possible after all day partying. Lack of staff at the entrance, resulting in large cues, uninformed and a bit uncoordinated volunteers, lack of information about available transportation which might be confusing to non-locals, adds up to a set of some of the unpleasant experiences one is likely to face during the festival.
Anyhow, at the end of the day it’s all about music which makes one forget all the inner and outer discomfort and feel a part of, as Powerwolf put it, friendly and peaceful heavy metal army. Your boots might be wet, but your spirit, along with thousands of others, is lifted and carried away by the most powerful music in the world.