All Words and Photos : Adrian Hextall
Copenhell takes place on Refshaleøen in Copenhagen’s harbour. Copenhell is different. It is the only European rock and metal festival placed centrally in a big city. Whilst there are camping options for the die-hard fans out there, it’s as easy to get an apartment, Air BnB, hotel or similar and simply walk to the event each day. And the pièce de resistance? The festival grounds are on an old industrial site. This means the ground is solid, firm and mud free when it rains.
Copenhell first started in 2010, initially a two-stage affair, main stage Helviti and secondary stage Hades. We now get two more. One at the far end of the complex called Pandæmonium and one in a wooded area, called Gehenna. The four stages have never been needed more than they were for the 2022 festival which also expanded for the first time to a 4-day event. Hardly surprising when you realise just how many artists out there are desperate to play having spent so long being unable to tour. With a wealth of new material available from almost all of the artists over the four days and four stages, it was clear that we were going to be in for a treat.
Deciding who to watch was pretty easy. The stage management and timing of the artists allowed for both easy access to each of the four stages, with none of them being more than a 5–10-minute walk from each other (Helviti and secondary stage Hades are, as is the case with most Euro festivals, even closer to each other). The draw, other than the great weather, the location, the guarantee of no-mud and the quality Danish beer on tap, was of course the music. With rock and metal legends Metallica, KISS and Iron Maiden confirmed to headline along with home turf heroes D-A-D, this was a festival that promised lots and delivered in spades.
Both the main and secondary stage have concrete \ hard core groundwork in front of them but the big win for those wanting the true festival experience of simply being able to check in and chill out comes in the form of the huge grass bank behind the main standing area. You want to get down and dirty, covered in dust and mosh the night away in front of the stage? You got it. You want to crowd surf and travel over the heads of thousands of like-minded fans? That’s covered as well. You want to crash out on the bank with a perfect unobstructed view of the two main stages, drink beer and be happy, well that’s no problem either. We always knew our Scandinavian friends could handle life at a more relaxed pace but at Copenhell they made it look easy.
Wednesday June 15th opened up the festival and as we wandered around, our first encounter was with Los Angeles-based thrash, rap, skate punk crossover band Suicidal Tendencies. Mike Muir might be the only original member remaining, but he IS the face of the band and ST are one of those acts that never fails to deliver on a festival bill. The arena floor was already packed by the time they took to the stage and Muir, decked out in his familiar shorts, bandana and 13 numbered sports shirt, was met with an eager crowd ready to bounce. The guitar work delivered by both Ben Weinman and long-term member Dean Pleasants was second to none with Weinman making the most of the extended stage for some theatrics. The crowd responded in kind and before we knew it, a festival had begun.
A change of pace, style and stage came next in the shape of Vola. The Danish band provided our first opportunity to check out the Pandæmonium stage at the other end of the arena so with a swift detour to the bar to collect some Tuborg Gold (recommended) we settled down to listen to some finely crafted sonic tapestries from the progressive rock outfit.
Vola’s music combines the typical sounds of progressive metal and electronic music but then they reinterpret everything and experiment with unusual time signatures. It’s a neat trick to keep you focussed and, like owning the best sound system at home, if you place yourself equidistant between all of the speakers in use during their set, the sonics wash over you and transport you into this imaginary place of wonder. Imagine listening to Pink Floyd without taking acid yet still ending up on the most multi-coloured of trips. That’s Vola for you.
Back up by the main stages, Helviti then delivered a wonderful set from another festival favourite, Ugly Kid Joe. They may hate everything about us, but they never show it on stage and ever the consummate professionals, they delivered a set of stone-cold classics with just enough hooks to put smiles on everyone’s faces on and off the bank. The Californians are another band that know how to play in the sun, none of these dark dingy dirt filled venues for them. Sun, sea, concrete dust and Whitfield Crane leading the audience on a merry dance as the band charged through ‘Neighbor’, ‘Jesus Rode A Harley’ and for the ultimate singalong for those on the bank, the classic Harry Chapin cover, ‘Cat’s In The Cradle’. A sad song it might be but when you’ve got thousands of people singing it back to the stage, well the atmosphere will raise the hairs on the arms of the toughest of people. Yes, Nordic Viking type, it’s OK to wipe a tear from the eye, I saw you, you saw me, we know… it’s OK!
With everyone having a hug, sharing the love and blaming the dust in their eyes from the concrete covered arena, it fell to Danish rockers Dizzy Miss Lizzy to bring us all back into check. The alt rockers graced the main stage and drew a sizable crowd and proved that it pays to travel when it comes to festivals. There were a significant number of local acts on the bill, playing in positions that wouldn’t necessary be afforded to them outside of the Scandinavian territories. The opportunity to see, for example, what a headline set from D-A-D would look like was still a couple of days away but on the first of the four days in Refshaleøen, DML gave it their all. Their particular stage stylings didn’t necessarily re-write any of the rulebooks, but their music gave us all pause for though as it was certainly different to anything else experienced on the Wednesday.
Moving back into familiar territory, the new look Gloryhammer is currently doing the rounds of all of the European festivals and rightly so. You may well dismiss them as a parody of the power metal genre they send up but when they are on form, and trust me, in Denmark they were, then they put on a show every bit as entertaining as that from Rhapsody, Stratovarius and more. Sozos Michael makes for a fine Angus McFife and the stage props including the fabled Gloryhammer all made an appearance much to the delight of the fans and as such, the set went down a storm. Crowd surfers were pulled from the crowd although not in the volumes that would be seen when Christopher Bowes other band, Alestorm took to the stage later in the week.
With other home-grown bands playing on the outer stages, both before and after the headliners, as Gloryhammer departed, the stage setup changed to welcome U.S. juggernaut, Metallica.
When they arrived on stage, the U.S. thrash titans received what felt like a hero’s welcome. The set list catered for everyone’s tastes in their catalogue. Sensibly and to keep their hard-core fans happy, they swiftly got ‘Enter Sandman’ out of the way early on before rolling through many of the band’s classics. In all honesty, whilst the hits were played with ‘Damage, Inc.’, ‘One’, and ‘Master of Puppets’ closing the show, the latter being played as a finale for the first time since 1997, Metallica looked tired. James Hetfield looked visibly drained, and it was hard not to feel for him as he gave it his all during the show. They’re nothing if not fighters as the numerous documentaries have proven but perhaps an extended break is now necessary.
Thursday June 16th saw us return refreshed from our hotel with a hot shower and a good breakfast the order of the day. Feeling comfortable with the site layout, the R.I.P. section, where the press tent was also housed, provided ample opportunity to sample the Danish beers once more as well some coffee \ liquorice flavoured shots called ‘Skull’ The shots were like drinking a fine alcohol fuelled desert and stupidly I forgot to work out what it actually contained. If you know… call me!
The day of music kicked off with Canada’s Deadly Apples. The industrial outfit it has to be said blew me away, proving beyond doubt that you MUST see the early bands on a festival bill to ensure that you catch one of the next big names before they have ascended. Deadly Apples took no prisoners, dominated the stage and with vocalist Alex Martel even crowd surfing during their last number much to the delight of the many who had come to the Pandæmonium stage early in the day.
Over in the woods, Danish metalcore outfit Ivy Crown made short work of their packed chip bark covered arena. The all-female band (noteworthy for being one of the few all-female bands playing as opposed to just female fronted) started out as a punk outfit before settling on their current style and direction. They’ve retained some of the punk stylings of their formative years and when mixed with the more modern sound of metalcore, Ivy Crown offer a fresh unique approach to music. Clean vocals, harsh vocals, energised harmonies, and melodies a plenty, there was something for everyone and it was lapped up by the highly mixed crowd.
A spot of lunch, courtesy of a whole pig’s head… yes you read that right (see the photo in the review gallery), a Tuborg top up with a Skull chaser and before we know it, the main stage is playing host to nu-metal Godfathers, Korn.
The Bakersfield outfit are one of those rare outfits that have managed to ride the winds of change and retain most of its members whilst remaining wholly relevant in the current music scene.
A snippet of Metallica’s ‘One’ as the outro to ‘Shoots and Ladders’ was a neat touch as was their performance of ‘Freak on a Leash’. Jonathan Davis vocals and front man persona never fail to win over a crowd and at Copenhell the audience lapped up everything he had to offer including his stint on the bagpipes which I’d heard about but never actually witnessed before.
The day continued with solid set from Knocked Loose and Opeth. We also witnessed Blood Incantation (if someone can show me the name in their logo there’s £50 waiting for you because I’m buggered if I can see it) deliver some death metal with more than a little psychedelic twist to it. Extra points awarded for giving the genre a righteous kick up the tailpipe as this was something else.
One of the main and best sets of the day, unsurprisingly, belonged to Judas Priest who, like a fine wine, get better with age. It helps of course having the youth and energy of Richie Faulkner and Andy Sneap either side of Rob Halford who prowled the stage like a lion surveying his territory in the African plains. Halford’s approach and mere presence on stage adds another dimension to the band who can still teach the youngsters a thing or two. They played, of course, a mixture of hits old and new, delivering a performance worthy of the main headline slot of the evening. That there were more bands to play before KISS appeared simply proved beyond doubt the strength of this year’s line-up.
Destruction gave us a solid hour of thrash and reminded us once more just why fans have steadfastly stuck with them over the years. And then, pushing all of the recent controversy behind him and simply getting down to business Phil Anselmo and Down turned in a heavy set that left the ears ringing before we settled in for what was billed as the last ever KISS show in Denmark.
If this truly is the glam rock outfit’s final tour and set of shows (and I hope it is so that they can bow out in style) then what a way to go. The fire and the flames were out in abundance as one might expect from a KISS show and rightly so. KISS cannot simply turn up and state “This is our last ever show in Denmark” without making it memorable. If you’ve seen them in the last decade or so, you’ll know what to expect song wise but ‘The Show’ will never be beaten.
Drum risers, exploding guitars, fire breathing, blood gargling, moving platforms and of course the zip line across the crowd to a platform above the mixer which Paul Stanley employed for the most excellent rendition of ‘Love Gun’.
Stunning, breath-taking, emotional, and more. Whatever your views on KISS, loved by many, derided by many as well, there could be no denying that they were the worthiest of headliners. Friday would have its work cut out to follow this.
Friday June 17th and a quick potted recap, hotel, shower, breakfast, Refshaleøen, R.I.P. area, bar, Tuborg, Skull, and we were ready to face day three of Copenhell.
If Friday thought it would be a tall order to deliver the goods in the same way as Thursday had so successfully done, then it needn’t have feared. One of my all-time favourite bands opened up the day for me and that was Bad Religion. I could wax lyrical about the So-Cal outfit and utilise the full space available for the festival review but let’s just say that Bad Religion delivered a masterclass in just how to play an afternoon festival set. Bad Religion came on, played their hearts out, reenergised the whole festival site and then left as quickly as they had arrived. Who could ask for more?
A wander round the festival site, some chill out time and then an hour or so later, the P.A.R.T.Y. PIRATES Alestorm took to the stage. As they seem to have been able to do over the last few festivals they’ve played, they always challenge the crowd to break the record (that they had previously set) for the number of crowd surfers. Copenhell was no different. The gauntlet was thrown down, the challenge accepted, and a wave of surfers started to drift over the sea of people beneath them, all of whom were willing to lend a hand as the record books looked set to be broken once again.
As ever, Alestorm continue to impress. What started out as pirate themed metal has morphed into one of the greatest festival bands on the circuit today. The humour might overshadow the skill sometimes but there ain’t no party like an Alestorm party and their set will, as always, go down as one of the best over the four days.
With Agnostic Front and Baest keeping the metal flag flying high, Thundermother delivered a great slice of hard rock down at Pandæmonium. They’ve undergone a few line-up changes over the years, but every album seems to come back stronger. Another one to watch. Back at Hades, absolutely the appropriate stage for Emperor, the Norwegian black metal masters turned down lights, added the fog and reminded us just what made the black metal scene feel so dangerous when it first sprang to life.
Friday night belonged though, to local heroes D-A-D. The reception to the band from the press tent was mixed, mainly because the majority of press members were also local, had seen the band multiple times before and this was ‘nothing more than we expect’. Contrast that with my view of their set. When D-A-D come to the UK, the reception from the fans they have is every bit as energised as they get back home in Denmark. The difference is numbers. The band played with a full stage set to resemble a travelling circus in front of over 30,000 people. In the UK, the same band plays to 750-1000 at a time at the most in a venue designed to hold the same number. Having followed the band since they released ‘No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims’, to see them play in front of so many, and present the show they could never bring to the UK, was an absolute joy. This is why we travel; this is why variety is key and this is why you’ll miss out if you only ever attend local shows for local people. See the world, experience life, and see the best bands in their own native environment at their very best.
Needless to say, ‘Sleeping My Day Away’ stole the show. A clichéd choice but the right one, nonetheless.
Saturday June 18th soon came around and whilst I was still buzzing from the night before, we were blessed, following sleep, shower, breakfast, Tuborg and Skull, with Soren Anderson providing the perfect hangover cure with some beautiful instrumental guitar work. Artillery followed for those that wanted a bit of grit in their coffee but the first truly kick-ass set of the afternoon belonged to The Raven Age. I remember covering the band early in their career at The Underworld in London and being duly impressed. Line up changes have followed but what remains is a lean, mean, rock n roll machine and Copenhell was a better place for it during their solid set.
Thunder took to the second stage and did what Thunder do and played an hour of flawless classic rock. They came, they saw, they played, Danny Bowes oozed effortless charm to a Danish crowd who loved every minute and then they were gone.
From the old to the new, over on Gehenna, Junkyard Drive showed us what the next generation of rock music will sound like and to these ears, the future looks very healthy indeed, despite what Gene Simmons might have to say about it. Another Danish act that deserves to be heard around the world, the talented outfit have everything going for them and more. Another band to watch out for if you can.
The same can be said for The Hellacopters. They might have been around since the mid-1990s but the opportunity to see the Swedish band has been few and far between. Thankfully a reformed and revitalised band were at Copenhell in support of new album ‘Eyes of Oblivion’. Poor Dregen was wearing a medical boot because of damage sustained on his leg, but it didn’t stop the band that had given us ‘Supershitty to the Max!’ over 20 years ago, playing their hearts out for a rapid and eager crowd. I’m hoping (if they read this) that a UK tour will be forthcoming.
Next up for us, Ukraine’s global ambassadors, Jinjer who, unsurprisingly got one of the biggest receptions of the day. With a little background on the current state of play in their home country and a sea of blue and yellow, specially printed, t-shirts adorning many of the crowd members in support, Jinjer were never going to fail. Tatiana Shmailyuk’s voice is a work of art, and her range is a miracle that needs to be heard live to be believed. They are and will be future festival headliners, I am sure.
With Mastodon warming up the main stage in advance of the headliners, we took a look at the Copenhell-Con side of the festival. Imagine if you would, going to Comic-Con but it was hosted inside a heavy metal festival. Well yes, that basically. There were old stand-up arcade cabinets with classic games like Street Fighter II being played. Talks, collectables and more as well as an Imperial garrison flanking an ominous Darth Vader could all be seen and added a neat twist to the typical rock and metal festival.
The final main stage headliner was Iron Maiden. The British metal legends occupy that rarest of spaces around the world in that they are as big in Denmark as they are in Japan, Australia, Brazil, the US and more. Even if you don’t like them, you’ve heard of Iron Maiden. They are truly a household name and that takes some doing. Their musical style has changed somewhat over the last couple of albums, with both ‘The Book of Souls’ and ‘Senjutsu’ taking a more progressive stance but the music, the basslines, the guitar work, the drumming and of course Mr Dickinson’s voice, all come together to make the music undeniably Maiden.
Their set, on their ‘Legacy of the Beast’ world tour ensured that the new mixed with a significant slice of the old. Fans would be hard pushed to complain about anything on offer. The stage set and Samurai Eddie all looked great but during the encore, the introduction of a Spitfire flying over the heads of the band, just dropped not only the icing on the cake but the cherry on top as well. Dickinson sound better than he has done for years, and Maiden clearly have a significant amount of mileage in the tank yet.
To wrap up Copenhell, if it was held in the UK, then Iron Maiden would have been the final band of the day. However, this is Europe and over the channel, the party doesn’t stop when the main band has done. Thankfully for us, that meant a set from another classic Danish act, Mercyful Fate. If ever there was an example of where the past becomes the future, then this was it. The band sounded amazing. King Diamond sounds as good as ever and let’s face it, no one else can sing like he does. They have multiple festival slots this summer, go and see what an amazing show should be like.
Thank you Copenhell for doing this right. This is how a festival should be. The music, the vibe, the look, the lack of mud (although the dust more than made up for the lack of mud) and just the general chill factor from the happy go lucky Danes made this a weekend to remember.
How they can top this in 2023, I have no idea, but I cannot wait!