The KILLTOWN 2012 Experience
Story online since: 07.09.2012 / 19:46:36
The past few years, the end of the summer in our region (southern Sweden) has, among other things, meant hearing echoes of a new underground festival right across the Öresund strait; an old-school death metal event with beckoning and alluring line-ups going beyond what most Deathfests around Europe manage to pull off. When the bill for this year's KILL-TOWN DEATHFEST, the third in order, was announced, the organizers managed to establish the festival even further as one of the annual metal highlights in the whole of Scandinavia, delving deep both in the new and old warriors of the mainly north European underground scene. Working within the underground, for the underground, systematically shunning the commercial, corporate sides of extreme metal to create a channel for more obscure bands to be revealed, the relative lack of "avant-garde" in the line-up was hardly an obstacle for us to decide to cover it. Said and done, we (Andreas "aVoid" writing most of this text except as noted, and Åsa "Septikemi" taking all the photos and writing some texts) jumped on the train with some other Malmöites to Copenhagen for a 3 day fix of obscure death and doom metal culture, "as it should be".
Some background is needed here, I feel: Copenhagen as a city have a long standing tradition of organized sub/counter cultures. Most known is the freetown Christiana, the commune mostly known for it's separate drug regulations. Another phenomena is the autonomous youth houses; self-controlled associations organizing cultural events and stuff without the involvement of any authorities. When the old youth house in Copenhagen was forcibly shut down a few years ago, it led to wide-spread riots across the city. The KILL-TOWN DEATHFEST is held at the new youth house at Dortheavej 61, and is organized by the association "Undergrundmusikkens Fremme" – the promotion of underground music, who are "structured around the principles of base-democracy, with no leadership and participatory democracy around weekly meetings" (quote from the festival programme). Centered around traditional DIY ethics, the festival is run without sponsorship or any kind of monetary gain, for the purpose of spreading underground (death metal) culture. Not that I can imagine a huge cash-flow into an underground death metal festival, but the passion and idealism behind the festival aren't just pretty words in a pamphlet lending an air of policital correctness, but a mindset that reflects right into the very soul and atmosphere of the event. Performers, organizers, volunteers and audience are all on the same level, without any clear hierarchies, all united for the passion of underground music. And what's not to support in that?
So the festival has this year been expanded into a four-day event, spanning from 30th August to 2nd September: a Thursday warm-up party with four acts at the venue Loppen in aforementioned Christiania which we unfortunately missed due to work obligations, the two main nights of pure death metal, and the most recent addition of the Gloomy Sunday event, dedicated to extreme doom metal (an appendix to the Heavy Days In Doom-Town sister festival). The following chronicle is written chronologically; all reviews by aVoid except as noted. Here we go.
Leaving Malmö right after lunch on Friday, we reached the hostel at check-in time at 14.00. The hostel was located only a few stone's throws from the Central station (where you can, to my surprise, buy bestiality porn DVDs in a film shop – Denmark is a pretty damn liberal country in many aspects!). The bus ride out to Norrebro, where the festival is held, took about 20 minutes. Very convenient. We arrived at the festival about an hour before it actually opened, but we could still go in to the main area, which was an atrium lodged between the two main buildings of the youth center, and a public library right next door. As a librarian I had to check it out, and it seemed nice. The atrium held a corridor of various death metal distros and band merchandise where to spend cash, a food stall (all food vegan, and unfortunately pretty dry and tasteless), and a bar selling liquor and cupcakes (that were great). The festival was divided into the two separate buildings: the main stage where all concerts were held, and Dödsmaskinen ("the death machine") with a bar, DJ, and movie projector. The film club VIRUS BIO was in charge of the cinematic experience, showing obscure and bizarre horror/exploitation flicks from the 70's and 80's. Only managed to see "Black Magic" (Hong Kong, 1975), but that was weird enough to last the whole weekend. Dödsmaskinen also showcased the French semi-improvised doom duo CHAOS ECHOES, who performed their sets of extreme metal deconstruction in between the movies. More on them later.
Two ugly Swedes. Yours truly to the right, a misplaced gore grind fanatic to the left.
The festival was kicked off by the French death metal squadron RITUALIZATION, whom I've never heard before. Two demos and a split out, so perhaps not that strange they opened the fest. Without any hesitation they assaulted the gathering crowd with their take on the death and black metal you would find on Osmose Records releases in the 90's; a tight as hell flurry of blastbeats and throat-shredding aggression akin to acts like ANGELCORPSE and MARDUK. The singer stared at the crowd like a possessed maniac toad, and hell if their drummer wasn't the tightest and most detailed on the whole festival. Being the first band at a festival is always an ungrateful job since most people haven't even showed up when you've finished your much too short set, but at KTDF it was apparent that people were there because of love for the music rather than only seeing their favourite/the most hip band of the evening. RITUALIZATION didn't have to work that hard to get the audience going, despite their miniscule backlog. Besides a few issues with the kick drums, the sound was unusually good and well-balanced for an event like this, which can be said for the whole festival – how often can you actually hear what everybody on stage does? A grand way to energize the festival this early on, leaving a smile on many faces (which probably wasn't the point at all).
Next up were CHURCH BIZARRE, a Danish legion who've been churning out black thrash attacks for a decade now. Another band that I was ignorant of besides knowing their name, but unfortunately far from the amazing first impression that the previous act offered. It was clear that these guys are local, gathering quite a crowd, but somehow it all passed me by. The festival guide mentioned something about "Viking" feel about them, and sure, you could definitely hear both influences from later BATHORY and slower DISSECTION pieces. Too much mid-pace songs, not tight enough as a band, just not interesting or catchy enough; I'll pass. Interesting to see how small details make all the different: you can work from the exact same patterns and principles as the greatest bands on earth, but without the same song writing skills, it just falls flat.
One booking slightly off the grid of the festival's focus on new old-school death metal were the Czech long-runners FLESHLESS, currently on tour with MASTER. It's weird how even within a genre like death metal, the small sub-genres seem so far away from each other; FLESHLESS belonging to the central European school of brutal grinding death metal, with guttural pig squeals and slams and everything. Our friend Johan who came along with us is mainly into these Czech goregrinding bands (well, he's into JIG-AI, period, a constant source of ridicule from his surroundings), and he was beaming with joy after this set. Can't say that they left any permanent impression on me, however it was refreshing with a band breaking the mold a bit, rather than riding the crest of the (no longer that) new old-school hype. FLESHLESS had a charming akwardness to them; melodic sections that didn't really fit, a lack of heaviness because they didn't have any bassist, and a vocalist jumping around being way too happy to be appropriate. The audience wasn't as firmly into this – at 19.30, FLESHLESS got stuck in a kind of limbo, where the major part of the crowd was more into getting drunk and enjoying the last daylight before the main acts were due. A fresh waft of the putrid air of the central European deathfests that I'm more used to.
FLESHLESS having a good time with some moshers.
After the departure of the sun this late summer evening, the crowd begins to grow denser in front of the Kill-Town stage. It is time for Finland's CORPSESSED to enter, and to show that the emphasis really should be on "death" when playing death metal. On their EP's (they have released two excellent ones so far) they have managed to create a uttermost dense and brutal sound, and to my delight they are able to re-produce this on stage as well. When the first invoking chord is drawn, the audience is drawn into the steamy maelstrom, and are served goodies off the EP The Dagger & the Chalice, as well as a promising new track. As dark and chaotic as it may sound, the instruments are still surprisingly distinguishable. Niko Matilainen sings as dark and guttural as naturally possible, while he looks as if he is slightly possessed by something evil and ready to obliterate the whole world, (the blood running down his forhead does not exacly milden this impression). With their laid-back appearance, dressed in t-shirt and sneakers, CORSPESSED proves that you don't need leather and spikes to unleash hell.
INTERMENT is one of these old Stockholm death metal bands that came along in the early nineties, but didn't really hit it big; after releasing three demos they lay low for a eight or so years, reuniting in 2002 and then returning properly a few years ago, when the stars were again right for the classic buzzsaw guitars and punky d-beat aggression that NIHILIST/ENTOMBED and all those wrote into the Swedish metal legacy. The question that arose during INTERMENT's set is simply whether this is necromancy, channeling the powers of olden spirits into current strengths, or simply necrophilia? However awkward it might seem with guys in their 40's playing songs from the demos they wrote in their teens that are now so clichéed that it becomes embarassing (who calls a song "Morbid Death"?), these guys pulled of a pretty damn good show. Of course, they sound exactly like every band from that era or trying to replicate it, and at times I could lead their riffs right into whatever chorus by DEATH BREATH. They didn't appear to confident of themselves on stage, but seemed glad enough to be there. And I've never witnessed such an accurate resuscitation of the classic Stockholm guitar sound on stage before. First proper mosh pit on the festival, which says at least something: all in all, they did well, but not great. Standard Swedish death metal, the original version.
MASTER and the beard.
Somehow, I have a lot more respect for bands that keep on toiling away, touring and releasing albums even without proper recognition, rather than happily returning when the stars are right. And if there is one band that that has worked their ass off since day one without ever hitting it big, it's MASTER. Led by the US expatriate Paul Speckman, now based in the Czech republic, MASTER can truly be described as legendary even in the original, pre-Florida death metal scene, going strong since 1983 and constantly warring on ever since. 11 albums, more than half released in the past decade. And from the looks of it, Speckman – the death metal equivalent of Lemmy – have no plans of slowing down. At 49, he's old enough to be the father of most of the crowd, but he still sits and sell merchandise before the gig, still eager to hang out with the audience and be an instrumental part of the death metal scene. His resumé would excuse most kinds of aloof and crowd-shunning rockstar behaviour, but this guy has lived the death metal underground since many of us weren't even born, and he still has more energy on stage than ten demo bands put together. That demands respect. Honestly, I haven't really listened that much to MASTER, besides some of their early albums, but their straight-forward thrashy old-school death metal is hard to enjoy without your neck starting to move along; like BOLT THROWER, it's just down-right good enjoyable music, even if it doesn't catch on or make that much difference. Working class death metal. We have a saying in Swedish – gammal är äldst - that translates to "old is the oldest", and with MASTER, it could hardly be more true.
NECROCURSE spreading evil & chaos.
Somewhat of an "all-star" band, the Swedes in NECROCURSE were completely unknown to me. Lead by Hellbutcher from NIFELHEIM (backed up by members from Runemagick, Swordmaster, Masticator etc), NECROCURSE whipped out a whirlwind of black thrash death etc aggression. The vocalist was like a Tasmanian devil dressed up like SARCOFAGO, scurrying around the stage like a madman; raw as hell and completely over the top, just like in NIFELHEIM. I have to admit that the cheap beer and GT drinks (2 euro!) were getting to me at this point, so my notes scribbled down in the darkness of the venue are somewhat incomprehensible, as is my memory. But they ended the set with a cover of SODOM's "Blasphemer"; the icing on a very tasty cake of putrescent grave violation and inverted cross masturbation in the fullmoonlight (really, the plenilune did loom malevolenty upon the gathered masses). Have you heard it before? Yep. Does that matter? Not really. A great metal riff is a great metal riff is a great metal riff, period, and a great frontman is, well you get my point. Hellfire attack!
UNDEAD CREEP from Italy ended this first night, but at this point we felt obliged to go back to the hostel and get some sleep. The two songs I cought were OK-ish, but seemed without any apparent ambition to go elsewhere. Fine for them, but I'm not really interested. Standard Swedish death metal, the unoriginal version, from Italy.
Venue from above. Not seen: 300.000 patches.
One thing that should be mentioned here is the uniformity of the crowd. Crusties and metalheads alike; worn tight jeans and the exact correct amount of death/black/doom/sludge patches. Metal festivals usually attract a number of "ordinary" looking people (commoners, mainstreamers, whatever) and at least a couple of goths or whatever they call themselves, corsets and funny-looking make-up etc, but the number of visitors lacking the correct subcultural insignia was down to a handful; even the people working there looked like die-hards. Interesting, and kind of comforting; not that there is any reason to judge the passion for the music based on clothing and paraphernalia, but you get the feeling that the audience is indeed there for the music, and we're in it together. Companionship rather than "who's toughest/got the most obscure merch"-competitions (the guy with REENCARNACION back print on his leather jacket wins). Also interesting to note is the complete lack of females on stage; despite all the talk about everyone being welcome, anti-sexism etc, the festival billing was a complete sausage fest. That invisible "dudes only" sign by the stage ought to be taken down.
After a two-hour breakfast at the hostel and some sightseeing (mainly to a DVD store that at least sold urine party videos), we headed back to the festival. Upon our arrival it seemed that we were all equally hung over; a friendly and slightly tired atmosphere permeated the venue. Perfect mood for a cold beer and a weird Hong Kong movie about a black magician with a penchant for breast milk. (You might notice that my reviews from now grows a lot shorter; I blame the 2€ beer for that!)
At five o'clock, it was time for the second Danish act on the festival, PUSTULATION. Their black/death metal primitivism recalled of early HAVOHEJ/PROFANATICA and BEHERIT; an intensly evil atmosphere grinding its way into our heads. Filthy as hell, simplistic, slow and menacing, with skull pounding Lovecraftean undertones. Need to find out more from these evildoers – which shouldn't be so hard since they've only released one demo and one split LP.
"Copenhagen, can you handle some doom!?" asks Norway's sole Kill-Town representatives EXECRATION, just before setting off the over 10 minutes long A Crutch For Consolation off of their previous full-length, Odes of the Occult. It is around half-way into the concert, and even though the smelly armpits of the crowd tells us that we are in a quite primitive state, the band has just showed that it is possible to put "sophisticated" and "death metal" in the same sentence. Standing with one foot in the "old school" pit and the other in a more experimental direction, the sound is impressingly consistent with what we have heard on album, much thanks to how tight the band actually plays. The two vocalists/guitarists complement each other, varying between guttural growls to tormented screams, while the guitars produce an ice-cold sound. There is a pulsating groove throughout the concert coming from both the bass and the the hard-beaten drums, and it more or less becomes to be impossible not to be entrained and just enjoy the ride. When they finally play Ode to Obscurity, there is nothing left to do than surrender.
As MAVETH gets ready, the first candles are lit on the Kill-Town stage, and a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka is conveniently placed at arm's length for one or more of the members. There are many Finnish delegates on the line-up this year, and they all contribute to re-define the meaning of darkness. MAVETH is no exception, which they proove as soon as their black-infused death metal is elicited. Apart from playing songs off their previous demo/EP/complication, such as the catchy "Of Serpent and Shadow", we get to hear some new tunes that will be released on their upcoming full-length Coils of the Black Earth. However, there seem to be a cable loose on one of the guitars since the sound flickers now and than, which is a little bit of a pity. Otherwise, the sound is brutal and dense, and the double-base drumming patter on so intensly that it almost gets hypnotizing. MAVETH is not for the weak.
Somehow, the two Italian bands at KTDF 2012 turned out to be the least interesting acts. Despite a great (and inexplicable) band name, VOIDS OF VOMIT didn't appeal to me at all. Half the band looked out of place and not into it at all, as if they were only just learning the songs and not at all ready to take the stage. How well wishing you might be, that just brings the impression of a performance way down; especially when the energetic singer looks like the opposite of the half-asleep guitarist. They just weren't tight enough a unit, and lacked the proper song material. Swedes did enough death metal in the early 90's, so there isn't really room for a bunch of Italians to rehash the same kind of music over again.
German NECROS CHRISTOS are doing quite well these days; their recent "Doom of the Occult" album has received heeps of praise. Too bad I've mixed them up with NECROMANTIA, and hence never bothered to look them up. These occultists attracted quite a crowd as the main event this night. Their slow-paced, heavy as hell death metal, working with the same monumental force as do IMMOLATION and Tucker-era MORBID ANGEL, turned the audience into a pulsating organism, swaying back and forth in some kind of amorphic moshpit surge driven by winds from the below. Everyone was into it, flowing in the currents channeled by the foursome uniformally clad in what looked like shirts worn at a Thai funeral. They have LAVA in their songs, welling up from below. Highly evocative. Besides the out-of-place looking bass player, it's difficult to comprehend exactly what makes a performance that menacing, even though they hardly moved on stage, while others fall flatly. Ambitious near pretentious, but it works. One of the highlights, even though my fellow travellers got nothing from it, surprisingly.
SADISTIC INTENT, the only proper US band on KTDF, and the most metal-dressed – leather a way of life! - are like MASTER serious long runners in the death metal scene. Unlike Speckman & co, they have merely 7 Eps to show for it, and no proper release the past decade. More of a cult act, then. The crowd, still weary from the strides of NECROS CHRISTOS, was hungry as hell for this gig, and they surely got what they wanted – a full-blown death thrash assault as if there were no tomorrow. As one colleague described it, "a combination of Altars of Madness and Hell Awaits", not far from the truth at all. They slayed, even though the ultra-low sound of the second guitar weakened the many solo sections. A slight imperfection.
Our compatriots in VERMINOUS were here to do their first gig in 7-8 years; the sudden increase in Swedes in the audience proved that not only Copenhageners were anticipating this with high hopes. VERMINOUS released their only album, Impious Sacriledge, in 2003, disappearing from the map before their ultra-aggressive and intense death metal (think Altars...) came back in style some years later. However, they are now back with a new album en route, and if their assault at KTDF hints of anything, it is that all Swedish bands will have some serious competition when it comes to violence. They blasted away all resistance; from the snare hit to the last feedback – shortest set on the festival – it was one of the most intense metal experiences I can recall. Their new bass player seemed a bit out of joint – replacing a close friend of mine, so no nepotism proper in my salutations – but that did very little. So tight it'd cut your fingers of if you tried.
VERMINOUS showing how it's done.
GENERAL SURGERY finished off the festival proper, with their bloodsoaked slabs of sloppy early-CARCASS-worshipping death metal. With their blood-drenched butcher/surgeon outfits, they were one of the few bands with a proper stage appearance (except black eyes and spikes), breaking off the row of band shirts and black denim otherwise ruling the festival, on and off stage. Otherwise, not much to say – they are brutal, they are tight (well, a bit sloppy), they know what to do and have done it before. Good stuff.
The day began very slowly by checking out of the hotel. 2 hours of sleep makes us a dull couple of AGM.com writers. Choosing the Sunday to be the doom day was a good idea in many ways; after two-three days of alcoholic grind mania, you're kind of tired, and need some slow music. Said and done.
CHAOS ECHOES at Dödsmaskinen, two days before.
The French orchestra CHAOS ECHOES did their proper gig today, after performing in the Dödsmaskinen venue a couple of times earlier at the festival. No releases out yet, this duo was spawned by the twin brothers of BLOODY SIGN, and offered during all their gigs a semi-improvised, free-form deconstruction of death and doom metal. At their most structured, they roamed in the abysmal vicinity of MAYHEM's Ordo Ab Chao and ALUK TODOLO, and the open void explorations of James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida (both as improv-duo and as KLHYST). Clashing cymbals, bowed guitar strings, exploding into marches and grind and whatnot. They had with them a vocalist, a Frank Zappa look-a-like, moving into the music at times, murmuring, groaning, screaming, whispering and chanting gibberish – recalling both Attilla Csihar and MAGMA's Klaus Blasquiz. Highly alluring and mesmerizing, but there were some issues that broke the spell for me. One being that it was the guitarist who led the thematical shifts, by not so subtle hand gestures. It works for a shapeless mess like SUNN 0))), but it was too obvious here. With the music being lead by the guitarist, the main alchemist of the band, the changes turned the drummer off track, causing a discontinuity in the music. Subtle changes in the dynamics of the drums leading the way would've made it much better. The changes in tempo and sound came too abruptly as well. Rather than nailing sections down, building up to higher musical levels, the guitarist seemed restless to do something else. The good-to-great ideas stayed ideas – too many and disparate of them as well - when they could've become pure magic. I'll write that off to exhaustion after doing 5-6 gigs in one weekend and the intimidation of having the most sparse crowd of all bands – their second performance, where I saw the whole thing, was indeed magic. Refining and honing what they do, this band can become something truly exceptional, and I will keep an eye out for them. You haven't heard the last of them around this place.
TYRANNY opening voids.
One of the highlights for me personally was TYRANNY, the obscure Finnish funeral doom-mongers who suddenly have returned to the living world. I regard their only album, Tides of Awakening, as one of the definitive funeral doom classics, holding up and expanding upon the Lovecraftean legacy of the mighty THERGOTHON. And there was no disappointment. Clad in medieval robes, this unholy funerary rite was heavy enough to create its own warps and rifts in the space-time continuum. The abyss-winds that seem to lift up the recordings from the utmost void can of course not be recreated on stage without the use of heavy effects (or drugs), so a certain ambience is lacking... and the physical difficulty of performing at 30 bpm gives a slight instability to the performance, but that does not drag the impressions down. Yog-Sothoth's eyes and maws did glare and stare at us, invoked by the ritual leader weilding an electric double bass as his deeply resonating staff. Only the venerable SUNN 0))) can be compared in terms of guitar-based, world-imploding heaviness.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be the end of the festival for us. One in our small party fainted for various reasons (the oxygen level was dangerously low, what with lit candelabras and stuff) and collided with the floor. Shipped off to the hospital (fortunately, what could've been much worse was only a mild concussion, so we all returned home that evening), we decided to cut the festival short – unfortunately missing out on HOODED MENACE, SWALLOWED and ESOTERIC, but we had had our share of fun either way. Shit happens and no-one died, so we're happy. And so should the KILL-TOWN DEATHFEST crew be too! We who went can honestly attest to that this, next to the OBSCENE EXTREME FESTIVAL, might be one of the most enjoyable music events we've experienced. Killer bands, killer venue, killer audience, killer organization (and very considerate and helpful when somebody goes down and needs medical assistance). A killer festival. We will return.