A week after Roadburn and still hungry for that riff, so off to Copenhagen for the Northern Discomfort festival. The fest has its second edition this year at community house Ungdomshuset, which is a place for art and activism with a bunch of simple rules dealing with racism, sexism and all those other things that frankly make you an asshole.
So, don’t be an asshole and DIY till death is the whole vibe and motto of the place. The same goes for the fest, which is rather small but intense with a good vibe in what feels like a compound closed off from the world. And yes, that means a lot is possible here but that is what most people who’ve been to K-town probably know already (K-town would be Kopenhagen). We arrive timely and are able to catch the first band of the day. Point of interest, Northern Discomfort is the continuation of Heavy Days in Doomtown. The renowned festival quit and a new group of enthusiasts took over, organiser Mads told me. They did start from scratch so it’s a lot of hard work for this DIY organisation, but what a great job they’ve done.
In the smaller venue, dubbed Dödsmaskinen (translates to ‘Deathmachine’) in friendly, illuminated letters on the wall, the first band of the day kicks up a fuss. Ockultist is a trio from Sweden, playing heavy, dirty sludge. The band has been around for a couple of years and definitely is on the more heavy, hardcore side of the genre, focussing more on sheer brutality and violence and less on catchy riffs. It’s something to pass through, a cathartic experience with a band trying to sound as mean and unearthly as they can. Doing a great job at that actually.
On the main stage, in what seems to be an old production hall or garage, the band Confusion Master from Denmark itself is playing. Rich with samples, the inspiration is not hard to guess. If Tommy Iommi had left some riffs lying about, this group is the one that got their hands on them. Not saying those were the greatest riffs he would have left about, but the flavour is unmistakable. With a lot of control and focus, the band delivers a set that stands its ground. I let my eyes drift around the room. Banners line the balcony, a dangerous looking fence is built around the bar and obviously there’s graffiti and stickers everywhere. There’s only one toilet space, because one of the rules for this compound is no sexism. It’s a pretty damn cool location and the beer tastes great. Unfortunately Confusion Master doesn’t really get me into the groove yet, but their sound is cool and they perform with heart.
The trio Shakhtyor is not from rural Russia or something, but a trio from Hamburg playing a particularly pleasant post-rock/stoner sound. Their set is quite soothing, but at the same time keeps you moving about a bit. No vocals, just a catchy flowing sound and Russian themes for the name and titles. The last effort of the band on record was titled Tunguska, a reference to that famous explosion in 1908 in the middle of Russia. It really fits their sound, which is really all about story telling with sounds. The Germans really do this very well and need no other show elements or any sort of gimmick to really convince in the tiny Dödsmaskinen room.
A completely different experience is Guevnna in the main room. Reference point for their energetic set might be the past or singer Ryo in the band Coffins from Japan. Yes, these guys are from Japan and their strutting frontman is definitely the show element that this band has to offer. Their swaggering, rambling doom rock sound definitely gets some of the punters moving. Even when the band faces some technical problems, a bit of joking and a lot of laughter keeps everything light. Yeah, there’s a bit of a weirdness to the combination, but their set is a lot of fun to watch and the band seems to be really keen to please their audience. Gluecifer meets Kyuss is the best I can do in describing their sound, but Heart of Evil is out, so you can check for yourself.
The German band Ghost of Wem was supposed to play on the small stage, but unfortunately they had to cancel their tour. Good thing is that Cities of Mars from Sweden was found as a replacement and that is one hell of a live band we learn soon. A bit of Sleep, a bit of The Sword and also some spacey prog influences. The sound of the group is highly energetic with theatrical elements to it. The crowd has swelled quite a bit now, so the whole show gets a big rock vibe. The fact that all three do a bit of singing helps to give it that dramatic aspect, but the way the group plays is passionate and devoted. The best thing about this band is that you really can imagine that deep space opera they’re all about. So after Celestial Mistress, their 2016 EP, I can wait to delve into their stories further with a full length album sometime in the near future. Whether they had something to prove or whatever did it, Cities of Mars is awesome today!
The main stage is in the meantime prepared for an act that is slightly less easy on the ears, but a great reward for the patient listener. Horse Latitudes from Finland plays a complex, layered sort of doom metal, with long, winding passages. The bombastic baritone of Harri Kuokkanen (also Hooded Menace), who also hits the skins, gives it a cavernous, underground atmosphere. His presence dominates the show with muscular drumming and well. He’s sort of a big guy there. A fourth band member works effects, as you can hear on their latest album Primal Gnosis (2016), but those never really arrive at the listener’s ear. There’s something blackened about the band as well though, grim and heavy. The band members on stage are not smiling for a moment, this is music like a tar pit, it traps you and won’t let you go until you fully underwent the experience. Empty bottles litter the space by now, the crowd is well getting into it so we move on to the small stage where the phenomenal blackened hardcore/sludge of Iron Witch can be heard. The grisly sound of the band is wild, uncontrolled and furious. Vocalist Dave Mould has jumped of the stage to stand in between the crowd, barking and shrieking at whichever bystander first catches his eye. The music is volatile and visceral, with thick riffs and a lot of furious shouts. The fact that the crowd and band are so close creates a special sort of tension, making this one hell of a show by the British band. It’s as if the venue can barely contain the dark energies swirling about, the anger expressed by the red lights. Quite a sight.
As a final highlight of the day the band Come To Grief delivers their tribute set to Grief. That means some of the gnarliest, nastiest sludge that’s out there. The music of this band takes away the light and the warmth from the main room and leaves you shivering with misery. It’s time for us to catch a bus back to where we crash, so unfortunately after a few minutes of harrowing doom we depart and have to miss out on Demon Head. More tomorrow though!
All photos by Justina Lukošiūtė.