There’s much more to the Kingdom of Denmark than Carlsberg, pastries, and Hamlet. Lars Ulrich may have escaped as soon as he was able, but the country he left behind has one of the world’s highest standards of living, and a thriving metal legacy. Although Danish output has been dwarfed by neighbours in Sweden, Norway and Germany, there is a proud tradition of bands succeeding on their own terms, and a streak of eccentricity that’s all their own. Here are 10 of metal’s greatest Danes.
Mercyful Fate/King Diamond
The first metal band with an avowedly occult focus, the irresistibly-misspelt Mercyful Fate remain Denmark’s best-loved and most inspirational metal export, confirmed by Metallica’s delirious Garage Inc medley - an unprecedented tribute from the Four Horsemen to a band of their peers. After bringing a progressive elegance to HM on two majestic albums, the Copenhagen quintet split in 1985, banshee-voiced singer King Diamond going solo to craft a new legacy as metal’s spookiest storyteller on a slew of beautifully twisted concept albums.
In tandem with a reactivated Mercyful Fate in the 90s, King racked up eight albums in seven years, but the millennium hasn’t been so kind; waylaid by health issues, he hasn’t made a studio album since 2007. But with the man back to full strength and both bands gigging again, we eagerly await a new phase of Kingly activity.
Since a 1983 EP introduced their smooth, melodic Scandinavian take on New Wave Of British Heavy Metal principles, these Danish Grammy Award-winners have maintained a hectic schedule, constantly touring loyal strongholds, releasing their sixteenth LP in 2019. With that corny-ironic name, the Maids never broke as big as they deserved in the UK or US, but they held firm throughout the 90s, sharpening their metal edge at a difficult time for the old school. Their influence was cemented when both HammerFall and Arch Enemy covered combative, heads-down PM classic Back To Back.
Artillery were recording as early as 1982, producing a unique take on the fledgling thrash genre. By 1990’s masterly By Inheritance, the five-piece were staking a powerful claim on the genre’s elite world class, but the 90s had other ideas, and they split in ’92. After a brief comeback in 1999 they decided to sit out the 00s too, returning for keeps in 2009. They’ve since made up for lost time, releasing five creditable LPs and thrashing all over the world, touring southeast Asia earlier this year. Even the death in 2019 of co-founding guitarist Morten Stützer hasn’t compromised momentum, his brother and fellow axeman Michael vowing to keep Artillery’s flame burning.
Despite recording at Sweden’s ubiquitous Sunlight Studios with equally ubiquitous Swedish producer Tomas Skogsberg, Copenhagen’s Konkhra distinguished themselves from the Swedeath herd with a dissonant blunt-force groove and alarmingly pervy lyrics (especially 1995’s hair-raising Spit Or Swallow, with its fellatio-as-suicide album sleeve). Weed Out The Weak, from 1997, showcased former Machine Head drummer Chris Kontos, fresh from Burn My Eyes, and ex-Death/Obituary/Testament guitar hero James Murphy, but Konkhra’s sound was always about the body-buckling chords and guttural ejaculations of frontman Anders Lundemark. He’s still instantly recognisable on 2019’s The Alpha And The Omega, Konkhra’s first album in a decade.
Denmark’s bid for gothic metal glory in the mid-90s, when the impact of the ‘Peaceville Three’ (Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema) cast a long shadow over doom/death scenes. Emerging with a precociously singular and emotive vision on 1997 debut Paradise Belongs To You, Saturnus nailed the grand melancholy and brooding atmospheres right off the bat, evolving their beautiful evocations of gothic gloom and romantic sorrow on 2006’s Veronika Decides To Die. Like many of the best Danish acts, their output has been both underrated and sporadic; although they continue gigging, there’s been no new material since 2012.
An unusually creative and eclectic sort of power metal band, Wuthering Heights deserve far greater attention for their exquisitely rich, folky, symphonic, melodic prog-power pomp, reaching a pinnacle on 2003’s audacious Far From The Madding Crowd (cementing their obsession with 19th century English literature). Displaying iron-clad conviction alongside a mischievous sense of humour (see rampaging instrumental Bad Hobbits Die Hard), Wuthering Heights were building a head of steam when founding guitarist Erik Ravn was laid low with health problems. It’s now ten years since their last LP, stellar nautical concept platter Salt, so high time the wider world cottoned onto their first five albums.
Another criminally underrated outfit operating in the power metal concept album vein, Manticora push the speed/thrash pedal far more devotedly than their Wuthering compatriots, but were similarly prolific in the 00s before undergoing a near-decade-long hiatus. Manticora always excel at bringing to life outlandish literary narratives, but 2018’s intense comeback LP To Kill To Live To Kill was based on an eponymous novel written by the band’s singer, Lars F Larsen. On the book’s Kickstarter page, Lars archly noted of his “despicable and disgusting” work: “If you liked the movie Saw, you’ll definitely like this novel, even if Saw was for nannies.”
It says something about Danish creativity that the Kingdom’s greatest rock success story of the last 20 years is such an unorthodox, eclectic outfit, succeeding the old-fashioned way: talent, commitment, conviction and graft. Uniting disparate generations and tribes with their offbeat Elvis/Hetfield-voiced rockabilly metal, chopping together chunks of pop-punk, reggae, thrash and Johnny Cash like a maverick chef getting shitfaced on vintage wine, Volbeat continue to hone their accessible but eccentric sound, with 2019’s Rewind Replay Rebound their first UK Top 10 album.
Altar Of Oblivion
Epic doom is not a subgenre that many bands even attempt, let alone excel at, still less expand upon, so this Aalborg five-piece deserve mad props for bringing new life to this profound outsider sound. With the frosty melancholy of Candlemass, the mystical drama of Solitude Aeturnus and the barbarian brawn of Solstice, AOO mix in new levels of emotional vulnerability via the Robert Smith-ish vocals of Mik Mentor, and never get lost in sluggish gloom, maintaining trad metal fundamentals with a strong, clear vocal line, a sturdy gallop and a spine-tingling melody.
Arriving in a blaze of publicity and controversy in 2014, Amelie Bruun’s one-woman folk/black metal project came in for some sexist stick from BM’s elitist gatekeepers when she arrived fully-formed on Relapse, apparently from nowhere, with her own quirky, versatile sound and folkloric aesthetic. With the prolific body of work that followed she decisively owned the haters, following her own unorthodox muse and flooring any remaining doubters with the celestial grace of all-acoustic live album Mausoleum, recorded in an Oslo tomb. Gorgeous new album Folkesange continues the emotional folk trajectory, but what Myrkur does next is anyone’s guess; either way, it should be fascinating.
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