I packed 3 weeks in advance, researched the names I was not familiar with months earlier and designed my daily schedule over and over again, in the undeterred hope of seeing as much as possible during the 4 days of wide-ranging, top quality music bliss: this was how much I looked forward to returning to Tilburg (NL) for Roadburn 2013.
The four-day-long festival offered, as always, an array of different choices to each and everyone’s heart content. My Roadburns seem to concentrate largely around the smaller stages, which says a lot about the excellent underground ethics of this festival. This year Godflesh, Electric Wizard, Ihsahn and Primordial were fronting the bill, yet Roadburn is all about showcasing the best underground across the board of rock and metal. The passionate and knowledgeable organizers pick and choose through the most experimental, progressive and open minded acts, being them old ground-breaking originals (like NEU! or Die Kreuzen this year) or the up-and-coming and exciting bands which grace the roster of top quality labels like Relapse, Prophecy Productions, Profound Lore, Svart, Rise Above and the up-and-coming Ván Records, but also an endless list of much smaller independents.
THURSDAY 18TH APRIL
Heavyweights PALLBEARER and the excellent THE ATLAS MOTH were the two opening bands that ticked my fancy, followed chronologically by GRAVETEMPLE, a Sunn o))) off-shoot featuring Attila Csihar and Stephen O’Malley, who highly impressed on the Main Stage.
At 19.00 it was time to see a band I had been trying to catch up with for a while: LANTLÔS. As part of this year’s “Artist in Residence” series, Alcest’s Neige was going to scream for the Germans. The young lads stood out, especially in this type of environment where everybody proudly sports their favorite metal insignia, because they chose to turn out as themselves, short-haired and dressed plainly, looking like your average clean-cut, well-to-do student I appreciated the honest attitude, as the quality of the music always prevails even on the most accurate and cool look; besides, the atmospheric lighting helped recreating the intense mood sought by their music. The set flew by all too quickly. There were more than a few vivid moments when the songwriting talent of Herbst truly stood out, making me wonder whether his music could grow out of the atmospheric, urban black metal to become a superb progressive metal/rock entity.
Next I chose to see CASTLE, as their 2011 debut and second full-length last year had me rather intrigued: since they play a simplified form of occult-doom, a genre that works well with the right woman upfront. Singer/bass-player Elizabeth Blackwell climbed on stage looking like a Californian rock star: she is cool and a natural, her voice was straight to the point and her poses are sexy but never girly. The band had a solid, no-frills, vintage heavy metal/hard rock groove that captivated me instantly.
Finally my most awaited for bands of this edition of Roadburn: LORD MANTIS. The band was amazing! Rarely have I witnessed something so sick, heavy and devilishly powerful… Their album “Pervertor” was one of my highlights of last year, which made me discover their previous “Spawning the Nephilim”. Their swirling, highly toxic blackened sludge was far more than a window on humanity’s most abject sickness: it seemed to exhale from its deepest, darkest, most disturbingly infested guts. These Chicago-dwellers (ex-Nachtmystium members) walked on the murky stage to create hell on earth, reveling in morbid depravity with determined sadomasochistic abandon. The suffocating density of their albums became pure raw energy: the nasty, deviant guitar created a sinister mood and the ultra heavy, distorted bass made the floor tremble from under your feet, urging them to move as if magma were pouring out of the planks… To cap it all, Charlie Fell’s squealed screams and sexed-up, lunatic faces were incredible and band overall impact was utterly devastatingly and infectious. In fact, pure fun!
In the meantime I sadly I missed INTRONAUT, whom I was told were excellent: to enjoy Roadburn to the fullest onw should have the gift of ubiquity, but luckily I was going to be in for a treat with Dutch new-comers HERDER.
Led by Jim Dokter of Urfaust on bass, they only have a demo/album, a single and two EPs to their credit but, having come across this highly recommended band last December at the Eindhoven Metal Meeting, I was eager to see more of them. They blitzkrieged the stage packed with venomous energy up to their eyeballs, which they fully expressed in the forceful manner that is customary for hardcore bands: in fact this is the background of their new singer, who has definitely brought a different dimension to their stoner sludge and live impact: Roadburn showed them reaching a higher intensity with an impressive physical performance, especially by JD and screamer Ché Snelting. The way the bass player dominated the stage was remarkable, reminding me of the great old-school Italian hardcore bands like Raw Power and Negazione, who invented this kind of high-octane performance and took it to the USA. It’s good to see a contemporary version of such testosterone-fuelled spectacle, done in a different context.
My first 2013 Roadburn day ended with the beautiful, anguished doom of MOURNING BELOVETH: the Irish are flying on the back of a new great release, “Formless”, and they were truly moving. As I walked outside through the chatty crowd, I felt truly happy at the thought that this was only the beginning…
Photos: Neige/LANTLOS and HERDER, by Mystery Flame
FRIDAY 19TH APRIL
This exciting ELECTRIC ACID ORGY day curated by Jus Oborn (Electric Wizard) kicked off WITH incredible-looking KADAVAR. The Germans offered a convincing blast-in-the-past with their vintage 70s rock, meticulously accessorized with scruffy beards, hippy-style embroidered waistcoats and bellbottomed trousers, the drummer doing a great impersonation of Animal of the legendary Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem! Just the perfect start to get me in the mood to pay my respects to Genesis P.Orridge (Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, also on the bill), who was about to appear on the main stage with SABBATH ASSEMBLY.
P.Orridge is a phenomenally important transmedial artists and true occultist whose work spans over several decades. Many who do not know about his transgender experiment to live concomitantly like a “she” and a “he” did not realize that the pandrogynous being who walked onstage looking like a small and chubby grey-haired woman was in fact him/her. S/he read some esoteric passages standing by a creepy-looking Bible-basher, and that was enough for me to take in.
It was soon time to take my position in the photo-pit for the main stage appearance of UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS. Pretty much the latest and biggest psych/doom rock phenomenon, the band swiftly signed by Lee Dorrian for his label Rise Above boasted a delicious fuzzy sound which reminded me of Black Sabbath being fronted by Mark Bolan of T-Rex, or Pentagram fronted by John Lennon St.Pepper-era! The band from Cambridgeshire is not yet a stage animal, having only played one or two gigs in their fulminant career, but when the sweet, layered vocals started, I knew all was going to be more than fine. It was a very enjoyable show and it has to be said that not many almost-debutant bands could have pretty much filled the larger room as they did.
Time take my place at the nice venue Het Patronaat (ex-church) for the much awaited return of HEXVESSEL. What is also cool about Roadburn is that they are not afraid of calling back a band for two consecutive years, like for example it happened with Voivod in the previous two editions. Mathew Kvohst and his Finnish crew offered a different slant to their show, focusing less on the ritualistic side of their performance. Hexvessel let the music and the poetry of the lyrics speak for themselves: the devotion for and profound understanding of Mother Nature came through shiningly, touchingly through every single note and through the honesty of Matt’s dark eyes. A list of memorable tracks from both albums were greeted with relish by the audience and we were also gifted the premier of the excellent Yoko Ono cover, “Woman of Salem”, which was performed with the delightful Rosie of Purson. When it was all over, I heard the first true ovation shaking the unholy walls of Het Patronaat. And well deserved too.
LES DISCRETS, namely Fursy Teyssier, were as always accompanied by Alcest, although this show witnessed the last appearance of drummer Winterhalter for Neige’s best friend. The concert began, as pleasant and captivating, and it was soon clear that the mand bas a magnet for dreamy girls, one of whom kept sobbing uncontrollably, a déjà vu from my past Alcest shows! But let’s be quite clear, Les Discrets’ shoegazing, all-French retro flavours are not just for girls: they are very easy on the eardrums due to the wonderful harmonized vocals and delicious chords, but their music and live shows are of exquisite taste and they were appreciated by a heaving, often quite surprised crowd. Although they had no new material to offer, I truly enjoyed their show once again.
In the smaller Green Room COUGH were playing in front of a packed audience: impossible to get in even for a quick snap. From the hall the band from Virginia sounded as if they were demolishing the place: the misanthropic doomsters, whose new split with Windhand I have recently enjoyed, are as heavy and as grim as you can get.
So it was soon time for the mighty ELECTRIC WIZARD, who saw the return of Mark Greening on the skins after the fruitful parenthesis with Ramesses. The Werewolf looked in fine form, in fact quite sober and – it must be said – he is a great asset for the Wizard who must be pleased to have him back. As mentioned earlier, Jus Oborn was curating the ELECTRIC ACID ORGY event this year (following a series of amazing curators: David Tibet, Neurosis, Tom Warrior, Sunn 0))) and Voivod), and we have to thank him for a bill packed with goodies. As expected, the Wizard made sure they topped a mind-blowing experience, claiming a strict no-photos policy which was disregarded and criticized by some. But of course it was absolutely clear that the real show was meant to gush out of the perfect marriage between the relentless music and the amazing orgy of psychedelic, gigantic visuals behind the band. As with Ulver and Voivod last year, this full-on sensorial, multimedia treat was best savoured by afar: the carefully selected series images from vintage horror/occult/soft porn flicks assembled in a moving kaleidoscope of acid colors was mesmerizing, while the dope-fuelled sounds aurally stimulated the completely subjugated crowd that filled up the main room of the 013.
I subsequently dragged myself to Het Patronaat to see the start of the GOAT show. It was out of mere curiosity as their danceable experimental fusion is not my cup of tea, but I wanted to see their famous costumes close by. The masked Swedes did not disappoint me visually with a mish-mash of macabre-folksy-afro-eastern outfits, but the hectic, tribalistic sounds were by then too much for me to handle, while the large crowd seemed to have the time of their lives. The night still offered a great dish, the portentous AMENRA, but I opeted for a warm shower instead. I was told the following day that the Belgians produced possibly the best show of the entire Roadburn with their bone-crushing sound packed with low-frequencies as lethal as nuclear radiations.
SATURDAY 20TH APRIL
Saturday was to be a heavy & juicy one! I was ready and revving early for Liverpudlian doomsters BLACK MAGICIAN, whose 2012 debut on Shaman Recordings, “Nature is the Devil’s Church”, captivated me for its quintessentially British sound, steeped in dark folk and proto-doom, but I had reserved my judgment on the vocals, which on record sounded far too much alike Cathedral’s Lee Dorrian at his most acidic and gritty. Personally I have never been a fan of that particular vocal spectrum, but I was not surprised to hear a few critiques over the likeness issue. Well, as soon as the “culprit”, Liam Yates, materialized on stage, I immediately recognized he had a natural great presence. And lo and behold, live he sounded rather good and like himself. The set had a wicked groove to it, and both material and musicianship had a lot of personality and scope for future horizon-widening, which I am sure is part of the plan, having Black Magician just signed for the excellent Svart Records.
Over at the Cul de Sac, a cozy pub where GOLD had played earlier on (and failed to impress me, although I enjoyed the freshness of their debut album), guitarist and co-founder of A Forest of Stars DUNCAN EVANS performed a short solo set as his singer-songwriter persona. Duncan is unquestionably a veteran, and felt quite at ease solely armed with an acoustic guitar and a great voice, offering us a glimpse of his dark folksy material that will be released on Auerbach Tonträger /Prophecy Productions (7” available now). The songs were well crafted, dark jewels and his interpretation captivating. Fellow Gentlemen’s Club Katie Stone joined him on stage for a sweetly haunting song which I am sure would appeal to any audience.
I only had a few spare minutes to check from the top of the large 013 hall the great reaction to ALCEST’s appearance: as expected the wonderful French band had the entire main venue mesmerized from the word go. I had the chance to speak to Neige earlier, so I asked for fresh news on the new Alcest album, which is promisingly being recorded with Birgir Jón Birgisson at Sigur Rós’ Icelandic studio. He said to be extremely happy with the results achieved so far and will return in May to finish it all off. But something special was about to happen over at Het Patronaat: the live debut of German avant-garde black metallers THE RUINS OF BEVERAST!
With its three albums, the solo creation of multi-instrumentalist Alexander von Meilenwald created a magic recipe of intense ambient, loads of swampy doom, filthy industrial and operatic eccentricities coupled with the grimmest, coldest of BM blasts. It was meant for a long time to be solely a studio project, so it was a real coup on behalf of Roadburn to bring TROB to a live dimension. Meilenwald walked in with a black hood over his head and a mysterious frown across the bearded, pale face lit-up by intensely dark eyes. Immersed in darkness and thick smoke, the moody and dazzling beauty of TROB’s music began to pour over us, enveloping and immense. Each and every track grabbed me right in the gut, whether it was the foreboding, rolling doom behind the harsh coldness of the vox, or the superb lashings of black metal fury enriched by sinister and oblique guitars. And if the combination of the eerie atmospheres and the intense, trance-like sections won over my devoted attention, the true apotheosis of the senses came during the unleashing of the blasted sections, which were the most tempestuous and hard-hitting heard in a long time. If I had to pick my favorite Roadburn show this year, TROB are certainly candidates to the top position.
Anarcho-punk legends ANTISECT, reformed in 2011, used to dabbl in crusty metal, but on the day I never expected them to sound as aggressive ans devastating as Doom did last year. They began the show rather tamely in spite of having the right attitude. The bass player was wearing a t-shirt stating the obvious, “I still hate Thatcher”, while behind the drummer appeared various political statements on screen. When I returned after a breath of fresh air I caught up with a much hotter atmosphere, so it seems they picked it up nicely in the end. As for me, this was not going to be the only time I was to feel a slight pang of nostalgia in front of a reformed old legend, but now I was more than ready to be dazzled by my Yorkshire Gentlemen and their brand of Victorian eclecticism.
A FOREST OF STARS are a special band and if there is an audience that can fully appreciate their uniqueness and intensity, this is it. They performed the entire “A Shadowplay for Yesterdays”, which dark and gripping story was illustrated by the visuals of Ingram Blakelock, author of the stunning video for “The Gatherer of the Pure”. The novelty was that the original guitarist and founder-member Mr. T.S. Kettleburner was rejoining, reclaiming the position finely held for a couple of years by Sir Gastrix Grimshaw. As the show went on, as emotional and gripping as expected, I had the chance to observe once again the different and interesting personalities who make this band frankly great. If The Gentleman and Henry Hyde are the main composers, and both intriguing for different reasons, watching vocalist Mr. Curse performing is truly something incredible… He seems to be physically possessed by a tormented, frightened, angry alter-ego on the verge of psychological collapse and about to transcend towards a dimension too bleak and powerful to imagine. He doesn’t move much, and I do not believe that it is because of lack of space (there are 7 musicians on stage for AFOS). I imagine it is because he feels as if an impending implosion of dark energy is about to happen: he scratches his skin and tightens his fists as if a monstrous, inhuman force was pushing from within to come out. His scrawny face, when lit up by the stage lights, is no longer that of the amiable, withdrawn guy from Leeds: it turns into the archetype of an ageless, tortured being fighting against the darkest of human emotions. Because of that, and because of the flow of engaging music, AFOS are a sublime act to experience, and when “The Gatherer of the Pure” and “Corvus Corona” hit their breathtaking highs, the crowd responded with one of the warmest ovations of the entire fest.
No time for collecting my emotions: I was heading to the 013 main stage for the much awaited DIE KREUZEN reunion. Their set had already started, and to my surprise and disappointment the crowd was thin and the music seemed to lose itself. I approached closer to concentrate on the songs; their intense and distinctive sound was strikingly odd, almost unrecognizable, except for Dan Kubinski’s unique voice. My favorite track from their legendary “Century Days” album, the slow and heart-wrenching “Number Three”, took off but, although I sang out all the words, I was not quite feeling it: where was the heartbreaking vibe, the breath-taking emotion?… Was it me, still hanging on to the original sound so dear to my heart?… This is a band that inhabited my personal music Olympus for years and years, and it was a little unsettling to experience this strange lack of connection. I decided that Die Kreuzen were far too important for me to pretend that I was enjoying it, so I decided to leave, confident that the following day, in the smaller Green Room, it would have been absolutely fine.
My mood improved massively when I joined a packed Stage 1 upstairs to see a band that had been recommended to me, a certain MR. PETER HAYDEN, for me the surprise of the festival. The mad bunch of Finns blew me completely away: their conscience-expanding, trippy space rock was ultra-heavy, repetitive like a mantra and enhanced by amazing psychedelic visuals. The sweaty, bare-chested musicians contorted over the heaviest, most distorted bass I had come across during the festival, and it was great to bathe my neurons in that beautiful, blazing mayhem Finland has to be the best in the psychedelic field, which in turn is spawning a plethora of incredible contaminations. Wow!…
After such a show, would you believe it, even GODFLESH started on the weak side for my personal taste: two tracks on and I felt no punch coming from the duo, so I decided to go back to the hotel for some well earned rest. The following day I was told that the show actually improved to become one of Godflesh’s best in recent times. I also heard that Dutch death metallers ASPHYX, led by Martin van Drunen of legendary Pestilence, were also rather good, their music having become slower and even more powerful. Luckily for me and you, a good amount of precious amateur videos shot over the 4 days @ Roadburn are already available on the net, so I shall definitely take a peek at what I/we missed out on.
Photos: DUNCAN EVANS and A FOREST OF STARS, by Mystery Flame
SUNDAY 21ST APRIL, THE AFTERBURNER
Roadburn notoriously sells-out pretty fast, usually it takes about 7 seconds for the tickets to disappear online, but this year the conclusive Afterburner show wasn’t sold-out. A few people were therefore able to come over and enjoy what is always a fantastic coronation of a great, unforgettable experience. Japanese experimental mavericks SIGH opened the day for me. Mirai Kawashima’s band has been praised by people with the most disparate taste in music, and their theatricals are also well worth a look. Setting skulls on fire was the least they could do to open up the show, although all eyes were on the cute singer/sax player Dr. Mikannibal. Sigh are part of black metal mythology (they were first signed by Euronymous) but these days they have found their niche in the most extravagant side of avant-garde metal, and they are consummated pros, cool and knowledgeable ones.
I soon moved to the Green Room to take my front-stage spot for the band of the day as far as I was concerned: NIHILL. The Dutch are co-responsible for spreading the most lethal of recent black metal plagues, together with other malignant entities such as Dodechaedron, Aosoth, Svartidauði, not to mention veteran deviant Dutch experimentalists Gnaw Their Tongues, and would definitely enflame the guts of early Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord fans. The band set up mysteriously hidden behind closed thick curtains, while the room began to fill up. Once again, this was to be their stage debut. When the curtains where withdrawn, a dark stage was revealed, dimly lit by the black & white projection of an intricate and unsettling-looking forest. The drummer took his place, then the waif-like figure of the bass player took the stage, his white face framed by jet black hair. Quite a sight… Hooded guitarists and a threatening-looking singer joined them, as a dense cloud of malevolent, suffocating noise-drone filled the air. Do not ask me how it all began, but suddenly I was in the midst of an exhilarating storm of ice! The starkly cold violence, the foreboding noise/ambience, the bleak and unforgiving absence of hooks or light fissures should have provoked an asphyxiating sensation, but Nihill provided nothing but pure delight by indulging us in a majestic display of fierce BM blasted almost all the way through. Few and far between were the slow paced, ominous tracks that characterized most of their 2007 monster “Krach”, while it was the über cold/fast stuff off the magnificent (sold-out) “Verdonkermaan” that sandblasted a stage sinisterly plunged in complete darkness; only a few plasma-white lights pierced the dense fog, illuminating the dark silhouettes of the musicians from behind. More than once I found myself covered in goose-bumps, aware of assisting to a top quality black metal show from the Dutch, who ended up featuring at the very top of my favorite Roadburn acts this year.
The perfect way to slowly chill-out was to join the last half-hour of Michael Rother presenting the music of NEU! and HARMONIA in the main hall. The smiling grey-haired gentleman was having a great time while an electric audience was dancing over the synthetic notes. I must say that Roadburn is truly the most fantastic festival I have ever attended as far as atmosphere, diversity and quality are concerned: going from Nihill to NEU! was quite something, and it worked to perfection, making me gratefully grin with happiness.
Time to catch the return of Milwaukee heroes DIE KREUZEN, this time in the Green Room. Still backed by the excellent visuals of Martin Defattes, I was finally happy to watch my old friends in more intimate surroundings and glued to the stage, just as it should be! As soon as dreadlocked Dan walked on chirpily I knew this was going to be great: there was a lot of good energy about and everybody had a good time right from the start. Ultimately, I think I know why I failed to connect the day before: the difficult times they had during most of their career, filled their lives with tremendous achievements but also acute disappointments made it difficult for them to reunite until last year. The melancholy verging on depression, the sore, raw emotions were painfully tangible through their music because it reflected their real life, so going back to that state of mind and raw heartaches would have meant to re-live the same nightmares once again. As a fan, that was the music I loved, but I cannot blame them for presenting us a happier face today. They delivered a, simpler, bouncier, punkier set, leaving the gloomy, intense gothic/post-punk magic sink at the bottom of their past nightmares… At the end of the day, I can always put their old records on as I please, so tonight it was all about paying tribute to great people and truthful musicians who inspired many greats after them. Thank you Roadburn for recognizing their place in music history.
The 2013 Afterburner was going to close for me with my very first IHSAHN concert. I rarely give into going to large shows or mainstream festivals, therefore so far I never had the chance to see this excellent artist live. His backing band LEPROUS opened the show playing on their own for half-an-hour, well and truly charging our batteries. Singer/keyboard player Einar Solberg was great to watch, especially when he furiously head-banged in his elegant suit and purple tie, in spite of sporting a short back and side haircut. Neat bass player Rein Blomquist also looked good with his gothic hairstyle. This is of course a band of excellent musicians and their powerful prog-metal is a fantastic blend of surreal and majestic that keeps your eyes glued to the stage almost without blinking. They left the stage over a great ovation, only to return after a few moments with the main man, Ihshan. Since he has become the new hero of avant-garde/progressive extreme metal, I could not help looking at him like a modern version of Robert Fripp, also because he physically reminds me of him when he has his glasses on. It is impossible though not to still think of Ihsahn as the man who founded Emperor, especially for me, being their first EP one of my most cherished early Norwegian black metal releases. On Sunday I saw a highly professional musician with talent to spare, and I thoroughly enjoyed a gripping, massively above-average set which I hoped was not going to end too soon. At the end the crowd clapped him for ages, wishing for an encore, which unfortunately did not come.
It is always sad to pack and leave after 4 days of painfully intense bliss. Yes, it is true, it is a privilege to attend the Roadburn Festival, and I frankly do not know what I ever did to deserve it, but one thing is sure: once it gets in your blood, you simply need more. You know, it is a miracle that, upon returning from such a great music binge, instead of feeling tired I am in fact thoroughly galvanized, revitalized, eager to hear yet more wonderful music, discover new bands – sharing them with other music lovers while dreaming of watching them at the next Roadburn… The Roadburn effect does not fade after 12 months: 2014, bring me some more heaven!
Photos: DIE KREUZEN and IHSAHN/LEPROUS, by Mystery Flame