This was my first Roadburn Festival and I just have to say that it is one of the best, if not the best festival I’ve ever been at. It really ticks all the boxes, from the great line-up, the venues, the fantastic sound, the amazing visuals, the great and very friendly atmosphere all the way to the organisation, which is absolutely fantastic and the overall feeling of welcome is fantastic. They say Roadburners are part of one big family who all make it happen every year again and I can now confirm that this is definitely the case. I will definitely be back next year.
I also want to thank Walter Hoeijmakers, Jurgen van den Brand and Becky Laverty for the press pass, the overall welcome and for being just awesome. And thanks to JJ Koczan and Shaman Lee for the great work they do with the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, it was an absolute honour to be involved!
So read my review of the festival below, and you can also read a different view by our guest contributor Stijn Van Hees.
Oh and next year I really try to catch more of the side programme and the art exhibition, but I did go to one of the expert panel discussions, which was very interesting.
Sander van den Driesche
Thursday April 14th
This was my very first Roadburn Festival and it only took less than 5 minutes to see why people have been raving about this festival for years and labelling it as one of the friendliest festivals on the circuit. Within those first couple of minutes I already met a few familiar friends and made a bunch of new friends, and throughout the next 4 days this trend would continue. So here I was this Thursday, the sun was shining and people were enjoying a beer or two, smoke a bit of this and that whilst they were preparing for the start of another, no doubt memorable, Roadburn festival.
First up at Het Patronaat were The Poisoned Glass to start off today’s proceedings. I managed a quick 15 minutes of the couple’s loud bass laden doom, before heading off to see Cult of Luna play Somewhere Along the Highway in its entirety, which went, not unexpectedly, down a treat. The sound was sublime and the spectacular light show really added to the experience. But the first real excitement for me came in the shape of Inverloch, all the way from Melbourne, Australia. Their vocalist Ben couldn’t be there, but his stand-in in the shape of Arne Vandenhoeck from Belgium’s Marche Funèbre did a pretty amazing job, especially since they only had one rehearsal together the day before! They really shook away the cobwebs with their blend of blackened, metal of death doom, which was fantastic, resulting in plenty of fist pumping and the first serious headbang action of the day.
After a little breather I went to see The Skull for some no nonsense classic doom and heavy metal. The band and especially vocalist Eric Wagner really enjoyed being on the Roadburn stage interacting with the audience whenever he could, resulting in a great show. The audience wasn’t huge, but they played on Wednesday night as well and they will play again on Friday. I managed to see a few songs of Usnea as well for some great solid blackened doom.
It was back to Het Patronaat for Cult of Occult who delivered some intense nihilistic doom, playing material from their Five Degrees of Insanity release. Back at the 013 Hexvessel delivered some nice psychedelic rock, again demonstrating how good the sound was in the big room at the 013. Full of Hell on the other hand ripped the place apart in a packed Green Room, inducing the first big mosh pit at of Roadburn.
The first massive queue of the day was for Oranssi Pazuzu at Het Patronaat, no doubt causing some disappointment for many people having to miss out, especially since they played a great set of blackened psych. But my first surprise of Roadburn came in the shape of Bang, a band I was not very familiar with. I started seeing them at the Green Room, then felt I had to see Converge play Jane Doe in full, but after two songs of witnessing Ben Koller destroy his drum kit, I just had to go back and see the rest of Bang’s set as they played some very addictive heavy rock. Indeed, I'm not the biggest Converge fan in the world!
This year’s artist in residence Misþyrming played a blistering set of black metal at Het Patronaat. If you missed them make sure you get to see their two upcoming sets this Roadburn as they do not disappoint. But it was The Body who really laid waste to Roadburn on Thursday, with their devastatingly heavy set of apocalyptic doom. This was followed by a huge nostalgia trip when Paradise Lost played ‘Gothic’ in its entirety in the big room, which went down amazingly, especially with the use of great sound (again!) and backdrop.
I finished the night seeing Hell at Het Patronaat, who played one of the most hauntingly, beautiful and mesmerising sets on Thursday, followed by CHRCH who completely packed out a very sweaty Extase before I had to catch the last train back to Eindhoven, where I was staying with my colleague Guido Segers.
Friday April 15th
My piece above for Thursday was in a slightly adapted form used for the Friday edition of Roadburn’s fanzine Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, and to be able to give a broad representation of that day I basically ran around the various venues like a headless chicken, trying to fit in as many performances as possible (17 in total!). From this day onwards things were going to be different though, as I was going to focus mainly on complete performances, bringing the inevitable clashes along, so my apologies in advance if I didn’t see or cover your favourite band or artist here.
The first things I missed out on this Friday were Nibiru, Mondo Drag and very sadly the experience that was going to Diamanda Galás. Why you might ask yourself? Well, I was staying at one of the Jungalows at the Beekse Bergen safari park and check in time was 4pm. My first aim to see that day on the programme therefore was Alkerdeel (featuring Gnaw Their Tongues), but dammit, had to miss actually “seeing” them at the small Cul De Sac, as by the time I got there the queue was literally going around the corner. The Power of the Press Pass enabled me to get in the actual venue at least, though I could only hear the deafening black metal noise being produced. What I heard was good though, very, very good.
I decided to make my way over to Extase in anticipation to see the mysterious NYIÞ, who made their way over from Iceland as part of Misþyrming artist in residence presence. This was going to be their first appearance on foreign soil apparently, and Extase was soon filling up while the band performed some very experimental, Pagan worshipping music, with all band members dressed in black hoods, adding to their mystery. About halfway through their set I went back to Het Patronaat to see Amenra’s singer Colin H. van Eeckhout play his solo set under the moniker CHVE. Once Colin was happy with the soundcheck he played a long song creating wonderful drone soundcapes by the use of his hurdy gurdy and floor tom loops. For the second part of the set Vermapyre took over with Colin playing more of a side role. It was very interesting to see the use of homemade instruments by Vermapyre, but it wasn’t the strongest part of the set as that was definitely Colin’s solo performance.
Up next I decided to see some Swedish psychedelia as Hills was playing at the Green Room, which was a tough choice as Dutch black metallers Terzij de Horde were playing at Extase, but I reasoned I probably couldn’t make my way in there anymore. So some great psychedelic stuff by Hills instead. They played a very safe, but great set with long, repetitive songs leaving a feeling of being under hypnosis. So what better than catching a couple of songs by Japanese hardcore punk sensation G.I.S.M. to snap you out of this trance? They played their first ever set outside Japan and their first show in over a decade. They were chaotic, amusing and they were having a blast on that big 013 stage, but a few songs for me was more than enough. So I escaped the Japanese fun and I made my way back to the Green Room to see Lychgate play a couple of songs of their album An Antidote for the Glass Pill, their 2015 album which they were playing in full. They even managed to get a massive organ dragged on the stage, which was very impressive and really added to their live sound.
But I had to make sure to be back at Het Patronaat on time as there was no way I was going to miss Dark Buddha Rising. This was the return of the Finnish band as they played at Roadburn before in 2012 (a performance I was lucky enough to find on cassette tape at the merch stand the next day). This band basically blew everything away that I had seen so far on this day, perhaps even the whole festival at this point. This was the heaviest, loudest and most insane set of Roadburn so far, with the whole band, but mainly their singer, giving it all. And Het Patronaat couldn’t be a better venue to have witnessed their sonic, doomy and heavy psychedelic attack. Let’s hope another this will result in another Live at Roadburn release!
While the majority of the Roadburn crowd was at the Icelandic Úlfsmessa at Het Patronaat (or at least trying to be there) to witness the epic collaborative black metal ritual, I decided to show my support to my friends in Hair of the Dog, who came over from Edinburgh to play the final slot at Extase. I know this band and their members very well from the Edinburgh scene, so I knew exactly what they were capable of giving, and they did not disappoint. Their set of classic heavy rock went down a treat and it was great to see many fists pumping the air and people banging their heads. The band had a great time as well, and that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?
Saturday April 16th
After a late night drinking session (barbecue included!) at the Jungalow, I managed to drag my gradually increasingly tired body back to Tilburg city centre to start the third day of Roadburn with YODOK III at the Green Room. This band consists of established Belgian drone musician Dirk Serries, and the Norwegians Tomas Järmyr (from Zu) on drums and Kristoffer Lo on various bras instruments, all played through a big collection of effect pedals. Drone combined with free jazz perhaps doesn’t sound like the best combination on paper, but believe me, it actually worked together brilliantly, especially due to Tomas’ great drumming.
After a successful coffee hunt to kick my body into gear a bit more I made my way to the front of the Main Stage to see the legend that is Tad Doyle and his Brothers of the Sonic Cloth play a great set of doomy, grungy heaviness. Tad fucking Doyle! I still can’t believe it I actually got to shake his hand later on that day. Although the sound was a wee bit on the muddy side at the beginning of their set, they really got the Saturday going. The most impressive part of their gig was the moment when Tad broke a string and while the drummer was restringing his guitar, Tad walked up to the microphone for some a cappella singing, hitting notes so low, he almost sounded like a human didgeridoo! When his guitar was back in action they played two new songs, which sounded great and really make me look forward to the new record.
My Dutch friends I was staying with were raving all morning about seeing Astrosoniq, a band I had not heard before, so popped my head around the corner of a packed Green Room to witness the most amazing psychedelic space rock, including a great light show and live visual set (by Walter Roadburn himself no less!). This was very, very impressive and ticket all the boxes for a great, energetic and highly engaging Roadburn set. The next band I watched was from a slightly different calibre, namely Californians Beastmaker and their brand of occult doom rock/metal at Het Patronaat. They played a very solid set and they actually sounded a lot beefier than on their recently released album Lusus Naturae. Their constant request for weed was a little bit laughable and added to their character completely as these guys were on the road to rock, get high and enjoy life.
I made my way back to the Main Stage to see another Converge set, this time under the Blood Moon moniker, which included collaborations with guest musicians guest musicians Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisholm, Stephen Brodsky, and Steve Von Till, though I left after 4 songs. Not because I didn’t like it, but more because I didn’t want to miss the always fantastic Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, who played a great and very tight set (better than last time I saw them in Glasgow as support for Uncle Acid). Their sound was spot on and their stage banter was the best of Roadburn, hitting Spinal Tap levels of hilarity.
I did leave their set early though, just so I could have a spot at the front of the main stage to see Amenra’s first of two Roadburn sets, with tonight’s set their acoustic performance when they played their recently released live acoustic album Alive in full. Just watching the band and crew set up the stage with their chairs in a circle all facing the drummer and going through their soundtrack was impressive already, but once they started their set was when the real oomph factor kicked in. To see a couple of thousand people watching a band play an acoustic set and actually respect this and not chat away continuously was really great and this added to an unforgettable performance by the masters of emotion and atmosphere. Colin’s voice alone was beautiful already, but it was the combination of Colin with vocalist Femke de Beleyr that really sent the shivers down my spine. This was a truly unforgettable experience.
Any normal festival could have happily finished with this Amenra set for me, but Roadburn is not a normal festival. It is a festival where special things take place, the kind of performances you only get to see at Roadburn, and Neurosis playing two sets containing songs from their back catalogue to celebrate their 30th anniversary is definitely at the very top of unforgettable Roadburn experiences. Confession: I had never seen Neurosis before (they haven’t played in Scotland where I live since the 90s), so I was VERY excited. I’m not going into full details of the set they played during their first 2-hour set (you can find it here), but I lost it completely when they started the intro to ‘Through Silver In Blood’. Holy shit, I never thought I’d get to see this live ever in my life! And this was after they already played songs like ‘Times of Grace’, ‘At the Well’ two songs of their first album Pain of Mind (‘Pain of Mind’ and ‘Self-Taught Infection’). Oh yeah, and why not ending the set with the classic ‘Stones from the Sky’! This was an absolutely amazing performance and setlist by the masters themselves.
Sunday April 17th
After that amazing Saturday it was time for the Afterburner, namely the Sunday of Roadburn, which is supposedly the “quieter” and “more relaxed” day of the festival. Sorry, but with Amenra playing a full electric set, another 2-hour best of set by Neurosis and Buried At Sea on the programme, things looked very similar as the previous days with the difference that Extase and Het Patronaat were not included in today’s festivities.
I started the Afterburner with a last minute announced full set by Icelandic rockers The Vintage Caravan, who I had spotted walking around the place a few days earlier already. That’s the beauty of Roadburn where you see so many musicians and bands enjoy the festival as punters just like you and me. So The Vintage Caravan were on at 2pm at Cul De Sac and with my experience of not getting into this venue very easily I made sure I was there at least an hour beforehand. Luckily the Cul De Sac has a great beer selection so waiting there is no problem really. Once the band started the place was well packed again with people standing on the stage in touching distance of the band, who played a storming, sweaty set really getting the crowd going and raising the levels for the rest of the day. We even got treated on their song ‘Crazy Horses’, which they usually don’t play live apparently.
I stayed at Cul De Sac to catch a bit of Syndrome, Amenra’s Mathieu Vandekerckhove’s solo drone project, which worked really well at a venue like this, with its more intimate atmosphere. But after a wee while I got myself in position for Jakob at the Main Stage. These New Zealanders were another band I had never seen before and always wanted to see. They don’t make it over to these shores very often and they made their Roadburn visit a very memorable one as artist Jérôme Siegelaar was providing a live VJ set to accompany the band’s spectacular set of heavy post-rock. Their bass sound was one of the heaviest I had ever heard in a band playing this genre, and I suppose it was partly because of this that they really captivated the crowd.
I was planning to see a bit of Ecstatic Visions’ set at the Green Room, but that would come with the risk of not being in a good spot to see Amenra on the Main Stage, so I opted for a proper Afterburner moment where I chilled with a couple of beers waiting for the Belgian post-metal sludgers to start their second Roadburn set. I have seen Amenra a couple of times now and they never ever disappoint. Though they have better and even better moments, and tonight was definitely one of those performances of the latter category. Everything was absolutely spot on, from the sound to the HUGE backdrop and the band’s brilliant performance. They started with ‘Boden’, from their last full length Mass V, which was a great opener, gradually raising the excitement and anticipation of what was to come. And what we got was an hour of a band at the top of their game.
Again they were followed by Neurosis, playing their second set of the festival as well. You can find their setlist here, which was focused slightly more on their earlier releases than Saturday's set, with two songs each from Pain of Mind, The Word as Law and Souls at Zero. They played 3 songs from my favourite Neurosis album, Through Silver In Blood and they then ended their set with ‘The Doorway’ from Times of Grace. Holy shit, by this stage I fully realised I just witnessed 4 hours in total of Neurosis in 1 weekend, paying some of my favourite Neurosis songs, which to me really was the highlight of this festival. And what do you do after you just got emotionally drained by Amenra and Neurosis? Well, I tried to watch Buried At Sea, but I just couldn’t. I undertook my last nightly bicycle trip back to the Jungalows trying to engrave the performances of the last 4 days in my brains to hopefully never ever forget.
Thursday April 14
So, I went back, five years since last (that was the infamous volcano-edition I think, or was that the one before?). This year the stars were aligned, the lame family-invoking-excuses vein depleted and the bill just boasted too many bands to pass up again. I purchased my ticket on the 6th of December, an appropriate day for a treat to people in Belgium and Holland.
As always Roadburn is a logistical tour de force, constantly searching a balance between family obligations, journey requirements and possibilities for a place to crash - I slept in four different bed over the course of the last four nights - not to mention of course 5 venues filled to the brim with continuously clashing top notch riff-mongers, drone-masters and psych-overlords. Before digging in I had set myself, no forced upon myself, the goal of seeing a selection of concerts in their respective entireties and not fret too much about cris-crossing Tilburg in a mind-numbing chase of more riffs, more beers or more french fries. Just take what comes along the way in between those pre-defined milestones and don’t bother about what I’m missing and enjoy what I’m having. It’s a general attitude to festivals I’ve developed over the years, but with the sheer magnitude of the quality of the bill in Roadburn one needs to be firm with oneself and stand by your principles in order not to become a sulking mess of self-loathe and frustration by the eve of day 2.
Anyways, the festival…
I arrived early on the grounds on Thursday, by car from my hometown Ghent (BE), and had ample time to breath in the atmosphere and the smell of burning logs from the pulled pork stand, enjoy a coffee on the Dudok terrace as well as a first bout of eavesdropping on Finnish conversation in order to pick up some jumalauta’s or perkele’s. First band of the day was Cult of Luna playing of course their entire Somewhere Along the Highway. In the decade since its release both band and album acquired quite some status in the Roadburn-friendly crowd, but this has completely passed me by. On the only previous occasion I’d seen COL they had bored me to tears. Was it the fact that it was in an unfitting daytime outdoor-festival setting, maybe the result of lingering residues of hangover-inducing metabolites or just the fact that I actually don’t like the songs? Dunno, but I really wanted to give them another chance, Roadburn brings out the best in artists and punters alike so bring it on I thought. In the end I enjoyed the set, but more as an appetizer for what was later to come than on its own merits. Between COL and me it will never work out I’m afraid. Despite the fact that I’m generally very partial to this kind of slowly grinding atmospheric DOOM that crushes your soul rather than your balls (avoiding the p-word here, no not that p-word you anal freak). But more on that later.
Next band on the must see list were Hangman’s Chair from Paris. These gritty DOOMsters play Brussels occasionally, but this was my first chance to actually catch them live, been listening to their albums for some time now. The band take many cues from the almighty Saint Vitus, but add a certain European touch, just some subtleties here and there. The vocals are something different too, the music is heavy enough to bear some kind of sludgecore-growl, but no the band chooses to have clean vocals and deliver these with some ethereal frailty at times. I loved it, and judging from the amount of people around me in the Extase I wasn’t alone. The dedication of a song to fallen comrade, and son of the province where Roadburn is held, Selim Lemouchi was greeted with loud cheers and the gratitude of the band toward the audience seemed sincere. Hangman’s Chair surely weren’t the most original band on the bill, but they know DOOM, they know tone, they know volume and you know now that next time around you don’t want to be the one fretting in the line to see some experimental fresh out of the rehearsal room act that just makes the windows rattle, but lacks true grit. Hangman’s Chair is all grit and sincerity, for me that still means more than the names of the band members, producers or album-artists (which I honestly don’t know, but that’s not important).
On a side note, the Extase was a real nice addition to the roster of Roadburn venues, wasn’t it? Nice and sweaty in the back, but with a proper bar in front offering a chance to have a relaxing quality beer. I’d be back.
So, I’d been to the Main Stage and the Extase, time for the Green Room and Full Of Hell. One of those bands that tour like crazy, but I’d never seen before. FOH are loud, violent (musically speaking) and unrelenting. They ripped through their set of grindcore, noise and an occasional sludge-break in about 30 minutes and probably alienated quite some of the people that passed through the Green Room. This sort of stuff may be a big ask for people who turn out for Pentagram or even Neurosis. Short sharp bursts of shrieking and instrument-straining can be very rewarding to these ears though, whence executed with precision and power. Things FOH is definitely not lacking. It was telling to see how the bassist and guitarist took both opposing sides of the stage, facing each other, and leave plenty room for the manic singer who also occasionally turns knobs on a thing on a stand and apparently generates those swirly sounds and static noise whilst doing so.
On to the next, the first surprise of the day, Hexvessel weren’t done yet in the main room and although the contrast almost couldn’t have been bigger it seemed my heart was welcoming a bit of soothing hippie-folk because I was drawn into the songs immediately. The crowd wasn’t very big, but people in front were dancing and for fifteen minutes I felt genuinely happy and aware of being part of something bigger than a mere gathering of music-lovers. Hexvessel may be a bit campy on stage, but their bag of songs is filled with the good stuff.
Couldn’t get into Het Patronaat for Oranssi Pazuzu, or at least I couldn’t be arsed to get into such a long queue. Hope you enjoyed the show folks, I just staggered around until it was showtime for Jacob Bannon and his band. I’m a fan of Converge, but frankly a rather late convert. I’ve of course listened to Jane Doe, but it wasn’t my point of entry for this band’s legacy, this meant this show wasn’t as emotional nor nostalgic to me than to those in the first 25 lines shouting into Jacob’s mic and moshing their limbs into sore useless appendages. But it was fucking brilliant nonetheless. I’m sure you’ve read all about it on other sites and you can find the set-list on Discogs. On previous occasions I’d seen Converge with a rather poor live sound, but of course none of that in the 013′s Main Stage, it all sounded very crisp and that Bannon boy, he damn well owned that big stage too. Not bad for a punk. Apparently this was the first time they played an entire album live, but you couldn’t really tell.
When the feedback loops had all but died out I was hurrying away to the Cul De Sac in the hope of catching some of Gomer Pyle’s show. I’m pretty fond of the band and its typical Dutch space rock sound (and even more of fond 35007, make it happen Walter). They’d been on hiatus or so, but none of that was too obvious, they had a very relaxed attitude on stage and the psych-jams were very engrossing. But well, the singer’s voice seem to have gotten a bit rusty, probably that can be solved with some more gigging. That would be welcome.
Back in the main room Paradise Lost were getting ready to play Gothic and I didn’t want to miss any of that either. With this band/album it’s a bit the same story as with Converge above, I like and respect them, but I’m not emotionally attached to this particular album at all. For plenty of the punters this was clearly a nostalgic trip to days when their hair grew long and lush and orgasms came quickly, not so much for me. I did enjoy every bloody minute of it though, true the music isn’t very dynamic, but the sound was great, the playing impeccable, the band vital and Nick Holmes’ stage banter provoked enough smiles to act as a counter weight to the gloom of the matters at hand. My nostalgic tie with PL is attached to the album Draconian Times, so after 'Hallowed Land' in the encores I decided to keep that as a climax and check out one final band before getting back to my car.
That band was Hell, who were in the final 15 minutes of their set at Het Patronaat (no queues this time) and I was positively impressed. Evil droning DOOM with barely enough dynamics to still call it songs, but atmosphere in spades. They seemed a bit sloppy, but given the liberal use of feedback and weirdness that didn’t matter. During the last song a violinist came on (not before taking a fierce swig of the communal bottle of red wine) and it all together created an otherworldly atmosphere, not the other world you’d like to spent your family holidays in, but very suitable for a late night Roadburn gig and desacralised chapel. A high note and a surprise to end the first day of Roadburn on, how fitting.
I picked up my car and drove to my parents’ home just across the border enjoying my brand new Gomer Pyle CD, and all was good.
Due to all kinds of shenanigans and choices a man has to make I was quietly forced to completely forego the Friday of Roadburn. After waking up I didn’t have to drive straight home though, so after leaving my parents’ house I took some back roads in my old childhood stomping grounds and it was as if a higher spirit drove me to the small village of Meer, also on the border. It was there that I went to my very first festival 20 odd years ago, and lo and behold, posters plastered across the village announced a band contest next weekend to find young talent to fit on this year’s bill. That festival is still going, nice surprise! Also the monastery on whose park/lawn it used to be held looks derelict now, but a perfect setting for some open air Roadburn-related weirdness. I could see the candles, smell the incense and feel the vibrations, but I had to press on. Monster Magnet on the radio and hit the Ghent-bound highway.
I had the full intention to keep typing until I had covered it all but, bummer, really have to go to bed now, my own bed, and get up in the morning to make that final leap outside of the Roadburn-bubble: go to the office. Tomorrow night the proceedings of Saturday and Sunday will follow.
Saturday April 16
Having sweat out the Roadburn Friday I was very eager to get back to Tilburg on Saturday a-fucking-sap but it turned out I should’ve been even quicker. Astrosoniq had just finished their set by the time of my arrival at the 013. The buzz in the corridors was that it was a fucking awesome set, damn it. But yeah, after having spent a morning with my boys, taken 3 trains to Breda, rushed in and out of a hostel and finally taken another train to Tilburg, notions of both time and timing have become thin and meaningless. What was I expecting anyway? I was bummed out though, would’ve really liked to see them again, would’ve been something like ten years after the first time. Anyway, Tau Cross was on on the main, and I was very eager to check that out too. I wasn’t too impressed by the (Bandcamp stream of) the album, but the show damn well rocked hard and was convincing all the way. Rob Miller owned the stage, Away beat his skins in that loose-but-tight way only he can and the riffs usually strode a perfect balance between catchy and heavy but were loud above all. After their set I hurried to the V39 across the alley in order to purchase their album, but couldn’t find their merch stand, dunno what happened there, but I’ll make up for that someday. Making up for missed opportunities and poor decisions from the past was also a bit of a recurring theme for me at this year's Roadburn fest, more on that later.
Chances are slim that anybody having had the lousy judgment to pass up on Converge’s Blood Moon can make up for that later, not me though, not me, I was there. Of course I got in just a tad too late, had to catch a few minutes of Misþyrming - it would be a highly frowned upon display of severe impoliteness to completely ignore the artist in residence - and those were positively impressive, but few they remained, on to a second show of Converge. They had started already and were ripping through ‘Coral Blue’ of their latest album, I was along immediately. From that point the set only got better, a cover by The Cure followed - unnoticed, I admit I got this one from other people’s reports - and once they brought Chelsea Wolfe and Steve Von Till out on stage I was under a serious spell. Neurosis’ most goateed only stayed along for one song, but really added to the intensity. Chelsea Wolfe stayed for the remainder of the set and seriously enhanced the sound, which was already quite beefed up with the addition of second guitar, synths and background vocals, it all still sounded very natural though. The stage maniac Jacob Bannon showed remarkable, but due, restraint at this part of their set, he even played a bit of guitar and bass on a few songs. It was all vintage Converge in that it was sincere and heartfelt, but it was so different from what is generally perceived as ‘the Converge sound’ that I got to experience the feeling of attending at a historical event. The visuals for this one were dull as fuck though, but that didn’t even matter in the end, you can’t expect perfection from punks, but you can expect them to kick their filthy sneakers in your mug and show you that your soul is cheap as dog shit unless you keep it heated with the burning of your morals.
I deliberately passed on Amenra’s acoustic set - probably not more on that later, but I’m glad to accept a good offer on my original Afterlife picture disc 10-inch- a glance at the programme showed me the logical thing to do: check out on the last Finnish act of the weekend, Atomikylä. I wasn’t familiar with them at all before, but own two of their CDs now. It was perfect. Loud pysched out DOOM jam cuts full of evil feedback and seemingly unpurposeful screaming tore a hole through my jaded ego and got me banging my head and shaking my ass. Before it got to that point I had a nice little chat with some other Finns and managed to impress them with my knowledge of prime Finnish sludge bands Demonic Death Judge and Hebosagil (Walter, if you’re looking for some Suomi stuff for next year, here you go). Later on I impressed the Atomikylä merch buddy with my knowledge of Finnish curse words and pronunciation and got a free patch with my two CDs. An unexpectedly perfect set like I said before.
The last gig of the night was not going to be Neurosis, keeping that for Sunday, but Blood Ceremony. I had seen them during my previous visit to Roadburn, but only for about 1,5 song, in the mean time I missed a few occasions to catch them on tour but now, now I’d have my chance to fully revel in their magickal retro prog DOOM sound of whatever. I enjoyed every fucking flute-tone of it. I was stunned, the band, the atmosphere in the chapel, the litres of beer, it all just contributed to an hour long swirl of happiness and hedonistic indulgence in something as fleeting and immaterial as ‘sound’ and ‘vibe’. Of course this band has more than a handful of quality songs and their singer is more than just a charismatic front woman, she’s a high priestess of spiritual arts. Not ‘black arts’ that would be too easy and too incorrect, there’s nothing evil about Blood Ceremony, but something rooted in earth and channelling the spirits of earth, water, skies and trees into the echo chambers of post-modern empty skulls.
After that it was a wrap for me, walked towards the station, waited 45 minutes in a windy cold, cached a bus to Breda and crashed out until the morning in my dorm bed.
Sunday April 17
Sunday is of course the Afterburner, but because I skipped Friday and the day’s bill boasted at least 3 not-to-be-missed acts it didn’t seem like an afterthought at all, more like the climax even. Anyway before some more toiling with my backpack had to be done and the chance to have a hefty breakfast on one of the ‘Weirdo Canyon’ terraces couldn’t be passed up on. Until the hail chased me inside, funny, the quietest moment of the weekend had to be disturbed by such an intrusive weather event. As if the skies were aware of their powerlessness in the face of so much grandness and heaviosity and had no chance but to make themselves felt when we were at our weakest and most unsuspecting. Anyway, hail can’t argue with trappist on tap, and random Roadburn strangers to have a chat with.
After that intermezzo I had to collect two friends at my secret free parking spot on the outskirts of the Tilburg city centre. Our little party got back in time to catch the tail end of The Vintage Caravan’s ‘surprise set’. Well, I’d noticed the singer among the audience on Thursday so it wasn’t much of a surprise, but it was no less welcome for it. I’d seen VC in February on tour and they rocked then as much as they did on that early Sunday afternoon. You simply cannot argue against their pure joy of performing and high quality hard rock riffs. Between them and Blues Pills hard rock is very much alive and kicking in Europe. Anytime again lads.
Green Carnation came on and did not disappoint or more correctly, they fucking nailed it. The Light of Day, Day of Darkness piece is a challenging listen on CD, but it’s simply perfect for the setting of a dark 013. When they started playing the crowd wasn’t very big yet, but plenty people joined during the set and few left. Probably the live version contains a few tweaks compared to the studio version, but the engrossing atmosphere and the vortex of emotional momentum was kept fully intact. They masterfully intertwined the various themes and intermezzos and by the time the sample of the little child talking signalled the nearing end of the set some tears broke through. Experiencing Light of Day… was one of the most anticipated events of this year’s Roadburn and it proved majestic, powerful, emotional, masterful.
After another visit to a terrace and more delicious trappist we decided to check on Jakob, a totally unfamiliar band. They proved to be a more than competent instrumental post-rock (dang, the P-word!) band. Their musical scene-setting was fortified and visualized by the live visuals of Jérôme Siegelaer. All together it was easy to get drawn into and a fulfilling experience. Glad we went.
Amenra was not to be missed. One simply NEEDS an Amenra show every 18-24 months in order to scrape the residus of stale emotions and denounced whims off one’s soul. They reset your preconception of what is ‘pure’ and what is ‘real’. That shiver down your spine is real, that knot in your gut and that ache in your neck are real. Not your bloody sneakers or the braids in your smelly beard. Plenty people seemed to agree with me, the band got heads nodding and fists pumping all the way to the back. Amenra value simplicity over visibility, tone over virtuosity, impact over ego, but eventually boast enough of all six of those traits to have grown into a formidable force that has earned every shred of respect the hard way and gives every punter a hard time denying that. Since the first time I saw them in an abandoned chapel in Ghent every performance of theirs left an indelible mark, this one, once again, was brilliant.
As for Syndrome earlier in the aternoon, the line at the Cul De Sac for Witch Trail was just a bit too much of a challenge to not make the easy choice of having another seated beer. I’ve seen both acts before and do heartily recommend them tough, especially for Witch Trail things seem to be going fast now.
So here we are, Neurosis. Only the second time I saw them live and before anticipation was high. I’m not the world’s biggest Neurosis fan, but of course I occasionally listen to Through Silver In Blood or Times Of Grace, they’re simply unfuckwithable. They invented the style much of the Roadburn experience is build on, they didn’t break the mould of punk/core they shattered it and ditto for metal and DOOM in the same swoop. The 2-hour live show was not a split beard hair short of impressive and unforgettable. As opposed to most other bands performing on the main stage they didn’t employ swanky visuals to impress the audience, they only used lights and smoke, but used them expertly. The run back and forth through their career showed no duds or dull moments, only blistering intensity. Even the 5 minutes of technical difficulties after the first song didn’t really detract from the intensity. The band didn’t say a word to the audience, but eventually none was needed. Everything that needed to be said had been spelled out by the copywriters, the pundits and the bloggers it was simply time to let the music speak for itself. Neurosis attracted the biggest crowd I’d seen all weekend and that spoke volumes too. One of the great things about Neurosis is their commandeering of sound, they never let things slip out of control, no matter how loud, heavy, intense or distorted it gets, this is human-made and if this is the foreboding thunder of the apocalypse, that - who can be unconvinced of that - will be human-made as well.
So you all read my 2 long posts already? Here’s just some additional stuff, mostly nonsense.
Favourite beer of Roadburn 2016: La Trappe trappist on tap.
Favourite merch purchase of Roadburn 2016: Purple festival t-shirt.
Favourite food: burger at Polly Magoo.
Favourite travel music: Cobras and Fire by Monster Magnet.
Whishlist for 2017:
Artist in residence: Colour Haze.
Full Album set: Legacy by Hypnos 69.
Curator: make it a co-curatorship between Consouling Sounds and Throatruiner records, gonna be a blast.
Some random names: Ararat, Stangala, Evoke Thy Lords, Unearthly Trance, Cowboys and Aliens, Litmus.