All photos by Paul Verhagen.
Roadburn, oh Roadburn. How am I going to write about you without it sounding like a complete open love letter? Last year you started the butterflies in my stomach, this year you really took my heart. Where else in the world of music do you see the festival director in the audience at as many shows as possible, soaking up the music and the atmosphere? Simply put this is Walter’s party and we are his guests. Or rather his extended family, as this is the general feeling every Roadburner experiences at this amazing festival, the feeling of being part of one enormous family.
What makes Roadburn such a great event is not just this family feeling, but also its continuous evolution to try and find new musical and creative boundaries. Some people still live in the past and they remember the earlier and older editions where the main source of music came from genres such as stoner, doom, sludge, and heavy rock, but over recent years the present day Roadburn has gradually moved on expanding its musical and creative horizons. Yes, you can still find a schedule watching mainly stoner and doom bands all day and night, but these annual 4 days in Tilburg have also turned into one of the best places to expose yourself to something completely new. More than once I overheard someone say that they walked into a random venue to see a band play they’d never heard of before to then walk out with a mental wishlist to check out the band’s complete back catalogue. That, my dear reader, is Roadburn for you, a festival of creativity where one can pick up on new genres, bands, artists, and new forms of art. Or you can simply stick with what you already know and still have an absolute blast of a time. Or what about the excellent side programme? If you want a break from the music on offer you can find some inner peace at the art exhibition, check out one of the live interviews or panel discussions, or watch a great documentary..
So, let’s focus on the music a little bit into more detail. Below you’ll read about a selection of performances that have left a lifelong impression on me. It is very easy to write this festival report in a chronological manner, or day by day, summarising each band I’ve seen, but I feel that’s beyond the scope of what Roadburn’s all about. And besides, this is a review, not a dissertation on Roadburn.
I’ll start with the artist in residence, which was the psyche collective Gnod, who played 4 very different sets throughout the festival. I watched all 4 sets, and I can now say with more certainty that I am not sure anymore if these people are from a different planet or not. From their punishing experimental electronic set at Het Patronaat on Thursday, all the way to their last set opening the Main Stage on Sunday with fellow psychers Radar Men From The Moon, under the collaborative name Temple Ov BBV, my brain simply got rewired every single time I watched them. My favourite set of the 4 was their Friday night set in the Green Room, where they played their more “classic rock” set, and presented some songs of their latest protest album JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT?-?WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE. By the time they started their last 20 minutes of heavy, pulsating psyche using nothing but flashing strobe lights they had turned the whole Green Room into one gigantic dancing mass. Their Saturday set where they collaborated with drone duo Kuro was also of outstanding quality. I feel sorry for the people who left after 25 minutes of listening to a very slowly evolving drone set, which in first instance didn’t seem to go anywhere. But Gnod being Gnod, the second half of the set somehow miraculously turned into yet another massive psyche fest. How on Earth they do this, I really have no idea. They are simply in a league of their own.
My next highlight of this year was the Amenra show on the Main Stage on Friday night. They were announced quite late, which meant a lot of diehard Church of Ra fans missed out seeing them as tickets for the Friday were long gone by then. I am sad to say that these fans missed what was probably one of the band’s best ever performances. I’ve only seen them 5 times now, but this intense hour-long set simply beat everything. Was it vocalist’s Colin H. van Eeckhout’s foot injury, squeezing just that bit more pain and suffering out of him? Or perhaps the moment when Scott Kelly and John Baizley joined on stage for ‘Nowena | 9.10’? Perhaps slightly disappointingly the band choose not to play any songs from their upcoming Mass VI release, so the contents of this highly anticipated record will be kept secret a little while longer (at least to this reviewer), but this was really only a very minor issue as they played an even better set than they did at last year’s Roadburn. Amenra was invited to play as part of John Baizley’s Main Stage curation on the Friday, and also part of this line-up were fellow Church of Ra compatriots Oathbreaker, who played earlier on the day. And how! Focusing on mainly on their latest album Rheia the band played as if there was no tomorrow. Newishly added drummer Wim (also from Supergenius and Wiegedood) was bashing his drums, being the driving force for the rest of the band to demonstrate their excellence. Because what became really clear watching them on the Main Stage was how bloody talented this band is, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they won’t turn into a global act soon. The only slight disappointment to me was Caro’s vocals which sounded a bit low in the mix, but this might have been due to where I was standing.
As with any big festival it must be quite daunting to be asked to open the actual first day. Both Wretch and Ash Borer were opening Het Patronaat and the Green Room, respectively, on Thurday. I opted for Ash Borer, as Wretch is playing on my doorstep next week where I will catch them. Their whole set was an absolute pleasure to watch and it instantly made me realise how good the sound and lights are in 013’s Green Room. In fact, I think I’ve seen my best sounding sets of the festival there. Ash Borer are signed by Profound Lore Records, who had a big presence this festival, with Ash Borer’s set being one of the festival’s very impressive performances. They’re a no gimmick black metal band, who simply play excellent music played by excellent musicians. Their rhythm section was absolutely sublime, which really made me stay and watch their whole set.
One of the other Profound Lore bands playing that day were SubRosa on the Main Stage. Sadly, I missed their ‘subdued’ set at Het Patronaat the next day, but their set playing their latest album For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages in full was simply something else. They’re one of my favourite doom bands these days and this was my first time seeing them live. They’re one of those bands that makes grown men cry, yours truly included. They performed an absolutely glorious set, which was the most mesmerising set of Roadburn (to me at least) and at times heart breaking stuff.
Roadburn is always in for a surprise and this year’s unannounced performance came from Icelandic black metallers Misþyrming, which was kinda expected seeing Naðra were playing in Het Patronaat on Friday. So, Misþyrming played a surprise set in the Cul de Sac on Saturday afternoon, following on from the excellent showcase gig laid down by Dutch avant-garde black metallers Laster. Last year I managed to see a bit of the Misþyrming show at Het Patronaat, but I was standing at the far back of the venue, so when rumours started to spread about their Cul de Sac show, I made sure I was at the front for Laster and never moved from my spot to see this Icelandic spectacle take place in front of me. Black metal comes in various shapes and forms, but what these guys manage to pull out of the bag really beats it all. They played with a ferocity not seen by many other bands. Their energy and passion dripped from every note they played, which made even the non-black metal fans watch in awe. There’s an element of punk to their music, which makes it obvious how this extreme metal genre evolved over the years from the more punk and hardcore musical genres. After two amazing mind-blowing sets by Laster and Misþyrming I felt very satisfied indeed, and at this stage it was only still mid-afternoon on Saturday, one of the busiest days out of the 4.
It was a tough choice to schedule Warning and Slomatics at the same time, but since Warning will play Watching From A Distance in full later this year at Damnation Festival I made my way to the front to give my ears a beating by Slomatics’ amperage. On stage at the Green Room a wall of amps and cabs had appeared and after hearing their soundcheck I was hoping my earplugs would manage. Somehow their main set wasn’t as loud as their soundcheck, but still loud enough to feel every bone in your body rattle, putting everyone in a slow banging trance. Their set also included a guest appearance by Conan’s Jon Davis, thereby repeating their London Desertfest show from last year. Slomatics were one of the few bands who genuinely showed their appreciation on stage to be part of Roadburn and I don’t think I’ve seen any other band smile so much during throughout their performance.
As for the most insane performance I’ve seen at this year’s Roadburn, I will have to go with Mysticum, which turned the Main Stage into a huge, sweaty industrial black metal rave party. On paper they’re not the type of band I was keen to watch, but I was curious to see what was going to happen. So my initial plan to watch one or two songs from the opening of their set turned into me watching their complete performance in a mixed state of confusion, admiration, and a general “what-the-fuck am I looking at here” feeling. On the Main Stage 3 enormously high platforms were placed, one for each band member. There were no drums, all the extreme beats were programmed, but the overall show with continuous strobe lights flashing violently over the audience with added projected imagery of ‘Satan’, ‘666’, and the band’s logo made it a very mesmerising and almost hypnotic show. I simply couldn’t walk away. This was the Church of Satan and we were summoned. They were the band everyone kept talking about the next day.
By the time it was Roadburn’s fourth day I was definitely feeling it. My liver had troubles coping with the overtime and my feet were throbbing. However, another day was ahead of us, with some very appealing names on the schedule. This last day is traditionally known as the Afterburner, though it has by far outgrown this status and it is now a complete full festival day, with this year even 4 different stages to choose from. After the opening of earlier mentioned Temple Ov BBV I opted for a bit of Pallbearer, seeing as their last album Heartless is probably their best yet, and the two times I’ve seen them before they always struggled with their live sound. This performance however was a very memorable one. This band is ready for the big stage and two opening songs of their set I watched sounded brilliantly, especially Brett Campbell’s beautiful vocals accompanying their crisp sounding musical heaviness.
I left Pallbearer to squeeze into Het Patronaat to see SUMAC. I am one of those unfortunate people who never managed to see ISIS live, so any chance to see Aaron Turner in action is a must for me personally, especially considering how much of a fan I am of his heavy sludge. On bass duties this SUMAC tour was no-one else than the legendary Joe Preston as Brian Cook had touring duties with his other band Russian Circles. Their 45 minutes-long set was one of Roadburn’s heaviest as they shook Het Partonaat and its foundations nearly into the ground. A lot of heads were banged those 45 minutes, including yours truly.
But the one band I was looking forward to the most of all 4 days was probably Ulver. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early promo copy of their latest album The Assassination of Julius Caesar, which they were playing live in full on the Main Stage. The audience was a mix of people who exactly knew what to expect and people who for some reason still believed they would play some material from their earlier black metal days. The latter ones were surely surprised to hear Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg sing beautifully using nothing but clean vocals, whilst the band, which included a couple of guest session musicians, played an eclectic set of 80’s influenced electronica, which gradually made everyone smile and dance in appreciation. Their light and laser show really added a huge element to their performance as well, and for me their mellow set was the perfect ‘Afterburner’ set. This was another memorable Roadburn performance, especially considering the band doesn’t play live an awful lot anymore.
Some other honourable mentions of bands I’ve seen, though only partly are Bathsheba, who played a devastating doom set at the Cul de Sac on Thursday, Zu’s jaw dropping set in the Green Room on Friday. I really need to see these guys again at a proper gig, not when I have to leave to see Amenra as they were extremely impressive, and probably the most avant-garde, experimental band at this year’s Roadburn. Telepathy played a very solid, loud as fuck post-metal set at a near full Cul de Sac on Friday, and after missing them in the UK a couple of times I was happy to finally have seen them. Seeing Memoriam on the Main Stage on Saturday wasn’t my initial choice, but sadly I couldn’t get into Extase to see Casual Nun. But in retrospect I am very glad I did see these death metal legends as they laid down an awesome set of old school grooves and riffs. Ex-Bolt Thrower frontman Karl Willetts was clearly in his element and fully enjoying their Roadburn appearance. More old school stuff was played by My Dying Bride, who played their classic album Turn Loose The Swans in full on the Main Stage. I arrived just at the right time when they played their encores, one of which was the original version of ‘Sear Me’, which is one of my favourite My Dying Bride songs of all time. And of course Integrity who brought the sadly much reduced crowd some classic old school hardcore on the Main Stage late on Friday evening. Pontiak played a bender of a psychedelic tinted rock set on Sunday in the Green Room, which went down a treat. It was my first time seeing the Carney brothers in action and I’m very glad I did. Over at the Cul de Sac Dutch doomsters MNHM (Mannheim) presented material from their upcoming album Of Empires Past on Sunday. They were part of my biggest Roadburn clash, with Pillorian playing the Main Stage, Inter Arma playing in Het Patronaat and Radar Men From The Moon headlining the Green Room. I opted for Inter Arma though, so I finished my Roadburn 2017 experience watching this very entertaining live band produce a great set containing various genres, going from black metal to heavy doom, sludge all balanced finely with massive progressive layers. They were the perfect ending to my Roadburn, presenting the various styles and genres on offer in one impressive live performance.
I watched more full sets than last year, which I’d totally recommend to anyone, as Roadburn sets are special, and there’s always something happening you’d miss otherwise. I caught up with loads of friends, I made a lot of new friends, and I simply cannot wait till next year. It will be a long year waiting to find out what the organisers have planned for the 2018 edition. Whatever bands will play, it will be awesome. Mark my words.