“People want to feel a deep cut when they hear music,” comments Marissa Nadler, speaking in a live YouTube Q&A, “in whatever style.” Let’s begin here because this, to me, sums up what makes Roadburn so great: you can hear music from all over the spectrum, free from generic prejudice, played like it was the performer’s last gig. Anything that makes a deep enough cut is suitable, and anything can and will cut deep enough for you at some point in the proceedings. That definitely goes for this year, too, when Roadburn 2021 became Roadburn Redux and was necessarily moved online.
The impressive thing about Roadburn’s approach to moving their festival online, is that they clearly worked hard to create a structure for this purpose that actually recreates something of the unique nature and spirit of the festival, rather than just lining up a few streams in a mandatory format. The Redux website essentially portioned out varied forms of content, following an allotted schedule, meaning that you could plan your weekend according to their timetable, creating some sense of excitement and anticipation. There’s also a live chat function running through out, down one side of the website; here, right until the site was pulled down a couple of days after, thousands of Roadburners met and geeked out over their favourite niche, musical discoveries as we all usually do face-to-face. Also in the chat at one stage, Becky Laverty (responsible for RB’s Publicity & Comms) discusses their Redux strategy, deliberately working to ensure that an attendee can “forge your own path through” the festival, and giving enough time to theoretically view every item over a ram-packed four-days – even watching recordings of live streams you might have missed. Therefore, in the following, I’ve kept true to this spirit of serendipity, and maintained the slightly random order of acts I watched (often on different days to when they “played” or were released).
My Roadburn Redux began with a live stream from drone duo Nadja. Laying foundations of grainy, electronic fuzz and sparse thumping bass notes, the Canadian married couple build to a fierce, energetic climax of rhythmic dissonance. Filmed live in tasteful, sepia tones at the Black Lodge, Berlin, it’s hard not think of David Lynch here; but it’s not just the venue’s red curtains and monochrome zig-zag carpet that evoke that director’s trademark dream scenes: there’s something in Nadja’s ominous hissing fuzz that directly recalls Lynch’s use of electricity in Twin Peaks: The Return, and their moniker was part-inspired by the Lynch-produced, noir-vampire film of the same name from 1994. The experience ultimately manages to be simultaneously soothing and tense.
Next are Italian experimental metallers Nero Di Marte play a slightly unhinged set from their rehearsal space, featuring plenty of dissonant death metal, some melodic vocals and oddly tender chords. I love watching bands play in this kind of intimate setting—something we’ve seen more of recently for obvious reasons—and it falls into the category of “things that I’d like to continue after the pandemic” (alongside actual live music, too, obviously). Definitely one to watch out, for fans of Gorguts, Neurosis, Meshuggah, and anything heavy and avant garde.
The Devil’s Trade is Dávid Makó, an impressibly-moustached singer-songwriter from Hungary, streaming live from a disused quarry – clearly not a venue you’d be able to see at the usual Roadburn, so it makes for a particularly memorable experience. Characterized by a soaring tenor voice (reminiscent of both Eddie Vedder and New Zealand dark folk duo A Dead Forest Index), and shimmering Telecaster chords, The Devil’s Trade often evokes a slight country feel, and would fall into the vague neofolk category (complete with banjo); but there’s some grungy, hard rock in here, for sure, when the drums kick in, and with his voice becoming rougher, grizzlier. I’ve only looked up his details following the show, so hearing these songs, sung in a language as yet unknown to be Hungarian, produced a pleasantly estranging quality at the time. The stream is shot crisply in black and white, with atmospheric seascapes projected on the walls, turning Makó’s quarry surroundings into a forest of velvet curtains, which all makes for a rich visual and sonic experience.
GOLD, the Dutch “post-everything” band, are regulars at Roadburn, which gave their career the step-up it deserved a few years ago, so it’s a special moment to see them finally play the largest stage at the 013 venue, having played almost every other stage in previous years. And it’s a real highlight of the Redux weekend. Especially commissioned for Redux, vocalist Milena Eva explains that this piece “This Shame Shall Not Be Mine” deals directly with her own experience of rape at a young age – and it’s as emotionally harrowing to listen to as you might expect. Milena looks improbably stylish in an oversized, man’s brown suit, yet, in the context of a piece written about sexual assault, the suit feels deliberately chosen to evoke the shadow of a sinister male figure.
Since forming in 2011, GOLD have recorded upbeat grunge pop, polished post-black metal, and expansive post-rock, showcasing their heaviest, most guitar-oriented side at Roadburn in 2019. GOLD’s style on “This Shame” showcases how Roadburn reimagines heaviness: the band moving away from their heavy, metal-oriented guitar approach (they have three guitarists) and achieving an emotional sonic weight through a kind of darkly harmonious pop/electronica sound. There are definite shades of Portishead here (especially their magisterial ‘Machine Gun’), with GOLD juxtaposing cold and eerie vocal melodies over brash electronic drumbeats.
There are also shades of the Cocteau Twins at their most beautifully ethereal. In one memorable moment, Milena performs largely acapella using a similar vocal effect to Imogen Heap’s ‘Hide and Seek’, turning one voice into an oddly harmonized choir. Already capturing something of Björk at her most electronic, GOLD’s use a spoken sample from the Icelandic prodigy, which does more than just solidify the influence: taken from a famous response to an interview question about feminism and art in 1994, Björk lists the freedoms afforded to male artists, and argues passionately for the woman artist’s right to “be characters” and to “be themselves”. At Redux, it serves as the most direct political statement of the weekend. GOLD did a lot more here than just combine 90s’ heroes: they have never sounded as much like themselves. If one thing best characterizes GOLD’s sound, it’s their disconcerting ability to combine biting sarcasm with profound sincerity.
Like GOLD, London-based solo cellist Jo Quail has moved from strength to strength in the last few years. Filmed at the Black Heart, London, Jo explains how she was unable to arrange ‘The Cartographer’ (the piece originally commissioned for full orchestra at the ill-dated Roadburn 2020) for Redux, and introduces the piece she performs instead—‘Rex Infractus’—which was influenced by a T.S. Eliot poem. Running her electric cello through an array of pedals, every Jo Quail performance is a kind of sonic alchemy: her playing can capture the nuance and variety of “natural” cello sounds, can become a whole orchestra, a metal band, an expansive and eclectic electronic composition, and anything else that she puts her mind to. Playing a piece that showcases all the things Jo Quail does best—melodic beauty, effective and surprising experimentation, and energetic, violent rhythms—on a bold and vividly lit stage, I’m sure she has made plenty of new fans, and certainly has us all looking ahead to (fingers crossed) the premier of ‘The Cartograoher’ in 2022.
And so, on to Polymoon performing Caterpillars of Creation. It just wouldn’t be Roadburn without some upbeat, stoner pysch, to get the energy and positivity going during the daytime. Combining all the best parts of 70s’ rock on a warm analog carpet, weaving its way through the galaxies, propelled by consistently interesting drums, and gloriously dreamy and vague vocal melodies—with the occasional shriek—at a shuffling pace determined by a crisp shaker, underpinned by low bass drone that pitchshifts up every now and then, and light mechanical noise – for a few moments, I’m back in the 013 for real, feeling pleasantly warm and fuzzy inside.
Closing my Friday, The Ocean are one of those bands I feel I should have listened to by now, with their huge wide sound, rolling drums, Middle Eastern/Arabic scales, reminiscent of post-sludge like Cult of Luna. (It’s here I stop to appreciate just how high is the quality of sound and video production at Redux, everything looking and sounding beautiful, superbly detailed, no buffering and tech problems absolutely minimal.)
Come Saturday and I’m catching up with some of yesterday’s streams. Wahoo, Inter Arma playing covers sets the tone for today’s jumping around in the living room session, and it’s a good job I like Neil Young because these US, eclectic and extreme metallers bash through ‘Ohio’, ‘Southern Man’, and what feels like many more, weaving in some hard-hitting KKK footage. There is more than just quality dad rock here, with some suitably aggressive Minor Threat and Cro Mags versions, some cat videos, and even someone wearing the Primitive Man dog t-shirt for balance. Like any good live stream, there’s plenty of antics, with randoms crashing out asleep on the floor in the studio, and the drummer—it’s always the drummer—modelling 80s-style neon bathing shorts.
It’s time for another Redux highlight: Solar Temple performing ‘The Great Star Above Provides’ live from the 013. Having never heard Solar Temple before, I’d watched a couple of minutes and pigeonholed these guys as decent, good fun, worth sticking around for, good festival band, but not something I’d actively seek out. But by the end of this long set, this Dutch duo has lulled me into a trance with their under-stated, chiming guitars, their driving rhythms, and their subtly monotonous heavy drone. At points like Wovenhand at their grungiest, and poised somewhere between 60s psych and 70s rock, the pair feel like a bigger band on stage, constantly moving between amps and instruments, with one performer playing the guitar—tasseled poncho rippling—whilst maintaining a stripped-back, pedal-operated, drumbeat. Solar Temple just keeps on building, building, building: a steady, urgent, rising-but-rarely-peaking, sound, with beautiful chords changing subtly under the drone. When the peak does come, it’s through a crescendo of guitar drone noise, and the introduction of lushly high, beach Boys melodies, with a nasal, Perry Ferrell tone. By the end, I was thoroughly absorbed in this, experiencing one of those “I have no idea what just I was thinking about” moments, and losing all sense of time – even while at home.
And now for something completely different. UK trio Dawn Ray’d have made a name for themselves as much for their earnest mode of folk black metal, as for their fiercely anarchist politics. In this perfectly balanced set, beautifully filmed inside a church, they showcase their purely black metal side—as aggressive and nasty as most in the scene—with their violin-driven metal moments, and their purely acoustic folk songs. “All of these things we sing, we’d just as surely say…”, comes the solemn refrain, and few would question the dedication and the full-heartedness of their performance.
Whether they’re in full excoriating sludge mode, or dark ambient electrocution mode, Primitive Man are here to crush everything. Live, they’re amongst the very heaviest acts I’ve experienced – and I have to say it was disappointing not to experience this at Roadburn. Unable to perform at Redux either, Primitive Man previewed a long video track for the festival, featuring a barrage of black and white imagery, surreal double exposures, and disorientating strobing lights. Fitting the visual mode, the track itself also demonstrated the band’s more narrative side, conveying a very abstract sense of story, with music in which all of their styles converged, building in intensity. If you thought Primitive man couldn’t get any more brilliant and any more nasty, wait until they release this stuff!
Following a cheeky rewatch of the GOLD stream, I tune into a live stream of the topically-named Plague Organ performing Orphan in full—which kicks off immediately with a full-pelt grindcore beat that hurtles relentlessly throughout the entire 50 minute set, over which the band play droning kraut metal and open, spacey pysch. Imagine if Aluk Todolo fed speed to the Duracell bunny and sat him behind their giant light bulb and you’re not far off. The time dilation effect achieved by the combination of superfast drums and contrasting open, spacey sounds is really something special (“My beard has grown six inches since the start of the Plague organ set”, as someone notes in the Chat). Add to this some low, Phurpa-style throat-singing piped in from somewhere, with intense drone underpinnings, and you have the genius of Plague Organ.
Time for a secret set! Well, a sound clip from Icelandic black metal Marghöfða dýrið (The multi-headed beast). Where would we be without a cheeky, extra Icelandic BM band whom few can pronounce at RB? As usual, it’s absolutely glorious – complex, grandiose, vicious. And, somehow, I’m still left with the slight anxiety that I’ve managed to yet again miss a live secret set (stream), even when I don’t have to leave my home to fight my way to the front. (Which I’m pretty sure I hadn’t.)
Neptunian Maximalism are a Belgian “cultural collective” of nine members, whose specially commissioned piece ‘Set Chaos to the Heart of the Moon’ perfectly showcases their Bong meets Sun Ra sound, in a vast and carefully-developed set, written as an “exclusive meditation on the evolution of the human species”. Complete with brass instruments and live trippy visuals, it’s the perfect wind-down, for my Saturday, becoming lost again in introspection.
Sunday kicks off with Haunted Plasma, whose set was delayed from yesterday, showcasing the ever-versatile vocal talents of Matt McNerney (see: VOID, Hexvessel, Grave Pleasures, and many more) alongside compatible musicians from the Finnish scene (whose day jobs include Oranssi Pazuzu, The Hearing, Circle). An international premiere for this new collaborative project from Svart Records, Plasma’s set pretty much lives up to the experimental-science-fictional-psych-black metal-kosmiche-weird-alien madness-whatever-orgy we’re promised from the promo material. It’s all very epic, swirling, and rousing, with the upbeat feel of Grave Pleasures, if in a completely different genre.
I’ve been looking forward to The Nest, essentially a unique, commissioned set from Wolvennest and Friends, hoping that it can transcend the combination of its already pretty lofty members (featuring Van Records label-mates AA Nemtheanga (Primordial, Dread Sovereign), Tommie Eriksson (Saturnalia Temple), Bones (Dread Sovereign), Alexander von Meilenwald (The Ruins Of Beverast), and Ryanne van Dorst (DOOL). Livestreaming from the 013, the stage looks very much like a Wolvennest show, complete with skull altar, occult imagery, candelabra, and thick fuggy smoke. The music is what you might expect, slow, churning, doomish rock, thickened by deep keys; it’s soporific and captivating. It feels a bit like an extreme metal vocal relay team, with each taking turns at the mic, but with Wolven-leader Shazzula noticeably positioned at the back, playing keys and the odd warble of theremin, rather than singing – which is a shame. Of the collaborators, I have a preference for Ryanne’s voice, so clearly I lean towards this section in particular, which takes on something of the traditional metal/70s hard rock feel of that particular band. The collab is most effective when several voices combine towards the end, sounding here like a fresh project, rather than an amalgamation of its associated bands – and here lies the problem, for me: it’s a thoroughly enjoyable show, but I often feel we’re watching Wolvennest lite, plus guests. And full Wolvennest is so much better, as you’ll hear soon.
Another YouTube Q&A, with Lingua Ignota (Kristin Hayter) this time, provides an example of something quite rare: a genuinely original artist who is also able to articulate their ideas very clearly, and having considered their practice in a critical and theoretical context (Kristin’s work draws upon her master’s thesis on misogyny in extreme music from Brown University). The discussion covers her attitudes towards Christianity, her recovery from a recent spinal operation, the physical pain that her intense, physical performances have caused her in the past, the vulnerability and “heaviness” of engaging with an audience, her subversive cover versions, and the fresh direction taken on her forthcoming third album Sinner Get Ready. The Roadburn interviewer is clearly a huge fan, combining the right amount of enthusiasm and knowledge whilst ensuring that she does not dominate – and I’m left with a reminder of how pitch-perfect is everything that Roadburn does, and just how unique an artist Lingua Ignota really is.
And then there was Wolvennest. Premiering their third opus Temple, Shazzula and co. have clearly whipped up something as strong and heady as their previous releases, and the EP Vortex from 2019 indicated something of the development the band has taken on this latest release. Never a stranger to collaboration—their first release featured Der Blutharsch— Wolvennest have co-opted some members from The Nest earlier in the day for this show, with King Dude’s parts piped in (he’s moved to Australia). With Shazzula back at the front, commanding some sultry French-inflected vocals and the invisible electric string of her Theramin, this is definitely a continuation of their pre-established sound, rather than a radical break. King Dude’s vocals work best of their collaborators, his baritone growl unmistakable and sitting well over the band’s thickly psych-infused heavy kraut-metal drone. In an over-saturated “occult rock” scene, Wolvennest have always been more than slightly reductive label, and, for the second year in a row (2020 doesn’t count), they’ve dominated the 013 stage at Roadburn.
I could fill many more pages on Roadburn Redux—I’ll sneak in a shout-out for the Dutch Woman-led black metal duo Doodswens whose ragged, varied take on the sub-genre you’ll want to catch—but will end here. As the organisers noted at one stage, something like 70,000 people had watched content on the Roadburn Redux website by the end of the weekend. Not only is this bound to see an increased uptake in ticket sales next year, it’s a testament to the quality of the festival’s production that such a huge number of people would view something so niche and uncompromising. Even online, Roadburn really is like no other festival: diverse, innovative music whose heaviness always cuts deep. As one attendee commented in the chat, during the final moments in which the content was available: “Tomorrow is just the start of the wait for Roadburn 2022.” Damn straight.