Roadburn Festival 2015

author EW date 20/04/15

Despite a sworn commitment to experience different festivals whenever the opportunity there are just some things one can't turn down. Twelve months on from a hugely enjoyable first visit to the renowned Roadburn festival in Tilburg, Netherlands, I find myself sat on a stuffy Ryanair flight bound for the neighbouring city of Eindhoven in anticipation of another five days of prized doom, metal and all things heavy. Except this time around I will be staying in Tilburg, just a 15 min walk from the fabulous 013 venue, thankfully avoiding the 30-minute train commute that was necessary from my base in Eindhoven last year. All things set, as much pre-festival listening (or as I call it, 'revising') to new and unknown artists done, it is time to welcome in Roadburn 2015 with the now-traditional curtain-raising free event at the Cul De Sac, a small pub venue on the adjoining 'Weirdo Canyon' - as enticing a road of pedestrianised bars and restaurants with copious outdoor seating as you could wish to imagine. Dreams are made of this.

WEDNESDAY - HARDROCK HIDEOUT

Bark

A pairing of Belgian bands is what the free Wednesday night show is all about, the first of those being the gritty, untidy Bark. Like their chosen name, the music of the five-piece is blunt and rabid, a bruising fusion of heaving Pantera, Sepultura and Sabbath influence that has enticed such a decent number of spectators towards the end of this cosy pub that getting into a viewing spot is initially rather difficult. On the small stage, singer Ron - very much reminding me of Entombed's LG Petrov - provides plenty to focus on visually, while the musical element highlights a couple of notable riffs in the rhythmic mass churning out before us. Can’t say much of their notation lingered long in the memory but a decent opening salvo nonetheless. [6]

Prematory

Prematory look thrash, and Prematory play thrash. Of the younger generation they recall Warbringer most vividly in mind, with galloping riffs scurrying along at a frantic pace beneath Simon Duson's rough vocals and respectable level of crowd interaction, of whom a decent number were in danger of crippling their necks before the festival has even properly begun. Not unlike Evil Invaders last year who produced a pulsating thrash opening devoid of any originality, Prematory told me nothing I didn't already know about the genre but left me pleased nonetheless to have decided that the extra day off work to attend this first showing was well it. [6½]

THURSDAY - DAY ONE

Bell Witch

Nursing the kind of headache which suggests I may have downed 7 or 8 beers too many the night previous, making it for the crushing doom duo of Bell Witch in the opening slot time of 15:00 in the wonderful Het Patronaat was to prove tricky. Thankfully all efforts were amply rewarded. Making a minimum of instruments do so much (a recurrent theme at Roadburn 2015), Dylan Desmond's considered 6-string bass chord patterns delivered funereal rights while Adrian Guerra’s thumping percussive power and devilishly deep roars provided a fine take on 2012’s excellent “Longing“. The added reverb and dirt not found even in the grey desolate material of that album made each of their lengthy tomes an unrepentant declaration of doom, often brutal yet cloaked in a touch of finesse in mind of Desmond's occasional fretboard finger tapping and Guerra’s padded drumstricks, both working to great effect. Partially inaudible clean vocals, annoying levels of crowd chatter and my throbbing head were not enough to bring down this opening. [7½]

Sólstafir - "Hrafninn Flýgur"

Due to the unfortunate Bell Witch-Minsk-Sólstafir clash, my late arrival for Minsk in Stage01 resulted in that room being far too full for entry; not a problem when next door on the Main Stage Antichristian Icelandic Heathen Bastards Sólstafir were midway through a truly wonderful composition of reworked and new material in the name of soundtracking the 1984 cult Viking movie of their home land, "Hrafninn Flýgur" ("When the Raven Flies"). As the English-subtitled film played on the big screen behind, the band were split in two: guitarists Aðalbjörn Tryggvason and Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson on stage right with bassist Svavar Austman and temporary drummer Karl Petur Smith opposite. The sensory overload can hardly be described.

Sweeping, magisterial, beautiful patterns and feedback carefully choreographed to coincide with the developments of the movie were frequent, increasing in tone and strength as more violent scenes emerged on screen, and at times pausing entirely during key sections to allow the dialogue to be heard. The instrumental performance devoid of vocals played on the epic, harsh environment in which the film is set - rugged yet beautiful - and was markedly different from the original film soundtrack, which I noted in pre-festival revision leading up to departure, often containing flute accompaniment to the main rhythmic performance. Regardless of this commitment to the original score and answering my internal queries as to how this would be played out, Sólstafir put in a performance that will not disappear from memory quickly for both it’s unique and high artistic qualities. [8½]

Russian Circles

After a break in which to compose myself after that Sólstafir show it was time for a bit of movement between the stages to check some of the many new names to myself. US trio Russian Circles were, like a number of others here, instrumental, merging off-kilter time signatures, heavy head-nodding doom-derived riffs and balanced with periods of rhythmic post-metal. Think Yob meets Isis. Visually there was little of note to speak of with the band focussing on the task at hand, with drummer Dave Turncrantz in particular catching my ear through his innovative techniques on a small kit; his purpose driving the band on through periods in which I struggled to differentiate one song from the next. With guitarist Mike Sullivan deploying a variety of amp effects to offer some justification for the absence of vocals from their arsenal I left content with my introduction to this band as down in the Green Room I had doom calling me out. [7]

Uzala

The callers were Uzala, a female-fronted threepiece who had been recommended to me the day before and from the briefest of listens I picked up ideas of a crunching, Vitus influenced sound. Marching into the Green Room without any difficulty for once, my preconceptions proved somewhat off target, as though the riffs were heavy and the riffs were loud, the lack of ingenuity in any of the song constructions coupled with a mediocre level of vocal quality from Darcy Nutt left me a little underwhelmed. In a scene where strong female vocals are no longer such a rarity her mid-range style did nothing to stand out and take charge from a collection of riffs missing the golden touch of memorability. Pity, but from twice having the opportunity to speak with guitarist Chad Remains later on, the heart is totally there - just some of the application is not. [5]

Thou

Rounding off my quick blast between the stages, it was time for Thou, another act with a strong backing from those I had been speaking with. Arriving late on in their set it was apparent the band’s noisey, chaotic strand of sludgey, droning metal was far more to the liking of a very considerable number of people than I, for which thoughts of Thou being merely heavy for heavy’s sake stood look to have been a minority opinion. Alas I could only make it for the last 10 minutes so perhaps I missed something great earlier on…

Wovenhand

Returning to the Main Stage for Wovenhand I was intrigued to find out what has seen this band receive universal plaudits from both friends and media in recent times. My own listening to the band has fostered a more indifferent reaction but listening now after the event with thoughts of David Eugene Edwards & co fresh in the memory I can at last start to see the light.

Seemingly straightforward on the surface there is a surfeit of depth to Wovenhand that is not apparent to a cursory listen and which reared itself in the layered tones of their heavier-than-record live performance, and from the charismatic, grooving feet of Edwards. His combination of Jagger-esque swagger, stylish appearance and impassioned vocals leave little room for attention on his much more understated colleagues, so its just as well the man’s artistic and creative talents are plainly evident. Utilising many repeated motifs within songs recalling his proud American heritage those aired from a discography now seven albums strong wind and weave their way in and out of contemplative acoustic territory into harsher punk-esque territory, all the while blended into the man’s reverb drenched vocals. At 80 minutes my endurance was tested but rewarded with just another act of diversity reaped on this wonderful lineup. [7½]

Scott H. Biram

Following Wovenhand the need for something understated remained and to that cause I strolled over to one-man act, Scott H. Biram, for the last portion of his set. "I’m not from the US, I’m from Texas" proudly proclaimed the man, whom seated on stage and a bulging capacity of Stage01 meant I could see next to nothing from a position at the back. Worry not - those blues tones emanating from within gave rise to feelings of immense authenticity and musical passion. It is little surprise I read now of his sizeable reputation back home, with some pretty high profile performances to boot. Gritty and impassioned, he is another for whom I add to my list of artists to explore further. No grade available for short time spent watching.

Eyehategod

A few minutes of KEN Mode was all I could afford before one of the weekend’s pre-eminent acts and double-setters, sludge kings Eyehategod. Heroes of their genre they may be but compared to other similar acts (Down, Acid Bath, Crowbar etc) my own personal interest has never really extended beyond that of immense respect for their perseverance amongst countless troubles over the years. In Mike Williams the band have the archetype sludge personality, one whose very appearance speaks of strength and struggle. His strained, seething vocals and poetic lines are the beauty and the beast to inner demons, an interesting counterpoint to the relaxed and considerate guy I’ve seen in notable interviews (and walking around the festival here too). Musically the coruscating vicissitudes made for a challenging listen - perhaps it is this reduction of sizeable riffs against the names mentioned earlier, replaced by the greater overall morose attitude which are behind my own feelings towards Eyehategod, but after half an hour with tracks culled from the latest, self-titled, LP generating a warm appreciation from all around I bade farewell to grab a short rest before another bunch of reprobate New Orleans’. [6½]

Goatwhore

Even that short rest was sadly still not enough to keep my focus solid through the blistering extreme metal attack of Goatwhore. Considering the fury and spite of "Carving out the Eyes of God" and "Apocalyptic Havoc", chosen among numerous potential allies, my struggles to remain awake while standing remain a source of frustration as I sit here typing in the cold light of day. Keeping his chat to a minimum, Ben Falgoust led the band through their catalogue of Celtic Frost derived riffage - those infact upping the influence the highest retained a forthrightness about them that their less inspired material failed to convey. As the first act of my Roadburn 2015 to project a fast and punishing sound it was interesting to note how the stage performance of Goatwhore felt more sterilised and rehearsed than anything I had seen previously. Granted, their requirements of the songs might be such that particular sections dictate particular means of delivery, but watching the band I got the feeling these 60 minutes could be representative of any Goatwhore performance, a feeling I had very much not come to expect from all other acts. Pity. [5]

Bongripper - "Miserable"

Even now it makes little sense. To go from the power of Goatwhore, an act I know well, to the slow, dirging instrumental jams of Bongripper, one I did not know well at all; in the process passing from exhausted to wide awake. Perhaps it was the thought of the upcoming DJ set in the 013 foyer at the set’s end keeping me going. The first of US sludgers Bongripper’s two sets was a full performance of last year’s "Miserable" - 3 songs, 65 minutes, no vocals. Not for the faint hearted. Despite looking, well, more like IT salesmen than purveyors of instrumental sludge metal, the slow spaced out jams that seemingly introduced new riffs to the party approximately every 3 weeks, made for captivating viewing. This was in part to the opportunity to lose oneself in the hypnotic transcendence of their style, where the overwhelming Sleep influence is turned heavier, slower, and longer, conversely borrowing much of that legendary act’s appeal in the process.

By proving their commitment to verbal silence there was no microphone present in front of any of bassist Ronald Petzke or guitarists Nick Dellacroce and Dennis Pleckham, eliminating immediately any potential for an exit of this sorts. Riding on the frequent cymbal work of Daniel O’Connor my neck struggled to hold the weight of my head - not from narcolepsy this time but an insatiable need to ‘bang, especially during that crescendo of pounding that closes "Into Ruin". "Miserable" made me anything but. [8]

As per tradition, the DJ work of Primordial’s Alan Averill filled the air of the venue’s foyer while the ground heaved with banging, drinking and flirting and everything in between. If you were to ask me, this is precisely the spot where the spirit of metal most lives - nothing but flying beer, hair and enjoyment. And I fucking love it.

FRIDAY - DAY TWO - HOUSES OF THE HOLISTIC

The annual curated day of the event, day two is liable to display a wide span of styles with the personal choices of Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson and Wardruna’s Einar Selvik playing a heavy part in the line-up; infact their literal presence was felt across a good many of the acts, starting with a unique proposition first up.

Einar Selvik Workshop

You will not be surprised to read alcohol consumption until around 3.30am made waking a formidable task, but there was ample reward for doing so - a workshop from the brains behind the lauded Wardruna. Thanks to the recent popularity of the "Vikings" TV series the works of his two albums thus far (the final part of the trilogy should be expected within 2-3 years) will have been heard by many, yet to metal fans the world over the man solidified his legendary status the moment "Runaljod – Gap var Ginnunga" was exposed to the world in 2009, that having come after a long career in many more traditionally focussed extreme metal acts.

This 55-minute workshop simply comprised of Selvik on stage in the Green Room discussing his heritage, interests and influences that have gone into Wardruna, what the band stands for plus a demonstration and acoustic performance of three of his more unusual instruments - a Kraviklyra, goat horn, and jouhikko. Taking the interests of his father in Norse mythology from a young age, Selvik told us of his long interest in creating something new, via the means of something old. Not from a mindset of "the past is always better" but from a spiritual resonance and a desire for authenticity. This is taken to extreme levels, e.g. climbing into the mountains at winter or singing while stood in a river to include authentic effects, rather than having them inserted in the studio. Anyone who has listened to either of Wardruna’s works will testify to the noticeable effect this has on the quality of recording.

Interspersed with demonstrations of these three instruments (via excerpts of Wardruna material or traditional poems) and some humourous banter with the assembled throng, my own reaction from right infront of the man was emotional. Something I was to later repeat in Wardruna’s set that evening.

You’ve wondered why Roadburn is spoken of in such awed tones? Here is your answer.

Ivar Bjørnson’s Bardspec

Migrating from that once-in-a-lifetime pleasure to the man’s fellow collaborator and curator at Roadburn 2015, I travelled upstairs to investigate the electronic project of Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson. As much as I love the man’s primary job I rather wished I had not done so. Stood behind a laptop and with an appearance combining his normal Viking look with that of a Christmas tree, the spacey looping sounds residing somewhere between Brian Eno and Jean Michael Jarre appeared to be emitted solely from pre-recordings. I could not determine what Bjørnson was actually doing to air this music at any point, especially so when he disappeared under his desk for a short while, guitar in hand. I’m sure there was a valid stray-cable type reason for this, but it left literally nothing to look at for a good thirty seconds and by then my own interest had completely subsided. This year’s equivalent to Napalm Death’s slow set of last year. [2]

Sólstafir

In two minds about what to do in the next set of bands, I attempted an entrance into Svartidauði’s set in the Green Room but was beaten back by the crowds for this hyped Icelandic act. OH WELL, I’LL JUST GO AND WATCH ONE OF MY FAVOURITE BANDS INSTEAD. Such problems. Roadburn is like that, you see.

This time performing a more traditional set from the day’s previous victorious performance of Iceland’s dominant metal act, Aðalbjörn Tryggvason set about affirming himself as one of metal’s most confident and charismatic frontmen. Utilising those old tricks of the trade like getting down from the stagae to sing with the front row, even taking a selfie on behalf of one lucky punter as he did so, I find it hard to stomach select online ‘commentators’ complaining of his showmanship. I’ve seen A LOT of bands utter not a word between songs or show any human emotion; I know which I prefer.

The slowly developing might of recent "Ótta" material was the mainstay of the set, with "Lágnætti" in particular wonderful in it’s vast scenic warmth. The accompaniment throughout of a video depicting epic Icelandic landscapes and nature to which their music is set effectively conveyed the visual and fragile beauty of "Dagmál" and the likes in a way that could not be gathered at a smaller club show. Pity for the absence of "Love is the Devil" from "Köld”-era material but in "She Destroys Again" and "Goddess of the Ages" there was the icey autumnal grit to measure against some of the springlike joy of more recent tracks. After the "Hrafninn Flýgur" performance of yesterday it was unlikely this more routine performance would match up but this was still a show to wallow in the glory of. [7½]

Fields of the Nephilim

Proving it is possible to spend half a life-time devouring widely rated ‘classic’ bands at every chance and yet still find yourself missing out on some, gothic legends Fields of the Nephilim and I had never crossed paths before a "Dawnrazor" listen in the week prior, even despite them being from the same ruddy county as I. Visually impressive, the fatigues of Carl McCoy & co may well have adorned the band from the 80s onwards but for a first-timer like I they compliment the dark, dusty, slightly parched vibe that emanates through "The Watchman”, "Psychonaut" and the like. Their less-is-more approach to crowd interaction further enhances the darkly depths of their songs, as if these five moodily dressed characters on stage are but a dark mirage of the imagination before us. From a personal perspective the obvious influence of Fields’ sound and look on Sólstafir is enlightening to behold and the conclusion to an effective live introduction to the band, one I enjoyed more than anticipated. [7½]

Wardruna

In the short break that followed it was decided between my cohorts & I to get some food along Weirdo Canyon but the looming realisation of the performance of one Wardruna quickly cancelled such plans. To have seen this rather elusive live act once before (QE Hall, London, 2013) is a proud moment of my life, but it mattered little: this was my number one act beyond all others for the weekend. Rather than attempt to eruditely describe the sensation of listening to this multi-faceted, incredibly resonant act to the uninitiated it is worth your while to immediately listen to the two "Runaljod" LPs released thus far before returning here.

The spine-tingling sensation of listening to music as emotionally conceived and authentically crafted as Wardruna is virtually extinct these days, no matter how high or low you are prepared to dig. It is with these thoughts in mind - especially after the earlier talk from Selvik - that the ten-piece band quaintly stroll on stage to take residence at work stations over three tiers, the bottom one reserved for Selvik and Linda Fay Hella, the lead of three female vocalists. Selvik him is surrounded by a small menagerie of instruments, while other members stand behind a violin, flutes, and a variety of weird and wonderful pieces - not a guitar, bass or standard set of drums in sight.

Much like the band’s two albums I find a greater delight in the overall spectacle of sound rather than through individual songs, all of which contributed in this case to a 75 minute opportunity to transcend to other distant, historic plains. I have seen virtually all my favourite bands live, often multiple times, but noone does this quite like Wardruna, as evidenced by the total silence granted the band in the song’s many quiet moments - I was not alone in feeling a sense of religious collectivism in their presence and most likely not the only one to shed a tear during the likes of "Helvegen" or "Naudir". For the most part all the delicate, and earthly elements of the recorded songs are magnificently replicated live bar some of the most natural aspects to be heard in those versions (wind, water etc) and sadly, the deep vocals of Gaahl, whose recent decision to skip live shows deprives the act of his dichotomy to Selvik’s tones, in what is an under-appreciated component of the band’s value. That fact is the only blemish on a spectacular performance. Next time you see Wardruna, I dare you to not raise your arms in unison with the band during the closing of "Algir - Stien klarnar". Impossible. [9½]

Lucifer

Following Wardruna is like attempting to make a speech about racial unity after Martin Luther King but with regards my band scheduling, that unenviable duty fell to the recently formed act Lucifer, who have risen from the ashes of the cult (can we call them that yet?) classic metal duo, The Oath. Lucifer up the Pentagram and Cathedral influence on that of vocalist Joanna Sadonis’ previous band, and while those riffs heard reside on the better-than-average side of the fence the sound of the new demonically-heralded act is most notable for Sadonis’ Jinx Dawson-esque vocals. The woman is justifiably confident in herself on stage, a beacon of blonde beauty in the surroundings of male hair, and with greater variation in her delivery Lucifer have a strong chance of rising in the retro doom circles when the debut album is unleashed I hope soon; however, with my mind still in emotional turmoil after the preceding act the sense of occasion about this performance felt a little absent. [6]

Death Hawks

Though not an intended destination at this juncture my trusted adviser in these matters had been singing the praises of a young Finnish quartet by the name of Death Hawks, a collective who play the kind of groovy, spacey sound of a distant bygone era that long before I first visited Roadburn was synonymous in my mind with the festival. Furthermore, ultra-smooth singer/guitarist Teemu Markkula had the look nailed, marking a good match for the unassailable Eric Clapton in his Cream days - big hair, elegant shirt and the whiff of certain substances about the art being performed. Due to pressing matters of a more doomed nature in Het Patronaat I could not linger long but that which I did hear was very easy on the ear, a swathe of free-flowing licks with a strong vibe of rehearsal room jam about it, not unlike the Deep Purple I happen to be listening as I write this review. Throw in the odd saxophone interlude from also-keyboardist Tenho Mattila and this was a recipe for tranquil enjoyment.

Profetus

Plying a sound considerably bleaker from where I had just arrived, fellow Finns Profetus are today the standard-bearers of their nations’ illustrious funeral doom heritage of Thergothon and Skepticism. It had not taken much of a listen to last year’s "As All Seasons Die" to get this writer all excited about the thought of such material being performed in the splendour of Het Patronaat, approaching the witching hour…but like Goatwhore 24 hours before, this became the time in which legs and brain began reverting to blue screen of death mode. Unlike Goatwhore though, Profetus do not possess any of the speed - oh hell no they don’t! - usually needed at such moments to stay alive; their utterly funereal tempo and apocalyptic visions through slowly brooding, fantastical riffs and moody synth make for an engaging listen on record but that bit harder to absorb from the stage, despite the strong presence from the five menacing performers on stage. The perfect opportunity for subtle involvement, just not for I right then. Great opportunity lost.

Skuggsjá

One further illustration of Roadburn’s all-round awesomeness was the closing presence of the Skuggsjá project on the main stage for this day of Nordic glory. In a move that shows just how this form of music has come full circle since the hell-raising days of the early 90s, Skuggsjá was the commissioned work performed by both Enslaved and Wardruna for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution on 13th Sep 2014, and here was being presented outside Norway for the first time.

Eleven performers on stage, all of them double shifting (I decided to skip the earlier Enslaved show in respect of their gig the day after) and set up on the same tiered stage Wardruna utilised a couple of hours before. Having no background knowledge of the sound of this project I was all set up to be surprised but alas it was hard not to come away with a tinge of disappointment when daring to compare this junior to the respective parent acts. The emphasis of the sound was primarily focussed on Wardruna’s folk/ambient leanings, often accompanied by Bjørnson’s floating guitar lines, until the occasional intervals when traditional instruments were replaced by what felt castaway riffs from recent Enslaved times. Having said that, Grutle’s powerful bass presence and Larsen’s wonderful vocal intrusions ensure even castaway Enslaved is better than most bands but these combinations of disparate sound eventually began to sound just that - disparate. Love the concept but personal feeling is that more could be gotten out of a slower paced involvement from the Enslaved cast to allow for a truer integration between the two than the ‘your turn, our turn’ feel of Skuggsjá. Still, how often is one ever going to see this again? [6]

Concluding the day in the foyer with the more traditional rock and metal sounds of veteran Roadburn DJs Bidi van Drongelen & Patrick Cornelissen was a slightly calmer way than the previous nights’ (and as it was to turn out, the subsequent nights’) carnage and debauchery. Not that the revelry ceased upon closure at 3am however…

SATURDAY - DAY THREE

After the glorious mid-summer weather of the Friday it was a return to normality for Netherlands in April - grey, overcast and afternoon rain - yet nothing likely to dampen the spirits of the assembled throngs now well settled in and ready for action.

Calling me from the void earlier than would certainly have been the case after yet another punishing night (all the beer, little of the sleep) was one of those Roadburn-only curiosities that simply could not be missed; a seminar with Enslaved’s Ivar and Grutle discussing the history of that little covered (!) topic, Norwegian black metal. Due to layout changes from the equivalent 2014 chats, this year the location of the downstairs cinema room in the 039 venue provided a suitably dark and cavernous feel to an hour-long discussion covering the topic of metal’s most (in)famous darkened cavern, that of Euronymous’ ‘Helvete’ store in Oslo in the early ‘90s, among recollections of their early days forming the band as teenagers, the direction black metal has taken since then and what it might hold in future. Ostensibly a promotional chat alongside the author of a another (delete as appropriate) book on the musical side of the genre (a Norwegian-language only, currently), these informal presentations always offer a glimpse into the ‘real’ side of the artists with the microphone that cannot be glimpsed when performing on stage. Case in point, Grutle’s quip: "How many Americans does it take to change a lightbulb? 100. One to change the bulb and 99 to make a documentary on Norwegian black metal."

Being one of the lucky few to grab a seat and cradling my precious Red Bull the precious hour of sitting was a blessing; the mass of standees behind me merely served to highlight that, when it comes to extra-curricular activities, even at the comparatively early time of 13:00 there is no shortage of interest from the faithful.

Botanist

These San Franciscans could well be argued to play a rather unique form of black metal… or should we go with ‘green metal’ as per their Facebook page? In compound a black metal act at their roots, this five piece take concept to its (il)logical conclusion - frenzied and chaotic, the disconcertingly uplifting sound courtesy of two hammered dulcimers and harmonium on stage rest under an unintelligible vocal delivery getting off on all things botanical ("Callistemon", or "Cinnamomum Parthexnoxylon" anyone?). Bizarre. Quite frankly I am surprised their back story reaches as far as 2011, last album "Flora" being their sixth. Combine the aforementioned aspects to their sound and the brown cloaked look and it becomes difficult to regard this act anything more than a bunch of mates living for real an idea that should ended the morning after a drunken pub discussion. Personal discretions aside, the higher pitch of the lead ‘riffing’ emerging from that unusual assembly of tools allowed the finer details to be heard more clearly than I would normally expect as a first time listener, if forgiveness is given for few of those melodies actually lingering in the conscious. Call it a liberation of traditional instruments if you want but I’d prefer to move on from this experiment and avail myself of something with a bit more substance. [4]

Death Penalty

Swinging in the complete opposite direction, the English/Belgium act Death Penalty cast aside any sense of innovation or concept for their traditional adaptation of the heavy/doom metal sounds. Built weightily on the axe work of Gaz Jennings, he of legends Cathedral, I was frankly expecting a lot more in the way of variation or interest in the material culled from last year’s self-titled effort. Well-titled in respect of their influence from cult NWOBHM act Witchfinder General (whose debut album gives the band their name), DP possess a chunky approachable sound for fans of the genre and in Michelle Nocon, a passionate presence on stage albeit one without a distinctly personal touch to her vocal delivery, yet with riffs locked up in restrainers and no unusual song patterns or memorable notations I left sooner than anticipated. [4]

King Dude

And I’m rather glad I did too, because my next port of call was another one-man music/comedy act, the smartly presented King Dude. Not technically a comedy act, but when a singer’s crowd banter becomes one of your highlights of a fantastic festival then you know it’s gotta be good. Musically his repetitive acoustic guitar chords and crooning vocals mark the man in a league somewhere between Johnny Cash and Michael Gira, the more upbeat tracks in the repertoire - notably "Lucifer’s the Light of the World" and the crowd-requested "Barbara Anne" - having the feel of a campfire song in a quasi-religious compound. Professing that my knowledge, again, was limited to a few tracks before the festival it is difficult to believe that the lyrical bent of King Dude’s songs are anything but a tongue-in-cheek mockery of more serious religious performers, but the man’s confidence at handling crowd requests and comments was fantastic. Riffing on the temptation to snatch cute baby lambs in the fields around Tilburg, or how his digital backdrop took a staggering 15 minutes to create at home, here was proof that laughter is rarely not the best medicine. I’ll be damned if I was over-awed by much of his music yet this became of my most enjoyable shows of the weekend. [7½]

Enslaved

It had originally been an intention to skip both Enslaved performances in mind of the bands they clashed with, but a quick stroll through the Main Stage in Friday’s show gnawed at my heart for missing out on a personal favourite. Redemption, thankfully, was close at hand. This set was, I understand, younger in material than that of the previous day, as "Thurisaz Dreaming", "Building with Fire" and the title track from the recent "In Times" LP opened proceedings with "RIITIIR"’s "Death in the Eyes of Dawn" added as padding. As the experienced professionals Enslaved now are they managed to emerge positively out of a show as relaxed in nature as this was, although the lengthier passages of progression in the likes of "Daylight" were a threat to a wavering attention span; that is until the choral vocal presence of Selvik (that man again), Tryggvason and Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth, Spiritual Beggars) did their best to look amusingly awkward on stage. With such a catalogue to choose from the distant forays into "Convoys to Nothingness" and "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" were the catalyst for a change welcomed by more than just I before the band’s standard cover act of Led Zeppelin’s "Immigrant Song" closed out proceedings. Perhaps due to the wealth of other activities undertaken in their guise as part-curators for Roadburn 2015 that sweeping fire did not seem to have it’s usual residence in the belly of Ivar, Grutle and co for this showing. [6½]

Black Anvil

Receiving the prize for most portentous band of the weekend: Black Anvil! Clad in leather and bullets, big burly blokes and mostly backlit leaving few features to be discerned, the mere presence of these New Yorkers alone carried a significant enough aura to feel involved, that before a note of their bedevilled black/thrash blasted through the speakers, carrying the strongest dose of savage, crushing, demonic metal I was to personally witness all weekend. My impressions of their last album, 2014’s "Hail Death" were not great, especially in comparison to 2010’s "Triumvirate" so it was pleasing the 50 minutes of this performance passed by at a standard closer to that album’s fantastic opener "What Is Life If Not Now!" than the less memorable material to have followed.

By a mere lack of willingness to play up to the crowd compared to Goatwhore did Black Anvil land higher in my estimations as my extreme act of the weekend - their no compromise attitude perfectly suiting the hostility of the attack borne out in the Green Room’s cosy confines where the sweat dripping off the walls made for a suitably hellish atmosphere. [8]

Urfaust

Well oiled with red wine by this point my anticipation for Dutch atmospheric black metal heroes Urfaust was, to put it mildly, high. Sadly it turned out several hundred others also had the same ambition, the Green Room being far too small a venue to satisfy the desire for a band with such following. Despite only being a two-piece the live reputation of Urfaust precedes them - beyond it could be argued their recorded output - and thus making the mistake of arriving just after start time was akin to turning up late for the birth of Jesus.

Still, considerable pushing and jostling did noone any harm and the worth of this twosome became gradually apparent. The stretched song structures, drawn over durations that not should be for such a style and lack of instrumentation, enhance the puzzlement of what makes their tracks so captivating. In the visual capacity this is easy, however: drummer VRDRBR is a whirlwind of intrigue, his emphasised drumstrokes and commendable passion openly inviting attention away from his more restrained bandmate IX on guitar/vocals. IX himself, of course, differs from the stereotypical black metal frontman, performing a discordant, slightly folk influenced guitar performance with histrionic clean vocals, far removed from the wretching shrieks normally associated with the genre. If it wasn’t for the pre-recorded atmospheric keys adding to the mix I might have graded higher but I’ve done a considerable amount of Urfaust listening since returning home and yet this doesn’t quite have the hold of their Roadburn performance. [8½]

Contriving to miss the thematic instrumental sounds of Zombi my band-watching for the day was done. The evening was not, however, with the final night’s after hours DJ slot fulfilling everything this drained metalhead’s heart desires, that sense of camaraderie and mutual comfort missing from everyday working life. Or maybe it was just the wine talking…

SUNDAY - DAY FOUR - THE AFTERBURNER

The final day of action, the Afterburner. Technically a separately ticketed event, this day provides another varied selection of bands across just the three stages - Het Patronaat now being closed and Stage01 converted into a merchandise room - but plainly no lack of attendance, even if the feeling was in the air that working life, and with it an arrival back down to earth, were just around the corner for a large percentage of attendees. Thankfully this was not the case for I and so continued on as normal, kicking off the day with a band who have provided one of my favourite albums over recent times…

Argus

Bands as classically metal (read as "Metaaaaaaallllll!!!") as Argus do not tend to play a significant role at Roadburn, but there is something about the die-hard conviction and lack of irony of these Pennsylvanians that speaks certainly to my heart, and so it must the festival organisers too. 2013’s "Beyond the Martyrs" remains one of my most cherished albums of the past 5 years and in beginning this set with those powerful two opening tracks, "By Endurance We Conquer" and "No Peace Beyond the Line", I was already transfixed.

A recent gripe of mine within metal has been concerning frontmen/women of (predominantly extreme) bands failing in their duties to involve the crowd, most predominantly by rarely uttering anything between songs, or being devoid of personality when they do. On occasion does this succeed in creating the distance and mystery desired by the artist, but in normality it ends up enhancing an ego and diminishes the chance of establishing a connection or help differentiate them from the masses. In countenance to this is Argus’ hugely likeable frontman Butch Balich, whose reaffirmation of his band being proud carriers of the metal flag was not issued with the irony of a Manowar-style declaration or sense of one-upmanship on others, but of a passion that cannot be faked. This, is gloriously evident in the tracks aired from previous album "Boldly Stride the Doomed": "Piece of Your Smile", “Wolves of Dusk" and "Durendal" and new 7" track, "Death Hath No Conscience" as the unfussy performance and Maiden influenced rhythms hark back to times of originality and authenticity. Band members introduced, hands shaken, metal victorious - just the way it should be. [8½]

Bongripper

After being suitably impressed by the mind-melting instrumental sounds of Bongripper on Thursday evening I decided it appropriate to venture upstairs for them, rather than linger in the Green Room for my fellow Londoners Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell of whom I am these days rather well-versed. No doubt a consequence of change of mindset - different levels of sobriety and exhaustion, plus the stark realisation festivities were nearly over - something about this one did not click so well. The material, taken primarily from 2010’s wonderfully-titled "Satan Worshipping Doom", felt in comparison more meandering against that from "Miserable" a few days earlier but the feeling was not translated across all as heads banged en masse in unison across the busy Main Stage area to the tidal waves of energy that permeate Bongripper’s soul. Still, one of the bands I will take away from as another name fully in need of investigation. [6½]

Anathema

By now suffering the kind of mental and physical fatigue that can only be symptomatic of a legendary festival experience the thought of a 2+ hour performance from heralded English stalwarts Anathema was initially one of great worry. My knowledge of the bands’ varied back catalogue is sketchy at best, and with this being the highlight of their ‘Resonance’ tour - reverse chronological performance including contributions from ex-members Darren White and Duncan Patterson - there was to be a great number of songs which I really did not know.

Why did I ever doubt!? Playing a three-part set eventually spanning nearly 2½ hours this concluding set for yours truly at Roadburn 2015 turned out to be quite the introduction for the esteemed act, highlighting the startling artistic transformation the band have undergone since 1993’s "Serenades", four tracks of which were aired in this 26-song performance.

From a personal perspective the enticing prospect of older, doomed, material to come was a strong motivator to stay but as it turned out the artistic integrity drenched within earlier numbers "Distant Satellites" and "A Natural Disaster”, among others, merited a seamless flow through the ages. The latter of those in particular was wonderfully emotive following guitarist Danny Cavanagh's request for the audience to light the band with their mobiles (the 21st Century alternative to the lighter?) in place of the house lights, a tactic resulting in an apparent mass of fireflies hovering overhead on the balcony while Lee Douglas lent her airy vocals to the clean majesty of the song. The middle sector of the set brought into the fold original bassist and key songwriter Patterson as the ’95-’98 years in which the band started to make concerted moves away from doom/death really took hold. Highlight among these was the "Eternity" trio, it’s early bouncy synth accompaniment giving way to the kind of urgent Vincent Cavanagh vocal performance not noticed before the first set break.

And so it was to the final sector of this elongated performance. Considering the scale of the occasion it was warming to note the humbleness of the band; a showing understandably more in keeping with the atmospheric rock world inhabited by Anathema for so many years, quite a distance from the metal posturing and machismo I take for granted in most live shows. Despite a warning in advance by Danny Cavanagh of Darren White’s nervousness about the gig- a point I found strangely touching, somewhat illuminating the ‘no superstars’ mentality of the festival - it did not show in his candour or conviction. Although maybe not registering the deeper stratas of his early ‘90s vocal performances with the band his immediacy and passion make for an accurate summation of the band as a whole and for far more than guiding my legs for a final lengthy standing stint. To present so many songs and maintain such a high level throughout was pretty much the perfect way to cap things off from five heavy days of band adulation and adoration, a summation that amazes me now a few days later as it did when exiting 013 for the final time. [8½]

CONCLUSION

Not for many a festival have I returned home with such a sense of emptiness as was the case with Roadburn 2015. That magic combination of life-affirming friendliness and camaraderie, a truly global fanbase of attendees, fantastic bands and great weather ensured this was truly a festival like no other. The natural limitations on capacity owing to the venues in use guarantee Roadburn will always remain a small event in scale but try telling that to those of us who’ve been. More than just bands on a stage, Roadburn emphasises the lifestyle ethos that goes with bands on a stage - film, artwork, dialogue and an exceptionally varied lineup. Not for nothing do performing bands declare it the best festival in the world.

And on that note, SEE YOU IN TILBURG - APRIL 14th 2016!

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