Roadburn Festival 2016

author AP date 28/04/16

I started last my Roadburn 2015 review with self-condemnation for attending the same festival as the year prior while there exists a lengthy list of festivals I still yearn to embrace, however, when an experience is as life-affirming AND brilliant as 8-12 April 2015 was for yours truly then there is simply no other outcome but to say: HELLO, ROADBURN 2016!

As a festival that truly does not stand still there were some significant changes in the air for this year's trip to Tilburg's unearthly delights. 013, the festival's lead venue and spiritual home, has undergone a drastic renovation in the past 12 months, saying goodbye to Stage01 / The Batcave while greatly expanding the capacity of the Main Stage and the Green Room to 3000 and 700 respectively. The majestic Het Patronaat and the homely Cul de Sac remain key ingredients while just round the corner from 013, the Extase was added to the mix as a home for some of the lower-middle tier bands wishing to air their sounds in the sweaty backroom of that delightful little pub.

Taking on the challenge of this year's guest curator was none other than Lee Dorrian under the 'Rituals for the Blind Dead' title; a man of irrefutable knowledge and influence on many of the genres welcome under the banner of Roadburn, his band selections provided the festival an even greater diversity than seen before, ranging from the avant-garde compositions of Diamanda Galás to the crust punk of seminal Japanese act G.I.S.M. to the folk of Galley Beggar, his own act With the Dead playing outside the UK for the first time and the more Roadburn-friendly sounds of Pentagram. Throw in Icelandic black metal upstarts Misþyrming, playing a trio of shows including an exclusive performance of their Úlfsmessa collaborative experiment and you truly a festival for the open-minded and inquisitive music fan organised with utmost professionalism.

From a Rockfreaks.net perspective I welcome the addition of the one and only AP to compliment my own ramblings (and inevitable sense of fatigue) and so without further ado lead you straight into the action... EW

All photos courtesy of Jacob Dinesen / Devilution.dk

THURSDAY, APRIL 14TH

Cult Of Luna performing “Somewhere Along the Highway” @ 15:30 on Main Stage

As the first of multiple performances focusing on a single album at this year’s Roadburn Festival, the honour of dropping the curtain on the main stage this year was bestowed upon Cult of Luna and their landmark release “Somewhere Along the Highway”, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. With seven members on stage, including three guitarists, two drummers and a keyboardist, the enormity of the band’s soundscape is staggering as it gradually, cinematically builds toward the crushing desolation of post-metal classic “Finland”, and then ebbs and flows through beautiful quietuses, towering monoliths and eruptions of abrasive noise. All of the light projects toward the audience in scintillating patterns, painting the seven musicians as silhouettes, inanimate vessels channeling the likes of “And with Her Came the Birds” and “Thirtyfour” through a visually stunning, if somewhat placid performance that makes you wish the standing members would to more to emphasise the discharges of musical energy. Even so however, the movement built into the songs does plenty to compensate for the physical lack thereof, with the double percussion, and the immense spectrum of melody that the guitars and keyboard enable, holding the audience in sheer awe as Cult of Luna drifts through his historic piece of music. Once “Dark City, Dead Man” concludes the rites with its stunningly sombre crescendo, one is left with a sensation of transcendence, of experiencing something beyond mere music — the motif of loneliness even when surrounded by others that is the conceptual framework of this opus. Had Cult of Luna accompanied the instrumental majesty with a more expressive performance as well, the feat would have gone down in legend. [8] AP

Inverloch @ 16:00 in Green Room

A quick stroll into the side door of the newly enlarged Green Room brought me into the presence of Aussie doom/death dealers Inverloch, playing with the guttural vocal presence of Arne Vandenhoeck of Belgium's Marche Funebre standing in for regular growler Ben James who was unable to make the show. For the most part Inverloch crawled along at Mourning Beloveth-style speeds but their occasional forays into Incantation-esque breaks of blasting savagery broke any notion of sterility in tempo, while the frequent cleanly struck chords from this year's debut album LP "Distance | Collapsed" offered a cold and oppressive feel in alignment, ably matched by Vandenhoeck's physical presence at the stage front. Not the most original act in the genre but a solid start to my proceedings nonetheless. [6] EW

The Skull @ 17:20 on Main Stage

My attempts to follow Inverloch up with the extravagantly named Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand provided the first opportunity to be defeated by Het Patronaat's excessive queuing so it was on to The Skull in the Main Stage. Being the Eric Wagner-fronted version of doom legends Trouble (another version of the band lead by guitarists Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin still tour under the original moniker) the band come with some serious historic repute plus a recent album of their own to promote - 2014's "For Those Which Are Asleep" - which was being aired here alongside mid-era Trouble material (Friday's evening slot was the one to contain the early-era stuff. Damn. If I'd known...)

Through being only being mildly acquainted with the Skull's own material and a general dissatisfaction at the effort levels being put in by the band on stage left this set feeling a bit of a let-down. I appreciate not every band needs to appear as if they are having the time of their lives but the dour performing persona of Wagner and general lack of celebration in the performances of his cohorts made this a poor comparison to the more heavily populated Cult of Luna show earlier. Peaking with "Psychotic Reaction" and the timeless "At the End of My Daze" at least guaranteed some songs of great repute but this one fell short of expectations. [5] EW

Hexvessel @ 18:50 on Main Stage

Without actually using background projections, Hexvessel distinguish themselves as a band with a unique capacity for weaving together music and imagery. Describing themselves as psychedelic forest folk, the band is renowned for its moody, atmospheric performances resting heavily on the voice and showmanship of Patrick McNerney not to mention the emotive violin, trumpet and keys of Kimmo Helén, and with their concert in Denmark two years ago still revenant in the fondness of my memory, theirs was a set I had been looking forward to in the weeks leading up to this year’s festival. Although their latest album ”When We Are Death” stopped short of totally enamouring me, it is hard to deny that the Hammond organ fuelled post-punk of opener “Transparent Eyeball” works well in the live setting. Together with “Mushroom Spirit Doors”, the song produces a lively contrast to the more mysterious, folksy stuff of which the majority of the setlist consists; stuff that is so ineludibly enchanting that the minutes seem to race by during picks such as “Mirror Boy” and “Cosmic Truth”. Clad in green robes, a cape and a hunter’s hat, McNerney lives and breathes the music of Hexvessel, and it is his total consumption by it that makes lyricism à la ”I knew in this moment the meaning of life, and I wasn’t afraid to die” sound so chillingly beautiful.

At the aforementioned Danish concert, McNerney often remarked that ”now [they] had some woods to conjure”, and for want of a better explanation, that is exactly the kind of imagery such spacious and profusely melancholy music as this evokes. It is tranquil, yet intense, though some of the magic is unavoidably lost in the spacious confines of the 013 main stage. We are forced to duck out before the finale in order to have any chance of muscling our way into Het Patronaat for Hexvessel’s rather different countrymen Oranssi pazuzu, but rest assured the 45 minutes we manage to watch are spent in blissful reverie. [7] AP

Oranssi Pazuzu @ 19:40 at Het Patronaat

It takes some questionable means to smuggle ourselves into the swarming confines of Het Patronaat to catch a glimpse of Oranssi pazuzu, whose latest album ”Värähtelijä” set them up as one of the most eagerly anticipated artists at the festival. The group’s avant-garde, psychedelic take on black metal has the audience enthralled, the frontmost portion showing its appreciation of the mind bending and ear shattering proceedings with spirit and claw fingers rather than your usual horns. It is a little hard to see from our vantage point at the back, but Oranssi pazuzu look to have this possessed energy about them, nefariously swaying amidst the intertwined layers of psychedelia and extremity and offering no words aside from vocalist Jun-His’ infernal shrieks. There is a ritualistic feel to the performance, as though the five musicians were a collective of satanic monks delivering mass, and yet unlike the vast majority of black metal, it is utterly devoid of theatrics. Rather, the strength of Oranssi pazuzu’s show is nested in raw tone, arresting volume, and the entrancing atmosphere the band conjures. Quite as riveting as I had hoped though it may not be, the Finnish quintet nonetheless breathes sufficient fresh air into the metal genre to stand out and make a lasting impression before hurrying next door for another priority concert. [7] AP

Jacob Bannon resurrecting the past with ”Jane Doe”

Converge performing “Jane Doe” @ 20:30 on Main Stage

Roadburn Festival specialises in delivering unique experiences, and Converge playing the iconic “Jane Doe” record in full certainly classifies as such. This is the fist time the metalcore pioneers have attempted a full-album performance, and needless to say, the air is thick with anxious anticipation as the four musicians — vocalist Jacob Bannon, guitarist Kurt Ballou, bassist Nate Newton, and drummer Ben Koller — take the stage with classic nonchalance. The 3,000 capacity 013 venue is bursting at the seams, yet the large “no crowd-surfing” signs projected onto either side of the stage provide an early warning, that the setting is far from ideal for a band as explosive, and as dependant on their audience as Converge. With the barren light show and loops of intense feedback in between the songs, there is a grassroots punk show feel to the proceedings, but although Bannon and especially Newton try their utmost to express the burning rage in the likes of “Concubine” and “Homewrecker”, the band is faced with an impossible task, channeling the animosity of “Jane Doe” in such an unideal venue. This is an album that needs to be screamed into the crowd’s faces in a sweaty basement, and even the musicians seem to grow disheartened as the minutes tick in. When you have most of the audience stood arms crossed, treating “Jane Doe” like one of the many stoner or doom albums featured at Roadburn Festival instead of throwing themselves into a wild, wall-to-wall moshpit, a significant part of the intensity in songs such as “Bitter and Then Some” or “Thaw” is lost. The nostalgia is there for us fans, but the performance is a bitter disappointment — even with Stephen Brodsky joining on additional guitar and backing vocals for a bombastic rendition of the title track. [6] AP

Misþyrming — absolutely paralysing

Misþyrming performing “Algleymi” @ 21:10 at Het Patronaat

Another skilled stealth manoeuvre means that despite Misþyrming’s extreme popularity and the ensuing one-in/one-out procedure in place at the door, yours truly is able to plant himself in the front row for this year’s artist in residence. Smothered in blood and grime and bathed in blue light, the Icelandic youngsters deliver a masterclass in atmospheric black metal with a front-to-back performance of their upcoming album “Algleymi”, which promises to be a groundbreaking record once it arrives sometime later this year. There is a shivering grandeur to the songs, and although traditional techniques such as prolonged tremolo riffs and a rhythm section with all the sonic equivalence of an avalanche form the core of Misþyrming’s music, there is something very unique and hypnotic about the way the quartet approaches the genre. While by no means a pop-bastardisation of the genre, the music is not impenetrable either — like Taake, but more blunt; like Marduk, but less hellbent on extremity. And on top of the captivating songs, Misþyrming has an ferociously paralysing stage presence; a look of madness in their eyes, a diabolical frenzy to the way they thrash around and erupt toward the audience in sudden, threatening surges. It is humbling, even terrifying to behold; a gripping performance which leaves you short of breath, struck with awe, and filled with adrenaline. [9] AP

Paradise Lost performing “Gothic” @ 22:10 on Main Stage

Playing 1991's second LP "Gothic" in its entirety to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its release, there was a festive mood in the British doomsters performance on the Main Stage. The jovial spirit was particularly present in vocalist Nick Holmes who appears to have formed himself a Doom Metal Frontman Comedians Club (latest membership count: 1) in recent times, self-deprecatingly admitting to his lack of hair at one point, which now I think about it seems a touch unfortunate considering his earlier admission of only being 7 years old when he recorded "Gothic"...

I dared not utter it in the presence of the band but to my ears "Gothic" does not stand strong enough throughout to justify the 'classic' tag it often carries, a fact I feel was confirmed by this performance which fell away in its second half, especially once the great opening trio had passed and the less interesting likes of "Silent" and "Falling Forever" were brought forth - despite a number of these tracks being played live for the first time in many years. Picking up the ante with a selection of 6 tracks from the remainder of their discography as an encore PL's performance was a perfect encapsulation of the album being celebrated - greatness bristling against the perfunctory. [7] EW

Behold! The Monolith @ 22:50 in Green Room

In between the gloom og “Gothic” and a pint’n’bite before Black Mountain, there is a moment to spare for Behold! The Monolith, whose sludgy creations pack a hefty punch as well as an overload of stoner and doom riffs of the Mastodon school. But from the brief glimpse afforded, the music also sounds rather standard fare and dangerously devoid of hooks — an impression unmoved by the quartet’s unwillingness to reach beyond the stage limit and offer some interaction with their audience. Mind you, the show is by no means disastrous, as there is a certain primal allure to this stuff, especially if the older works of Mastodon are up your alley (listen to “The Mithriditist” off the group’s latest album “Architects of the Void” to justify the reference), and Behold! The Monolith is certainly a band I would consider watching live again, given the opportunity. And based on the brevity of my presence here, it would be unfair to assign a grade to their efforts. AP

Stephen McBean of Black Mountain bathed in light

Black Mountain @ 00:00 on Main Stage

Although the inch-perfect calibration of the channels in vocalist Amber Webber’s monitor produces a lengthy delay, the fact that Black Mountain accepts nothing short of perfection when it comes to their live mix is a gift in disguise for the audience. The fifteen minutes that pass whilst waiting for the Vancouver, BC born psychedelic rockers to begin hardly matter when you experience the balance they achieve, even in the heaviest passages. You get the sense that Black Mountain insist on enveloping the listener, arresting us in a bubble of pleasant mesmerism. So although Webber is a rather unenthusiastic front figure, the amount of nuances in the band’s music preserves its fascinating quality. Apart from the expectedly colourful lighting, however, Black Mountain’s performance does suffer somewhat from the lack of a clear visual aspect. The backdrop is occupied entirely by a repeat run of a Stonehenge-looking structure with a Concorde jet taking off beyond it, and with Webber’s lack of zest, the songs are left to carry their own weight. As such it is fortunate that Webber’s compatriots — guitarist / vocalist Stephen McBean, bassist Colin Cowan, keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt, and drummer Joshua Wells — are such skilled songsmiths, esteemed in their ability to craft tracks both trippy and epic; and that the setlist ebbs and flows elegantly between the loftier new material off this year’s ”IV” album, and the heavier stuff of old. The fact that the four musicians play with such exquisite tightness comes to Webber’s rescue as well, and once their one-hour allowance winds to a close, you are left with a delightfully thorough sensation that only a band at the top of their game can give rise to. [7½] AP

FRIDAY, APRIL 15TH

Hexvessel & Arktau Eos: “Mirror Dawn” @ 15:00 at Het Patronaat

Apart from the depth and creativity of its line-up, what makes Roadburn Festival so special is its presentation of truly exclusive experiences, such as this rare collaboration between Hexvessel and their compatriots Arktau Eos, practitioners of ritual ambient and archaic elemental music. Granted, the séance is rather bizarre, mildly put. Hexvessel’s Pat McNerney is surrounded by the robed and masked… beings of Arktau Eos, one of whom is clad in a pope’s trimmings as well. The latter contributes a variety of ceremonial bells, bowls, whistles and rattles, unnerving chants of ”Ras! Ras! Ras!” and incense over washes of ambiance and McNerney’s humming and Helén’s beautiful violin soliloquies, but in honesty, it is only when the focus shifts toward Hexvessel’s material that any of it makes sense. The objective here is to create a sort of grotesque communion, but from a musical perspective, only when McNerney & co. take the lead with the most psychedelic picks from their discography does the ‘concert’ become fascinating. Indeed, “Mirror Dawn” is evidently meant more as performance art, and peculiar and intriguing though it may be, it feels unfair to treat it as anything else. AP

Mondo Drag @ 15:40 in Green Room

How refreshing it is then, to swap the rite for some good ol’ fashioned heavy psych in the Green Room, courtesy of Mondo Drag. Wrapped around Andrew O’Neill’s bass grooves, which enjoy an unusually powerful presence in the mix, these Oakland, CA based musicians live and breathe the jam, and inevitably, watching them perform live is like staring into the proverbial kaleidoscope. With vocalist John Gamino manning a keyboard and organ, rhythm guitarist Nolan Girard lending half his time to synths and samples, and lead guitarist Jake Sheley loving nothing more than a good solo, you can imagine the richness of Mondo Drag’s protracted instrumental segments — much of it sounds nigh improvisational, yet those passages are played with such a subliminal understanding between the five musicians (completed by drummer Ventura Garcia), and at such shocking volume, that it never lapses into exorbitance. Rather, by interspersing those jams with efficient vocal hooks, meaty stoner riffs and bouts of stylish cowbell percussion, Mondo Drag manages to hold its audience captive for the duration of their one-hour set and, at least for some of us, to offer a much needed fix of more straightforward, unapologetic rock music without the extra frills that characterise many of your typical Roadburn acts. Super original though they are not, Mondo Drag deliver an entertaining and arresting performance and one of the standout shows of day two. [7½] AP

Concatenatus @ 16:10 at Cul de Sac

The dragging of my hungover corpse into town for the delight of opening day 2 opened with the performance of two Chileans I had the pleasure of befriending at Roadburn 2015, playing their doom-tinged black metal under the name of Concatenatus in the cosy Cul de Sac. With just a demo and EP to their name the guitar & drum duo are still in the process of defining their attack but pulsing through the punishing volume is a dirty Urfaust vibe, tinged with the atmospheric feel of old Satyricon in their faster, hellish material. As Urfaust so ably demonstrated last year a simple two-man line-up can work wonders and Concatenatus hit some of the right notes while varying their vocal deliverances but a touch more finesse in the transition of sections within each song wouldn't go amiss. Still, a more pulverising start than my Fridays traditionally tend to be and one I would happily repeat on all Fridays henceforth. [6] EW

Sinistro @ 17:10 in Green Room

Upon signing with the iconic Season of Mist, these Portuguese doom metallers became the talk of the town, and the release of their brand new album “Semente” has only stoked those flames. Watching them at Roadburn was therefore obligatory even if it meant missing out on Steven von Till’s solo performance, and the massive turnout (which once again necessitates the deployment of some bastardly tricks in order to secure a decent vantage point) suggests I am not alone in hosting that sentiment. In keeping with her theatrical singing, vocalist Patrícia Andrade expresses herself with dramatic movements, accentuating the weight of her colleagues’ (named only by the letters R, Y, P and F) instrumentation and offering that focal point so often missing from bands in this genre. What further separates Sinistro from that pack is the band’s refusal to shy away from incorporating a wealth of outside influences, ranging from atmospheric post-rock to spoken word, and even infusions of saxophone. And, perhaps most remarkably, one is able to latch onto the songs and relate to the emotions contained within them simply by following Andrade’s gesticulation, and by listening to the tonal shifts in her voice — despite the fact that she sings entirely in her native Portuguese. It is a brooding show then, yet one which begs for those last adjustments in order to make it truly memorable. One wishes the R-Y-P-F quartet was as spirited as Andrade, that they abandoned their statue-like postures more often, and showed vigour not only in glimpses. [7] AP

Night Viper @ 17:20 at Extase

With the solo show of Neurosis' Steve von Till being too busy to even bother attempting it was time for a first visit to this year's newly added venue, the Extase, for Swedish heavy metallers Night Viper. Before venturing out to the Netherlands Night Viper were one of my must-watch discoveries and the half hour of brilliant entertainment I could allow myself (thy running order is thy God) fully demonstrated why. Strongly retro-tinged heavy metal full of crunchy galloping riffs, ample headbanging opportunities and one of the most engaging singers I've seen in some time - Sofie-Lee Johansson, take a bow - and you have there the recipe for riveting metallic enjoyment. Whether moving through the title track of their self-titled album, "The Hammer" or "Run for Cover" I would challenge any metalhead worth their salt to not nod along and raise a Fist Of Steel in unison, even when in such a cramped and hot venue as this one. All the more disappointing was the stagnation in tempo that came with "Curse of a Thousand Deaths" but otherwise I left Extase with the kind of smile on my face that only unashamed heavy metal can seem to muster. [8] EW

Repulsion @ 17:40 on Main Stage

The reason for my early Night Viper evacuation was the presence of seminal grind legends Repulsion over on the main stage. The appearance of Scott Carlson & co might seem an odd fit for Roadburn but as the first representatives I was to catch under Lee Dorrian's 'Rituals for the Blind Dead' curation their presence makes greater sense considering the influence "Horrified" has had over many notable musicians down the years. Still, and likely forever more, the bands only LP, released back in 1989, the setlist for this 50 minute show thus had little material to draw from, pulling in a cover of Motörhead's "The Hammer" in tribute to fallen idols, while still finishing a touch early, but there was little cause for complaint considering the effectiveness of a dose of blasting 2-minute punked up grind tracks in an otherwise slow, deathly line-up of bands. Utterly bullshit-free in delivery and execution, Carlson, guitarist Matt Olivo and drummer Chris Moore ratcheted through all of "Horrified" with only the mainman's recording recollections of a few breaking the cycle. Variation is, of course, on the low side for a good many of them but my when persistent foot-tapping and head-nodding are as requisite as this you've a great show before you. [8] EW

Death Alley & Friends @ 18:30 in Green Room

Another of my pre-festival discoveries, Death Alley performed a highly addictive brand of punked up proto-heavy metal drawing on a range of classic influences to deliver one of the most enjoyably reaffirming performances I've seen for some time. Offered a very generous 70-minute set, the band first half consisted of a few tracks from their recently released debut LP "Black Magic Boogieland" and a celebratory cover of Motörhead's namesake track all with the kind of intense passion that I'd like to think is reserved for occasions such as this. The spiky confident riffs delivered in "The Fever" and their LP title track buzzed throughout the Green Room with a greater intensity than on their more tempered studio recordings and in singer Douwe Truijens Death Alley are blessed with a man who shows reverence when required - moving behind his guitarists to groove and headbang when not required for the longer periods of instrumental - and burning passion when needed, utilising his slightly hoarse vocal style to the best of it's abilities in generating a sweltering mass of exuberance from the packed room.

Where the Amsterdam-ers set really hit the heights however was in the concluding half following the introduction of guitarists Ron van Herpen (of The Devil's Blood fame) & Jevin de Groot to play extended versions of TDB's early track, the grooving punky "It's On" and memorably, "Supernatural Predator" which rocks in at 11 minutes as the LP's concluding track on wax but which was wondrously doubled in length here with a kaleidoscopic jam session that remains as captivating on playback now as it did then. Who cares if identifying each guitar from the rhythmic wall of sound was tricky, the collective mass of energy showed this off to be the purest example of rock n' roll alive n' kicking from all I witnessed at Roadburn 2016. [9] EW

Leo Smee slinging bass grooves With The Dead

With The Dead @ 19:10 on Main Stage

Straight on from the brilliant conclusion to Death Alley was the new project of the erstwhile Lee Dorrian, With the Dead, performing outside the UK for the first time. When your position in the world of doom metal holds the prestige of Dorrian's then getting your new band, even one with a single-album discography, straight onto the Main Stage of a major festival is no biggie, even when the material from said album suggests some fine-tuning is required in the band's output to rival former glories. There is a stark simplicity to much of "With the Dead"'s songwriting and lyrical approach which is surprising given the decades of experience resident within the band; a facet empirically evident in the bone-crushing heaviness of the band's sound in "Living with the Dead". Tim Bagshaw's weighty guitar tone hovered over the dismal and leaden bass of Leo Smee in apocalyptic proportions while Alex Thomas' drums dared not attract attention from Dorrian's howled vocals in a combination that puts to shame the notions of modern brutal death metal's claims to be the heaviest proponents of all the metals.

But still, heaviness does not always interesting make and the diversionary viewing of the black & white mental horror on the backing screen and no notable stage presence resulted in this being a curious affair - the performance of 2016's chief curator fronting a band mixing the benefits of freshness with the pitfalls of a project-in-the-making. [6½] EW

Sakevi Yokoyama of G.I.S.M.

G.I.S.M. @ 21:00 on Main Stage

Do not be alarmed, even as a connoisseur, if the moniker G.I.S.M. does not register. The Japanese band dissolved itself almost 15 years ago following the death of their guitarist Randy Uchida, and despite attaining a cult status in the international punk scene over the course of two decades (from 1981 to 2002), they never made it beyond Japan’s borders. And were that ever to happen, it was inevitable that it should be Walter Hoeijmakers — the artistic director of Roadburn Festival and master of scoops — that made it a reality. G.I.S.M. is credited as one of the first Japanese hardcore bands, but the cult status stems not from their pioneering a domestic scene. Rather, it was the unique crossover of heavy metal and hardcore punk in Uchida’s guitar playing that earned the quartet its reputation, and listening to his replacement Souichi Hisatake bringing those riffs to life now, it seems probable that a certain Kurt Ballou was heavily influenced by his style. Indeed, frontman Sakevi Yokoyama may resemble your Jamey Jastas and Scott Vogels in his attire, vocal style and indignant behaviour, but there is so much more to G.I.S.M. than subscribing to a hardcore stereotype.

Souichi Hisatake bringing the riffs of Randy Uchida to life once more

Indeed, the legacy of Uchida forms the backbone of tonight’s performance with a wealth of bright melodies, guitar solos and forays into thrash metal rendered in faith by Hisatake. Despite the fact that G.I.S.M. is never credited as a progenitor of crossover thrash (and they were formed the same exact year as Suicidal Tendencies!), this is classic crossover stuff that can be traced all the way back to the 1982 split LP by D.C. bands Void and The Faith. It shows as much in Yokoyama’s psychotic demeanour and frenzied gibberish in between the songs as it does in drummer Nao Shibata’s d-beats, and of course Uchida’s uncommon (at the time) style. You can tell that age has caught up with the four musicians, not to mention that this stuff is much more suited to an intimate club setting, but none of that stands in the way of G.I.S.M.’s Roadburn performance going down as a historic, hyper-exclusive occasion no one in attendance is likely to forget soon. And even if you decree yourself indifferent to the history and the exclusivity, just the borderline pornographic visuals and the sheer energy of the four musicians should be enough to cement these 50 minutes as unforgettable. [8]

Kim Larsen of Of The Wand & The Moon

Of The Wand & The Moon @ 21:10 at Het Patronaat

So captivating was G.I.S.M. that my plans to dedicate a full set’s worth of attention to the only Danish band on the Roadburn bill were categorically decimated. I must admit to being rather gutted by the scheduling conflict here, having been utterly mesmerised by Kim Larsen (the former Saturnus guitarist)’s 2011 neo-folk masterpiece “The Lone Descent”. Sadly, my late arrival leaves time for just three of his songs, “My Black Faith”, “I Crave for You” and “A Tomb of Seasoned Dye”; and thus not enough to justify a full review. It is a soothing atmosphere that reigns within the confines of Het Patronaat, but regrettably, it seems that one needed to be there from the get-go in order to be mesmerised; to slowly immerse yourself into the music instead of barging in on it like this. As a result, it strikes me as odd that Of the Wand & the Moon should appear so unpoignant, so casual and still as is the case. Where is the darkness of the music in the visual aesthetic? Disappointed that I have probably missed the opportunity to really understand and experience Larsen’s music here, I leave the venue thirsting for a pint ahead of Pentagram’s headlining show in half an hour’s time. AP

Lychgate performing “An Antidote for the Glass Pill @ 22:00 in Green Room

Having refuelled following a busy start to Friday's offerings it was British avant-garde black metallers Lychgate with a performance of their second LP "An Antidote for the Glass Pill" chosen for my reintegration into the fold. This one was being specially performed for the first time with a church organ accompanying their bombastic and challenging sound; just another of the unique or very rare moments that helps make Roadburn what it is. Symphonic black metal Lychgate most certainly are not as the organ provides a gothic (think architecture, not fishnets and eyeliner) element that cannot be derived from the sweeter sounds of a keyboard, but layered under three caustic guitars this majestic ingredient felt too contrasting in an otherwise harsh recipe for easy digestion, providing a claustrophobic presence visually and sonically with so much to take in from a dense mix. Perhaps understandably, given this debut outing of such a line-up, the complex and considered intricacies of what is a most noteworthy album of theirs were rarely audible in a maelstrom of sound that did little to encourage mine and seemingly many others audience for the full set. Especially when a rather legendary band were heading themselves to go on the Main Stage... [4] EW

Pentagram @ 22:40 on Main Stage

Few bands hold such a prestigious spot in the doom metal pantheon as Pentagram yet my own personal experience has been far less satisfying than their recorded output, which every doom fanatic knows forms a key part of the genre's very lifeblood. Still, it has been some years since then and recent reports have been far more favourable. Can Bobby Liebling, at 62 but looking so many years older, still hack it? With a setlist as chock full of classics as this one, they sure can, and perhaps most impressively, Liebling can too. Resembling more than a touch of Mick Jagger in his lithe stage movements, he bent and flexed like a keep-fit instructor charging double-time, I dare say leaving little crowd attention available for misters Griffin, Turley and Campbell while they plugged away producing note perfect renditions of "All Your Sins", "Last Days Here" and the classic "Relentless".

Bobby Liebling of Pentagram

Does a band, or more specifically its aging frontman, deserve extra recognition for performing above limited expectations? In this case yes, with Liebling's showmanship being the kind of counterpoint to his musicians' strait-laced performance that the Skull earlier lacked, not least of all when his lengthy collapse on stage sparked a very evident worry in the audience for his well-being. Not even the worrying hilarity of Griffin and Turley taking it in turns to drag his body across the stage before, like a phoenix from the flames, he rose in an instant to assist in the band destroying their instrumentation all around him. Brilliant. You've noted a lack of reference to the musical element of this show? No apologies coming from me. The sound was brilliant, the setlist stunning and the performance invigorating as it was entertaining. Long live Pentagram! [8½] EW

The hooded figures of Úlfsmessa

Úlfsmessa @ 00:30 at Het Patronaat

Such a spectacular day deserved a fitting end and in Úlfsmessa in the fabulous Het Patronaat one was promised. 10 members of Misþyrming, Naðra, NYIÞ and Grafir collaborating into one mysterious, cloaked entity replete with a variety of lesser-seen instruments (on a black metal stage, at least) generated a great deal of interest in Roadburners such was the crush to get in, but once having done so my enjoyment did not match up to the prevailing interest in this rarely witnessed experimental ritual. The musical compositions - none of which I can track name, natch, due to their being a total absence of music apparent online - felt lacking in the devilish subtleties present in Misþyrming's own material, instead fostering a heavy-handed approach at collaborative creativity that may have been better served with a lesser mass of individuals and sharper attitude towards structure. Yes yes you may shout about how the concoctions lauded upon us non-participatory folk (that's what we are right in a 'ritual' such as this?) must not be held captive to any existing notions of structure or reasoning, but the feeling this was delivered without a compelling plot nor notable individual performances hung over my own personal enjoyment of the occasion. Commendations to Úlfsmessa for taking great chances musically with the occasional interjections of clean vocals, a double bass and even a didgeridoo in a fine spot of cultural appropriation, yet some fine-tuning and sharper delivery will hopefully cause me to eat these words next time I get the chance to see this Icelandic 'best-of' when hopefully the music will last longer in the memory than the visual element. [5] EW

Saturday, APRIL 16TH

Skepticism @ 15:00 on Main Stage

After such a punishing day of standing and drinking on Friday, Saturday promised to be... just as exhausting, and just as boozy, but what better way to commence than with the extremely committed performance of Finnish funeral doom legends Skepticism. Playing a 'fan picked' set of tracks from across their lauded discography, this was theatre like I have never seen from a band. Mournful, stately, slow movements matched to funereal, processional music; a sombre and calm white light show; smart funereal suits and white roses atop the band's monitors. This went beyond mere music, this was utmost misery set to music played out before our very eyes and ears. Progressing, slowly, from "Farmakon"'s "Shred of light, Pinch of Endless" through tracks off "Stormcrowfleet" and "Lead and Aether" that rarely moved faster than a hearse stuck in traffic, I was struck by the total confidence of the band in their approach and the authenticity which the slow motions of Matti Tilaeus longingly caressed a rose and how organist Eero Pöyry motioned like a classical pianist undertaking an enormous emotional undertaking. As a similarly awestruck AP pointed out, the border between comedy and artistic intent may have been hovering close by but having stuck firmly on the safe side Skepticism provided a stately lesson in funeral doom. [9] EW

John Haughm @ 16:10 in Green Room

Moving from the slow to the er, slow, is how things often go at Roadburn and following that fantastic Finnish misery was the solo ambient/noise/post-rock project of Agalloch frontman, John Haughm. His work under the Agalloch banner is widely recognised as one of the finest and more unique canons in the past 20 years of metal but I will admit to being previously unaware of this side-project of his. Dressed akin to Fields of the Nephilim's Carl McCoy in dark hat and long jacket Haughm looked somewhat lost stage front with neither mic nor band members for company. Sadly so did his music, which on record conveys a sense of the endless travel being portrayed on the backdrop with an intriguing command of post-rock guitar chords and droning rhythm, but live however was just too lacking in dynamics to provide lasting entertainment. The quickly emptying Green Room only added to the sinking feed of this brief half hour show, which while still an improvement on Ivar Bjornson's own more-electronic orientated solo project last hour, would have been considerably more noteworthy as a fully-fledged Agalloch show. [3] EW

Brother Tad Doyle of The Sonic Cloth

Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth @ 16:30 on Main Stage

Out of all the sludge metal outfits that Walter Hoeijmakers might have selected, whose status and repertoire would have made their selection for the Main Stage more justifiable, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth are an unlikely choice. Despite their formation almost a decade ago now, the Seattle, WA based collective has little glory to boast of besides the eponymous debut album they issued in early 2015, and as such you might consider it brave to slot them amongst the likes of Amenra, Converge and Neurosis at 013. Mind you, the trippy, doom laden sediment that pours forth from the amplification accompanied by psychedelic projections has no problem exacting a firm grip on the horde of curious onlookers, including the undersigned. The ‘sonic cloth’ which lends the band its moniker is quite unlike your archetypical sludge, weaving a colourful motley of infusions from doom, prog and psychedelic rock into its dense, disheveling foundation, and leaving plenty of room for improvisational jam sections in the likes of “La Mano Poderosa" and “Unnamed”. And even though Brothers of the Sonic Cloth would never grace the airwaves, the extremity leaves room for cleanly sung interjections as well, most notably in the two brand new tracks aired at the rear end of the set in the form of “Glacier” and “Magnetar”. Both of these picks bode well for an eventual sophomore album in terms of their lasting value, and with the ‘brothers’ already performing with the zest and authority of a much more seasoned band, it seems the group is gearing up for an imminent breakthrough. [7½]

Galley Beggar @ 16:45 at Het Patronaat

Dorrian's 'Night of the Living Dead' curation also extended to a second day of acts connected to his influences, sounds and in the case of Galley Beggar, Rise Above record label. Galley Beggar's quaint Fairport Convention-inspired music is quintessential English folk - think violin, acoustic and minimally electrified guitars, humane and wistful lyrical subjects providing a wholesome pleasant vibe that came as a welcome chance for yours truly to enjoy the beautiful Het Patronaat without a crushing, Long Island Iced Tea in hand (the cocktail bar in the Patronaat balcony was a welcome addition to this year's offerings).

I will not claim to be any kind of expert in traditional folk music but the restrained confidence and excellent musicianship of this six piece, lead by Maria O'Donnell's sweet vocal prominence, provided a degree of modernity to tracks like "Geordie" and "Jack Orion" in an otherwise retrospective looking genre that by appearances did not attract the intrigue of many Roadburners prepared for a moment of such tranquillity. Galley Beggar delighted me during a London support slot in a cosy, dark venue last year but in the bright and airy Patronaat this was a whole other, rejuvenating affair. Fantastic. [8] EW

Misþyrming performing “Söngvar elds og óreiðu” @ 19:00 in Green Room

From funeral doom to post-rock ambient, traditional folk to black metal, my Saturday was anything but predictable and in another show of breathtaking brilliance, Misþyrming laid to rest my muted dissatisfaction of Úlfsmessa with a set playing their highly rated sole album to date, "Söngvar elds og óreiðu". Reverting to coal-blackened faces in place of the cloaked anonymity of the preceding day and with AP's ringing endorsement of Thursday's set heightening my enthusiasm even further, the expected squeeze fitting into the Green Room simply furthered the recognition this album has deservedly received. From my own initial lukewarm appreciation I now fully grasp the fitful sensations spoke of it; volleys of plaudits that could equally be spoken of this pulsing, sweaty show. Barely leaving time to breathe, from the opening shearing sounds of "Söngur heiftar" through the twisted melodies of "Endalokasálmar" to the drastic closer of "Stjörnuþoka" the magnificent sound quality aired every squeak of the album's frosty dynamic justifying the bold decision to award the Artist in Residence slot to such an inexperienced band. Guitarist and vocalist D.G. offered the boldest persona onstage with a pleasing vigour not so apparent in guitarist T.Í. and bassist G.E. but this mattered little as the straight-up barrage of woven riffs and variations in pace helped the 45 minutes pass in a blur. The future of black metal? That's perhaps too bold a statement to make at this stage but if you call yourself a fan of this ever-mutating genre you owe it to yourself to investigate Misþyrming as they floor all preconceptions of young upstarts challenging it's restricted sensibilities. [8½] EW

Converge: “Blood Moon” @ 19:40 on Main Stage

Next to Úlfsmessa, the “Blood Moon” ceremony led by Converge and featuring cameos from Stephen Brodsky, Ben Chisholm, Steve von Till and Chelsea Wolfe ranks among the most talked about performances at the festival. And having been let down by an atypically pacific rendition of “Jane Doe” on the first day, there was of course a certain anxiety as to whether Converge et al. could pull off the ambitious concept of reworked versions of the band’s slower and more experimental material — especially as only von Till actually features on any of it on record. But from the outset of “Plagues”, for which the four musicians are joined by Brodsky on additional guitar, it is clear that for Converge this is the priority show, and rather paradoxically, the atmosphere is that much more intense today. The aspect of Converge’s personality exposed by the likes of “Coral Blue” and “Minnesota” (by which time the line-up has expanded with Ben Chisholm on keyboard) is darker, tenser, and instrumentally more elaborate than the extremity for which the band is renowned, yet the musicians seems somehow more spirited, more vivid than they did spurning out songs like “Homewrecker” on the Thursday. Jacob Bannon and Nate Newton have toned down their vitriol, but in its place is something much more relatable; something deep and meaningful.

Kurt Ballou in a less explosive state than usual for ”Blood Moon”

Few could had imagined for the concoction of Chelsea Wolfe’s ethereal, gothic singing and Bannon’s own vocalisation to work as brilliantly as it does on “Wretched World”, or for her exchanges with von Till to send as many shivers down the spine as it does on “Cruel Bloom”; for the soundscape to become as riveting, as all-consuming as it does when Brodsky, Bannon and Wolfe all pick up guitars to deliver a four-pronged monolith with Converge’s resident guitarist Kurt Ballou for the scintillating “In Her Shadow”, and the closing track “Last Light”. It looks and sounds absolutely beautiful, and you can understand the rapturous reaction of the audience when the ensemble says its thanks and leaves the stage, much too soon. The way the various musicians immerse themselves in the moods and emotions, and how ingeniously they interpret the chosen songs and expand them into unprecedented proportions begs for the “Blood Moon” concept to become a mainstay, yet at the same time, you wish Converge never attempt it again so as to preserve the moment as a truly special, one-of-a-kind experience for those of us in attendance. [9] AP

The admiral sir Louis Comfort-Wiggett

The Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell @ 20:15 at Het Patronaat

Claiming the prize for the coolest and most striking moniker on the Roadburn bill, the Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s style is rather more down-to-earth, and although I arrive at the Het Patronaat well into their set, it does not feel as though I have missed much. Mind you, that is not meant to sound derogatory — it is simply that ‘Shovell’s music follows a pretty unyielding formula of grassroots stoner rock unlikely to have offered much else than the boatloads of riffs, jams and solos being slung at us now. The trio comprising vocalist / guitarist Johnny Gorilla, bassist Louis Comfort-Wiggett and drummer Bill Darlington banters in thick British accents and carry their selves with all the grace of drunken pub brawlers in defiance of their mild looks, producing an entertaining intermezzo between all of the artistic, serious, and often quite still performances this festival houses. There is no bullshit here — ‘Shovell plays stoner rock by the books, with their mottled, colourful lighting and firm handle on good grooves ensuring that the likes of “Got Wot Indeed” and “Real Admiral Black Sunrise” are well received by the crowd. But none of it drops your jaw either. [7] AP

Crumbling Ghost @ 20:40 at Extase

From folk to black metal and back to folk again, I squeezed myself into Extase for the sounds of Crumbling Ghost who were entirely unknown to me before this performance but whom impressed with their more electrified, rockier take on the genre than Galley Beggar earlier. In Kate Harnett, Crumbling Ghost are possessors of a singer with great texture and range, capable of retaining command whether singing accapella or atop the slightly heavier sounds of "The Collector" and "Omie Wise" from the Londoner's self-titled debut album, which coincided with their willingness to provide a bit of oomph to their dynamic in the cramped surroundings of Extase resulted in a very warm reception upon the band's departure. Yet one more credit to the festival's varied stylings and while I could not manage to stay for their entire duration it was more than enough for the band to earn themselves at least one new fan in me. [7½] EW

The shadowy Tapio Hietamäki of Atomikylä

Atomikylä @ 22:20 at Extase

Born out of the shared practice space of Dark Buddha Rising and Oranssi pazuzu, Atomikylä is an occasionally touring jam session between members of those bands — specifically guitarist / vocalist Vesa Ajomo & drummer Jukka Rämänen from Dark Buddha Rising, and guitarist / vocalist Juho Vanhanen & bassist Tapio Hietamäki from Oranssi pazuzu. Between the former’s doom and the latter’s black metal, the common element is the four involved musicians’ dabbling in psychedelic rock, so as you can imagine, Atomikylä sounds very much like a sum of its parts: long, drawn out, entrancing instrumental passages pierced sparingly by Juho Vanhanen’s (aka. Jun-His, when working his Oranssi pazuzu day job) shrill screams and Vesa Ajomo’s pained chants, and occasionally lapsing into freeform experiments bordering on free jazz. With the dimmest of blue lights shined on them from behind, the four musicians are barely visible as they sway and arch their bodies in possessed, otherworldly motions well suited for the repetitive, spaced out experience of the music. It looks as frightening as it does fascinating, an infernal distortion of the prototype psychedelic rock concert in its total omission of colour and light. And despite the improvisational feel of the music, the performance feels deliberate, genuine; the sort of concert that is hard to leave early — even for a band as esteemed as Blood Ceremony. [7] AP

Alia O’Brien lost in Blood Ceremony’s groove

Blood Ceremony @ 23:30 at Het Patronaat

The concluding act of Lee Dorrian's selection of bands was the heavily psych-influenced Canucks Blood Ceremony, a band who have been on my radar for some time without ever having previously catching them live. By virtue of wishing to watch some of Neurosis' opening Roadburn set I ended up arriving late for BC, only just managing to get in for this peak time set, which even the increasing toll of another day's drinking and standing was never going to prevent from happening. It's uncanny though how great live music hits the soul harder than a shot of pure alcohol and from a distance it was apparent how lead singer/keyboardist/flutist Alia O'Brien totally steals the Blood Ceremony show, her long jet black hair and witchy appearance riffing off organic Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) vibes bubbling just below the surface, while the remaining three-quarters of the band continually threaten to break out into an all-encompassing pastiche of past British psych rock (with the notable addition of Americans Coven). No doubt a greater knowledge on my part of that eras' sound would rid BC of some of the supposed authenticity I note within the likes of "The Eldritch Dark" and "Hymn to Pan" but such a confident and well executed performance as this one is the perfect augury for the midnight slot in such a delectable venue as Het Patronaat. [7½] EW

SUNDAY, APRIL 17TH — AFTERBURNER

The Vintage Caravan @ 14:00 at Cul de Sac

Rumours of a surprise appearance by these Icelandic heritage rockers at the Afterburner had begun to circulate, and were duly confirmed by the festival during the third day. Much to my regret, this necessitated getting to Cul de Sac as early as possible to secure an acceptable vista over its tiny stage, given the amount of buzz the trio’s would-be presence was generating. But motivating myself out of bed turns out to be worth every ounce of painful, hungover effort, for talk of the ‘Caravan’s explosive energy on stage is not exaggerated. Óskar Logi (guitar and vocals), Alexander Örn (bass) and Stefán Ari (drums) have a youthful exuberance about them which translates not just into a highly animated performance, but also a tangible connection with their audience. Indeed, the sunken pit section of the concert room gets rowdy as soon as the first track “Babylon” is aired and stays that way until “Midnight Meditation” closes the proceedings. The crowd’s enthusiasm seems to fuel Logi, Örn and Ari into an ever wilder disposition as well, yet never at the expense of their technical execution. Whether engaged in balladry in “Innerverse”, blasting out rock’n’roll with “Crazy Horses” or traversing through proggy, psychedelic terrain on “Expand Your Mind”, the three youngsters have a handle on their instruments that would make most experienced gentlemen green with envy; a kind of natural talent that allows them to go bonkers and never skip a beat. Their vigour, their sprightliness is a sight to behold — and just the thing to rustle the last strains of festival fatigue off of my shoulders. [8] AP

Kjetil Nordhus directing Green Carnation’s grandeur

Green Carnation performing “Light of Day, Day of Darkness” @ 15:10 on Main Stage

The moment the announcement came of Green Carnation's Afterburner set being dedicated to the performance of 2001's one-song 60-minute wonder "Light of Day, Day of Darkness" I understood that missing ANY other band on the bill to witness such an undertaking would be worthwhile. Thankfully their set avoided any major clashes and what's more, this show was even greater than possibly imagined. While the album itself harnesses the talents of a small plethora of additional instrumentation to the usual setup this show utilised the work of three guitarists plus keys, bass, drums and the outstanding varied vocal range of the eminently likeable Kjetil Nordhus. His ability to veer from baritone to clean croons to terse gruffness would be the highlight in many an act but here he was matched by the sublime soloing from Stein Sordal and the even more impressive interludes handled by Michael Krumins on mandolin that each received their deserved ovation; this was THE artistic performance of the performance.

Compliments of the restrained progressive nature of the piece are obviously primarily a credit to the album itself rather than this performance per se, however such was the near-perfect rendition of the album's interwoven segments of bombastic grandeur and ethereal fragility that recognition must be made in how the performance of a continually moving hour long song was able to stay so intriguing and mesmerising throughout. Splitting this composition to form more manageable chunks would just not work for, just like a good novel, previously heard elements are referenced later on in a different key, tempo or wholly different instrument in such a way that predicting the next few minutes amounts to a futile exercise.

I stated right after their conclusion that I could have stood stationary and watched the whole thing once more and I maintain that stance now. When there is no room for improvement there is only one mark: [10] EW

Jakob’s Jeff Boyle

Jakob @ 17:00 on Main Stage

The mention of VJ Jérôme Siegelaer as a special guest for Jakob — an instrumental post-rock trio out of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand — promises the band’s show to be visually captivating; a welcome feature given how barren the setup of just three musicians on this stage otherwise looks. But looking at the never-ending imagery of dead, intertwining branches in black and white that constitutes the visual component here, it is hard not to feel that this collaboration is not all it was talked up to be. Despite eschewing the use of samples to beef up their soundscape, the three musicians do manage to construct some seriously epic tracks. But that grandeur exists only in brief moments, and for the most part the audience is left staring at a desolate forest as Jakob’s focus shifts toward high volume and heavy chops instead. Surely there is more to the band’s music from a conceptual perspective than the monotonous, perpetual depiction of twigs taking place behind them? Surely Jakob could muster a little more effort and contribute to that visual aesthetic instead of just assuming static postures and grinding out songs that are virtually indistinguishable from one another? High though my expectations were, this late afternoon performance leaves little by way of a lasting impression — in fact, the only sensation that still lingers is the utter boredom with which I was afflicted. [4] AP

Douglas Sabolick tripping through Ecstatic Vision’s set

Ecstatic Vision @ 18:00 in Green Room

By any measure, Ecstatic Vision is then the polar opposite of Jakob, a rainbow coloured, jazzy, spaced out powerhouse whose very being demands leaning back, lifting the chin a little, and closing your eyes. Although the band includes two former members of deceased groove metallers A Life Once Lost in guitarist / vocalist Douglas Sabolick and drummer Jordan Crouse, any trace of that outfit’s Lamb of God-esque style in the music of Ecstatic Vision is negligible. Dubbing their music ‘primal heavy psych’, their stylistic palette instead consists of a variety of trippy effects, drawn out trance jams and elegant saxophone and oboe soliloquies by the recently joined Kevin Nickles, laid onto Crouse’s tribal percussion and Sabolick’s looping riffs. The titles of songs like “Astral Plane” and “Don’t Kill the Vibe” speak for themselves, and as you would expect, Ecstatic Vision delivers them with a spirited performance full of jumps, smiles, groovy dance moves and really the general disposition of persons obviously tripping out (either on the music, some substance, or both). Throw in the entire visible spectrum for lighting, and the band’s channeling of Hawkwind could not be much more systematic. Mind you, Ecstatic Vision have very much found their own niche, and while they wear their influences proudly on the sleeve, you never feel like their music is mere idolatry. The Philadelphia, PA quartet gets the job done, and leaves the audience thoroughly entertained, if a little zoned out as well. [7½]

Colin H. van Eeckhout screaming at Amenra’s amps

Amenra @ 18:40 on Main Stage

Belgian post-metallers Amenra enjoy a cult status in this region, so naturally the 013 main room is close to maximum capacity for their brooding and intense performance. As the only one on the bill, the Kortrijk-born band is using a projector positioned on an elevated platform at the sound desk rather than the one suspended from the ceiling, which means that the obscure, monochromatic visuals reflect onto the musicians as well as the backdrop. This is the only source of light as well, so as you can imagine the performance is as dark and suffocating as the music. Although rooted in post-metal, Amenra uses a heavier and more abrasive formula reminiscent of The Psyke Project, and shuns the soaring, melodic crescendos that most practitioners of the genre like to deploy. As an interesting touch, vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout spends the entire duration of the performance with his back to the audience, surging and gesticulating toward one of the amplifiers instead of us. He cuts a shadowy figure thus, and with all light so effectively removed from the rest of the musicians as well, Amenra’s performance is everything that Jakob’s was supposed to be.

Like their five studio albums, all entitled “Mass” I-V, the show resembles exactly that: a gruelling black mass, the abysmal forest imagery painting the band in ever more terrifying hues. The darkness is all-encompassing. But although the show delivers a series of breathtaking moments, where the four instrumental musicians combine to form pulverising, yet epic impasses, Amenra’s music is not for everyone. It is very static in its style, and as a result, the setlist blends into a jagged mass all-consuming dirge. Visually enthralling and emotionally intense though the concert is, the music underlying falls significantly short of the spectacular. It is numbing, but not in a pleasant way. [7] AP

Robert Threapleton of Gentlemans Pistols

Gentleman’s Pistols @ 21:10 in Green Room

The honour of concluding the 2016 festivities of Roadburn for me fell to the most unapologetic band on the bill: Yorkshire pub brawlers Gentlemans Pistols. Fuelled by hefty swigs of Bucks tonic wine and (naturally) beer, the Leeds-born outfit makes no secret of the fact that they are not out to reinvent the wheel — they just want to roll it with enthusiasm. With a huge selection of rock’n’roll riffs in their holsters, Carcass guitarist Bill Steer and his colleagues gun them at us with wide grins and tremendous gusto, placing themselves in stark contrast with the legions of experimental and avant-garde artists populating this festival, and providing much-needed relief from those acts’ thinking man’s rock and metal. The four musicians beam with energy, and the songs, while not strikingly memorable, are catchy enough to keep the weary and exhausted festival goers profusely entertained. As such, there is not much to say about the concert by way of interesting details; it literally is just four experienced gentlemen pelting us with hard rocking fun, personifying all of the rock’n’roll clichés but never so much as to induce a cringe. This is the perfect festival closer, an act designed for this occasions when you have had one too many beers and just want to roar “Satan!” for no reason at all. [7] AP

Scott Kelly of Neurosis

Neurosis @ 20:20 on Main Stage

Having wandered in late to Saturday's opening Neurosis show following the Blood Ceremony session I made a firmer attempt for this second 2-hour slot to finally capture, properly, one of the most artistically respected bands in all of metal. Their influence on the wide world of metal is enormous, just as it has been down the years on a large number of bands to have graced Roadburn with shades of their dry heaving riffs, dual hoarse vocal style and heavy percussive temperament. Thus if I am to ever attempt to stand for 2 hours for a band whose discography has made limited impact on my listening habits down time then Neurosis are probably that band.

This late into the festival and with the music of about 30 live acts collectively ruining my brain over the previous 5 days the onset of such a dynamic band for whom a deep engrossment is utterly essential was a little challenging but the searing determination of the five piece was a fine cure for flagging brain cells and legs. Like the previous days' set there were tracks taken from across their vast discography but with a particular focus on this occasion with the band's earlier material, with bassist Dave Edwardson adding his bristling contribution during "Pain as Mind" material alongside a couple of others from "Word as Law" too.

Helping to keep the intensity high was the Californian's means of performing the tracks almost as a continual piece with very little spoken or time taken between each song (notwithstanding Scott Kelly's early amp problems). With lengthy tracks like "Given to the Rising" and "Distill" sandwiched in amongst the effect became almost hypnotic in its delivery, exceptionally loud and at times of great percussive involvement very tribal in nature. From a selfish point of view being able to witness this earlier in the festival would be have been great, but as the final major band for this year's edition, a fourth, concluding hour of Neurosis material hardly appeared to dampen the numbers remaining fixed in front of the Main Stage. A fitting testament to a band that managed to convey such a detailed performance to a devoted audience at this, a true music lover’s festival. [8] EW

CONCLUSION

Roadburn had long ranked as a must experience for the undersigned, my aching to one day attend propelled by its consistently brilliant, and most importantly thoughtful line-up and my colleague Ellis ‘EW’ Woolley’s appraisal of its unique atmosphere. Now, having been able to travel to the cozy southern Dutch town of Tilburg at last, it is difficult to argue against the hype. It feels like the entire town becomes Roadburn for the duration of the weekend, with all the bars, cafés and restaurants in the vicinity occupied by hordes of metalheads, offering special Roadburn deals, and blasting all manner of rock and metal goodness from their stereos. Even though the festival takes place inside four different venues, their close proximity, as well as the relevant hustle and bustle outside means that you still feel like you are at a festival, and not simply watching a ridiculous amounts of concerts in quick succession.

My own experience was that it was quite strange to browse through the line-up and only recognise perhaps 25% of the names listed (the polar opposite of what is usually the case) yet that in itself represents a significant portion of the magnetism that Roadburn emits for me. I returned with close to 30 new experiences in the bag, opened my eyes to a selection of bands I would probably never have discovered otherwise, and experienced a handful of performances that are unlikely ever to be repeated, or at least very rarely, and only in special locations. You genuinely feel that Walter Hoeijmakers not only pours his life’s blood into setting this event up, but his unparalleled vision also ensures that the relatively limited number of attendees is given an exclusive experience. You feel like you get your money’s worth ten times over.

There is little to whinge about, but were I forced to mention one thing, it would be the staggering queue and one-in / one-out system in operation at virtually every concert taking place at the Het Patronaat, and the impossibility of watching bands at the Extase venue unless you turned up at least 45 minutes before the show. It comes down to underestimating the allure of certain artists, and while in many cases doing so is of course an impossible task, the amount of media attention that a band like Oranssi pazuzu has been garnering of late should have signalled that they needed to be on the Main Stage. Especially as other acts such as The Skull, Jakob and even With the Dead had difficulty even filling a quarter of its capacity. Now, the difficulty of getting into the aforementioned two venues is of course a bigger problem for journalists than it is for ordinary guests, as we are encouraged to watch a huge amount of bands rather than pick out a few select favourites, and as such cannot afford the luxury of turning up very early for certain shows. But it does offer some food for thought; perhaps the festival sold too many tickets this year following the expansion of 013’s main room capacity?

This is, however, a minor twitch in an otherwise smooth operation. And if you are looking for a one-of-a-kind festival experience to substitute for one of your mainstays next year, I implore you to give Roadburn a chance. Nowhere else have I been quite as surprised, challenged, and ultimately rewarded as at this Dutch festival. It also comes with an additional benefit: every artist plays a full concert — not some 25 to 30-minute teaser showpiece. If all the necessary pieces fall into place, you are likely to find me at the 2017 edition of the festival between April 20th and April 23rd as well… but if you plan to join my adventure, start planning early, as accommodation options become unavailable very, very fast after the first band announcements in late summer or early autumn.

Thank you, Walter, for an unforgettable experience. AP

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