Friday is an earlier start, if you call 12pm an early start, but nonetheless it’s a privilege (as everything at Roadburn usually is) to be invited down to the Press & Networking Meeting at the Cul de Sac. Chatting to some amazing, like-minded folk and a fair few well-admired writers, for me, is an outstanding way to open one’s mind to the family that this festival and entire scene has become. Walter “Mr Roadburn” Hoeijmakers says a few words and confirms this ethic, speaking of the “challenges” all of us face as an industry as the economy tightens its grip on our lives and competition for festival ticket sales gets ever fiercer. He’s right, but he’s also a lifer. Walter’s entire being “breathes” Roadburn and as long as there are people like Walter around, these challenges will always be overcome.
The networking event is followed by a debate amongst a panel of industry experts, set up exclusively for Roadburn 2015 to respond to the question: “What do record labels look for in the bands that they sign?” With a good number of unsigned bands in attendance alongside representatives from Relapse Records, Century Media and Seasons Of Mist, the talk quickly becomes a hotbed of discussion and debate.
Without wanting to reveal too many tricks of the trade, it’s firmly established that labels are still relevant in the age of today and the digital download and cheap, or free, online streaming services such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Other topics discussed in the one hour session included:
- The vaguely quantifiable shortlist of criteria labels look for in hot new bands
- The commitment and precautions all bands looking to make a serious career out of music should consider carefully before contacting labels
- New and emerging musical markets (such as the already so-called “Deafhaven” movement)
- The constant need for genres and pigeonholing
- The ever-changing world of technological advances
- Opinions on crossover bands
- The value that can and cannot be brought by bands from “exotic” non-US and Western European territories
It’s a fascinating conversation and the professionals are very open and honest about their practises and preferences when choosing to take a band from nowhere, to somewhere. There should be more of these forums in existence in my view as the alternative music markets become ever more saturated and re-re-revisited by new bands each and every year, with little understanding of what really “works” for A&R and marketing teams.
“This is weird man!” begins Ben Falgoust from Soilent Green and Goatwhore.
“Wait, we get beer?! Now this is gunna work!” cackles back Mike IX Williams of EyeHateGod.
In another Roadburn exclusive, the festival organisers have arranged for a live Q&A to celebrate the release of the 2014 film NOLA: Life, Death And Heavy Blues From The Bayou, which expertly captures and revisits the essence of the New Orleans, Louisiana heavy music scene. The panel includes Fred Pessaro, Editor-In-Chief at Noisey and director of the film itself, Ben Falgoust and Sammy Duet (also ex-Acid Bath) from Goatwhore and Mike IX Williams and Jimmy Bower of EyeHateGod; lifers all of them who’ve survived everything from Pantera concerts to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
It’s frankly a hilarious hour of banter, stories and anecdotes from these veterans of the scene. Sammy tells a story about butchering a pig. Mike IX recalls the formation of EyeHateGod “as a joke to see if we could make a punk rock version of Black Sabbath”. There’s everything covered from Mike taking acid with Wino at Saint Vitus shows, Jimmy getting arrested with The Misfits on conspiracy of grave-robbing, forgotten and highly influential bands such as Exhorter and Graveyard Rodeo, the ongoing Katrina recovery (“If you spill a drink at Christmas, you’ve just got to pick the fucking thing up and get on with it!” laughs Jimmy) and the groove and swagger that all NOLA musicians invariably possess. What’s painfully clear from the all-too-short hour is that Mike, Jimmy, Sammy and Ben are all exactly what they say on the tin: no acts, no pretences, just great musicians and loyal friends who swing at whatever life throws their way. Fair play to them.
But enough talking about music, let’s go experience some! Those classy Icelanders Sólstafir are illuminating the main stage with their hybrid blend of post-rock, country, goth-pop and folk beauty. It’s a busy main hall as Addi’s silky tones fill the humid air with the sort of delicacy that would delight Anathema fans, whilst his backing trio express their firm command of everything from bluesy stoner-rock to enlightened psychedelia. Rousing, uplifting and rhythmic in front of some stunning visuals of glaciers, countryside walks and the rolling oceans of their homeland, they’re a good gentle way to begin proceedings on the Houses Of The Holistic day of excitement at the 013 as curated by Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik (Wardruna).
I sneak in for a couple of minutes to watch Boston rockers Junius blast the Green Room with their atmospheric post-rock bliss. Bathed with a special array of bright white lights, they sway with the heaviness, tangibility and seriousness of Isis or Lento – decent stuff.
Killing a little time in the middle of the day, Shaman Lee and I take fifteen minutes to wander away from the action and soak in Arik Roper’s art exhibition in the EXPO Gust van Dijk gallery down the street. All of his pieces are as stunning as expected and we both leave the small gallery full of a blood-thirsty hatred of the man’s invincible talent and visionary brilliance.
I’ve got to admit to everyone at this stage that I’m not knowledgeable about Fields Of The Nephilim at all, but fair play to Carl McCoy – he knows how to bring a show together, as well as finding time to create a damn tasty brand of thick-ridged crisps… As he crouches in darkness under that infamous wide-brimmed hat, bellowing out that perfect blend of goth-metal vocals alongside his four-strong band of Stevenage-based rockers, it’s immediately obviously just where acts like Type O Negative directly spawned from. Heavier than I expected, theirs is a path they’ve already trodden well but there’s no denying that bluesy swing underneath all the leather rainmacks and smoke-machines. The 013 rather agrees and hands are raised aloft to McCoy’s solemn growl amid the undertow of melodic riffage. I may be too young for this stuff personally, but I can still see where the legend comes from.
Speaking of legends, Thijs van Leer is an absolute fucking God! The Green Room is suitably packed out for Focus and who can argue when this noble prog institution still sounds so damn good. It’s frankly an honour to be in the same room as the flute and Hammond-twiddling Dutch frontman (not to mention his crowd interactions from a bygone era of great entertainers) alongside drummer Pierre van der Linden‘s incredible jazz solos and newer recruits Menno Gootjes and Bobby Jacobs‘ gorgeously complex, yet amazingly coherent interplay. The rollocking All Hands On Deck and the jaw-flooring Eruption are simply mindgasms of funk, soul, tripped-out psyche and everything in between and the crowd’s rampant reception is understandably humbled in their wake. How a band can sound so disparate and yet so coherent together is frankly beyond me, but yet after all these years, they still do. I unfortunately have to leave before the end and the inevitable riot that is Hocus Pocus, but with so much to witness today, as The Rolling Stones once never said: “Time is not on my side“.
Taking a cheeky second bite at my EyeHateGod cherry from the side of the Het Patronaat stage is an opportunity too good to miss out on, especially with the New Orleans sludge masters busting out some different tracks to their Thursday night set including White Nigger and the rarely aired Zero Nowhere alongside the punkier likes of newbie Agitation! Propaganda! As Mike IX informs us that “after this gig, we travel to Belgium to play another fuckin show… man, this sucks!” it’s clear just how hard these road dogs have always had to work to get anywhere in this life.
After a little stop off at the merch stall to grab a Bongripper shirt I end up semi-critiquing the previous night’s performance of ‘Miserable’ with their unsuspecting, but thoroughly gracious, rhythm section. Ron, Dan – I’m sorry for the impromptu grilling guys, but it was cool to talk shop!
The 013 is fuller than it has been all weekend for a thoroughly enchanting Wardruna performance. The traditional Norwegian orchestra number ten in personnel, but their compositions make you feel like you’re part of whatever “scene” existed in the Viking motherlands of Scandinavia circa one thousand years ago. Playing every rustic instrument from tribal drums, to wooden xylophones, to cellos and woodwind, theirs are tales of times and lands we can only read about in museums and see on the History Channel. It’s thoroughly riveting stuff, in particular band leader Einar Selvik‘s spiritual, Shamanic throat singing. If I myself were from those ancient lands, I’d be proud that my spirit lived on beyond my death through these noble warriors of the realm.
I’m always happy to be proved wrong by a band. And in the case of Norwegian doom trio Tombstones, my hand was firmly twisted by Shaman Lee to give them a second chance from what, in my opinion was a poor performance in Birmingham back in 2013. I’m happy to report that the three-piece managed to bulldoze my every expectation with their colossal take on all-encompassing, Sleep-esque doom metal. So devastating was the assault from Bjørn-Viggo Godtland (guitar/vocals), Ole Christian Helstad (bass/vocals) and Markus Støle (drums) that I’d say to those fans of Toner Low and Ufomammut: get ready to pick up your shit – this is your new favourite band. They throw some tasty moves and shapes onstage too.
I take a quick sojourn to Stage01 to watch a little Lucifer after enjoying their tasty riff-laden soundcheck on my way down to the Green Room for Tombstones. Yes, Johanna Sardonis is a pivotal piece in the puzzle with her alluring visual presence and commanding lungs but ultimately this just feels a little too close to another Jex Toth to appear special just yet. Kudos for the classic Priest-esque riffs though guys, keep on truckin’.
Keeping with Wardruna’s specially-designed three tier stage system intact, the second co-curators of the night Enslaved begin to blast the main room senseless with their stamp of bombastic Norwegian authenticity. Just using the term “Norwegian progressive black metal” doesn’t do justice to the band’s dynamics: both physically as they attack every playing surface available with more energy than Melinda Messenger after a bag of Skittles and through their rich, poignant Nordic atmospheres. These men are the Vikings of the modern age, pillaging every driving, scything riff in sight whilst looting the ears with a force of pure iron and fire. Beholding Grutle Kjellson and Ivar Bjørnson’s vitriolic barks and blackened thrash rhythms, I realise that we’re all…wait for it… enslaved to their grandiose sagas by the end of their 75-minute set.
The main stage sound technician at the 013 looks like he’s about to jump from the top of the auditorium with stress just a short while later. It’s barely surprising as with eleven musicians on stage, copious amounts of instrumental interchanges (everything from traditional Norse woodwind to Ice Dale’s blitzkrieg riffs are on show tonight) and songs that need to be note-perfect, organising the musical landmark that is Enslaved and members of Wardruna performing Skuggsjá is no easy task. This melding of minds is designed to take us all on a “reflection” or journey into Norway’s musical past, as far back as history allows us. This is next level shit, the Skuggsjá collection of musical folklore was commissioned to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the signing of the country’s constitution: Rock ‘n Roll 1-0-1, this is not. With Enslaved‘s Ivar Bjørnson and Warduna‘s Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik leading the proceedings, this is far less a gig, much more a time-travelling, spiritual and historical celebration of the ancient than anything else.
Melding the blackened metallic template of Ensalved to the holistic and organic sounds of Wardruna is no mean feat and months of preparation must have led to this moment, but somehow the collective pull off everything with ample ease, adjustment, mystique and Viking courage. Suddenly there are no boundaries between ancient forms of songcraft and modern, punishing black metal from both sides of the equation and Skuggsjá becomes as much uplifting in its sentiment as it does pillaging in its menace. Shows like this are a rare reminder that you should always respect your elders and your cultural roots and celebrate them on the grandest stages imaginable as a continuous homage to the people, the gods, the bygones and the foundations of all music. No one in the audience can fully comprehend the significance of Skuggsjá and the intricacies behind its writing, but what is for certain is that this is a very unique concert indeed. Ladies and gentlemen of “War-slaved”, we salute your dedication to the most noble of your local heritages. And in any case, surely there’s nothing more doom than Vikings anyway…
Fields Of The Nephilim
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Lee Edwards
Video by: super208productions