It’s off to an early start on this Roadburn Friday, which has a program that stretches from 15.00 up to 02.00. Today promises to be a great day with a wide variety of sounds and artists to be witnessed. Also there’s some great side-program to check out for those who need no rest.
In case you’re not one of those, I did go check out some things for you, like the Fuzzadelic Skullshow. Halfway between the station and 013 on the Tuinstraat is the tattoo workshop of Darko Groenhagen (Oneness Studio). On the ground floor there’s a special exposition of FX pedals from Dr. No. Central to the exposition are the SkullFuzz pedals, with a fuzz effect in a skull that Dr. No developed in 2015. He then got artists Peter Van Elderen (Peter Pan Speedrock), Darko Groenhagen and a whole group to design their own versions. The result is rather awesome, so worth the short visit.
Always intriguing are the panel discussions. Today’s is about the impact of new technology on the industry, featuring the likes of Kurt Ballou (Converge), Maurice de Jong (Gnaw Their Tongues), Jens Prueter (Century Media), Becky Laverty (Press & Communications at Roadburn and many others) and Kim Kelly (journalist at Noisey). There, done with the name checking, but it turns out that this was a great panel to illuminate this changing element in the music industry. The panel discussion is light, open and interesting for anyone who has given their heart to music. Though it’s not the thing for everyone, I have to say they add value to the already rich offerings of Roadburn.
Opening up today is Hexvessel in collaboration with Arktau Eos. The atmosphere in Het Patronaat morphs into something Jethro Tullish. Bringing together repetitions and folkish doom elements the sound is definitely different. It’s not the sort of tunes that wake you up, but more or less creates an ambiance of dreaming. The hooded band members are the boogie men in those dreams. It’s odd, but intriguing nonetheless. It’s not all too cheery sounding stuff though, there’s a hint of danger and countryside mythology embedded in the collaborative effort with those hooded men looming over the listeners. The repetitive elements feel like a locked groove and have an added lulling effect.
In the back of Het Patronaat a little bit of joking is going on at the expense of the Finnish group on stage. The frivolous act is probably something that appeals to a small section of the crowd and the responses prove that. Finding its roots more in the progressive rock movements of the 70’s, this is out there and to me one of the more fascinating acts to see. Most will also not realise the unique experience they’re witnessing, with the two groups weaving themes from their own respective music together into this brand new experience (titled Mirror Dawn). There is magic happening on stage, but unfortunately the stars are not right for it on the early Friday.
The weird becomes complete on the main stage, where Diamanda Galás is playing. The doors are closed and the bars are shut down during the show. The diva doesn’t wish to see any photographers and has, allegedly, even told Lee Dorrian to go away during the sound check. Galás sits down behind the piano and starts playing music that is somewhere between avant-garde, free jazz, blues and whatever you think it is she was doing. Her vocal movements go from jazzy scat to opera and smoky blues, sometimes switching every other word, if there are even words, in the lyrics.
The style switches occur rather randomly, which keeps the show interesting for the listener. Nothing about the lady is predictable, but she seems genuinely pleased halfway through the show to be here. This is brilliance at work and not for everyone. Every breathing moment in between the unpredictable songs some people leave the venue, not able to take any more of the dazzling vocal play of Galás. Then again, some slip in to catch a glimpse of this lady at work. There’s an otherworldly quality to her music and an intensity to her presence. With grace and wonder Diamanda Galás silences 013 for an hour today.
Steve Von Till is playing in a fully loaded Het Patronaat. His gruff voice is one that speaks of life and having seen the things for what they are. With only an acoustic guitar, Von Till manages to grab the attention telling his stories with the light beaming through the ornate windows of the Het Patronaat. Listening to both the men from Neurosis do their solo work, it’s hard to not start comparing them.
Von Till is clearly a story teller, expressive and experienced singing with that warbled voice without much need to prove anything. It’s the voice of a weary traveller, very different to his counterpart Scott Kelly, who performs after Von Till. Kelly is much more a preacher, singing in an almost sacral voice, imposing and dark. There’s a struggle in his closed-eyes performance, which seems to be turning inwards instead of outwards. The guitar notes are slowly coming out, lingering for a moment before a new one is struck. Kelly appears to be in a trance-like state while playing. The music of Steve Von Till is much more flowing, continuous and alive, compared to the ritualistic tones and static feel of Scott Kelly’s.
Is one better than the other in a live setting? Not at all, its two sets that would appear to have a similar, familiar feel to them, but looking at them closely they are almost opposites. Seeing the two play separately maybe tells a bit about the successful collaboration they find in Neurosis. Combining two very different, but so well connecting musicians into a collective is bound to be more than just the sum of its means.
Horrified is the same age as my baby brother (the record is from 1989, since you probably don’t know my brother), but that legendary record feels like a towering feat to look up to. Having Repulsion play that today at Roadburn is one hell of a great thing to really start the day. Black coffee and death metal, that’s one hell of a combo.
The band kicks off on a friendly note, giving thanks and praises to the organisation. The better their brutal death metal is received, which is obviously every time a tune ends and a bigger crowd cheers, the more ferocious the songs are announced with Repulsion really picking up their pace. So maybe the chuggy riffs and rattling drums are not as tight as two decades ago, but the band gets better every song. The break-neck speed play gets the appreciation it deserves and while the band picks up momentum, they gain control of their audience. Even if you don’t care for the genre, the dirty groove of Repulsion is captivating and tasty, a great treat with your coffee.
NYIÞ is playing in Extase and that’s the place to be. This group is part of the Icelandic black metal movement, but what they play is a strange mixture of drone and jazz with gentle, weary sounding trumpet play. Proclaiming something from a book in a booming voice, the singer interrupts that eerie calm the music invokes, but the set sticks to drones and some of the jazzy elements. Then suddenly the frontman and guitar player start walking through the crowed, the singer carrying a piece of bone he’s thrusting into people’s faces. Wearing black bags over their heads, it is a bit of a confusing thing to behold. Nevertheless, NYIÞ manages to surprise and captivate me.
With The Dead is an imposing force on the stage. The new group around Lee Dorrian has a great, typical doom sound with his imposing vocals soaring through. Supported with the big video screens on the main stage, the band definitely offers a booming display of power, but contrary to Dorrian’s previous outfits it lacks a sort of flair that allows the singer to really display his skills.
The band plays solid as a rock though, with Dorrian at the helm the waves of thick riffs keep coming at you steadily. Qualitatively, this is pretty much as good as your doom gets, but it remains a little too much in the middle of the road for my personal taste. A packed main stage shows that this may be a silly opinion or that Lee Dorrian’s appeal is bigger than the music he’s making. I’ll leave that for you to decide for yourself. It’s early days for the outfit though, so their real sound may yet be discovered, which would give them a bit more of a personality. What is clear today is that at Roadburn, With The Dead conquers.
During the earlier part of the day queuing up was a big issue at the Green Groom, Het Patronaat and at some point even the Cul De Sac and Extase. This has led to some Roadburners giving up for a bit and crashing down on the terraces to at least enjoy the late afternoon. With the show of With The Dead it seems that the main stage is drawing enough crowd to relieve the smaller stages. It’s a slightly worrying element this edition of Roadburn.
Luckily by the time CHVE (Colin H. Van Eeckhout) is playing in Het Patronaat. The latest record/project of CHVE was titled Rasa and features a hurdy-gurdy and effects. It’s a warm, organic experience, evoking images of tribal gatherings in a much emptier world. To that lonely, but immersive sound the skills of Dwid Hellion (Integrity) will be added to create a new layer to the experimental universe.
During the sound check, the Amenra frontman appears a bit nervous, but once the music starts he’s in complete and total control. For a moment the walls of Het Patronaat seem to face and morph into looming trees of a land untamed. It’s a place of ritual that CHVE creates with the droning music, a place where magic still holds sway. Later visitors to the venue are left scratching their heads in wonder, not able to jump into the journey CHVE offers. The ones who embarked on it from the start are lucky enough to stay put for the full trip. Halfway it shifts more into the territory of Hellion (working under the guise of Vermapyre) into a more urban, droning zone. The melding together of CHVE and Vermapyre generates a whole new place there.
If anyone was wondering why all the punks were hanging about the 013, it’s really only for one band tonight and that is the Japanese proto-hardcore outfit G.I.S.M. Lee Dorrian really scored with this addition to the Rituals For the Blind Dead. The band has never played outside of Japan, but for Roadburn this is about to change. The band around Shigehisa “Sakevi” Yokoyama does not waste much words and just jumps right into it, with their particular brand of chaotic, raw and abrasive hardcore punk.
On the screen a display of cartoonish weirdness is shown, which seems to turn into a more explicit bit of footage with every rambling song. The music is ratting, rampaging and barely under control. Sakevi is hopping around on stage, barking his vocals into the microphone and generally looking like he has a great time being here. The normally laid back crowd has exploded into a violent pit in front of the stage from the first notes on, because… you know, this is G.I.S.M. Often bands from the punk background excel in smaller venues, but the interaction between G.I.S.M. and the crowd, though mostly wordlessly is phenomenal, and the huge main stage becomes for a little less than an hour a dirty punk squat full of fist raising rebels. G.I.S.M. on Roadburn proves that Roadburn can even raise the dead.
There’s a lot of fussing going on stage in the Green Room. Lychgate may have made a truly fascinating black metal album last year, but setting up their organ is still a hassle. It takes the band forever to get ready and even launching into their set, the first tune is a bit of a stretched out line-check. From there on the band never really grasps its strength during the one hour se as the band members keep looking at each other in what seems like a generally confused situation.
Playing their second feat of strength An Antidote For The Glass Pill, the band chose quite a challenge for themselves. On the screen phrases are displayed to give some more body to the concept of that album, though the guitar play and organ never really seem to find that magical balance that can be heard on the record. A bit later in the set the sound appears to come together and Lychgate manages to bewitch the listeners with their tunes after all and is unfortunate that they didn’t get started the way they should’ve.
On the main stage there’s a party going on with Pentagram playing Roadburn once again. By accident the logo of The Skull is displayed at the start of the set, leading to confused looks around by many eagerly waiting fans, but when the band comes on to play a sturdy jam, the logo changes and we know its all fine. Bobby Liebling steps out of the shadows, dressed in a frilly shirt, pink pants and starts dancing around from the start of the set, slapping his buttocks and grabbing his crotch like it was 3 decades ago.
The last record wasn’t received that well in the press, but the band plays a few songs from Curious Volume mixed up with classics and fan favourites. Though fans will enjoy the show, the most excited person is probably Liebling himself who teases his bandmates and is basically just having a blast. In between he shares some warbled wisdoms and vague introductions.
His voice is of course not having the vast reach of the early career, but Liebling sounds quite alright and makes up for it by being all over the place and in your face, regardless how far away you may be standing. The sound is heavy, mainly thanks to the thudding bass and drums. In front of the stage punks and metalheads rock out to the tunes, like the always awesome Forever My Queen. Pentagram rules, even just for the fact that Bobby Liebling is still on stage singing his heart out and making his wobbly dances.
Final event of the night is definitely one of those rare, magical things that only happen at Roadburn. Úlfsmessa is a collaborative peace by the gathered Icelandic bands, performed only twice as yet on Eistnaflug in their native land. Hooded figures are strolling around the stage in Het Patronaat, setting up their gear for a long, complex performance. The hoods only emphasise the collaborative effort of the Icelandic scene, which holds no egos, just musicians. An interesting element to the way the scene is presenting itself this weekend.
Then the ritual commences in earnest. Combine the eerie soundscapes by NYIÞ with some of the finest black metal performances of this Roadburn weekend and you have the recipe. Rotating roles, the band delivers a series of furious performances of powerful, swirling black metal without ever letting fall any silence. It’s imposing nature and full on approach is tantalizing while here and there borders on the hypnotic. The ritual itself is rather simple, there’s no altars or other artefacts, just the music and the hooded figures. The roaring vocalist at the centre, grasping at the heavens while barking out the words in fury.
Úlfsmessa is a monolithic performance, it combines the best of the participating bands (NYIÞ, Naðra, Misþyrming, Grafir) into a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. This is exactly the reason why people go to Roadburn, to witness unique and overwhelming events like this. The blistering guitar play and vocal interplay goes deep into the night and what a night it was…
With The Dead
Scribed by: Guido Segers
Photos by: Lee Edwards
Video by: super208productions