Roadburn 2013 – Day 1 Review By Saúl Do Caixão
29th April 2013
There are many ways you can speak of the Roadburn experience – a pilgrimage to the riff-filled land, a celebration of Heavy in its various guises or even just a straight-up music festival. Personally, I consider it a joyous meeting of some of the nicest characters and freaks to be found across the civilized world, set to a soundtrack as diverse as it is mind-expanding. 2013’s edition of everyone’s favourite date on the calendar proved, in a nutshell, to be one of the best. It’s a known fact that the festival is organized with a pin-point precision that makes it as pleasant for the artists as for the spectators, but this year seemed to have a special feel from the outset. Maybe it’s just the fact that more and more faces become familiar with every year that passes (barring a few dignified grey hairs), but this year seemed to bring with it an atmosphere of coming home and belonging for a very wide spectrum of disenfranchised people that otherwise find themselves at odds with a very strange “straight” society. What started off as a stoner rock festival in one room (in Eindhoven?), now attracts traditional heavy metal fans, psychedelic warriors, tranceheads, hippies, punks and post-rock fans, which ensures that in the (few) bits of downtime one experiences during these four days in Tilburg, there is never a dull moment. I was delighted to see the guy that hitch-hikes there from Denmark every year was present, along with a wild-eyed lunatic dressed like a hillbilly with an “I love Jesus” cap. My kind of people. Anyway, enough of the derivative intro, let’s get the day-by-day run through started…
Having stuffed my face with Dutch cheese the night before (courtesy of a great little shop in Den Bosch), I was feeling pretty queasy, not to mention groggy (the booze quaffed with said cheese had nothing to do with it, I’m sure) – one coffee and a slap-in-the-face riff from Pallbearer through the 013’s incredible PA (still the best indoor one I’ve ever experienced) shook off the unfortunate aftermath of abusing an increasingly shit immune system. Starting off the mainstage on the Thursday is never an easy task, and Pallbearer gave it a damn good crack, although it definitely felt like they were on a stage that outstripped their sound, and their performance at the Afterburner (replacing Diagonal) was infinitely better, not just because the ambience was more becoming for them, but also because the singer’s vocals weren’t off-key for the first song… Thankfully, this somewhat jarring issue melted away a few songs in on the Thursday, and was a good start to the festivities!
Next on were none other than the mighty Penance, in Europe for the first time since their early Nineties tour with Cathedral and a little-known polka band called Sleep. I have to admit that I think Penance’s discography reads like a slow enactment of “the law of diminishing returns”, with only the first two albums really standing out as great LPs. Not to worry, as the lineup that graced the 013 was that of “Parallel Corners”, and frankly they sounded better than on record, delivering an assuredly heavy performance of straight up hard rock, with scorchers “Words To Live By”, “Misgivings” and “Words Not Deeds” getting heads banging in a fury of Hellhound worship. I still think Lee Smith sings like he needs a shit – if only we all sounded that good when going for a dump.
As for Gravetemple, I can only damn them with the faint praise that they performed their psychedelic soundscape shtick very skillfully indeed, but I couldn’t shake off the impression that they never quite took off like they should have. Or maybe I’ve simply heard this trio of musicians doing this sort of thing one time too many… That said, I enjoyed their set in London a few years back (despite ASVA one-upping them), so maybe they lack the dynamism and sheer brutality of one-time Sadistik Exekution drummer Matt “Skitz” Sanders to give the music a more solid backbone. Maybe I’m becoming jaded, as loads of people who witnessed this show were completely blown away by it, and I have to admit that I could listen to Attila Csihar read Postman Pat and still find it engrossing. I must confess to having missed the first quarter hour of their set so as to catch Pilgrim in action, and I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw – it’s great to hear a band taking a leaf out of Revelation’s book (let’s get them on the lineup for next year, please, Walter!), especially when they don’t come out sounding shit. A sound as epic as it was well played, I very reluctantly tore myself away to give O’Malley and co. a chance…
As for High On Fire, the first of their two sets was dedicated to covering their first album, “The Art Of Self Defense”, which is just as well since it’s the only HoF album I still listen to (well, I like Blessed Black Wings too, but anything after is a definite no-no). Their set was everything you’d expect really – a veritable behemoth of riffs and solos to rend the heavens clean apart! There’s not really any disputing that High On Fire are everything a power trio dreams of being, but the result that Pike and co. achieve is extremely rare. Drummer Des Kensel is a fucking machine, watching him play is a privilege and will leave your face with a colossal shit-eating grin. The real icing on the cake was the Celtic Frost cover – I was delighted to see people going crazy during this one!
I have waited a long time to understand what all the fuss about Primordial is, and a half hour in the clutches frontman Alan Nemtheanga hammers the point home pretty damn well, although I can’t lie and say I’ll be rushing out to buy their entire discography straight away. What is undeniable is that they played a set of note-perfect brutality, and, to paraphrase what Alan said between songs : “Heavy metal free from irony is a rare thing these days”. What I witnessed when entering the Green Room, was a spellbinding set from Australia’s legendary peddlers of misery, Mournful Congregation. If you ever needed proof that playing slow is NOT easy, then these guys are it. Moments of total crushing depression contrast with passages that verge on being beautiful, without veering full-throttle into melodramatic whimsy. They’re like diSEMBOWELMENT shorn of their speed and all traces of light – if latter-day Corrupted were being sucked even deeper into an internal void of despair, you might get a sound akin to Mournful Congregation. Definitely the high point of Thursday’s music, an utterly shattering experience, they couldn’t have done it any better.
The night ended by taking in The Psychedelic Warlords playing Space Ritual in its entirety. I must confess to having felt a trifle sceptical at the idea of booking what is essentially a glorified cover band – as far as I know, no members of the current lineup of the band played on Space Ritual… However, their performance that night proved that sometimes going into an experience with few expectations can yield surprising results. I don’t know what we saw that night – was it a sterile re-enactment of one of my favourite albums? Hell NO! Was it a vastly different interpretation of the source material? Well, not really. But if you took it at face value, it was wonderful music being played by talented musicians with love and conviction and it was impossible not to be swept away by the sheer fun of it – I took it at face value and spent much of the time dancing and singing along, not to mention being impressed by core member Alan Davey’s bass playing (he does rather make me yearn for Lemmy though…) – and if that wasn’t enough, they shoved “You Shouldn’t do That” on the end of their set as an encore, and I couldn’t help being deliriously happy at hearing it played, it was like being twelve years old again, discovering Hawkwind for the first time. I left a very happy man indeed, and it melted away some of the veneer of cynicism that is so easy to fall prey to. Overall, a fantastic end to a very enjoyable first day, but it was only the prequel to a Friday which was to prove the best day I have ever had at a festival…
Scribed By: Saúl Do Caixão
Photos By: Lee Edwards
Published on 29th April 2013 at 12:58 pm and has the following tags:
013 Venue, Gig Review, Gravetemple, High On Fire, John Baizley, Lee Edwards, Nate Hall, Pallbearer, Penance, Primordial, Roadburn, Roadburn 2013, Roadburn Festival 2013, Saúl Do Caixão, The Psychedelic Warlords