Roadburn Festival 2011 – Day 2

Tilburg, The Netherlands 15/04/2011

Second day of Roadburn and I was DEFINITELY feeling the vibe today, after a shaky start yesterday. I’ll put that down to my being tired and nowhere NEAR drunk enough to get my buzz on.

Situation remedied and first on my hitlist today was Keiji Haino.

I’ve seen Haino on a couple of occasions before, most memorably with his old band Fushitsusha in That London. Haino was SO loud on that occasion that when he leapt into the air and struck a chord on his SG, the sound from the two full Hiwatt stacks, yes, that’s right, TWO Hiwatt stacks, onstage physically blew me off my feet.

Roadburn Festival 2011

As I was walking IN, a lot of people were walking out, wincing. I took this as a good sign, as I did the FOUR full stacks of amps onstage behind him.

Today he was in full on destructo-Japanese-noise-mode, flailing away at several theremins and a battery of effects units concealed on a table covered in black cloth, screaming and wailing into a battery of effected microphones and jamming out on a seriously in-the-red SG and Marshall stack combo…’twas LETHAL. Even if you don’t enjoy the sound he’s making at any given performance, I always recommend sticking around and just watching HIM. He really is like a man possessed, and his iconic hair turning silver only adds to his hypnotic strangeness.

I had hoped to catch some of Aluk Todolo next door in the smaller Green Room, but alas, I had seriously underestimated how popular they’d be and was forced to stand in the doorway, craning my neck over tall people once again. What I heard sounded fantastic, Krautrock motorik repetition fused with the coldness and angularity of Black Metal and a touch of the fuck-you experimentation you get from GOOD prog. What I could see looked very interesting too, as the band were utilizing bare light bulbs and creating a sort of ritual experience from their performance. I wish I could have seen more, DAMMIT.

Mamiffer, upstairs in the Bat Cave, met with a similar fate. The crush in the room lead to me having a slight panic attack and having to get the hell out of there. A shame, as I would have ordinarily enjoyed their ethereal experimentation and hypnotic back projections.

Next up for me were Trap Them, who I’ve managed not to see up until this point, although I like their records a lot. They didn’t disappoint. Brutal Swedish Death Metal wearing the steel-toecapped boots of Converge at their most hardcore, Trap Them totally OWNED the Green Room. Blasting through a set that was twice as long as their usual, thirty minute, set AND having to go straight to the airport to fly out and play ANOTHER show elsewhere later on that night was pretty damn hardcore and I don’t know HOW they did it. The material from ‘Darker Handcraft’ was FIERCE in a live environment, as was everything else they played, come to think of it, with guitarist Brian Izzi sounding less like one man with a guitar and more like one man with three miked-up chainsaws.

Slipping out of the room prior to the band spontaneously combusting, I made my way up to the Bat Cave to see Attila Csihar’s Void Ov Voices set. I can’t think of a more appropriately named venue for it, really, as Attila appeared onstage in a hooded cloak and talisman combo that was straight out of gothic fiction and began hissing and groaning into his microphone in a way that had me believing that Lord Voldemort himself was onstage in front of me, summoning something unpleasant forth in Parseltongue. Just five minutes earlier, he’d been onstage in a Skinny Puppy t-shirt ‘n’ casual jacket plugging in connectors and lighting candles, and now here he was, eyes covered with his hood and looking for all the world like a man literally possessed by demons.

The stage was full of dry ice and the tabletop he had his machines laid out on was littered with candles, adding a definite ritual feel to the proceedings.

Using nothing other than his remarkable voice, Csihar used a variety of effects boxes to layer and loop his hissing, croaking sibillance into a soundscape of roaring, creaking drones, embroidering and deepening the sound by demonstrating his impressive throat-singing technique. Truly an otherworldly sound…BUT…there was a fly in the ointment. I couldn’t fully engage with the performance due to the proliferation of bloody camera-phones that were waved at the stage and infringing and encroaching upon the edges of my peripheral vision. Here’s a tip, you have a thing in your brain called ‘memory’ and attachments called ‘eyes’, instead of spending the whole set half-watching on the screen of a small device and texting your friends about how cool you are, USE YOUR EYES, watch the show, then later on, USE YOUR MEMORY and recall how much you enjoyed it.

I had to leave as they were EVERYWHERE down at the front. On my way out I passed Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson of Sunn 0))) who further spoiled the atmos by offering me five pounds to streak in front of Attila.

….and on THAT bombshell, I headed into the main room to watch WINTER.

Talk about hotly anticipated, Winter were the band on EVERYONE’S lips this year and, accordingly, the main room was packed TIGHT for their set. Over the twenty-one (!) years since they first released ‘Into Darkness’ on the tiny ‘Future Shock’ label – which I bought and still own, he-said-smugly – their legend has grown and grown to the point at which this most cult of cult bands can easily fill a venue with a capacity of over two thousand people, despite only having released one LP and an EP during their lifetime, and despite having broken up in 1992.

No mean feat for ANY band these days.

So, did they deliver? Oh yes, in SPADES. Although unassuming to look at – bassist/vocalist John Alman looked disturbingly like he was dressed for a family picnic, in casual summer shirt, guitarist Stephen Flam blended into the darkness on stage with his black guitar and all-black ensemble, only their drummer, who is unknown to me, was the only non-static member of the band, pounding away like Dale Crover – their magnificent use of inspired visual projections, filling the vastness of the stage wall behind them, made their set very much a spectacle.

Playing through a WALL of amps, the sound was CRUSHING, and they played everything you could have wanted them to, ‘Servants Of The Warsmen’, ‘Goden’, ‘Destiny’, ‘Eternal Frost’, hell, ALL the classics. The back-projections cycled through eerie black and white photographs of bombed-out cities during wartime, presumably from the same series of shots as their iconic album cover, and psychedelic patterns of patches of light fading in and out of view whilst a massive spidery Winter logo blazed forth.

It was dark, it was oppressive and it was monolithic. In other words, it was PERFECT. Here’s hoping they decide to do a few more shows in the future so everyone else can get the benefit of being caught up in the grip of Winter.

In order to watch Winter, I’d had to forego watching Sabbath Assembly over at the Midi, which was a real shame as I’d already missed ’em when they failed to turn up as support at the Manchester date of the recent Earth tour, but then I couldn’t, in all good conscience, miss what may be my ONLY opportunity to see Winter, could I? As it was I’d had to miss Place of Skulls already in order to see Trap Them, and later today I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch Hooded Menace – about whom I’d not heard good live reports – and Grave Miasma if I wanted to see Sunn 0))) and Voivod…which I VERY much DID.

One band that I definitely WASN’T about to miss, though, were Corrosion of Conformity. I’d never seen COC in their original trio line-up before, but from recent video footage and their 7” on Southern Lord I figured I was in for a treat. I was not wrong. These three guys in their mid-to-late forties rock so much harder and have so much more energy than bands half their age – we’re talking MONSTER chops here. Reed Mullin nails it on drums and vocals and if Mike Dean isn’t THE greatest bass-player in the world right now, I don’t know WHO is. As for Woody Weatherman…..well….I could watch that man play guitar ALL FUCKIN’ NIGHT and NEVER get bored. He really makes that guitar sing with that crazy-ass vibrato technique of his.

Ripping through classic hardcore tracks from ‘Animosity’ and ‘Technocracy’, the cheeky scamps even threw in a wee burst of the main riff to ‘Seven Days’, from ‘Deliverance’, as the intro to a new song. Several new songs were played, all firmly within the speedy-hardcore-meets-Sabbath mould that we’ve come to love so much, and much enjoyment was had by band and audience alike. COC come across as your basic classic power trio, and all the classy rock that implies, being fed through the hardcore mincer, and it works WELL. Hell, the boys were on FIRE today. Who needs Pepper Keenan now? Not COC!

There was a half-hour respite whilst Sunn 0))) got their stage set up the way they like it, so down came the black curtain and on came the fog machines. I took the opportunity to catch some air and have a few drinks.

The atmosphere at Roadburn is almost ridiculously laid-back and friendly. Okay, so more than half the crowd is probably stoned, BUT, there’s more to it than that – I guess it’s the feeling that EVERYONE there is there for the same reason that YOU are, and they’re all INTO this music, this heavy, underground, music. There are no professional festival-goers, or people who only came because there was a spare ticket going and they had nothing else on that weekend, like you would find at, say, Glastonbury – a festival for people who have no real preferences and don’t really LIKE music, if you ask me – no, everyone at Roadburn is more-or-less on the same wavelength, and you can FEEL it. No wonder most of the people I know come back EVERY year. I reckon I’LL be making a return journey myself, and I’m a real homebody!

Sauntering back inside, I found a nice spot and waited for the curtain to rise and Sunn 0))) to come forth…and waited…and waited. They kept the jam-packed main room waiting for an extra fifteen minutes, staring at a black curtain, watching wisps of dry ice creep out from under it, and hearing the sound of THOSE guitars soundchecking. I later suggested that they ought to change their name to ‘Sunns ‘N’ Roses’.

The curtain drew back, to reveal the entire stage filled with fog and mauve lights, two, maybe even three, indistinct figures lurking within the curling mists, and then those glutinous, skullcrushing guitars sounded out, heavier than the sound of a building collapsing around your ears. Like massive tolling iron bells. As the fog slowly thinned out, three figures could be seen onstage, Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley, naturally, and Tos Nieuwenhuizen playing keyboards, presumably a Moog, all in the traditional cowls.

As the guitars came in crushing waves, a steely pulse was injected into the sound from the synthesizer, adding a John Carpenter feel to the overall sound, and hot on the heels of this throbbing pulse, Keiji Haino walked onto the stage. O’Malley later told me that he had no idea Haino would be joining them, so it was a surprise to most people!

Of course, Haino with Sunn 0))) makes perfect sense when you think about it, and his wailing ululations, shrieks and moans fit right into the black hole of sound that Sunn 0))) brought forth.

Now, loathe as I was to depart from this spectacle, NOTHING was gonna keep me from being front and centre for what was for me today’s major highlight…VOIVOD!!!

Having seen Sunn 0))) quite a few times in the past I had a fairly good idea how the set would progress, so I didn’t feel so bad for abandoning the ship before Attila appeared onstage, after all, this was Voivod I was going to see…my favourite band of all time.

I arrived at the Midi Theatre far too early so decided to catch the end of The Incredible Hog’s set. I’d been told by a few people that they were a band worth seeing, so I decided to give ’em a watch. They turned out to be fairly generic unthreatening pub-inflected blues rock, like a far less interesting Clutch. Not awful, but definitely not something I’d go out of my way to see.

I mingled in the foyer for a while and bided my time until the room cleared and I could stake my place at the front of the stage. I positioned myself squarely in front of bassist Jean-Yves Theriault, alias Blacky, for the evening and waited patiently whilst the band set up. I was more than a little excited. I’ve seen Voivod a good few times over the years, but I still feel like a giddy child when I know I’m going to see them again, especially now that Blacky is firmly back in the band again. Something about his clanking bass power-rumble is one of the things that goes toward making Voivod sound and feel like VOIVOD, if you know what I mean?

Opening with ‘The Unknown Knows’, the opening number from the almighty ‘Nothingface’ album – my personal favourite record of all time – Voivod pretty much knock out a set of classics tonight, with one or two li’l surprises thrown in. ‘Ravenous Medicine’, ‘Overreaction’ and ‘Tornado’ from ‘Killing Technology’ were ripped into, as was ‘Ripping Headaches’ from ‘Rrröööaaarrr’ and a winning triumvirate of ‘Tribal Convictions’, the AWESOME ‘Brain Scan’ and ‘The Experiment’ from ‘Dimension Hatröss’.

First surprise of the evening was ‘Forlorn’, from the Eric Forrest-era ‘Phobos’, a song that neither Blacky OR vocalist Denis ‘Snake’ Belanger had ever performed before. They needn’t have worried, it sounded like prime Voivod in their capable hands, and was pretty damn heavy to boot. Speaking of boots, Blacky and new-boy guitarist Dan ‘Chewy’ Mongrain were in high spirits all evening, with Blacky repeatedly kicking Dan in the bottom everytime they passed onstage and pretending to jump all over Dan’s pedalboard, necessitating another rapid stage swap-over and incurring Dan another boot to the bottom on his panic-stricken way past. Snake admonished Blacky for spilling water and standing on his mic-cord and earned a minor soaking in return.

Such playfulness spread throughout the band and spilled into the crowd, giving the whole show a weeeeeeiiiiird ‘party’ vibe. Who’d’a thunk it, Voivod as a party band?!?! Hell, I’D go, although it’d be one straaaange-ass party!

Mind you, one sure-fire way to check how good of a show the band think they’re playing is to see how wide the Cheshire Cat-grin is on the face of drummer, figurehead and total legend Michel ‘Away’ Langevin, and sure enough, tonight he’s grinning like the Saturnian cat that got the Space-cream. The band were having a ball, and so was I, hugging Blacky’s monitor for dear life and thrashing like a maniac. Boooooy, I had one wicked bangover the next day, I can tell you.

The final surprise of the evening came when Snake announced that Voivod would play a BRAND-NEW song – so new that he had to read the lyrics off of the pad he’d finished writing them on that very afternoon. This being the first new material that Voivod has written since Mongrain stepped into the guitarist role following the untimely death of original guitarist Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour in 2005, the band were visibly nervous and anticipation amongst fans was high.

The song was called ‘Kaleidos’, and they have NOTHING to worry about. Taking its musical cues from ‘Nothingface’ – ‘Inner Combustion’ in particular, to my ears – and a touch of ‘Angel Rat’, it seems that ‘weird Voivod’ are back with a vengeance, having displaced ‘rock Voivod’, at least for the duration of ‘Kaleidos’. Hearing this track was undoubtedly my highlight of the entire festival, if I’m honest. I was ECSTATIC!

Sadly, all nights have to end, and THIS one ended with an encore of their signature tune ‘Voivod’, from debut album ‘War And Pain’ and a version of Pink Floyd’s ‘Astronomy Domine’, as heard on ‘Nothingface’, dedicated, touchingly, to “…our fallen comrade, Piggy”, Snake urging us to “…Never forget Piggy!”…as if we could or would.

Yes, Voivod came, saw and CONQUERED Roadburn, with only a handful of people I spoke to who saw either of their sets coming away unconvinced. Oh, did I mention they played again the next day? That’s right, I got to do the WHOLE thing AGAIN!!

Before that could happen, however, I still had one thing left to do tonight, namely to race around the corner and try to catch the last half-hour of the vastly underappreciated Caspar Brötzmann Massaker in the Green Room of the 013. Run like the wind, I did…and miss them, I did.


Scribed by: Paul Robertson on the 01/05/11