Bloody Hell, another Roadburn review, I hear you cry! The reason I too am adding my proverbial iron to the fire is the same thing that makes this festival sell out in under ten minutes every year – of the four Shamanic disciples that attended this festival, we all saw vastly different lineups, arguably completely different festivals in some cases!
And so, it remains for me to clear up the scraps left behind by my trusty colleagues Paul (Devil’s grip, the Iron Bladder) and Adam, not least to voice my disagreement with The Right Honourable Mr. Stone over The Obsessed, but I digress… As you will probably deduce, I am a man who likes his doom fairly traditional or firmly within the murky realms of death metal, but there’s no concrete formula! The maddening thing is, even with our merry quartet’s eclectic palette, there are holes in our report, and for that we are sorry; we would have loved to have been everywhere at once, but we haven’t quite mastered the art of bending space and time to meet our will – working on it for 2013, but enough introductory drivel, on with the show…
As an opening act, diSEMBOWELMENT (or rather, their mutated clone d.USK) seemed like a rather odd choice, not least because they were one of the main draws of the festival for a number of people! However, it’s indicative that, despite the odd timing, the main room of the 013 was packed for the return of this seminal Antipodean death doom collective. Minus founding guitarists Renato Gallina (also vocals) and Jason Kells, I must admit to having felt a twinge of apprehension as the lights dimmed, compounded by the fact that the sound of “Transcendence Into The Peripheral” (their seminal 1992 opus from which this special set was drawn) is so unique as to have left doubts in my mind as to whether a live re-enactment twenty years later could live up to my expectations. I’m delighted to say that these suspicions proved to be completely wrong, as we were treated to over an hour of perfect death metal. From the moment the grinding initial riff of “The Tree Of Life And Death” rang out, it was clear that a group of skilled musicians were on stage – when the odd time change set in, with its glacial, almost black metal riff, it was unmistakably diSEMBOWELMENT. The unconventional song structures, tones and guttural vocals are what have caused this band to stand the test of time and be held in such high regard by so many. Interestingly, you only had to glance at the singer’s patches (Brujeria, Corrupted…) to realize that this band was one of the first to successfully merge death, grind and doom metal into a coherent whole, and it was a total lesson in brutality and skill as they tore through the whole album (I think?), complemented by the usual perfect Roadburn sound and a backdrop of suitably grim, pagan and ancient atmospheric visuals. A performance so intense that it left me needing a moment of quiet reflection, and wondering quite how the rest of the festival was going to live up to this flawless opening act!
Roadburn’s tradition of booking the finest death metal on offer (Winter, Evoken, Grave Miasma…) continued with Germany’s Necros Christos bringing their unique brand of suffocating (an adjective used too often these days but very appropriate to this band) death metal to the Green Room. The atmospheric interludes that make their two albums such addictive listening experiences were scattered throughout what really amounted to a blinding performance. The thing is, you only need to read an interview with founding member Mors Dalos Ra to know that this collective is not just another “goats and upturned crosses” band, of which there are so many these days. He has a very profound, serious interest and belief in The Occult, and this genuine engagement with darkness and mysticism is clearly audible in their two albums. The issue I take with much death metal these days, is that it simply doesn’t engage with darkness and death in any credible manner, which is where bands like Necros Christos and Encoffination shine. And so, clad in gold-embroidered black, the audience was subjected to a rare and spellbinding show of utter darkness that left all present in no doubt that they had just witnessed something truly special.
Continuing along the murky path of ritual and darkness were Finland’s Dark Buddha Rising, an unconventional name for a band that (for me) had a certain mystique to them. Not knowing what to expect (other than having heard some very promising samples), I stood anxiously awaiting the Finnish hordes’ arrival into an increasingly crowded Green Room. What followed was easily the most disturbing, theatrical and downright scary performance I’ve ever witnessed at this festival. The claustrophobia caused by the cramped room, the smoke and the volume was disorientating enough, but the band’s real trump card was their painfully thin singer/keyboardist, shaven-headed and nude from the waist up, he spent much of the concert seemingly on another plane of existence, possibly Hell. Gurning, gesticulating and pouring blood over himself, the man looked like something out of E. Elias Merhige’s terrifying “Begotten”, with the band behind him creating a thick wall of DOOM that washed over an entranced crowd throughout the duration of their set, punctuated by long psychedelic passages which hinted at the Eastern mysticism that their name suggests. This is exactly what makes this festival such a unique phenomenon, utterly weird bands that are unclassifiable being given a chance to shine in perfect surroundings.
From a very different camp, but no less mystical and entrancing, were England’s prime purveyors of West Country doom metal. Funnily enough, Electric Wizard aren’t the band I have in mind! I am referring to The Wounded Kings, a band who I have seen many times since their inception. This concert was essential for me since this was to be the first time I would be seeing them with their new lineup – it’s interesting, when all but the founding member drop out of a band, it’s a far from given conclusion that they’ll carry on at all, especially when two of the outgoing members comprise a fantastic vocalist and jaw-droppingly good drummer (anyone who saw them with the old lineup will attest to his power behind the kit). It’s a credit to Steve Mills’ vision that the new album was not just the equal of the two that preceded it, but was an absolutely perfect progression from those two milestones of contemporary doom. The band entered the Green Room (I always seem to spend an awful lot of time in there!) with zero pretence and bludgeoned the crowded room with note-perfect doom metal, a setlist which comprised of the new album in its entirety and “Melanthos” off their debut, given a fantastic and refreshing spin by new vocalist Sharie Neyland, who was easily the most beguiling voice on display this year (up against some stiff competition from the likes of Wino!!). Sadly (as with much of the audience) I had to leave early to catch a good spot for The Obsessed, but I daresay the band will forgive me that transgression! A perfect show from a band that has zero airs and graces and shows no sign of becoming stale anytime soon!
Whereas The Wounded Kings were the familiar band that provided the welcome return of the festival, GNOD were without a doubt the discovery of the festival for me. It’s worth noting at this point, that the new venue “Het Patronaat”, great-looking though it is, is no substitute for the much-mourned MIDI theatre, where I saw what possibly ranks as the best show I’ve ever seen in my life (Death Row, since you asked!). A picturesque sweatbox, I found it very hard to stick it out for more than 4-5 songs for most bands there, and it is testament to the sheer brilliance of GNOD’s performance that evening that I stayed for the whole thing, transported as I was to outer space! For a festival that is so full of beards, tattoos and bellies, it was oddly refreshing to see a band that looked so different, but didn’t for a single moment feel out of place! A blissful mix of Hawkwind, Loop and trance music, the whole room was one big mass of dancing, clapping, bobbing heads and smiles. The band were clearly 100% into what they were doing, the guitarist jumping up and down, nodding his head while the drummer thrashed out repetitive beats on his drumkit like a machine! And of course, who can forget the lurching basslines and the mad-as-a-bag-of-spiders lead singer, his voice a cacophonous mess of delay and reverb. Psychedelia is rarely this good or original these days, DO NOT MISS THEM if they are playing near you. Brilliant.
One of the elements that makes Roadburn so unique (and, in my opinion, important) is that it promotes the whole pantheon of what can broadly be deemed “heavy music”; hence you see acts like GNOD rubbing shoulders with black and death metal bands, ambient acts and acoustic musicians (but where was the NWOBHM this year?)! However, it would be remiss of them not to cater to us hard rock fans, and the big name this year was none other than Wino’s legendary first band The Obsessed. Bringing the lineup with which he recorded my personal favourite full length, 1994’s swansong “The Church Within”, this is probably the band I was most giddy about seeing! I remember talking to Paul minutes before the show started, and we were trying to guess what they would open with. I don’t think either of us actually mentioned the most obvious choice, the opening track from their self-titled Hellhound debut… Wino took to the stage with his usual down-to-earth approach, declaring he “…couldn’t think of a better place to do it”. Oddly, he didn’t seem as crazed throughout the performance as he usually does – concentration or too much “herbal refreshment”? Anyway, they (of course) tore into “Tombstone Highway”, a monument to motorbikes and 70s hard rock if ever there was one. Interestingly enough, the stripped-down nature of their live setup made them sound even more like Black Oak Arkansas on downers, and made for a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. There isn’t really that much else to say about this band: put simply, if you don’t understand the monumental value of seeing Guy Pinhas and Greg Rogers (best rhythm section of the Nineties? Certainly strong contenders in my book!) pounding out songs like “Brother Blue Steel”, “Hiding Mask”, “Jaded”, “A World Apart” and “Streetside” with Wino tearing into his instrument like his life depended on it – well, you have my pity! “Endless Circles” is easily one of my favourite songs (doom or otherwise) of all time, and it was extremely moving seeing that performed, although I was a little gutted at not witnessing my all-time favourite Obsessed song “Field Of Hours” played. The only criticism I have is that I wish they could have been given another hour – regardless, a flawless set of some of the finest doom metal ever written.
Walter and his team fulfilled a few more hard-rock/trad doom wishes by adding Hellhound legends Internal Void to the bill! I have to admit that as recently as two years ago, I was convinced they were one of the lesser bands on that legendary label, but thankfully sanity and good taste prevailed eventually and they clicked! If you like their records, then believe me, on the basis of the show they gave in Tilburg, live they are absolutely off the charts! The riffs sounded thunderingly heavy through the main hall’s infamous PA, delivered with zero pretence and total conviction by Heinzmann, Carmichael and Goad. I was disappointed afterwards to hear people complaining about singer J.D. Williams’s on-stage antics, which included going behind the amps and “worshipping” them. I assume these people do not like Ozzy either – the kind of vocals Williams are meant to be over the top, and the theatrics match it perfectly. So long as it’s done with conviction, it works, and Internal Void were clearly delighted to be there. They tore through “Nothing But Misery” and “Devil In Drag”, two of my favourites, but I was a little disappointed we didn’t get “Warhorse”. A standout performance that bridged the gap between psychedelia and hard rock, I’m hoping we’ll see more Maryland Doom classics next year (IRON MAN!) because on the basis of Internal Void and the reaction they got, it’s in demand!
When I first scanned the Roadburn schedule, I distinctly remember breaking out into a grin as I saw that Newcastle’s finest exponents of psychedelic minimalism, Bong, were set to close the festival in the Green Room. By day four of the proceedings, you’re so utterly drained (well, let’s face it – fucked) that a band like Bong is pretty much the only entity that will fit the bill! I even mentioned to them how great it would be to lie down during their set; they went so far as to suggest to Walter if it would be possible to ask the audience to sit down before commencing, but this was sadly vetoed on health and safety grounds. I managed to find a spot to sit, cross legged in front of one of the speakers (don’t tell anyone!) halfway through their set though! Every time I see Bong, I leave the room convinced I’ve just seen them play their best set ever, and this occasion was no different. With the possible exception of GNOD (the aforementioned, superb band they indicatively did a split with), they gave us the most “out there” performance of the weekend. The Hawkwind factor is on full overdrive permanently with Bong, their performance peppered with schizoid, almost jazzy drum breaks and subtly increasing tempos – a journey into space, with a coda that served as a diffusion into nothingness, the raga of Vest’s guitar fading into the night. To paraphrase Alejandro Jodorowsky: “If you are great, Bong are a great band. If you are limited, Bong are limited”.
Scribed by: Saúl Do Caixão
Photos by: Lee Edwards