Friday the 19th of April 2013 is liable to be a day I shall remember with great fondness for many years to come. I don’t think I’ve ever had a whole day at a festival that was as universally enjoyable on all fronts as this one. I saw some bands giving career-defining performances, new bands blowing me away, and ticked others off my bucket list. The band that fell into this last category was none other than Dream Death – if you’d have told me a few years ago that I would have witnessed Smail & co. tearing a 3000 (?) capacity venue a new arsehole, I would have laughed in your face, and insisted it would have been shit anyway. The thing is, Dream Death have always been utterly unique; there have been neither peers nor imitators that have attempted the utterly bonkers Lovecraftian melding of thrash and doom that their one album and demos displayed. The atmosphere on “Journey Into Mystery” is one that every Lovecraft obsessive with a load of pricey amps would KILL to recreate, but the riffing of Weston and Lawrence, not to mention THOSE VOCALS that are pure, insane aggression – it’s all a powerful wallop that stands alone in the pantheon of heavy music. Even the artwork and band photo on the album are perfect. It’s pretty useless my trying to put into words the sheer, delirious, heart-stopping glee that washed over me as the opening chords of “Back From The Dead” came ripping through me, and when the vocals kicked in, I screamed myself hoarse to the point where I had no voice for the rest of the festival. “I hope you enjoyed the living me, cause the dead one NEVER ENDS!” – these kind of moments pretty much define my lifelong love of heavy metal, and the beautiful thing is I know there were a lot of people in that room that felt the same. They tore through just about everything a fan could have hoped for – “Sealed In Blood” (aaaaaaaaargh!), “The Elder Race”, “Black Edifice” (“The music stops, the dancers tuuuuuuuurn!”) and closed with the track that gave them their name, hammering the point home with sheer skill and brutality. Just to cap the whole thing off, the new songs were absolutely brilliant, and I just can’t wait to hear the new album – special props for having a suitably morbid backdrop – you never can have enough bats! Everything about their performance was a masterclass in HEAVY.
Frankly, my first thought on exiting the main stage was “well, that’s the rest of the day’s bands buggered – there’s no way anyone can follow that! Well, it just goes to show that things can stay at a blissfully high plateau, as I walked into Het Patronaat to see Witch Mountain show that they can pull of the soaring majesty of “Cauldron of the Wild” just as well in the live arena (but damn it, Walter, the sweltering heat of this venue needs to be dealt with, it gets totally intolerable…). Uta Plotkin’s voice really needs no introduction by this stage, but it’s easy to overlook just how bloody good the rest of the band are – tighter than a duck’s arsehole and never more showy than they need to be! They get lumped in with Doom metal bands, but I frankly think that’s bollocks; what’s wrong with just calling a band “HEAVY METAL”? Uta’s range and style reminds me more of DIO than Scott Reagers.
Talking of REAL heavy metal that gets classified as doom metal, I had to bow out early of Plotkin & Co. to see Witchsorrow for the first time in many years – barring a few wobbles in the vocal department during the first song, this is probably the best I’ve ever seen them, with the fast parts of the songs being total fist-in-the-air goodness. Like their labelmates The Gates Of Slumber, they are less concerned with writing doom than just producing skull-crackin’ ‘eavy metal to wrench your head clean off. The second track was a great blast from the (relative) past, “The Trial Of Elizabeth Clarke”, and it gave me a chance to sing along “The witch is dead… Long live the witch!”
Once more, I found myself having to bow out early, this time so as to catch a bit of Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. Now, all hype aside, I think “Blood Lust” is a really great pop album – it’s hard to get harmonies right, but I think this album succeeded in spades, and was great fun, in the best tradition of The Beatles or The Kinks. Unfortunately, as I somewhat feared, the resulting live performance had none of the sparkle that made the album so entertaining, as the harmonizing that made the source material so exceptional were simply not there. The new material is nowhere near as strong either, but people seemed to lap it up anyway; no amount of fancy backdrops (or, in all fairness, good playing) could really compensate for this pretty major flaw.
The point was really hammered home by The Pretty Things, who not only harmonized right, but did so with a lot less fanfare. As with The Psychedelic Warlords, I went into the hall with a slight sense of trepidation, as this sort of exercise in retro can trample a band’s legacy as easily as it can enhance it. To my great relief, the latter was in show that night. Beautifully played psychedelia of the kind that could only have been produced in Sixties Britain came wafting through the speakers and entranced everyone – “Defecting Grey” is one of the most outright barmy and endearing exercises in the genre, and it was executed with aplomb, along with “L.S.D.” and a few tracks from “S.F. Sorrow”. This performance left me with the biggest grin of the festival, and was definitely the moment where I became a true dancing fool. As to whether, as Phil May claimed, it was really “…like being back at the UFO club…” I couldn’t say, but it was certainly a very special performance, and Dick Taylor was easily the most impressive guitarist of the entire festival, making his masterful psych-pop guitar playing look effortless (and I daresay the axe he was playing was the nicest on display too!).
From light psychedelic pop to a whirlwind of sheer darkness and riffs, Electric Wizard played to a predictably packed main stage – I have to say, of the five or six times I’ve seen them, this was among the best (bear in mind that I missed the founding trio by a matter of weeks…) With Mark Greening back behind the kit, there is a very different feel to the current incarnation of the Wizard, and it was a real pleasure to hear songs from the last few albums being played with him as the backbone. So what if I recognized a few of the fills from Ramesses? Mark was out to prove a point that night, and he did so with style and venom. The set that the Wizard played just plain killed, and it’s easy for us Brits to forget just how rare it is for people outside the UK (let alone Europe) to see this iconic band live, so there were a lot of very happy faces to be seen after their storming set ended. Opening with the bile of “Return Trip”, The Wizard blasted through a set which had something to please everyone – “Return To the Sun Of Nothingness”, “Dopethrone” and “Funeralopolis” for sad old gits like me, and the brilliant “May-Blitz-in-the-fucking-red” gallop of “Black Mass”, “Drugula” and “The Nightchild” for those who caught onto the band at a later date. Apparently they also played “Legalise Drugs and Murder” off their excellent 7” from last year, but the pressures of an aching bladder forced me out of the main hall and into the toilets…
But rarely have I felt more grateful to my treacherous bladder, as it gave me the impetus to catch a few songs from Finland’s Seremonia, whose début album (and 7” for that matter!) was one of my absolute favourites last year! I caught three songs before being drawn back to The Wizard; one new song (possibly off the new 7”?) and the two corkers from their first single. I would have danced madly backwards, but I was frankly too exhausted from The Pretty Things, so I just stood there gurning like a moron. They played wonderfully distinctive psych-rock, with the garagey drums proving every bit as infectious as on record! Endowed with matching pendants (what the hell do they actually represent, Ilkka?) and shirtless (well, the male members were!), it was tremendous fun! I think they should be brought back next year so they can play to the packed audience they deserve. An exceptionally good band that deserve adulation and praise, and the fact I didn’t see their entire set is my one regret of the entire festival.
I made sure to catch a bit of Psychic TV before heading to the Green Room, and with a cry of “Fear not, retro-rockers…” a refreshingly Puckish Genesis Breyer P-Orridge led h/er band of unique miscreants into a truly rousing cover of “Silver Machine”. It’s very odd to start with a cover, but then Genesis Breyer P-Orridge plays by no-one’s rules but h/er own. I wasn’t able to catch a great deal of their set, but from what I was able to see from this first song and the fifteen minutes I caught after popping my head around later on, I need to see them do a full set, without the distraction of another band playing next door! There’s something wonderfully beguiling about Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s hands and “dancing”, it all seems so wonderfully choreographed and confrontational. I did feel a pang of sadness when an image of Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge flashed through the (truly outstanding) backdrop video. It was a reminder of the total absorption of the love they shared, and was a pertinent reminder of what really matters in life – very moving indeed.
Prior to catching the last minutes of Psychic TV’s weird trancescapes, I had made sure to catch every note of Satan’s Satyrs in a packed Green Room. I’ve been following this band since their incendiary demo, and to finally see them was absolutely bloody brilliant! Their set was top-notch scuzz-punk from beginning to end, from “Sadist 69” to “Satan’s Satyrs”, the front row was a mess of fists, air guitar and lurching bodies. The guitarist looks like Donald “Duck” Dunn, and sounds like Chuck Berry would have, had he been kicked in the head as a child. Rock’n’Roll for Troglodytes, set to go-go dancing mental drumming! And head honcho Claythanas’s strained, out-of-control vocals are the product of a larynx that couldn’t give a fuck less. Speed, riffs and filth – it was an incredible end to a day that had peaked at the very beginning and consistently failed to leave that plateau of brilliance. This Friday was the best demonstration ever of why Roadburn is the best festival in the world – where else can you experience genuine British psychedelia, Lovecraftian thrash, pure doom metal, garage rock, trance and proper heavy metal all on the same bill? Tilburg in April is the answer – “heavy” comes in many different forms, and this day was a breathtaking demonstration of just how broadly that term can be applied.
Scribed By: Saúl Do Caixão
Photos By: Lee Edwards