The Friday had been an absolute pinnacle of Roadburn’s history, and this left a rather daunting task to the bands booked to play the Saturday and Sunday’s Afterburner. Of course, it was essentially an act that was impossible to follow, but there were enough bands that stood out enough to make for a very enjoyable few days indeed. First up on the Saturday were none other than Albion’s finest purveyors of pastoral gloom, Black Magician. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, this merry bunch of miscreants are responsible for a record that frankly shits over just about any band from England and beyond that have been laying claim to being “doom metal”. “Doom Metal” my arse; tuning your guitar to C and buying a Vitus shirt does NOT make you doom metal, and thankfully Black Magician gave the genre a much-needed heavy metal kick up the codpiece with their incendiary début “Nature Is The Devil’s Church”. And their performance at Het Patronaat was overall a worthy demonstration of just how good they are, with Liam Yates’s commanding, out-there performance, all Liebling-eyes and Reagers Baroque, set to a fluid, pummeling rhythm section courtesy of messrs. Robertson and Plested. Kyle Nesbitt’s guitar playing is well and truly exceptional, and it is to be commended that he doesn’t drown his guitar in a mire of delay and reverb (every sloppy guitarist’s best friend, I speak from experience) when playing the lengthy initial solo in “Chattox” – the only problem with this, is that if your guitar goes out of tune or you hit a bum note, it’s going to be all the more audible, and this is sadly what occurred. Thankfully, once some solid riffing and distortion set in again (through a Laney Supergroup, no less!), a swift recovery was made, and the audience still had a great time – besides, any concert where I get to scream out “BRING OUT YOUR DEAD!” gets top marks in my book. Seeing them destroy a 130-person venue a week later showed that this momentary lapse was but a one-off, and I can’t bloody wait to hear their upcoming 7” and LP!
After this, I found myself at a bit of a loss, and allowed myself to be subjected briefly to Alcest and Ruins of Beverast, both of whom did nothing for me – although I’m obviously in something of a minority where the former is concerned, if the amount of people crowding the main venue are anything to go by. Antisect are a band that have always held a special place for me, as they are one of the first Crust bands I ever encountered (although I had no idea that that’s what they were at the time, it was just punk to me) – listening to “In Darkness There Is No Choice” struck such a special chord with me, particularly with lyrics like “Who are these people who support the cause of war/and use their false morality and label it as law”. Unfortunately, crust was just as much about a time and place as it was the music, and dredging this (brilliant) material up 25 years after simply doesn’t feel right to me, no matter if you “still hate Thatcher”, as the bass player’s T-shirt screamed. That’s not to say they didn’t play well or do it with plenty of enthusiasm, or that they were doing it for the wrong reasons, it just plain felt wrong to me. Amebix were always apolitical, and had the good taste to actually record a (great!) new album, and Doom are also recording new material and have stayed actively engaged in anti-establishment causes, vocally so. Maybe I’m just being cynical and jaded, as plenty of people seemed to love their performance, but I’m not about to lie just because a band whose music I love didn’t live up to my expectations!
And so, after a few disappointments, it was left to High On Fire to provide a dose of no-nonsense heaviness. This was actually one of the performances that exceeded my expectations, as I’ve not really liked a High On Fire album all the way through since the début. However, even songs off recent albums like “Snakes For The Divine” and “Frost Hammer” were total fist-up-the-arse METAL, shorn of the unbecoming sheen that mars the recorded results. “Eyes And Teeth” off their sophomore LP was particularly impressive live as well – and frankly, if you need telling that Jeff Matz and Des Kensel are the envy of every rhythm section, there is well and truly no hope for you. Kudos also for having the funniest shirt on sale at the festival, adorned with a picture of Richard Pryor (High On Fire, get it?? Well, I laughed!).
Die Kreuzen followed next on the main stage, and despite not really being a fan of their music, I felt very bad for the band playing to such an empty main hall, especially as they were well and truly giving it their all. They fared better the next day in a smaller venue, I’m happy to say. Satan’s Satyrs performed an infectiously enjoyable set of Blue Cheer songs, a very competent cover band indeed, but obviously no match for their barnstorming performance of their own material the night before!
It was left to local Dutch lads Asphyx (or Arse Fix as I sometimes refer to them) to end the night on a high note. A band that have well and truly been there since death metal’s inception, I’ve waited a long time to finally catch them live, and what they played that night was a total masterclass in death metal, played brilliantly and with total conviction. Frontman Maarten Van Drunen clearly LOVES death metal and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks, his enthusiasm is infectious and his voice utterly peerless, even with death metal’s current resurgence – he sounds like he’s having his balls ripped out with a rusty bread knife (my kind of vocalist). He said at one point that the band were really not sure what to expect, but the fact that the queue to get into the Patronaat was (apparently) a mile long, is testament to the fact there is interest aplenty among Roadburners in the best Dutch death metal band (and that really is saying something given the competition!) The band tore through an utterly brilliant set of their slower material, although I will admit I was one of the dickheads screaming “FASTER! FASTER!”. The high point for me was hearing “The Last One on Earth” played, I will freely admit to having completely lost it in a frenzy of headbanging – The funniest thing was that just before the encore, Van Druunen said (paraphrasing slightly): “This is what happens when you play your “doom” set too fast – we have a few minutes left, so here’s a fast one”. And so, the night ended with the title track off their last album, sounding better than on record. I was bloody delighted! Here’s hoping we get Autopsy, Impetigo and Cianide on the bill next year for us death metal freaks…
The Afterburner (as the name suggests) is always an occasion for more monged-out suffering than headbanging – every year I tell myself “I will not stay for the Sunday this time”, but without fail I end up staying the extra day. My h/bangover did not release me sufficiently from its clutches early enough to permit my shattered carcass to give Astra a chance (sorry!) but here’s a photo anyway.
So I entered a packed Green Room to see Pallbearer faring much better than on the first day of the festival, before heading into the main room to see Sigh putting on a great show of pretty bonkers proggy-jazz-death metal (or whatever you want to call it!). I don’t know their back catalogue well enough to be able to say whether they were playing early or late material, but they certainly knew how to use the vast expanse of the main stage, with an act that involved fire and colour of various kinds.
Next up was Michael Rother, revisiting his back catalogue in an updated form. All credit to him for re-inventing the music for a contemporary audience, the problem was that the tracks frequently seemed too aligned to piss-poor trance, lacking the texture and warmth of the originals – the drummer was particularly good, and it was an interesting spectacle, but sadly didn’t hold my attention for the full duration of the set. Having said that, this kind of mellow pleasantry (despite its faults) is what the Afterburner should be all about, hence my really missing the presence of Newcastle’s Bong to round up the festivities this year.
Nihill and Switchblade were both extremely good, but frankly I wasn’t really up for witnessing two bands that make Khanate look positively tame. Call me a wimp if you will, but it’s the truth! It was bloody impossible to get a decent view of Nihill anyway… The less said about the bland sub-Purple boredom of the Spiritual Beggars the better, but people seemed to be having fun, so what do I know? One band I am less prepared to be magnanimous about is Ihsahn & Leprous – I still can’t quite understand what they were doing on the Roadburn bill, as they seemed to alienate much of the crowd, including some dyed-in-the-wool Emperor fans, but given the high standard that Walter and co. generally provide us with, I daresay one hiccup in fifteen years is quite forgivable.
I have a vivid memory of running into Walter midway through the first day, and asking him what his stress level was like, and he replied: “practically zero” – he seemed truly delighted, totally elated and enjoying himself as much as any audience member. After all, isn’t personal enjoyment the reason anyone would want to put on a festival like this? The spirit of appreciating the old while championing the new is the spiritual core of what makes music such an important part of our lives, and Roadburn remains a fantastic manifestation of this attitude, never lapsing into a stupor of nostalgia or booking the new for the mere sake of it. My thanks to Lee (the Shaman himself), Walter & the Roadburn team for their hospitality and generosity, and last but not least, every freak, reprobate and good egg that put up with my increasingly incomprehensible gibberish between bands and in drinking establishments. As Frank Zappa so rightly said: “Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best”.
Scribed By: Saúl Do Caixão
Photos By: Lee Edwards