Progressive rock. It’s not for everyone, but for me it was what day two of Roadburn 2014 was all about and I had Opeth‘s Mikael Åkerfeldt to thank for it.
As soon as Åkerfeldt was announced as being this year’s curator I had high hopes for some quality Swedish prog to join the line-up and it wasn’t long before the main two frontrunners in my wishlist were added – Trettioåriga Kriget and Änglagård – along with majestic French/Kobaian Zeuhl overlords Magma, about whose addition I couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
Magma, in fact, kicked off proceedings today, starting the day with a bang and making the jobs of everyone following them across the day exponentially harder. Even amongst the many acquired tastes of Prog, Magma are a hard sell. Equal parts Wagnerian hard-opera bombast, modern avant-classical minimalism, Crim-esque hard prog and latter period Miles jazz fusion, all delivered in drumming mainman Christian Vander’s glossolalian stentorian Kobaian tongue, their sound can be somewhat impenetrable to the casual listener – hell, it took me a good few years to really ‘get’ them – so it was very much a crap-shoot as to exactly how they would go down with the audience of hardened Roadburners.
Opening up with a brand-new unreleased track from their forthcoming new LP would be a bold move for any other band who may be somewhat of an unknown quantity, but this is Magma that we’re talking about here and all of the fucks that they don’t give could easily fill this entire venue and spill out into the street outside.
As m’colleague Saul stated in his report, the level of virtuosity, interplay and sheer musicality onstage was staggering and I would most certainly have considered it a privilege to see any one or combination of the band members play anywhere at any time, so to see such masters of their craft together and working to one end was a humbling and ecstatic experience. I just about left my body. Don’t ask me exactly which pieces were played, I don’t remember as I was so swept up in the torrent of music that was emanating from the stage, but I can tell you that they tended to concentrate on heavily cyclical material built around a slightly reduced ensemble comprised of Master Vander on drums and occasional Kobaian soliloquy, his wife and another lady on vocals, a lead vocalist, guitarist, bassist, electric pianist and a rather wonderful glockenspiel/percussionist who I found it hard to take my eyes off thanks to his phenomenal energy level. No brass section this time, sadly.
Watching Vander take the band through a series of beautifully interlocking pieces of minute complexity was about as close to a non-drug-or-magickal-related religious experience as I’ve encountered in many a year and I was happy to see that they were playing to a packed room and left quite the impression on most people I spoke to later. I had the tremendous good fortune to run into Christian Vander backstage afterwards, radiating calm and goodwill despite having just performed and I felt compelled to thank him from the bottom of my heart, which he accepted graciously.
Lest ye think I’ve gone all hippified on you maaaaaan, next up was the sucking tar-black vortex of crackling noise-bent doom that is The Body, although it was quite the squeeze to get into Het Patronaat, where the duo were playing. The line was four people deep and ran the length of the street in front of the venue. I had to play my journo-scum card and nip up the back stairs so I could watch from the side of the stage, thankfully, for the sake of my remaining hearing, behind mainman Chip King’s megaton amp-wall.
Playing with a fill-in drummer, due to Lee Buford’s crippling anxiety around travelling having unfortunately gotten the better of him whilst the band attempted to head out on tour by boat, you’d be a fool if you thought that such a turn of events would wrong-foot the band. Absolutely nothing was set to stun, it was kill kill kill all the way, with the drummer – who I was introduced to me earlier but whose name I completely forgot (it happens a lot) – smashing seven bells out of his kit whilst King detonated dirty bombs of high volume guitar filth and various mangled samples all around his ringing cymbals and thwacking snare, all the while shrieking himself hoarse like a schoolgirl faced with the blasphemous horror of some kind of nightmarish Lovecraftian squid-beast. The dichotomy between King’s eye-popping, nerve-jangling performing presentation and his on and offstage cheerful, sunny disposition could not be more apparent, and that adds to the somewhat unsettling aura that The Body projects. I’d be seeing these guys again, and soon.
Completely bypassing Comus for some reason that isn’t immediately apparent to me but probably involved a pub, my next fix of complicated time signatures was due in the shape of modern-day avant-proggers Änglagård in the 013 Green Room.
Firmly in the Gentle Giant vein, shot through with streaks of Van Der Graaf Generator and Frank Zappa, minus the wackiness, the five piece from Stockholm were absolutely delightful and, again, absolute masters – and mistress – of their instruments, of which each member played several.
A fine selection of tunes from debut album Hybris and their most recent album Viljans öga were aired and the musicianship was, as one would expect, utterly flawless, with charming spokesperson/saxophonist/keyboard player Anna Holmgren and bassist Johan Brand particularly shining – Brand’s bass was perfection and his use of a Moog Taurus made his delicious basslines twice as thick and chewy. I was in tone heaven. A quick glance around the room and a few chats later on confirmed that the Swedes had made quite the impression on everyone and took away more than a handful of new friends to boot. Score another one for the Prog brigade.
I had a little time to kill before seeing my next must-see, Trettioåriga Kriget, so I slunk through the backstage area and joined Saul at the side of the stage to catch a bit of Claudio Simonetti’s highly divisive Goblin.
One of two currently active offshoots from the original Goblin, this version boasts only one original member – keys man Claudio Simonetti – and is bolstered by a bunch of guys from his ‘gothic metal’ band Daemonia, whom I have never heard because, well, they’re a ‘gothic metal’ band and all such music past Paradise Lost’s Gothic album holds zero interest for me.
We gave them a good twenty minutes, with Saul optimistically saying “They’ll play something good in a minute..” the entire time, incorrectly as it turned out. No sir, we didn’t like it. Too slick and soulless for my liking, I much prefer the other Goblin’s take on their back catalogue as the stench of session-cheese is much less potent. Mind you, I spoke to a few folks the next day who claimed that they were the highlight of their entire festival, so what the fuck do I know?
Scooting back into the Green Room and assuming a position at the front of the stage, between bassist Stefan Fredin and keyboard player Mats Lindberg, I was very much looking forward to seeing Trettioåriga Kriget, who had long been one of my favourite prog bands.With their older material having something of the icy spikiness of 70’s era King Crimson and their newer tunes having something of the hue of 80’s Crim, albeit with more of a classic rock twist, and not having come across any reports of more recent live activity I really was not sure what to expect, but I doubted I would be disappointed.
Confident from the off with a punchy live sound, I was impressed from the get go. The five-piece delivered a brilliantly chosen set that spanned their entire career, from their 1976 self-titled debut and follow-up album Krigssång – possibly my favourite of theirs – through to 2004’s comeback recording Elden av år and their most recent opus, 2011’s Efter Efter, without so much as a misstep.
Age and experience have done much to smooth off the spiky edges from the old material but it hasn’t dulled its power at all, with the strident rhythm section of Stefan Fredin and drummer Dag Lundquist – 60 years old and putting drummers half his age to shame – driving the tunes along with grace and ease, lead guitarist Christer Åkerberg peeling off fluid runs, vocalist and rhythm guitarist Robert Zima sounding as though the last 40 years hadn’t happened and keys man Mats Lindberg adding layers of subtle colouring and shading to the whole ensemble. It was a joy to watch and hear and, judging by the expressions of most of the band, clearly a joy to play too.
Unfortunately for me, my enjoyment was slightly curtailed by the arrival of a friend I hadn’t seen since last year who insisted on going for drinks, so I missed the very last part of the set, but, ultimately, if I’d only seen five minutes of the band I’d have still been chuffed to bits – they were every bit as good as I’d hoped they would be and then some, and it was great to see them getting a little wider exposure after all these years of great music.
Thanks to my friend Robert, the rest of the night pretty much disappeared as I got caught up in catching up and shooting shit the way you do when you haven’t seen someone in a while and they have a lot to impart, but I did managed to catch part of Opeth‘s set – after roundly cursing my friends for making me miss Obliteration, whom I was really looking forward to seeing – and was quite surprised to see them playing older, more death metal-orientated material as I’d assumed those days had been left behind.
Anyway, what I saw sounded impressive enough, as you would imagine, and I was a little disheartened not to have seen more, but that’s the thing about a festival like Roadburn – it’s as much about the atmosphere, sense of community and the making and kindling of friendships as it is about the music. Or something, maaaaaaan. I took the opportunity to knock out a piece about the day for the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch zine that a few of us were involved with, thus meaning I didn’t have to get up at bastard o’clock to submit it the following morning, and headed out in search of further adventure.
Following a fruitless search for a metal club night that Louise from Iron Fist was allegedly putting on somewhere in town, I stopped in at Alan from Primordial’s heavy metal disco in the 013 foyer and then headed to my berth on the boat, to gird my loins for the Saturday, and believe me, they needed girding – I was still suffering in earnest from the crippling bangover that Mantar earned me on the Thursday night.
Danny Glover was right.
Scribed By: Paul Robertson
Photos By: Lee Edwards
Video By: Mark 208