Three days into the quartet of musical transcendence that is Roadburn and my lungs, liver and ears were beginning to feel the strain, despite the lingering excitement about how good Magma had been the night before (no, I will not shut up about it). The physical and mental hangover was not enough to stop me (or a substantial amount of people) from seeing the mighty Noothgrush open on the main stage. I was absolutely gutted at having missed their European début at Heavy Days In Doom Town last year, so this was a very necessary tick off the list. And they delivered in spades, blasting through songs dedicated to the Sand People (they’re total Star Wars nuts, in case you haven’t guessed) and the Third World, as well as an excellent new song about entropy. Dino’s vocals were great, and his banter was friendly and jovial (it’s easy to forget how impressive his CV is – Asunder and Phobia, ‘nuff said!), but it was definitely Chiyo’s powerhouse drumming that stole the show. I actually like the first Hawkwind-style demo they did the best, having discovered it (along with most of you, probably!) courtesy of Fuck Yoga’s recent reissue, but I guess they became something quite different really – top marks anyway!
There is only one word I can really use to describe Circle – barmy. And their performance at Het Patronaat on that Saturday was the best show I’ve seen them play (and that’s high praise considering how consistently good they are!). I think with Circle, despite the wide variety of sounds in their arsenal, you either love them or hate them – I have not met anyone in the middle ground. Thing is, with a show that takes in Krautrock (in the vein of Can), heavy metal, prog, punk and even (God help us!) trance/techno, you’re bound to piss people off, and I think that’s great. The deadpan Finns opened the show by changing into their stage clothes in full view of an increasingly perplexed audience; as if this wasn’t funny enough, the guitarist was dressed in fur boots and a t-shirt saying “Damn I’m Good”. There’s something just so wonderfully preposterous about Circle’s sound and look, I can’t help but love ‘em! And I’ll say this: whatever your opinion, there is no-one that sounds quite like them. They looked like an explosion in an Eighties fitness freak’s wardrobe (who said shell suits, bling, jogging on stage and spandex suck?!) and sounded alternately like a black nightmare and a psychedelic circus. Jesters of cosmic dada. This set demands a physical release (along with Magma) – DVD, anyone?
After Circle, any band is going to look pretty tame, and I have to confess I’ve never been much of a Yob fan, but I dutifully sat through most of their set, nursing a whiskey in the Gods. I was still chuckling too hard from the Circle show to take Scheidt’s very po-faced brand of heavy metal seriously. Thankfully, however, I had overcome my mirth enough to thoroughly enjoy Age Of Taurus playing the tiny sweatbox of a venue upstairs. Toby Wright’s voice was on fine form and Al Riddell’s leads were as piercingly great as they’ve ever been. “Walk With Me My Queen” was an expected highlight, but it was all brilliant, from “Sinking City” to the song they played off the original demo, it was note perfect heavy metal. Second album soon, please!
A quick dash downstairs and I was able to catch a couple of songs from Mansion, the mysterious group of Finns playing hard rock with lyrics centered around an End Time cult… I’m chuffed to have seen/heard “Mother’s Burden” played (as it was one of my favourite songs from last year), but gutted that I had to leave due to their falling victim to the one serious clash of the festival (after all, who knows how long the reformed Loop will remain in existence?). All I can say is that the new songs I saw played were fantastic, and they played wonderfully. A theatrical performance, all clad in black and delivered as a sermon (what else?) – I hope a UK/European tour isn’t far off, and I can’t wait for their debut LP!
As for Loop, well what is there to say? I was able to catch the first of their reunion gigs in London, and to be honest, the English concert probably trumps it over the Roadburn experience, although that might have had something to do with it being the first time I’d seen them… On both occasions, they took a few songs to get warmed up, but once Hampson and his band of psychedelic trancers got going, it was clear that they remained a force to be reckoned with. “Arc Lite” was obviously head-nodding goodness, and I got my two favourite Loop songs, “Straight To Your Heart” and “Afterglow”, with one of their Can covers thrown in for good measure! Hampson doesn’t really do the whole “audience interaction” thing, I guess with talent like that letting the music do the talking is enough! Apparently he’s chuffed to be playing with better gear/sound engineers than they were in the Nineties – I can’t vouch for how much better or worse they sound now, all I can say is that they’re playing wonderfully at the moment (and the replacement drummer from The Heads is a MANIAC!), hopefully this means more new guitar music from Hampson, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. A run through of the old classics will do just fine – better go see them now, just in case Hampson decides to call it a day again!
However, the fact of the matter is that the day resulted in a resounding victory for Finland, with a trio of bands rounded off by the best primitive doom metal band around (well, possibly one other contender to the crown, but I hear the singer’s a total prick…), Horse Latitudes. Blending Hellhammer, Amebix and Winter into a Pagan fireball of slow, angry, pounding PAIN, the guitar-less quartet (they have an additional live member on keys) blasted through a bunch of songs so draining and heavy it left the audience shell-shocked. No acknowledgement of the audience, just a gorgeous black and white photo as a backdrop, and the second-best drumming of the entire festival (sorry, Harri, Vander wins). If you weren’t in the green room on that day, you missed something exceptional.
Talking of Hellhammer, Triptykon’s performance the day after wasn’t as impressive as it should have been, given Tom G. Warrior’s past record. Sure, we got “Messiah” and “Circle Of The Tyrants”, but they’ve been adding “Triumph of Death” to the set in certain places, so I was pretty gutted it wasn’t included. All that was left was for Bölzer to steal the Afterburner glory. After some teething problems with the sound, they blasted through a set of sublimely aggressive psychedelic death metal. It was bloody crowded though, so I wasn’t able to last the whole set – methinks a trip to see them supporting Mystifier might be in order… But the 25 minutes I saw were amazing! A backdrop of stars and a tone so thick and biting it’s like a chainsaw to the head. Spellbinding. A pleasant coda was provided by an endearingly silly band from San Francisco called Lumerians – a relaxing form of psychedelic ambient, with daft fish/radiation suit costumes, it was a case of the right band in the right place at the right time, a fitting end to a festival that retains its unique aura and spirit year after year.
Whenever I start to think I’m “too old for this festival nonsense” and get the idea that it might be high time to just go fishing in April, Walter’s festival comes around and re-ignites the sheer sense of exhilaration that only an immersive musical experience can provide. People talk a lot about “post Roadburn blues”, but you know what? I don’t really get that – I just remember the laughter that Circle gave me, the dancing to Änglagård, or the sheer, jaw dropping bliss of Vander’s drumming. Good musical memories don’t make me miserable, they cheer me up. And you know what? They’re doing it all again next year! Thanks to all the great sound engineers, crew members, punters and locals without whom it would be a lesser experience. And last but not least, a hearty thank you to Walter (is your nose back in the record crates again?), for inviting us to his yearly party! Now, let’s just see if Walter can work his magic on Autopsy and bring Scott Reagers out of retirement…
Scribed By: Saúl Do Caixão
Photos By: Lee Edwards
Video By: Mark 208