So welcome back to the crazy train it is, impossible schedules, filled up venues and so much more. It sounds like misery, but don’t we all love the madness that is Roadburn. It’s a bit of a hassle, these Thursday afternoons, but all seems to go smoothly with the ticket check-in and the first guitars are being strummed. Let’s go!
Roadburn has fully landed on Tilburg, with pointers to the festivals presence to be found all through the centre. Huge columns with photography of Paul Verhagen display past glories and give a sense of coming home to the visitors. First target location is the main stage in the revamped venue for no other than Cult Of Luna.
Is Cult Of Luna a worthy opener for this edition of Roadburn? I swallowed any doubts I had about that when a filled up hall in front of the main stage, ready to be immersed in the sweet sounds of the post metal band. Playing a whole album is one of those typical Roadburn things and Cult Of Luna excel at it today, playing their 2006 album Somewhere Along The Highway. The band is like a machine, efficient and meticulous. Bringing both sensitive, gentle passages and booming explosions that feel like sonic bombardments.
They weave these elements together brilliantly, putting themselves in full control of their crowd. No needless attire or soloing is added to the songs, the seven people on stage know their role as a collective to achieve the unique feel of the record. They play flawless together. Ten years after its release, Cult Of Luna delivers a stunning performance of what can maybe considered the peak of the post-metal genre. Roadburn gets the opener it deserves.
In the Extase the opener is Grafir from Iceland. It’s their first performance outside their homeland and whether its nerves or some other means that have influenced the singer, his warbled contributions in between songs are impossible to understand. The band plays what can be called a blackened hardcore style, brimming with energy and fury. In 30 minutes the band fully exhausts themselves and their audience. They asked the crowd to come see the Úlfsmessa (Grafir is part of that ritual) on Friday, give them the finger and leave. Though musically fun, the act itself was forgettable.
Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand evokes something special with their martial sound and thudding drums. It’s the sound of a marching band, filled with the anticipation of battle. The commanding vocals of their singer makes you want to submit to the rhythm of the war drums, to embrace whatever these prophets of doom may have to offer to you. There is a playful element to the sound of the band, something natural and dreamy even when the band moves in a more freewheeling direction, but this never lasts. Duty calls and the swirling sounds keep beckoning the listener.
On the main stage we can see The Skull, who have found their specific brand of battle hymns. There is a movement within the wide stoner scene which I would like to dub “Conan the Barbarian Metal”, maybe He-Man metal would do as well. Obviously this is where the ballsy sound of The Skull falls under. The overly present bass and drums scream masculinity, the sparse guitar loops are mere decoration for the overwhelming demonstration of strength.
Is that devaluating this band in any way? No sir, preserving a well-balanced unit like this takes skill, dedication and a bit of faith. Of course the men on stage play songs from the Trouble era. The band performs without faltering, putting up a set that stands like concrete. This is a display of power, which without doubt is a core ingredient to some good metal. It embodies and emphasises this element of the music. The big riffing demands of you to thump your chest and raise your fist, it’s all good.
Crushing is the word that best describes Cult Of Occult. Searing riffs and pummelling breaks offer no moments of calm. This French band embodies nothing more than alcohol fuelled hatred, but not in a way that is jolly at all. This is grim despair, throwing your fist in to the face of whatever Gods are watching.
The sound only seems to focus on those crushing riffs, only on the downwards movement into deep despair where nothing remains but clenched fists and bloodshot eyes. The vocalist offers no respite with his unearthly screams filled with fury and hatred. Phrases are projected like “hate” and “fuck you all”, it’s kind of what the whole set feels like, probably the most heavy band of the day by my estimation. There’s no finesse, no pretty details, just the full on brutality. It’s rather amazing.
Full Of Hell are even more so a cathartic experience. With a sound that seems to approach grindcore, it is one overwhelming experience to behold. The intricate melodies played on guitar keep seeping through the brutal onslaught and give cadence to the overall sound. It’s still blistering the ears as you dissolve into pure chaos with the added electronics. The band has of course been expanding their sonic range by cooperating with the likes of Merzbow and The Body to push the limits even further. This group is certainly not for the weak.
Het Patronaat is filled to full capacity for the Finnish progressive group Oranssi Pazuzu. This is not without reason, the band delivered a stunning album this year with Värähtelijä. When the band launches into their first song, it’s a little like finding yourself at the heart of a maelstrom. At the heart the magic happens with unexpected hooks, strange rhythms and a dazzling display of skill. Never does the band appear to be just doodling.
There’s so much to say about the performance of this band, but the word brilliant comes to mind mostly. The daring combination with black metal and progressive elements shows a contrasting merger of the dissonant notes more akin to some jazzy performance with the razor-sharp black metal riffing. Control and free falling get together in a perfect marriage. The strict black metal elements function as a frame, so the band can freely paint their sound further which leaves the crowd ecstatic and exhausted.
The idea of seeing Converge play Jane Doe in its entirety is a most appealing thought to the hardcore kids of once upon a time. It seemed like the band was ready to lay Jane to rest a few years ago, but they happily took her out on the road again to 013. On the screen behind the band, the iconic cover appears during the set. When Converge launches into Concubine it’s like a ripple goes through the crowd, everyone is on their toes for the furious hardcore sound.
Needless to say Converge holds some of the finest musicians, who play the songs from the record perfectly. Only downside are the vocals of Jacob Bannon. That seems an easy point of criticism, but when stood halfway from the stage, it’s not very audible what he is saying and the singing comes out as a bit of a warble. The crowd is also not too responsive to the high energy of the band. When they try to congratulate the sound guy, who’s been with them for 10 years, the crowd doesn’t get in on it, which appears to be a breaking point in the otherwise strong set full of frantic guitar wizardry.
Highlight for today, for most, will be the integral performance of Gothic by UK doom giants Paradise Lost. The screen on the main stage is utilised to the fullest during their set, but it really was not necessary because the music of Paradise Lost speaks to the imagination by itself. It’s an added bonus though, giving more shine to the set. Nick Holmes vocals are amplified a bit too much for my liking, coming through louder than the instruments. I think the guitars should have been allowed to shine a bit more but what do I know.
At times, it feels like the revamped main stage is a touch too big for Roadburn, especially when it comes to a bit of crowd participation. When Holmes questions the crowd about the setlist, the response is not really coming out much. It’s alright if you just realise that people are here with love for the music, not the party mood. It’s a noteworthy thing though and I’m curious how this will play out during the next few days. There’s not that much to say about the performance, since it is phenomenal. Gothic may be 25 years old, unlike some records, this one has matured, like its makers and like a good wine (or whiskey if you will) it has acquired more depth and maturity through the years, making it a very pleasant experience.
One name stood out on the program for me and it turned out that Hell was actually one of the biggest surprises of Thursday. Heavy, crushing doom riffs are being accentuated and enriched by intricate, gentle violin playing, creating one of the most hauntingly beautiful experiences this far. Having one of the most captivating names, many must have flocked to the Het Patronaat to see what that band name was all about. Judging by the amount of people in the hall, this was not a disappointing experience.
Hell are originally a one man band, a project by a guy who calls himself M.S.W. only. The project from the city of Salem focusses on creating extreme funeral doom. The live band gathered around him is one of excellent quality. The sound is rich and full of feeling in the melodic play the band offers. It may still have the pervading aura of evil and despair, but it definitely is not the cold, emotionless drone that was described beforehand. It’s a testament to the special atmosphere and possibilities of playing live and the way music can be reshaped by the right musicians.
Final stop for the night is CHRCH in the Extase, unfortunately there’s already a cue facing us in the narrow tunnel leading into the small venue. Pushing and shoving is not the right ambiance to experience this band, but the tranquillity of their slow and meandering doom kind of calms you down anyways. No wonder the Extase is filled to bursting with people eager to see the band, they are amazing live.
The whispered vocals of Eva Holland are like a mystical voice through the fog of the easy going guitars. The band does shift to heavy parts, but the strength is in their minimalism. The more fierce sections also have growled vocals to emphasize the more ferocious side of the band, but most of the set feels like a sacral experience with slow paced tonal progressions. It’s a good thing and it’s also the time to say fare thee well to the Thursday of Roadburn, because there’s much more to see tomorrow.
Cult Of Luna
Cult Of Occult
Scribed by: Guido Segers
Photos by: Lee Edwards
Video by: super208productions