Roadburn Festival 2016 – Day 3 Review By Guido Segers
On the third day of Roadburn, the weary feeling of the day before still lingers on many sleepy faces when the festival opens up. It’s a 24/7 thing to be at Roadburn and why would you sleep if you can have fun? With Converge, Amenra and Neurosis on the program for today, there’s reason enough to get up and in a coffee-fuelled haze head for the stages.
For some this will be the final day, so a time to celebrate all the good the festival has to offer. Visitors are raiding the merch stands or just standing outside, basking in the green haze that hangs in the air, enjoying the tunes of the street musician that appears to have settled in the Weirdo Canyon for good (seriously, the guy performed even more than Scott Kelly this Roadburn).
In an already full Extase the Icelandic black metallers Naðra are starting up the day. Through a fog they enter the stage and a flurry of guitar play is launched at the drowsy looking crowd. Naðra is not typical when it comes to their black sound, which feels much richer thanks to its varied textures. Something folky is woven through it, adding some interesting guitar patterns that seep through the wall of tremolo guitar play and blast beats to give the whole experience a special aura. It’s another testament to the daring nature of the Icelandic movement and their innovative stance.
Smeared with soot, the singer is made to look like a maniac from forlorn northern myths (or living in the wastes of a Mad Max world, take your pick). With blazing eyes he howls over wild and soaring play. The bestial rage of Naðra is a relief and invigorates on this early afternoon. The sound is destructive, but also laced with the typical post black atmospheric elements, creating a specific desired ambiance. Not everyone was equally convinced about this band on their first record Allir Vegir Til Glötunar, but today they prove to be of the right stock. The ability to switch speeds and go in a doomy direction as well promises much from these Icelanders.
The undertaker collective is sharply dressed and on the stage, playing their dreary tunes for a slowly filling crowd opposite the main stage. Skepticism is a different beast altogether. The slowest, unearthly bit of doom you can enjoy this Roadburn. Playing a fan picked set, the band is still the soundtrack of the abyss. Grey and filled with despair, the slow procession just drags your spirits down with it. The songs pass so slowly, that you’d think the guitars are strummed only once every minute, with snares hanging so loose that all you get is a distorted growl. To really enjoy Skepticism playing, you need to get into a special frame of mind, immerse yourself in the cascading horrors that is their sound.
The pronounced role of the organ offers a sacral element to the sound that evokes the “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” feeling. Seriously, why was this not on the warning signs on the doors? With a rose in his hand, vocalist Matti gives voice to the deepest rumblings. The slow creeping sound feels like a warm blanket you would hide under and never crawl out of. The show is there for filled with theatrics, with a form of drama that is so overwhelming it dispels all jokes that could have been made. Top of the fan-picked set list is Sign Of A Storm and how could it be anything else.
Once there was a band called Tad. Tad played what we now call grunge, but was already a heavy sounding group with at its centre Tad Doyle. This new incarnation is called Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth and heavy should be their middle name (but that would make the band name way too long so please ignore my suggestion!). The band plays on the main stage supported by visuals that appear like rising magma and spacey imagery, which fits (opening track of the debut album happens to be titled Lava). Sound wise, this is one solid mass of sonic force coming at you.
The heavy, molten rock rolling down a mountainside is a good analogy for the heavy, distorted sound of the band with ample fuzz added to get it to the right flavour. The roaring vocals on top of that make this one of the most powerful sounding bands, but holding on to a bit of that rough Seattle edge as well (if you listen closely, I’m convinced you can hear that too). It helps that Peggy Doyle is cranking out some good bass lines to push the whole thing forward with an unstoppable force. Let’s not forget that Roadburn has been steadily moving forward the last few years in more experimental directions. Sometimes you just need something that is heavy, crushing doom to get your head straight again. That’s just what Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth offers.
More in the domain of Celtic/English folk we can find Galley Beggar, enchanting their audience on the Het Patronaat stage, linking Roadburn to the likes of Pentangle with a bit of modernish folk groups like Stornoway. Jointly this leads to a warm, poetic sort of songs, where sonic force would only be in the way of its intricate beauty. The vocals of Maria O’Donnell evoke thoughts of Clanned or even Sinead O’Connor’s beautiful renditions of folk traditions. I think I even caught them playing something of the traditional folk songs during their fantastic set.
The mandolin, violin and guitars form a unity in the songs, which may be a bit too subtle for some of the listeners, but this band is a true gem among the more hard hitting acts of the festival. The delicate instrumental interplay is a result of fine song writing. Perhaps you’d more readily expect this band in a pub in the rainy country side after a long stroll. It’s not all folky though, there are the electrical guitars giving a bit of a stronger foundation to the sound of these Britons. It puts them on the doorstep of a more psychedelic sound, but frankly the band sounds just great the way they do.
The Wizards of Oss, someone dubbed the Dutch stoner rockers from the town of Oss in the south of the country. Playing a set that makes the group sounds much more like Kyuss than is good for you, there’s no hard time for the crowd to get well into this. Anyone noticed drummer Marcel van de Vondervoort sitting in a wheel chair? No? Thought you didn’t, probably too absolved in the visuals and tones. Astrosoniq may not play often, but they’re here only to conquer.
So, just comparing the group to Kyuss is a bit too easy, there’s a bit of a bite to the sound of Astrosoniq. The vocalist is dressed up a bit like Elvis and really takes the bad ass stoner sound home with the gnarly vocals that pepper the songs. What the band excels at is the long spun-out guitar passages that take you right into orbit and more often than not back down with a crash. It’s a strong set by a band that has no need to convince anyone, the music does that for them.
The baby brothers of Sólstafir are also here. Kontinuum builds on the same foundations as the great name from the island in the Atlantic, but has definitely its own voice. Reaching the big audiences in 2015 with their album Kyrr, now they’re here to carry on that Icelandic legacy. The band often sings in the murmuring Icelandic language, giving a fairy tale-like feeling to their music or an otherworldliness if you like.
That mystical aura really prevails on songs like Undir þunnu skinni and of course the title track, but a tune like Breathe carries a magic of its own. Blending post and prog rock elements together in a sound that feels as big as the wide stretched landscapes of Iceland you see in tourist guides, but maybe that was just me dreaming away to their songs. Melodic and firm, these guys manage to captivate their listeners. It’s off to the main stage for another great name though.
Rob Miller’s voice rings out unmistakably from the main stage, the singer has that unique, strangled kind of voice that immediately sets him apart. The frontman of Tau Cross is well known from Amebix. The rest of the band has earned their tracks in Voivod and Misery. Together they form something that falls in between the punk and metal category, accessible yet extremely catchy with some slightly epic overtones without losing their gritty sound. It even feels like a bit of folklore got in there somehow.
Catching them playing tunes like Lazarus and Hangman’s Hyll brings out the best the band has to offer. The Baron’s vocals are really driving the melodic elements of the songs home, giving a rough charm to the heroic guitar tunes. The man gives a feeling of sincerity to the words of these songs that is undeniable, particularly when he sings in a clear voice on some rare moments. Musically it may not be a perfect replica of the album, but I would say that this is exactly their charm. It’s the ragged and pointy edges of its punk roots that give Tau Cross their unique flavour. Add to that a great stage performance and a big sound and you’ve got an excellent experience.
Less years of experience can be found on the stage in Het Patronaat, where young guns Beastmaker are demonstrating their style (and asking the audience for weed, like Roadburn rookies). Good news for them, just the day after Roadburn, the municipality decided that foreign visitors can buy their cannabis products in coffee shops in Tilburg now, so that’s nice for next year. But we’re here for the music, which is what drew me to Beastmaker in the first place. They’ve just released their album Lusus Naturae out and it’s a promising jam, but so is their live performance. There’s something seriously fresh about these guys, even though they seem to draw their inspiration from records twice their age.
Slowly dragging riffs that feel slightly dirty to the touch are a one of the more fine ingredients for these guys, with their hazy sound that seems to echo influences from Black Sabbath to Blue Cheer in its back-to-basics force. The vocals appear to come from far, sung in a flat way like in a trance by Trevor Church. A moments respite here and there is offered by some guitar picking, before that languid, steady wall of riffs arises again. The performance of these guys is solid, definitely one to watch in the future with their occult vibe and refreshing approach to an old fashioned sound.
Always has Converge been innovative within the hardcore/metal parameters, but tonight they are reinventing themselves with their Blood Moon set. Here they’ll perform their more ambitious songs in a more rich and toned down form. It shows Jakob Bannon delivering his vocals in a controlled, mild manner, but like with Thursday’s set, it’s not audible, but the nuanced versions of the songs are keeping the whole crowd enthralled and fascinated. Though I’m offering a point of critique on the vocals, the way the band is completely turning their sound around is laudable, it requires a lot of faith in your material to just pull through.
The more subtle guitar play of Kurt Ballou may just be the thing that opens up the songs to a more diverse crowd. It allows people who are not altogether into the sound of the band to experience the complexities and raw beauty of Converge. When later in the set Steve Von Till joins on stage, together with the always enigmatic Chelsea Wolfe, taking Bannon partly out of the equation from the vocals which is, in my humble opinion, pretty much the best thing that could happen part way through the set. Though his performing energy is admirable, the skills abandon him with these more toned down songs. Especially the voice of Wolfe gives an ethereal beauty to the songs. Whether you’re an aficionado of Converge or not, Blood Moon gives a whole new look at the legendary band.
Now, if there’d be the need for me to categorise Amenra somewhere, it would be in a complete league of their own. The intensity of their records is astonishing with the sheer force and conviction, but tonight the band is doing an Afterlife Acoustic set. The members positioned themselves in a circle, as if oblivious to the surrounding crowd. The ritual is ready to start and it is imposing enough to silence any banter.
The vocals from Colin H. Van Eeckhout are so gentle and fragile, they cut straight to your heart. Around those the music builds up to a repetitive flow that feels much more imposing than you’d think from an acoustic setting. He’s seated with his back to the audience, with guitar player Mathieu Vandekerckhove on his right side. You can hear a pin drop in front of the main stage, that’s how strong the aura is.
The mournfull play of Vandekeckhove is the centre of this set, which features songs from the phenomenal Afterlife album, but also some renditions of other Amenra tracks, like Razoreater. Noticeable are the cover of Parabol by Tool, stripped bare to its naked essence by the Belgians and Het Dorp. The last is a cover of Zjef Vanuytsel, a Belgian singer-songwriter who passed away late 2015. The performance by the group is one of the most harrowing things to witness this Roadburn, it feels like it could break so easy in all its vulnerability. Nevertheless, Amenra overwhelmed their listeners with this mass-like experience.
The moment everyone is waiting for is at hand now, because on the main stage Neurosis is getting set up. The band is celebrating three decades of ear-shattering sludge and doom. The band gets into it without much ceremony, jumping right into some classics. After Times Of Grace the band hops back in time to some of the more older tunes from the early days. Much faster, harder hitting and less filled with effects, for the listeners not too familiar with the band, it might be a bit hard getting through this, but well rewarding.
The focus seems to be on that old material tonight, with a good mixture of the familiar live songs and a rare number like Self-Taught Infection, from debut album Pain Of Mind. Songs from those first five years also mean that Dave Edwardson needs to pick up on some vocal work giving that early hardcore vibe to the sound.
The solid performance by the band is keeping the audience on edge, hungry for every next crushing riff and barked line by Scott Kelly or Steve Von Till. All that makes up Roadburn culminates into performances like this one, the heaviness, creativity and absolutely the darkness of it. There’s of course the beloved Joy Division cover Day Of The Lords as well. The roof might have come off a bit a moment later during Through Silver In Blood and Stones From The Sky, where the band really puts in everything they have. The massive sound of Neurosis leaves the 013 shaking, but this is only the first set from the Oakland band. More yet to come at the Afterburner.
Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth
Converge ‘Blood Moon’
Amenra ‘Afterlife Acoustic’
Scribed by: Guido Segers
Photos by: Lee Edwards
Video by: super208productions