We meet up in the Weirdo Canyon to discuss the plans for the day. Many a bearded fellow walks aimlessly around, waiting for the doors to open. It’s Roadburn 2017, baby! Roadburn turns 18 today and can legally drink (at least in the Netherlands). What a beautiful line-up we have again, but first it’s time to greet old friends, exchange stories and have a first drink or smoke.
The festival had a lot to learn from last year, when the 013 Venue was completely revamped. Not that there were many issues, but the experience has allowed the organisers to balance the program even better. Obviously there’s some bottlenecks, but we’ll get to those when we get to them. The first pile of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch is dropped off and the doors open then as if by magic the Canyon is filled with people and we know that we’re starting this incredible journey.
To kick off day one, Ash Borer is a hefty serving with their dense and primitive sound. Behind the band an image of an ancient temple with a statue looking at the stars is depicted. It fits with their foggy sound of layered guitar and continuous barrage of drums and bass. A sound that feels like an overwhelming darkness sucking you in. Their sound really makes you glue your eyes to the stage and await the next piercing howl to break through the oppressing black metal by the group.
Ash Borer released The Irrepassable Gate in 2016 and their atmospheric sound live is close to their album output. It also has something organic, reminiscent of nature and its force as well. The Green Room starts emptying out soon. The sound of the Americans simply isn’t for everyone. Without a little stage banter the band goes through the set as if it’s one big song, a big forest to get lost in.
Having found our way out, it’s time to see Wretch play in Het Patronaat. The sun shines through the stained glass windows on a dense crowd, moving as one to the stiff, traditional doom riffs of the American doom band. Wretch rose from the ashes of The Gates of Slumber, who played Roadburn in 2010, under the leadership of Karl Simon. The debut album, which came out last year, has a more sorrowful and sincere tone, maybe due to the tragic loss of former Gates band member Jason McCash, who passed away in 2014, that somehow became the soul and driving force behind the sound of Wretch. Feeling like an honest, heartfelt expression from Simon as his biting vocals complete the classic sound that waves through the venue and clearly got hold of the crowd.
In the meantime, the main venue has become a place of Floydian magic, where Crippled Black Phoenix holds court. Most of the crowd simply sit down on the stairs to bask in the trippy synths, the calm, smooth tones and the beautiful whole the group produces. Thanks to their extensive range of members, the band can deliver a huge variety in songs and sounds. I particularly enjoyed the parts with Daisy Chapman on keys and vocals, which gave a fresh breath of air to the sound, a nice change from the somewhat morose delivery of Daniel Änghede. The band ends their set with the ‘hit’, “And it’s not fucking Echoes…” mumbles Änghede. With We Forgotten Who We Are the band delivers a stunning finale to their beautiful set.
Right now, there is so much to see and the enthusiasm of a fresh Roadburn-visiting Shaman apprentice is still driving my actions. So a quick look in Het Patronaat shows us alt-country weirdo’s Those Poor Bastards. The duo is best compared to something akin to rambling country/blues that bumped into a Tim Burton scary movie. The theatrical performance of singer Lonesome Wyatt would seem fitting for a circus, while the bellowing, ragged sound feels quite captivating. Running onward to Extase, I find the black metallers fom Vanum ready to start. Featuring Ash Borer member Kyle Morgan and Mike Rekevics from Fell Voices, but live they have some help. Their latest EP Burning Arrow has just been dropped and live this is an experience to behold. Their front man is positioned at centre stage in a confrontational posture, ramming on that bass and screaming defiance at whatever Gods you wish. Ferocious sounding black metal, that definitely recalls earlier days in the genre, but with an atmospheric side woven into its fabric, that is rather beautiful. Still, Vanum is a force to reckon with first and foremost.
A different sort of strength we find on the Main Stage, where the ladies (and gents) of SubRosa have started their set. Now, that is a set to remember. The combination of gentle chanting, sometimes almost whispering and thick slabs of doom is a catchy and enchanting experience. They look classy, more like a classical collective than a metal band on stage. Though SubRosa can sound extremely heavy, the violins and the vocals give it a softness, a gentle caress before hitting you squarely in the gut with those massive riffs. Now, we all knew how SubRosa manage to completely captivate a crowd with that unique sound, they were a highlight of Roadburn 2015. Today however, the group performs the full album For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages from 2016. What an album that is and like no other, the band takes their listeners on a journey all the way through it. Based on the 1921 Zamyatin novel, the music is well suited for calm listening. That’s what people are doing in front of the main stage, mouth open while watching and listening in awe.
Time for a short break then, before we launch into the next set of compelling music, for it is Wolves In The Throne Room who are performing next. Roadburn has plenty of places for a quick bite, so with the inner Shaman appeased, we get ready for the Cascadian black metallers (or just atmospheric if that term upsets you). Wolves In The Throne Room is not for those with an absent mind. They’re playing compositions that last up to 20 minutes and jumping in and out of their show is simply no way to experience it. The band sticks to a four-song set, of which half was in there as well back in 2008. Three songs of Two Hunters and Prayer Of Transformation from Celestial Lineage. It’s a journey, where we see the band immersed in smoke and dark moody lights, delivering their majestic tunes to a captivated audience. Those who wander in later, leave soon, not quite catching the flow of the set.
A quick look in at the Extase then for sludge masters Fórn who play some of the most despairing, dirty bits of sludge around. Their famous footage of playing in a sea cave really made me keen to behold that in a live setting. Unfortunately the Extase was crammed and I ended up in the back amongst a tittering, babbling crowd, hearing the band only faintly and only being able to see projections on the screens. Bummer, but that is also the Roadburn life. A quick stop at Het Patronaat tells us that GNOD is busy with an electronics set that is definitely not good for anyone’s mental state so we continue. Off to the main stage then, for a taste of Jinx Dawson’s band Coven. Quick reminder, Coven did some dark music back in 1969 and from 1974 up until 2013 there was little action. The lady herself comes out of a coffin for this set. The music is that of a bygone age, but features the spooky elements that made Coven the cult-band they are, an inspiration for all dark music we have these days. Dawson herself appears to have a great time on stage, more like a performer than just a musician. It’s great to have this show at Roadburn, but it’s more for its legacy than its musical input. However, Dawson sounds great and the energy and magical vibe on stage is truly a joy to behold.
I was extremely excited about dälek playing Roadburn, the grimy hiphop artist and his group are an outstanding act. Outstanding in their hiphop music, but also literally standing out thanks to their rough, noisy sound. Tonight they really come out swinging, with a beat crackling and buzzing with distortion and an amped up dälek spitting his rhymes with the impact of battery acid. The crowd is instantly moving, although a bit awkwardly at times to this new form of music. The words of Asphalt For Eden are on everyone’s lips it seems. The set is one of high energy, fat beats and a lot of noise produced by the guys behind the mixing tables. Truly, this is a legendary show for Roadburn.
Another band with something to prove are the gents from Deafheaven, a band that has faced way too much hatred over the past couple years. Hipster metal and all, but being booked at Roadburn seems to have given the band wings. George Clarke is on fire today and the band doesn’t just play new work, but goes way back to Roads To Judah. A little Mogwai cover from the Bosse-De-Nage split even works its way into the set. Musically you can like or dislike Deafheaven. As performers though they might just have delivered the best show of their careers, brimming with energy and vitality. The Roadburn crowd is tolerant, but not easy to impress. This is however exactly what Deafheaven does today, while leaving a lasting impression.
We would almost forget to mention that it’s 4/20 today, the international day to celebrate cannabis. The high priests of the herb are playing for a packed room from the Main Stage. While Bongzilla unleashes their sludgy, foggy stoner the fumes arise from the crowd. Looking down the stairs to the crowd, it’s a like a massive amount of smoke is being produced in praise of the riff, weed and Roadburn. It was like that during the day already, but during the set of Bongzilla it really gets unleashed. The band plays their usual laid back music with a joke here and there. Apart from the mighty view, there’s not that much distinct about the set. Though the longer you stand there, the better things start to feel as the band plough through their 2002 opus Gateway. It’s only right that Bongzilla is playing here today and closes a happy Thursday.
I drop by the Green Room for something special; Drow Elixer is doing their first ever live gig. Featuring the Weaver brothers from Wolves In The Throne Room, expanding on the Celestite side of the band. Drow Elixer is a strange mixture of ambient, drone and ritual. The elements play an important part in their set, which gently builds up around drums and distorted noise. Mystical chanting grows into screeching and it might have been quite something special if it wasn’t for the noisy crowd. A small group gathers very close to the stage to experience this special ritual. Special it definitely was.
But hey, it was a long day and we have three more to go. Onward to the next one then!
Crippled Black Phoenix
Those Poor Bastards
Wolves In The Throne Room
Scribed by: Guido Segers
Photos by: Lee Edwards
Video by: super208productions