Roadburn Festival 2018

author AP date 07/05/18

For connoisseurs of experimental rock and metal, the legendary Roadburn festival truly is the gift that just keeps on giving. Where many other festivals have risen to prominence only to then stagnate when they nailed a winning formula, this low capacity event, taking place annually in Tilburg in the southern Netherlands, prides itself on continuous reinvention and striving to always offer its fans an experience unlike any other. And this year, it feels like Walter Hoeijmakers and his team managed to outdo even our wildest fantasies, littering the programme with débuts, exclusive performances, jam sessions, forays into pop and electronica, and two original pieces of music specially commissioned to be performed at the festival once, and only once. On top of that, there was a portion of the line-up curated by Jacob Bannon, a takeover by a collection of bands from the San Diego, CA stoner-rock scene, a skate park, art exhibitions, artist talks and exclusive pre-listening sessions for upcoming albums such as “To Drink from the Night Itself” by At the Gates. Indeed, try as we might have, there simply were no good reasons to dissuade us from attending Roadburn for the fourth time — and for the first time ever, we convinced one of our photographers to join us.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

LINE-UP

The thing with the Roadburn line-up is that it demands a lot from the attendee. The poster is not as clearly divided into headliners, subliners, smaller acts and local stars as most, and chances are that the vast majority of the artists booked this year are not ones you would immediately even recognise — hell, even the connoisseurs among us had to do lots of research and listen to countless bands in order to come up with some sort of plan of what to watch. There are some bigger names amongst, such as Converge, Crowbar, Cult of Luna, Earthless, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Zola Jesus, but above all the Roadburn line-up is about discovery, random chances and opening your mind to bands and genres that may not be your usual cup of tea. If you agree to this premise, then Roadburn is a veritable treasure chest of experimental rock and metal, and for the most dedicated fans, there is also a litany of exclusive full-album performances and collaborative sets to dive into. Some of the artists even end up playing two or three shows during the weekend — some announced, some as impromptu surprises. And because of the nature of the line-up, it makes little sense for us to list all of the artists featuring at Roadburn ’18. It suffices to say that most of them end up producing this kind of effect:

FESTIVAL AREA

Roadburn is not a traditional festival in the sense that it does not take place within a contained area. The line-up is spread across six venues just north and west of the city centre, and while there are a number of booths and stalls specific to the festival stationed around them, it honestly feels like the entire city becomes the festival during the four days in which it takes place. As such, you can waltz out of a concert and straight onto the terrace of a local restaurant, café or pub in the ‘Weirdo Canyon’ pedestrian street to enjoy the astonishing weather that this year’s festivities have been blessed with (thank you, Earthless & co., for bringing the Southern California climate with you!) and mingle with the local populace, as well as fellow festival goers, artists, promoters, journalists, photographers, etcetera. Common to all of them is the friendly and forthcoming atmosphere that reigns over every inch of the festival, which plays a huge part in why so many people return here year after year, some of them from the other side of the world.

Previous editions of Roadburn have suffered from a distorted capacity/interest ratio, mainly due to the Cul de Sac, Extase and Het Patronaat venues. In order to mitigate the issue, the festival decided to eliminate Extase altogether and replace it with two new venues: Koepelhal and the Hall of Fame a short walk from the main cluster of venues comprising Cul de Sac, Het Patronaat, 013 and the Green Room (which is a smaller venue inside the 013 building). Each one of these venues has its own distinct charm, whether it is the pub-like feel of Cul de Sac, the stained glass windows and altar-like stage of the former church canteen, Het Patronaat, the modernity and spaciousness of 013 and the adjoining Green Room, or the raw industrial feel of the Hall of Fame and Koepelhal. By incorporating the latter two venues, Roadburn has also been able to concentrate the merchandise section into one place — the foyer of Koepelhal — and introduce a storage for all the treasures that you might find there. The cool thing about this storage is that against a very reasonable fee, your t-shirts, vinyls and other items would be safely kept in a kind of cloakroom until the end of the day, with unlimited walk-backs to add more merchandise or change your t-shirt. Such a simple concept and yet so useful when you’re dealing with so many aficionados and collectors in the audience.

FOOD & DRINK

Roadburn operates a chip system for all food and drink served at the festival-specific bars and food stalls, which speeds up the ordering process considerably. The only drawback is that there are only three manned counters inside the 013 venue that accept foreign credit and debit cards, while the automatic chip dispensers found in and around each venue only accept cash and Dutch debit cards. The prices are fair — a 0,4l glass of Jupiler lager costs 5 euros, as an example — and there are lots of options ranging from delicious, smoked, fall-off-the-bone spare ribs and barbecue chicken wings to gourmet pizza, Indonesian street food and a number of cleansing vegetarian and vegan dishes. The beer selection is much more limited, with only Cul de Sac serving other variants than Jupiler. But if these choices feel insufficient, there are dozens of places in the ‘Weirdo Canyon’ alone to satisfy every taste, from burger joints to French bistros, a Mexican restaurant and several bars boasting impressive lists of both local and international craft beer in dizzying strengths. We certainly weren’t bored — on the contrary, we felt like every choice was another one foregone and that there simply wasn’t enough time to delve into all the excellent dishes and brews that were available.

One indulgence we did not delve into were the two affiliates of the Grass Company, but something tells us that these shops were very popular among Roadburn ’18’s attendees. Cannabis is legal in the Netherlands, but only for Dutch citizens and permanent residents, and it can be freely acquired from these types of establishments as well as so-called coffee shops. Understanding the need for everyone else to get their haze on, however, the festival has successfully negotiated an agreement with Tilburg’s authorities to extend the privilege to foreign festival goers as well, and as such it is not uncommon to see spliffs being smoked left and right in between (and sometimes during) the various concerts. We have no idea about the pricing here, but judging by the amount and speed of the consumption, we’d wager that it’s quite a bit more affordable than the deal you’ll get from your local criminal pusher.

REVIEWS

THURSDAY, APRIL 19TH

Sannhet @ 15:00 in Green Room

As I’ve been rather pleased with both the band’s previous record, “Revisionist”, and their latest one, ”So Numb”, I’m excited to see the instrumental Brooklyn trio Sannhet open the stage in the 013 venue’s Green Room. As the blackened post-rock group enters the stage to the sound of the eerie “So Numb” album-closer “Wind Up”, the current mix present itself of excellent quality, raising hopes for a spectacular first set here at Roadburn Festival. Unfortunately, however, it quickly proves to be somewhat of a letdown as the guitar during the band’s first proper track, “Indigo Illusion”, is hard to hear all too often. Surely, it blends in with the mix when Sannhet are firing on all cylinders during the fast-paced sections, but once the guitar truly has to stand out and rise above the rest – as if to create a melody that one can follow in lieu of vocals – it falters to shine. As a result, the songs tend to blend into each other too much, and had I not been accustomed to the band’s tracks, it’d have been difficult for me to hear when the title-tracks off “Revisionist” ends and the one off “So Numb” begins. The big screen filled with dark, mysterious projections in the back gives the audience something else to focus on during the show, but it’s not enough to keep me truly invested in the overall performance.

Suddenly, Thom Wasluck of the one-man project Planning for Burial joins Sannhet on-stage for a performance of the lengthier “Fernbeds”, making it easier to distinguish the material due to that song’s unusual structure. Although Wasluck’s participation nicely adds an increased layer of shoegazing to the performance and ends up as a setlist highlight, it’s time for me to leave in order to catch the beginning of the upcoming “Waste of Space” set on the stage next door. Sannhet’s set started out somewhat disappointing, but it thankfully finished on a high for this reviewer – as for the remainder of the set, I hope it continued in the same manner. [6] MIN

Waste Of Space Orchestra @ 15:40 on Main Stage

As the first of two commissioned performances at this year’s festivities, expectations are high and the turnout ditto for this union of the two Finnish bands Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising, each of whom has individually been lauded for their respective takes on psychedelic extreme metal. It would be a gross simplification, however, to dub the Waste of Space Orchestra a mere sum of its parts; rather, this experiment feels like an amplification of its parts, literally as well as metaphorically. Conceptually, the original, 60-minute composition is divided into ten parts that dive into the consciousness of three fictional beings questing for a deeper understanding of reality: The Shaman, The Seeker and The Possessor, who are respectively voiced by Vesa Ajomo (Dark Buddha Rising), Juho Vanhanen (Oranssi Pazuzu) and Marko Neuman (Dark Buddha Rising). There are no less than ten musicians on stage to realise this ‘ceremony’, as the bands describe it, including two drummers, two bassists, three guitarists and, at times, three keyboardists — and as you can imagine, the result is a an ultra-voluminous tidal wave of sound in which the borders that define a genre are forced into dissolution.

Given the personnel involved, the primary axes of it are black and doom metal, yet it would be quite a reductionist opinion to stop there. Over the course of an hour, the dectet covers vast swathes of musical territory, foraying into tribal music, shoegaze and psychedelic rock, and even NWOBHM when Neuman’s raspy growls briefly morph into powerful, Dio-esque singing in the fourth part. The compositional skill required to fit all of these pieces together without muddling the soundscape is not to be underestimated, which is why using the term ‘orchestra’ to describe the performance feels entirely justified. But accolades must also be offered to Nikos Giagoudakis for engineering such an immaculate live sound mix, to Mikko Männistö for coordinating the stunning lighting display, to Kalle-Erik Kosonen for creating the hallucinatory video accompaniment, and to Maija Lahtinen for designing the costumes donned by each musician — without their contribution, the Waste of Space Orchestra might have been ‘just’ a really big metal band. Indeed, it is humbling to think about the amount of time and effort that has gone into creating both the visual and musical components of this performance, yet it also feels right that such a singular experience, a true embodiment of the spirit of Roadburn, should be a one-time event exclusive to the dedicated audience that frequents this festival. Simply astonishing. [9] AP

Khemmis @ 16:40 at Het Patronaat

It only seems fitting that the last song to play through the PA before Khemmis takes the stage at the Het Patronaat venue is Thin Lizzy’s “Sha La La”: the Denver, CO-based stoner/doom four-piece have a knack for delivering tasty twin guitar licks and riffs, and if Lynott and company had leaned closer towards heavy metal back in their day, it’s hard to imagine they’d not be into the groovy melancholy of Khemmis. It’s with much excitement in the air that the band enters the packed church-turned-venue for their first ever European show; after a long trek opening the North American Decibel tour, Khemmis have gathered a reputation as a solid live act, and with two excellent albums under their belt – especially the magnificent sophomore record “Hunted” – the Colorado quartet is pretty much the talk of the town recently.

As the band opens the show with “Candlelight” off the “Hunted” album, Khemmis quickly proves to be worth the hype as the dual melodies hurdle atop each other and present one great tune after the other, making the band’s lengthy structures go by surprisingly fast. It takes a song or two for the sound to really take form and get some meat on the bones, but once the sound guy gets it just right, the seismic power of these stoner riffs have no end. This unstoppable crushing also makes it all the better every time things break down, as is the case during the chorus in the “Hunted” title-track. Once the show ends after almost an hour, it becomes obvious that you could let Khemmis go on for another 45 minutes and still be hungry for more. [8] MIN

Earthless @ 17:40 on Main Stage

From Pumpehuset’s small venue and unto the Roadburn Festival’s main stage, this year’s artist in residence, Earthless, enters the stage accompanied by a massive screen with strange, psychedelic patterns for our visual entertainment. Although the band’s technical prowess and jamming excursions are impressive on their own, it’s nice to have something extra to focus on in the back while tripping to the music. Getting things nicely into gear with a twenty minute-rendition of “Uluru Rock”, the band quickly cements just why they’ve been given the honor of playing three shows this year. Starting off rather mellow, the song slowly creeps up and explodes with it’s repetitive riffs; like a herd of sharks, the band’s melodies circle ‘round and ‘round, striking with renewed strength and tactic at every deviation, whether it be another magnificent guitar solo or increased speed and varying drum pattern. Through the song’s different phases, the band takes us on a journey through pure carnage courtesy of their skilled musicianship over double speed passages until the very end. Rarely have twenty minutes gone by so fast, and I’m positive all of Earthless’ shows will be worth watching.

As impressive as the band, in all of it’s glory, might be, 70 minutes of jamming gets a bit long, though. On their latest album, “Black Heaven”, Earthless take a shot at some more conventional song-structures (no song exceeds nine minutes), yet live they prolong them nonetheless. As much as I applaud the band’s ability to be able to do so, maybe some straight-up rock songs would’ve added some more dynamic to the set, making it feel less like one long session. The final two songs of the set, “Volt Rush” and “Cherry Red”, are both short and sweet, and if the band had decided to play them in the middle of the set – as to somehow rejuvenate the performance amidst the excursions – it would probably have worked wonders for the overall outcome. [7] MIN

Converge performing “The Dusk in Us” @ 19:40 on Main Stage

One of the main attractions for me at this year’s Roadburn Festival – and a major draw as to why I decided to go in the first place, brilliant lineup or not – is to see the legendary hardcore/metal et al. trio from Salem, MA, Converge perform twice. Besides that there’s also the fact that vocalist Jacob Bannon is curating two different stages across two days during this four day event, giving Roadburn’s otherwise excellent lineup consisting of all things post- and doom, black and experimental an increased sense of filthy hardcore. During their first set, Converge is scheduled to perform their latest album, “The Dusk in Us”, in its entirety, which comes off as a good idea, given that album’s mixture of loftier song-structures, intense hardcore beatdowns and longer, “Blood Moon”-ish material.

Kicking off with album-opener “A Single Tear”, it quickly becomes apparent that the sound mix has not been properly adjusted for a band like Converge after Earthless’ excellent jam-session, but thankfully it takes no more than a few songs to get it just right. By then, the band’s music sounds flawless; the interplay between Ben Koller on drums and the ever-animate bassist Nate Newton is the stuff of legends, and Kurt Ballou’s work on the guitar is phenomenally airtight and playful, truly providing a highlight of the day. Unfortunately, as was the problem during the band’s performance of the “Jane Doe” album in 2016 (from what I’m to understand by my colleague’s feature of said edition of Roadburn), the band’s intense hardcore finds trouble really grabbing me by my shoulders and throwing me across the room in this huge venue. It’s not like Bannon isn’t trying, arms flailing and him running across the stage like nothing I’ve ever seen him before, but I can’t help but feel like Converge would’ve been much better off at the Het Patronaat venue.

An additional point of criticism I feel like I have to go about is Bannon’s take on the microphone. On a smaller stage, his rasping vocals fit just right – what with everyone in attendance wanting to scream along to every word – but in here, where only the few front rows actually know the words, the performance feels like a job half done when Bannon is, in fact, only singing three fourths of the lines. At this speed, I can understand why going about every syllable might be a difficulty, but it becomes frustratingly evident when not enough people are there to pick him up. Everything honestly works much better when the entire gang joins in on songs like “Thousands of Miles Between Us”. So, no matter how happy I personally am to see Converge – and how happy I am that they get to play this amazing festival – it’s hard not to add a few “buts”. [7] MIN

Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas performing “Mariner” @ 21:30 on Main Stage

The air is thick with anticipation, as an ambient, aquatic intro track envelops the 013 venue, setting the mood for what is certain to become an iconic moment in the history of Roadburn: a performance of Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas’ collaborative masterpiece, 2016’s “Mariner”, for one last time. Both artists insist that the album was never meant to exist outside of a recording, but once “A Greater Call” rolls out of the speakers and the silhouettes of seven musicians begin their dance, one is inclined to disagree — “Mariner” both looks and sounds breathtaking live and should absolutely be played in that setting. Cult of Luna’s vision with this five-part composition always was ambitious, but it gets lifted onto another level by the immaculate amplification and lighting possibilities of this venue, sounding even more enormous and coming across as even more mysterious than it does on record. One jaw after another makes contact with the floor as Christmas abandons her girlish, yet feisty demeanour and reaches for the stars with her now-immortal words, “We are not conquerors / We float with the ride” — and that is only the first in a litany of climactic moments that wash over the audience over the course of an hour.

Cult of Luna impressed at this festival in 2016, too, performing “Somewhere Along the Highway” in its entirety in honour of its 10th Anniversary, but it feels like the six musicians receive an additional boost of energy from the presence of Christmas now. She carries herself in an expressive, marionette-like manner, which has a touch of sensuality and deviousness about it and thus invites the attention of every eye inside the venue. The remaining musicians therefore have no choice but to up their own ante, which in turn results in the most intense showmanship that I, at least, have seen from Cult of Luna to date — particularly when the likes of “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” and “Cygnus” soar through their respective crescendos. In these moments, the concert looks, sounds and feels nothing short of monolithic, which makes you appreciate the quieter, more explorative passages to a greater degree than you would when listening to “Mariner” on record. At the risk of spreading sadness among those who never did and now never shall experience the grandeur of this album live then, it is with utmost confidence that I dub these 60 minutes truly historic, and as such deserving of the highest accolades. [10] AP

Weedeater performing “God Luck and Good Speed” @ 23:30 on Main Stage

“We’re Weedeater from Wilmington, North Carolina and we really fucking suck”, announces bassist/vocalist ‘Dixie’ Dave Collins after emerging from backstage with a bottle of Jack Daniels stuck to his middle finger. His and his two colleagues’ gauche entrance is the polar opposite to the drama and grandeur that was witnessed here only an hour ago and helps explain why the trio is often referred to as ‘hillbilly weed metal’. Unsurprisingly, a scent of marijuana soon lingers among the audience as the cascade of dense, groovy and blues-laden riffage that forms the backbone of Weedeater’s most revered album, 2007’s “God Luck and Good Speed”, starts working its magic on the spectators. There is no pretence here; the band plays archetypical stoner metal tongues firmly in-cheek, making no real effort, apart from the drunken, increasingly maniacal banter and antics of Collins, and the wildly spinning sticks of drummer Travis ’T-Boogie’ Owen, to put on any kind of show. The unapologetic manner of their performance provides a kind of counterweight to the elegance and sophistication that are in such high supply among Roadburn’s artists this year and it makes you appreciate the trope that often less is more. Indeed, as far as the stoner subculture goes, it is easy to understand why “God Luck…” is regarded with such endearment. Some members of the audience even show that endearment by erupting into spontaneous pair-dancing during the excellent “Weed Monkey”. But after being blown away by so many performances already on the first day, this simple bombardment-by-riff does admittedly leave less of an impression on me than it did at the 2014 edition of Desertfest London. [6] AP

Une Misère @ 00:00 at Cul de Sac

Leaving the main stage early in order to get into the festival’s smallest venue, Cul De Sac, turns out to be a clever decision, as the place is already starting to fill up nicely. Although there’s room in the back, you’re not going to be able to see anything if you’re not down on the floor with the hardcore fans and most curious spectators, which is why I’m thankful I get to cram myself in there. Once the Icelandic six-piece (featuring no less than three guitarists!) present themselves on the tiny stage, it quickly becomes apparent that this is going to be one hell of a show. Although some readers might call this amount of people overkill, it honestly doesn’t feel like it due to the massive sound the members are able to produce: the tightness of the many guitars combined with the flawless rhythm-section and vocalist Jón Mar Ásbjörnsson's hardcore screams make for an impressive final show of the festival’s first day – a show where the crowd is flying about almost as often as the tasty riffs.

Although I’d say that Une Misére’s sound is rooted in hardcore, it would do the band injustice to simply classify them as such. Venturing over progressive metal-structures recalling Tool (during the band’s latest single “Wounds”) and unto deathcore chugs, the band are all doing their best to stay in motion upon the small stage. It feels like every twitch and every turn is well calculated, especially the animation of Ásbjörnsson feels both organic and robotic at the same time. Taking turns at standing with his back to the audience to connect with his fellow bandmates and launching verbal assaults at the crowd, his attitude is constantly dominating and authoritative. This assertive domination is also a key factor as to just why the band’s final song feels so real: one year ago, to the date, the band lost a close friend, to whom they’re dedicating the song and entire set. Experiencing Ásbjörnsson's performance of it, teary-eyed – breaking down his on-stage persona – feels authentic and real. By the end, he parts the crowd down the middle, walks to the back of the venue and hands someone in the audience the microphone. On his way back, people are pushing and shoving, constantly moshing, yet Ásbjörnsson keeps walking back, unhindered by the madness, almost like the all-too-obvious reference to a certain biblical character. Count me a fan, boys – this show was fantastic! [9] MIN

FRIDAY, APRIL 20TH

Mutoid Man @ 14:40 at Koepelhal

The honor of opening Roadburn’s Koepelhal venue is the ever-energetic metal trio Mutoid Man, fronted by Stephen Brodsky (vocals, guitar) of Cave In, co-created with Ben Koller (drums) of Converge and All Pigs Must Die, plus Nick Cagageo (bass) of Bröhammer. The last time I saw Mutoid Man was at Copenhagen’s intimate venue Beta – a crazed, joke-infused rock-party – so I know to expect a lot from this outfit, even if the setting is somewhat larger this time around. As could be expected, the set kicks off with a few jokes and some Slayer-riffage, but afterwards it’s straight into “Melt Your Mind”, the album-opener off the band’s latest record, “War Moans”. Although the whole thing sounds a bit off and hollow, we don’t have to get much further into the set than the first few tracks off said album before we’re in the clear.

From where I’m standing, Mutoid Man really have to pull the weight during this first part of the set as both sound and a somewhat lazy audience get in their way, but little by little the second of those two nuisances gets into the show and things really get rolling. Although it’s not exactly ballistic madness up-front, there’s a constant respect and great applause in-between songs, and as we get through a cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and a mash-up between “Reptilian Soul” and Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” before finally being eased down by a spellbinding performance of the more toned down “Bandages”, we’re at the mercy of Brodsky and company.

“War Moans” kicks off the five remaining songs of the set before a cover of The Animals’ interpretation of Nina Simone’s “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” gets aired, but not until we hear a hilariously inappropriate joke about said cover. Apparently, The Animals once heard Mutoid Man’s cover of the song: after Eric Burdon (of The Animals) heard it, he allegedly replied that he was glad that “Nina Simone is not alive today to hear this”. How Brodsky might’ve replied when he was first told that story, I don’t know, but today, to the audience, he yells out: “But guess what? She’s still not alive!”, perfectly displaying the strange humor present during the band’s shows. He then leads the entire crowd into a fantastic sing-along/falsetto-competition that goes on for just enough time for us to be ready for “Bridgeburner”, “Sacriledge” and “Gnarcissist” to melt our minds. At the end, Mutoid Man were equal parts charismatic entertainers and professional performers, and as Brodsky finishes the final song, topless with his arms in the air like a god of all things 80s rock, I can think of no better way to start the second day of Roadburn. [8] MIN

The Ruins Of Beverast performing “Exuvia” @ 15:00 in Green Room

Metal aficionados from left and right have recommended Alexander von Meilenwald’s one-man army to me over the years, but since the project has never ventured north of the Danish/German border (to my knowledge at least), opportunities for watching him and his entourage of session musicians live have been hard to come by. Although the band is often described as an amalgam of atmospheric black and doom metal, the style of its latest album, 2017’s “Exuvia”, also tempts adding the word ‘psychedelic’ to the palette, by virtue of being so heavy on the percussion and deploying such hypnotic and at times tribal drum patterns. One can understand why The Ruins of Beverast are held in such high regard if this album is representative of von Meilenwald’s general standard. But while the music alone suffices to spellbind me by way of its movement from traditional black metal through the more mind-altering variant à la Oranssi Pazuzu, to segments of Gregorian chanting and ritualistically thumping tom-toms, the band is also a thrill to watch live. The dim lighting, the trancelike state in which the six musicians perform, and von Meilenwald’s deft favouring ambience over speech in between the songs all serve to set a captivating mood and shroud the performance in a veil of mystery. Such complex and elegantly performed black metal deserves an audience much larger than the 500 patrons maxing out the third smallest of Roadburn ’18’s venues, it feels like, and hopefully this concert will act as a springboard for the band to gain more widespread appreciation. [8] AP

Ulsect @ 16:00 at Cul de Sac

Upon listening to Ulsect’s self-titled debut album shortly before my departure from Denmark, I was rather quickly sure that I had to watch this strange, Dutch metal outfit live. Not only are they playing with a home field advantage, they’re also playing at the festival’s smallest venue, Cul De Sac, making sure that this will be one hell of an intense set. On paper, I’ve seen Ulsect described as both death, black and progressive metal, but after their show today I’d personally place them somewhere in the middle. Sure, there are the crazed, blackened and sporadic tempos of Plebeian Grandstand or Omega Deathspell, but there are also the atmospheric post-metal build-up and push-and-pull of bands like Denmark’s very own Redwood Hill. But enough about labeling bands – hell, if there’s one thing this festival is all about, it’s breaking traditional labels down – let’s get on to the show.

Vocalist Dennis Maas adds most of the dynamics to the set as there isn’t a lot of space to move around upon the tiny stage, but he does so remarkably: controlled growls and screams that are passionately embodied by his movements, whether he’s cursing the very air he breathes or throwing fists at the ground below. The juxtaposition between the band’s slower sections and full-on onslaught gives both us – the crowd – and Maas time to wind down for a little bit before yet another seismic riff throws everyone into submission and, eventually, chaos. Before you know it, almost three quarters of an hour has gone by. Although faced with a rather early slot in today’s schedule (unavoidably, light shines in from several places), Ulsect makes the best of it with a frightful performance and the occasional gust of smoke that adds a sense of mysticism to the show. Overall, you’d have to be dead-set on not liking this performance to rate it any lower than an [8] MIN

Crowbar performing “Odd Fellows Rest” @ 18:00 on Main Stage

Although it sometimes feels like there will be an opportunity to watch Crowbar live in Denmark at least once every year, the prospect of the sludge metal legends playing their iconic 1998-album, “Odd Fellows Rest”, in full in celebration of its 20th Anniversary nonetheless proves too alluring for me to pass on. The NOLA band has never been a particularly energetic phenomenon on stage, but as opposed to their mixed sets, that hardly matters when they’re unloading the thickest sludge grooves known to man in the likes of “…And Suffer as One” and “December’s Spawn”, the latter of which is played live for the first time ever tonight. Crowbar’s discography may be long and generally of a high standard, but there is no denying that their best riffs — indeed their best work overall — is concentrated into this record. Vocalist/guitarist Kirk Windstein seems to be of that opinion himself, noting of course the significance of today’s date, 4/20, and how a certain leaf-derived substance led not only to the creation of this revered album, but also to the creation of so much excellent metal in general. He guides us through the record with elegance and humour, treating us to no less than five headbang-inducing live débuts (“It’s All in the Gravity”, “Behind the Black Horizon”, “New Man Born” and “On Frozen Ground”, as well as the already mentioned “December’s Spawn”) and then icing the mud-pie with a handful of choice cuts, such as a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”, and the 1996-staples “Conquering” and “Like Broken Glass”. This trawl through some of the most classic Crowbar material is both well-received (albeit the large main hall of 013 being far from its maximum capacity) and passionately performed by a band still operating at the apex of their abilities despite nearly three decades of existence, and as such, it has no trouble cementing itself as one of the most memorable showings that I have seen from this band to date. [8] AP

Kairon; IRSE! @ 18:30 in Green Room

Roadburn is very much about discovery and the expansion of one’s musical horizons, for instance by wandering into a venue and seeing what’s cooking there. One of my own whimsical decisions this year was to catch Kairon; IRSE! in the Green Room, and judging by the difficulty of getting in there, my curiosity is shared by many an attendee. The band hails from my home country Finland and is advertised as an eclectic fusion of psychedelic rock, krautrock and shoegaze on the festival brochure, which seems like the perfect pick-me-up after the slabs of brooding sludge metal that Crowbar just unleashed next-door. The best way to describe Kairon; IRSE! is to liken them to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, if the Aussie band incorporated elements of twinkly math-rock onto its palette: bouncy and danceable, but with frequent lapses into trippy psychedelic segments and spacey, ‘80s synth effects. Like their colleagues down under, Kairon; IRSE! also distinguish themselves as a wildly energetic live act, with all four musicians melting into an incessant flurry of movement that soon infects the audience as well and would have me scouring for those dancing shoes were it not for the importance of making it to Cul de Sac early in order to secure a good vantage point for the much different Départe. This is only a brief introduction thus, but one which nonetheless inspires me to keep an eye out for the soonest opportunity to catch Kairon; IRSE! live again — perhaps the songs would then stick to my memory as effectively as the band’s abilities on stage do? [7] AP

Départe @ 19:10 at Cul de Sac

It turns out that leaving Kairon; IRSE!’s concert early to secure entry to the tiny Cul de Sac venue was a bad idea. Départe, skilled musicians though the Tasmanians are, seem to lack their own ideas for what atmospheric black metal could sound like, preferring instead to play it safe and reproduce the genre’s existing musical signature point by point. The only differentials that the Hobart-born quartet has are the touches of metallic hardcore and doom metal infused into their strobe-lit onslaught. But while these sometimes unfurl into cool, eerily atmospheric passages and moments of epic grandeur, they are a rarity within a set dominated by an extremely generic vision. It does not aid Départe’s cause that their performance is so static and non-confrontational as well. The venue may have limited space, but as Une Misère showed the day before, it is what you do with that space that makes the difference. Alas, Départe is in dire need of that extra something needed to distinguish both their music and their live show from the deluge of other bands operating on the atmospheric black metal market right now. [5] AP

Planning For Burial @ 19:15 at Het Patronaat

Although I’m eager to run off and get a good spot for Converge’s upcoming performance on the main stage, I also want to catch some of Thom Wasluck’s one-man project Planning for Burial’s set at Het Patronaat prior. Wasluck’s latest album, ”Below the House”, is a brilliant record that brings together droning doom and shoegazing goth, and I’d be blaming myself for a long time if I didn’t at least check out the show for just a few songs. Alone on stage, equipped with the setup of a band twice this project’s size, Wasluck is doing a great job at rocking around to songs like the layered, noisy “Dull Knife pt I” and the post-punk-ish choice-cut “Warmth of You”. I’ll admit that I could’ve used the touch of darkness in this rather lit-up place, as the lights keeps me from getting really sucked into the performance, but it’s still a great 25-30 minutes’ worth of performance I get to experience before leaving. Especially Wasluck’s switches between rocking the hell out and doodling with the many pedal boards he’s brought along impresses me. Here’s to hoping for another set in the nearby future! [7] MIN

Converge performing “You Fail Me” @ 20:10 on Main Stage

Remember everything I wrote about Converge’s set on the main stage earlier – the one the day prior to this one? Well, you can wave goodbye to all the negatives as Converge’s performance of their classic album “You Fail Me” today is nothing short of amazing. After the initial first minute that is “First Light”, the band launches into the brilliant “Last Light” that sees Bannon instantly conquer the stage and his microphone like nothing I’d ever imagined. His presence is menacing and his voice is both anguished and powerful, especially as we crawl further into the song’s heavier sections. The sound presented by the 013 venue is spectacular and provides more meat on the bone than any of us could’ve hoped for, and the full sound of the entire band firing on all cylinders is earth-shattering. In return, the crowd, too, gets into the set much more than was the case during the band’s previous performance, both physically and vocally: ”This is the sound of the heart… still… beating… beating! BEATING!”

As we reach the next few songs – songs that feature as some of the most intense material the band’s ever put to record – it becomes increasingly harder for this reviewer to remain idle. As a result, I quite frankly pull out the “from a fan’s point of view”-card (courtesy of our Rockfreaks.net logo) and spurt into the increasingly chaotic mosh-pit. For the next few songs, I find myself shoving around between fellow fans that keep screaming along to every word. From here, it’s a beauty to behold the band: as is to be expected, every member is still tremendously capable of performing his part, but especially beautiful is it to notice the smile that constantly creeps upon Bannon’s face. In-between just about every aggressive line he venomously spews out, it looks like he’s having the time of his life. Although he says so during every show he takes part of at this festival – and although he writes so on most of his posts on social media platforms during these four days – it rings more true tonight, and it feels almost overly emotional during these flashes of humiliation.

The set slows down for a while during the frightening title-track, “You Fail Me”, and the somber, atmospheric “In Her Shadow”, just before accelerating for the remainder of the set. The almost psychedelic ending to the latter induces trance-like conditions on the audience, making the whiplash provided by fan-favorite “Eagles Become Vultures” all the more effective. As the set ends, I’m already confident that I’ll remember this show for a long time, however, having already known the entire setlist beforehand, it still feels like something extra would’ve been icing on the top. Well, ask and you shall receive, because suddenly – just as everyone in attendance was turning around and getting ready to leave the venue to quickly get to the next show – Bannon yells that the band has one final song in store for us. Joined by an additional set of drums plus none less than Tomas Lindberg (vocalist, At the Gates) and Kevin Baker (vocalist, All Pigs Must Die), “Wolverine Blues” by legendary Swedish death metal band Entombed suddenly begins and sets the crowd into a frenzy. What a magnificent way to close a legendary performance!

My hands are tied: [10] MIN

Damo Suzuki & Earthless @ 21:30 at Koepelhal

One of the more interesting collaborations on the program this year was always going to be the jam session featuring Damo Suzuki — the legendary vocalist of krautrock group Can, who thrived in the ‘70s — and San Diego, CA’s premier riff generator, Earthless. What makes the show especially intriguing is that none of the musicians, one of whom is Kikagaku Moyo’s sitarist Ryu Kurosawa, seem to have a clear idea of what exactly is going to happen during the set. There is no set formula nor a structure to adhere to, so the first 15 minutes or so are spent finding a symbiosis. Drummer Mario Rubalcaba and bassist Mike Eginton start off by laying down a breezy rhythm, while guitarist Isaiah Mitchell and Kurosawa both look to Suzuki for cues, and Suzuki in turn seems to be coming up with the lyrics on the spot. During these first 15 minutes, the performance lacks direction and honestly feels quite brittle, but when the ensemble finally locks down a groove, there is no going back.

From then on, the jam seems to grow heavier and more intense with each passing minute, sending the artists involved into what looks like a deep trance in which there is nothing except music, and the audience into euphoria. Veering off on so many different tangents and continuing for almost 90 minutes altogether, it is difficult to comprehend how Earthless, Suzuki and Kurosawa can possibly keep the instrumentation so tight, not to mention how they are able to keep their audience in a state of such captivation that, once a repeating pattern of slowing and quickening has given way to the ultimate crescendo at the very end, it feels as though the cheering and applause might continue until the next day. This is the kind of concert that really captures what Roadburn ’18 is all about: a never-to-be-repeated experience which demands an open mind and then rewards it with one of the most extraordinary shows to take place as part of this year’s festivities. [9] AP

Hexis @ 00:20 at Cul de Sac

The honour of closing the stage at Cul de Sac befalls some familiar faces: Denmark’s hardest working (or at least hardest touring) band, Hexis. Their assault on the senses with incessantly flickering strobes and noisy, blackened hardcore, is the perfect fit for the venue’s intimate confines, and even though the Copenhageners are the epitome of an underground phenomenon, their reputation clearly precedes them; the place is rammed. As ever, it is quite distressing to watch a bunch of silhouettes twisting and contorting in stop-motion (an effect created by the stationing of Hexis’ infamous, beat-triggered strobe machine behind drummer Kristian Evagelistis); it makes the show seem as hellish as the eruptions of tremolo and blastbeats that characterise the group’s music sound. But as fearsome as the performance is, one nonetheless cannot help but chuckle a bit at the dumbfounded expressions worn by all the newcomers to Hexis that are present here. It makes me remember how shocked and awed I was myself when I watched them live for the first time six years ago, and while the novelty of it has worn off since then in liaison with the relative monotony of the music, the band can obviously still be trusted to deliver some of the most ferocious live shows that you are likely to see. Indeed, Hexis is flying the Danish flag high here tonight, and they are certain to have earned a new fan or two during this 30-minute smash n’ grab. [7] AP

SATURDAY, APRIL 21ST

Stephen Brodsky & Adam McGrath: a tribute to Caleb Scofield @ 13:00 at Het Patronaat

It was with heavy hearts that a larger part of the alternative metal- and punk scene started announcing and mourning the death of Caleb Scofield (of such acclaimed bands as Cave In and Old Man Gloom) on March 28 2018. Family, friends and fans alike contributed to his memory by sending their thoughts and prayers through social media or donating money to Scofield’s family via the YouCaring website, but for Scofield’s bandmates the easiest way to cope with loss is, and always has been, through music. Shortly before this year’s Roadburn Festival kicked off, the remaining members of Cave In – in collaboration with the Roadburn crew – therefore decided that Stephen Brodsky and Adam McGrath were to take the stage at Het Patronaat on Saturday afternoon to play a tribute set in honor of Scofield, performing their beloved bassist’s favorite songs both within and outside of the band’s collective discography.

With a set mainly consisting of the more atmospheric songs from the Cave In’s back catalogue, Brodsky’s vocals perfectly fit the setting’s loftier soundscape and the songs’ ethereal compositions delivered solely by the two musicians and their guitars – Brodsky delivering the chords and McGrath conjuring the space. In-between tracks, Brodsky tells stories about Scofield and the relationship both he and McGrath had with their friend, and the two perform several songs off the “Jupiter” and “Tides of Tomorrow” records, where especially “Calypso” and “Big Riff” impress – the latter even managing to receive one of the most impressive applauses I’ve heard at this festival. After said applause and the one that follows the band’s final song, “Sing My Loves”, there’s something remarkable in seeing Brodsky and McGrath standing strong, smiling yet just on the verge of breaking down. This set obviously means a lot to them, and it’s hard not to get just a little emotional. I’ll admit to never have been a huge fan of Cave In back in the days (not until the formation of Mutoid Man did I bother too much with their discography), but if a performance can move me this much, I can’t imagine how the hardcore fans out there must be feeling.

I find it unfair to rate a tribute set with the cause so close at hand, so I’m not going to give Brodsky and McGrath’s performance a grade. The show felt like a transition for both the band and the fans present, and although the death of Caleb Scofield filled the room with sadness, it felt like a constant sense of consolation overshadowed it. As we progressed through “Harvest Moon” and “Nothing” (Neil Young and Townes Van Zandt, respectively), “New Moon” and “Heartbreaks, Earthquakes”, the two musicians lightened up, bit by bit, through sharing their precious moments with the rest of us. With Brodsky’s usual sense of rowdy humor traded in for equally entertaining yet appropriately adapted storytelling, Het Patronaat felt like a place for the broken hearted and the grief-stricken to rest and rejuvenate, even if just for a little while. MIN

Verwoed @ 13:30 at Cul de Sac

Walter Hoeijmakers, the chief booker of Roadburn, has made it a tradition to handpick one Dutch artist to present at the festival, and this year the choice on the Utrecht-born atmospheric black metal act Verwoed. Hoeijmakers’ endorsement tends to be equivalent to an assurance of quality, and as such it is no surprise to find Cul de Sac at maximum capacity for the band's concert, with people pushing past me left and right in order to secure a good vantage point from which to take in this convincing performance. Verwoed’s music immediately strikes a chord with me, being an eclectic mix of the infernal, the doomy and the psychedelic forms of extreme metal, but what makes the greatest impression on me is the imposing confidence with which the five musicians act out Erik B. (the lone official member)’s ideas. Whether they are coursing through long, droning tremolo melodies, embroiling themselves in odd time signatures or blasting out traditional black metal of the Norwegian school of thought, the group looks and sounds absolutely menacing, helped along by an unusually voluminous rhythm section that one feels as well as hears. Despite the festival having strong representation from atmospheric and post-black metal artists this year, Verwoed’s early afternoon concert thus manages to stand out as one of the best of its kind due to the sheer intensity of the band’s music and showmanship. Definitely one to watch in the future. [8] AP

Bell Witch performing “Mirror Reaper” @ 14:00 at Koepelhal

As I make my way to the Koepelhal, there’s barely room to move inside the venue and the line outside keeps growing. Uncomfortably placed by myself all the way down in the back, I watch the American doom metal duo Bell Witch, who has just taken the stage in order to perform their latest album, ”Mirror Reaper”, in its entirety. The album, consisting of just a single 83 minute-song, is a slow, heavy tribute to the band’s former drummer, Adrian Guerra, who passed away in May 2016. Although I’d been looking forward to catch the show, it’s almost impossible to find a good spot to stand in, and the lengthy nature of the music isn’t exactly making it easier to settle down somewhere nice, unfortunately causing me to leave the set after about 20-30 minutes. The band, however, seemed to be doing their thing, completely immersed in the music, while a film noir specifically designed for this particular performance was playing on a screen in the back. Unfortunately, my time inside the venue didn’t last long enough to provide you, the reader, with a proper description of how the entire set went down, and I thus choose not to rate it. However, I’m sure that those who had confined themselves inside the Koepelhal much earlier than I thoroughly enjoyed the show, as things seemed to be moving ahead as planned. I, on the other hand, decide to go see another magnificent doom act, Worship, instead. MIN

Worship performing “Last Tape Before Doomsday” @ 15:30 at Het Patronaat

Worship is perhaps best known for the tragedy that struck the band when drummer/vocalist Maximilien Varnier took his own life by jumping off the High Level Bridge in Edmonton, AB in 2001 and brought the cult funeral doom duo to dissolution. Led by its other founding member, guitarist/vocalist Daniel Varoß, the band eventually ‘re-united’ in 2004 and went on to release two full-length albums, 2007’s “Dooom" and 2012’s “Terranean Wake”. But on neither of those albums did it feel like Varoß had reached the closure that he needed after Varnier's death. This, I think, is the idea behind his and his new colleagues’ performance of Worship’s début, the “Last Tape Before Doomsday” from 1999, in full this afternoon, and I’ll be damned if the mood inside the church-like confines of Het Patronaat isn’t pretty sullen when the first notes of “Whispering Gloom” begin to resound. In keeping with the atmosphere and glacial pace of the album, everything seems to take place in slow motion — like an energetic performance slowed to a crawl. Indeed, there is actually a wealth of movement, passion and expression from the four musicians taking place, manifesting itself as a subtle, but total immersion in the music; shut eyes, feeling each note resonate through the body, and then striking the next chord with a vengeance. As the show reaches its climax with the 15-minute epic that is the eponymous “Worship” and Varoß bows out, he does so with the faintest smile, and in that moment, it feels like he has succeeded in finding the catharsis he has been longing for all these years. A beautiful concert. [8] AP

Wear Your Wounds @ 16:15 at Koepelhal

Arriving a little late after Worship’s magnificent performance at the Het Patronaat, I find Jacob Bannon’s Wear Your Wounds-project in the middle of the culmination of a song that fairs as beautifully as could be expected by any accomplished post-rock band. Accompanied by a remarkable light-show and spectacular soundscape here at the Koepelhal venue, Bannon and his companions – Adam McGrath (Cave In), Mike McKenzie (Stomach Earth), Chris Maggio (Trap Them) and Sean Martin (Twitching Tongues) – deliver proof that Bannon’s ambitions are alive and well even outside the hardcore environment.

The band’s penultimate song sounds a lot like the title-track off Converge’s latest album, “The Dusk in Us”, and it’s easy to see that Bannon’s brought some additional influence from Wear Your Wounds into Converge’s realm. In a similar matter, this song builds up and marvellously provides screeching guitars over the tumbling rhythm-section, just before turning up the knobs and adding some constant gain that lets the song grow larger and fiercer. As the song culminates, the audience roars and Bannon humbly thanks us all for coming out: ”This is a happening, it is so much more than a festival”, he says, which it’s pretty hard to disagree with. The last song of the set feels raw and real, depending a lot on Bannon’s voice before an added layer of atmosphere kicks in by virtue of the remaining musicians. All around me, people are swaying to the music and simply having a good time. Hell, there’s even a couple next to me slow dancing!

The song drags out a bit too much, just constantly feeding on, and I can’t help but expect a final climax, but it unfortunately never arrives. Instead, it ebbs out and the band leaves the stage, leaving a little something to be desired in the end. Nevertheless, Wear Your Wounds provided a nice break from the extreme and heavy music everywhere else and I’m convinced to catch them the next time around. [7] MIN

Panopticon @ 17:10 on Main Stage

Judging by the enormous queue leading into Het Patronaat the day before and the scant numbers dotting 013’s main theatre today, it seems that people were either disillusioned by the performance of Panopticon’s latest album, “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness”, and unwilling to suffer through any more of the Louisville, KY-born band’s atmospheric black metal, or the festival misjudged the respective popularities of that album and the mixed set that we get to watch today. Certainly, there is no section of Americana here to disrupt the barrage of raw, yet sweeping black metal in which folk music also finds an unexpected home. Awash in ultraviolet blue and green hues, the band quite resembles the Danish group ORM, albeit with a more heroic style of grandeur in the melodies — not least because frontman Austin L. Lunn utilises a deeper growling technique than usual for this genre, exactly like Theis Wilmer Poulsen does in ORM. Like that band also, Lunn and his ensemble of session musicians resign themselves to shoegazing poses for much of the set, adamant that Lunn’s songs have what it takes to shoulder the weight of the concert on their own. Unfortunately, it is the instruments of bassist Andy Klokow and drummer Ray Capizzo that enjoy the greatest prominence in the mix at the expense of everything else, which means that only the quietest and most epic moments, such as those offered by “Into the North Woods” and “Capricious Miles”, come through with any sort of clarity. This is quite disappointing and makes us both (myself and MIN) dearly regret having missed the “Scars of Man…” performance the day before. [6] AP

Mizmor performing “Yodh” @ 18:00 at Koepelhal

From one atmospheric black metal concert to another, next in line for scrutiny is Mizmor (or מזמור, as the word for ruckus or turmoil is written in Yiddish) from Portland, OR — one of the meccas of the genre. The brainchild of a single musician, who goes by the acronym A.L.N., the project hopes to separate itself from the host with a noisier take on the genre that also incorporates plenty of truly crushing doom metal. On record, “Yodh”, which is the focus of this performance, thus struck me as one of the more striking exemplars of contemporary extreme metal, contrasting two genres that are enjoying a massive upsurge in their popularity at the moment. And the versatility of A.L.N.’s voice continues to impress me now in the live setting, as he switches between icy shrieks, muscular roars and guttural growls at will, in keeping with the eclectic style of his music. But alas, much of the potential for transcendence that lives inside the likes of “Woe Regains My Substance” and “The Serpent Eats Its Tail” is smothered by an exceedingly bassy, noisy mix which seems to be engineered to lift A.L.N.’s vocals to a pedestal at any cost. As the melodies are left to linger beneath and the concert becomes an exercise in unadulterated heaviness, the audience also thins out with each passing song, frustrated by the divide between how Mizmor sounds on record and what it is like to listen to the band live. [6] AP

Zola Jesus @ 20:00 at Koepelhal

In the spirit of watching acts a bit different from the remaining bands on the lineup, the Rockfreaks crew return once more to the Koepelhal venue to see the genre-transcending Zola Jesus from America, who mixes experimental pop, trip-hop and gothic rock. Entering the stage to the pouring rain of “Veka”, the song feels like a good opener with it’s slow build-up before taking flight and turning into a dark, synth-ey banger featuring layered vocals and filled with existential conundrums. Jesus does her best at rocking atop the large stage, filling every meter of it effortlessly while the two musicians beside her (strings and guitars) fill the venue with delicate intricacies largely ushered on by massive electronic beats. Zola Jesus and her band are quickly grasping the venue and holding its audience in awe, working as proof that Roadburn Festival isn’t just for metal fans, it’s for fans of all things curious, playful and progressive.

“You guys like doom metal, so you’re probably going to like the speed of this song”, proclaims Zola Jesus as she initiates “Witness” off her latest album, “Okovi”. Knowing her audience, the sad, haunting nature of said song fares unusually well through the venue, Jesus’ gorgeous voice ringing beautifully across our heads to much applause. The following “Wiseblood” picks up the pace a little while staying bound in a similar moody sound as the previous one, just before an a cappella intro to “Remains” spellbinds us all. As the set draws closer to an end, the sun starts to set outside and fittingly darkens the room slightly more by the second, providing a spectacular setting for the show. As the final song provides an extra punch in the shape of enhanced noise, almost as if to connect even more with the Roadburn audience, I’m convinced that Zola Jesus has made several new fans by the end of the day. [8] MIN

Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ 21:00 on Main Stage

Clawing for my attention along with two other great sets playing at the same time, I’m sad to say that I didn’t catch the entirety of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s first of two shows this weekend. However, I do manage to see the first hour or so of this legendary Canadian post-rock band. Entering the crammed room to the sound of their staple concert-opener “Hope Drone”, we’re in for a slow start just before the band opens up what evidently looks like a performance of the entirety of their new, excellent album, ”Luciferian Towers”. Perfectly capturing the swaying sound of “Bosses Hang”, constantly building up, the collective’s enormous sound explode in a remarkable barrage of horns and violins. What makes the biggest impression on me, however – the last piece I get to hear before running towards the Het Patronaat venue – is the album highlight “Anthem For No State”, where the band’s collective powers erupt in a myriad of instruments. The song’s anthemic heights combined with its spectacularly lonesome melody lying underneath is the stuff of legends, and as I turn to leave the venue once the song ends, I’m even more excited about tomorrow’s performance than previously. [8] MIN

Greenmachine performing “D.A.M.N.” @ 22:30 at Het Patronaat

From Canadian post-rock and unto Japanese stoner-sludge-core: prior to Jacob Bannon’s announcement of their participation in his curation, I’d never heard of the sludge/hardcore outfit Greenmachine. Fast-forward a few days and they became a definite must see for this reviewer. Scheduled to perform their album “D.A.M.N.” in its entirety, homework prior to the show was easy; the album is a perfect culmination of all things fast, heavy and filthy, and its intensity makes most of the band’s peers pale in comparison. My effort to arrive early at the Het Patronaat venue reveals fruitful as shortly after I’ve confined myself on the inside the venue fills to the brim, causing one of the longest queues outside the venue I’ve seen so far. Evidently, I’m not the only one who’s fallen for the band’s disgusting breed of music.

Launching straight into the noisy carnage that sets off album-opener “On” just before getting heads a-rollin’ during “Muddy”, the Greenmachine shows no sign of rusting despite a several year hiatus not long ago. Underneath all the soil and dirt that’s dragged behind them, the band has a thrilling approach to classic, rollicking rock that constantly keeps the set dynamic and interesting while the members on-stage seems as much in control as they look unhinged. From fast, rocking hardcore into even darker, heavier territory, “Narrow” and “D.A.M.N.” gets the headbanging go even wilder and stirs up the front of the crowd increasingly. With a soundscape that perfectly fits, Greenmachine seems unstoppable tonight.

Prior to the set, I’d expected a rather short burst as the actual “D.A.M.N.” album clocks in at merely 35 minutes (when also counting the bonus tracks on the re-release), but thankfully the band treats us to some additional songs, one of them even presented as new material. Keeping the show going for another sprint seems to be further fuel on the fire as the set keeps spiralling and the band keeps rocking, ultimately ending as one of my favorite shows of the festival. Although I’d been looking forward to seeing Greenmachine live, I was both curious and a bit anxious as to how well the band would fare tonight. Thankfully, they managed to exceed my expectations. [9] MIN

Earthless & Kikagaku Moyo @ 23:30 on Main Stage

Although our backs are tired and our feet are aching, we somehow manage to make our way to the very special “East Meets West” set featuring San Diego’s Earthless and the Japanese psych-rock band Kikagaku Moyo. Above the 013 venue’s main stage hangs a giant screen with motifs from both east and west, and below enters a member from each of the two featured bands. To get things started, the musicians ease into things with a 15-minute acoustic, semi-spiritualized guitar ritual betwixt the two. With Moyo’s side taking charge for the first part of the set, the show constantly builds up, slowly but confidently. Especially remarkable is it when the drummer takes the stage and effortlessly falls right into the whole shebang with several precise, well-timed fills as if it was just another day at the office. If it hadn’t taken half an hour to get to this point, this whole setup could’ve been all the more impressive. It’s all very well-executed, yet it somehow feels a little impersonal unlike yesterday’s show between Earthless and Damo Suzuki, where – although you also had to bide your time and wait patiently – the payoff was that much better. As an hour goes by and there’s not much more progress than what we’ve already witnessed, I choose to save my strength and head home, preparing for Roadburn Festival’s final day. [7] MIN

SUNDAY, APRIL 22ND

Vánagandr: Sól án varma @ 15:10 on Main Stage

Vánagandr, a superorganism of Icelandic black metal artists uniting members of Misþyrming, Naðra, Svartidauði and Wormlust, was commissioned by Roadburn to compose and perform an original piece of music at the festival — the second of its kind this year, following the Waste of Space Orchestra on the opening day. Entitled “Sól án varma”, the composition is likened to an unstoppable roar on the festival brochure, and that is certainly an accurate way to describe how the opus pans out. It feels like the end of days inside the venue, a feeling accentuated by the projection of hypnotic, close-up footage of the Sun and all of its violent energy onto a screen behind this constellation of seven musicians. What the ensemble is trying to convey, it seems, is the slow death of our nearest star (“Sól án varma” roughly translates to sun without warmth), and that process is bestowed with a soundtrack mixing an ominous baritone rumble with discharges of ferocious, Mgła-style black metal and periods of eerie ambience.

Having been perplexed by the “Hieros Gamos” ritual by NYIÞ and Wormlust the day before — just as I was by the similar “Úlfsmessa” in 2016 — it is a relief to find Vánagandr presenting their vision of the apocalypse with more conventional means. In essence, “Sól án varma” simply plays out like a really good black metal album, divided into two distinct sections (the ‘before’ and the ‘after’), and constantly growing and reinventing itself in terms of ambition and complexity. The presence of three guitarists and a keyboardist gives the songs, or ‘parts’, a richness that is quite rare in this genre, yet not at the expense of the most menacing drum tone and some of the most harrowing growls we have heard at Roadburn this year. The music alone suffices to drop my jaw, but what truly renders this experience unparalleled is the visual component. Given that we are taught from early childhood to avoid staring at the sun, doing exactly that without risking damage is turns out to be quite mesmerising, and when the composition pivots by virtue of a drum solo about 55 minutes in, the darkness that ensues feels surprisingly shocking. In this segment, all seven musicians are dressed in white head-to-toe with only the dimmest of UV lights illuminating the final gasps of a dying sun. And with that, “Sól án varma” is immortalised in my memory as one of the most unique and breathtaking concert experiences that I have had to date. [9] AP

Wiegedood @ 17:10 on Main Stage

The enormous audience populating 013’s main hall, as Wiegedood — one of the acts that comprise the Church of Ra collective in Belgium — engages its relative home ground advantage with the onset of “Svanesang”, defies belief; less than two months from now, the atmospheric black metallers are to perform at 1000fryd and KB18, two of the most intimate venues in Denmark. This is one of the best aspects of Roadburn: the chance for lesser known artists to prove their worth in front of a massive audience, and a chance for the audience to experience those artists maximising their potential. With the likes of “Ontzieling” and “De Doden Hebben Het Goed III”, the Gent-born trio makes it clear that their music belongs in a high-capacity venue in which the enormity of their atmospheric black metal compositions has room to resonate. Despite having no bassist, Wiegedood’s music suffers from no lack of oomph, as only one of the two guitarists, Gilles Demolder and Levy Seynaeve (who doubles as the vocalist) is whipping up sweeping tremolo melodies at a time, while the other provides the lower end rhythm chords. In this genre, it is crucial that such melodies have a transcendental quality about them, and it is exactly here that Wiegedood truly distinguishes itself from the dozens of similar acts sprouting out of the underground on an almost weekly basis these days. Indeed, songs like “Onder Gaan” and “Cataract” belong in the highest echelons of atmospheric black metal in that respect. And with such raging showmanship accompanying the musical cascades, Wiegedood cement themselves as one of the most promising artists to emerge from this scene lately. [8] AP

Hell performing “Hell” @ 18:00 at Het Patronaat

Aptly placed in the old church Het Patronaat, the Salem, Oregon-based doom/sludge metal project Hell gets ready to perform the entirety of its self-titled debut album in full daylight to a large, receptive audience. On record, “Hell” is a dark and menacingly heavy yet simultaneously groovy album that features noisy feedback and anguished screams, reminding the listener of other current and former Roadburn acts such as Full of Hell, Greenmachine and Mizmor (whose frontman takes charge of drums and additional vocals during this performance). However, today in this live setting, it feels like the groovy stoner elements of the band’s music takes a front seat and overshadows the more, well, hellish elements in Hell’s music. I’ll admit to be taken aback by the slightly different sound presented, but it’s evident that the crowd’s not having any trouble digesting these riffs and screams, perfectly performed by the talented outfit.

It feels almost unfair to complain about the performance, since the band’s actually doing a great job, but it’s distorted my expectations and I can’t help but feel somewhat let down by the outcome. The effort is a little slower yet equally entertaining, but it’s more like watching Sleep live than the raging inferno that I was expecting – there’s simply more weed than misery in here. As the set progresses, an increased sense of distortion and noise seems to creep in and when perfectly timed with the harrowing screams of the two vocalists, it actually sounds like the set I had originally expected. A part of me wants to rate the show higher, simply due to the impressive delivery witnessed – if only some of the stoner had been traded in for some sludge, I’d be willing to go that extra mile. [7] MIN

Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ 20:50 on Main Stage

As there’s always fewer people inside the venue on the last day of Roadburn Festival, it’s much easier to find a good place to stay than yesterday, and perfectly seated halfway down the venue provides the best possible spot for a show requiring this amount of patience. As terrific as Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music is, it takes a toll on the feet to stand through an entire set, making me feel lucky that I’ve managed to nail down such a good spot, providing stellar conditions for a performance of this magnitude.

Just like the day before, Godspeed You! Black Emperor sets off with the “Hope Drone” track. After an expectedly slow start, however, the Canadian post-rock collective quickly lets the song run smoothly into “Mladic” off the spectacular comeback-album “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!”. The Middle Eastern vibes of the thick guitar electrifies the entire room, and as we venture through soaring anthems and quieter string sections – and as the drum-patterns get increasingly wilder – the Godspeed-outfit confidently cement their claim on the post-rock throne. A sure-footed 31 minutes later, this first one-two piece of the performance concludes to much applause, quickly substituted by awe and surprise as the Canadians commence the experience by performing “Sleep” off their classic masterpiece, “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven”.

As the quivering melody of “Sleep” picks up pace, culminates and eventually turns into a another droning track, an incredibly jazzy, hazy interplay between drums and saxophone occurs, resembling as much an improvised psych-jam-session as an actually rehearsed, professional performance. From rumbling contrabass to shattering crescendos, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s set is a tour-de-force through not only the elementary, but also the more progressive, forward-thinking nature of the post-rock genre. Whether shaking the entire room with the loudest possible guitar note I can recall or quieting things down enough to hear the shuffling of plastic cups on the floor, the band delivers on every account during a completely immersed experience that also features adapted video footage of everything from secret, governmental documents to hypnotic aerial performances. Ultimately finishing us off with a combination of larger parts of “Providence” and “East Hastings” off the “Infinity” album, only few cornerstones of the band’s impressive discography remain untouched. After almost two hours, Godspeed You! Black Emperor adds the ultimate punctuation mark of a remarkable performance and a remarkable festival. [9] MIN

LLNN @ 20:50 at Cul de Sac

There seems to be a consensus among the audience crammed into Cul de Sac that LLNN’s concert is one of the most anticipated happenings at Roadburn this year, and the fact that we have not seen the venue this packed for anything else seems to support that. It is easy to tell that for the Danish post-metal quartet, the opportunity to perform at this festival is also a dream-come-true, as seldom have the four musicians played with such passion and hellbent intent as during the opening salvo of “Armada” and “Parallels”. Guitarist/vocalist Christian Bonnesen seems to be dehydrating at an alarming rate in the sauna-like heat that has descended upon the venue after the hot and humid weather of the day, but with a personal waterboy at hand, that seems to be no obstacle to his screaming and striking his instrument so hard that it looks like the veins in his forehead might pop at any moment. Behind him, drummer Rasmus Sejersen cannot stop smiling at the intense response LLNN is getting from the audience, which seems only to fuel his already impetuous percussion to an extent that one fears for the life of his snare drum.

LLNN have their own expression by virtue of the heavy utilisation of synths in the soundscape, but one nonetheless cannot help but recognise a trace of Neurosis in the dissonant onslaught of the standout “Rapture”. Most of this resemblance comes down to the menacing appearance that Bonnesen dons, which is extremely similar to how Scott Kelly and Steve von Till both look when they are standing on stage. It is thus no wonder that most of the venue floor is embroiled in a moshpit for the entire duration of this 50-minute set, and if LLNN uses this experience as the blueprint for future concerts, Denmark is going to be blessed with one of the most ferocious live acts the country has seen yet. [8] AP

Wolfbrigade @ 21:30 at Het Patronaat

How refreshing it is to be battered by some d-beats after all the slow, droning and psychedelic stuff that has comprised the majority of my programme at Roadburn this year. In charge of the rustle-up are the Swedish crust punks of Wolfbrigade, who command the first and only moshpit (and circlepit!) seen at the Het Patronaat venue this weekend. Given the explosive energy with which this five-piece delivers its rock’n’roll-tinged take on the genre, this is hardly a surprise; it feels like your arms and fists acquire a life of their own when the likes of “Catch 22” and “War on Rules” are blasted out, and you unwittingly transform into a ‘lycanthro punk’ (as the band members like to call themselves). The band’s attitude leaves little to be desired and once you take a break from rocking the f**k out, there are plenty of folksy melodies in the style of Martyrdöd to lose yourself in. This is energising stuff, as the torrents of crowd-surfers making their way toward the stage during the closing duo of “Warsaw Speedwolf” (off the band’s latest album, last year’s “Run with the Hunted”) and “Ride the Steel” (off 2012’s “Damned”) also bears witness to, and even though the end of the festival is drawing near, it is certainly not sadness one feels after being subjected to this pummelling. [8] AP

Zuriaake @ 23:30 on Main Stage

Although greatly thinned out in numbers this late during the festival’s final day, a respectable crowd remains in front of the 013’s main stage as the Chinese black metal band Zuriaake takes the stage. All clad in Asian conical hats, robes and white scarfs, the mysterious Zuriaake sets in motion what sounds unmistakably like black metal, yet the drive of the drums and the engulfing atmosphere signal something much different, almost lingering on the more modern blackgaze sound. When the music actually slows down, the weeping guitars almost sound like ringing glass, and as the band adds bells, gothic keys and occasionally noisy guitars, it’s pretty obvious that we’re not just dealing with any old traditional black metal band, despite the fact that Zuriaake has been around for more than twenty years.

Throughout the set, the vocal delivery occasionally switches to a more clean delivery in contrast to the previous screams, and the blackgazing atmosphere ventures into almost Dead Can Dance-like terrain. At one point, subtitles are even displayed on the huge screen behind the band, and although it feels like a laughing matter at first, it’s all business again when the frontman’s screams take charge once more. As the final part of the set ranges between piano pieces, old school horror noises, slayer riffs and traditional black metal, I’m convinced that Zuriaake has been a huge influence on several of the bands we listen to today, especially of those within the modern mix of black and post-metal. Although Zuriaake’s performance loses its momentum halfway through the set by virtue of dabbling into the same conventions too often (yes, despite the many different instruments presented), it’s an engaging and interesting show nonetheless. [7] MIN

Bison @ 00:45 at Cul de Sac

The honour of closing both the Cul de Sac venue and the festival altogether befalls Vancouver, BC’s premier sludge metal group Bison, and judging by the opening remarks made by guitarist/vocalist James Gnarwell, the band is well aware of their bittersweet role. “Are you guys ready to get emotional?”, he asks us before the thunder of “Tantrum” takes over and heads begin to bang in glorious unison. Bison is not the most extroverted artist to have graced this stage this weekend, but in my opinion they eclipse most other artists in their genre with their complex and progressive style, which includes the deployment of a plethora of classic guitar solos and psyched-out instrumental passages. The crowd is thinner than it has been for the other shows here these past four days, but that does not stop the Canadian quartet from draining every last drop of energy from their reservoir in order to ensure that Roadburn ’18 finishes on a high note, and leaves us in high spirits. The set is dominated by material from the group’s latest album, “You Are Not the Ocean You Are the Patient”, which was an unexpected highlight of 2017’s metallic output, but I am nonetheless a bit saddened by their neglecting its predecessor, 2012’s brilliant “Lovelessness”, entirely. “Last and First Things” would have been the crown on this otherwise solid set, alongside the other older tracks, “Stressed Elephant” (taken from 2010’s “Dark Ages”) and “These Are My Dress Clothes” (which appears on the band’s 2008 début, “Quiet Earth”), but even in its absence, it would be impolite to moan about one of the genre’s most trusted purveyors of quality. [7] AP

CLOSING REMARKS

Typically, this section of the article would be reserved for all the points of critique to do with the general festival experience, but in the case of Roadburn, it is honestly hard to complain. Everything seemed to run like clockwork and as such, we decided to conclude the article by pointing out the things that impressed us the most.

Festivals are notorious for creating the conditions for subpar sound mixes, largely due to the high number of artists that need to be accommodated in quick succession. Yet at Roadburn ’18, that never really seemed to be an issue, with the vast majority of artists blessed with an immaculate and highly personalised mix. And one should not discount the importance of visuals, either; it seemed like each artist was encouraged to bring some kind of video clips with them to complement their performance and most of them did exactly that. Instead of the usual backdrops, nearly every concert thus made use of the projectors and white screens provided by the festival in order to offer something different to what you would normally see at their gigs — which of course is exactly what Roadburn is all about.

We were also impressed by the scheduling and venue choices, which stood in stark contrast to what our staff had to deal with in 2016, 2015 and 2014. Abolishing the minuscule Extase venue and replacing it with the much larger Koepelhal and Hall of Fame meant that only a tiny fraction of the concerts suffered from long queues, with Khemmis’ first-ever European show, Bell Witch’s “Mirror Reaper” set, Panopticon’s “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness” set, and Greenmachine’s exclusive re-union performance proving to be the only challenges for us. And despite the larger capacities of the two new venues, none of the concerts there or elsewhere seemed to have lower turnouts than usual.

Another new concept that we fell in love with was the merchandise storage, which was conveniently positioned right next to where the merchandise was sold. The price was low, and included unlimited walk-backs during the given day in case you decided to buy some additional items. Together with the token system for the bars and food stalls that has long been in place at the festival, this system made a genuine difference and left the impression that Roadburn cares about and listens to its audience in order to make the festival experience as smooth as possible, and to prevent people from missing their favourite artists.

And finally, it is a pleasure to witness Roadburn in a process of constant evolution, always trying to find ways to reinvent the festival experience. The two commissioned performances, Waste of Space Orchestra and Vánagandr: Sól án varma were both as spectacular as they were singular, and as per tradition the countless full-album sets gave fans another, rarer window into some of their favourite artists.Jacob Bannon’s curation of the first three days meanwhile brought an increased representation of hardcore punk et al. to the line-up, and in general the man shone like the brightest diamond, whether on stage, party to an exhibition, or as a fan of all things music and art. Bannon and other influential artists did not resign themselves to the backstage area — they were there to mingle with their fans as well, strengthening the unique sense of community that Walter Hoeijmakers and his team have managed to build around this event.

Indeed, all three of us agreed that Roadburn manages to bring even the most curious listener out of their comfort zone and that when it comes to openings minds, broadening horizons and challenging people, the festival is an important beacon around which the metal community can unite, and by which that community can celebrate, rather than argue over its differences. We were surprised by how welcoming and open Roadburn’s attendance is; lost count over the amount of interesting encounters and discussions that we had with artists, journalists, promoters, photographers and fellow festival goers over the course of the weekend; and had the times of our lives exploring everything that Roadburn had to offer this year.

We would thus like to offer our most sincere gratitude to Walter Hoeijmakers and the rest of the Roadburn team for pouring their heart and soul into this important gathering and hope that it shall continue for many years to come. One thing is certain: this was not the last time that you’ll find us roaming around Tilburg’s cosy streets and excellent music venues.

THANK YOU AND SEE YOU IN 2019!

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