4 DAYS OF HEAVEN IN HELL...
Story online since: 20.04.2012 / 11:11:06
So they had Voivod, Candlemass, Wolves in the Throne Room, Alcest, Winterfylleth, Aluk Todolo, Ramesses and Ufomammut (just to pick out a few - not entirely random - names) last year; Triptykon,Enslaved, Shining, Valborg, Altar of Plagues and Nachtmystium in 2010; Neurosis, A Storm of Light, Nadja, Negura Bunget, Wolves in the Throne Room, Zu, The Devil’s Blood in 2009… If you keep going back in time you’ll find Sunn o))), Ozric Tentacles, Hawkwind, Electric Wizard and many more, whilst Monster Magnet, Orange Goblin, Grand Magus and Witchcraft featured in the only edition I made it to prior to this one, when it was still a small one-dayer in Eindhoiven in 2004. Well it was indeed time to return to the fest that has been unanimously baptized as "The Roadburn Experience”!
For those who have never made it to Tilburg (NL) for this music & arts meeting, and for those who tried but were unable to get hold of a ticket (this year it was sold-out in the space of 7 minutes!), you should know that this is also a gorgeous little town well worth a visit. The festival logistics themselves are fabulous (I am sure many are familiar with the 013 venue), close to hotels for every budget and a tempting row of bars, pubs and restaurants nearby. This year the 013, which consists of a large main stage and two smaller rooms, was flanked by Het Patronaat, a refurbished ex-church a few steps away, with a large hall downstairs and a medium-sized stage, crowned all around by beautiful stained windows, upstairs.
For me Roadburn 2012 was un-missable for many a reason, the biggest one of course was the return of one my favorite bands ever, Voivod, as curators of the Au-delà du Réel Friday session, which meant that they got to pick amongst their favorite acts to play alongside with. Unfortunately many of the names penned on their long wish-list could not make it, like Amebix and Die Kreuzen, but those who did, had a blast and shared a good few drinks with their lovable patrons! Another special event for the dedicated hardcore Voivod fans, who came literally from all latitudes (it was incredible to hear almost every language on the planet spoken around you in the space of a few minutes), was Michel "Away” Langevin’s exhibition at the Gus van Dijk art gallery, where one could marvel at intricate pencil originals of his amazing visions of alien dimensions dating back to 1983, amongst other works. And what could be better than seeing your heroes in the flesh walking along the street, sharing the same hotel lift with you and humbly joining the fans for a good humored, amiable drink and a chat?... This is a big part of the Roadburn charm too: for those who want to have contact with the fans, there is the opportunity to behave like everyone else and actually feel like a normal person: here there are virtually little or no barriers, as it should be. I have not been to many large festivals where one can find, sweating and cheering under the stage, the owner of Season of Mist, Tom G. Warrior (just a punter this year) or John Haughm (Agalloch), because they would be segregated to their VIP areas, in total contradiction with the metal spirit (which should be about brotherhood, "us vs. them” – not a long-haired & tattooed replica of the capitalistic model). But let’s now get into the thick of things… Sadly I had to pick and choose amongst a wealth of offerings, not to mention the time-out I took for meetings and interviews, so many apologies if I am not about to cover all your favorite bands.
Welcome to Rrröööaaarrrburn 2012!
THURSDAY 12TH APRIL
d.USK/diSEMBOWLEMENT(now Inverloch) on the Main Stage baptize my 2012 Roadburn Experience: not bad, since they perform in exclusive the legendary opus "Transcendence into the Peripheral”. It is a huge stage and the proverbial difficulty of being the opening act perhaps makes their first few minutes a little fragile, but the hypnotizing eeriness of this influential doom-death masterpiece soon seeps through my bones with paralyzing effect: sinister, depressing and as still as stunning and gripping as ever. Hails to the Aussies! It proves difficult to emerge from the spell, but our old chums Virus are about to play over at the Patronaat and I just have to go and say hello. Third time lucky for me to enjoy Carl-Michael and Einar’s special brand of metal weirdness: the 300-capacity room feels rather good, with the beautiful stained windows still lit up by warm daylight. Because of the brighter surroundings and the different energy levels, the impression is of assisting to an art performance or perhaps a fusion jam rather than a metal gig, which I like, as every one of the Virus concerts I have attended so far have been very diverse in ambience. All in all, their Aurora Infernalis III gig remains unbeatable for sheer intensity and elation, but this band is always a pleasure to watch and take in any time, any place.
I make sure to take my spot in the photo-pit very early on for Agalloch: I was immensely eager to experience their live dimension, having missed out every time they had been over to Europe on previous occasions. Well tonight Agalloch make my long wait worthwhile by delivering a complete stunner… I hear they have left the same impression everywhere they have been during this substantial 2012 European tour, leaving everybody utterly satisfied and blown away. John is a small and cute guy, friendly in person and does not look at all tired having just gone through over half of their packed dates. Just before the lights turn deep blue and the haunting intro begins, he walks across the massive stage for the finishing touches to their customary props, this time consisting of 4 tree logs on which he carefully places deer legs and two bowls of exquisite incense.
With nostrils filled with the sweet scent, eyes full of the symbolic/ritualistic power of the objects on stage (subconsciously acting as psychological triggers) and a heart full of expectancy, an emotional avalanche hits me from the very first note: Agalloch’s live explosion feels like turning on a cool shower after having walked through a desert. The enormous backdrop screen behind them begins to offer a visual journey deeply intertwined with the aural one, enhancing the mind-blowing experience with the classic black & white images of forests and wilderness familiarly associated with the band’s own mythology. Agalloch is a powerful entity that fills up the stage with mystical, magical, pagan energy, and what their music does to you is beyond words. All I can say is that I feel sorry for those who feel this band is not good enough (for whatever reason) to enter their personal black metal pantheon, because they are seriously missing out on something special. Live, Agalloch are amongst the untouchables: this IS a 100% pure black metal dimension based on nobility of intent, not on passport. Seriously talented and dedicated musicians, on stage these 4 unassuming guys become something far bigger: natural shamans, conduits of the fascinating mysteries of the natural and astral realms. May their vision continue to shine through the useless, negative garbage that contributes to ignorance, dead-end disillusionment and relentless disrespect for the amazing universe we are part of. Thank you Agalloch!
I could seamlessly carry on from this spiritual journey, experienced from a pagan black metal point of view, to the trance-like/meditational approach of a mighty band like Om, but I choose to cherish my fresh immersive Agalloch memories for a while longer, so I wait for the original, old-school shamans Killing Joke to enter the Main Stage instead. Jaz Coleman and friends, who have recently reiterated on their official site that they don’t want to have anything to do with the anti-life BM crowd who is apparently reclaiming them as progenitors, tonight bring out their newest creations above all, wisely leaving a couple of old-school hits just for dessert. Their latest 2 albums are fantastic and carry a strong, unmistakably positive, pro-active message which is far more important to get across rather than basking on the past glory of their influential early stuff. JK have always spoken about the imminent apocalypse, but with the intent of fighting against those who are bringing it upon us. They still believe we can wake up all together, find our long lost pride and turn things around. I am told that a drunk idiot started to bother guitarist Geordie during the set, booing and throwing a beer at him: I wonder if it was the same obnoxious dickhead who kept mocking and picking on Away for being "old-school”, relentlessly disrupting our interview (coming up!)
Ulver also take a clear political stand tonight, urging people to look back at the ideals of the hippy movement. The old wolves bury once and for good any vestigial correlation with the black metal ideology. Garm walks on stage and immediately intonates: "Love - Love - Love”. Big word, and a lot of shocked faces… This shift has been steady and progressive since a very long time, but perhaps many of their old fans had refused to see it. When I spoke to him a good few months ago, he reiterated that the whole Norse heritage thing for him was important, in as much that he loved the stunning wild and solitary places where he spent his childhood, but he also commented, looking very deeply and seriously with those black eyes: "There are a lot of bad things about our past too, which cannot be overlooked: Viking history is not all about happy times and glory. Humans are all the same and those who don’t acknowledge that, are making a big mistake”. So tonight Ulver present themselves as the messengers of 60s "Peace & Love” ideals by covering songs from the "flower-power era”. The visuals are of course stunning, but I listen to one last Jefferson Airplane number than leave, because I found that the Ulver sound was unable to convey the charm and naivety of the originals.
In between the above huge acts I find the time to enjoy a couple of long tracks from Californian Ancestors, performing on the 013 second stage: the guys are half-way through their glowing performance, and it just feels as if the sun is shining in the room. My goodness, what an aural treat that was: the incredible, lengthy "The Trial” almost takes me to heaven, covering me in tennis ball-size goose-bumps from start to finish… I cannot understand how this band is so underrated, as this is not just about great musicianship but about BIG emotions. If you have not yet heard them, do yourself a favor and look for their latest album "Of Sound Mind” and grab their brand new "In Dreams and Time” for a guitar/keyboard driven journey of mind-blowing beauty and intensity. Fabulous stuff, truly bringing back the magnificent essence of the 60s spirit…
Recovered from the stunning, mind-bending/soul-wrenching sounds of Ancestors, I head down excitedly to the Main Stage pit ready to take in the first installment of Voivod. Well, you know, there are very few life-changing bands that still around today, and this is undoubtedly one of the biggest. It had been a few years since I saw them (supporting The Australian Pink Floyd, would you believe it!) and it was a wonderful treat to find them again with THE line-up almost complete (the much missed Piggy being of course replaced by Dan on guitar). Well tonight they offer a selection from their holy releases, including the unjustly less hip to name-drop "Phobos” and "Outer Limits” (the epic "Jack Luminous” in its entirety!!!). They are in top form, smiling from ear to ear and brimming with energy! Blacky, still looking the same with his long black hair, jumps around like a lunatic as if he were playing in GBH or Discharge; Snake twists and twitches as if possessed by aliens, grinning benevolently to the fans who passionately chant football-stadium style in-between songs; Dan poses like a metal rockstar then laughs, as if to say: you know we are NOT like that, don’t ya?! And then there is Away, the immense Away, sitting on the edge of his stool, smiling like a kid, and miraculously not sweating in spite of the relentless hammering. It’s a pleasure to see him drumming: his style is so unique and tribal (being punk-influenced), and what he manages to get out of his instrument is incredible, as it is kind of incongruent with his laid-back demeanor. Well, it’s a triumph, and for tonight it is all over.
FRIDAY 13TH April
My Friday starts out by meeting up with Dan Kubinski and Erik Tunison of Die Kreuzen, a big influence on Voivod, Piggy especially, and massive for yours truly too. The invite to perform as a band did not materialize (fingers crossed it could happen someday!), but Dan is to sing on stage with Snake tonight. We all set off with Away to his wonderful exhibition, then I am faced by a difficult choice: not only Hexvessel and Nachtmystium are colliding, but lunch with my two hungry old friends, legends and utterly nice guys is definitely also on the cards. So a taste of Kvohst it is, joined by his inseparable lovely consort & friends, delivering tracks from last year’s graceful album in a style completely of their own, then we are off for a pizza.
And while the "dudes” join Voivod backstage, I run to Het Patronaat to enjoy one of the bands I was eager to see: Solstafir! The room is packed since I’m a little late, but I manage to fight for a spot. The Icelanders are in full swing, delivering tonight a set of nearly 2 hours to fit in the amazing recent double album. Their live sound is rich, full of body and yet intensely evocative. It is also undeniable that they have a great presence thanks to one of the coolest and assorted looks around today: Eastwood spaghetti-western style meets Viking strawberry-blond pigtails and ponytails works... Allow me to say that these exotic rockers are very good-looking besides the attire, but their role-playing is goddamn appealing to the eye! The selection of images of their uniquely beautiful land projected onto the backdrop is mesmerizing, which adds to the bewitching sounds they conjure up, which are really tangible, ripe and resonating. They half-apologize for no longer being metal, but the response of the crows is clearly extremely positive: who cares? This is fantastic music that does not need tags, so may they keep producing atmospheres like this for a long time!
From the cold yet stirring embrace of Solstafir, to Dante’s inferno with Seattle’s Black Breath, whose new album "Sentenced to life” I loved. This is incandescent, no bullshit, raw as fuck "crossover” if you allow the basic, old-school word, as it suits them better than all this new meaningless tags that are thrown around today. Vocalist Neil walks onto the smallish stage of the Green Room with a captivating grin on his face, clearly savouring what’s to come. Then they hit us with a wall of explosive crust-drenched, fast and venomous wall of metal, and it’s pandemonium: half of the room becomes a mosh-pit and it’s great fun to endure the fight from the first row. Definitely the most fun and entertaining set of my 2012 Roadburn!
The second and last Voivod installment is about to begin, consisting of the performance of the entire "Dimension Hatröss”, their most technical album to date. Having been awake partying until 5am has a small impact on the band’s energy levels compared to the previous night, but it really matters not! The guys’ charisma and human qualities shine through in full, and for a true Voivod fan what matters above all else is what comes from the heart. Snake shuffles around but his tired smile is warm and happy; Blacky doesn’t jump across the stage like an insane kangaroo but gives all he’s got; Away seems slightly worried but sails through seamlessly; Dan looks the fresher of the bunch, in spite of having a difficult task with a shower of haunting dissonant riffs to perform.
During the show Dan Kubinski realizes what he called "the highlight of his career” (note that he and Die Kreuzen were given a WAMI Hall of Fame Award just last year!) by singing with Snake his own "Man in the Trees” from groundbreaking 1986 album "October File”, track that Voivod covered in a tribute album to the seminal Milwaukee band. Another touching moment is when Snake asks the huge crowd to shout collective well-wishes to their friend and soundman back home, who is suffering from a brain tumor, something that is to be broadcasted on Canadian TV. They are called out for an encore at full lungs, and they said goodbye to their second Roadburn in a row with huge favorite’s Pink Floyd’s cover "Astronomy Domine”. Then they proceeded to thank the crowd, bowing all together to receive the accolade and the love they deserve.
But the night was not over: Away, in his CRASS t-shirt (the night before he was wearing a Broken Bones one) joined us for the much awaited Doom performance starting at 0.30. I wonder how many kids associate this name with the genre and maybe do not bother to investigate any deeper: the Birmingham band is actually stuff of legends, having formed in 1987 as part of the tail-end of the incredible British punk movement that (beginning with Discharge) that singlehandedly invented extreme music and all its sub-genres, including metal, as we know them today. Doom actually gave the seeds, with Extreme Noise Terror (awesome drummer Stick played for both), to fellow Brummies Napalm Death to give shape and fame to what Mick Harris (who by the way performed here as Scorn last year) baptized as grindcore.
Away is and always will be a true punk at heart, so Doom destroys the Patronaat tonight thanks to his personal invite! A d-beat avalanche is hard to describe unless you have been exposed to one in real life. Notoriously, those who witnessed an early Discharge or Conflict gig (to name THE two big daddies) in the early 80s will never find anything matching the supremely devastating, raw, primeval energy of the originals. Luckily Doom is today probably the only band of that era to still play the same uncontaminated, untamed kind of quintessentially British punk, and it is something to be experienced, if only to understand the history of extreme music, metal in particular (Should you not be able to see Doom, as far as contemporary bands go, Anaal Nathrakh live are not too far off, while Fukpig are the biz!). Crowd surfing symbolizes merging yourself into the sea of humanity with Trust – the principle on which the punk ethos stood on (so far from the autistic headbanging of the black metal cynics): the Doom singer jumps into the crowd, as ever, carried across and back onto the stage by his brothers. Punk was a tribe, a family, a dream…
SATURDAY 14TH APRIL
Big day for me, I have Away all for myself during the afternoon, and later my beloved boys Oranssi Pazuzu will ignite their spaceship at the Patronaat. I am late for The Wounded Kings, who sound great from the entrance of the Green Room, by far too packed to try and get in, so I meet the lovely Finns at their merchandise stall, shaking hands happily with Onnto and Jun-His, then peep through the crowd at The Obsessed (Wino is such a handsome man, nice to share a couple of elevator trips with him back at the hotel). I finally take my place in front of the stage with anticipation for the performance I was most excited about at this year’s Roadburn: Oranssi Pazuzu. The array of guitar pedals they have on display is amazing and makes me salivate in anticipation. As the lights turn off and the intro begins, the Pazuzus come out in their stage attire, consisting of plain black clothes for the drummer, the same but with hoods up for the keyboard and lead guitar player, a below-the-knee black coat for the bass player, and a samurai style trouser-gown and a cyber top with spiked sleeves for the vocalist/guitarist. In the darkness of the stage, superbly lit up from the back by psychedelic flood-lights, their figures remain suggestively and mysteriously enveloped in the shadows for most of the time.
The OP spaceship takes off slowly, the music building up denser and eerier, pushing through cosmic clouds of full-on kraut-rock, adding layers as it proceeds into the vastness of space. They seem to merge themselves into the zone by creating this jam-like atmosphere, and then, aided by the suggestive selection of images on the backdrop and the vibrant, acid colors of the lighting, they finally let the psychedelia and the black metal edge come forth with increased magnitude. The waves of Gilmoresque guitar magic are stunning, Moit’s working on his effects and tricks with intensity, his eyes transfixed. I love it when they all turn their backs, becoming like dark alien figures bathed by the milky light of a strange planet. I am of course waiting for "Komeetta” but, to my surprise, it does not stand out as I kind of imagined it would, being such a groovy song, in the OP live dimension, and that is huge credit to the band, because they indeed manage to create such a diverse, all-absorbing tapestry that the set becomes one wonderful journey that flows seamlessly from start to finish. And it is a pity it has to finish: with only two full lengths and an EP, they are insanely precocious and the promise of future greatness is all there. Do not miss them if you have the chance!
How to follow this mesmerizing intergalactic journey? Perhaps Necros Christos and their black magic invocations might be a shortcut to come back to earth through the subterranean swamps of the Styx. Wishful thinking, as the band tonight does not grab me, so I am returning to the Patronaat for a slab of metropolitan post-whatever stuff with the mighty Tombs. The Brooklyn trio stunned a lot of people with "Path of Totality”, adding a deeper layer to their polymorphic array of references by enhancing the blackened edge (an Emperor sticker is noticeable on Mike Hills’ guitar), throwing it into their heavy and wrenching melting-pot. It is a very good indeed band, which on stage still feels very much hardcore, undoubtedly the heart of their genetic make-up, and I am curious to see what the future will bring for this intense and hard-working band. Now a quick look at Jucifer through the doors, sounding venomous and insane across the packed room, then off to bed to try and recover for the last day.
SUNDAY 15TH APRIL
Sunday is home to the Afterburner, this year also sold-out for the first time. Unsurprisingly, as heavy-weights such as the much talked about The Mount Fuiji Doomjazz Corporation, Bongripper, Yob and Black Cobra, fill up nicely the main stage line-up, with Coroner in-between, who sadly bore me quite a lot, although the audience love them. Respect to the Swiss legends is due anyway!
For me today it is all about Urfaust and Dragged into Sunlight. The Dutch duo is the purveyor of a deeply eerie, ritualistic type of occult ambient-black metal. Their recorded music is highly suggestive and twisted, with lyrics in German and, being the fruit of just two people, I was eager to see how it would all translate on stage. The guys set up in a simple way, by placing on the amps stack a statue of Mary, with her face painted like the Grim Reaper, and a bowl of incense; also an iron pentagram is strategically positioned on the floor in front of the drumkit, on which they place a half-empty bottle of vodka: bring on the final tassel of their ethos, intoxication. Drummer VRDRBR is already pretty drunk, and when the set starts he is the one who makes the spectacle, raising his arm to the ceiling, pulling faces of abject horror and bending over the snare as if in a state of deep meditation, while singer/guitarist IX just stands by the mike and concentrates on the singing. Talking of which, on record it never actually struck me as such, but live his voice reminds me often of middle-eastern wailings, so their ritualistic show takes on a very strange and unsettling edge indeed. Gaps between songs are used by the drummer to gulp down assorted types of alcohol, until the sticks fly off his hands and his eyes eventually lose focus. The duo chooses to play in the most basic and amateurish imaginable way, making Varg’s new "back to basics” album sound like Opeth, and this is a catalytic element in the summoning of entrancing and deeply disturbing atmospheres. The military salute at the end crowns the performance. The following day, at Eindhoven airport, I saw 6 black, evil-looking military jets take off like satanic winged hounds, and - shivering - I thought of Urfaust.
To stay on a similarly dark page, Dragged into Sunlight, whose "Hatred for Mankind” made itself noticed in 2009 for the suffocating, punk-tinged nihilistic edge of their black/crust/death sonic attack, and for the sensational cover. Live they go all-out in creating an excruciatingly painful, ritualistic, arty, edgy show, which they perform almost entirely with their backs to the audience, and with as much strobe lighting as Mogwai used many years ago. They bring on stage small deer skulls with antlers and a fine iron stand holding a ram skull: very suggestive, so much so that a sunglasses-wearing young kid in front of the paraphernalia begins to worship shamelessly, creating instantly a precautionary void around him. The set, punctuated by voice samples (this old punk trick is still very suggestive), is extreme, intense, very spare, some would say pretentious. And my god, the drummer is absolutely fantastic: everything revolves around his eclectic and spot-on work, and I am hooked all the way through! The mysterious "J” reminds me of Mike Bordin’s evil spawn (small and dreadlocked he is too!) and at the end I feel like congratulating him for providing this quality show taking me towards the end of my amazing 2012 Roadburn Experience. Bay Area nasties Black Cobra finally destroy to crown a sensational 4-day musical orgy of the highest caliber.
THANK YOU WALTER & YVONNE!