FESTIVAL REVIEW: ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2016 – Day 1 (Thursday)
Every year the small rather cozy town of Tilburg gets shook awake by the droning bass and trippy psych influx of Roadburn Festival. Doom metal and other fringe metal lovers from all around the globe migrate to the small southern Dutch town and settle down on the terraces of its pubs and take roost in the 013 venue across the street. The friendly and laid back atmosphere of the fest brings these globe trotters back to the relatively small festival each and every year, to the joy of the local hospitality industry. This year we at Metal Wani went to have a look and catch some of the excellent vibes.
The first band I properly go to see after not attempting to squeeze into the full main stage when Cult of Luna are playing, is The Skull. Bluesy lugging desert infused American rock n roll, with high pitched squeezed vocals that shout America as much as a bald eagle spray painted onto a big pick-up greeted us from the stage. It’s pretty straightforward but expertly done, though there seem to be some minor vocal issues in the high notes. All in all a pretty good taster to start the day off with as I got reacquainted with Roadburn after a year’s absence.
At festivals you sometimes just have a wander and stumble on new things you’ve never heard of before. For me this was Usnea, a band I just sort of wandered in as they were starting and decided to have a look, still getting my bearings in the beautifully but confusingly renovated 013. What greeted me in the sea of mostly green back-lighting was something gut wrenching and awful in its most excellent form. Wailing at the microphone, almost sinking through his knees Usnea’s singer is a sight to behold and weirdly captivating. This combined with the slow lugging doom background he screams against, it’s a horrendous mix of a simplicity rarely seen.
Hexvessel are a band I got into through Roadburn, and their live show in 2013 converted me to their nature worshipping dark pagan 70’s rock infused altar firmly. I was not overly convinced by their latest offering, for I felt the ritual side they so profoundly had had been neglected in favour of a catchier more 70’s rock influence but knowing them to be a really intense live band I held out good hope. Sadly, though, it seems Matt’s vocals were a little less balmy than they usually are and the main stage set focused heavily on their newer album, which didn’t at all mix or blend well with the older more ritual stuff. While it was still an excellent show in its own right and their music is still a beautiful balance between 70’s folk-rock, psych and a deeper, darker pagan undercurrent, that latter part which so interested me and really set them apart from other acts has diminished too much, especially remembering the serene experience of their set 3 years ago.
Playing a special set, especially early albums in full, is sort of a Roadburn tradition. Every year there are a number of bands that play the festival multiple days, and every year there is a number of sets you would never see anywhere else or see again. Last year Anathema played a backtrack through all of their work, going all the way back to their first works with the original vocalist, and before that we had Opeth peppering old work into their headlining set. This year there were a number of special sets on the menu again, including two Converge sets. The Thursday they played their iconic work Jane Doe in full, and it was an impressive bit of sonic violence. The fact they got a huge crowd at Roadburn wildly banging their heads and even moshing a bit is a testament to the incredibly high energy show these guys put on, as Roadburn crowds are known for being laid back and mellow and not really moshing much. At any other fest the response from the crowd would have involved a ton more stage diving and crowd surfing, but for Roadburn they got an energetic response.
Finally I hurried to catch the Icelandic black metal band Misthyrming, the very young and relatively unknown band who managed to land a spot as artist in residence this Roadburn. Filling the shoes of the likes of the Heads and Neige in previous years may seem like a lot to ask for the 20-somethings from the isolated island in the middle of the northern Atlantic, and when they get on the stage the initial reaction of the crowd curious to see if these lads can fill the hype is that they’re incredibly young. However these guys have no pretence at all, they just do what they do and do it very well. They don’t try to stick to the old and true clichés of Black Metal or return to its Norwegian roots, but they also don’t try to change it into something it’s not as had been a recent trend. They just play Black Metal, in a way they feel it should be, and man is it good. In a certain way they do manage to go back to the core of what black metal was in its beginnings in Norway, a group of young disenfranchised and disillusioned people trying to deal with a cold icy world that has no place for them trough music that freezes the soul and grates your senses in a way not much you’ve seen has before. In some ways it is quintessentially black metal, and in others it is all it’s own, the windswept mountainsides and icy fjords of Iceland translating in its own unique way to their musical medium, unlike the Norwegian frozen forests, this black metal feels more desolate and nihilistic, more forlorn and alone, as instead of the high pitched screaming the lyrics are generally shouted against the torrent of the music. For me they filled those large shoes just fine.
As mentioned before there is a tradition at Roadburn to play special sets of older work albums. Paradise Lost honoured this tradition by playing ‘Gothic´ in full. Being the main stage headliner they had a lot riding on them. Sadly though Misthyrming were a hard act to follow, and even harder when you don’t have the biggest stage presence in the world. The veteran band are known for their utter deadpan humor, but it seemed to mostly go over the heads of the gathered crowd. Sadly they don’t impress me much, while I was really looking forward to seeing them play. I attempted my best, but after the female vocals turned out to be a tape, the mix being very bassy and obscuring the more delicate details in the music; and the guitars going off on the slower parts, yet mysteriously sounding great again when faster licks were played, I gave up and ducked out disappointed.
Finally we have Black Mountain on the main stage who have played Roadburn before and are a very solid live band in the tradition of the latest wave of psychedelic retro rock. However their stage presence seemed bland and bored at best and when you’re good but not special, and there isn’t a lot of passion coming off the stage to convince me, my head wanders especially after the amount of impressions I’ve had on this first day back on planet Roadburn. I caught a few comments on how their last show at Roadburn was much better from other attendees and decided to call live bands a night, and go dance and have a few drinks with friends at the basement after party.