When my alarm went off this afternoon, it was with both excitement and a touch of apprehension that I considered the prospect of what today would bring Roadburn 2012, Day Three. Saturday, April 14. I looked at my pocket schedule — no fancy printouts or cellphone PDFs for me — and took a deep breath, steeling myself against the truly monolithic.
I’m sure the stories differ almost on a per-attendee basis, but my version of the final day of Roadburn proper went like this: Mike Scheidt, 40 Watt Sun, Dark Buddha Rising, Church of Misery, Pelican, The Wounded Kings, The Obsessed, Mars Red Sky, Sleep. If I was still standing, I wouldn’t know how.
The noon alarm gave me a little more time to get my head around what I was going to see, whereas the last two days it’s been up and go. Time well spent, since I was about to embark on the busiest day of this entire trip, a wave-crest culmination of everything that the last week-plus has been building toward. Fitting it should end with Sleep, since without them I and most of these bands probably wouldn’t be here. What now feels like aeons before the gods ascended their Olympus, however, Saturday afternoon began at 15.00 with Mike Scheidt in the Stage01 room.
Not 24 hours after YOB laid waste to the entire city of Tilburg performing all of The Unreal Never Lived, Scheidt, the guitarist, vocalist and driving force behind that band, emerged on 013‘s smallest stage to play acoustic songs from his upcoming Thrill Jockey solo release, Stay Awake — words which are also tattooed across his two hands, facing up for him to read. He got on stage talking about how excellent Doom had been the night prior and was soon in the thick of a spoken intro to a song called “Until the End of Everything.” I’ve heard the album a few times in preparation for a review, and it takes some of YOB‘s sonic mysticism into account on “Until the End of Everything” and a few other tracks, but Scheidt was careful as well to acknowledge singer-songwriter roots, alternating between finger-picking strings and a rhythmic strum that was familiar to many in the room in its construction.
He’s still clearly working out the approach he wants to take to the form, and said on stage as well that performing acoustic was a recent advent for him and that he was very much enjoying it, but as he dug into the throatier vocals on the closing title-track to Stay Awake, there was little to no perceptible temerity or lack of confidence in what he was doing. The songs sounded better live than they do on the record, but most importantly, there’s room for Scheidt to grow and explore new ideas outside the context of YOB, which at this point have established at least in part the palette from which they continue to refine their sound. That is, they have a “sound” they continue to refine, whereas Scheidt is still finding out what he wants to be as a solo artist, and seeing that unfold on stage was engaging.
Main room openers 40 Watt Sun had been on my list to see since I missed them when they came through New York last year, so when Scheidt was finished, I took the not-at-all-a-secret passageway from Stage01 and prepared myself to get sad. That’s what 40 Watt Sun do. Their doom is as much contingent on emotional weight — if not more — than tonal, and that could be heard as well on last year’s The Inside Room (review here). That puts them in a tight spot in terms of a stage show, however, since they’re basically limited then to how much they can really get into a show experience before undercutting the pervasive emotionality of the music. To work at all, they almost have to be boring to watch on stage. You can’t have some dude doing jumping jacks and playing a song like “Carry Me Home.”
Well, you could, but you’d probably get laughed at. 40 Watt Sun relied on the music to carry their ideas across on stage, and the songs had enough presence to make up for any fireworks that may have been absent otherwise. Vocalist/guitarist Patrick Walker (ex-Warning) was visceral in his presentation of the material, or perhaps “wrenching” would be a better word. In any case, they managed to make an entire concert hall of burly beardos miss their wives and girlfriends at the same time. Maybe that’s just me projecting. Fair enough. Before they were done, and before I actually allowed myself to feel something (yuck), I made my way into the Green Room to catch the start of Finnish blackened doomers Dark Buddha Rising, whose theatrics were of a much different and more, uh, theatrical variety.
Until they came out on stage and I recognized faces, I didn’t know this, but Dark Buddha Rising shares at least two of its members with Hexvessel, who played yesterday. While that adds a level of intrigue into the initial discovery of who they are, it says nothing about how much the two acts have in common, which in turn is just about nothing. Dark Buddha Rising take the ritual Hexvessel preach and bring it to corpsepainted life, their frontman/noise-manipulator doused himself in “blood” from a chalice as he screamed and worked a wah pedal with his hand to add to the rumbling ferocity of noise from the guitar, bass and drums. I could take or leave that side of it — the stage show — but they had the doom to back it up. Lumbering, lurching, crawling malevolence came out to turn the Green Room black, and the music was more powerful than any chalice could contain. Vinyl-only to an apparent point of religiosity, it made me sad to not immediately go buy everything they had on their table in the merch area. Fortunately, I had Church of Misery to help drown my sorrows.
Drown them they did. Or maybe they smothered them. Or stabbed them. Or blasted them with a sawed-off shotgun. Whatever it was, Church of Misery‘s murderous grooves “took care of” any and all residual woes and rolled them up in a rug, never to be seen again. Unfortunately, there were a few technical difficulties for bassist Tatsu Mikami. Fortunately, they happened right during the jam part of “El Padrino,” so guitarist Tom Sutton got to just play out the “na na na” riff for about four extra minutes while the stage crew brought out a new bass head. That wasn’t the last of Mikami‘s troubles, but those things are unavoidable sometimes, and it’s not like Church of Misery have never played Roadburn and probably won’t again next year. If you’ve got to have a house band, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
Once they were up and running again, Church of Misery had the main stage crowd already well on their (meat)hook. The new vocalist, whose name I still don’t know, made an excellent master of ceremonies, and though I left for a bit in the middle to get a quick bite, I was back in time to see them finish out in riotous form, making way for Chicagoan instrumentalists Pelican, whose new EP, Ataraxia/Taraxis, is the first release from the band since 2009’s What We all Come to Need (review here) brought back around some of the escapist atmospherics that peppered their earliest works while also remaining consistently and consciously heavy. I remember seeing them on the “Champions of Sound” tour with Scissorfight at the old Knitting Factory in New York, and though I know I’ve encountered them between then and now, that will always be my frame of reference. At some point, then, Pelican grew up.
As they played, I turned my head to look at the crowd behind me, and all there was was a sea of nodding heads. They still had plenty of energy on stage, but at the same time, Pelican was a fully mature band, who’ve earned their spot between Church of Misery and The Obsessed. The main room was jammed with people, and Pelican handed each one a bleeding eardrum. Their grooves were huge, the sound was reverberating off the walls in a massive hum, and they didn’t let up. It wasn’t just impressive. It was landmark, and it renewed my appreciation for what they do. I wasn’t even that excited to see them, thinking there was no way they’d be able to replace that Knitting Factory show in my mind, but they absolutely did. It’s like they realized they didn’t need to choose between being heavy and being ambient or melodic. They crushed, and in a way that I didn’t think they were capable of or interested in crushing. That was the most surprising part of all.
On my list of “must” bands, The Wounded Kings ranked pretty high. I’d missed them last time they were here, and what with their having a totally different lineup now, showing up at the Green Room seemed more than prudent. Guitarist Steve Mills, who is the only founding member of the band, led The Wounded Kings through a round of songs from 2011’s In the Chapel of the Black Hand, which is appropriate since that’s the only record that four of the five in the lineup played on. Vocalist Sharie Neyland had a bit of vibrato to her voice that was well matched by the rumble of Jim Willumsen‘s bass, and Mills — who’s been through his share of trials in getting the band to this point — seemed thoroughly satisfied with the fruits of his labor. They were an interesting comparison point to Dark Buddha Rising, since both bands could probably be classified as occult doom, but each has a drastically different take than the other on what that designation might mean.
As a singer, Neyland puts The Wounded Kings on a new level entirely, and I feel now having seen them live as I felt when I reviewed the record, which is I hope the lineup stays consistent. Drummer Mike Heath and guitarist Alex Kearney only added to the potency of the other players, and it seemed the atmosphere was set from the outset and maintained the whole way through. The Green Room was full too, and then some, and considering Pelican was still going in the main stage and Leaf Hound was at Het Patronaat, it’s safe to say The Wounded Kings have made some real fans along the way on their bumpy road to this point. Mills works quick — for instance, this lineup of the band was put together and an album was released in a year’s time — so hopefully it’s not too long before we get another glimpse inside their house of horrors.
By this time in the day, my back and forth was in full swing. I’d gone from Stage01 to the main room, to the Green Room, to the main room, to dinner, back to the main room, to the Green Room, and now was headed back to the main room again for The Obsessed‘s reunion set. It takes a toll, both physically and in terms of what you see, but the tradeoff is you see more bands. Whereas yesterday I got to get more of a feel forwhat everyone was doing — I saw full sets from Wino & Conny Ochs, Conan and YOB — today and Day One were a different kind of experience. Obviously one still full of enjoyment and thrills, they just come in more rapid-fire procession. I’ll admit too that although I did a lot of running around today — I mean a lot — the weekend was beginning even early this afternoon to extract its toll on my energy level.
I’m not bitching. I hope you won’t take that to mean it that way, but I think fatigue, being worn out, is part of the festival experience and worth talking about. I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else for the duration of today — or this weekend as a whole, for that matter — but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make two trips to the espresso machine in the merch area this afternoon to gear up for the evening’s lineup. The second time, I put in two 50 Euro cents and got a double. It had to be done, because the fact of the matter is it’s not every day that The Obsessed get on stage and do a show. Roadburn seemed to know it, too, since when I came back into the main room for the set, the curtain was drawn.
This led me to wonder what they could possibly be hiding. The lineup, if I’m not mistaken, was announced beforehand as being drummer Greg Rogers and bassist Guy Pinhas alongside vocalist/guitarist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, so I’m not sure what was to be gained by drawing the giant curtain as the gear was loaded in and line checked. I didn’t expect much of a stage show, no explosions or dancing elephants, when The Obsessed got started, and sure enough, it was just the three of them rocking out those old songs. Once they actually began playing, though, I changed my mind about the curtain. It was awesome, and the reunion was special enough to warrant it. Once they hit into “Streetside,” I thought I tore my groove muscle — not to be confused with my “love muscle,” which is pretty much my forearm (heyo!).
Pinhas thanked the audience profusely and sounded utterly sincere, and he and Rogers nailed the material. It’s been since 1995 that The Obsessed played a set, though Weinrich worked Obsessed songs into his Wino trio performances, but if reunions from the likes of Saint Vitus and Sleep have shown anything, it’s that doom ages well. Getting to see The Obsessed play was one more really special occurrences that I’ve gotten to take part in on this trip, and I followed it up immediately by watching Mars Red Sky in the Green Room. It cost me part of The Obsessed‘s set, but after being so jealous of The Patient Mrs.‘ having seen them in Portland, Oregon, I had to follow up by seeing them for myself. The three-piece was positively humble and unassuming as they came out and started off their set with “Falls” from last year’s self-titled debut.
Guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist Jimmy Kinast have a new drummer in the lineup, as of reportedly two weeks ago, but the songs were smooth as they ran through them — “Strong Reflection,” the Kinast-vocal “Marble Sky,” “Curse” and a new song they didn’t give a title for but that seemed to show them heading further in the direction of balancing weighted tones with laid back grooves. You won’t hear me complain. It was one time this weekend where I can truly say that no one in the room was there by accident. Right across the hallway, you had The Obsessed rocking out songs that are legendary in doom, and yet the Green Room was full of heads come to worship at the warm fuzz coming from Pras‘ amp. For me, I’ll liken it to seeing Sungrazer at Roadburn last year, both in terms of the warmth of distortion and the equally rich satisfaction I got from doing so. They weren’t the highest profile act of the evening by any stretch, but Mars Red Sky were a highlight of my weekend (and with a weekend of highlights, that’s saying something), and I knew going into it that they would be.
Nonetheless, they were not the cap on the night. A mammoth, feedback-drenched, earth-rattling set from Sleep would follow back once more in the main room. Matt Pike, Al Cisneros and Jason Roeder. I’m honestly not sure if anything else needs to be said than that. Yeah, they’re not the full original trio of the band (though I’ve never heard anyone who’s actually seen Roeder drum on these songs complain; some conceptual kvetching), and yeah, nobody’s as young as they used to be, myself included, but goddamn, you put these guys on a stage and you better be sure your walls are reinforced. Doing one of their several extended sections of nothing but feedback and vibrating washes of noise, I found myself looking up at the 013 ceiling to see if anything was going to shake loose and fall on the crowd. I’m not kidding. I had my escape route all planned out — onto the stage, through the side door, out the loading dock. Off to safety I go.
It didn’t come to that, thankfully, but Sleep were at a pretty high threat level. High enough so that my earplugs did me no good whatsoever and my ears are ringing now. Before they even started — before his amps were even turned on — Pike came out and just started playing to the crowd. There was no sound, and he looked a little smashed, but even on mute, he earned vehement cheers. Before long, that solo turned into a mash of noise that, in turn, turned into the start of “Dopesmoker.” “Drop out of life with bong in hand/Follow the smoke toward the riff filled land” — words that have become the granite into which Sleep‘s legacy is carved, and I don’t mind saying I got chills up my spine as Al Cisneros delivered the lines. He did smoke a joint on stage, oh yes, and got a laugh by saying, “This intermission is brought to you by The Grass Company,” which is just down the street from 013 here in Tilburg. I don’t smoke, but I did suddenly want to order five shots and down them all; the music begging its adherents to be fucked up one way or another, I suppose.
Pike teased the opening riff of “Dragonaut” and a shockwave of electricity went through the crowd, and when they actually did it, it was glorious. Likewise “Holy Mountain” and “From Beyond,” both of which were just a huge, wondrous mess of abrasive noise and painful volume. The vocals weren’t the kind of shouts one hears when listening to Sleep’s Holy Mountain, or even Dopesmoker, but Cisneros was loyal to the songs all the same, vocally and musically, playing way up high on the neck of his five-string Rickenbacker, and where after seeing them in Brooklyn in 2010, I was unsure as to how the conflicting stage presences of Pike (a drunken madman) and Cisneros (a weedian guru) might play out correspondingly in their personal relationship, tonight they seemed absolutely on the same page with each other and with Roeder as the essential third of the band. One shudders at the possibility of a new album.
They went long, as I guess one will do when one is Sleep, and I had a laugh when they finished and the 1972 Charles Bronson movie The Mechanic came on the huge screen that was behind the band. Years ago, I interviewed Matt Pike for one of High on Fire‘s records — I think it was Blessed Black Wings — in person in Philadelphia, and afterwards at a bar, he told a story of being sat down as a child, I believe by his father, and being made to watch that very film since it was, “Everything you need to know about being a man.” Of course as soon as I could I got the DVD and watched it. It’s the story of two hitmen, a mentor and his protegé, and rife with betrayal, murder and a bizarre — and indeed, inherently masculine — code of honor that bonds its protagonists. Jan-Michael Vincent was the younger hitman. Anyway, the nod to The Mechanic gave me a chuckle as I worked my way through the beaten throng of Roadburners and out of the main room.
A Heavy Jam session with members of Witch and Earthless loomed ahead, but not for me. For me, it was back to the hotel to put the cap on this three-day exercise in riff worship. I’m not finished yet. Tomorrow is the Afterburner, and that’s got Electric Orange, Internal Void, and YOB doing all of Catharsis, among others, so I’m not yet in full-on reflection mode (not to mention it’s three in the damn morning), but suffice it to say for the time being that there’s a reason people come from around the world to play and attend this festival, and it’s because there’s only one Roadburn. It’s been exhausting, but it’s been a thrill too, and I’m looking forward to wrapping things up tomorrow with one more round of getting my ass handed to me at the Afterburner. Here’s to it.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.
40 Watt Sun
Dark Buddha Rising
Church of Misery
The Wounded Kings
Mars Red Sky
Sleep40 Watt Sun, Church of Misery, Dark Buddha Rising, Desertfest & Roadburn Adventure 2012, Mars Red Sky, Mike Scheidt, Pelican, Roadburn 2012, Sleep, The Obsessed, The Wounded Kings