04.16.16 — 00:40 — Hotel room, Tilburg
When I got in from the show last night, I triumphantly tore my wristband off in accomplishment of having put down day one of Roadburn 2016. Then I looked at the thing and saw it was for all four days. So first thing this morning, obviously enough, was to get a new pass. Needless to say, sheepish grins abounded, but as ever, the Roadburn crew was nothing but delightful and accommodating in the extreme. For the hours of fretting I did about it, was done in about five seconds, then off the finish putting together the second issue of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, which you can read here.
That process was less smooth, but better than yesterday, and I got excused from folding pages in time to catch the beginning of Hexvessel and Arktau Eos‘ collaborative set at Het Patronaat. On the Main Stage, it was the Lee Dorrian-curated ‘Rituals for the Blind Dead Pt. 1,’ but that wouldn’t be starting up for a while yet, so Hexvessel & Arktau Eos felt like it was snuck in as a bonus for anyone who showed up early. Plenty of people did, and were greeted by robe-donned, incense-burning ritualism, the group performing a special set called “Mirror Dawn” in honor of Arktau Eos‘ debut album, Mirrorion, and Hexvessel‘s debut album, Dawnbearer, from which it drew its source material.
Flourishes of ritual bowls, keys, violin, acoustic and electric guitar, synth, various bone-looking rattlers and percussion instruments, a carved horn of some sort, but the shrouded Arktau Eos, it was a deeply ambient beginning to the day, patient on the cusp of droning but with stronger currents running under the still-seeming waters. It was clearly a work of passion — I’d be interested to hear it recorded; will attend the hopeful arrival of the audio stream — and distinct completely from what Hexvessel brought to the Main Stage with their set yesterday (review here) in a way that only made it more engrossing to witness. Something special for Roadburn to start the afternoon.
When I left Patronaat, it was to begin a succession of one band into the next that would define the better part of a remarkably busy day. Mondo Drag were going on in the Green Room. Diamanda Galás would follow shortly after on the Main Stage, so I headed across the alley to the 013 and hit the Green Room on the quick to get a feel for what Mondo Drag were up to, and was struck almost immediately by the clarity of their tones, but the weight they still carry. I felt fortunate to have been familiar with their new RidingEasy album, The Occultation of Light (review here), since it features the current lineup of keyboardist/vocalist John Gamino, guitarists Jake Sheley and Nolan Girard (the latter also synth), bassist Andrew O’Neil and drummer Ventura Garcia, and the live versions of songs like “The Eye” and “Out of Sight” mirrored the chemistry the band as they are today showcased on the record.
It’s almost like a second debut for Mondo Drag in that, but as they melded those cuts with “Zephyr” and “Plumajilla” from last year’s self-titled LP (review here), there was no less ownership of that material, which featured on record what would become the rhythm section of Blues Pills when it was recorded in the Midwest, where the band lived before moving to the West Coast. Either way, Mondo Drag have clearly worked out their niche sound-wise and are engaged in the process of developing that in the textures of the dual guitars and keys and the classic feel of their songwriting. I’d see a lot of psychedelia as the day went on, but catching Mondo Drag for the first time was a thrill for sure. They sound like a band that is going to keep growing.
During the latter portion of their set, I popped over to the Main Stage to bear witness to Diamanda Galás. The grand dame of the avant garde has a few ground rules for playing. They included: No photos (signs were posted), no bars open (they even turned off the lights), and no leaving until the song in progress was finished. Far more free-thinking in her creative spirit, Galás took the stage alone, with a baby grand piano and proceeded to tear gaping holes in sonic convention, her astonishing range matched only by her will to push it to its limits, pulling elements from folk-blues and moving into and out of language for roughly 70 experimentalist minutes. It may have been one of the bravest sets I’ve ever seen at Roadburn — or at least the bravest since Wovenhand in 2011 (review here) — but she kept an impressive portion of the crowd with her for the entire hour-ten, while others waited for the song to end so they could switch out with those waiting on the other side of the door.
I myself went back and watched Mondo Drag finish their set, visited the merch area again when they were done, and still made it back in time to catch the end of Diamanda Galás. All of this was done in anticipation of the next stage in the afternoon/evening’s back and forth, which would see me push from Repulsion to Death Alley to With the Dead to Hills with nary a breath between before catching some of G.I.S.M. and closing out my night with Black Moon Circle and Peter Pan Speedrock, one into the next. There were moments of respite between some sets, but most of it was right in a row. Beats stopping, I guess. No regrets, in any case, though I did sacrifice catching solo sets from Neurosis‘ own Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly in the process, but I saw Kelly in Chicago back in November (review here) and I did some quick math and decided I’d be way likelier to run into Von Till again before Repulsion, so went that way.
Bassist/vocalist Scott Carlson was kind enough to let me have a look at the setlist, which consisted almost entirely of cuts from Repulsion‘s 1989 debut, only album and mega-classic, Horrified. You know why? Because when you fucking have Horrified, you don’t need anything else. Repulsion was most definitely not closing any bars. In fact, I think a few new ones opened as they tore into the fleshy bits of classics like “Eaten,” “Slaughter,” “Six Feet Under,” “Repulsion,” and “Horrified” itself. Carlson remarked from the stage that Horrified was recorded 30 years ago (in 1986), and he and guitarist Matt Olivo seemed to relish the opportunity to bring them out again. Does it still count as nostalgia when the songs are about cannibals? These and many more important questions were answered.
With Chris Moore (formerly of Magrudergrind, among others) on drums, Repulsion was as filthy and raging as one could’ve possibly hoped, Carlson noting before “Bodily Dismemberment” that he and Olivo wrote the song in Death guitarist/vocalist Chuck Schuldiner‘s bedroom while Evil Chuck was out working at Del Taco. Easily the best story I heard from the stage today. When they were done, it was time for Death Alley in the Green Room, which was probably my most anticipated set of the day, foremost because I so very much dug their debut LP, last year’s Black Magick Boogieland (review here), but also because it was billed as Death Alley + Friends, which signaled to me a high potential for some psych weirdness to go with their driving heavy rock and proto-thrash. Add to that the fact that the first time I saw the band was at the Hardrock Hideout in 2014, and basically I wasn’t missing them for anything.
After a line check with all six parties on stage, they started the set with just the core four-piece lineup — vocalist Douwe Truijens, guitarist/backing vocalist Oeds Beydals, bassist/backing vocalist Dennis Duijnhouwer and drummer Ming Boyer — and dove headfirst into their cover of Hawkwind‘s “Motorhead” (premiered here) to begin a kinetic thrust that would only increase in energy as it went along. They were fucking awesome, flat out. I could go on and on in overindulgent language about how righteous Death Alley‘s take on heavy has become, and how expansive, in the two years since I last saw them, but it boils down to the same thing. After the title-track from Black Magick Boogieland, “The Fever” and “Stalk Eyed,” they brought out guitarists Ron van Herpen (also of Astrosoniq, formerly of The Devil’s Blood, currently of ZooN) and Jevin de Groot, who was a bandmate of Duijnhouwer‘s in the wildly underrated — remind me sometime to tell you about how frickin’ underrated they were — cosmic doom outfit Mühr.
The resulting sextet incarnation of Death Alley brought extra fullness of sound and all-out swirl to two cuts that seemed newer, “II’s On” an “Feeding the Lions,” before rounding out with a triumphantly spacious rendition of “Supernatural Predator,” the band three-guitar, pull-the-earplugs-out psych-jamming their way farther out and out and out into the cosmos, utterly hypnotizing the Green Room as they went, Beydals, Truijens and Duijnhouwer sharing the vocal duties that Farida Lemouchi performed on the record — before, with nothing more than a few snare hits from Boyer, they masterfully turned the jam on its head and dug back into the space-rocking-push of the song’s central riff to finish out. A surge of electricity went through the room. They’d wind up being my band of the day, hands down, and the really good news is they play another set on Sunday, closing out the fest where it all began, at Cul de Sac.
As Death Alley were spacing out in the Green Room, With the Dead took the Main Stage for what I think was their third show ever, the four-piece including the day’s curator Lee Dorrian, of Rise Above Records and Cathedral fame (to start with) as well as new drummer Alex Thomas (ex-Bolt Thrower), and new bassist Leo Smee (formerly of Cathedral) in addition to guitarist Tim Bagshaw, whose tone was as grime-coated as I recalled it being when I saw him with Ramesses here in 2011. They played the bulk of their 2015 self-titled debut (review here), including “Living with the Dead” and “The Cross” and “Nephthys.” Come to think of it, it might’ve been the whole record. They had an hour and only have the one album, so, you know, you have to make the most of the time.
Even apart from their pedigree — and I’ll readily admit that it’s difficult to separate these guys from their pedigree — With the Dead‘s material is devastatingly heavy, and Dorrian‘s sneer was as true to the dirt coming from Bagshaw and Smee‘s amps as the riffs were raw and oppressive. Seemingly on the other end of the spectrum entirely, but really only back in the Green Room, after Death Alley finished with the aforementioned jam, Sweden’s Hills followed-up with ultra-groovy heavy psych of their own. The poorly kept secret is that they’re the same band as Goat (though whether all or in part, I don’t know), but if it’s Hills‘ brand of laid back kosmiche or Goat‘s afrobeat-inspired costumed throb, I’ll take the former every time. Sans pretense, they were in a fully molten state by the time they got around to the title-track from 2011’s Master Sleeps, having brought out Svensk Psych Aften label owner and promoter Sven Kruppa for a guest vocal spot earlier in the set that felt kind of random, but in such an open context could hardly be considered out of place.
There was a lot to dig about them, from the trance-inducing aspects to the custom visuals, but it was the peace-through-jam serene atmosphere they proffered that most struck me. At the same time, they weren’t quiet — or at least not all the time — and they had energy in their delivery. A lot to dig, but sadly no merch to buy. I was hoping to pick up a CD of last year’s Frid, which is sold out online, but no dice. Apparently you can believe what you read on the internet. While a take-home version of their mesmeric, pulsating and still definitively laid back space rock wasn’t forthcoming, the vibe they set was enjoyable in the moment, though it would soon enough be back to extremity as I got a sampling of G.I.S.M. on the Main Stage.
Granted, it was somewhat obligatory. G.I.S.M. were formed 35 years ago and this marked first show in 14 years and their first show ever outside their native Japan. Showing up wasn’t really optional. I didn’t have quite the same nostalgia factor as I did for Repulsion, but many, many others certainly did, and I watched as G.I.S.M. showcased punk extremity that underscored just how broad Roadburn‘s spectrum has become. I was waiting to close out the night with Black Moon Circle, at Extase, and Peter Pan Speedrock in the Green Room, so I went up to the balcony in the Main Stage room and sat back for the end of G.I.S.M., which of course was no less furious than the start had been.
I knew I was missing Pentagram, and that’s not nothing. But every Roadburn means hard choices, and since Black Moon Circle are Norwegian and Peter Pan Speedrock are playing their last shows — allegedly — ever on their current European tour, priority was given. No regrets. With Roadburn regular Scott “Dr. Space” Heller joining the trio, Black Moon Circle were a more grounded answer to Hills, but still plenty jammy when it came down to it. Dr. Space, whose synth is a swirl factory in itself, always helps in that regard — one recalls his set with Carlton Melton a couple years back — and while I was only there for a short while, and I spent a goodly portion of that trying to get my camera to focus in the mostly darkened Extase, which turned down its lights to allow for Black Moon Circle‘s psychedelic oil lightshow, as well as thinking about how I need to get a review up for their new album, Sea of Clouds, they were a pleasure to watch. I had a hard time pulling myself away.
Motivation in the end, though, was that Peter Pan Speedrock, the Eindhoven trio who’ve been blasting out mission-in-the-name heavy punk for over 20 years, are preparing to retire. They’ve got fest dates booked into the summer and more shows in the fall announced, so I don’t know when they’re actually doing that, but from what I hear, it’s true nonetheless. I’d never seen them before, but in about 20 seconds, the sprint was at full speed and guitarist Peter van Elderen seemed to be out to earn the two-decades of reputation again as quickly as possible, manic in his motion from front to back of the stage, foot up on the monitor, standing on the barricade to play directly to the audience, whatever it might’ve been as drummer Bart Nederhand and bassist Bart Geevers locked in grooves with no room left for questions.
Songs came and went in short, intense bursts, and if this, as my first indoctrination to Peter Pan Speedrock live, is also to be my last, then I’m glad at least I got to see the band once. I was clearly in the minority in that, by the way. Granted, Eindhoven’s only a few towns over from Tilburg, but between singing along to the Hank Williams track that served as their intro to starting a mosh pit in the Green Room, it was abundantly clear that the majority in attendance were more experienced than I when it came to seeing the band. Fair enough for the near-hometown heroes. The last shows I saw booked for them are in November. Never say never, but if they are done, that’s a loss.
Hardly a bummer ending to the night, though. They were far too upbeat and kick-your-ass for that. There was more going on afterwards, but I needed to get back and get writing, so I made my way through the crowd and out, down a busy Weirdo Canyon and back to the hotel. Tomorrow starts bright and early and ends dark and late, but promises plenty of incredible sights and sounds between. Fortunately I kept my wristband on this time.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.