Posted in Features on April 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you want to count their time in Europe, The Midnight Ghost Train have been on tour since February supporting their third album and Napalm Records debut, Cold was the Ground (review here). Their current US tour began on April 10 in Indianapolis and will continue through May 16. Guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss — joined in the band by drummer Brandon Burghart and bassist Mike Boyne — has started a tour diary that will run here through the end of this stint and who knows for how long after. If the last several years have shown anything, it’s that The Midnight Ghost Train never veer too far from the road they’ve taken as their home.
Not sure how often updates are going to come in, but I’ll post them when they show. Enjoy:
Mea Culpa 1
Hey it’s Steve from The Midnight Ghost Train. So we were told to write about our time on this tour. Keep a sort of journal accounting for what we are doing during these long days/months while we are on the road. Here it goes. I’ll call these entries “Mea Culpa,” which is Latin for “through my fault,” which means if you don’t like these entries, well then it’s my fault.
So far this album release tour has been excellent for promoting our new album. The European part of the tour was very successful and now we are currently on the USA portion. We are about a little over a week into it. Tackled a couple cities in the Midwest and in the north and making our way down the West Coast now. Last night we played Portland. Not a very good turnout at all. Apparently it was supposed to be a sold out show but two bands dropped off and they had to scramble to get two other bands on the bill at the last minute. We don’t have a huge following in Portland so we were counting on these other bands to bring a big crowd. But they didn’t, big bummer. You can’t win them all.
Had to get one of our bass rigs fixed in Portland. Our buddies at Arcane Amplification are masters when it comes to fixing amps. But unfortunately they didn’t have all the right parts and had to order them. So they kept the power amp and are gonna ship it to us somewhere during this tour once it’s fixed. Something is ALWAYS breaking. Whether it be amps, the van, guitars, or our hearts, haha. It’s always something. Money never stays in the bank account very long when you play music as a full-time gig. We are used to the constant guff.
We stayed in crack central last night in Portland. 3AM, crackheads banging on doors, walking around half naked screaming at each other and trying to score. This morning was ridiculous when we took our guitars out from the hotel room and put them in the back of the van. The crackies surrounded us, “Are you in a band?” “No we are not, get the fuck outta here.” There’s a tip for bands on the road. NEVER tell people you’re in a band, you will either get into a 20-minute conversation, them trying to find out everything in god’s name about your band, or tell you about their shitty band they tried starting 15 years ago, or they will just try to rip you off. So it’s better to just be an asshole and scare them away so they don’t try something. ‘Cause it will happen.
We are headed down to San Francisco right now. Tomorrow we have a day off so we are going to a Giants and Dodger game in San Fran. I’m a gigantic baseball fan so I love dragging the dudes to baseball games on our days off. Not into any other sports just baseball. It’s the only thing that helps me relax and take my mind off of this insane life that we chose for us. We suck at everything else so we knew we had to be musicians. Burned all of our bridges so we could never retreat and didn’t allow ourselves to have a backup plan. ‘Cause trust me, if I had a backup plan I would’ve taken it along time ago. So bring on the guff… We got nothing else.
The Midnight Ghost Train, Cold was the Ground (2015)
Next weekend, Mississippi Studios in Portland, Oregon, plays host to the three-night Stumpfest IV. The festival, organized by Rynne Stump, has become a staple of the Pacific Northwest’s fertile heavy underground, and this year is no different. Headlined by familiar names from the region like Danava, YOB, Big Business, Lord Dying and Sandrider, its reach has only expanded in its years of operation, and with a near-infinite supply of heavy acts to choose from in the Pacific Northwest at the moment — oh wait, six new bands just formed right this second — there seems to be no shortage of fodder for Stump and her compatriots to show their dedication to the cause. With Norska, Sons of Huns, Graves at Sea, Muscle and Marrow, and others on the bill, Stumpfest IV retains a commitment both geographic and stylistic, and its admirable mission has earned it increasing acclaim each year.
Now eight months pregnant and looking forward to the birth of her first son, Stump somehow found time between final fest preparations and packing a hospital bag to answer The Obelisk Questionnaire, and her efforts are appreciated. Enjoy:
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Rynne Stump
How did you come to do what you do?
A lot of doing what the hell I wanted and not listening to other people or caring what people thought of me too much. Making my own decisions in life gave me the courage to take risks and be accountable for myself and my mistakes. Following my heart got me where I am and I wouldn’t change one damn bit of it. Of course it helped having parents and sisters who support me and accept my attitude. My father was a musician and he taught me music, how to listen to it, the language of harmony, and how to sing and perform. My mother taught me how to craft, create and to work hard. To not give up no matter what was against us. To never, ever let someone’s opinion of me affect who I really am inside.
Most importantly, if you are raised to be yourself and supported to be your unique self you will have your own life to be proud of no matter what!
Describe your first musical memory.
My dad waking me up out of bed when I was super tiny to listen to a record. I wish I remembered which record that was. He said to me, “Listen to the bass! Listen to the guitar! Hear that harmony, Zipper?” Then he took me outside to gaze upon the moon. This happened regularly in my house in my first years of life.
Also, performing at the Southern Indiana bluegrass festival Bean Blossom with my dad and sister Sara in my diapers that is a pretty intense first musical memory.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
There are too many to count! In addition to putting on Stumpfest every year, I am also a musician. Some of my best musical memories come from performing with my band leader Craig Elkins. To me, communication on a musical level is absolute! The energy, connection and elevation can take you beyond the moon! Plus, we just harmonize like angels together and we laugh at ourselves constantly. Song birding it up with Craig is the BEST!
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
Daily, our beliefs are tested all the time. How we recover from this defines our character and strengthens our bond to our own spirituality.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
Artistic progression is the higher evolution of ourselves and our souls. Through it, we can lead others toward their own elevated states of being and influence a positive reaction.
How do you define success?
Finding the happiness in all things. Attaining grounded, self-assured happiness allows us to know ourselves better, laugh at ourselves, forgive and love ourselves. When we do this we can connect fully with others and to do positive things for the universe. That is success in my eye. The idea of Stumpfest was to gather old friends together to do just that, and we have seen success every year.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
Everything we see shapes us; our experience, our perspectives, our minds, who we are and who we become. Although things we see can harm our fragile egos we can take every experience and make ourselves better from the exposure. I am thankful for psychedelics, which help us to see things in multidimensional perspectives. They open our minds beyond the plane of consciousness that we operate in daily and further connect us to ourselves, others and the great unknown.
There was one time I saw a bum masturbating on the side of the road and I could probably live without that.
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
My partner Danny Carey and I are creating life right now inside of me. I’m eight months pregnant, and that was always top on my list… to create the human form is the ultimate! Also, making my own record. Committing and immersing myself totally to the struggle of that inward path is a huge, frightening goal for me.
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
The birth of my son in June. I cannot wait to meet the product of Mr. Carey and myself. I bet he is going to be hilarious!
I took notes all weekend. Like a jerk. About the bands, general impressions, things I knew I’d forget if I left it to whenever the next time I was able to write. The smell of the cleaner on the floor of the 013 in the morning, the smell of the beer on the floor of the 013 at night. That kind of thing. Last night as I sat in the hotel room, well after 03.00 but before I packed up my stuff to leave today, I took all of them, tore them out of my current notebook, and threw them out. My only regret is I couldn’t give them a Viking funeral while listening to Wardruna, but somehow I don’t think the overnight shift at the Mercure would’ve taken too kindly to it.
Woke up at 08.47, which was precisely 47 minutes later than I wanted. I don’t even remember the alarm on my watch going off at eight. I must’ve pressed the button to stop it before I even hit consciousness. Showered, finished packing everything except for whatever I inevitably left behind, and was out the door by nine to walk my shinsplints to the train station. No time to get the crust out of my eyes and it feels like there’s more shampoo in my hair than out of it, but at least I smell better than I did after the show last night. I’m somewhat less greasy.
Being late was unnerving, since I wanted to catch a train that left Tilburg at 09.07 to get to Schiphol Airport, which I knew would be trying. Always is. You’d think after doing something seven times in seven years, I’d be better at it than I was when I started. I didn’t even have the right direction. Seriously. I thought the train, if you were facing the front of the station, would be going left. It went right. Fucking hell. I found a Roadburner in a San Francisco Giants hat and asked, “Hey man, this train go to Schiphol?” He was remarkably helpful, and accurate, which counts double.
That first train had pulled out as I was walking up, but I knew there was another like 10 minutes later, so it was fine. I changed in den Bosch, as one does, stayed in the corridor of the train car and watched the countryside roll by. Some lambs, the occasional windmill, that river that I see every year and don’t know the name of. Arrival at the airport was uneventful. No balloons to congratulate me for making it, a complimentary cup of coffee, nothing. I checked in for my flights, first to Dublin and then on to Boston, and used the automatic bag checking system that looked like Soylent Green for luggage. I really hope my dirty t-shirts enjoy living in Cairo, because I’m pretty sure I’ll never see them again.
The flight to Dublin was uneventful, as was the hour I spent in “US Pre-Clearance,” which I somehow very much doubt will save me any time going through customs once I actually land in the States. The security guard asked me if I had any pipes or “zig-zags,” since I was coming from Amsterdam. I had to ask her what a “zig-zag” was. Rolling papers, as it turns out. I had ibuprofen and antacids and a laptop. Bemused? Yes, she was bemused. Not quite a-mused. I wouldn’t mind seeing some of Dublin, as in, leaving the airport and exploring the kind of gray but still somehow sunny world outside. No time. Too bad. My flight leaves in about an hour, so I just have a bit of time left.
I want and need to say thanks to my wife, The Patient Mrs., whom I’ve missed these last few days and whose love and support, really for the last 18 years but especially for this past year, has been what has kept me going. Thanks as well to Walter Hoeijmakers, both for this having the will to enact this wonderful, creative, vibrant, constantly-evolving festival and for being so welcoming in having me as a part of it in the minimal, note-taking way I am. I consider myself lucky to call Walter a friend, and some of my best Roadburn memories have nothing to do with the bands and more to do with hanging out and chatting music with Walter, Jurgen, Becky and the rest of the Roadburn crew at the 013, all of whom deserve appreciation as well. Thanks to my mother and my sister.
Thanks to Lee Edwards. Tired each morning, we sat across from each other and waited for the coffee to kick in, talking music, life stuff, both of us using idioms the other doesn’t know — I now consider it a personal goal to use the phrase “mad as a box of frogs” in casual conversation sometime in the next year. Lee’s as genuine and warm a gentleman as I’ve had the pleasure of meeting through music — and I’ve met some good people along the way, see above — and it’s an honor working with him on the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch Roadburn ‘zine for the second year in a row.
To the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch staff as well: José Carlos Santos, Kim Kelly, Adrien Begrand, Pete Green, Alex Mysteerie, Paul Robertson, Andreas Kohl (thanks for the help folding!), Becky, Jurgen and Walter (again). Thanks to Cavum for the fantastic art and Paul Verhagen for the humbling photos. I’d love to have a staff meeting one of these days.
I met a lot of really cool people this weekend. Many I’d seen before, but some new ones as well. In bands and out. Heard on more than one occasion, “Oh, you seem really busy,” and stuff like that. It’s true. When I’m at Roadburn, I do a lot of running around. I feel like while I’m there, I should be trying to do as much as possible. I don’t take time to go sit in Weirdo Canyon and have a burger — I barely stop to eat, most days — and while it’s true that part of me feels like I owe that to Roadburn, to put everything I can into my experience of it because so much work went into making it happen, it’s also how I enjoy myself. It’s what makes it special for me. These last few days have been an absolute blast. I’m dead tired and I expect minimal sympathy when I get home — after all, I went on vacation to a music festival — but it’s so worth it for the chance to be there, to experience this event and this culture, to see and hear things that I never thought I would. Year after year, I’m so grateful for the chance to do this.
Thank you most of all for reading, which is something I say all the time — I should say it every day, if I don’t — but really, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. For liking posts, sharing links, retweeting, commenting, or, you know, actually getting into it and checking out the words and the photos — it’s all so, so appreciated. I’m amazed and humbled. Thank you.
I’m gonna go get on this plane and go home.
Thanks one more time for reading.
To see all of this year’s Roadburn coverage, click here.
I did manage to get back to sleep this morning for a little bit after I finished writing the review and sorting pictures for last night, but first I went downstairs and took full advantage of the hotel breakfast. You get one free, and I wasn’t saving it or anything, I just hadn’t been up when it was served. Well, today I was. It opened at seven, I’d been up since four, so yeah. No problem. Some eggs, cheese, fruit, juice, bacon and sausage later, I was a new man. Who needed sleep. I got maybe half an hour before I needed to be up and out again to get to the 013 office and finalize the last issue of the Roadburn ‘zine, the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, with Lee from The Sleeping Shaman.
We did it, put the issue out and everything. I folded paper like a champ and have the ink stain on my edge-flattening fingernail to prove it. Not the only mark Roadburn would leave on me today, but we’ll get there in a bit. In the meantime, check out the last Weirdo Canyon Dispatch of Roadburn 2015 here. Go on and give it a read.
Today was the Afterburner, which is Roadburn‘s traditional way of saying, “Sooner or later, you have to get back to real life.” It’s a transitional day. Less stages, fewer running back and forth, fewer people around, and so on. Band-wise, it’s usually a little more of Roadburn‘s roots: Heavy rock, psych, doom, though of course like the fest proper, the Afterburner has branched out stylistically as well.
One didn’t have to look much farther than Gnaw Their Tongues, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin or headliners Anathema — who, since they were playing a special set spanning their career, both fit a doomed aesthetic and pushed beyond it — to see that. Still, it was underrated New York space/psychedelic outfit White Hills who started the afternoon off at 15.00 on the Main Stage. An East Coast equivalent in my mind for L.A.’s Farflung — who also did quite well at Roadburn once upon a 2012 — they remain a much more popular band in Europe than in their hometown. So be it. For me, a little space is almost always welcome, but I wanted even more to see Pennsylvania’s Argus open up in the Green Room.
Riding the line between doom and traditional metal, the Brian “Butch” Balich-fronted Argus launched their set with “By Endurance We Conquer,” “No Peace Beyond the Line,” and “The Hands of Time are Bleeding,” the first three songs from their third and latest full-length, 2013’s Beyond the Martyrs (review here). The crowd knew the songs and sang along to the hooks, particularly in “No Peace Beyond the Line,” the five-piece of Balich, guitarists Jason Mucio and Dave Watson, bassist Justin Campbell and drummer Kevin Latchaw making the best case I’ve yet heard for their songwriting. With the two guitars, driving, forward rhythms, roots doom and NWOBHM-precision, Balich‘s powerful voice in addition to that level of craftsmanship, it was no challenge to see the appeal of Argus, and the Green Room certainly got into it. Heavy metal might be a subculture, but it’s one that crosses an awful lot of national borders, and I doubt if there’s any fist-pumping headbanger types who couldn’t get down with Argus. They’re as classically-styled as classically-styled gets, and they delivered in force at Roadburn.
They were dug into the particularly Trouble-y “Pieces of Your Smile” when I made my way over to the main hall for Chicago instrumental four-piece Bongripper. Now, it would’ve been awfully nice to see those dudes kick the living crap out of their latest album, 2014’s Miserable (review here), way back on Thursday night, but they were going on late and, well, you know the story, with the typing and the clacky-clacky and whatnot. Fine. No way in gosh darn heck was I going to miss my second chance to see guitarists Nick Dellacroce and Dennis Pleckham, bassist Ron Petzke — with whom I shared a cab to Tilburg from Schiphol Airport on Wednesday — and drummer Daniel O’Connor bludgeon all in their path with volume and raw, plodding riffs. With a formidable stack of amps and cabinets behind them, Bongripper tore into a swath of material, a crowd having shown up early to get a good spot for the punishment they knew was in store.
Seeing Bongripper live is like being swallowed by sound. Like if sound had a mouth — maybe the mouth from the front cover of Miserable would suffice, if you need an image — and that mouth ate you. A beastly barrage of riffs and tonal thunder, all of this maddening heft pushed onto the audience in an unrelenting assault. They ended by wailing on their instruments in time to O’Connor‘s crashes, a kind of violent assault on their equipment that fed into the thick wall of noise built up, the packed Main Stage room nodding in unison. The band stopped short of taking a bow when they were done, but no one would’ve been able to say they didn’t deserve to do so. It’s a primal element of doom and sludge and stoner riffing that Bongripper feeds into, fattens, and then slaughters, but the grungus is mighty in what they do and spread out on the wide stage, it was as much an art project as a wanton beatdown. Even their feedback was a weapon.
I’d run into Ohio’s Lo-Pan earlier in the day. They’re on tour with Abrahma now, have been for a couple nights, and like a lot of US heavy bands who come to tour Europe for the first time, I think they’ve been impressed at the show culture. People show up, bands aren’t treated like crap, and it’s a generally cared-for situation, something precious done in a general public interest. The crew working at the 013 as a part of Roadburn are second to none in professionalism or hospitality, and so it seemed reasonable to me the band would be singularly impressed. All the better for the show, which is both the intent and precisely how it worked out when they went on in the Green Room at 18.30. They were clashing with Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin, but I’ve been itching for Lo-Pan to make a debut at Roadburn since they put out Salvador (review here) early in 2011. Let’s be clear: I wouldn’t miss them anyway. I’ll go see Lo-Pan just about any night of the week, but I knew this one was going to be special.
Of course, it was. “El Dorado” from Salvador opened and “Regulus” from last fall’s rager Colossus (review here) followed, the band immediately on fire. It was my first time seeing them with guitarist Adrian Zambrano, who came aboard in Nov. 2014 to fill the role formerly held down by Brian Fristoe. A new Lo-Pan, in a new place with new energy and even a new song in the set, there was nothing not to like. They were so tight it hurt With vocalist Jeff Martin set up in back behind drummer Jesse Bartz as per usual, Zambrano on stage left and bassist Scott Thompson on stage right, Lo-Pan were a heavy rock and roll force. Zambrano brought a little showmanship and style to the riffs and solos, and where Bartz and Thompson have always hit it hard on stage and the guitar was a more subdued presence (nothing against that whatsoever), having Zambrano headbanging away, tapping on the frets while throwing his pick-hand behind him, tossing a leg up on the monitor and so on both reinforced the energetic character of the band, as well as the material, and made it all the more exciting.
Speaking of headbanging, I did. It was among the best sets I’ve seen Lo-Pan play — lights, sound, performance, you name it — and yeah, I was getting into it a bit. I wound up banging my head into one of the monitors at the front of the stage early into the set. No blood, it wasn’t that bad, but I’ve got a bump sticking out of my forehead now and I expect by the time I get off the plane tomorrow in Boston it’ll be a good-size bruise. Easy enough to laugh it off and keep going, even if it’s a little sore when I raise my eyebrows, which I apparently do all the time. That’s how you find out that kind of thing.
Anyway, point is it was so, so, so, so good to see Lo-Pan. Not only because they’re one of American heavy rock’s best bands — I’ve called them the finest in US fuzz for pretty much the last four years — and not only because they killed it and put on a stellar show, but because they did it here, as a part of Roadburn 2015, looking across the stage at each other and challenging themselves to play better, harder than they have before. Their first European tour comes after countless US slogs and will hopefully lead to more, but it seems likely to me they’re going to remember this one, and I’m glad to have stayed through “Eastern Seas” and “The Duke” to watch them hammer down their victory. I’d been looking forward to it since they were announced, and it warmed my cold, dead heart to see them kick so much ass.
Their tourmates from Paris and Small Stone labelmates, Abrahma, were going on shortly down the block at Cul de Sac, which is right in the stretch of bars on Heuvelstraat adjacent to the 013 that for I don’t even remember how many years now I’ve been calling Weirdo Canyon (hence the Dispatch). The relatively small club is where the Hard Rock Hideout was held on Wednesday (review here), and I like the room a lot, so it seemed perfect to follow Lo-Pan with Abrahma and head over. Already they were on stage when I got there, dug into what turned out to be their soundcheck, but with the lights up, I snapped a few pictures just in case when they actually started they decided to play in the dark, as pretty much every band I’ve ever seen in that space has done. Abrahma, however, dared to be different.
In keeping, their upcoming second album, Reflections in the Bowels of a Bird (review/track stream here), does likewise, pushing into moodier, somewhat less psychedelic territory than their 2012 debut, Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives (review here). Their set, which was actually just about split between the two records and leaned slightly toward the new one, was surprisingly heavy. Very riffy, very big in tone. Not quite to the level of Floor-syle bombdropping, but not far off either. As a frontman, Sebastien Bismuth was charismatic and engaging, banging his head harder than many and managing not to injure himself in the process unless you count an almost certain sore neck tomorrow, and joined by drummer Fred Quota for this tour along with bassist Guillaume Colin and guitarist Nicolas Heller, their sudden bursts of weighted groove hit with an impressive, genuine impact. As their songwriting continues to grow and become more complex, I’ll be interested to see how that impact evolves.
A prudent move would’ve been to stay longer, but even though it’s the Afterburner, Roadburn means time to move. Anathema would soon be on the Main Stage, playing a special set allotted 130 minutes that was being called “Resonance” and which started with the eponymous “Anathema” from last year’s Distant Satellites and working backwards through their discography. The Cavanagh brothers, Vincent (lead vocals, guitar), Danny (guitar, backing vocals) and Jamie (bass) were down front of the stage with drummer Daniel Cardoso and keyboardist/programmer John Douglas on risers behind, and over the course of their time, current vocalist Lee Douglas made intermittent appearances — a striking one for “A Natural Disaster” lit, at the band’s request, only by cellphone lights from the crowd, as seen on the cover of their 2013 DVD, Universal — and former bassist Duncan Patterson and former vocalist Darren White both showed up the farther along Anathema went, deeper and deeper still into their 25-year history.
They’re doing a short “Resonance” tour, are Anathema, but Roadburn 2015 was the first night, and the first time White had been on stage with the band in 20 years. Something special, no doubt. Here’s a fun fact, though: I love that band. Along with Amorphis, who were playing through the main hall P.A. just before Anathema went on, Anathema were one of the acts that led me into exploring underground metal, and ultimately — so the story goes — selling my soul to Tony Iommi at the expense of career, well-being and, this week, sleep. No complaints. But while Anathema are a pivotal band for me personally, a landmark act without whom I genuinely don’t believe I’d be the same person, I also fall into a rarer category of Anathema fan. It’s not their early stuff that I got into back when I was in high school. Not 1995’s Pentecost III, from which “Kingdom” and “Mine is Yours to Drown In (Ours is the New Tribe)” were aired at the start of what would be a third individual component set in the longer runtime, and not even the album The Silent Enigma, which followed it that same year, powerful though “Sunset of Age” and “A Dying Wish” were.
I have those records, and I dig those records a lot, but what got me into Anathema is their often-overlooked middle period: 1998’s Alternative 4, 1999’s Judgement, 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit and 2003’s A Natural Disaster. When I’m reaching for an Anathema album — as I invariably do in a depressive fit as I wallow in my own filth and worthlessness because I’m just the right kind of emotional cripple that music offers comfort I apparently can’t allow myself to feel otherwise; whoops — those are what I go for, and when Vincent led the way into “Pressure” from A Fine Day to Exit and “One Last Goodbye” from Judgement tonight, those were the songs that had me tearing up. No bullshit, bringing Darren White out was incredible. Clearly charged up to be on stage with the band in the context of headlining at Roadburn 2015, he settled in and nailed the dramatic chorus of “Kingdom” — shades of Fields of the Nephilim influence showing themselves — and led the band through the finish of their professionally polished but still emotionally potent set, “Sleepless” from Anathema‘s 1993 debut, Serenades, closing out.
This was the Anathema show I’ve been dreaming of, covering their whole career, but their mid-period, pre-prog, post-doom, was what hit me the hardest, the first four cuts from Alternative 4 played with Patterson on bass to morose and atmospheric effect. They could’ve done a third hour, easily, and I might have stayed for it if they did.
As it was, time was ticking away. One more stop to make, and it was back in the Green Room of the 013 for Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass, whose 2014 self-titled debut (review here) has only grown in my esteem since it was released. They’re a reminder of home for me, the East Coast, New York and all that, so they were perfect to close out my own little version of Roadburn. Guitarist/vocalist Michael Rafalowich, drummer/vocalist Adam Kriney and bassist Morgan McDaniel are on tour with Hypnos, who’d wrapped a bit earlier at the Cul de Sac, and though I knew I wouldn’t be there the whole time, I wanted to catch at least a bit of their sunshine boogie to help make the thought of walking out of Roadburn 2015, taking off my wristband and coming back to the hotel to put this last review together not quite such a bum-out. By the time they were through “Stuck on a Mountain” and “Please Man” and into a newer song I didn’t know, a bum-out was out of the question. Nothing but good vibes the whole way as I said a few quick goodbyes and walked down the stretch of Weirdo Canyon, a little quieter Sunday than Saturday, but by no means abandoned. I owe The Golden Grass one for that.
Strange to think that “tomorrow” (read: in three hours) when I get up to shower early and head out, it’ll be to the airport instead of the 013 office to bang out another issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch. Roadburn develops its own culture so quickly each year, and the more and more I’m fortunate enough to come see Tilburg in the springtime, the more it feels like home.
I’ll have another post up to close out this series and say thanks and whatnot, so until then, I’ll just say the same thing I always say: More pics after the jump and thanks for reading.
It was a misguided attempt at sleep that led me to bed after watching Coltsblood to round out my night. Didn’t work beyond the apparently standard three hours, which is what I’ve gotten give or take each night since Wednesday. When I lie down, my head hears parts of songs, David Eugene Edwards saying, “You don’t know me from Adam, down here in the lamp light,” or Sæþór Sæþórsson of Sólstafir‘s banjo in the back half of “Ótta,” among others. One day bleeds into the next. I dragged ass most of the afternoon and evening, to be perfectly honest, and given the tossing and turning I’ve just done and the fact that I’m up two hours before I set the alarm, I expect the trend to continue. Still, when you’re here, you have to keep going. There’s more to see and more to hear.
The weather, which had been gorgeous enough to boast some restorative effect of its own, has turned. I could just as easily call it “yesterday,” but for the purposes of review, I hope you’ll allow the editorial decision to keep current: “Today.” The weather turned today. As though it knew Undersmile, Urfaust, and Fields of the Nephilim were all on the bill and decided “enough of this sunny shit, let’s get down to business for real.” It cleared up later, but was still colder than it had been, and early in the afternoon, I looked outside at one point and saw waves of rain coming down. That was right after Coma Wall, which, you know, fair enough.
Playing as a five-piece with their usual two couples plus a cellist, the mostly-acoustic alter-ego of Undersmile started my day off at Stage01. I got there early, which you have to do, and I wasn’t the only one. Taz Corona-Brown, Olly Corona-Brown, Hel Sterne and Tom McKibbin, plus Tom Greenway on the cello spread out over the stage, McKibbin behind, pulling double-duty on drums and banjo. With Taz and Hel in dresses and quickly sliding into the sort of drawling dual vocals that are a trademark of both Coma Wall and Undersmile, there was a theatrical element to it, but the thickness of the atmosphere spoke for itself as they hit into “Summer” from their 2013 Wood & Wire split with, who else?, their other band. Off to the side of the stage, Olly sat on bass facing the others, kind of overseeing the whole thing with one leg crossed over the other. He looked managerial, but the low end filled the room well, and Coma Wall eased my way into the Roadburn Saturday better than I could’ve asked.
I’d still like to hear them take on “Rotten Apple” or “Don’t Follow” — something off Jar of Flies — which I think they’d nail in the vocals and really be able to darken the mood on, but wouldn’t you know they weren’t taking requests. Couldn’t argue, anyway. Over in the main hall, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin were well into a live soundtrack to 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, which played on the big screen behind them, audio and all. I saw them here for a bit last year, and sure enough parts of the score were recognizable from that set as well as the movie. Like with Sólstafir‘s live soundtrack on Thursday, there were spaces without any music at all, but of course the difference is that Goblin also wrote the score originally, so to see them do it live to the film was something extra special.
Perhaps most impressive about it was the timing, which they nailed. Keeping pace to scene changes and the film’s quick cuts, they ran through various pieces and themes, the quick bursts for tension as everything goes to crap with all the zombies at the mall, the biker gang showing up and bringing Tom Savini, and so on. It’s been a while since I saw it, and I’d forgotten how many classic lines there are in the film, about Hell being full and the dead walking the earth, and “Operator dead, post abandoned.” There were some times where the balance of audio was lopsided one way or another — hard to match up a film and a live band on stage — but it smoothed out, and I can’t imagine it was many attendees’ first time seeing the movie. That said, I’ve never watched Suspiria, which Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin are scoring as part of the Afterburner, so who knows? When they were done, the four-piece came to the middle of the stage from their spread-out positions, two on one side, two on the other, the middle open to allow the eye to watch the movie, and took a bow. A few seconds before, the credits rolled past with their name listed as The Goblins. So be it.
Next up on the Main Stage was a second go for Enslaved. I tried before they went on to calculate in my head how many Enslaved-related sets there were this year in comparison to 2010, when they were the official artist-in-residence and did sets with offshoot projects like Trinacria and their collaboration with Shining. Between their set last night, the Skuggsjá collaboration with Wardruna that followed, guitarist Ivar Bjørnson ‘s BardSpec set and today, I think they might have 2010 beat. I’m not sure if Bjørnson curating with Wardruna‘s Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik counts for double or anything — you’d have to get into percentages and it proved too much for my feeble brain to take. In any case, today’s Enslaved set focused much more on newer material. Fair after last night. The recently-issued In Times (review pending) featured heavily with “Thurisaz Dreaming,” “Building with Fire,” “In Times” and “Daylight,” but there was still room to dip back to 2001’s Monumension for “Convoys to Nothingness,” or 2003’s progressive turning point Below the Lights for “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth,” and a balance was struck between the older and newer.
Further distinguishing today from yesterday, though, were the guests. When they got to “Daylight,” bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson announced they’d be joined by Selvik, Aðalbjörn Tryggvason from Sólstafir and Per Wiberg, now in Candlemassbut known also for his work in Opeth and Spiritual Beggars. The three contributed on vocals at the beginning and end of the song, and Selvik came back out for a longer, soulful guest spot on “Convoys to Nothingness,” while Enslaved proper delivered again the kind of set that brought the crowd back from last night, “Isa” tossed in as a bonus and a cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “Immigrant Song” with more guest guitar included to add even more intrigue. It was not as intense as Friday had been, their newer material offering a more intricate but decidedly less raging style, but they handled it professionally, and seemed to be having as much fun as the audience while they ran through their second of the weekend’s two full sets. The Heads, who followed, are the official artists-in-residence this year, but Enslaved always seem to find welcome at Roadburn.
Particularly having missed The Heads when they played at Het Patronaat last night — Roadburn means hard choices — I knew I wanted to see them today. They were supposed to be here last year, and played in 2008, but with Walter doing live visuals and the four-piece of lead guitarist Paul Allen, guitarist/vocalist Simon Price, bassist Hugo Morgan and drummer Wayne Maskell (the latter three who played as Kandodo on Thursday and joined forces with Loop‘s Robert Hampson at Het Patronaat), it was unmissable. A righteous set boasted jam-laden takes on “Gnu,” “Legavaan Satellite,” “U33″ and “Spliff Riff,” the effect positively molten as they enacted space rock supremacy and handed Roadburn its ass over the course of 75 minutes. For me, they were the day’s hypnotic highlight, and I don’t think I was the only one. The crowd cheered as they went into and out of jams, builds paying off and starting anew. As I stood in the back and watched, next two me, two dudes were arguing in German and a third turned around and told them, in accented English, “Please, no politics while The Heads are on.” All laughed. Peace on Earth and goodwill to all Roadburners.
As with Kandodo the other night, The Heads‘ set made me want to head over to the merch area and go, “Just give me everything,” though they have enough live albums over there that to try it and I’d be broke(r) in no time flat. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from them, knowing records like Everybody Knows We Got Nowhere, which was just recently reissued, At Last and their 1995 debut, Relaxing With…, but they were molten on stage, one song bleeding into the next in a consuming entirety that, even after they’d long since gone, kept the crowd howling. It was fucking awesome. I don’t know how many times I’ll get to see The Heads in my life, but I’m not likely to forget the first, in any case, and if I take nothing else away from Roadburn this year, I’ll take a new touchstone for heavy psych live performance. “It’s good, but is it The Heads good?” will prove a hard standard for most to meet.
Over in the Green Room, Black Anvil were finishing up a punishing set and I watched for a minute through the door as they pummeled away. Undersmile were on next in there, and I’ve been following them since their split with Caretaker in 2011 (review here), so I didn’t want to miss it. They have a new full-length out called Anhedonia, and while I’m a little heartbroken at not having heard it — I loved 2012’s lung-filling debut LP, Narwhal (review here), and thought I had a pretty good relationship with the band — it still seemed prudent to show up early for a dose of their grueling, claustrophobic-but-melodically-brilliant doom, especially as a crushing companion piece to Coma Wall earlier in the day, a sort of bookend with the same lineup minus Greenway‘s cello. They were heavy enough to feel the sound in your chest. I give McKibbin credit for being able to push the tones of Hel, Taz and Olly along, even at such a lumbering pace. By the sound alone, it seems like a task more suited to the crane outside working on the addition to the 013, but the drums do drive Undersmile‘s material forward, and they packed out the Green Room to the point where even the space to watch through the door was full. I felt equal parts lucky to see them, bummed I haven’t heard the new album, and glad I showed up early while they were setting up. It was quite an emotional rollercoaster. Maybe that’s why I had to come back to the hotel and go to sleep afterwards.
Or maybe I was just rendered unconscious by fucking Coltsblood who — holy shit — took Stage01, removed all its fillings and performed a root canal with a safety pin. It was fucking ridiculous. Hyperbole-worthy madness that even H.P. Lovecraft himself would stare at and be like, “Damn, that’s horrifying.” I watched the final few minutes of synth-heavy proggers Zoltan before the UK trio of bassist/vocalist John McNulty, guitarist Jemma McNulty and drummer Jay Plested (also of Black Magician, who played Het Patronaat at Roadburn 2013) went on, but god damn. Even before they started, as Jemma checked her guitar and John ran the line on his bass, you knew it was going to be filthy. Their 2014 full-length debut, Into the Unfathomable Abyss (review here), seemed all the more aptly named as they got underway, and even though John had some technical trouble early on, they shared a bottle of mead on stage and absolutely laid waste to the smaller of the rooms at the 013. I say in full knowledge of John‘s prior association with the band that they were the heaviest thing I’ve seen in that space since Conan made their Roadburn debut there in 2012. They were unbelievable.
And it became quite clear that they’ve earned some loyalty of fanbase as well. The front of Stage01 was crowded with UK types, one of whom took on the solemn duty of making sure that Coltsblood‘s incense (of which I was markedly downwind) stayed lit. Another dude next to me alerted John when the sound guy called for him to start checking his bass. This is a band that people are obviously taking very seriously. The deathly rumble of their extreme, dark, sludgy doom made earplugs a futile exercise, and especially in a one-two with Undersmile, they justified that reaction. With John shouting and growling into the mic while Plested slammed away behind and Jemma, entranced, riffed out a viscous, oil-thick morass, it made sense. I’d want to keep the incense lit too.
By the time I split out from Stage01, the air had more or less been driven out of the room. It was hot, sweaty, smelly — Roadburn means fart clouds — and suitably oppressive. Outside smelled like french fry grease from the food tent, but even that seemed like fresh air. I made my way back to the hotel and started to sort pictures out and get everything ready to review, but noticed after a few minutes that my head was down on the table and I couldn’t seem to pick it back up. I stared up at the laptop monitor for a little bit and decided to crawl into bed.
Wasn’t a crawl. More of a lurch. Either way, about three and a half hours later, I gave up the ghost and decided the middle of the night would be a perfect time to recount the day’s varying destructive encounters. Tomorrow — Sunday, which now that it’s after 06.00, I’m about ready to call the new “today” — is the Afterburner, also plenty busy with Lo-Pan and Abrahma and Argus and Bongripper, Anathema and The Golden Grass. Work on the final issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch starts in about four hours and it will be here and gone before I know it. At least that’s how it usually seems to go.
The curated day is a Roadburn tradition going back to David Tibet of Current 93, who was the fest’s first curator in 2008. This year, the hallowed duty was bestowed on Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson and Wardruna multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik, and their day took on the title “Houses of the Holistic.” I don’t know who picked what individual band for what stage, or if the two agreed on everything or what the situation was, but I know the results were pretty magical, particularly on the Main Stage, which hosted — in order — Virus, Sólstafir, Fields of the Nephilim, Warduna and Enslaved, who joined forces for the final set of the evening to perform Skuggsjá, a Norse-minded work originally commissioned to honor the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution and first performed at the Eidsivablot festival last fall. To my knowledge, Roadburn 2015 is the second time it’s ever been played in public.
I did some wandering, as one will, but the day started with Virus, who played Roadburn in 2012 and were among the most talked-about bands that year. I knew I didn’t want to miss them again, so I got to the main hall well in time for their start, which unfolded quickly in a technically intricate post-black metal from the lineup of guitarist Carl-Michael “Czral” Eide, bassist Petter “Plenem” Berntsen and drummer Einar Sjursø. They came highly recommended, and while I heard The Black Flux, their second album, when it was released in 2008, that was also seven years ago and it seemed reasonable to expect they would’ve progressed even further along their dissonant path. Sure enough, while they dipped back to their debut, 2003’s Carheart, for “Be Elevator,” it was the material from 2011’s The Agent that Shapes the Desert that most stood out to me, “Chromium Sun,” which appeared early in the set, and “Dead Cities of Syria,” which followed soon after, as well as the new song that served as their closer, “Rogue Fossils,” which Eide teased as being included in their to-be-recorded fourth record, calling it “atonal.”
A challenging start to the day, but Virus‘ avant twists weren’t impossible to track. “Rogue Fossils” was downright catchy,” and the turns of “Lost Peacocks” from The Black Flux weren’t so sharp as to go off the rails. Obviously that’s a credit to the trio, whose sound is individualized enough that it could only have grown organically. If you were to start a band and say, “Okay, we’re going to sound like this,” wherein “this” is Virus, it would fall flat. Some things just need to grow on their own. It was an impressive showing, but I also wanted to catch Ivar Bjørnson‘s ambient project, BardSpec, which was making its debut on Stage01, the smallest of the rooms at the 013. Easy enough to wander over, and I managed the rare feat of getting in before it was too packed and found Bjørnson‘s experimental side in full display, a table set up on the stage with mixing boards, guitars — Enslaved‘s Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal sat in on guitar, and I mean “sat” literally; he was behind the table, largely hidden from view, sitting on a monitor wedge — a laptop and no doubt two or three other swirl-making doodads obstructed from view.
Decked out in a shirt the homemade-seeming designs of which reacted with the blacklights in the room to look like they were glowing in the dark and glasses with lights in them, Bjørnson soundscaped and built on waves of drone from Isdal‘s guitar, manipulating a live mix while video played on the screen behind. Formative, maybe, but ambitious, and Enslaved bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson showed up to watch as well. With a primary focus on atmospherics, it was maybe more of something you’d put and close your eyes to than something to watch on stage, but I almost always find the live creation of droning sounds interesting, to think of that as part of a performance. I stayed for a while and went back and forth to watch Virus finish their set, waiting for Icelandic four-piece Sólstafir to take the Main Stage, which they did — in force, by storm, or however else you want to say it. Like Virus, they played in 2012 and were much heralded, though they also played yesterday doing the live soundtrack to the Icelandic film Hrafninn Flýgur (“Flight of the Raven“), so either way, the Roadburn crowd was familiar with their wares.
Even after playing yesterday, though, Sólstafir drew what was at that point the biggest crowd I’d seen so far at the Main Stage. There were many Sólstafir shirts in the audience, and it didn’t take long for the band — who’ve had the same lineup since the turn of the century with guitarist/vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, guitarist Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson, bassist Svavar Austman and drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason — to demonstrate how they earned such loyalty. Supporting last year’s fifth LP, Ótta (review here), they played “Dagmál,” album-opener “Lágnætti” and the title-track right off the bat, Tryggvason a consummate, emotive and charismatic frontman, wielding an e-bow for his guitar as if it was powered by his heart, but the whole band just dead on, through and through. I had been looking forward to seeing them for a while, and they more than justified the anticipation. The ending of “Ótta” alone was worth standing there, but I stayed put for just about the entire set and was treated to “Kukl” and the title-cut from 2011’s double-album, Svartir Sandar, as well as “Rismál” from Ótta, which was a highlight, and “Goddess of the Ages” from 2009’s Köld.
The latter showed off some blackened roots, but there was strong sense of performance running through the whole set, and as far back as Sólstafir dipped into their catalog, that tied the show together. A dynamic band, strong in mood and consistent in their songwriting, they also held down that stage, no questions whatsoever. In their energy and their presence, they owned it. Another album or two to follow-up Ótta and I would not at all be surprised to find Sólstafir return to Roadburn in a couple years even higher on the bill. I won’t get to see them on their US tour, which begins April 22 (dates here), but at least now I know what I’m missing. I can’t imagine what they’d be like in a smaller space — Reggies in Chicago, Red 7 in Austin, etc. — if Tryggvason would go into the crowd as he did for “Goddess of the Ages” before climbing back on stage to end out with more e-bow. They’re something special, and I got the vibe from their set that they’d likely be something special whatever the context in which one happened to be seeing them.
There was a break in between Sólstafir and Fields of the Nephilim, so I shuffled over to the merch area and picked up a couple odds and ends — mostly Live at Roadburn releases; Papir, Papermoon, Sula Bassana, and I had my eye on a YOB, The Unreal Never Lived Live at Roadburn 2012 LP that I might have to make mine on the morrow — and ran back to the hotel to drop off the goods, getting back in time for the legendary UK goth rockers to hit the Main Stage, carrying with them a host of classics I’m woefully out of my depth discussing, having never really followed vocalist Carl McCoy or the band. They were something unknown to me, which has an appeal on its own, and particularly following Sólstafir, it was easy to read a Fields of the Nephilim influence in retrospect, in headwear and style. I never gothdanced, but there were some shimmying shoulders to be seen for “Dawnrazor,” “Moonchild” and others, though with Dutch prog legends Focus shortly on in the Green Room, the Main Stage attendance thinned out noticeably, Fields of the Nephilim having gone on about 15 minutes late. They’re back tomorrow as the headliners on the Main Stage.
As I understand it, that’s because Walter is a huge fan, which is probably the best reason you’re ever going to see a band playing Roadburn. They don’t have a new record out, they’re not touring, but they’re here doing two sets because Walter, who is the head, figurehead and face of the festival, loves them. Who could argue? I’m not sure I’m a convert, but it gave me a chance to get some dinner, watch Focus through the door for a bit — I’d done similar with Icelandic black metallers Svartidauði earlier, and found them satisfyingly ripping — and still get back in time for the start of Wardruna, about whom I had zero preconceptions. Before they went on, two tiers were added to the stage, making room for the Norwegian outfit’s range of percussion, vocalists, and so on.
Very much led by Selvik — he was the only one on the lowest level of the stage while they played — they were nonetheless an orchestra. Atmospheres so thick you could swim in them, harmonies rang out in Norwegian, telling Viking tales of a history to which I can’t relate but set me off wondering what it might be like to be from a place with a traditionally homogeneous culture; how it might be to have a “team” in terms of nationality. Americans divide. That’s what we do. I don’t have any experience with a history like that into which Wardruna seemed to be tapping, Selvik with a variety of traditional instruments at hand. It’s easy to respect it, and the performance, if you’ll pardon my saying, was splendid. Soulful, rich, immersive and as complex and beautiful as anything I’ve heard at Roadburn in my seven trips here. But even “Americana” discounts entire portions of my nation’s population, so outside the language barrier, I had a bit of cultural wall standing between me and Wardruna‘s Viking paeans, though by the time they got around to the memorable dirge “Helvegen” from 2013’s Runaljod – Yggdrasil, I was ready to set sail on whatever hand-carved ship they might’ve had parked outside the 013. One could almost hear the lapping waves of the Norwegian Sea.
Over in the Green Room, it was a different kind of traditionalism playing out. Oslo-based trio Tombstones riffed loud, riffed early and riffed often — their tones a dense, earplug-vibrating lumber that grooved on vicious roll. I knew I liked that band from 2013’s Red Skies and Dead Eyes (review here), but I didn’t realize quite how much I liked that band. Guitarist Bjørn-Viggo Godtland and bassist Ole Christian Helstad shared vocal duties atop their own punishing low-tone and drummer Markus Støle‘s swinging crash, and with a hooded statue of Death on either side of the stage, they played some material I didn’t recognize — might be new? — but slammed home their sonic tonnage as though it was a thing to be directly hammered into the assembled skulls before them and headbanged with true doomly fuckall abandon. I hadn’t seen a band be heavy like that all day, so Tombstones were more than welcome, and the savage heft likewise. They were an act I was very, very glad to have seen at Roadburn.
Coming out of their set, I felt I had a better understanding of what they were about. Not that the album didn’t paint a coherent picture, but to actually see Tombstones made me better appreciate the intensity of their approach. “Intensity” would prove an operative word back in the main hall as well, with Enslaved getting ready to go on. Drummer Cato Bekkevold — buried, as ever, behind his kit — and keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen had already had their gear positioned in the back row, the highest of Wardruna‘s tiers, in anticipation of the Skuggsjá set still to come, but this was a special gig as well. Dubbed “House of Northern Gods,” it found Bjørnson, Kjellson and Isdal down front of the stage, leading the way through a setlist spanning all the way back to 1993’s Hordanes Land EP, with “Allf?ðr Oðinn” one of the several cuts chosen to represent Norse deities or their archetypes as the band tore through their discography with spoken samples between each song, and runes appearing and disappearing behind them on the Main Stage projection screen along with animations by the artist Costin Chioreanu.
No doubt there were many in attendance who’ve seen Enslaved more than I have, but I’ve seen Enslaved six or seven times by now — including at Roadburn — and this was hands-down the best show I’ve ever watched them give. Also the best setlist. For how tight they were, for the fact that after opening with “Frøyas Smykke” from 2000’s Mardraum (Beyond the Within), they launched into “Fusion of Sense and Earth” from 2006’s Ruun. Kjellson‘s rasp was in top form, and all five of them were raging full-on. It was, yes, intense, and it only became more so as “Fenris” from 1994’s Frost led into the more chorus-centered “The Watcher,” the closer from 2008’s Vertebrae, a one-two that brought to mind not only Enslaved‘s intended focus on Norse mythology for the set, but the progression they’ve undertaken in their 24 years together. For his part, Larsen now sounds better live singing the clean parts on a song like “The Watcher” or “Path to Vanir,” which followed, than he sounded in the studio when they were recorded, his confidence and prowess as a vocalist an ever-increasing factor in Enslaved‘s growth.
Put it this way: I saw Enslaved in New York about three weeks ago. Not only did I stay put for the entirety of their “House of Northern Gods” set, but I’m planning on watching them again tomorrow as well. They wrapped by bringing out an acoustic guitar for “Axioma,” which seemed intended to serve as a transition to Skuggsjá, though there was a changeover necessary and one of Selvik‘s stringed instruments had some technical trouble, so there was an added delay there too, the members of Enslaved and Wardruna both on stage at their appointed start time of 00.15, or thereabouts, but not actually getting going until after 00.30.
When they did start, Skuggsjá was both modern and deeply rooted. With Bjørnson and Selvik at the front of the stage, and a total of 11 people participating, they blended elements from both bands as well as some experimentalism and grand choruses into something beautiful and unique unto itself. I’m keeping my fingers crossed it gets released as a Live at Roadburn album, because it deserves it. To describe the bare parts doesn’t really do justice to what was happening on stage. It was a moving late-night performance that, knowing it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, I was glad to stick around and see.
With the second day down, there’s still plenty of Roadburn 2015 to come. More tomorrow, but until then, there are some more pics as well after the jump.
Posted in Features on April 10th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.10.15 — 13.37 — Fri. Afternoon — 013 Office
The office is mostly quiet now, the ‘zines folded and sent out and just about everyone else off doing something while I’m still here at the desk, doing my best to pretend this is my existence and not some aberration that I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter along an otherwise discouraging “professional” path. You re-remember the details, things like the smell and taste of the coffee from the machine in the office, the way the lights in the hallway outside the Main Stage room seem to come from nowhere, the wub-wub sound of a soundcheck from up here, the ink on my fingernail from folding the day’s issue, and so on. Onions cooking in the food tent, cigarettes and other smokes. This morning on my walk here, Weirdo Canyon had a sharpness to its smell that was easily identifiable as vomit. It wore it like a scar from last night, no doubt to be opened anew in a few hours.
I managed to get last night’s review up by around 03.00, which felt pretty good, and Skyped with The Patient Mrs. for a minute or two before trying to crash out. Trying and failing, I should say. It was closer to 06.00 than not by the time I actually fell asleep, the extra hours I’d saved by trying to work efficiently all day leading up to actually putting the post together squandered as I lay in the dark, my eyes closed, a pillow over my head, unable to actually let the day go. You ever not been able to sleep and get mad about it, and then being mad keeps you awake even more? It was like that, only I was too tired to be mad. More resigned, really. And then the alarm went off at 09.00 to come to the office and finalize the second issue of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch with Lee, and I was awake again. Still feels like Wednesday, never mind Thursday. If not for the schedule on the back cover of the ‘zine or the fact that I saw Wovenhand last night, I’d have no idea which day this was.
If you’d like to check out today’s issue, by the way, it’s online here. Paul Verhagen contributed the live photos from yesterday and Terrorizer‘s José Carlos Santos did the review. I’m humbled to be in such esteemed company.
No dinner last night, nor time for it, which is something I’ll rectify today, but with Enslaved and Wardruna and Virus and Sólstafir and so on, there’s still a lot to see. Some less running around than yesterday, about which you won’t hear me complain. Beat, but looking forward to it. Roadburn only comes once a year. You pound more coffee, take your ibuprofen four at a time, grab a bottle of water whenever you can and get your ass back out there, or you spend the rest of the next 12 months wishing you had. I’m already kicking myself for missing SubRosa yesterday, who have become the talk of the fest. Finger way off the pulse. Up my nose, figuratively speaking. Excellent vibe all around though, with a lot of familiar faces and some new ones too. The people at the 013 are fantastic. It’s work to do, and maybe easy for me to idealize coming from somewhere else, but I can’t imagine better work or a better place to do it.
Some good Roadburn‘ll cure what ails you. Especially if what ails you — it’s what ails all of us, really — is the fact that the rest of your life isn’t Roadburn. Today was my busiest day, and it felt like it. A lot of back and forth. My dogs, such as they are, are barking. It was an early start and a late-enough finish, though it’s worth noting that the finish could’ve been even later. One has to find balance in these things. It’s a four-day fest. This was day one.
I sat on the backside of the photo-pit barrier before Sólstafir went on. They were opening the fest at 15.00, the same time Bell Witch were taking the stage at Het Patronaat — Roadburn means hard choices, always. I sat there, early, alone, tilted my head back and closed my eyes, took a breath in through my nose and let it out through my mouth. My last quiet moment, you see. I let it go, and a short time later, the Icelandic outfit took the stage, performing a live soundtrack to the 1984 film, also Icelandic, Hrafninn Flýgur (translated: When the Raven Flies). It would be my first time seeing them perform, and my first time seeing the movie, so I was probably at a significant disadvantage to some in the crowd, but essentially I was glad to be seeing the band at all, and knowing they’ve got a regular set scheduled for tomorrow, I went in with a pretty open mind. Whatever they were going to do, I was happy to be watching Sólstafir play. Not the most impartial of attitudes, but I dig the band.
Interestingly, a lot of what they did to accompany the movie, was rework their material as instrumental or atmospheric rock. Parts from last year’s Ótta (review here), the back end of the title-track — a landmark for the album if there ever was one — was distinct as the film went on, subtitles in English at the bottom of the big screen behind the band, who were spread out in a manner almost orchestral on the Main Stage. Maybe not surprising, but their sound fit pretty well with images of revenge-seeking Viking-types on horseback, distant mountains, stone weapons and the like. I’m still not entirely sure what was going on, but even to catch Sólstafir playing parts of their songs, I was glad to see it, and it made me look forward to their regular set. They took a bow when they were done, after the credits had rolled, and it seemed like they earned it. Over in the Green Room — the middle-size space, smaller than the 013‘s Main Stage or Het Patronaat, bigger than 013‘s Stage01 or the back of Cul de Sac where the stage is (got all that?) — Salem’s Pot were setting up for a buffet of riffs soon to unfold.
Swing, swing, swing. Swing like madmen, and they dressed the part too, all in masks, one in a dress and fishnets, like a troop of droogs gone stoner cult. The Swedish five-piece released their …Lurar ut dig på prärien debut LP (discussed here) last year on RidingEasy Records, and they had a new song for the Roadburn crowd as well as stuff from the album, which was more than solid in that heavy but kind of familiar way, but took on a different character live. Even apart from the theatrics, I guess so much on …Lurar ut dig på prärien was down to the rhythm, but on stage, the songs had different off-kilter melodies in the guitars, the dual vocals worked more dynamically, and the synth and effects swirl was a major factor in how it all came together. “Creep Purple” and “Nothing Hill” were rolling-groove highlights, and the shorter “Ego Trip,” released as the A-side of a 7″ last fall, was right on as well. I hate to think I had dismissed them, but in presence and performance, Salem’s Pot exceeded my expectations and not only had swing, swing, swing working in their favor, but a more complex approach overall than I saw coming.
A pleasant surprise, then, even though I kind of knew what they’d get up to. In the next room, the Main Stage was being set up for Floor. Now, I’ve seen Floor a few times at this point, and even since they put out their long-awaited studio comebacker Oblation (review here) about a year ago, and my general rule for Roadburn is that the bands I’ve already seen get low priority. Lower, anyway. The difference with Floor was that I’d been hearing all along about how excited people were to see them. I’m not 100 percent, but I think that until this tour, the trio of guitarist Anthony Vialon, drummer Henry Wilson (also of House of Lightning) and guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks (also of Torche) had yet to play Europe since getting back together half a decade ago. That would make them, if nothing else, due.
The bomb-toners lived up to what one might’ve hoped for on the big stage. As it will, their 2002 self-titled featured prominently in the set, starting off with the one-two-three of “Scimitar,” “Return to Zero” and “Downed Star,” Brooks and Vialon pushing out now-classic riffs as Wilson seemed to drum with his whole body behind the kit. The guitarists kept a more quiet presence, Brooks here and there on stage, moving with the music but hardly thrashing about, and Vialon more or less still in a zen-through-volume kind of fashion, but the thrust of those songs is undeniable, and as they moved into “Dove” and “Night Full of Kicks” and Oblation cuts like “Trick Scene” and “Find Away” and “The Key,” they kept their momentum, fast or lumbering. “Tales of Lolita” is always a good time, and it worked well next to the thudding “The Quill,” and closing duo “Loanin'” and “Triangle Song” wrapped up to ensure that no bases were left uncovered. They weren’t, and yeah, I’ve seen Floor before, but there was no question doing so again was the right choice.
That said, there was no way in hell I was missing Spidergawd. Largely unknown in the States, and I think known mostly to those in Europe who’ve heard their two Stickman/Crispin Glover Records LPs to date — 2014’s Spidergawd (review here) and 2015’s Spidergawd II (review here) — because of their affiliation with Norwegian prog magnates Motorpsycho, whose bassist, BentSæther,and drummer, Kenneth Kapstad, double in the more boogie-oriented outfit alongside saxophonist/vocalist Rolf Martin Snustad and guitarist/vocalist Per Borten, who is related to but not to be confused with a former Norwegian prime minister of the same name. Spidergawd were a must-see for me. One of several, but a must-see all the same, and they delivered all the way in the energy and upbeat feel of their songs. By the time they got down to “Fixin’ to Die Blues” from the new record, maybe three songs in, they had Het Patronaat eating out of their hands.
And rightly so. I saw a lot of music today and I’ll see a lot more before this weekend’s out, but I don’t know if anyone will give off a genuinely-happy-to-be-here vibe as much as Spidergawd did, still managing to both groove and be heavy while enjoying themselves. Their spirit was infectious, as are their hooks, and though it was hot in the church — damn hot — they had no letup, Snustad, Kapstad and Borten up front on the stage while Sæther played behind in a curious configuration, but one that obviously works for them. They’re a band more people should know, based solely on the merit of what they play and how they play it, never mind anyone’s pedigree or anything like that. They lit that room up, closing with the Thin Lizzy-style “Sanctuary” from Spidergawd II as if to portend even better things to come. They’ve been working quickly over the course of their first two records, and hopefully it’s not long before a third surfaces as well. The more the merrier.
I stopped by to see some of Primitive Man through the door of the Green Room before they finished. Unsurprisingly they were punishing as fuck. Floor had started something of a bang-bang-bang for the rest of my night, one to the next to the next, and I had planned on catching a bit of Uzala in the Green Room and moving on to the next set, but once they went on, the Boise, Idaho, three-piece held me in place. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were just what I was looking for. Guitarist Chad Remains, guitarist Darcy Nutt (also running her guitar through a bass rig, for extra low-end) and drummer Chuck Watkins had a new song in tow called “The Gallows,” and that moved a little faster than some of their more plodding material from 2014’s righteous Tales of Blood and Fire, songs like “Dark Days” and “Seven Veils,” but wherever they headed, they were just the right blend of beat-you-over-the-head heaviness in Remains and Nutt‘s tones, melody and lurching groove that I couldn’t have left even if I’d wanted to. They were not to be missed, in other words. Vocals were a little low, at least up front where I was standing, but Nutt has a powerful voice and as dense as those tones got — seriously, there were parts where they sounded like a machine grinding to a halt; I wondered how they’d restart it for the next measure — she cut through with little trouble and palpable soul.
Their set was a highlight of the day for me, all the more because I’d seen them before, knew what I was getting into and they still managed to surprise with how switched on they were. Remains shredded his solos in top form and had some technical trouble along the way that was fixed so promptly by the Green Room crew that I’m not even sure he noticed. Only complaint? No “Tenement of the Lost.” The closer from Tales of Blood and Fire that begins with a wash of feedback and culminates in one of the sweetest minimalist doom ballads my ears have heard in the last five years — it’s my go-to sad song — would’ve certainly been welcome, but honestly, I think the maximum-volume approach they took was probably a more practical call given the room. I could’ve gone to see Russian Circles on the Main Stage, or Thou at Het Patronaat, or Moaning Cities, whose merch I later looked for and could not find, in Stage01, but Uzala kept me where I was. They were a thrill to watch.
Somewhere in there, it would’ve made sense to have dinner. I did not. No time. Wovenhand would be on the Main Stage shortly, and I knew that was where I wanted to be. It was a return appearance for them and the second time I’d have seen them at Roadburn — never seen them anywhere else, come to think of it — but as I consider the set they played in 2011 a personal landmark, as in, “before I saw it” and “after I saw it,” I’d been very much anticipating their arrival. They were headliners this time along with Eyehategod, who’d play the Main Stage afterwards, but Wovenhand had the longer set, and put their 80 minutes to use in the most dynamic manner I saw all day, frontman David Eugene Edwards far to the left side of the stage while drummer Ordy Garrison had the middle, and guitarist/backing vocalist Chuck French and bassist Neil Keener anchored the right. Edwards is among the more charismatic stage presences I’ve ever seen, and though he said before they ended that they knew they were “out of their league” in coming back to Roadburn, I felt more like I was out of mine watching them.
Last year’s Refractory Obdurate (review here) featured prominently in their set, which opened with “Hiss,” arguably their heaviest work to-date. Ultimately, it would be a much different kind of intensity they brought than four years ago, when Edwards, seated, laid bare a deeply spiritual — religious, Christian — neo-folk, worldly in its arrangements and deeper than the eye could follow. Standing, the vocalist/guitarist still had a feather in his hat and still taunted or teased the audience in a kind of war-whoop, but he also softshoed while he played, and Wovenhand this time around was a much more stripped-down, rawer, meaner-toned outfit. Garrison‘s drums, aided now and then by some extra percussion by French, were a driving force, and the seething energy of their rhythm could be felt throughout the main hall, whether they happened to be raging at the time, as in “Hiss,” or engaged in a more quiet brooding, à la “Closer” from 2012’s The Laughing Stalk (review here). Opener “Long Horn” from that album was also a highlight, and I was amazed what a few years could do for band like that progressing in unexpected ways and pursuing different avenues of sound. “Good Shepherd” lacked nothing for its melody, but even that had a coinciding element of pummel.
It was to the point where, I knew I wanted to see Monolord. I’d wanted to see Monolord all along, and they were playing Het Patronaat at the same time Wovenhand were on the Main Stage — Roadburn giveth and Roadburn scheduleth conflicteth. I left Wovenhand and went down the block to the other venue just as Monolord were going on. How heavy were they? They were superlatively heavy. A monumental sonic impact that seemed to hit all at once, as though the guitar and bass were also kick drums. It was ridiculous, and the line outside the Patronaat was backed up the longest I’d seen it yet to get in, but as I stood there and watched them, I couldn’t take the fact that Wovenhand were playing Roadburn and I wasn’t in the same room where it was happening. Monolord slayed the place, absolutely. I saw people coming out of there when they were done and they looked even more in a daze than usual. But me, I had to back and watch Wovenhand finish. They were too good to let it pass. And when they were done, they came back out and did an encore. Fucking a.
My evening was more or less done and I knew it, but when Wovenhand finished their encore, I swung back to Het Patronaat to watch some of Kandodo, who are led by guitarist Simon Price of The Heads and were doing a special set with Robert Hampson of Loop sitting in as part of The Heads‘ residency. I didn’t know what that collaboration might bring, but it brought a fervent run of heavy psychedelia that was perfect for me to close out the night. They started in the dark, Price and Hampson on guitar on opposite sides of the stage, bassist Hugo Morgan (also The Heads) and drummer Wayne Maskell (also also The Heads) between, but the lights gradually came up as they jammed their way through a first song — read as “Kandy Rock” on the setlist — and into the next. Watching them made me want to buy many albums, I’ll say that, but time was getting on and I had a review to write, so I cut out after a bit and made my way back to the hotel. It was a mindbender of a first day, but I know there is still much more to come over this weekend.