Posted in Features on May 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
To run down the list of accolades that the Boston-area music scene has (rightly) foisted upon producer/engineer Benny Grotto of Mad Oak Studios over the last however many years would take a really, really long time, but suffice it to say that when an opportunity to watch him work is afforded, it’s not one you want to neglect. It’s a pleasure I first had six years ago, as Grotto — who also until recently was drumming in Slapshot — was mixing what would become Solace‘s long-awaited A.D. full-length, but of course his production credits go much further than that, including an entire pantheon of releases through Small Stone Records by Dwellers, Roadsaw — whose Craig Riggs is an owner of Mad Oak, along with Grotto and PK Pandey — Sasquatch, Gozu and The Brought Low, as well as local luminaries like The Scimitar, Black Thai and Second Grave, among many others.
But most of that, apart from the Second Grave, which is forthcoming, was done in the old Mad Oak. In January, the studio opened a new facility at 390 Cambridge St. in Allston, MA, and immediately set about filling the calendar with clients, among them reunited New Hampshire burl rockers Scissorfight, who were there tracking five songs for a new EP to be released sometime later this year. It will mark their first offering in a decade and their first with a new lineup including Doug Aubin on vocals and Rick Orcutt on drums alongside bassist Paul Jarvis and guitarist Jay Fortin that recently made their live debut to a sold-out Shaskeen in Portsmouth, NH, the first of many more live shows to come. The appeal of hearing new Scissorfight in-progress under Grotto‘s care was too good to ignore, so I headed into Allston last Wednesday to check out the tail end of the session.
Greeted outside by Jarvis‘ dog, Anna, who spent most of her time lounging on a bed made of an old flannel shirt, and Jarvis and Aubin, I made my way into the place to find Grotto, as ever, in front of a monitor filled with waveforms. A large tv on the wall behind him allowed anyone sitting on the plush couch nearby to see what he was doing, and from the spacious, clean layout of the room, it was clear that the studio had only been living in the redone space for a couple months. The floor, the ceiling, the giant monitors embedded in and in front of the wall to blast from a small stage in the control room — none of it had yet been kicked to hell by time, and the same went for the high-ceiling live room, which, if the sound of Orcutt‘s drums was anything to go by, is going to make a lot of percussionists very happy.
“From my end, I wanted to basically steal all the cool things I liked about the other studios I’d been working at, as well as minimize or eliminate the negative things that those places had,” Grotto explained. “For me, the general vibe and level of comfort were the primary issue. I wanted to set the place up in a way that really facilitates creativity and a relaxed atmosphere. We have unbelievable sight-lines throughout the whole studio, lots of comfortable places to relax, and a wealth of instruments and gear that are all easily accessible, which helps artists to get ideas down quickly before the inspiration dries up.
“One of the big advantages to the new space is that we got to design it to our exact needs, from the ground up. So we were able take all the lessons that Riggs learned building the first place, combine them with my experience over the last couple years working in a variety of studios as a freelancer, and combine all that with PK‘s extensive experience as a studio building consultant, and really dial the whole thing into what is more or less our dream studio.”
The layout of the space reminds of a complex piece of software designed to look and operate simply. The live room is flanked on either side by isolation booths, there are big doors for load-in, the control room, a break space/kitchen, bathroom, etc., but from the cork in the ceiling to Grotto controlling colored LED lights from his phone and the acoustics as tracks were played back, what Mad Oak has become is clearly the result of meticulous work.
“Craig really wanted to focus on the construction itself. He’s been on-site every day, basically working as the contractor, making sure everything is getting done to his very high standards, but he’s busting ass as a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, everything. Very hands on. The work he and his guys have been doing in here is out of this world; the craftsmanship and attention to detail is really unlike anything I’ve seen in a recording studio.
“PK has a massive amount of experience as a studio building consultant, and we were able to make use of that experience in a major way. Specifically by tapping the Walter Storyk Design Group — which is the studio architectural firm responsible for an incredible list of studios all around the world, including Hendrix‘s Electric Lady — to design the control room. That really elevates us to a whole new level in terms of prestige — not to mention, the acoustics in here sound incredible.”
I wouldn’t argue. Fortin was about to lay down some acoustic guitar flourish on a maddeningly catchy track with the working title “Beaver Fever” — the twist: it’s actually about Giardia — but already the material sounded huge, with the trademark crunch in his and Jarvis‘ weighted tones that became a staple of Scissorfight‘s sound in their initial run. Over top, Aubin brought his own edge to sardonic lyrics, snarls and growls about drinking beaver piss. The band called it a public service. I’ll assume the same applies to “Tits Up” and “’70s Boobs,” another working title.
Those three were mostly done. Jarvis put some banjo on “Beaver Fever” that may or may not make the final cut — was cool but might’ve been a bit much with the acoustic already there; would need to hear it mixed — and Aubin will have to go back in for “Ol’ Taint Rot” and “Stove,” but the basic tracks were finished to the point that Grotto, grumbling about the response time of his wireless mouse, was already compiling tracks for rough mixes to send the band. The mental organization involved in that process is not to be understated. At the same time he was cross-fading two tracks joining together, he was also running hard drive backups and drawing on markers so he knew where preamp dials were, for the next time the band are in, or maybe just to keep a record of it. Either way, there’s nothing haphazard about the process.
Grotto told me in a not at all complaining fashion that he’s had one day off since January. Watching him work again, I believe it. The drive and the passion he puts into what he does is inspiring, and as Scissorfight step up to claim the utter dominance of New England that has basically been theirs for the taking for the last decade, there are no better hands they could be in. With smartass jokes a-flying, Fortin, Jarvis and Aubin (Orcutt wasn’t there) were completely at ease at Mad Oak, and it was clear just from being there for the few hours I was how much that was also part of the intricate design.
“The new space sounds amazing,” said Grotto. “It’s made my life so much easier. Every drummer who’s done a session in here so far has told me it’s the best drum room they’ve ever played in. The room just sings. And we laid out the gear and infrastructure in a way that speeds up the workflow, so we’re just flying through setup, and the bands play great. It’s been fantastic.”
Scissorfight‘s new EP is called Chaos County and will be out later this year. Thanks to Jay Fortin for letting me use his photos of the session.
Posted in Features on April 20th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
One would be hard pressed to name a single city that has contributed more to the sphere of American heavy rock in the last half-decade than Portland, Oregon. I’m not even sure there’s any competition, even from places like San Francisco or San Diego. The challenge this presents new bands at this point is how they go about distinguishing themselves from their peers, and that is something that hard-driving four-piece Holy Grove would seem to have solved early.
Their self-titled debut (review here) is out now on Italian imprint Heavy Psych Sounds, owned by Gabriele Fiori of Black Rainbows/Killer Boogie, and basks in wide-cast grooves and a crisp but natural tonal warmth captured by stuff-of-legend producer Billy Anderson that puts the powerful vocals of Andrea Vidal front and center atop the riffs of guitarist Trent Jacobs, the rumble of bassist Gregg Emley and the roll of original drummer Craig Bradford (replaced by Adam Jelsing). That’s a big risk for a relatively new band, Holy Grove started in 2012, but it’s still their first album, but Holy Grove takes classic cues and updates them with a modern thickness of sound that would seem to hold an appeal for fans of then and now in heavy.
Holy Grove play Psycho Las Vegas in August (info here), joining in international and interstellar array of groups, and have a European tour in the works for the fall to further support the album, as well as work already underway on the follow-up, which is probably a ways off, but still in progress already. In the interview that follows, Vidal talks with good humor about her experience joining the band, how they got together, needing to buy a microphone after the first practice, starting work on the album after releasing the Live at Jooniors (review here) two-songer, recording with Anderson and much more, including finding her voice as a lead singer and the importance of commanding a stage and bringing a show to life.
The complete Q&A tops 3,200 words and can be found after the jump.
Posted in Features on April 18th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.18.16 – 13:05 – In air, en route to Reykjavik
Same thing as last year, minor tweak in the execution. I rolled over at 08:50 for an 08:00 alarm, immediate mental brutality. It was six when I went to sleep – same as the night before, and while the alarm was set, it just didn’t happen. I was showered, packed and out the door by 09:10 and that felt pretty good, considering. Like I said, same as last year.
At this point, it feels almost like a part of the Roadburn tradition that I have some snag getting to the airport. After hightailing it to the train station as fast as my sore feet could carry me, I bought my ticket and waited 20 minutes – the Zwolle had just left, the Utrech Centraal would take me to den Bosch, where I’d change to the airport – for it to show up. It did, and though I was stressing the whole time about missing the flight and sent The Patient Mrs. her annual “I’m not gonna make it this time” text message, I got to the airport, through check-in and security with about three minutes to spare before they closed the gate. Made it. A splash of water on the face and neck, a relatively smooth flight, and I’ll connect in Reykjavik before going on to Boston. Back to work tomorrow.
Which seems cruel in hindsight.
A few things to wrap up the Roadburn 2016 coverage. First, the names of these posts come from various song titles worth recognizing. Some were obvious picks, some less so. If you’re unfamiliar, they are:
1. “Hover,” by Spotlights
2. “Dawn” by Elephant Tree
3. No song title
4. “Eternal Waltz” by Beelzefuzz
5. “Cosmic Truth” by Hexvessel
6. “Living with the Dead” by With the Dead
7. “Times of Grace” by Neurosis
8. “Black Magick Boogieland” by Death Alley
9. “Homegoings and Transitions” by Floor
I was falling asleep all night last night at the laptop screen and though it’s the early afternoon, I find right now is no different. Still, before I land and have to find my gate and all that flying-deathtrap nonsense that is, to the shame of our entire species, still allegedly the best way of traveling around the planet, I have a few thank yous to get out. Including but not at all limited to:
Walter Roadburn, whose ceaseless passion and efforts are an inspiration both this weekend and all around the year. The work he’s done and the community he’s built felt more than ever like coming home, even with the changes to the venue, and it was through Walter’s grace and the grace of the 013 staff that it was able to happen.
Thank you to my family for their unending support. If you follow me on Thee Facebooks at all, you probably saw my mother commenting on photos from Instagram. I love that.
Lee Edwards for sleeping (shaman-esque, you might say) through my nighttime typing and for the most excellent work he put into the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, writing and layout. As well as for the friendship and good chats in the 013 office on those tired mornings for the folding ritual. Seeing Lee was one of the aspects of Roadburn 2016 to which I was most looking forward.
Thanks as well to the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch staff this year – Alex Mysteerie, Andreas Kohl, Ben Handelman, Becky Laverty, Dom Lawson, Guido Segers, Jamie Ludwig, José Carlos Santos, Kim Kelly, Paul Robertson, Sander van den Driesche, photographer Paul Verhagen, the guys from Drawn too Late, Wendy Wright, Gijs Garenfeld, and Cavum, without whose art, the thing simply would not have been the same. All of the above did tremendous work, whether it was writing or other, and the ‘zine wouldn’t have happened were it not for them.
I met Tad Doyle this weekend. That was awesome. Some people I wasn’t brave enough to introduce myself to: photographer Ester Segarra, anyone from Neurosis, Sanford Parker.
Thanks as well to Tim Bugbee, Jon Freeman, Jurgen van den Brand, Rolf from Stickman and Torgeir from Crispin Glover, Ole from Tombstones, Frank Huang, Esther de Rooij, Sanne Reiniers, Miranda, Falk-Hagen Bernshausen, Stefan Raduta, and many more I will add to the list over the next couple days.
To read all of The Obelisk’s Roadburn 2016 coverage, click here.
More than any other Roadburn in recent memory, this one has gone quickly. It never quite drags, but Roadburn 2016 has been a sleepless blur of tonal impact, furious creativity and walks down 013 corridors that on Thursday were strange and new and by today were as though nothing about the venue had changed at all. Like the marathon and the sprint decided to join forces. Today was the last day, the Afterburner, which drops from five stages to three — the Main Stage and the Green Room at the 013 and the space over at Cul de Sac — and generally features a more chilled-out vibe, though particularly over the last couple years, its stylistic reach has become no less broad than Roadburn proper.
To wit, today’s lineup. In keeping with this year’s Icelandic theme — most of that is black metal, but still — The Vintage Caravan played a special 2PM set at Cul de Sac, last minute. They were here hanging out and so got a slot on the bill. I didn’t get to see it because we were finishing up the final issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch (you can read it here), but to see that kind of spontaneity in action — hey, you’re here, so play — exemplifies part of what makes Roadburn so genuinely exceptional. My understanding is the band’s new drummer wasn’t with them yet when they played here last year, so wanted to be able to say he’d played Roadburn as well. Sure, why not?
My day began a short time later with Mirrors for Psychic Warfare starting in the Green Room. The two-piece is comprised of Scott Kelly of Neurosis and Sanford Parker, who also played today with Buried at Sea, and I guess it’s fair to call it a Corrections House spinoff, since they both operate in the same roles as in that band, with Parker on electronics and synth and Kelly providing guitar and vocals, but without Eyehategod‘s Mike Williams as frontman or Bruce Lamont‘s sax, the effect is vastly different. Progressions were slow and lurching as they emanated from Kelly‘s guitar, and waves of loud-as-hell drones oozed forth massive from the stage. At one point, Parker played a line of bass through his laptop or sampler, whichever it was, and the low end was such a physical presence I could feel it vibrating my nose hair. It’s not like I have a lot of it, either. It was a sensation I’d never felt before. Earplugs vibrating, sure. Nose hairs? Kind of tickled, actually.
Vocals were sporadic but well suited to the grueling mood, and the set as a whole seemed to be working on a gradual build in intensity until, as they were finishing, Kelly was throwing his shoulders as he might headbanging during one of Neurosis more riotous parts. Needless to say, they closed loud. Green Carnation were on the Main Stage playing Light of Day, Day of Darkness, which is a cool record to be sure, but I didn’t want to miss the start of Blind Idiot God, the New York trio playing the fourth show of their maiden voyage to Europe. Their latest album, Before Ever After (review here), has just had its worldwide release, and in addition to the notable reggae nod in “Night Driver,” the instrumental three piece played “Antiquity” and a host of others from what was their first LP in 23 years, their focus on blurring lines between NY aggro noise crunch, proggy brilliance and heavy atmospheres.
Add to that drummer Tim Wyskida‘s winning for most elaborate drum kit of the weekend — at least of the ones I saw — and Blind Idiot God offered intrigue and dissonance in kind. Their stage presence was progressive, led in that regard by guitarist Andy Hawkins, but still had a bit of pre-Giuliani Manhattan noise rock grit about them beneath that came out here and there in their sound, which was wide open stylistically, but delivered by Hawkins, Wyskida and bassist Will Dahl with precision and due emphasis on the complexity in the material. There were people in the crowd who’d waited 25 years to see the band. You could say the response was solid. Respected scribe and all-around hyper-passionate supporter of music Stefan Raduta gave me the hard sell on catching Jakob, though really all he had to say was “they’re from New Zealand.” Anyone who’s traveled that far to play Roadburn must have a good reason.
Complemented with visuals by Jérôme Siegelaer, the three-piece’s set found its reason in a lush post-rock, full in tone and l-o-u-d loud, but still evocative enough to keep the crowd in its grasp to the point where, after applauding, the room quickly fell into silence as those in attendance waited to hear the first notes of whatever it was Jakob were going to play next. Their fourth album, Sines, came out in 2014, but this was my first exposure to them, and it was a recommendation I was glad I took when they were finished, the vibe setting itself up for a departure into the darker post-metallurgy of Belgium’s Amenra. But first, Ecstatic Vision in the Green Room. I’ve seen them before and they’re from Philadelphia, which is much, much closer to where I live than New Zealand, so I stayed through the end of Jakob, but managed to poke my head in the door of the packed out smaller stage and find the trio’s blend of heavy psych and space rock intact from when I last left it. Their debut, Sonic Praise (review here), was right on for Roadburn from the outset, so there was little surprise when they were added, but they’ve put in some considerable road time already, so good to see them doing well, even if I’m seeing it through the doorway instead of in the room itself.
The sense of presentation back in the Main Stage began even before Amenra actually started playing. A large white curtain was brought out and raised in front of the stage so that the band’s video background could cover even more territory, and after everything was ready to go, vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout — who also has a solo record out called Rasa (review here) — came out first, knelt down in front of the drum riser, facing away from the crowd as he did for yesterday’s acoustic Amenra set and as is apparently his wont, and started beating two sticks together, slowly and ritualistically. He was joined soon by drummer Bjorn Lebon, who had his own sticks, and followed soon by the rest of the band, guitarists Mathieu van de Kerckhove (also Syndrome, which played Cul de Sac earlier in the day) and Lennart Bossu and bassist Levy Seynaeve, and there began a set of some of the most intense post-metal I’ve ever seen outside of Neurosis themselves.
On par with Isis at their angriest, but crisper in their songwriting and use of ambience, Amenra were further distinguished by their direct affinity for “Times of Grace” but more so by the flashing strobes, high-energy delivery and their obvious mastery of the form. What I learned at the Roadburn 2016 Afterburner was that people go apeshit for that stuff. I can’t argue it wasn’t cohesive, but the power of Amenra‘s aesthetic and the force with which they drove it at the assembled masses earned them the night’s second biggest response, and the Main Stage was crowded enough that I had to go all the way up top just to find a place to stand, and even that didn’t come easy. It was an impressive showing, and while I’m not sure I’d count myself in the getting-it camp — or in a parish of the Church of Ra, as it were — much of their set was undeniable. One would not win a debate arguing against it.
There was a considerable break before Neurosis came out for the second set of their two-night 30th anniversary celebratory stint headlining on the Main Stage. My first Roadburn was 2009, the year they curated, and I can still remember standing in the balcony of what’s now the old-013 big room and being awed. It wasn’t my first time seeing them, but it was something special, and the same goes for last night and tonight together as well. Yes, partially because they broke out older, not-really-played-anymore songs like “Blisters,” “Grey” and “Double-Edged Sword” from The Word as Law, “The Web” and “To Crawl Under One’s Skin” from Souls at Zero and Pain of Mind‘s “Life on Your Knees” and “Pollution” from 1989’s Aberration EP. They went as far forward as 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) and touched on all the ground in between, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly having some technical issues — the first time I’ve ever seen Neurosis have tech problems — with his guitar after opening with “To Crawl Under One’s Skin,” but sorting it out with guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till and the crew as Noah Landis covered for them with a huge, kind of abrasive drone, and drummer Jason Roeder and god-damn-it’s-a-joy-to-watch bassist/backing vocalist Dave Edwardson sat tight.
When they got going again, it was “Locust Star,” and, you know, the universe collapsed on itself and folded into the deeper reaches of subspace, so whether or not the guitar was working didn’t really matter anymore because all existence was wiped out. At least that’s how I remember it. Pretty standard for Neurosis. In all seriousness, I don’t know if there’s a heavy band of their generation that’s inspired so much wax poetry — I’m guilty in this regard as well, in case you didn’t click that review link above — but it seems to me that speaks to the level on which Neurosis resonate with their audience. It’s often credited as this cerebral, arthouse phenomenon, but it’s not that. It’s rawer, from the gut, and it captures an experience that isn’t necessarily universal, but which this crowd — the Roadburn crowd, here and worldwide — relates to like it doesn’t relate to anything else. As they wrapped with “The Tide” and drew the tension out to cruel extremes before Kelly started the opening riff of set-finale “The Doorway,” it occurred to me again how special this band is, how much it derives from the players that comprise it, and that however much others try to capture the same sonic spirit, they only wind up with a fraction of it at best. It was a two-hour set. If they’d decided to do a third, I’d have stuck around for it.
A lot of people stuck around anyway, as it happens, to see PH — formerly MPH, formerly Mr. Peter Hayden — in the Green Room. The Finnish band is a cosmic wrecking ball and I managed to catch some of their set last time they played Roadburn, but Buried at Sea were also coming on the Main Stage, and if you know Migration, you know why it was the back and forth between the two that it was. The Chicago four-piece released that LP, their only one, in 2003 and though guitarist/vocalist Sanford Parker (also Corrections House and Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, as well as War Crime Recordings) has gone on to become a household name in the underground for his production work for the likes of Blood Ceremony, YOB, Pelican, etc., it was the band as a whole that really made an impact. They were among the first to consciously proffer tone worship in US doom, and that’s not something that’s easily forgotten for those who were there to hear it the first time around or who’ve caught on since.
Even following two hours of Neurosis, which has to be one of the least enviable festival slots in the history of recorded sound, Buried at Sea kept the crowd there and delivered the vicious heft with which they’ve become synonymous, largely in their absence — their last EP, Ghost, came out on Neurot in 2007 — and while I don’t know if they have any plans to do more or maybe put a sophomore album together, but with the lineup of Parker, bassist/vocalist Chris Sowell, guitarist Jason Depew and drummer Brandon Pierce, they sounded vital. Gave me hope where previously I’d sort of figured they’d do a couple shows and then go back their separate ways.
It was getting late. My feet were telling me. With pain. Always bittersweet to say goodbye to Roadburn, and 2016 having gone so quickly, all the more so. Death Alley were rounding out the fest at Cul de Sac, so after hanging for a while at PH, I made my way over there. It was too packed to get up front for pictures or anything like that, plus everyone around me was smashed and I didn’t want to feel like a dickhead American invader, so I hung in the back and listened as a bass-heavy take on “Over Under” started off their set. The place was immediate into it, even where I was, and rightly so. How far that band has come in just a couple years, they’re legitimately one of the Netherlands’ most exciting acts going, and they just have one record, 2015’s Black Magick Boogieland (review here). It’ll need a follow-up sooner or later, but still, that’s a considerable accomplishment starting out.
They played the title-track “Black Magick Boogieland,” and standing back by the door of the Cul de Sac with my earplugs in, drunken revelry on all sides of me — I got told tonight my face radiates love; mostly I think I just look tired — my camera bag on the floor to give my shoulder a rest, I thought back to the interview I did with the band for the album last year prior to the release and their talking about the concept of what the title meant and about the power of music to draw people in, to change minds, to shape lives, excite and inspire. How lucky I am to have been here this week and the seven years prior. For me, Roadburn has become that sacred space that I keep trying to live up to, to be worthy of, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to cap it than with “Black Magick Boogieland,” because that’s what it’s all about. That was how I wanted my night and my Roadburn 2016 to finish, on that feeling of warmth and belonging.
And so that’s how it ended.
I’ll have another post to wrap up the coverage series, but I need to be up in three hours to go to the airport and fly home and there are still pictures to sort, so I’ll just say thanks for reading for now.
We were done with the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch folding ritual early this afternoon. Third time’s the charm. The issue was finished and printed and put online (you can read it here) by a little bit before one o’clock, so I decided to head back to the hotel to have a drink of water, get my head around the day, dick around on my phone, etc.
En route, something caught my ear wafting out of the Cul de Sac. It was Rotterdam natives Dool soundchecking, and from outside, they sounded pretty damn good. Their name had come up in the office since they’re this year’s “Roadburn Introduces” pick, and I decided pretty quickly that I’d have to check them out even just going by what I heard on my way by, so I got back in time to get a spot up front and attended their arrival. They’ve got members of The Devil’s Blood in bassist Job van de Zande and drummer Micha Haring and Gold‘s Nick Polak on guitar along with Reinier Vermeulen, and guitarist/vocalist Ryanne van Dorst, and maybe since they’re not brand new players out of the gate it shouldn’t be a surprise they were in such command of their sound, but for a band who doesn’t have more than a single out, they were impressive in their presence on stage and in the cohesion of their aesthetic, copping elements of goth rock to darken up heavy grooves for an early crowd.
When they got to “Words on Paper,” van Dorst switched out her electric guitar for an acoustic one, and the effect of the added resonance to Polak‘s and Vermeulen‘s guitars was palpable. Every Roadburn brings a pleasant surprise. Dool were definitely mine this year. This morning, I knew nothing about them. Now I’ll be keeping an eye out for news about their debut album. They’d wrap up in time for Skepticism to start on the Main Stage. The Finnish funeral doomers hit the quarter-century mark in 2016, and they marked the occasion with a special fan-selected set that focused heavily on their 1995 debut LP, Stormcrowfleet, with “Sign of a Storm,” “By Silent Wings” and “The Everdarkgreen,” as well as their 2003 third outing, Farmakon, with “Farmakon Process,” “The Raven and the Backward Funeral” and “Shred of Light, Pinch of Endless.” They had “The March and the Stream” from 1998’s Lead and Aether in there as well, but whatever they were playing, it all crawled, gruelingly, further into a deep, black abyss of church-organ-laced doom, heavy on drama and impassable in tone.
Frontman Matti Tilaeus added to the drama, the bowtie of his formalwear undone — as apparently it will be — and the white roses he carried out with him when he came on stage laid on the tops of the monitors for extra funereal effect. They played mostly in the dark, and were a reminder of just how much what we think of today as death-doom owes its crux to what Finland conjured in the mid-’90s. It was a surprise to walk out of the Main Stage room when they were done and find the sun was still up. How could daylight still even exist after such a thing? I’d ponder the question during an initial loop through the merch area while waiting as I have been for months, years, to see Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, also playing the Main Stage. The Tad Doyle-fronted outfit released their also-awaited self-titled debut (review here) on Neurot Recordings, and though they toured to support it — with Neurosis, no less — I didn’t get to go to that show and my soul has had a dent in it ever since.
Well, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth‘s sheer tectonic heaviness took that dent, bumped it out and polished it up real nice. And by that I mean that, while the video screen behind them showed suitably-themed images like the earth as a ball of fire, volcanoes, arcane rituals and so on, they played so furiously loud and with such heft of low end that the floor of the big room actually shook. They had a second guitarist on stage right with bassist Peggy Doyle, and drummer Dave French was in the back, but as a whole unit, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth came together to hone pure aural destruction for the duration of their set, Tad‘s seething rasp and screams placing him at the center of the churn, not nearly as morose as Skepticism had been, but viscerally angry and geared for maximum impact. When the asteroid hits planet earth in whatever year that is — could be tomorrow for all I care; I’m at fucking Roadburn — it will sound like Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. I own two of their t-shirts. When they were done I felt like maybe that’s not enough.
Aside from the fact that Astrosoniq drummer/producer Marcel van de Vondervoort is deeply involved with recording and mixing the audio streams of each Roadburn that so often become groups’ live albums, and aside from the fact that after I first dug into their last studio LP, 2010’s Quadrant (review here), I decided I needed to hear every record they’d ever put out — 2006’s Speeder People (review here), 2005’s Made in Oss EP (review here), 2002’s Soundgrenade (review here) and 2000’s Son of A.P. Lady (review here) — I have been waiting years to see Astrosoniq play Roadburn, and their set was made all the more special by the fact that fest organizer Walter was doing live visuals as he did for The Heads last year. The band hasn’t had much if any live activity over the last few years. It’s now been seven since Quadrant was first issued in Europe. I knew it was going to be something special. I knew I was lucky to see them. I don’t think I knew just how much that would be the case.
On record, they hop genres with attention-deficit regularity, but in the Green Room, the band were much more fluid. They jammed out with the best of anything I’ve seen at Roadburn 2016, and I’ve seen a few jams. Guitarist Ron van Herpen had guested the other night with Death Alley, but really stood out during “As Soon as They Got Airborne,” an extended take that was only part of the larger highlight that was the set as a whole. “You Lose” from Son of A.P. Lady was another standout, that album having just received a limited vinyl reissue that’s caught my eye in the merch area downstairs at the Patronaat. May or may not get to pick its deluxeness up to take home, but Astrosoniq made an easy case with what I’ll hope is a return to activity that results — eventually; doesn’t have to be this week; next week is fine — in a new full-length. Their native Oss is about 35 minutes from Tilburg by car, just on the other side of den Bosch, and they got the hometown greeting from a strong Dutch contingent represented in the crowd. I knew they would be a hard act to follow.
I watched a bit of Tau Cross — with Away from Voivod on drums and Rob Miller from Amebix on vocals — on the Main Stage before heading over to Het Patronaat to catch the start of Beastmaker, as Lee Dorrian‘s curation was continuing over there. I miss-timed it and didn’t actually get to see them apart from their soundcheck, blowing my chance at Carousel in Extase at the same time, and routed back to the 013 proper to watch Converge do their special ‘Blood Moon’ set comprised of their slower and more experimental material. After their Jane Doe set the other night, which I caught the tail end of, the vibe was almost completely different. Yeah, Jacob Bannon still writhed and paced back and forth and whatnot, but there were more clean vocals — giving Stephen Brodsky (Cave In) another chance to shine, which he did — and they brought out Steve Von Till of Neurosis and Chelsea Wolfe to add their voices to the mix, and Ben Chisholm fleshed out textures on keys, resulting in a rich sound that pushed away from hard/metalcore in favor of something less stylistically hinged. Even for being selections from past records, ‘Blood Moon’ set its own context, and even in the parts that didn’t feature Von Till, one could hear a strong sense of influence from Neurosis in what they were doing.
At that point, I decided to do something I hadn’t done since I got to Tilburg: I stopped and had a meal. I left Massachusetts on Tuesday evening. Today was Saturday. Since then, I hadn’t had time to actually sit down to a dinner, lunch, breakfast, anything. I bumped into Weirdo Canyon Dispatch photog extraordinaire Paul Verhagen and we grabbed a bite, with Exile on Mainstream‘s Andreas Kohl joining later, before Amenra went on the Main Stage. I had mixed veggies — broccoli, brussels sprouts, string beans, some other green thing chopped up — a boneless chicken thigh, a spicy chicken wing and a considerable amount of green salad, dry. It might as well have been birthday cake.
Amenra are something of a fixture around Roadburn. The Belgian atmospheric sludgers played in 2007, they played when Neurosis curated in 2009, they played in 2013 and they’ll play again at the Afterburner. That’s nothing to complain about, I’m just noting it because perhaps it was part of what drove them to do something different this time around, performing mostly acoustic with seven players seated arranged in a circle on the stage to stark lighting and deeply melancholic reinterpretations of their songs. Of course, they also have a new LP out, Alive, on Consouling Sounds working in similar forms — it features a faithful cover of Tool‘s “Parabol,” which they also played — but even in this different incarnation, it was plain to hear the impact of Neurosis on their methods and of Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till‘s solo works on their dark-folk and minimalist (if you can call something with seven people on stage minimalist) brooding.
Vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout said from the stage they were nervous and doing their best, possibly after someone shouted “Slayer!” in the crowd. If they were uncomfortable, it was hard to tell from the harmonies. When they were done, they left one at a time until only a single guitarist remained, his back to the crowd. Then he got up and walked away and the part he was playing kept going. It was a loop, obviously — that’s not exactly a magic trick at this point — but it made for a striking visual all the same and said something about the resonance of their material, being brought down on a slow fade as the crowd erupted again. There would be a 40-minute break before Neurosis came on, which, to be completely honest, felt like an eternity.
From Brothers of the Sonic Cloth onward, everything on the Main Stage at Roadburn 2016 today was building toward the Neurosis 30th anniversary set. From Tad Doyle‘s grunge roots to Tau Cross‘ own in crust and progressive thrash, to Converge and Amenra having both — in very different ways, granted — found inspiration in their work, Neurosis was at the core of what the whole day was about, and the push forward was leading inextricably to their set as the culmination. Not to say it was seven-plus hours of setup and nothing more, just that the clearly purposeful flow of the day was designed with its direction in mind. It was not an accident.
They opened with “Lost” from 1993’s Enemy of the Sun, and among the you-were-never-gonna-see-Neurosis-play-this highlights were “Pain of Mind” and “Self-Taught Infection” from 1988’s Pain of Mind debut, “To What End?” from 1990’s The Word as Law, a cover of Joy Division‘s “Day of the Lords,” and, gloriously, “Takeahnase” from 1992’s Souls at Zero, arguably the point at which they really started to branch beyond their beginnings in crust and hardcore punk and move into the various forms of aggression that they continue to develop now — the easy word for it is post-metal, but it’s post-metal because Neurosis made it that way. With more recent inclusions like “At the Well” from 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) and “Water is Not Enough” from 2007’s Given to the Rising, along with “Times of Grace” from the 1999 album of the same name, “Left to Wander” from 2004’s The Eye of Every Storm, as well as the closing pair of “Through Silver in Blood,” from the 1996 LP of the same name, and “Stones from the Sky” from 2001’s A Sun that Never Sets.
Between all of that and “An Offering” from the Sovereign EP, there was not one record in their discography unrepresented. That made the event even more special — they’ll follow-up with a second installment for the Afterburner tomorrow — but the truth of the matter is that anytime Neurosis shows up, it’s special. I know they’ve done more touring in the last year than in the decade prior, but still, I don’t think there’s a band on the planet that captures the same measure of intensity, of raw passion, of volume-assault-as-spiritual-refuge that Neurosis does, and whether it’s Noah Landis using the entire universe for source material for samples and manipulated transitional drones for between songs, Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly complementing each other on guitar and vocals as one might expect for two guys who’ve been fronting a band together for 30 years, Dave Edwardson‘s continued ferocity on bass or Jason Roeder‘s cyclical drum patterning, everything they do is a lesson in the ethic of putting creativity first. They have a new record coming out at some point. I don’t know what it sounds like or what it’s called, but I feel comfortable in the knowledge that it will step forward from where they were with Honor Found in Decay, because they’re Neurosis, and that means no compromising.
I kind of lost my shit during that especially blistering rendition of “Takeahnase,” and I expect tomorrow and Monday I’ll be good and sore. Who cares? Not me. I’m back at it in the morning for the last issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch and more bands for the Afterburner, which basically is just another day of Roadburn at this point. Fine by me. It’s gone quickly in 2016 — how do you pack a year’s worth of living into four days? — so I’ll take everything I can get.
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.
Already it seems like Roadburn is in full swing. There’s no sense of the outside world, only Roadburn, which always has and always will. Familiar faces abound, and new ones too. A lot of them. That build-out on the 013 allowed for more tickets sold, so inarguably Roadburn 2016 is the most crowded this event has ever been. That’s saying something. Mostly, it’s saying, “get there early if you want to get up front.”
I did just that what seems like a million hours ago for The Poisoned Glass starting the day — the first day; my god, it’s still the first day — at Het Patronaat, aka the church. The band is new, but the players involved were clearly known to the early crowd, vocalist/noisemaker Edgy59 and bassist G. Stuart Dahlquist both veterans of widely influential doom extremists Burning Witch. By astounding coincidence, their debut album, 10 Swords, came out this week via Ritual Productions, and they played the vast majority of it and then some, the volume of Dahlquist‘s bass loud enough to vibrate earplugs and dissuade any accusations of minimalism one might try to make.
With Edgy59 switching between harsh screaming rasps and cleaner vocals, it was entertaining to look around the room and see so many smiling faces among those in attendance. Yes, the music is unspeakably dark. Yes, it sounds like your soul in a trash compactor. Doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Their post-Khanate dystopian oppression found its audience for sure, and it was gripping to watch the seething intensity in Edgy59‘s performance particularly, his movements restless in comparison to the slow motion tempos of the material. They were as heavy in mood as in Dahlquist‘s tone, and inescapable in their rumbling churn. Perfect for the church.
As they were wrapping up, Inverloch were taking the stage in the redone Green Room. I tried to catch some of Mantra Machine, but already the Cul de Sac was full and it would remain so for the duration. I thought about running over to Extase, which is around the other side of the alley behind the Patronaat, to get a sample of Grafir, but wound up marauding through the merch section — like a fucking champ — and back at the church to catch Der Blutharsch and the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand, who, as it turns out, were exactly what I was looking for.
Later on, I’d go back to the merch area to pick up a full copy of their new record, The Wolvennest Sessions, which came out in December, and grabbing 2012’s The Story About the Digging of the Hole and the Hearing of the Sounds from Hell on a whim, basically because that’s how good Der Blutharsch and the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand Were, the Austrian experimentalists celebrating their 20th anniversary with a short tour in the winding-down stage. Their blend of classic krautrock and forward-thinking psychedelia was a joy to take in, and since their stuff is so far out, I didn’t really know what was coming. Anything would’ve been a surprise. With founder Albin Julius on synth and vocals, they spread their sound out over their hour-long set and seemed right at home in the flow.
There seems to be some threat that this is their last tour. Obviously, I don’t know if that’s true or not, and since they’re pretty prolific, I wouldn’t take that to mean they’re done overall — though one never knows — but even if it’s a year or a few years before they get out again, I felt fortunate to watch them play. It’s the kind of thing I’d never get to see anywhere but at Roadburn, something I didn’t even know how badly I wanted to watch, and though I checked out a little early to go catch The Skull on the Main Stage back at the 013, Der Blutharsch and the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand left one of the day’s most memorable impressions. Considering the course of the day, that’s saying something.
Yeah, I watched The Skull last night at the Hardrock Hideout (review here). It’s a fact. I thought this was their set of Trouble songs, and there were a few sprinkled in for good measure, of course — “R.I.P.,” “At the End of My Daze,” “Come Touch the Sky” and so on — but was awfully Skull-y for being the Trouble set, which as it turns out is late tomorrow night. Go figure. No harm done, of course. Let “A New Generation” and “The Longing” be the worst things that ever happen at Roadburn. They riffed on “I Want You/She’s so Heavy” and tossed “Till the Sun Turns Black” into the set, which was certainly welcome, and after the swinging “Send Judas Down,” which included a nod to “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida,” it was once again the title-track from For Those Which are Asleep (review here) rounding out.
To see them on such a huge stage less than 24 hours after seeing them in a club that holds about 200 people was something of a trip, but The Skull were no less in command of the cavernous space than they were the tiny Cul de Sac, where New Keepers of the Water Towers were going on shortly. I ran over quickly to see if there was any room in the building. There was enough for me to buy a copy of their new album, Infernal Machine(review here), but by the time you walked to the bar in the much-longer-than-it-is-wide venue, there was basically no passage through the throng of humanity. Buying the record seemed like the least I could do for having made the attempt to see them and failed, and once I got it, I headed back to the Main Stage to watch The Skull finish and to wait for Hexvessel, who were one of my most anticipated bands for the entire fest, to take the Main Stage.
I said as much in today’s Weirdo Canyon Dispatch (issue here) but nature-worshiping Finnish outfit Hexvessel‘s new record, When We are Death (review here), stands among the best albums of 2016 so far. Before they went on, I ran over to the merch area — more of a waddle, really — and picked up the artbook edition of the album as well as a patch with a fish head on it. They also had owls and bears and several other wildlife options, but you don’t see a lot of fish in underground heavy, so I was all about it. No idea what I’ll do with the thing, not being the battle-vest type, but whatever. For three euro? Sold. Their set more than justified both purchases, focused heavily on the new album and a huge shift in dynamic from when they were here in 2012, having departed from their folkish roots on the strength of infectious, progressive and deeply nuanced songs like “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” a set highlight, and “Cosmic Truth,” which frontman Mat McNerney prefaced by saying it was about, “true love and spaceships.” Needless to say, right up my alley.
Quietly percussive, “Hunter’s Prayer” finished off what seemed to be Hexvessel‘s regular set, after “Cosmic Truth,” “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” “Transparent Eyeball,” “Teeth of the Mountain,” “Mirror Boy,” and “Sacred Marriage” and the earlier “Woods to Conjure” from 2012’s No Holier Temple, but the band did an encore of sorts with “Earth over Us” and “When I’m Dead” back to back, both maddeningly catchy, the former delivered with surprising heft from the stage, before closing with “Invocation Summoning” from their 2011 debut, Dawnbearer, McNerney encouraging the crowd to sing and clap along, which of course it did.
Timing worked out that as Hexvessel were finishing, Bang were starting in the Green Room, so I hobbled over there and waited for the Franks and Jake to follow-up their Hardrock Hideout set with another runthrough of their heavy ’70s lost classics. They did not disappoint, and their warm, laid back take on heavy rock continues to thrill. I’ve seen the band I don’t even know how many times at this point — let’s say circa 15 — but their vibe is always right on, and I don’t think I’ve heard bassist Frank Ferrara‘s tone sound as full and inviting as it has last night and tonight. He and guitarist Frankie Gilcken founded the band in 1969 and their self-titled debut was released two years later, and Ferrara remarked from the stage that their first European appearance — this one — was 46 years in the making. Time flies.
Much to their credit, they lived up to the occasion, and though he’s far from being an original member of the band, Jake Leger‘s drums have become essential to Bang‘s live presence. Maybe they’ll do another record, maybe they won’t, but with Leger swinging away behind, Gilcken and Ferrara are that much more able to nail that spirit every time out. “Lions, Christians” was a highlight, and of course “Our Home,” both from the self-titled, but in the live setting, the much newer “The Maze” is no less vintage-sounding. I think Leger is a big part of that. A third in the power trio, at very least. As they always do, Bang looked to be genuinely enjoying making their European debut, and a crowd that already knew their songs made it seem all the more overdue.
Back on the Main Stage, Converge were finishing up their set playing 2001’s Jane Doe in full: The album that launched 100,000 metalcore bands who were nowhere near as interesting as Converge ever were. Hard to hold that against it, I suppose. I caught the tail end of the set, which was as furious as it would have to be, and the four-piece of vocalist Jacob Bannon, guitarist Kurt Ballou, bassist Nate Newton and drummer Ben Koller brought out former bassist Stephen Brodsky (also Cave In) to join them on guitar and melodic vocals for the closing title-track from Jane Doe, its sweep well on the other side of epic. Not really my thing stylistically, but people were jammed into the Main Stage space for them, and I watched as dudes had to be helped out of the front for what I guess was a rare Roadburn pit — unless someone just stepped on that guy’s foot, which would be sadder somehow — so it was clear the room was making the connection to the off-genre elements Jane Doe brought to hardcore, or more likely, they made that connection 15 years ago. Either way.
My second failure at Cul de Sac came after Converge were done when I ran over to try to see the reunited Gomer Pyle. No luck. Same as with New Keepers: I bought a CD and that was about as close as I could get. Fair enough. By this time, I was reconciling myself to the fact that I’d probably not get in to see either Zone Six at Cul de Sac or CHRCH at Extase, both of which were bigtime mental bummers. Still, as consolation, Paradise Lost playing their defining 1991 opus, Gothic, in its entirety ain’t bad. That album turns 25 this year, has been reissued multiple times over, and its influence continues to spread, now feeding a new generation a blueprint of how to do death/doom so very, very right.
It would’ve been an event to see Paradise Lost play anything, but “Gothic,” “Shattered,” “Dead Emotion” — this is the stuff of which doom extremity is made. I stayed a while to pay my respects and then did decide after all to not be a defeatist jerk and see if I could get in for Zone Six after all. I could. The key was to be early as hell. That’s an old Roadburn trick. The German space jammers, who feature in their ranks Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt and Komet Lulu, both of Electric Moon, played as a trio with Rainer Neeff on guitar, which meant that synth specialist Modulfix was missing, but the jams were happening either way. I dug the gosh darn heck out of last year’s Love Monster (review here), and they were another act where the safer assumption probably would’ve been that I’d never get to watch them do a set save at Roadburn. I am very, very fortunate to be here.
Zone Six played in the dark. I mean it. Cul de Sac isn’t exactly bright to start with, and Lulu asked before they went on to have the lights turned down so it was like shooting a show in Boston in there. With Sula filling in on synth, their swirl was certainly colorful enough that it would’ve justified a bit of brightness, but I’ll take what I can get and the pictures can work themselves out. I got to see Zone Six. That’s a win. And since I had a hot streak going, I thought maybe I’d give Extase a shot for CHRCH to round out the night on a bludgeoning note of tonal mass, their Unanswered Hymns (review here) debut album on Battleground Records continuing to resonate as one of 2015’s best. As fate would have it, my luck held.
My two gotta-sees for today were Hexvessel and CHRCH. I wish I could say I stayed for the latter’s full set, but between the fact that it was getting on midnight and I had writing to do and the full-crowd press up against the stage in Extase bringing on a need for breathable air that smelled like something other than beer sweat, I indeed did not. Was enough to see them play “Unanswered Hymns” though to justify my anticipation. The Sacramento five-piece are touring to support the aforementioned first LP, and they’re doing numerous fests in the US as well as putting in this abroad road time, so it probably won’t be the last time in my life I run into them, but I was extraordinarily glad I did. Partially veiled frontwoman Eva played up a ritualistic sensibility with incense at the front of the stage, but really, so much of what they did was about absolutely crushing everything in their path — which is a kind of ritual, granted — that their primary impression was one of sheer impact. Switching between screams and cleaner croons, Eva shared vocal duties with guitarist Chris, whose growls underscored the death/doom aspects of CHRCH‘s sound, making them all the more crushing.
Listening to Unanswered Hymns, it was clear CHRCH (who were called Church at the time) were onto something that could be really special. After watching them bring that material to life, I feel no less vehement in my appreciation for just how on-the-right-path they absolutely are. Their second offering will be a big tell. I can’t wait to hear what it has to say.
When it was time to go, I fought my way through the wall of humans at Extase and eventually out into the street where some non-Roadburn-type tourists were taking their picture in front of the big cathedral. Dudes were plastered. I took their picture with one of their phones and told them to have a good night. Theirs might’ve just been beginning, and I suppose in a way mine was too, but with Day One of Roadburn 2016 down, I felt like something really substantial had been accomplished even as I looked at the schedule for tomorrow and Saturday and Sunday and knew that there remains so much more to come.
Posted in Features on April 14th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.14.16 – 11:51AM – 013, office
Some issue with the printer in the office here at the 013. Doubt it’s anything major, but it’s just holding up the proof of the day’s issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch. I’m not worried. It will work out. It’s hard to be worried with such a professional crew working here. Shaman Lee is on it as well, so while I have a couple changes to make in the copy, and the deadline is/was noon to start printing, we’ll get there.
In the interim, I got to catch a minute of Paradise Lost’s soundcheck. The new Main Stage space is huge — holds 3,000 people — and I expect it will be full. When I showed up to the loading dock (also suitably cavernous) this morning, I got a tour of the redone 013. There’s a photo pit in the new Jupiler Stage (former Green Room), which makes me feel like the universe is doing me personal favors, and space downstairs for the panels and this and that. I don’t know of anything in the US that compares to it. It’s a big country, I’m sure there’s something in a similar class somewhere, anywhere, but nothing I’ve ever seen. That was true before it was redone as well, and now it’s brand new.
And of course the sound is incredible. The space is both familiar and not, and I expect it’ll take some getting used to going from room to room, then down the way to Extase or Cul de Sac — I’m already nervous about missing CHRCH later tonight owing to the crowd; they’re among the most anticipated bands for the fest from people here and playing the smallest space — but it’s Roadburn. Everything will be fine. It’s so good to be here again. I saw Walter and Becky and Miranda and Gijs and a bunch of other familiar faces from the 013 crew, and it’s been nothing but warm feelings since I walked in. I even met the general manager of the 013, who is responsible for bringing me over again to do the WCD. I felt like I should’ve brought him a gift basket. Here sir, please take these fruits and cheeses as a minimal token of my appreciation. Would be hilarious to try to get that through customs, standing like a dope on the non-EU passports line.
Just a couple hours now until the start. We’ll get the margins for the ‘zine sorted and then get to folding, and maybe I’ll have some more coffee before the day begins in earnest, or that tea that I put in the office fridge to cool off, and then take a deep breath before the big plunge. Definitely felt like it after last night, but Roadburn 2016 starts now.