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ROADBURN 2015 DAY THREE: Return to the Lake of Madness

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 12th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2015 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

04.11.15 — 04.00 — Late Sat./Early Sun. — Hotel

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. weirdo canyon dispatch sat coverStill, when you’re here, you have to keep going. There’s more to see and more to hear.

We finished the third issue of this year’s Weirdo Canyon Dispatch on schedule, folding and all. It’s online here if you get the chance to check it out.

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 UndersmileUrfaust, 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-dutyComa Wall (Photo by JJ Koczan) 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.

Claudio Simonetti's Goblin (Photo by JJ Koczan)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.

Enslaved (Photo by JJ Koczan)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 SelvikAðalbjörn Tryggvason from Sólstafir and Per Wiberg, now in CandlemassEnslaved (Photo by JJ Koczan) but 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 The Heads (Photo by JJ Koczan)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 The Heads (Photo by JJ Koczan)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), undersmile 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)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 HelTaz 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, Coltsblood (Photo by JJ Koczan)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 Coltsblood (Photo by JJ Koczan)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 BongripperAnathema 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.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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