04.23.17 — 22.26 — Sunday night — Hotel room
The last day of putting together the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch started with a panic when the office coffee machine was busted. At first I didn’t believe it and plugged the thing in to see if the sign that had been taped onto the front was bullshit, but indeed, it was not. Could’ve cried. Instead, went downstairs to the backstage area where they serve the meals and got coffee there. Survived.
Thus, the final issue of the 2017 Weirdo Canyon Dispatch came into being. Download the PDF version here.
What used to be known as the Afterburner, the traditional easing between a given Roadburn and the transition back to real life, is now basically just another day of the fest proper. They’ve dropped the name, and fairly enough so. Running across four stages this year, it’s hardly a means of becoming less immersed in the Roadburn experience at this point. If anything, it’s Roadscorch. The absolute last blast from the furnace that is this festival. My brain has turned into Roadchar.
I had no fewer bands I wanted to see today than yesterday or the day before, and a few others that I wouldn’t have minded catching had I been able to do so, so yeah, it was definitely Roadburn. It started early and went late and was packed for the duration. I did one more bounce between venues as I had earlier in the weekend — none at Cul de Sac for me today, but two at Het Patronaat — and was back and forth a few times between the Main Stage and the Green Room at the 013 proper, running past the merch area as well for good measure. Can’t be too careful. Wouldn’t want something to get by unnoticed.
It was a 15.00 start in the big room with Temple of BBV. I knew from seeing Gnod the other night (review here) that the culmination of their residency in a collaboration with Radar Men from the Moon was one I didn’t want to miss, so while it was early, I figured a head-first dive into willful prog oddity was well in order. I won’t like to you — it was a lot for three in the afternoon. Or three in the morning, for that matter. It was a lot, period. 10 people on stage, including two drummers, a near-constant throb and pulsations pushing outward into psycho-psychedelic reaches of the bizarre.
They were aggressively strange. On a strangeness crusade. They wore their strangeness like a badge of strangeness honor and as the room filled up slowly, people seeing to be hungover perhaps from the sensory assault Mysticum had provided the night before as much as from actual inebriation of whatever sort, the crowd had no choice but to be subsumed by what Temple of BBV were doing on that stage. Hair of the cosmic dog that gave you demonic space-rabies. Was it weird? Why, yes. Yes, it was.
I couldn’t help but try to remember when last I actually saw Pallbearer as their set got underway, also on the Main Stage. Turns out it was 2013 (review here). I’d also caught them at Roadburn that year (review here), as part of what was then the Afterburner in the Green Room. While I didn’t think it’d been that long at the time, the reason I thought of it was because of how much the Arkansas doomers seem to have stepped up their game in the intervening years. Their third album, Heartless (review here), is newly issued and fresh in mind, but live that material became heavier than it is on record and their presence in delivery was unmistakable. Since the last time I saw them, Pallbearer have become a headlining band.
No question they belonged on the Main Stage at Roadburn 2017. They not only held down that spot well, but were in full command of their material and their sound, and with shared vocals across the front of the stage, they offered a richness to their doom that only underscored just how much they’ve made the genre work to their interests rather than working to the interests of genre. Heartless cuts like “I Saw the End,” “Thorns” and “Dancing in Madness” were high points in emphasizing their progression, but the churning heft of the whole set was dead on, whether it was those or “Fear and Fury,” “Worlds Apart,” or “The Ghost I Used to Be.” Remarking from the stage that playing Roadburn felt like coming home since it was where they’d done their first European show, they were welcomed as returning heroes and clearly rose to the occasion.
I know they’re like the hottest shit in the world and everyone knows it and Heartless is going to be everyone’s album of the year and blah blah blah so I’m giving away state secrets or anything, but Pallbearer fucking killed at Roadburn. I’ve seen them before and I was still genuinely surprised at how good they were.
Just for fun, I poked my head into the Green Room to catch a minute of Author and Punisher. A boy and his robots. The space was packed out so I didn’t linger, and instead sauntered back over to the big room again to watch Pallbearer finish and await the arrival of Les Discrets, who are also supporting a new album, Prédateurs, released just this week on Prophecy Productions. The moody vibes that the Parisian outfit proffered would make a lot of sense leading into Ulver, songs like “Virée Nocturne” having an element of the dark and urbane to them, progressive even beyond what one might’ve come to expect from their past work in post-black metal and Alcest-style melodicism. Guitarist/vocalist Fursy Teyssier, who also had a showcase of his visual art upstairs in the 013, had a quieter presence than when he led the band when they played Roadburn 2013 at Het Patronaat (review here), but it worked for what they were doing.
In hindsight, it probably would’ve made narrative sense to stay put in the big room and await the arrival of the aforementioned Ulver. I didn’t do that. First, I went and grabbed dinner — chicken salad over lettuce and arugula with bacon and a bit of chicken/peppers in curry sauce; some bean sprouts in there, no corn, no onions, no celery; two plates, second void of curry and bacon — and was fortunate enough to sit in the company of Norwegian artist and Weirdo Canyon Dispatch contributor Kim Holm, and then I made my way back up to the Green Room to catch at least some of Valborg. I knew that I wanted to watch somebody from the Green Room balcony, and the underrated German martial metallers seemed like the perfect occasion.
And so they pretty much were. I watched as the space below filled up and when the German trio — whose new record, Endstrand, is also out on Prophecy this month (it came out April 7) — took stage, it was pretty clear the crowd knew them well. “Werwulf” from the 2016 single of the same name (review here) was like a riff-led wrecking ball that highlighted how perfectly paced Valborg‘s material is and the genre lines their songwriting so fluidly crosses between death metal, progressive synth textures and goth atmospherics. They demonstrated clearly they can roll a groove with the best of them but seem to have little interest in heavy rock or anything quite so not-extreme, but wherever it was ultimately coming from, their sound was on its own wavelength and its complete lack of compromise notched a mark in the skull of everyone who was there to hear it, myself included.
I didn’t get to stay for Valborg‘s whole set because I knew Ulver were soon to go on the Main Stage. I worked my way off the balcony much to the delight of the person who’d been standing behind me while I leaned over the rail to take a couple pictures of the band and down around the back way to the Main Stage room — still kind of strange to me how the 013 works since it was remodeled last year; there’s a hallway with bathrooms there now that I think used to lead to the Bat Cave/Stage01, but jeez, don’t quote me on that. I’d have to look at the blueprints to be sure, and that would probably take hours because I’d have to find a YouTube video on how to read blueprints first. Sucks being useless sometimes. Most of the time, actually.
Anyway, I did manage to get myself one room over in time for the start of Ulver, and when the Norwegian more-post-everything-than-everything outfit got underway, I was really, really glad I’d already heard the new album which was the focus of their set: The Assassination of Julius Caesar (review here). Otherwise all that dark post-New Wave moodiness and nighttime ambience might’ve thrown me for a loop. It’s usually safe to assume two things about Roadburn attendees. One, they’re open-minded. Two, they’re pretty well informed. Still, of all the men and women assembled at the 013 to watch Ulver play, I have to imagine there was at least one person who had no idea what they were in for, and so when the band broke out the laser light show and the electronica beats and the Depeche Mode gone prog sexytime vibes they were completely taken aback by all of it. Now that I think about it, it might’ve been fun to be surprised like that.
But when it comes to Ulver, part of the appeal is the band’s willingness to dismantle their own formula, or more precisely, to not have a formula in the first place, so it’s safe to assume that whether this hypothetical Roadburner knew or not what they were getting with the songs featured from The Assassination of Julius Caesar, they were still able to get on board. Still, one day someone’s going to trick Ulver into playing 2007’s Shadows of the Sun front to back — or at least doing live variations based thereupon — and that’s going to be incredible. One for Roadburn 2022, maybe?
I didn’t stay for all of Ulver either. Not for lack of patience or anything, but I could feel my Roadburn 2017 crunch winding down and knew I had to try to pack as much in as I could. That meant getting my ass to Het Patronaat to see The Doomsday Kingdom. Every year I’m lucky enough to be at Roadburn I let myself buy one piece of vinyl. This year it was the special edition 12″ The Doomsday Kingdom were selling at the merch stand. Why? Because Leif Edling, god damn it. The founding Candlemass bassist and crucial architect of what we know to be true and traditional doom metal — yes, I mean that — was making a live debut with this new four-piece at the church, and I knew I didn’t want to regret later not getting that record when I had the chance. It’ll probably get damaged in my luggage on the trip home. Still worth it.
Their set was likewise. Songs like “Never Machine” and “The Silence” offered classic doom very much of the style one might expect from Edling‘s long-established craft and methodology, but hell, I’ve got no problem with that whatsoever. It hasn’t been that long since Candlemass put out their 2016 EP, Death Thy Lover (review here), and they’re still doing shows as well, but before he took over lead vocals from mesh-shirt-clad frontman Niklas Stålvind — who’d been righteously belting out the material up to that point — for the set finale “God Particle,” Edling called The Doomsday Machine his “therapy band.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I sure was glad I stayed to watch their full set, because they were awesome. A couple first-show-type hiccups, but nothing major by any stretch, and after “God Particle,” they even came back out in made an encore of the metallic-galloping “Hand of Hell,” with Stålvind back on vocals, guitarist Marcus Jidell tearing into solo after solo and drummer Andreas Johansson fueling the big rock finish before coming out from behind the kit to take a bow with the band. If that was therapy, sign me up.
From Sweden to Boston. Come to Grief were on next at the church, and if I’d tried, I don’t think I’d have been able to come up with a more appropriate ending to my Roadburn 2017 than to watch the native Beantowner offshoot of Grief play a set of ultra-misanthropic extreme sludge. Tones of home. You have no idea how hard it was not to shout out “Go Sox!” in a Boston accent before they played. You cannot possibly know. Fortunately, before I could muster the gumption to do same, guitarist Terry Savastano began to unleash maddening floor-shaking undulations of feedback. He, fellow guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Hébert, bassist Justin Christian and drummer Chuck Conlon would soon loose a set that spanned all the way back to the title-track from Grief‘s 1992 debut EP, Depression — which Savastano noted was the first song that band ever wrote — all the way forward to Come to Grief‘s new four-tracker compact disc, The Worst of Times.
“No Savior” and “JunkLove” from the latter (and later) release were featured, but at their core, wherever they were drawing material from, Come to Grief were a mainline shot of visceral abrasiveness. Intense, pummeling and straight from the gut, they crashed each riff with maximum intensity and left no mystery about the sincerity of their intent to kill. It was impressive the way one thinks of primitive humanoids bashing in each other’s heads as a sign of evolution at work. Like I said, the perfect finale to my Roadburn 2017 — one last raw scrub to get the unwanted pieces of myself gone before I get on that plane and go home tomorrow morning.
Did I just say tomorrow morning? Yuppers. It’s 01.40. Shuttle comes to take me to the airport in about five hours, as it happens. When I left Het Patronaat, in addition to looping through the merch area to pick up the aforementioned Come to Grief CD, I made one last run through the 013 hoping to find Walter and say goodnight and thanks, but no such luck. Tired, beaten, missing my wife and with my earplugs still in, I trod past the assembled throngs in Weirdo Canyon and back to the hotel, where packing still awaits and pictures want sorting.
So yeah, I’m going to go get on that.
I’ll have another post up at some point tomorrow, but in the meantime, thank you so much for reading and please find the rest of those pics after the jump here: