04.17.17 – 01:26 – Hotel room, Tilburg
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.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.