04.15.16 – 00:16 — Hotel room, Tilburg
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.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.