04.22.17 — 22.23 — Sat. night — Hotel room
I don’t mind telling you I was a total wreck this morning. There we were, finishing up the third issue of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch (get the PDF here), and holy macaroni, I just couldn’t hack it. I’d gone to sleep at a semi-reasonable time, circa 2AM — which is pretty good, considering — but woke up at around three and was up past 4:30. Just up. Brutally, brutally awake. I could’ve cried.
Instead, I put my head down on the desk in the 013 office while we waited for the test-print of today’s ‘zine and was granted a generous reprieve from the folding process that followed. I folded three copies of today’s WCD: my own. After that, I made the most of my special dispensation and high-tailed it back to the hotel to sleep for another two and a half hours, at the end of which time I pounded water, a protein bar and ibuprofen and it was enough to temporarily trick my body into believing it was human. This weekend has been pure madness, and there’s one day yet to go.
By the time I got back to the 013, I knew I’d missed my chance to hit the photo pit for day-openers The Bug vs. Dylan Carlson of Earth, the somewhat cumbersomely-named collaboration between, well, The Bug and Dylan Carlson, but I still had plenty of opportunity to be assaulted by their combined volume of drone and beats, soundscapes thick enough to swim through and handed out with enough force to vibrate the plugs in my ears and the teeth in my skull. Really. I think I lost a filling. They were very, very loud.
Two experimentalists like that working together, even as a one-off, carried an air of being something special to start the day, and so it was. The Bug‘s rig, flanked on either side by bass cabinets with two more laid down in front in such a manner as to make Carlson half-stack look positively minimalist in comparison, shook the upstairs balcony where I set up shop for the duration, and the clear impression that came through was that although they used different means of expression — Carlson with his guitar, The Bug with his laptop and mixing board — their work together was way less of a “vs.”-type situation than the name led one to believe. They were very definitely on the same side, but while they played, spotlights slowly hovered over Main Stage crowd, feeding the air of suspicion and paranoia in such a way that was eerily appropriate for what they were doing.
Speaking of collaborations, over at the Patronaat, Razors in the Night — AKA John Dyer Baizley of Baroness and Scott Kelly of Neurosis playing oldschool punk and hardcore covers — were just getting started. I stayed put in the big room, however, because I knew I didn’t want to miss a second of Oranssi Pazuzu. The Finnish progressive/psychedelic black metallers have been an increasingly steady presence at Roadburn over the last five years, and after their own slots at the church, they managed to pack out the Main Stage to an admirable degree. People stood outside the open doors for not the last time today in order to catch a glimpse of their malevolent, ultra-deep swirl.
As immersive as it was dark, I couldn’t argue. Oranssi Pazuzu, who released their fourth album, Värähtelijä (review here), in 2016, may have conjured the finest blackened psychedelia I’ve ever seen. It was so much of both, so chaotic and yet purposeful, that to consider it anything less than the work of masters would be completely underselling it. When I was done taking photos, I went out into the hallway to walk around to the other side of the room and I couldn’t believe it was still daytime. And more over, the sun had come out! Something so cosmically abysmal just seemed like it should be swallowing any and all light around it, but so it goes. Stately and ferocious, they cast their waves of of bleakness over a sea of nodding heads, and after years of missing them here, I was finally glad to have been clued in, even if I seemed to be the last one in the entire Main Stage space to have caught on. Which I probably was, because that’s the kind of hip I am. Which is to say, not at all.
Maybe it was partially a case of going easy on myself, but I once again didn’t budge from the Main Stage following the conclusion of Oranssi Pazuzu. Today was minimal back and forth, actually, which suited me just fine after two busy days of Roadburn 2017 bouncing from this venue to that one. I’d hit the Green Room twice before my evening was over, but was at the 013 the whole day, which after all the Extase and Het Patronaat yesterday almost made me feel insecure and restless — “Don’t you have somewhere you need to be, sir? Oh yeah, here,” and so on. Sometimes this festival plays tricks on your mind.
My reasoning in staying put was more than justified, though, with Warning coming on to play 2006’s Watching from a Distance in its entirety. I knew some of what to expect from a Patrick Walker performance after seeing him front 40 Watt Sun here in 2012, but of course Warning brought a presence all their own in addition to his melancholic emotionalism. They struck a hard balance between sonic weight and sheer heft-of-sadness, and yet as morose as they were, and as understated as their aura was on stage, they were never anything but engaging. Rare band, rare album, rare set. This Roadburn has had its share of special moments, and Warning fit that bill as well. There was something empowering about them, or at least validating, and as deep into their own headspace as they went, they never seemed to get lost there.
It’s not often you see a band play a full album and then want to go and put on that album directly afterward, but Warning doing Watching from a Distance had that effect. I can’t claim to know the record inside and out, but I felt fortunate to have had the chance to see the band bring it to life, which much to their credit, they did without losing the heart-wrenching resonance of the studio versions of the material.
Next door in the Green Room, the focus would soon be about an entirely different kind of crushing execution, as Belfast dual-guitar three-piece Slomatics made ready to take the stage. I got there about 20 minutes before they went on and was still too late to get a spot right up front. Should’ve figured. I’d heard people talking about how stoked they were to see them, and after being lucky enough to see them in Norway last September at Høstsabbat (review here), I also knew they weren’t to be missed. My timing being what it was, I still got there to see Jon Davis from Conan soundcheck the guest vocals he’d provide for closer “March of the 1,000 Volt Ghost,” and it was good to know that was coming.
Davis also released Slomatics‘ fucking excellent 2016 album, Future Echo Returns (review here), on his Black Bow Records imprint, so all the better to have him there alongside guitarists Chris Couzens and David Majury as well as drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey, who even before Davis showed up stomped out the most pummeling tones I’ve heard over the course of the last three days. “Electric Breath,” “Return to Kraken,” “And Yet it Moves,” “Supernothing” — this is the stuff of lumbering, rolling, molten doom supremacy, and as they’re five records deep into a tenure that one hopes continues into perpetuity, Slomatics know how to wield these weapons to glorious effect. I felt like I was going to pass out and ran downstairs to hammer down a quick dinner — chicken in some kind of tomato-based sauce with green and red peppers, jalapenos and cheese over lettuce; two plates in about five minutes — and was back in the Green Room in time to catch Davis‘ guest spot from the side of the stage and jump up to take a picture of the band when they were done playing. I never do that kind of thing, but Slomatics were nothing if not an occasion worth savoring.
Shit would only get more doomed from there. Like I said yesterday, everyone here makes their own Roadburn, and I knew how I wanted my night to go. I wanted it to go doom. That meant hanging out in the Green Room more for Ahab, which I was more than happy to do. The nautically-themed German funeral doomers were not a band I ever really expected to be able to see, and knowing how packed it got for Slomatics, I assumed much the same would ensue. I was right. Ahab probably could’ve filled the Patronaat if the press of the crowd behind me half an hour before they even went on was anything to go by, but as it was they beat the Green Room into submission with their guttural, ultra-slow lurch and churning devastation.
It was by no means the same kind of grind that Memoriam were doling out on the Main Stage, but watching Ahab play was like witnessing the giant, five-foot-thick gears of some industrial revolution shipyard turning the assembled audience into powder. The very means of production brought to bear on all of our caved-in skulls. Yes, they were hyperbole-level heavy. Unremittingly so, and to a claustrophobic degree. I don’t know if it was during “Old Thunder” or “To Mourn Job,” but there was a point at which I had to remind myself that I’d actively wanted to be so brutally overwhelmed and so overwhelmed by brutality. Did that make the effect any less punishing? Not in the slightest, but thanks for asking.
There was only one place left to go to continue my downer trajectory: back to the Main Stage for My Dying Bride. Having the UK doom legends play 1993’s Turn Loose the Swans in full made an awful lot of sense after special sets in 2016 from Paradise Lost and in 2015 from Anathema and Fields of the Nephilim — I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Katatonia in 2018; never seen them and they’d seem to be next in line, despite not being British — and the drama unfolded early as frontman Aaron Stainthorpe hit the stage with violinist/keyboardist Shaun Macgowan for “Sear Me MCMXCIII.” Soon enough, founding guitarists Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw, bassist Lena Abé and drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels would join, and the full fray would be unleashed. Chances are I don’t need to tell you how influential My Dying Bride have been on the trajectory of the last two decades of doom, but suffice it to say I’m not sure I could’ve found a darker way to round out my Roadburn 2017 Saturday night than to watch them deliver that level of scathe with that level of professionalism.
And no, I’m not just saying that because Stainthorpe wore a tie. With animation by Costin Chioreanu behind them, My Dying Bride were the consummate headliners. Mysticum were still to follow on the Main Stage with a production I’d caught in soundcheck earlier in the day that was probably the most elaborate I’ve ever seen in the 013 venue, but for me, My Dying Bride marked a culmination of what I wanted the evening to be, and so I knew my night was done. There’s always more to see at Roadburn. Always something you don’t get to. Always someone who, years down the road, you wonder, “What the hell was I doing that I missed that?” but sometimes when you’re in Tilburg, you’ve crafted your experience in such a way that makes sense at the time, and that was me tonight. Would’ve been hard pressed to find anything to top My Dying Bride anyway.
One day left in Roadburn 2017, which is something I know to be true because I only have two protein bars remaining — one for before the show, one for after. Tomorrow’s another early start to fold Weirdo Canyon Dispatch issues, so I’ll leave it there once again and say thank you for reading and if you’re so inclined, you can check out more pics after the jump.
Which is right frickin’ here: