2012 Adventure, Pt. 22: Epilogue

Posted in Features on April 17th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/17/12 — 1:00PM Eastern — Tuesday — The office, Little Falls, NJ

The little dog Dio has her sleepy spot in the sun back on the floor of my office next to the bin of mail I need to sort, and at this point I’ve run through the 1,500-plus work emails that came in while I was gone. My case of the annual illness I’ve come to fondly refer to as “Tilburg SARS” is in full swing; I’ve been coughing and unable to breathe through my nose since yesterday. Being awake a full 24 hours as I posted stuff from yesterday probably didn’t help either. Worth it.

My luggage reportedly is en route to Newark Airport, from where I guess it’ll be delivered to my humble river valley, which is good since every CD I bought on this trip was in there and I want to use that stuff to make a new podcast this weekend, as well as the vast majority of my wardrobe, by which I mean dirty t-shirts and my “other” pair of pants. Nerve-wracking mostly for the music, but I’m hopeful it’ll work out without any further comedy.

In any case, I’m home and thanks again to everyone who’s commented with kind words about the trip. If you want to check out all the posts in one spot, click here. It’s a lot of stuff, but it was a blast to put together.

End transmission “2012 Adventure.” Now back to real life.


2012 Adventure, Pt. 21: Tonight a Demon Came into My Head (Conclusion)

Posted in Features on April 16th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/16/12 – 3:21PM Eastern / 21.21 GMT – Monday – In air over Atlantic

I waited at Heathrow Terminal 5 for as long as I could. They had said it would be and in fact was on the next plane from Amsterdam, which was supposed to come in at 15.10. Naturally, it was late. Standing by the baggage claim, desperation physically manifesting itself in the contortions of my face, I knew at 16.15 that I had to go. At the British Airways counter, where at this point I was no stranger and my situation – as well as that of several other passengers – was well known, I told them to ship my bag and that I needed to leave to catch my 18.00 flight out of Terminal 4. I lingered for a moment, the guy said, “Sir, you need to go,” and I nodded, took my claim sheet, and left.

Perhaps it’s the lack of sleep or the general residual anxiety left over from the six hours I spent waiting this afternoon, but I’ve felt every bump on this flight. The good news is the plane is almost empty and I have the whole row to myself. Just for a bit of symmetry, I’m seated in the exact same seat and row I was on the way to London in the first place. The flight attendant even recognized me and remembered I didn’t have a meal last time either. Still, despite the familiarity of my surroundings, I don’t want to sleep if I can help it, to try and better shock myself into the Eastern time zone – though if it goes as well as my shocking myself into GMT, I’m fucked – staying up until five in the morning blogging about stoner fests probably doesn’t do much for the overall circadian rhythm. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t satisfying, as hard as that is to explain to others sometimes.

Thanks are due. Overdue if you actually want to keep count, and as I bounce around the sky on yet another terrible flight to Newark, I owe a debt first and foremost to my beautiful, wonderful wife, The Patient Mrs., without whose persistent indulgences and flight/hotel-booking skills I’d no doubt be locked in Jersey for the remainder of my days. Not a day goes by that I’m not amazed to be in her presence, and of all the things I look forward to about going home, I look forward to seeing her face most of all.

Second, to Walter and the crew at Roadburn. The sheer kindness and graciousness Walter and company have shown to me these last four years has been unreal and has enabled me to witness things more astounding than I ever thought I would. Saint Vitus on stage in 2009. Sleep and YOB this year. These experiences I will take with me for as long as I am able to carry them and I continue to be humbled at and inspired by the sheer scope of passion the Roadburn festival carries over into outdoing itself each successive year. 2012 was the best yet, and I’m honored to have been there to see it.

Also to Dan and Reece at DesertScene, for allowing me access and insight into London’s heavy underground like I’d never seen before over the three days of Desertfest. I met so many excellent people and saw so much killer music. It was great to be a part of that as it got its start, and whether or not I’m able to follow up in subsequent years (because who knows what the next 12 months or the next 12 days – or the next 12 minutes, on this freaking plane – will bring), the chance to make new friends and spend time with others was amazing, and though I know I’m awkward as hell in person, I really did have a great time chatting with everyone who came up and said hi who knew the site and had kind things to say. That goes for at Roadburn as well.

There are others. The dudes in Stone Axe, Stubb and Trippy Wicked definitely, who made Eindhoven such a blast. Chris and Maggie, my new friends whom I hope to see again. Josh from The Black Heart, of whose establishment I was insanely jealous. Nick Cassells, Vania, BillsBrother, (the) Chest Rockwell, Leslie, Désirée Hanssen, Zulya my fellow sans-baggage passenger this afternoon, the dudes in Roadsaw and Orange Goblin, Tommi Holappa, bands like Grifter and Alunah and Conan, whom it was great to see in the flesh and to meet as well. Tim from Prefix, Andy who’s buddies with Lee Dorrian, Ian who unfortunately I didn’t meet but who was kind enough to offer me a place to crash, David who I know I’ll see soon at some show in Brooklyn, Jens Heide, JemDooM and Johnolith, Mike Scheidt and Kevin the DJ. The dude at Bullit Records for the tote and chat. The artist Joe Wardwell, whose method of recontexualizing pieces of lyrics became the basis of these post headlines. So many more. I’m sure others will come to me on the flight before I actually get to post this. As soon as I put down the laptop, most likely.

One more note of thanks too to Sound of Liberation and the crew at the Desertfest in Berlin for their kind invitation to their fest this weekend. As excited as I am to be heading home, part of me feels like I’m leaving the trip unfinished by not heading out that way this coming weekend. If you can make it, I strongly urge you to go. More info on it is here.

Turbulence has calmed somewhat, which I type hoping not to jinx it, and looking out my window past the wing, which I’m happy to report is still very much there, the upsides of the clouds look like some alien polar landscape. Sleep had footage behind them at Roadburn of Arctic mountains that I recognized from the Planet Earth series. That’s kind of what these clouds look like, and they go on forever, with the Atlantic Ocean’s contemplative gray visible in patches, as though any kind of memento mori was needed in this airborne tube of death.

The flight’s about 40 percent over. I’m at 36,000 feet with a solid five hours of travel time left. I don’t know if it’s more than I thank The Patient Mrs., and I know it’s something I’ve said a lot throughout these posts (especially the long ones), but from the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading. I consider The Obelisk a continual work in progress and I want to make it clear that your coming along for this and any other trips, or even just checking out and responding to a review, clicking the ‘Like’ button at the bottom of a post, leaving a comment calling me out on ripping on Danava while giving Graveyard the royal treatment – totally fair criticism – it’s all massively, overwhelmingly appreciated. More than I can say, and I don’t know if you knew this about me, but I can be pretty wordy sometimes.

It’s been a long trip, and I’m almost home.


2012 Adventure, Pt. 20: Atlantic Ocean Blues

Posted in Features on April 16th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/16/12 – 11.42 GMT – Monday – Heathrow Airport

Saturday evening, at my second coincidental dinner with Kevin, who was DJing at Het Patronaat on Friday, we were discussing record stores and how he orders CDs from the shop in Tilburg called Sounds rather than buying them on the internet.

“The Dutch don’t really use credit cards,” he said.

It was a fascinating point. I don’t really use credit cards either. I have a debit card that I’ll use any day over cash, but in terms of amassing credit card debt as my nationality has a reputation for doing, I have more than enough student loan debt between myself and The Patient Mrs. to fill whatever quota I might have as an American.

All the same, those words were ringing in my ears this morning at 07.00 when I arrived at the Tilburg train station and was unable to buy a ticket for the 07.07 train to Schiphol Airport. I didn’t have a rail pass, the machine only took coins, and by the time the ticket sales counter opened at 07.15, I’d missed my train. The next one was in 20 minutes.

That wasn’t the first misstep on this still ongoing and still misstepping return journey to my humble river valley. On my way walking out of the Mercure Hotel this morning, I dropped my luggage when the wheel hit a pothole in the road. I’ve never been good at reading omens but in hindsight.

The next train required a transfer in den Bosch, which I’d forgotten. Easy enough, except that by missing the first train, I was no longer in line to catch the second and would have to wait an additional 20 minutes. Already we’re looking at 9.30 to get into Schiphol for a 10.30 flight out. My transfer made after asking the nice lady what track I should go to, I stood with my bags – the brown, messenger-type camera bag no longer fitting in my luggage on account mostly of CDs – as the train passed through towns and the time clicked on. I called my poor, loving, patient, patient, patient wife at what was for her three in the morning to tell her I was going to miss not one, but both of my flights – first to London, then to Newark – and that I was basically just going to the airport at this point to “see what happens.” The call was dropped. Damn roaming signal.

Upon arrival at Schiphol, I joined a line – a “queue,” to be more native about it – at gate 21 and stood on line until enough time passed that they went into emergency mode and pulled out all the passengers on my flight to board separately. We were like the special class. Are you flying coach, first class, business class? No, not me. I’m special class. Thanks though. My fellow late passengers and I got our bags checked – I’d written my phone number on the little tag that goes on the handle just on the train into the airport this morning; the tag being one I was given on the Thalys train in France – and headed to the gate, which I’m pretty sure was half the walk between Amsterdam and London, and I got there just in time to be the person right before the last person to board the plane. I hadn’t even put my belt on from the security check yet. I was holding up my pants with one arm while trying to keep control of the camera bag and my book bag with the other. My hair was knotted, and having showered only four hours before after waking up at six on a night of three hours’ sleep, I smelled.

On the flight, I sat next to a very nice German father and his four year old son, and when we landed about an hour later with no real mishaps despite the usual bout of turbulence and my position as wing-watcher compromised somewhat by the fact that I had an aisle seat and not a window, I did the usual rigmarole going through customs, showing my passport, getting grilled and stamped, etc., and finally made my way to baggage reclaim 7, where I stood. And waited. And stood. And waited. Until everyone but a scant selection of my fellow special class passengers had been reunited with their luggage and moved on with their days and lives. I stood. And waited. Until heaven was on earth outside the airport and life was nothing but Reese’s cups and blowjobs and free money and every day was Roadburn but you’re never tired and you get paid a living salary just to blog about stoner rock. Until then, I waited. And then I waited some more. Still, no bag.

A conveyor belt breakdown, it seemed, had caused I and my fellow special class passengers’ luggage to stay behind at Schophol. To use another regional term sarcastically: Cracking. Smashing. Whatever violent euphemism you want to substitute for “awesome.” It’s never a good sign when the person behind the desk asks you, “What did your baggage look like?” as though in a whole universe of bags, which an airport basically is, yours is the green one with the orange stripe around the trim. Well, it just so happens mine is the green one with the orange stripe around the trim, and I told the middle aged woman behind the counter precisely that. She was, let’s say, unimpressed at the unique snowflakeness of my bag, but told me it would be arriving on the next flight from Schiphol, getting in at 15.00 or so. She could hold onto it there or ship it on to me.

Originally, I was on a United flight at 12.50. It already would’ve been a tight squeeze to get my bag and go back through security again to catch the flight home, but this made it pretty much impossible. I knew that if I entrusted this woman and the British Airways company on whose behalf she was serving as representative any further with my bag, I’d never see ol’ green-orange-stripey again, so I told her I’d rather wait and get it myself. The Patient Mrs. having already moved my second flight to 18.00, I’d still have plenty of time to get the bag and go to terminal four, from which my flight supposedly leaves. I asked the woman behind the counter if there was a coffee shop around and she told me in which direction to fuck off. I did as she said, and one sandwich and an all-too-sweetened iced tea later – I even asked the guy if it had sugar and he too told me to fuck off – I continue to wait for that 15.00 flight to get in. About an hour and 40 minutes left to go, barring any further conveyor belt troubles.

Then I fly home! I do not yet know just how excruciating anticipation will make the last couple hours of that flight, and I think I’ll have a while mentally before I get there yet. Seems to be plenty of adventure left to occupy my faculties in the meantime. For example. I can’t seem to stop giving the airport “barista” dirty looks about that iced tea. I mean, I asked if there was sugar.

I should get back to Jersey if all goes according to plan from here on out – and I have no reason to believe it will – at around 9PM Eastern. I look forward to that.

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2012 Adventure, Pt. 19: Tyranny Built upon Our Philosophies (The Afterburner)

Posted in Features on April 15th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/15/12 — 22.37 — Sunday — Hotel Mercure

Roadburn‘s annual Afterburner is a brilliant idea. Essentially, it’s a scaled-down version of the larger festival. Two stages instead of four, merch moves into the 013 proper, there are fewer tickets sold — and they’re sold separately from those of Roadburn‘s prior three days — and all in all, it’s a more relaxed experience. I’ve come to think of it over the last couple years as a sort of transition point from the intensity of Roadburn back to normal life.

True, as Roadburn as a whole has grown, the Afterburner has followed suit, but its atmosphere is less hurried — or maybe it’s just that by the time the Afterburner comes around, I’m so worn out I can’t help but have it be less hurried — that is, I couldn’t hurry if I wanted to. Fortunately, there’s been no call to do so as of yet on the day. I woke up with the alarm at noon and reset it for 13.00, deciding that the extra hour was an investment in future consciousness. Yesterday was I think the busiest day I’ve ever had at a Roadburn, and even as I stood at the front of the Green Room stage at 013 this afternoon and readied myself or Electric Orange, I felt like I could barely keep my eyes open. No coffee today, unfortunately.

But, as the evening followed a mostly linear course and there was roughly no back and forth, and in keeping with the laid back approach of the Afterburner, I think I’ll run down today in note form rather than narrative all at once. Here goes:

Electric Orange: The German psychedelic rockers are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and sure enough, theirs was a finely-honed wash of tones and effects; clearly took some time to carve it out. They were more of a thrill sonically than visually, though I guess that’s to be expected, but I really like this kind of post-Krautrock jamming psych, and they did it well. Next door in the main room, the Mt. Fuji Darkjazz Corporation opened the Afterburner with a swell of man-made and electronic drones (one guy in the back sat in front of a laptop and looked by the end of the set like he was checking his email on some of that free wifi the city of Tilburg granted for festival use this year), but Electric Orange were more my speed, and as I’ve been working up the gumption for a while now to give their latest record, Netto, a review, seeing them live, I feel like I have a better context in which to do so. They played for an hour and a half, which was the longest set of the day. Pretty much you could’ve gone, gotten a pizza, come back, watched Internal Void start up, and gone back into the Green Room, and they’d still be playing. A fitting 20th anniversary blowout.

Internal Void: It took every ounce of restraint I had in my body not to shout out, “Fredrick, Maryland!” as these Doom Capitol-ists took the stage. Fredrick’s about three and a half hours from where I live, but still, Internal Void were a slice of East Coast home. They didn’t get much of a light show, but considering the music’s so straightforward, no bullshit, biker riffs and punch you in the face, it worked well enough. They brought with them some recently-pressed vinyl of their 1991 Voyage demo, which I’m sure was well-received in the merch area — shifted from its previous location to Stage01, which hosted no bands — and played a cut or two from it, as well as “Blindside” from 2000’s Unearthed, which vocalist J.D. Williams dedicated to The Obsessed‘s Guy Pinhas, who was sitting at the side of the stage, and “Devil in Drag” from 1993’s Standing on the Sun. My only real context for watching Williams on stage is the War Injun set at last year’s Stoner Hands of Doom, at which he was all over the place and very charismatic, holding the crowd’s attention for the whole time. With Internal Void, he went behind the amps during solos and seemed less sure of himself in general. For what it’s worth, he and the rest of the band sounded great. Perhaps it was the Mt. Fuji Doomjazz Corporation‘s spell left unbroken responsible for holding back the more personable side of Williams‘ presentation.

Bongripper: People were really, really stoked on seeing Bongripper. I guess I was too, but there was an energy through the room I couldn’t match, and even though Urfaust and Atlantis were finishing and starting, respectively, in the Green Room, the main stage area stayed full the whole time for the Chicago instrumental foursome, who despite sharing a hometown and number of members in the band (the same amount of people, not the people themselves) with Pelican, have little else in common with that band, who played the same stage yesterday. Bongripper are ultra-aggressive sludge doom. All that’s missing is some guy screaming his throat out to the songs and they’d probably be in line with however many other sludge bands you want to name, but by keeping their approach instrumental, they’re able to immediately stand themselves out from the sludgly hordes and cut to the heart of what the genre is about, namely the power of the riff and how it doth compel. Their barrage of feedback kind of felt like they’d been taking notes while Sleep played last night, but one could hardly hold that against them or say they would be wrong to have done so. Musically, they weren’t really inventing anything new, but they did what they did well, drew and kept a huge crowd in the main room, and were undeniably heavy as balls. Quite an opening trio on the main stage today, with Mt. Fuji, Internal Void and Bongripper, but nobody seemed thrown off. Those who’d been to Roadburn proper, whether 2012 was their first or not, should’ve been well used to transitions like that by now, and for everyone who just had Afterburner tickets, any way you slice it, it’s all heavy. Bongripper certainly were that.

YOB: To back up their set Friday night doing all of The Unreal Never Lived (plus a stellar rendition of “Adrift in the Ocean” from last year’s Atma), and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt‘s solo acoustic set yesterday, YOB joined the lineup of the Afterburner to play 2003’s Catharsis front to back. Now, all fanboy hyperbole aside, Catharsis is a record that’s very special to me. It was the first YOB album I heard when it came out, and it was probably the one record that showed me that psychedelia, stoner rock and doom did not have to all be separate entities if you do it right. The song, “Catharsis,” is the 23-minute blueprint by which other YOB album-ending epics have been constructed since, and as the album approaches its 10th birthday next year, I find its power has diminished none. It is a breathtaking work, not only of genre defiance, but of genre definition. Just three tracks — “Aeons,” “Ether” and the title cut — but a lifetime’s worth of depth. You know the desert island scenario? Catharsis is one of those albums for me, so to get to see Scheidt, bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster play those three songs in a single set — that was special too. I don’t know how else to put it. It was emotional for me to watch, and I meant to count the chills up my spine, but after five, I didn’t want to pay attention anymore. For me, it was on the same level as watching Sleep last night, that same kind of feeling of culmination. I’ve been away from home now for 11 days on this trip, and as Scheidt strummed the melodic introduction to “Catharsis,” I felt like I’d hit the end of a pilgrimage. It was beautiful. They reportedly hadn’t had much time to rehearse, and there were some awkward changes in “Ether” that I thought I picked up, but just for the fact that it was those songs, unbelievable. I stood on the side of the stage for the first time all weekend — it was something I’d been saving for just that moment, when the distortion, drums and bass kick in on “Catharsis” and you get your first sense of the journey you’re on. Glorious. They closed out with “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore” from Atma and reinforced the dynamics of Catharsis while showing all the growth they’ve undertaken since. No bullshit, I was floored. YOB is love.

Coroner: Frankly, after YOB, just about anyone would’ve seemed like a comedown to me, and that includes post-reunion Swiss tech-thrashers Coroner. They were probably the most metal band on the bill this weekend, in terms of acts who don’t add a qualifier to it — i.e. “doom” or “black” or whathaveyou — but they filled the main room anyway and got underway in good time. “Hello, Tilburg!” shouted bassist/vocalist Ron Royce. Compared to the exaltation that Mike Scheidt or even Al Cisneros from Sleep left at the feet of the festival, it wasn’t much, but the crowd dug it, and it worked with Coroner‘s overall context. They were cool, and, again, very metal, but I went and tried to check out some of Fleshpress in the Green Room, only to find it packed out and watching for a few minutes through the doorway until I went back to the main stage in time to hear Royce announce “Masked Jackal” from their 1988 full-length, Punishment for Decadence, as the first video they ever made. Good fun, but the weekend and the fact that I needed to be up early for a flight to London tomorrow morning began to weigh on me once again and I ultimately split out.

In doing so, I missed Black Cobra, who I saw last week at Desertfest, and also Bong, who I saw last year here at Roadburn, but what’s worse, I officially put the finishing stamp on another Roadburn experience. The last two years especially, as I’ve gone to leave, I’ve hesitated, as though by just standing in the hallway, I could somehow prolong the experience. Needless to say, it didn’t work. It was time for the Afterburner and for the whole of Roadburn to be over — for me, at least — and time once more to come back to the hotel and get ready to leave in the morning to get back to New Jersey.

I’ll be traveling most of the day tomorrow, but I’m too tired to give any kind of full conclusion to this trip and to Roadburn tonight, so if I can, I’ll write that on the plane and post it as soon as I am able. In the meantime, thank you as always.

More pics after the jump.

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2012 Adventure, Pt. 18: Drop. Out. Of. Life. (Roadburn Day Three)

Posted in Features on April 14th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/15/12 — 00.04 — Saturday Night — Hotel Mercure

When my alarm went off this afternoon, it was with both excitement and a touch of apprehension that I considered the prospect of what today would bring Roadburn 2012, Day Three. Saturday, April 14. I looked at my pocket schedule — no fancy printouts or cellphone PDFs for me — and took a deep breath, steeling myself against the truly monolithic.

I’m sure the stories differ almost on a per-attendee basis, but my version of the final day of Roadburn proper went like this: Mike Scheidt, 40 Watt Sun, Dark Buddha Rising, Church of Misery, Pelican, The Wounded Kings, The Obsessed, Mars Red Sky, Sleep. If I was still standing, I wouldn’t know how.

The noon alarm gave me a little more time to get my head around what I was going to see, whereas the last two days it’s been up and go. Time well spent, since I was about to embark on the busiest day of this entire trip, a wave-crest culmination of everything that the last week-plus has been building toward. Fitting it should end with Sleep, since without them I and most of these bands probably wouldn’t be here. What now feels like aeons before the gods ascended their Olympus, however, Saturday afternoon began at 15.00 with Mike Scheidt in the Stage01 room.

Not 24 hours after YOB laid waste to the entire city of Tilburg performing all of The Unreal Never Lived, Scheidt, the guitarist, vocalist and driving force behind that band, emerged on 013‘s smallest stage to play acoustic songs from his upcoming Thrill Jockey solo release, Stay Awake — words which are also tattooed across his two hands, facing up for him to read. He got on stage talking about how excellent Doom had been the night prior and was soon in the thick of a spoken intro to a song called  “Until the End of Everything.” I’ve heard the album a few times in preparation for a review, and it takes some of YOB‘s sonic mysticism into account on “Until the End of Everything” and a few other tracks, but Scheidt was careful as well to acknowledge singer-songwriter roots, alternating between finger-picking strings and a rhythmic strum that was familiar to many in the room in its construction.

He’s still clearly working out the approach he wants to take to the form, and said on stage as well that performing acoustic was a recent advent for him and that he was very much enjoying it, but as he dug into the throatier vocals on the closing title-track to Stay Awake, there was little to no perceptible temerity or lack of confidence in what he was doing. The songs sounded better live than they do on the record, but most importantly, there’s room for Scheidt to grow and explore new ideas outside the context of YOB, which at this point have established at least in part the palette from which they continue to refine their sound. That is, they have a “sound” they continue to refine, whereas Scheidt is still finding out what he wants to be as a solo artist, and seeing that unfold on stage was engaging.

Main room openers 40 Watt Sun had been on my list to see since I missed them when they came through New York last year, so when Scheidt was finished, I took the not-at-all-a-secret passageway from Stage01 and prepared myself to get sad. That’s what 40 Watt Sun do. Their doom is as much contingent on emotional weight — if not more — than tonal, and that could be heard as well on last year’s The Inside Room (review here). That puts them in a tight spot in terms of a stage show, however, since they’re basically limited then to how much they can really get into a show experience before undercutting the pervasive emotionality of the music. To work at all, they almost have to be boring to watch on stage. You can’t have some dude doing jumping jacks and playing a song like “Carry Me Home.”

Well, you could, but you’d probably get laughed at. 40 Watt Sun relied on the music to carry their ideas across on stage, and the songs had enough presence to make up for any fireworks that may have been absent otherwise. Vocalist/guitarist Patrick Walker (ex-Warning) was visceral in his presentation of the material, or perhaps “wrenching” would be a better word. In any case, they managed to make an entire concert hall of burly beardos miss their wives and girlfriends at the same time. Maybe that’s just me projecting. Fair enough. Before they were done, and before I actually allowed myself to feel something (yuck), I made my way into the Green Room to catch the start of Finnish blackened doomers Dark Buddha Rising, whose theatrics were of a much different and more, uh, theatrical variety.

Until they came out on stage and I recognized faces, I didn’t know this, but Dark Buddha Rising shares at least two of its members with Hexvessel, who played yesterday. While that adds a level of intrigue into the initial discovery of who they are, it says nothing about how much the two acts have in common, which in turn is just about nothing. Dark Buddha Rising take the ritual Hexvessel preach and bring it to corpsepainted life, their frontman/noise-manipulator doused himself in “blood” from a chalice as he screamed and worked a wah pedal with his hand to add to the rumbling ferocity of noise from the guitar, bass and drums. I could take or leave that side of it — the stage show — but they had the doom to back it up. Lumbering, lurching, crawling malevolence came out to turn the Green Room black, and the music was more powerful than any chalice could contain. Vinyl-only to an apparent point of religiosity, it made me sad to not immediately go buy everything they had on their table in the merch area. Fortunately, I had Church of Misery to help drown my sorrows.

Drown them they did. Or maybe they smothered them. Or stabbed them. Or blasted them with a sawed-off shotgun. Whatever it was, Church of Misery‘s murderous grooves “took care of” any and all residual woes and rolled them up in a rug, never to be seen again. Unfortunately, there were a few technical difficulties for bassist Tatsu Mikami. Fortunately, they happened right during the jam part of “El Padrino,” so guitarist Tom Sutton got to just play out the “na na na” riff for about four extra minutes while the stage crew brought out a new bass head. That wasn’t the last of Mikami‘s troubles, but those things are unavoidable sometimes, and it’s not like Church of Misery have never played Roadburn and probably won’t again next year. If you’ve got to have a house band, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

Once they were up and running again, Church of Misery had the main stage crowd already well on their (meat)hook. The new vocalist, whose name I still don’t know, made an excellent master of ceremonies, and though I left for a bit in the middle to get a quick bite, I was back in time to see them finish out in riotous form, making way for Chicagoan instrumentalists Pelican, whose new EP, Ataraxia/Taraxis, is the first release from the band since 2009’s What We all Come to Need (review here) brought back around some of the escapist atmospherics that peppered their earliest works while also remaining consistently and consciously heavy. I remember seeing them on the “Champions of Sound” tour with Scissorfight at the old Knitting Factory in New York, and though I know I’ve encountered them between then and now, that will always be my frame of reference. At some point, then, Pelican grew up.

As they played, I turned my head to look at the crowd behind me, and all there was was a sea of nodding heads. They still had plenty of energy on stage, but at the same time, Pelican was a fully mature band, who’ve earned their spot between Church of Misery and The Obsessed. The main room was jammed with people, and Pelican handed each one a bleeding eardrum. Their grooves were huge, the sound was reverberating off the walls in a massive hum, and they didn’t let up. It wasn’t just impressive. It was landmark, and it renewed my appreciation for what they do. I wasn’t even that excited to see them, thinking there was no way they’d be able to replace that Knitting Factory show in my mind, but they absolutely did. It’s like they realized they didn’t need to choose between being heavy and being ambient or melodic. They crushed, and in a way that I didn’t think they were capable of or interested in crushing. That was the most surprising part of all.

On my list of “must” bands, The Wounded Kings ranked pretty high. I’d missed them last time they were here, and what with their having a totally different lineup now, showing up at the Green Room seemed more than prudent. Guitarist Steve Mills, who is the only founding member of the band, led The Wounded Kings through a round of songs from 2011’s In the Chapel of the Black Hand, which is appropriate since that’s the only record that four of the five in the lineup played on. Vocalist Sharie Neyland had a bit of vibrato to her voice that was well matched by the rumble of Jim Willumsen‘s bass, and Mills — who’s been through his share of trials in getting the band to this point — seemed thoroughly satisfied with the fruits of his labor. They were an interesting comparison point to Dark Buddha Rising, since both bands could probably be classified as occult doom, but each has a drastically different take than the other on what that designation might mean.

As a singer, Neyland puts The Wounded Kings on a new level entirely, and I feel now having seen them live as I felt when I reviewed the record, which is I hope the lineup stays consistent. Drummer Mike Heath and guitarist Alex Kearney only added to the potency of the other players, and it seemed the atmosphere was set from the outset and maintained the whole way through. The Green Room was full too, and then some, and considering Pelican was still going in the main stage and Leaf Hound was at Het Patronaat, it’s safe to say The Wounded Kings have made some real fans along the way on their bumpy road to this point. Mills works quick — for instance, this lineup of the band was put together and an album was released in a year’s time — so hopefully it’s not too long before we get another glimpse inside their house of horrors.

By this time in the day, my back and forth was in full swing. I’d gone from Stage01 to the main room, to the Green Room, to the main room, to dinner, back to the main room, to the Green Room, and now was headed back to the main room again for The Obsessed‘s reunion set. It takes a toll, both physically and in terms of what you see, but the tradeoff is you see more bands. Whereas yesterday I got to get more of a feel forwhat everyone was doing — I saw full sets from Wino & Conny Ochs, Conan and YOB — today and Day One were a different kind of experience. Obviously one still full of enjoyment and thrills, they just come in more rapid-fire procession. I’ll admit too that although I did a lot of running around today — I mean a lot — the weekend was beginning even early this afternoon to extract its toll on my energy level.

I’m not bitching. I hope you won’t take that to mean it that way, but I think fatigue, being worn out, is part of the festival experience and worth talking about. I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else for the duration of today — or this weekend as a whole, for that matter — but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make two trips to the espresso machine in the merch area this afternoon to gear up for the evening’s lineup. The second time, I put in two 50 Euro cents and got a double. It had to be done, because the fact of the matter is it’s not every day that The Obsessed get on stage and do a show. Roadburn seemed to know it, too, since when I came back into the main room for the set, the curtain was drawn.

This led me to wonder what they could possibly be hiding. The lineup, if I’m not mistaken, was announced beforehand as being drummer Greg Rogers and bassist Guy Pinhas alongside vocalist/guitarist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, so I’m not sure what was to be gained by drawing the giant curtain as the gear was loaded in and line checked. I didn’t expect much of a stage show, no explosions or dancing elephants, when The Obsessed got started, and sure enough, it was just the three of them rocking out those old songs. Once they actually began playing, though, I changed my mind about the curtain. It was awesome, and the reunion was special enough to warrant it. Once they hit into “Streetside,” I thought I tore my groove muscle — not to be confused with my “love muscle,” which is pretty much my forearm (heyo!).

Pinhas thanked the audience profusely and sounded utterly sincere, and he and Rogers nailed the material. It’s been since 1995 that The Obsessed played a set, though Weinrich worked Obsessed songs into his Wino trio performances, but if reunions from the likes of Saint Vitus and Sleep have shown anything, it’s that doom ages well. Getting to see The Obsessed play was one more really special occurrences that I’ve gotten to take part in on this trip, and I followed it up immediately by watching Mars Red Sky in the Green Room. It cost me part of The Obsessed‘s set, but after being so jealous of The Patient Mrs.‘ having seen them in Portland, Oregon, I had to follow up by seeing them for myself. The three-piece was positively humble and unassuming as they came out and started off their set with “Falls” from last year’s self-titled debut.

Guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras and bassist Jimmy Kinast have a new drummer in the lineup, as of reportedly two weeks ago, but the songs were smooth as they ran through them — “Strong Reflection,” the Kinast-vocal “Marble Sky,” “Curse” and a new song they didn’t give a title for but that seemed to show them heading further in the direction of balancing weighted tones with laid back grooves. You won’t hear me complain. It was one time this weekend where I can truly say that no one in the room was there by accident. Right across the hallway, you had The Obsessed rocking out songs that are legendary in doom, and yet the Green Room was full of heads come to worship at the warm fuzz coming from Pras‘ amp. For me, I’ll liken it to seeing Sungrazer at Roadburn last year, both in terms of the warmth of distortion and the equally rich satisfaction I got from doing so. They weren’t the highest profile act of the evening by any stretch, but Mars Red Sky were a highlight of my weekend (and with a weekend of highlights, that’s saying something), and I knew going into it that they would be.

Nonetheless, they were not the cap on the night. A mammoth, feedback-drenched, earth-rattling set from Sleep would follow back once more in the main room. Matt Pike, Al Cisneros and Jason Roeder. I’m honestly not sure if anything else needs to be said than that. Yeah, they’re not the full original trio of the band (though I’ve never heard anyone who’s actually seen Roeder drum on these songs complain; some conceptual kvetching), and yeah, nobody’s as young as they used to be, myself included, but goddamn, you put these guys on a stage and you better be sure your walls are reinforced. Doing one of their several extended sections of nothing but feedback and vibrating washes of noise, I found myself looking up at the 013 ceiling to see if anything was going to shake loose and fall on the crowd. I’m not kidding. I had my escape route all planned out — onto the stage, through the side door, out the loading dock. Off to safety I go.

It didn’t come to that, thankfully, but Sleep were at a pretty high threat level. High enough so that my earplugs did me no good whatsoever and my ears are ringing now. Before they even started — before his amps were even turned on — Pike came out and just started playing to the crowd. There was no sound, and he looked a little smashed, but even on mute, he earned vehement cheers. Before long, that solo turned into a mash of noise that, in turn, turned into the start of “Dopesmoker.” “Drop out of life with bong in hand/Follow the smoke toward the riff filled land” — words that have become the granite into which Sleep‘s legacy is carved, and I don’t mind saying I got chills up my spine as Al Cisneros delivered the lines. He did smoke a joint on stage, oh yes, and got a laugh by saying, “This intermission is brought to you by The Grass Company,” which is just down the street from 013 here in Tilburg. I don’t smoke, but I did suddenly want to order five shots and down them all; the music begging its adherents to be fucked up one way or another, I suppose.

Pike teased the opening riff of “Dragonaut” and a shockwave of electricity went through the crowd, and when they actually did it, it was glorious. Likewise “Holy Mountain” and “From Beyond,” both of which were just a huge, wondrous mess of abrasive noise and painful volume. The vocals weren’t the kind of shouts one hears when listening to Sleep’s Holy Mountain, or even Dopesmoker, but Cisneros was loyal to the songs all the same, vocally and musically, playing way up high on the neck of his five-string Rickenbacker, and where after seeing them in Brooklyn in 2010, I was unsure as to how the conflicting stage presences of Pike (a drunken madman) and Cisneros (a weedian guru) might play out correspondingly in their personal relationship, tonight they seemed absolutely on the same page with each other and with Roeder as the essential third of the band. One shudders at the possibility of a new album.

They went long, as I guess one will do when one is Sleep, and I had a laugh when they finished and the 1972 Charles Bronson movie The Mechanic came on the huge screen that was behind the band. Years ago, I interviewed Matt Pike for one of High on Fire‘s records — I think it was Blessed Black Wings — in person in Philadelphia, and afterwards at a bar, he told a story of being sat down as a child, I believe by his father, and being made to watch that very film since it was, “Everything you need to know about being a man.” Of course as soon as I could I got the DVD and watched it. It’s the story of two hitmen, a mentor and his protegé, and rife with betrayal, murder and a bizarre — and indeed, inherently masculine — code of honor that bonds its protagonists. Jan-Michael Vincent was the younger hitman. Anyway, the nod to The Mechanic gave me a chuckle as I worked my way through the beaten throng of Roadburners and out of the main room.

A Heavy Jam session with members of Witch and Earthless loomed ahead, but not for me. For me, it was back to the hotel to put the cap on this three-day exercise in riff worship. I’m not finished yet. Tomorrow is the Afterburner, and that’s got Electric Orange, Internal Void, and YOB doing all of Catharsis, among others, so I’m not yet in full-on reflection mode (not to mention it’s three in the damn morning), but suffice it to say for the time being that there’s a reason people come from around the world to play and attend this festival, and it’s because there’s only one Roadburn. It’s been exhausting, but it’s been a thrill too, and I’m looking forward to wrapping things up tomorrow with one more round of getting my ass handed to me at the Afterburner. Here’s to it.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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2012 Adventure, Pt. 17: Distortion Clinging Salvation (Roadburn Day Two)

Posted in Features on April 13th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04.13.12 — 00.10 — Friday Night — Hotel Mercure

Today was going to be my calm day. Yesterday was a ton of running around, tomorrow indeed will also be a ton of running around. Today the idea was fewer bands, but more full sets. I wanted to let the fest sink in a little. To savor it for a while without having to be off somewhere else immediately.

Day two of the 17th annual Roadburn festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands, was dedicated to Canadian legends Voivod‘s curated event, Au-delà du Réel (the French translation of “the outer limits,” keeping with the band’s oft-affirmed affection for sci-fi). With the likes of Farflung and Barn Owl on the bill, though, it was as Roadburn as ever, but the idea — at least according to the literature — was to blend loud and quiet around the Voivod set doing all of Dimension Hatröss, and in that, they succeeded. It was probably the most mixed Roadburn lineup I’ve ever seen.

I’d been up until about 05.00 in the morning putting together the writeup of day one, so I slept late and got up after noon to get ready for the next round. Wino & Conny Ochs provided a subdued beginning at Het Patronaat, which was welcome. They both mentioned that they’d been on the road together touring Europe for six weeks, and they sounded like it. The harmonies between the two singers were tighter even than on the Heavy Kingdom collaborative album (review here), and they opened with the first cut from that, the ultra-quiet “Somewhere Nowhere.” Cameras around me clicked off pictures, and the music was so quiet that each click of a camera sounded like someone was breaking a window.

They picked up the energy level, though, at least somewhat. “Labor of Love” was a high point, as was “Heavy Kingdom,” and they played a new song they wrote while on tour called “Hellbound Train” that was bluesy enough to earn its title. It’s good to know that their collaboration will continue, or that they’re thinking it will at this point, anyhow. It will be interesting to hear how (and see when) they follow Heavy Kingdom and in what ways they expand their approach. Wino kicked some fuzz into his acoustic guitar for a solo — it might have been during “Old and Alone,” it might not — and later, Ochs brought out a bow and started playing his guitar with that as he also worked a kickdrum with his foot to provide more of a rhythm. Not exactly fireworks, I know, but it was an unplugged set, and seeing how well Wino and the malleable-voiced Ochs work together was excitement enough.

Nachtmystium was taking the main stage at the 013 just as Wino & Conny Ochs were finishing, but I stayed put and waited a short while until Hexvessel came out and delivered their take on alternately Satanic and pagan folk. Before they took the stage, the Het Patronaaat DJ — whose name was Kevin, we’d later eat dinner together — played Black Widow and Coven, and that was appropriate enough a lead-in for Hexvessel, whose sound is very purposefully in that vein, but a tad more Finnish. I give it about five more months before avant garde pagan folk is the new doom, everyone wearing forest tunics and selling the good word of Satan’s majesty made flesh in the indulgent wonders of the earth. Not that I’d care if it happens, but if it does, I’d like another band to add to the list of comparison points. One gets tired of repeating, “Black Widow and Coven” all the time.

I did not stay in Hexvessel‘s darkened forest for long. Los Angeles psych unit Farflung — who I believe are actually in the process of being legally adopted by Europe — were in the Green Room, and I stood and watched some through the door, but my main thing was hitting the merch area at that time. I know I didn’t mention it yesterday, but buying merch is a major part of the Roadburn experience, whether it’s the festival t-shirt itself, exclusive vinyls, limited CDs. Whatever itch you’ve got to scratch as regards doomly commerce, all the bands are there at V39, which is right across the alley from the 013, and they’re all ready to sell. Groups playing Het Patronaat also get to sell their stuff at the church’s downstairs room, and it was there I bought six short-run handmade CDRs from GNOD, who I’d wind up not seeing tonight but am still glad to have dealt with. The dude took me through each CD one at a time and explained what the band was doing at that point, which order the discs were in, etc. It was actually pretty fascinating.

Back at the main merch area, though, it was crowding up. Depending on who’s at what table, it can be just as hard to move through there as it is to get into the Green Room or Stage01, but the difference I suppose is the merch area is a constant flux. I got myself a much-needed espresso from the machine (could use one now; my eyelids are getting heavy as I type) in the lower room that looks out onto the little courtyard smoking area, and conducted some business, picking up discs from Farflung, Black Rainbows and Dopethrone. The same people selling The Obsessed‘s new limited live LP were also selling CD/DVD digipaks of the new Saint Vitus record, Lillie: F-65 (review here), so I grabbed that too, and a Voivod shirt specially made for the Dimension Hatröss performance at Roadburn.

The next several moves I made can basically come down to one goal, and that was to see Conan at Stage01. I tried to get into Stage01 twice yesterday and failed both times. Couldn’t even get to a point where I could see in the doorway. It was pitiful, and as a result, I adjusted the course and direction of my afternoon with the single trajectory in mind: To be up front, Stage01, 19.15 as the British megadoom trio hit the stage. Was a bit of a process, beginning with seeing J.G. Thirlwell’s Manorexia in the main room. I think Sólstafir at Het Patronaat was drawing a lot of the crowd away, not to mention what remained of Farflung‘s packed-out set, but I wanted to catch J.G. Thirlwell’s Manorexia specifically because I knew nothing about the project. When I walked into the main hall, there was a string quartet setting up and piano, extra percussion — bit of chamber music to balance out the Au-delà du Réel mission. So be it. Excellently performed and it was great to watch these burly beardo sludge heads in the crowd shut their eyes and did on the cello. I’d have stayed longer, but for the mission of my own.

Dinner was a necessity. I was dragging ass already and it was only 17.50. Still a lot of Day Two left. So I went and ate as fast as I could so that I’d be in time to catch some of Kong in the Green Room — but upstairs, on the balcony. You see, the balcony of the Green Room connects to Stage01 in a way that already puts you in the room. No more waiting by the door. Well, yes, you’re still waiting by the door, but it’s a different door, and you don’t have to be in the hall — ah, forget it. It made sense at the time. Let’s just say that and roll with it. I made my way through and up to the Green Room balcony as Kong were setting up. They were pretty decent, instrumental heavy stuff with a bit of electronics thrown in in a way that was satisfyingly creative without being weird on purpose or desperate for attention. I snapped some shots, most (if not all) of which were terrible, but could not linger, lest I mistime my approach to the smallest of 013‘s three rooms and blow the entire Conan operation.

No way I was going to let that happen. Danava were on stage in there, and I’ve never been a fan. Back home in the States, we call it “hipster metal,” but I guess that matters less here. No wonder the Euro scene is so strong. Some dude leaned over to me and in an accent I’m pretty sure was Italian said, “They’re good like The Atomic Bitchwax!” The Bitchwax with a marketing budget. Had all the right t-shirts — Ted Nugent, Blue Öyster Cult — but weren’t nearly as tight as the last three Bitchwax gigs I’ve seen. Nonetheless, when traveling away from home, one hesitates when it comes to engaging debate on these points. No real cause to do so anyway. I’d just be a prick who doesn’t like popular bands. Better to just save the time and realize that at the outset. Whatever. They were fine and the crowd loved them.

And I probably wouldn’t have been there at all, but Danava — who, of course, more drew Stage01 to be more-than-capacity full — were another means to the my already stated end. They still had more than 20 minutes of their hour-long set left, but during that time, I put my plan into action and slowly made my way into the crowd. I didn’t push. I wasn’t a jerk about it. As people made their way back, I made my way up, and then, when Danava were finally done, I bolted (as much as I ever “bolt” anywhere) toward the front of the room and nabbed a spot right in front of the stage. Victory was mine, and victory was sweet. Not even the carts of road cases and amps that were wheeled up to go on the stage would deter me from my position in front of it. Of course, I made room, but when Conan was done loading their equipment on and those carts were pushed away, I was right back to where I was, which was just where I’d wanted to be. It had taken me the better part of an hour and a half to do it, but I was up front for Conan at Roadburn.

Sure enough, I stayed put for the entirety of their performance. There wasn’t much choice in the matter, but I wanted to be as close as possible to that tone that’s been my litmus test for “heavy” ever since I first heard Horseback Battle Hammer in 2010 (review here). Their new full-length, Monnos (review here), proved no less uncompromising, tone-wise, so I knew it would be worth my time, and it was. They played cuts from Monnos including opener “Hawk as Weapon” and did “Retaliator” and “Older than Earth” (I think) from their split with Slomatics (review here), bassist Phil Coumbe adding metallic growls and screams to guitarist Jon Davis‘ shouts and cleaner yelling. Conan were one of my impetus bands this year — that is, one of the reasons I’m here — and there was no letdown to be had. The lights, the fog, the overwhelming crush of sound — it was all astoundingly heavy whether they were playing fast or slow.

It also gave me a new appreciation for drummer Paul O’Neil‘s work in the band, as he not only manages to keep time through their tidal morass, but does so interestingly and works in subtle flourishes on his cymbal work that maybe get lost in the shuffle because they’re not as obvious as, say, the giant riff that’s bashing your brains out. Either way, Conan were so heavy that my earplugs vibrated in my head, and that hadn’t happened yet this weekend, so it’s worth noting. I was glad too to be trapped up front the whole time, so I didn’t get the itch to go and wait for YOB to come on in the photo pit. I still had plenty of time to get there watching all of Conan, and since it’ll probably be the only time I can get in there this weekend — Mike Scheidt of YOB opens up in there tomorrow doing solo acoustic stuff, but that’s a hard one to work out the logistics on making it to, much as I’ll try — I’m glad it was for a band I couldn’t see anywhere else at this point.

I say, “At this point,” because with a band as massive as Conan, you never know what’s going to happen. Already they were too big for the stage they played on, so hell, maybe they tour the US in some future either near or distant and demolish everything in their path. Who knows? There was a time — a few years, actually — when I was sure I’d never get the chance to watch YOB play a show, and it’s been four times now and by Monday it’ll be five. I caught Midian when they came through New York, but I knew there was no way I’d ever get to see YOB, and it was a bummer. I’m sure I’ve told the story before, so I’ll spare it, but as I made my way back over to the main stage to watch the Eugene, Oregon, trio unleash the 2005 full-length, The Unreal Never Lived, in its entirety, I couldn’t help but feel glad to have the chance to do so.

Fact: In my CD wallet, there is only one disc I’ve never been able to remove, and that disc is The Unreal Never Lived. The swan-song of YOB‘s original run, it was the culmination of everything the band had built to creatively up to that point; a four-song masterwork of psychedelic undulations that capped with the 21-minute monolith that was “The Mental Tyrant.” YOB has played “Quantum Mystic” every time I’ve seen them, and usually at the start of their set, so that was familiar enough, but as they progressed through the rolling groove of “Grasping Air,” another regular, and “Kosmos,” not so much, the tension seemed to be building to get to the final onslaught. When it arrived, it was glorious. They cut nothing out of the long opening and the gradual course of the song held its flow the whole time. There was one point during “Grasping Air” where I thought the whole rhythm was going to come crashing down, but kudos to drummer Travis Foster. He kept it together and pushed YOB forward into reaches of slow so desolate they were more or less stopped.

Decked out in Iron Maiden sneakers, the aforementioned Mike Scheidt only came more alive as the set progressed, and when it finally was time for “The Mental Tyrant” to begin its galloping payoff, I got a chill up my spine. It wasn’t the first claw I’ve hoisted over the last two days, but it was the most automatic, visceral response. Bassist Aaron Reiseberg (also of Norska) stepped back to let Scheidt riff out, true to the album, but every hit, every time he played a note, the floor I was standing on toward the back of the room shook. Not to overstate it, but it’s basically been seven years that I’ve wanted to see “The Mental Tyrant” played live, and the only reason I don’t go further into hyperbole is because I’m saving it for Sunday when YOB is set to do all of 2003’s Catharsis. Worth the flight to hear those two records alone. When they were done, I had to sit down.

There were a lot of bands today I didn’t see. Some, like Dopethrone, or Gnod, or Barn Owl, or End of Level Boss, I would’ve liked to. As Voivod came  on stage, though, I was glad to have held firm on the course I’d charted for myself, staying through whole sets and not volleying from room to room, only to catch the first couple songs before having to tear myself away to get to the next thing. I mean, that’s fun too, that rush, but I very much needed a day of standing relatively still, and I was glad the schedule could accommodate. Voivod — vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger, bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Thériault, drummer Michel “Away” Langevin (also responsible for much of the visual aesthetic of this year’s fest) and guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain — come preceded by 30 years of individualistic innovation. I won’t pretend to have a grip on their entire catalog, but even if I hadn’t seen them at Roadburn last year, I knew they were a sight I had to see, and more so for their doing Dimension Hatröss.

Of course, one can hardly think of Voivod and not recall the untimely passing of guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour in 2005, but Mongrain (also of Martyr and formerly of Cryptopsy) has become more than a hired gun in his position. D’Amour having been so instrumental in constructing Voivod‘s sound and progression, I don’t know if he’ll ever be as heralded in the guitarist spot, but he was clearly playing the songs with feeling and seemed natural on stage with Langevin, Bélanger and Thériault. As they were last year, Voivod was a pleasure to watch and had a presence on stage that spoke to their decades of influencing forward-thinking heavy music. It should say something that as they continue to push their career to its own seemingly expanding outer limits, as much as one gets excited at something like the prospect of hearing Dimension Hatröss done live, the prospect of finding out what they’ll do on their next record is no less thrilling.

They were the finale of my evening. I thought I’d maybe catch some Dopethrone, but you know how that goes, with the doorway and all that, and anyhow, it was getting on time to come back to the hotel and start typing. It’s three in the morning now as I wrap this and look at the prospect of having to find images for these bands, but hell, at least I can sleep late tomorrow, since the only thing I have to do is wake up and go to Roadburn for the final day of the fest proper, which will feature much back and forth between the main stage and the Green Room for the likes of 40 Watt Sun, Church of Misery, The Wounded Kings, The Obsessed, Mars Red Sky and Sleep, among others. It’s the most packed day yet, so please, stay tuned.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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2012 Adventure, Pt. 16: The Flies that You Eat (Roadburn Day One)

Posted in Features on April 12th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/12/12 — 23.24 — Thursday — Hotel Mercure

It was utter madness, but I suppose that’s to be expected. At this point, that’s part of what makes Roadburn the festival it is and has become. And on the day that 2012 kicked off and it was announced that Electric Wizard will curate 2013 and that Godflesh will play Pure in its entirety, I’ll say this already feels like the most crowded edition I’ve ever been to, though they’ve all been sold out. The lesson of 2012 is “get there early,” folks, because if you wait, you’re screwed. If there’s a band on stage, the room is full. Hell, even half the time bands aren’t on stage, it’s still full of people either waiting for who’s on next or still glowing after what they’ve just seen. Both the 013 and Het Patronaat were packed from the time I walked to the time I walked out. As I said: Madness.

True, The Icarus Line technically were the first band to go on, but it was d.USK doing their set of d.ISEMBOW LMENT material on the main stage that really got Roadburn started, and in telling fashion. The semi-reunited Australian outfit straddled the line between death/doom and black metal and seemed to relish in playing the one side off the other. They were oppressively dark, which is no small feat for the middle of the afternoon, and in that they were doing something special (the d.ISEMBOWELMENT set), were from a long way away, and made it hard to classify their sound, they were the perfect selection for a fest opener, because that’s exactly what this is: Bands from all over the world in a one of a kind gathering that’s not in the slightest bit limited by genre. I watched Ulver do a set of obscure ’60s psychedelic covers tonight. These things simply don’t happen anywhere else.

However, because there’s so much of it happening — at any given moment, all three stages of the 013 and the stage at Het Patronaat could and probably do have someone on them — Roadburn also requires hard choices be made. I left d.USK/d.ISEMBOWELMENT to go next door into the Green Room and catch the start of Horisont‘s set, and it was the first of several hard choices on the day. The Green Room being the midsized spot (with Stage01 the smallest; I tried twice to get in today, for Year of the Goat and La Otracina, and no luck), it filled up quick with people eager for Horisont‘s take on the current Swedish retro sound. Someone standing next to me at the front of the stage was telling his buddy, “Yeah man, if you like Graveyard, you’ll like these guys.”

And it’s true. That’s pretty much what Horisont have going on, sound-wise, but I’m not about to start complaining about that. I’ve been through their new album, Second Assault, a couple times in advance of a review, and after seeing them live, I get it a little more. Yeah, they’re in the vein of Graveyard, but they’re not quite as boogie rock as Graveyard can be sometimes. If you’re looking for a retro Swedish comparison point, Burning Saviours might work, but at that point, you’re really nitpicking. As the room filled up (and filled up, and filled up, and so on), it also got warmed with each body, so I fought my way out of the crowd — not easy — and made my first attempt to get to Stage01, to check out Year of the Goat, but it was too packed to even get close to the door, let alone through it.

I’m no stranger to watching sets through the door at Roadburn. I saw some of Quest for Fire that way last year and wound up staying put to see a bit of La Otracina‘s free jazz freakout psych-prog this evening, but it’s not a long-term solution. Watching a band through the door, I don’t think I could honestly feel like I’d seen them. You want to at least be in the room. I can catch La Otracina in Brooklyn easily enough, since that’s where they’re from, but when it came to watching Sigiriya tonight at 00.00, I knew there was no way it would work out, and that was a bummer, since what I saw of them at Desertfest was fantastic. Nevertheless, one keeps moving. I made my way over to Het Patronaat for the first time after not getting to see Year of the Goat (still bought their record, since I liked what I heard through the doorway), and caught a couple minutes of Virus, whose dramatic experimental metal seemed to relish its own inaccessibility.

One thing Het Patronaat has over the Midi Theatre, which was Roadburn‘s initial “fourth stage” — i.e., the other large venue to complement the main stage — is that it’s gorgeous. Midi Theatre wasn’t ugly by any stretch, but it was a pretty normal theater-type venue. Het Patronaat is a converted church. It has stained glass windows (behind a protective plane, of course), and a high angular vault in its ceiling with big wood rafters that really provided atmosphere for the bands who played there. I think it’s smaller than the Midi Theatre was, but there’s also a room downstairs where bands set up their merch, and beer and food were sold. A little getaway spot, I guess, if you need to just chill for a while and drink a beer. Not a bad idea, but I didn’t really have time. Agalloch were set to hit the main stage at 17.15, and I knew that if I wanted to be there, I wanted to be there well before they went on.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to like Agalloch for a while now. The vehemence and consistency with which they’re recommended to me is nigh on overwhelming. It’s not just, “Oh, you should check this out, it’s pretty cool.” It’s, “Oh my god, you have to hear this band right now.” I’ve given their records a shot, and I even bought their The White EP, to hear if maybe them doing something different would sit any better. As turtlenecked guitarist/vocalist John Haughm set mini-cauldrons of incense on blocks made of tree trunks at the front of the stage, which also just happened to be eye level for the photo pit, I did not find my excuse to become a fan of the band. I can still smell that shit. So much for daytwoing it in my Saint Vitus shirt tomorrow. I’m starting to run out of clothes.

Once they got going, they were as I’ve always found them to be: an American band doing a decent job at playing indulgent European-style artsy black metal. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I smelled it for a while and then I went back to the Green Room for Swedish cult doomers Saturnalia Temple, who are a bit more my speed, literally and figuratively. Michael Gira from Swans was doing a solo set at Het Patronaat, which would’ve been awesome to see, but like I say, tough decisions have to be made every year, and since I dug the hell out of Saturnalia Temple‘s Aion of Drakon after buying it last Black Friday in Connecticut, I took the chance to see them as something special I’d probably only get to do at Roadburn. So off I went.

Saturnalia Temple were low end in extremis — a brutal wash of tone that vibrated the front of the stage as I stood there. Big, big riffs. I couldn’t really hear the vocals from where I was standing, but they were relatively sparse anyway for the first couple songs. Basically, Saturnalia Temple were throwing down a gauntlet of heft, daring the rest of the Roadburn lineup to match what they had to offer. Even if you take away the Lovecraftian thematics and the crushing grooves of the riffs themselves, the sheer force with which they were delivered was an act of physical violence. I knew Om was getting ready to go on the main stage, so I once more pushed my way out of the Green Room — much to the delight of my fellow 013 patrons — and made sure I was there for the start of the trio’s set.

That’s right, the trio. I don’t know what the official status of Robert A. Lowe (aka Lichens and not to be confused with Robert Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus/Candlemass fame) is, but the dude at this point is a big part of their sound, and they showed that right from the start with the new material they played off the upcoming Advaitic Songs, but even on “Meditation is the Practice of Death” from 2009’s God is Good (semi-review here), Lowe made his presence known, and throughout the set, whether it was beating himself with a tambourine in time to drummer Emil Amos‘ rhythm, adding synth, or playing guitar alongside Al Cisneros‘ bass, he’s more a member of the band now than he was when they started touring together and it was kind of a novelty thing. The novelty has worn off, and Om make for a pretty formidable trio, though part of me misses the sweet minimalism of their earlier work. Price of progress, I suppose.

When I left Om, I went and tried to watch La Otracina through the doorway of Stage01 and then went over to Het Patronaat, with the intent of getting there early enough to get a spot up front for Ancestors. That was my goal. Ancestors, whom I’ve missed more times than I really care to count (I think it’s twice, but that’s too many, anyhow), including just last weekend, were my one absolute must of the day. I figured I’d get there super early and work my way up as people were coming and going. Thing was, I was early enough that Red Fang was still on, and they killed the place. They’re tighter now even than they were at Metalliance last year, and songs from both their self-titled and last year’s Murder the Mountains (review here) incited whatever the burly beardo equivalent is to squeals of pleasure from the crowd. Up front, there was even good old fashioned heavy metal slam-dancing, which earned some hard stares from those who did not want to be involved.

You could hardly blame them, though — the dancers, that is — because Red Fang legitimately showed that they’ve stepped up their live show to match the profile of the touring they’ve done in the past. Whether it was bassist Aaron Beam‘s nailing the vocal shifts in “Human Herd” (not to mention his snazzy new haircut) or guitarist/vocalist Maurice Bryan Giles throwing a bit of pinache into the opening lead of “Throw Up,” or the whole band locking into the punky groove of “Hank is Dead,” they were excellent across the board and absolutely owned the stage. If they can bring that same kind of energy to their next record, then all that “the next Mastodon” buzz that’s been swirling around them these last few years won’t just be hyperbole. They sound like a band right on the cusp of something really special. And by “special,” I don’t mean “slow.”

Though if they wanted to play slow, that’d be alright too. I could live with that.

Sure enough, when they were finished, I proceeded to insert myself at the very front of the stage, just to the right side of the center, where I would stay for the duration of Ancestors‘ set. Normally I’d stay there for a few songs, then push back and let other people in — because I’m a big guy, it seems like the right thing to do — but once Ancestors got started, I knew there was no way. Anyone who’s bemoaned their progression since they released Neptune with Fire in 2008 as somehow forsaking heaviness has clearly never seen the band live. They were so. Fucking. Heavy. And so fucking loud, too. Bassist Nick Long had to keep chasing down his “Depth Charge” pedal because the stage was shaking so much from his playing that it was wandering off. At one point, I noticed guitarist/vocalist Jason Maranga‘s glass of tea was vibrating close to the end of the side of the stage and pointed it out to the dude working the board so it didn’t tip over and spill on the sound equipment. Drummer Daniel Pouliot — a relative newcomer to the band who nonetheless destroyed everything in his path — started out with one brick in front of his drums to hold them in place but wound up with three before they were finished. And as for organist/vocalist Jason Watkins, I’m surprised the keyboard didn’t come apart in his hands. Yes, they were that loud.

Not only that, but crazy melodic too. The highlight of the whole set was when they closed with the 19-minute finale of their new album, In Dreams and Time (review here). Maranga had said the entire band was sick — see, that’s why you pack a pharmacy — and his vocals toward the end were a bit rough, but everything else in “First Light” was spot on, and both musically and vocally, the melody was as powerful as the rumble in Long‘s bass. I recognized that opening riff immediately and had a Pavlovian-drooling-dog response at the treat I knew was coming. Sure enough, they made their way methodically through every part of the song, Maranga taking a long solo at Pouliot accented perfectly, building tension with each measure until finally the massive payoff arrived. It was unreal, and if I was going to see Ancestors at any point in their career, I’m glad it was now just for that. Just when you think he’s got nowhere else to go on the guitar, out comes the slide and the solo becomes a noise-fest working up past the neck; raw squibblies that would’ve made Agalloch jealous. Best part about it was there was feeling in every note, and you knew it just from watching. One hundred percent the highlight of my night, those dudes were. No doubt about it.

They ended with Maranga kicking aside his pedal board, putting his foot up on the monitor and headbanging at the front of the stage, until “First Light” crashed to its sudden finish. No shit, I’ve listened to the song three times through since coming back to the hotel to start this writeup. And it’s 19 minutes long! No regrets. I wasn’t exactly lacking in appreciation for what Ancestors do (click the review link if you don’t believe me), but this was something totally different. Unreal, how good they were. I was so glad to have finally seen them.

And really, that was the cap on my night. It came early, at least as regards the fact that there was still plenty of the lineup to go, but I knew Sigiriya wasn’t going to work out, Voivod played tonight after Ulver, but they’re also doing a set tomorrow at their curated Au-delà du Réel event in which they’re doing all of Dimension Hatröss, so I figured I wouldn’t want to miss that, and though I like Justin Broadrick‘s noisemaking as much as the next guy, I clearly had a bit of writing ahead of me. I went back to the 013 after Ancestors, carrying my melted brains in my photo bag, and planted myself in the photo pit in front of where it looked like would have a good view of Krystoffer Rygg‘s braided beard. As usual, my guess was meh.

I didn’t hear Ulver‘s 2011 album, Wars of the Roses — though I loved 2007’s Shadows of the Sun — but it didn’t matter anyway, because like I said way up at the top of this post, they were doing obscure psychedelic covers from the ’60s. An odd choice, maybe, but it sounded pretty good. One thing Ulver was more than anyone else today, though, was elaborate. Two guitars, bass, drums, a Rhodes, a mellotron, a Hammond, bongos, congas, timpani, shakers, a gong, and then an electronic setup on a table in front of Rygg that no one even wanted to turn on to soundcheck. It looked — in a word — expensive, and they went on 10 minutes late because it took so long to make sure everything was hooked in properly to the 013 P.A., but again, it’s hard to find any fault in Ulver‘s execution. They made it work, though they also took the songs and put them in a more Ulverian context, so that it was more of an interpretation of Jefferson Airplane than an outright cover.

But it was one more cool, weird happening that’s only going down at Roadburn, and those who got to see it — packed in as they were — were lucky, and I count myself lucky as well. I hit the Het Patronaat merch area one more time, saw Pouliot and told him the set was killer, and then resigned myself to coming back to the Mercure and getting to work.

Tomorrow Wino & Conny Ochs open Het Patronaat at 15.00, and I’m going to try again to get into Stage01 to see Conan before YOB do The Unreal Never Lived front to back and further insanity plays out. There are fewer bands I’m outright dying to check out tomorrow, so maybe I’ll get to stick around for some more full sets, but I wouldn’t put it past myself to be back and forth like I was today either. No rest for the restless.

Extra pics after the jump.

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2012 Adventure, Pt. 15: Down to the Bottom, Where I Belong

Posted in Features on April 12th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/12/12 – 12.12 – Thursday – Weirdo Canyon, Tilburg

Reporting live from Weirdo Canyon in Tilburg for the first and what I hope won’t be the last time this trip. This place – the alleyway that connects the 013 venue to the central marketplace of Tilburg – is like the bridge to some alternate universe. A line of outdoor cafes, bars and cafeterias that for the next four days will be shared by the normal townsfolk of this beautiful city – some willingly, some with visible, palpable disgust – with an international gathering of weirdos, headbangers, stoner rockers, sludge heads, psych hippies and doomers the likes of which the world has never before known. A beer-fueled utopia, rife with bizarre hamburgers (needs more pink slime) and late-night pommes frites, condensed down to the length of a single block.

It’s a bit after 12.00 now. I woke up at 10.00, showered and hightailed it out of the hotel in Eindhoven to catch the train here. One stop and I was at Tilburg station, once again looking at the Roadburn banners hung up outside. Even in Eindhoven station, you could see who was on their way here. The black t-shirts, leather jackets and patch-laden denim all make for a sharp contrast to the general brightness of the surroundings, which I guess perhaps was why I was initially so perturbed by those banners. Seems incongruous with something contrarian about the fest’s existence. Still, apparently that’s part of some deal Roadburn has worked out with the Tilburg town council or whatever corresponding local government there is, and in the end, it matters very little when set against the four days of excellence that are about to ensue.

I walked past Al Cisneros on my way here from the train. He was headed down the block somewhere, and I nodded, and he nodded back. The Obsessed just went by where I’m sitting. I’ve already seen people I know and recognized a few faces from Desertfest in London. Hard to believe that started six days ago and it’s almost been a whole week to get me to this point. Time flies when you’re on a train from one city to the next every day, I guess. My own little European tour.

But outside the café, just around the corner from that giant church where everyone who plays here seems to take a black metal pose band photo and once the bell starts, it never stops, I’ll sit with my coffee and my fresh orange juice, waiting to order a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch and wait until 14.00 when I can go check in at the Mercure, put my stuff down, catch my breath for half a minute, post this, and head over to the 013 in time to hit the merch early – the start of a long but no doubt satisfying day. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been looking forward to it since last year, and have no doubt that this trip, Desertfest and Roadburn, will be the highlight of my 2012. Simply put, this is as good as it gets.

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