Mats Johansen’s Journey Through ROADBURN 2012

Bilde-020

Traveling Blues & Motorpsychodelic Trips

The day had finally come—we were off to Roadburn. We’d waited on bated breath since we bought the festival passes late last year (fortunate, since it sold out in 7 minutes) and it was finally time to experience the awesome, unique vibe at this small heavy music festival.

I left Oslo by train at noon on Wednesday and enjoyed the ride through the countryside listening to some of the bands that would be playing the festival this year: Christian Mistress’s classic heavy metal, Solstafir’s primal post rock, and the psychedelic doom of Ancestors. My friend, TB, met me at the railway station in the small town of Tønsberg, and after a short trip by car to the Torp airport we were soon 30.000 feet above the Skagerak sea, talking about what was to come and drinking a few cans of Heineken.

As soon as we landed at Schiphol airport outside Amsterdam, we were all business and bought railway tickets, XXL burger meals at Burger King and a sixpack of beer before bordering the intercity train to Eindhoven. It was quickly apparent that we were not alone; we could spy a lot of heavy music t-shirts during our two-hour train trip. But alas, as soon as we hit Eindhoven we had no time to meet-and-greet, as TB had gotten us onto the guest list for Motorpsycho’s gig at the club Effenaar that same evening. We checked into the hotel, dropped off our bags and headed on over to the club where the Norwegian rock band had silenced the kleine zaal with their run through their recent rock opera The Death Defying Unicorn. It seemed the band was eager to rock as this was the first night on their European tour; the improvised parts of the set felt more doomy than during their gig in Oslo a few weeks earlier. The 250+ strong audience were clearly pleased with the band’s performance and they ended the concert with strong renditions of their classic epic “Mountain” and the beautiful “Taifun”. (4.5/5)

As we sauntered back to the hotel, we agreed that the evening had been a perfect introduction for what was yet to come. We were psyched to see the venues 013 and Het Patronaat, and browse the vinyl bins at V39, but especially looked forward to seeing Agalloch, Ulver, Red Fang and more live in concert at the mighty Roadburn!

Dutch Smiles & Black Metal

We were up at the crack of dawn on Friday to get some of the hotel breakfast—eggs, bacon, and orange juice—before we took the 25-minute railway trip to Tilburg. The picturesque Dutch countryside is a soothing landscape to travel through and the Dutch are also quite good at keeping their streets and cities clean, but the icing on the cake is hospitality. Everyone seems eager to help a stranger and they all speak English. The Roadburn staff almost seem to regard the festival attendees as friends instead of customers and this pays itself forward as attendees never seem to act bothersome or unfriendly; it’s all good karma.

We found a table outside Polly Magoo and ordered us some pints of Jupiler as the sun peeked through the clouds, and during this nicer atmosphere met Nik from Amsterdam—a smiling student who was returning to Roadburn for the fourth time. Over the next few hours we talked about language barriers, philosophy, education and history. Who said heavy metal fans were dumb slackers?

But let’s get back on course. Having gotten hold of our festival wristbands, we ventured into the darkness of 013 to see The Icarus Line in The Green Room. I remember them virtually demolishing their audience at the Quart festival ten years ago and reading about their infamous Hard Rock Café gig in Austin, Texas when they ripped Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar from the wall and liberated it in front of the horrified audience. This would be the perfect opening of a heavy music festival!

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Icarus Line had been reduced to being a poor man’s version of The Stooges with a front man who looked like a young Anthony Kiedis and behaved like Iggy Pop with no self-esteem. The rest of the band was almost invisible; their studied stage behavior seemed almost rehearsed. Truly an utter disappointment (2.5/5). We also escaped the necromantic roar of diSEMBOWELMENT at the main stage, feeling that the festival really hadn’t found its step. [I’d be fucking pissed if I missed diSEMBOWELMENT for something inferior!  ~Ed.]

Luckily. this was only the beginning of a four-day trek. The next band we got to see improved our belief in rock music. Horisont is a young Swedish quintet content to run through ’70s rock music; both their music and their stage behavior felt like a homage to bands like Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, Thin Lizzy, et al. They didn’t reinvent the music, but that didn’t bother me as I truly enjoyed their set with beer in hand and a smile on my face. If you’re already a fan of their fellow Swedes Graveyard and Witchcraft, you should check them out. (4/5)

A short while later we found ourselves getting ready for the mighty Agalloch‘s concert at the main stage. This was probably one of the most important reasons for us to go to this year’s Roadburn and we were not to be disappointed. A huge screen behind the band showed mesmerizing pictures of the American northwest, with clouded hills, darkened waters and spooky forests. This was the perfect backdrop to the band’s shoegazing black metal. They pulled out all the stops; running through songs like the magnificent “Limbs”. (5/5)

After this monumental statement we went outside to check out the converted church annex Het Patronaat to catch the dripping sludge from Red Fang. The ground floor was a lounge area with a bar and a separate merch booth, while the floor upstairs was gorgeous with the building’s church windows intact. I felt the venue lacked a good ventilation system since the air felt both stale and warm halfway into the concert, but the crowd cheered the band on nonetheless, as the Oregonians ran through more or less the same set as when they supported Mastodon earlier this year. (4/5)

After a brief stay in front of the vinyl bins at the V39, we returned to Het Patronaat to see the progressive doom of Ancestors. It took a while for us to warm up to the music, but soon I felt more at home listening to them. They seemed happy to be playing to a full house at Roadburn and gave the audience a good look into what they’re about, fusing the spirit of King Crimson with modern heavy music. I felt that their sound is a fresh look on traditional progressive rock and enjoyed songs like “Bounty of Age”.  (4/5)

We ended our first day at the Roadburn with a return to black metal; or at least we thought we did. Ulver has long since left their black metal dress behind, but their music has always been infused with a melancholy darkness. I anticipated seeing the band doing a reprise of their set from their recent video release The National Opera House, but Kristoffer Rygg introduced the set saying they’d momentarily had left the doom’n’gloom in favour of something more upbeat. That comment introduced a set consisting fully of covers from sixties bands like Jefferson Airplane, 13th Floor Elevators, and Electric Prunes.

Bilde-037

The set is beautiful and typical Ulver; dark and powerful. But it is also only 45 minute long, so after a brief pause, they returned for an improvised jam, which transformed into a transcendental spectacle and the best kind of ending we could have hoped for. (5/5)

We return to our hotel in Eindhoven in silence, letting the train take us through the pitch-black night. Friday would give us even more sonic explosions via Wino and Conny Ochs’ acoustic set, Nachtmystium’s return to Instinct: Decay, Solstafir, Yob, AUN, and the massive Celeste.

Yob’s Heavy Kingdom

The Friday was to be even more exhausting than we’d suspected on beforehand. After the short railway trip from Eindhoven to Tilburg, we entered the Het Patronaat as the venue opened to accommodate the festival attendees most eager to see what Wino and Conny Ochs had in store. We were not to be disappointed as the duo immediately launched into a spirited acoustic set with twin vocals and beautiful guitars. The songs focused primarily on songs from the duo’s album Heavy Kingdom, but they found time to do some older tracks like the bluesy “Hellbound Train” and ended the set on a high note in front of the cheering doom crowd. (5/5)

The setlist:
Somewhere Nowhere
Labour of Love
Dust
Vultures by the Vines
Heavy Kingdom
Hellbound Train
Angels and Demons
Old and Alone

Bilde-042

After a short trip to the merchandise stands – again – we ventured to the galleries of the main stage at 013 to see Nachtmystium do their album Instinct: Decay in full. The band was clearly stoked to be invited to Roadburn by Voivod—this year’s curators—and did their best to satisfy the audience. The sound was great and Blake Judd led a frenzied set, confirming the band’s status as pioneers of American black metal. However, I felt that they didn’t get the response they deserved; perhaps the early afternoon was too bright for their brand of darkness. (4/5)

At Roadburn, one’s almost completely sure to miss out on great music due to the sheer number of bands and a tight time schedule. We soon experienced it ourselves as Farflung crept into our bar section from off in the Green Room. After having seen the band start their set with a couple of their trademark tracks, we catched the tail end of Hexvessel at Het Patronaat, who sounded like a medieval band discovering electric guitars and electronics. Pleasant, but a bit pretentious and aloof. (3/5)

But it didn’t really matter as were soon demolished by a angry Solstafir at Het Patronaat with a kleine bier in hand. The Icelandic band felt like the beautiful wreckage of a prize fight between a muscular Sigur Ros and a primal Primordial. Technical problems plagued the guitar of singer Adalbjorn at the beginning of the set, but soon after the band steamrolled its primal post rock over their audience demanding a cheering response. However, they missed out on some magic as they didn’t seem to sync their sounds with their visual backdrops and had some minute-long silences scattered through their set. (3.5/5)

To prepare for the mighty Yob we got a tasty burger at the Studio café and some important rest in comfortable chairs as we’d come to understand the importance of pacing oneself during these long days of rock. But, soon enough we’d found a decent place in front of the main stage at 013 and waited for Yob to make their entrance.

Bilde-046


Yob
’s recent release Atma was voted last year’s best record at a poll on the Roadburn website, so it was no question that the venue would be brimming with expectant fans. But I didn’t suspect the utter adoration and cheering response showering the band several times during their set. From Mike Scheidt’s first riff, the band roared, riffed, and headbanged heartily, beating the crowd into blissful submission with songs from The Unreal Never Lived. I could give the gig a top rating, but that wouldn’t be fair to Yob. As they ended the set with the encore “Adrift In The Ocean”, they were simply beyond rating.

How can one follow such a monumental effort? We decided to go for the dronesters AUN at Stage 01 at 013. Their music was almost diametrically different from Yob’s tundering doom, focusing on chronic static fuzz. The three-piece have released several records and master drone doom in the vein of Nadja and Sunn 0))), and on Friday night they played a set that felt like a soothing and buzzing headache, creating a darkened soundscape perfect for both daydreams and doldrums. They lost momentum playing close to midnight when the audience were buzzed on beer; an earlier set would have better mesmerized. (4/5)

We’d planned to see Celeste at the Green Room, but were exhausted after a long day of ceaseless rocking. So to conserve our strength for a potential fantastic Saturday, we decided to skip the amazing French band and get some sleep. On Saturday we looked forward seeing an acoustic set by Mike Scheidt, the Japanese doom export Church of Misery, living legends Sleep, the instrumetal of Pelican, and mega-tasty Bongripper.

Wordless Milestones & Unions of DOOM

As we woke to more blue skies and sunshine, we knew that this would be the day of days at the Roadburn festival and prepared ourselves yet again to be transported into the Roadburn dimension. Once you enter the bar strip close to the 013 it’s almost as you’re teleported out of the Netherlands and into a heavy metal kingdom. The streets and bars are brimful of black-clad rockers and from the bars’ speakers diverse heavy metal streams out at their unsuspecting audience.

Bilde-053

Following a few beers and a bowl of nachos we were off to check out Mike Scheidt have a go at singer/songwriting. He’s a quiet and kind personality; not unlike the elder and tattooed uncle you like most of all. This quickly was evident as he chatted with the audience throughout his set, talking about his songwriting and how good Doom’s concert was the previous night. But his focus this night was his songs, which felt like a fusion of the pastoral end of Six Organs of Admittance and the grittiness of his contemporaries Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till.  His guitar skills are well-documented, but on Saturday I was most impressed by his voice which can be both almost angelic and pure as well as a gritty groan and i’m looking forward in hearing his debut solo record Stay Awake out on Thrill Jockey. (4.5/5)

After this quiet start we went into ‘Explorer Mode’ and searched out a few acts unbeknownst to us. Sadly, all of these acts were lacking in some way. 40 Watt Sun felt like a uninspired rehearsal from a local band; Celestial Season were a surprisingly sexless rock band, sounding like a fusion of Danzig with generic stoner rock; and Dark Buddha Rising overwhelmed with their focus on blood and mystical drones.

Luckily, the rest of the day was to be a scorching atack on the senses. Church Of Misery went straight at our throats and opened with a electrifying version of “El Padrino” from Houses of the Unholy. Their bassist had some problems with his amplifiers, but as soon as this error was corrected, they crushed their audience with murderous intent and surprising humor. It’s obvious why they’re a repeat offender at Roadburn. (4.5/5)

Bilde-062

Both TB and I had been passionate about instrumetal since discovering Isis and Japanese Mono in the ’05, so Pelican’s return to the festival was highly anticipated. The band did not disappoint and even managed to eclipse Yob’s extraordinary effort the night before. With a crushing blast they exploded onto the audience at the main stage, playing songs from their entire catalogue. They seemed to have expanded their original post-metal music into an awe-inspiring wall of sound. As the set got ever closer to the magnificent finale “Autumn Into Summer”, I got increasing amounts of goose-bumps. And as they drenched the end of their set in feedback, I found it impossible to give the band’s set a proper rating as this set almost was of mind-altering dimensions. Brilliant.

We ventured into the sunshine after this monumental experience to get a burger and a beer and cool off, but nevertheless we soon found ourselves at the gallery at the main stage looking down on Obsessed reunited to satisfy the audience’s need for classic doom rock. They played through a seemingly hits-oriented set, dedicated songs to two long-time fans and seemed pleased to play at the festival (4/5).

But we were busy gearing up towards the definite highlight of the festival:  Sleep’s mighty set at the main stage. There’s no doubt that Roadburn is essentially a doom/stoner festival and nowhere is that more evident than before the band’s set. The hall was quickly full of fans with Sleep shirts and hoodies and you could smell the anticipation. When a topless, tattooed and beer-bellied Matt Pike popped up on stage for his electric intro, the crowd responded with cheering adoration. When he was joined by Al Cisneros and they fell into their hypnotic doom, one could see joints being lit all over the venue. And in a matter of minutes the crowd moved as one—headbanging to the slow and brooding sound of Sleep.

Sleep‘s playlist:
1. Dopesmoker
2. Dragonaut
3. Antarcticus Thawed
4. From Beyond
5. Sonic Titan
6. Holy Mountain

The backdrop film to the band’s massive soundscape was made by Josh Graham of A Storm Of Light and it’s a fitting partnership. Solar flares, the cosmos, icy mountain ranges, sharks and nightmares were only some of the images that helped the audience be lulled into a transcendental state of mind during the band’s 90-minute set. Their power was palpable, glacial, tectonic. The confidence was clear throughout the set, with occasional good-humored comments from Cisneros (“This intermission was brought to you by The Grass Company.”) and seeing the sides of the stage full of other bands in awe of the rare spectacle. (5/5)

Bilde-074

After this amazing set left Roadburn coughing for more, I almost felt like going home. The concerts had taken their toll, but I reminded myself that the next gig was one of the main reasons for our trek this year. So, after a can of Sprite and a short walk in the fresh air, we were back at the Het Patronaat for the last time during this year’s festival to cloud our senses with Bongripper. The band also has a doom aspect in their sound, but focused instead on a tight, raging attack which felt like a perfect fusion of a young, angry Mogwai and a breathless Helmet.

The band had a superb light show which perfectly complimented their muscular riffs, explosive stage behavior, and intense music. As during Sleep’s set, the crowd almost fell into a trance headbanging to the band’s repetitive rhythms and thundering doom. As they ended with a marathon 25-minute version of their classic “Reefer Sutherland” I felt the last of my energy drain from exhaustion. (5/5)

It felt impossible for us to do anything else than travel back to the hotel and get some rest for the epilogue on Sunday—the weird world of Mount Fuji Darkjazz Corporation; the unimaginable duel between Bongripper and Yob; a look at Coroner’s visionary thrash metal; and finally Black Cobra’s sludgy denouement.

The Final Call

As Roadburn ended with the one-day event Afterburner, we sensed a change in the festival atmosphere. It no longer felt like a communal and laidback vibe, but more of an ordinary festival. Regardless, some of the most interesting concerts still lay ahead. Mount Fuji Darkjazz Corporation opened the last day before a tired and laidback at the main stage early in the afternoon. A brooding soundscape of electronics, strings, trombone, bass, and guitar flowed and ebbed at the audience, with a surrealistic animated love story projected on the backdrop, clearly influenced by Terry Gilliam’s work in Monty Python. The band’s ambient and industrial jazz was a pleasant and dark experience after three days of thundering heavy metal and set us up for the twin-attack of Bongripper and Yob. (5/5)

Sadly, we first had to see the undoubtedly worst act at this year’s festival: Internal Void. We’d never heard of this band, which is an American doom metal troupe founded in the late ’80s, but that didn’t rectify the horrendous set they did on this Sunday. They had none of the charisma, songs, or power that one would expect of a band appearing at Roadburn and we almost thought we’d stumbled in on a Spinal Tap tribute band. [Doesn’t that break some cardinal rule?  ~Ed.]  (1/5)

Two of this year’s best acts were both playing interesting sets during Afterburner; Bongripper did the entire Satan Worshipping Doom album, while Yob would try to remodel their Catharsis record. I hadn’t heard any of said records, but was optimistic after being awestruck by their previous concerts at the festival. Bongripper quickly filled the foul Internal Void with SWD, birthed more from hardcore and punk rather than the traditional sounds of Black Sabbath and St. Vitus. As the set progressed, the influence of Mogwai and Helmet was joined by the slow and excruciating doom of Harvey Milk curdling into the mix. Still, Bongripper sounds like no other. (5/5)

Yob were on next and I was so excited to see them two days after they’d impressed us as one of the major purveyors of contemporary doom metal. This evening they’d do their second album Catharsis in its entirety. We had never heard the album before, but were sure that Yob would prove their supreme abilities yet again. We were not wrong; as the band progressed throughout the set they turned the audience at the main stage into one single entity, headbanging to the brutal, yet multi-dimensional roar. (5/5)

We still had planned to see more bands at the festival, but after four days of metal, beers and burgers, we were simply pushed to our physical limits. So after having been a part of the Roadburn experience for the second time, we left for home without having seen the reunited Coroner or the last strike of Black Cobra.

Roadburn 2012 has been even better than my first experience with the festival four years ago. It thrives as a celebration of modern underground heavy music. The friendship, openness, and joy stand in stark contrast to the media description of heavy metal. [Wait, which media are we talking about here?  ~Ed.] Roadburn is truly a unique experience for every fan of heavy music and should be considered as a holy grail for all rock fans. I’m already planning for my return next year, when Jus Oborn from Electric Wizard will be curator and Godflesh will play Pure in its entirety.

~Mats Johansen

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s