FESTIVAL REVIEW: ROADBURN FESTIVAL 2016 – Day 2 (Friday)
It seems even the weather was affected by the iciness of the Icelandic black metal played in Tilburg, as suddenly we went from a balmy 17 degrees sunny springtime Thursday to a much less pleasant more windy and cloudy 10 degrees and rain on Friday. The only people who seem happy with the change are the influx of Icelanders, who spontaneously got sunburnt on Thursday. As I made my way back to the venue, hopes of relaxing in the sun diminished as the grizzly sky took hold.
We started weirdly, as one of the billed headliners had requested to play first on the lineup; Diamanda Galás. Definitely not for everyone the exceptional vocalist asked for complete silence and darkness, no photography allowed, entrance and exit of the room only between songs and that no alcohol be served at the bar during her performance. Sadly I missed the first half, which was mostly her more atonal works but caught the last half which seemed to center on her own versions of blues classics. Coming back for two encores, and mentioning how great the silence and attention span of the audience was she ended her performance with her magnificent version of gloomy Sunday, a depressing disheartening experience in all its grandeur which left me feeling lucky I caught this exceptional artist performing.
After a bit of time to recover from Diamanda’s performance that left me reeling I peeked in on Sinestro, a band I’d heard many good things about. A band combining doom and post rock elements, plus female vocals is always something I’ll at least have a look at, but after 15 minutes in a very crowded green room I personally felt the different elements in the music weren’t blended well enough and kept feeling a bit split and two sided for me, though the music was expertly played. Their stage presence was quite passionate as well, but being stuck in the crowded green room’s doorway meant I could not catch too much of it.
After a quick bite to eat I had about half an hour before Niyth were meant to start their set in the Extase. Since this venue used to be my teenage haunt, I knew how hard it would be to get in and out of and how crowded it is likely to be, so I decided to try and get in early. Apparently a lot of other people had this same idea, and getting to the stage to take photos was an utter impossibility. After waiting 10 minutes past the time they were supposed to start, packed like sardines in the small room and there being no music yet, I gave up and worked my way outside to see the line of interested people stretch a good 10 yards further.
Instead I decided to go see With the Dead in the main stage, where there always is room to breathe. Low slow notes rolled over the crowd like a funeral procession as we get some of the heavier bass and doom of the fest so far. The very low red lighting and desolate visuals played above the stage drive home the droning hopelessness in the music, though we keep being propelled forward by that bass and drums rhythm hypnotically rolling over us wave after wave. Hopelessness and futility drench through the doom bands lyrics as they nihilistic-ally told us resistance is futile and we’d better nod our heads to the rhythm. It’s amazing how healing such a desolate experience can be for the soul and for a short while the dismal weather seemed appropriate and fitting.
Over the years Roadburn has had a tradition of serving us some of the oddest heavy bands from Japan, We’ve had Boris, Sigh and a multitude of others, all of them heavy and weird in a special Japanese way. Now think of Japanese rockers that take an interest in the hardcore movement, and making it their own. Leave that to simmer in Japan a few decades. Then for their first time playing outside of Japan put them in front of a 3000 heads strong Roadburn crowd. Glorious, weird and very distinctly Japanese; this was G.I.S.M in a nutshell. It was a bit confusing and out there, but they sure did kick some ass and may have gotten the crowd moving even more than Converge did the day before. Especially considering how rare a show this was, the first show the band ever played outside of Japan, and the first show they played in 10years regardless, it was an amazing sight to behold.
Pentagram are one of the grandfathers of the Doom Metal tradition, heavy, strong vocals, flirting with the occult and a link to the 70’s it ticks all the boxes to fit squarely into the Roadburn alley. Where usually the greats of yore are slipping and losing their edge, Pentagram seem unstoppable. It’s amazing to see Bobby Liebling, Pentagrams only constant member, strutting about on stage, physically looking like a frail old man, but invigorated by something otherworldly and eternally young. These guys may be dinosaurs but they are far from going extinct or even being irrelevant.
We ended the day wit another dip into the icy sea of Icelandic Black Metal, this time a collective performance of Mistyrming, Grafir, Nyith and Nedra, the Úlfsmessa, or wolf’s mass. Never performed outside of Iceland before, the experience is an utterly unique one, eventually amounting to a small dozen of black shrouded anonymous figures on the suddenly tiny Patronaat stage performing an almost ritually strong dedication to their music. All dressed in the same black dress shirts with their faces obscured, the punching Icelandic black metal conglomeration mixes and whirls through their hour and a half long set, mixing material from all the bands involved. Atmospheric interludes break up the onslaught of violence occasionally giving the listeners a short breathing space before diving head-first back into the blastbeats. Midway through the sets the drummers change as a hulking black-painted and shrouded figure takes his seat behind the drums, announcing his arrival by heavy, solemn tom beats, like the drummer on an ancient Roman galleon. The musicians who are on stage but have no part to play at that time solemnly and seriously stand or sit by their brothers, enhancing the feeling of a mass. The exalting experience is unlike one I’m ever like to find elsewhere and with it’s respect for the music these youngsters from Iceland showed it’s hard to not share in that reverence. Besides, any black metal act that can successfully incorporate horns, didgeridoos and cello without it getting weird are masters at the art.
Roadburn is such an eclectic festival it is hard to catch in a short little segment, but for me the icy cold black metal from Iceland was the ultimate highlight, padded out by the generally excellent doom and even some punching punk on the menu so far. But nothing beats the atmosphere of Roadburn and its people.