“Come, My Fanatics”
It’s taken a good long while for me to write this reminiscence, much to Louise’s chagrin. It’s not my fault, though, I swear. After all, one does not simply review Roadburn. You’ve got to experience it first, let the dust settle, let it all sink in. There have been memories made, friendships forged, maybe a broken heart or beer bottle to contend with, and above all, there was the music – that glorious swirling cacophony of heavy riffs, howling voices, spacey trips, crushing melodies, industrial clangs, and even the odd blastbeat. So savour it. Swish it around your mouth like a dram of Laphroaig, and drink it down straight. Soak it all up like that first sunbeam after a bitter cold winter, and let yourself start counting the days ‘til your next stroll past the Cul de Sac and through the 013’s doors. We here at Iron Fist have what you might call a bit of a soft spot (read: all-consuming passion) for this most unique and welcoming of festivals, and are endlessly grateful to the wonderful Roadburn staff for inviting us along on their cosmic journey. 2013 was the best year yet, but then again, we say that every year, and every year, we mean it. Any Roadburn veteran can attest to wonderful atmosphere, jaw-dropping lineups, once-in-a-lifetime performances, and all-around good times that this multiday celebration offers, thanks to well-oiled machinery and the watchful eyes of ringleaders Walter, Jurgen, Yvonne, and the so many others who have thrown themselves heart and soul into the task of ensuring that each year the fest gets bigger, better, and more representative of this sprawling global musical subculture we call home.
This year, Thursday’s festivities kicked off earlier than usual, summoning a passel of bleary-eyed acolytes (cheers for that 6.50am flight option, Ryanair) up away from their breakfast beers and into the warm embrace of the main hall, where doom titans-in-waiting Pallbearer commandeered the stage for the first time. The fellas seemed a bit cowed by the huge stage, but stepped up and got loose to deliver damn good renditions of their soul-stirring doom anthems. I sprinted over to Het Patronaat to catch Chicago genre-benders The Atlas Moth, and had to crane my neck to catch a glimpse of frontman Stavros’ cheeky grin and get my ears around vocalist/guitarist David Kush’s angelic harmonies from behind the hordes of people who’d beaten me there. Royal Thunder hopped up right after, rolling through their bluesy rock numbers as Mlny’s smoky, soulful voice boomed through the church and cast one hell of a spell over a thunderstruck crowd while across the street, young guns Pilgrim doomed the Green Room with their mournful cries. The American legions stole the show that day, boosting their ratings with a thunderous High On Fire and gorgeous acoustic performance from Baroness’ John Baizely (so good to see him back onstage!), USX’s Nate Hall, and Katie Jones, as well as appearance from Intronaut, Caste, and the thoroughly horrible Lord Mantis, whose fetid black sludge choked out the Bat Cave with alarming menace. Perennial live favourites Primordial delivered a typically rousing performance (their first at Roadburn, believe it or not), Aussie doomhaulers Mournful Congregation absolutely decimated the Green Room with one of the most downright powerful sets this scribbler has ever seen, and Irish death/doom stalwarts Mourning Beloveth let us all down hard before sending us off into that good night.
Friday opened with the debut of Dread Sovereign, the gritty doom ‘n’ roll project helmed by Primordial’s Alan Averill and Sol Dubh (joined by ZOM’s Bones on guitar); as one of their countrymen might say, ‘twas fuckin’ savage! Dream Death’s mainstage performance was highly anticipated and perfectly executed, but the following set from Sabbath Assembly left me cold; they are one of the few bands for whom ritual pageantry is truly important in the live setting, and their stripped down, rock ‘n’ roll approach felt forced and stale. Witch Mountain made up for it, though, with a sweaty, electrifying turn at Het Patronaat that had Uta Plotkin’s formidable pipes shaking the rafters and Rob Wrong’s blazing licks nearly setting the place alight. Supposed phenoms Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats served up a lukewarm performance on the mainstage whilst Finnish freak folkies Hexvessel entranced all who made it inside for their deeply emotional, ethereal set. Les Discrets kept the fairy vibes floating about, then saw them promptly crushed by Moss’ ‘orrible, ‘eavy vibes and Cough’s wretched black tar doom. Electric Wizard preached druglust, bloodlust, and the cult of distortion to the converted, wrapping up the evening for those who weren’t down with whatever the fuck Psychic TV were doing and weren’t able to shove their way into Het Patronaat for Goat or Amenra (both of whom were excellent, as we’re told by assorted smug bastards).
Despite my foggy, whiskey-slicked brain’s protests, I dragged myself up to the Bat Cave on Saturday just in time to watch Fell Voices give one of the most brutal, evocative, and downright intimidating Roadburn performances in recent memory. Their brother band, Ash Borer, delivered a similarly knockout set later that day, and between the two of them, provided the most compelling case for the existence of American black metal that you’ll see all year. Smack dab in between them, we were treated to an absolutely enthralling appearance from The Ruins Of Beverast, who filled the church with smoke, dread, and the heaviest, filthiest, most soul-destroying black/doom metal tunes imaginable. It was a ritual if there ever was one, and a definite highlight. Antisect kept the blood pumping with a pissed off, intense set of crust classics; Die Keuzen were less popular, though the diehards were delighted by their energy. High On Fire unleashed ‘The Art Of Self Defense’ on the mainstage, Godflesh dredged up ‘Pure’ and the evening met its apex once Martin van Drunen took to the stage and Asphyx levelled the joint with a specially-selected set’s worth of their heaviest, slowest, most bone-crushing tunes. Perfect.
I was bad [read: hungover – ed!] on Sunday and only really watched two bands, but the sheer intensity of said duo was more than enough to send me home happy. Pallbearer took Diagonal’s place after a last-minute schedule change, and boy, let me tell you – they were goddamn amazing. The energy in that room during their set (which included a heartbreaking rendition of ‘Gloomy Sunday’ as Roadburn’s most perfect moment) was indescribable, and they had us all eating out of their hands by the time the last note rang out. Tilburg locals Nihill stalked onstage, hooks up and smoke billowing out, and proceeded to systematically crush, kill, and destroy every last remaining good vibe with their nightmarish, suffocating, unbelievably aggressive set. They were terrifying, and ended my Roadburn on an unusually grim note.
Variety’s the spice of life, though, and that’s something this weekend had in spades. You couldn’t see everything, even if you wanted to; even the most carefully laid plans are thrown out the window as soon as you pass Clancy’s and run into an old friend, and even the burliest of riffs take a backseat when beers and bullshitting get in the way. That’s the beauty of Roadburn, though; even when you’re missing something, you’re never wasting time. You’re just taking that time and spreading it around a little. Like I said, soak it on up. We’ve got a long ways to go before Roadburn 2014, so let it linger a bit. It’ll be here again before you know it.
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