ROADBURN 2014 - PART 1
This was my most emotional Roadburn of all, simply because I nearly missed out due to family commitments: being there ultimately meant a lot, as it was fun, it was exciting, it was invigorating and healing. So here is my personal account of this year’s RB experience, delivered in my customary emotional, inquisitive, selective and transparent point of view. I have in fact kept stage-hopping to a minimum in order to enjoy the exhibition of each and every favorite band in its entirety!
THURSDAY 10TH APRIL
My elaborate travel arrangements prevented me from seeing LOCHRIAN opening the fest from one of my favorite venues, Het Patronaat. I arrived just in time to catch a glimpse of gloomy doomsters 40 WATT SUN, with Patrick Walker caught up - eyes closed and mouth in a grimace - in an crushing crescendo. I did not let them break my heart though as I shifted to the Green room for one of the highlighted names on my personal list: REGARDE LES HOMMES TOMBER, whose excellent eponymous debut album I had discovered months earlier thanks to Roadburn. The careful cherry-picking from festival promoter and artistic director Walter Hoeijmakers is what makes this experience so enriching and exciting, opening for us music fans many doors that would otherwise remain closed simply due to the sheer quantity of offerings across the genres.
Up-and-coming French combo Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, who take their name from the 1994 film directed by Jacques Audiard, epitomizes the pioneering spirit of Roadburn. Sweeping, blustery, often melodic post-black, festered by slow and snister sludgy moments, was delivered with great involvement and resulted at times breathtaking. Here we have a band that definitely grew up on Nutella, skateboards and hardcore before being exposed to the unsettling abrasiveness of sludge and the iconic dissonance of French black metal (Agalloch’s towering beacon of raw emotionality is also often perceivable), and the music reflects this perfectly coherent amalgam of influences: the sound is hence familiar and therefore never quite surprises, yet the band’s passionate and intense approach gives it strong credibility, as the many clenched fists in the air testified on the night. From such a gripping debut, one expects even more personality and experimentation in the future.
Somewhat unexpectedly, old mastodon NAPALM DEATH delivered a great highlight of the fest with their slower, more experimental material. I fed on Napalm’s music before and during my happy Birmingham years; in fact I saw Barney being hired from Benediction at the tender age of 19, when his hair was still mid-length and badly bleached (like all Brummies, a punk at heart, truly the source of his socio-political commitment and friendliness: a genuinely nice guy). Those were the good old times, but my journey through extreme music soon diverged from death and grind towards the darker shades of black (and dark electronica), so I had not felt the need to watch Napalm on stage for a long time. Somehow I felt that this was an opportunity not to be missed, and I was right. While punters and colleagues’ opinions on their unusual set split right in the middle, I found their slow material intensely clever and poignant, conveying more forcefully the message of the lyrics. Costin Chioreanu’s stark, eerie black & white visuals (incidentally, I am quite annoyed with myself for missing his expo at the Gust Van Dijk gallery) played a huge part in creating an uneasy and doomed atmosphere, reminding me at times of Voivod’s alien graphics. Considering how beautiful Mitch Harris’ recent solo debut album is (the project is called Menace, well worth checking out if you dig uplifting progressive metal), I can only take my hat off to these old warriors who have grown as people with and through music, and to this day demonstrate how talented and genuine they are. Know-all youngsters: watch and learn.
BEASTMILK were the trendy band everybody wanted to watch this year: the large 013 arena was packed and people seemed engrossed by Kworst’s socially aware brand of New Wave, but to me, although I greatly appreciate the message, it sounded pretty but frankly uninteresting. Given the fact that I fed 24/7 on The Cure, Siouxie & The Banshees, Bauhaus and Joy Division in my very early teens, I was glad to let the nostalgic and the younger fans enjoy this valiant effort of recuperating the spirit of one of the best periods in British music. So I walked outside towards Patronaat and my eye finally fell onto the huge series of posters hanging along the steel walls of the 013 featuring stunning black & white shots of Paul Verhagen, Roadburn house photographer for many years now, and enjoying a personal exhibition, which also comprised further examples of his iconic images, framed in flaming red, inside the main venue. I popped inside the ex-church for a taste of NOTHING, who felt a touch too juvenile to my ears, while CONAN unfortunately was a no-go area due to the Patronaat being totally rammed.
Rerarde Les Hommes Tomber were actually in the middle of a small European tour with fellow Frenchmen THE GREAT OLD ONES, a band that has been under my radar since its first album “Al-Azif”, in support of their just released awesome and ultra-recommended “Takeli-Li”. Their Lovecraft-inspired atmospheric black metal seems to have stepped up another gear with new material that drenches you in chokingly intense, soul-shattering, gratifying emotion. Massive, expansive melodies that flirt with stormy epicness are anchored by stealthy and eerie darkness that sticks to the very marrow of your bones, sweeping you off your feet.
The Great Old Ones are now surely amongst the great masters of atmospheric grimness and beauty, truly pushing their personal boundaries in the effort of matching the hypnotic, jaw-dropping majesty of bands such as, broadly speaking, Esoteric or Wodensthrone. An hour seems far too short for this kind of magnificence pouring over us like an invisible cascade of dark matter propelling one’s entire being towards unimaginable worlds of madness and sublime torment. Most definitely one of the best, most rewarding sets of my RB14!
FRIDAY 11TH APRIL
Apparently clever dudes dig MAGMA: I guess I am not intelligent enough to “get them”. I did give it a try, just in case an unexpected flash of sudden genius illuminated me from above, but I happened to approach their RB performance just during the very song that annoyed the hell out of me while youtubing them: a monotonous, excruciatingly lengthy piece with two female vocalists reminding me why one should never use a cheese-grater on one’s naked skin. In comparison, bleak duo THE BODY over at Patronaat seemed like a visit to the local farm to play with ducklings and little lambs. That’s in spite of the fact that The Body being a merciless avant-garde act firmly planted on concepts such as suicide, death and depression. They performed in a naturally lit Patronaat (sunshine was coming through the beautiful stained glass windows along both side walls challenging the excruciatingly loud gloom of the music), so initially the atmosphere was a little odd. And yet, The Body’s harsh and unsettling electronic sequences and agonizing, shrill screams manage to click powerfully inside the subconscious of the crowd, displacing us, making us guess what slow and tormented death might be like. This grueling experience, it goes without saying, went down a storm with the crowd.
After such aural and psychological torture, a sprinkle of folksy ANGALARD seemed to be the cure, tehn I moved across into the big arena for a juicy treat: GOBLIN! Dario Argento became a household name in my native Italy when I was a child, and I deem him responsible for traumatizing me (a sensitive child with a fervid imagination) through listening to Claudio Simonetti’s “Profondo Rosso” on the radio on a daily basis. This stunning piece of 70s horror pop/rock topped our charts for weeks on end, and I had to try really hard not to be scared of the blood-red 45” cover my parents had bought (as it goes, I have had a strange attraction-repulsion for the color red since). Goblin are an institution because of the many legendary soundtracks to horror classics that captured in full an intriguing era, the 70s, when so many social taboos were tumbling down: a unique time that was mind-expanding and wild, yet still deeply naïve.
Goblin became famous when Italian 70s prog was musically at the top of the pile for being truly experimental, unique and positively underground, but of course they came from a different circuit, being Caludio’s father Enrico a well know orchestra director who was very often at the center of light entertainment Saturday night TV programs. Hence Goblin did never sound as progressive as the various Premiata Forneria Marconi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Le Orme, Area, Rovescio della Medaglia, Quella Vecchia Locanda, Osanna, Un Biglietto per l’Inferno and so on (just in case someone wants to check them out), but that cool 70s feeling is all there, especially when the inevitable cheesiness bursts in, absolutely shameless (Tarantino learnt his lesson well). The band is supremely accomplished, Claudio being a master on his multiple layers of keyboards and synths, and the rest of the band are fully-fledged pros. The music matched the clips from the respective films, which was… nice. Pleasant enough not to leave, perhaps regretfully, for a taste of the mighty PROCESSION.
After sharing a pizza at the nearby Italian restaurant (just to stay on topic) with a member of Swedish dichotomies Deranged and Stilla only to hear that the latter will probably never play live, I took my spot in front of the Patronaat stage well in advance for my most awaited for acts of all, curiously also from Sweden. I am caught in the end-tail of a pleasantly colorful psych-out courtesy of young Germans SULA BASSANA, and then out they came, unmasked, for the sound-check: the a-mazing TERRA TENEBROSA!
Tall, impossibly thin, short haired and sporting assorted blond facial hair, they lurched across the stage like alien creatures, only to disappear for an excruciatingly long time in order to get dressed in their bewitching costumes - and I dare not thinking what else. 30 minutes later than scheduled, the twisted, spectral kitty-face of The Cuckoo appeared from the tenebrae and the electricity in the air rose sky high. I was positioned right in front of the guitarist, who was wrapped in see-through black cloth to allow glimpses of a disturbing white silicone mask with the features of an ancient creature; the cloth hung over his angled shoulders and fell short enough to see his lean limbs tucked into shining high Doc Marten’s boots (ah, the hardcore legacy!), looking seriously sexy. The Cuckoo’s priestly long dress was also highly theatrical in its sobriety, tightly fitted to the waist and widening towards the bottom: he looked unsettling, majestic, sadistic and endearing in his controlled poses.
Terra Tenebrosa stem from phenomenally good avant-garde/hardcore band Breach, active (recording-wise) between 1995 and 2001, whose albums I heartily recommend. TT formed in 2009 and have so far released two incredible albums I love, and recently a new EP called “V.I.T.R.I.O.L. - Purging the Tunnels”: as expected, they went on to play a dream-set featuring a delicious selection from the three. Visually and aurally stunning, they are currently unmatched – as a live performing band at least - in their intoxicating blend of darkly cryptic avant-garde drenched in sinister melodic doom. Their music is eminently easy to the ear and yet intrinsically perverse and subliminally polluting, also thanks to The Cuckoo’s infinite inhuman vocal variations, bending over the layered eerie atmospheres. What is astonishing is that this TT incarnation follows on from Breach’s most twisted experimentation (in the earlier days steeped in doomy-crust – Amebix’ legacy taken to one of its pinnacles; whilst the final late 2011 album “Kollapse” features much of the full-on dissonant avant-garde we love today, only with HC vocals), reinterpreted with the breathtaking elegance and devastating malignity of BAN and the subtle sarcasm of Virus.
It is quite intriguing how a change in vocal style and a tweak in the sound not only did bring the new band to the forefront of the contemporary avant-garde metal genre, but, from a creative and aesthetic point of view, it propelled it into a mind-bogglingly dazzling plane. They deserve a lot of credit and respect for having been there for a long time already, and above all for gifting us the experience of the live dimension: who hasn’t feverishly dreamt of seeing Blut Aus Nord on a darkened stage? Well, this is the nearest thing, and beyond… On the night Terra Tenebrosa gave a skilled, awe-inspiring, neck-breaking, head-spinning, mind-bending, intoxicatingly addictive performance which left me craving for more: I can only hope to see those prickly ears/horns masterfully conducting this glorious controlled chaos again soon.
Promoters, this is an absolute MUST!!!
All photos by Alex Mysteerie.