The Flame Blazes On, A Review Of ROADBURN FESTIVAL
Roadburn is a helluva festival. It's a place where men cry and women scream, where tears are shed, and we reflect upon the greater power that this music has over all of us. A festival that is almost too well curated it's hard not to fall in love with the resonant power of the event. In a world where many of us fall into the same sorry traps and see no escape from the drudgery of our day to day lives Roadburn represents something greater. Not only is it the premier festival of its kind in the world, but it has inspired countless knockoffs across the globe. All of these festivals though will acknowledge that Roadburn is the best. And while there certainly are a few limitations to the overall event I can't help but to be in awe of what Walter Hoeijmakers has been able to create with this monolithic and frankly earth shaking weekend.
I think my big takeaway was that Roadburn is the sort of thing that you need to attend a few times in order to even start to understand. The event is so monolithic and some of the stages are so hard to access that it can be difficult to even get into, much less see, most of the concerts you want to. While on the one hand it can be cool to see so many of your bands in packed out rooms, it's also frustrating that you have to show up early just to be in the back of a packed out room for a band you love with 2,000 Facebook fans. By the same token – the fact that these relatively unknown bands have massive crowds gathered for them speaks to the power of the event. People are here to discover as many new bands as possible and to see some of their favorite bands in totally unique situations. It's an experience that I think is without peer.
Beyond that of course is the sheer diversity of things to do and people present, many of which fly under the radar of the main event, the bands. But Roadburn offers so much more than that. There are art galleries to check out, fascinating panels, DJ sets from some of your favorite musicians and exclusive advance listening sessions that would normally be totally inaccessible to your average fan. A lot of these side events attract more jaded fans, because where else do you get to hear some of the most important people in metal go back and forth about the meaning of 'heavy'? In all honesty – I felt that in many ways the trip is worth making for the peripherals alone. Of course it's the bands you want to hear about, and that's what we're onto next.
Thursday was one of my favorite days lineup-wise featuring two sets which I will never forget. First, Subrosa utterly destroyed the main stage with a 70 minute set touching on all aspects of their discography. There was a deep emotional power to what they did which helped to make the entire show entrancing. The animated backdrop was spectacular and added a whole new layer to a set which saw a band I have always loved achieve a new level. The other standout of the day was the almighty Coven. A band who haven't played live in decades and feature no original members outside of the mysterious and magickal Jinx they put together a set of classics that couldn't help but to charm and impress. Sure there were a few hiccups, even from the first, with an awkward entrance from within a coffin – but that didn't change the fact that for those of us who have been waiting for decades Coven was all we needed to make day one of Roadburn a triumph. Other highlights from Thursday included Wolves In The Throne Room and Forn, bands who push on transcendence and are able to help craft greater realities for all of us to find respite in.
Part of the beauty of this festival is that its later start time means that you get more of a chance to sleep, even if you're out partying until four in the morning, like I consistently was. This had me bright eyed and bushy tailed to bask in the sonic majesty of Gnaw Their Tongues. As great as they sounded though I felt like the stage show didn't live up to the sheer terror of their music. Yet the beauty of Roadburn is that you can browse a variety of genres at any one time, so I ran off to see Magma and be amazed yet again that a band that goddamn talented could even exist. (I met the singer in the bathroom backstage and cried, no big deal) The true highlight of the day, for a Subrosa superfan like myself was their subdued set, a great example of the once in a lifetime experiences that make Roadburn special. Gnod is another great example of this, having played four sets and showcasing every side of their transcendent sound and including a collab set. Other highlights from the day included Amenra who delivere devastating and deeply emotional performance on the main stage only to be followed up by the almighty Baroness. It's exciting to see Baizley as much in his element as he was at Roadburn, utterly kicking ass and using his art, in every sense of the term, as a way to bridge the mainstream with the underground.
By this point in the festival I think I was starting to suffer from overexposure to great music. I had already seen a handful of my favorite bands and had a ton of unique experiences in the first two days of the festival. So of course I gleefully dove into another day of opportunities, this time kicking off with very weird collaborative set from Dylan Carlson and The Bug doing a live improvisational collaboration which blew minds all over the festival. Oranssi Pazuzu were up next, leaving the gathered masses in total awe. Scraping your jaw off the floor after a performance like that is impossible and had they not been followed by a tear jerking set from Warning I think many people would have left then and there. What's crazy is that even as these momentous occurrences happened on the mainstage a huge variety of other great bands performed simultaneously, from John Baizley and Scott Kelly's punk cover band Razors In The Night, to underground darlings Wolvennest and perhaps most notably The Slomatics featuring the almighty Jon Davis of Conan for a track. It's a pretty overwhelming affair. So the wind down, with My Dying Bride felt right. That was of course, until industrial metallers Mysticum came on, standing on 15 foot tall pedestals and with a massive industrial inspired light show. It left a striking visual image as we all headed home after a long day at Roadburn.
The final day of the festival is meant to be a wind down and in many ways it felt like one. The bands that dominated the day, from Oxbow, with their wild and frequently demented stage show to Hypnopazuzu with their strange psychedelic sounds all seemed gearing towards a mammoth send off. Even the three heaviest hitters on the main stage, Pallbearer, Les Discrets and Ulver, all seemed to be delivering sets with the end of a grueling experience in mind. I think Ulver in particular was striking since almost none of the festival goers ever thought seeing that band was even a remote possibility. Toss in the fact that they have a totally unique set up and seem more committed than ever to pushing sonic boundaries and you realize that Ulver are not a band to be trifled with. Of course, the ultimate send off came in the form of Pillorian, playing only their second gig ever and utterly slaying the stage. There was something deeply emotional with the sense of new hope that came in their performance. I'm very curious to see how that band in particular starts to develop over the next couple of years. And so with that look to the future, we all began the long trek home.
And thus the event came to an end, it's festivals like this that give a new meaning to curation and growth. Moreover, the interaction with friends old and new, and getting to experience some once in a lifetime shows is endlessly rewarding. At the end of the day – music festivals are increasingly common, but good music festivals remain fairly rare. It's hard to find folks who truly understand the meaning of this music that so many of us have sacrificed our lives for. There is something endlessly exciting about diving into the world of experimental and heavy music, especially when its laid out so that you can get a taste of everything. Roadburn is the festival that reigns eternal because it captures imaginations and reminds us time and time again that the world of the bizarre does have a home once a year in Tilburg.