Rejoicing still in the simple fact we can have a physical Roadburn again, the final two days definitely wore on our pandemic shocked psyche and physique. Stumbling more and wearing down in a way I’m not used to, I mentioned to some friends during the weekend the Pandemic has made us all old, and 5 days on our feet now feel a lot longer. Saturday started with the feeling it felt like a Sunday, traditionally called the afterburner, because by that time you are fairly burnt out.
After recovering from the Friday night Jo Quail beckons one to the main stage relatively early at 15:20. The eclectic Cellist has brought with her several other musicians to spice up her set, playing yet another commissioned piece, The Cartographer. Not utilizing any guitars, horns, cello and drums still create a very strong, dark and heavy feeling, with a lot of rock in its core. It’s definitely not what one would think of when the instruments were named. A beautiful, eccentric and expressive piece that does a lot to wake you up.
Following this mostly instrumental extravaganza there is a strong contrast on the main stage with Emma Ruth Rundle, playing a small, delicate acoustic set with just voice and piano. In the utter dark with just a spotlight on her, her delicate voice carries across the utterly silent room. This is heavy of a different kind, not in sonic terms but emotional terms. Rundle manages to come across as at the same time fragile and delicate, with her vocals a mere whisper, as well as incredibly powerful. She keeps the room utterly hypnotized to the very end of her set, here she is treated to a well deserved standing ovation.
After Rundle’s set I peek into the Next stage to catch a little of Arabrot. As expected the smaller rooms at Roadburn are traditionally quite busy. The noise rock band from Norway make a heady mix of rhythmic drums, dual vocals and old school synths, guitars and assorted other sounds. Remarkably dancable and very different from most other acts I’ve witnessed so far, definitely worth a watch though.
I left Arabrot a little early to make my way to the Terminal, to catch Nothing. No I don’t mean there is nothing there, but the acclaimed American shoegaze band Nothing are performing. As expected, dense layers of guitars, echo and floating greet us, building to the familiar shoegaze crescendos. The band is definitely on the more dreamy and accessible side of shoegaze, with ethereal yet catchy vocals and plenty of room to breathe in the music, where the genre has a tendency to be quite dense musically.
Making my way outside after Nothing I wanted to catch a little of the Silver Knife in the Hall of fame. This year the venue is under renovations so the stage was put in a temporary building outside the Terminal and Engine room. Sadly, I’m not the only one interested in some dark, esoteric blackmetal. This would be the live debut of the band featuring members from Laster and Wolvennest among others. The line outside is longer than the entire hall of fame building, and sadly not moving much. Luckily, some notes can be heard through the temporary buildings’ thin walls, and what can be heard sounds excellent, but I failed to get in to let the waves of dense guitars wash over me properly. This is a well known risk at Roadburn, that anything in the smaller rooms is easily missed out on due to lines.
Slightly disappointed, I decide to go get myself some food so I can return in time for Ulver on the main stage. The Norwegian outfit first made furor as one of the second wave of Norwegian Black Metal bands who have since shrugged their chrysalis several times and turned into various musical creatures. Ever hard to peg down more recently the band has been making experimental electronic darkwave. Their latest album, Flowers of Evil was met with favorable reviews so i’m quite interested to hear it live. The light show and showmanship of the band are excellent, but sadly the mix at this particular concert felt a little off for the main stage room. It felt a little like an arena rock mix, with very heavy bass and the vocals quite high in the mix, drowning out the synths and guitar layers quite a bit. But if the sound mix is the only thing you can pick on at a gig that means things are pretty damn good, and I did stay nestled in the balconies for the entire duration, letting the music wash over me.
The last set of the day I watched was Full of Hell playing with Nothing, billed as Full of Nothing. For me this combination really worked. The more heavier, more aggressive in your face style of Full of Hell, combined with the dense layering and soundscapes of Nothing created a very interesting mix that was actually very suspenseful. It felt creeping and uncomfortable but in a good way. The act played with silence a lot as well, not quite letting you rest but rather building tension. The collaboration felt like it lifted both bands to a different level for me, and after that I could take no more music for the day. I went home even forgoing the after party.
Up to now I had mostly followed the main stage of the program, partially because wandering back and forth is such an effort, partially because the bands I really was interested in outside the 013 were playing in the smaller Hall of Fame stage, which as I was reminded of yesterday, is very difficult to get into at Roadburn, Roadburners have a love of squeezing themselves in the smallest rooms to discover new things after all.
Sunday however, I started off in the Terminal where Terzij de horde and Ggu:ll await to wake me up at two in the afternoon with some excellent Black Metal from dutch soil. You’d never guess that the people screaming and layering guitars and blast beats at us are some of the friendliest and warmest folks you’d ever like to meet, but this is the paradox of all of Roadburn, angry on stage, sweethearts off stage. At times the music is slow and solemn, heavy as molasses, at other times harsh, fast, cutting and in your face. But at all times it is dark and menacing. The collaboration shows that you can never have too many guitar layers, and displays remarkable complexity while not feeling overcrowded, despite the number of strings on stage.. This is quite a feat as a full 6 guitarist grace the stage, though at least one of them must have been a bassist.
After being expertly shaken awake by Terzij de Horde and Ggu:ll, I headed to the mainstage to try and catch some of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s Liturgy and Amber Orchestra set. I’d missed the full Liturgy set the day before and have heard mixed things about the outfit. Sadly for me it didn’t work with the set I witnessed. It was definitely impressive and expressive, dealing with a lot of pain and alienation, but it also felt to me too cerebral, with the videos and text from the manifesto. For me good blackmetal has an element of intuition, of primality. I don’t mind manifestos or dense explanations of the ideas behind the music, but when witnessing live I want to experience and just get it. With Liturgy I didn’t get that direct primal sense, and felt I had to analyze it for its impact. Added to that, the specific rending vocal style of Hunt-Hendrix works best when almost drowned in layers and layers of guitars, like waves crashing over a desperate ship in a storm, and those layers not being present with the chamber orchestra, it felt a little disjointed. I’ll just chalk that one up to taste and declare; I just didn’t get it. For others it was highly enjoyable though, and many stood in rapt attention.
Following Liturgy was Lingua Ignota. By now a highly acclaimed female artist who has turned her pain, anger and trauma from domestic abuse into several visceral and rending albums. After playing the Green Room in 2019, and a secret show in the skate park, this year she returns to the main stage with a new album under her belt. Exploring the more spiritual and biblical of her emotions about her repeated traumatic experiences, the final album didn’t speak to me on the same visceral level Caligula and All Bitches Must die did, but to be honest that is probably a good thing. Personally this was the show I was dreading, having my own scars from similar situations in my youth and later in life, I knew I would be taking a risk attending. I managed to make it three songs in before I realized I wasn’t really present anymore. I do remember thinking in that strange detached clarity that somewhere it was very fucked up that we were watching a woman, utterly alone on a stage, relive and express her worst pain and trauma, while whooping and cheering her on. It felt almost as if we were watching a snuff film, and I suddenly felt immense pity and worry for her as a person. Morbid curiosity? Genuine empathy? I’m not sure. The emotions she expresses are incredibly powerful, unfathomable for those who have never been in her position. But they were too much for me, and as I stumbled out of the main room, I wasn’t the only one who could not hack it.
Needing a change of pace I decided to go see Lamp of Murmuur in the Terminal, a band recommended to me in passing. And boy, what a change of pace it is. A strange mix of New Wave, Goth and black metal, the band; is remarkably danceable once they get going. I’m not sure if they take themselves very seriously, but it’s refreshing to wonder about that. The sound is excellent, though the guitars feel a little wonky at times, but that doesn’t really dampen the vibes. Shrouded in robes and faces painted white and black, the band shreds away occasionally moving into much more blackmetal territory, just to flow back into their danceable new wave-esque sound. It’s really hard to describe the band’s sound so I’ll just leave you with a vague recommendation to look them up if you like weird music.
I have no idea how I snoozed so long on Belgium’s Alkerdeel, but somehow I did. I was aware of them for a good while but never properly listened to them or saw them live, so seeing the chance at Roadburn I decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did and discovered them live because somehow that’s where they shine most brilliantly. A band who breaks all the molds and rules of blackmetal yet somehow still feels very black metal. The bass, always very present, at times even dips into funky walking bass lines, and their guitarist shreds his blackmetal riffs on a Les Paul, a surprisingly warm sounding guitar for this genre that favors cooler tones. The vocals are excellent with the occasional tom g warrior Ugh, and just generally it’s a great show. They did the impossible of starting a mosh pit at Roadburn, and at a black metal show.
While for me Alkerdeel was an excellent closer, so I decided to tag along with some friends to see Radarmen From the Moon x Twin Sister play on the main stage. As I said in the first part of this festival review Radarmen is one of the best bands to end a festival with as their stuff is just so danceable and hypnotic, spiraling into itself endlessly like a fractal animation. The addition of Twin Sister and their screaming vocals actually add an extra layer of heaviness to the entire set, punctuating the hypnotics, turning this dance party quite dark. An excellent way to finish, before the hugs goodbye and last hurrah’s must be done.
In conclusion we got to enjoy another Roadburn. While it wasn’t quite the Roadburn we’ve known, with many last minute line-up changes and less art than we are used to, the community at the core of this wonderful five days away from the cruel and cold world is still rejuvenating and much needed. Roadburn is still Roadburn, because Roadburn is much more than the bands that played, the art that’s shown and the music we discovered. It’s the friends we made and see again, made all the sweeter by being apart for so long.
Roadburn will return in 2023.
Read Part 1 of our review here:
WORDS BY SUSANNE A. MAATHUIS
PHOTOS BY DANTE TORRIERI/USELESS REBEL