Saturday we kick things off with Beelzebong, who give us the swamp soaked heavy slur of stoner doom riffs we’ve been so craving. These guys know how to his the sweet spot of heavy and oppressive, yet hypnotic. They turn the crowd in front of the Desert stage into a sea of bobbing heads, a sight that makes for great start to the day.
Since we get some rare sunshine in the beginning of October, we decide to recover from last night’s first day in the brittle warmth of the autumn sun in the outside seating area, and catch up with some friends.
Monomyth, these masters of the hypnotic cadence are not new for me but a lot of people were happily surprised by their prowess. Their gigs tend to sound like one long jam, and amazingly don’t get boring while they weave on and on in an almost circular way, pulling you deeper into the trance-like state their music conveys. While these guys make some really spacey psychrock, the usually omnipresent guitar noodling is quite minimal and has a more rhythmic notion with this band, repeating and embroidering on the same pattern, building layers and layers of spacey goodness.
After the enjoyable Monomyth set we catch a quick glimpse upstairs in the Canyon stage of Vandal X, these Belgian noise rockers pick up the tempo and shake us awake. Distinctly punky, yet a little heavier and stranger than punk, these guys kick you straight in the teeth. Having apparently inspired such bands as Raketkanon according to the booklet these forefathers of the no-nonsense, bash your head into the wall kind of noise rock are living up to their title. Noise Noise Noise, indeed.
After the rude awakening with Vandal X we go downstairs to see Greenleaf. The moment the band starts the grove is amazing, the thick heaviness is there, and everything sounds incredible, if a bit stripped down to make room for what we assume is going to be vocal driven Stoner. Pinching just a little too much I get the distinct feeling the vocalist is trying to sing a way that doesn’t fit him naturally, and the rest of the music just isn’t intricate enough to be able to ignore a less than impeccable vocal performance.
Thankfully the guys from Mars Red Sky are there to cheer me right up again, with their 70s infused doom. Their groove is one of the best and most catchy of the festival. In a genre often drowned in fuzz and distortion the use of oftentimes clean bass lines is refreshing and really hitting that spot. Soaring guitar lines coupled with remarkably light vocals with just enough echo to make their music sounds quite otherworldly. The contrast of heavy and light, floating and sinking make this band a fascinating experience well worth listening to.
Now I have the hard task of writing a review of Orange Goblin… Orange Goblin is one of the heavyweights in the genre, and seeing them live is nothing short of spectacular. They clearly have that oh so British touch in their approach to metal that takes a lot of influence from punk and just a general slow burning anger at the world no other nationality has quite mastered, maybe it’s the weather. The riled up crowd starts milling in front of the stage in an enormous moshpit that doesn’t let up until the set is over.
To kill the time before Earth start and not just hang around chatting to the many wonderful people this fest attracts, we go catch a few songs by Causa sui. The trippy background projections are pretty cool, but sadly the band evoke a distinct feeling of trying too hard to fit into the psychrock box. The whole thing feels a bit formulaic, and instead of expressing the joy of letting a trip come over you as good psych does, they just leave me with a vague sense of emptiness.
Earth have the honor of headlining today, and I’m quite interested to see how they do. The band is known for it’s super slow and heavy laid back instrumental drone, and while this is in itself wonderful music, it’s something that is really hard to get into when you’ve been on your feet all day and have just seen Orange Goblin destroy the Desert stage with a vengeance. This is a band you definitely need a chair and a good dose of substances for to really get into, but for me, at that time of the day, they just were a bit too slow in their heavy. About midway through, the after party starts, at which we get a second dose of Orange Goblin madness, but this time behind the dj set.
Sunday, lazy Sunday. We start things of with a local Belgian band who’ve clearly not lost any steam over the weekend. Tangled Horns pretty much tangle us in their horns. Fast paced with a franctic frontman who will climb anything makes for a great show. There is a definite raunchy twist in the stoner these guys make, that does definitely remind of 90’s grunge and even a punky atmosphere. Definitely a band worth catching live.
Next we keep the pace up just as high, with the party band extraordinaire Valient Thor. They are one of the few bands on the bill to really get people moving and have banter between songs. As it is a time-honored tradition in the stoner and doom scene to stare at your shoes and mumble thank you, it is refreshing to hear a man remind us we’re all really descendant from space dust in a hilarious way before linking it to the next song and setting off another bout of frantic, happy party punk. These guys would do well at any festival.
After grabbing dinner at one of the many food carts, we go watch Ufomammut. Over the last few years this group has made a reputation for being transcendent and while I see why people love them and where this reputation comes from somehow it just doesn’t hit that special place that makes the experience more than just music for me personally. They still were good but I didn’t see the magic others clearly see in them.
Sometimes there are bands that do everything right and still miss something, and just don’t work. Usually this is personal taste thing and hard to put your finger on, but with Bongzilla I feel I know exactly what was missing for me. These guys make standard sludge, and they do it well, but it’s all a little too clean. Sludge for me needs to be dirty and redneck and Louisiana swamp infested. It needs to feel wild and a little dangerous, heavy and sticky like the sweat is running down your back into your asscrack and the mosquitoes are eating you alive. Sadly this little bit of swamp of dirt and grit is exactly what was missing with Bongzilla.
My disappointed mood was quickly turned when friends I’d made urged me to stay downstairs and skip Fatso Jetson in favor of the Australian band Child. We got treated to a three-piece making some of the heaviest blues I’ve heard in ages, with a groove that was utterly unparalleled by any band on the bill, and most of all a voice that will melt the polar icecaps. The remarkably heavy main riffs get broken up by beautifully soulful blues guitar lines creating a refreshing contrast.
To conclude our stay in Antwerp I use the last of our coins to buy a few of the excellent cocktails at the little cocktail stand outside, and head upstairs for the final after party, not getting home until five in the morning, exhausted, charmed and satisfied. Until next time, Desertfest Belgium.