Prolific metal writer Adrien Begrand reports on Roadburn 2014, “Europe’s leading underground festival for psychedelic, avant-garde, doom or any other variation of leftfield sonic pleasures that push the boundaries of music” (www.roadburn.com). All photos by Paul Verhagen (www.AchromeMoments.nl).
Day One: Thursday, April 10
After a crazy, hurry-up-and-wait 24-hour travel day which included stops in Toronto, Paris, and Rotterdam, I arrived in Tilburg, Netherlands 15 minutes later than scheduled, but after a quick taxi ride, check-in at my hotel, and a swift 15-minute walk to the 013 Poppodium, I had my press credentials and hustled through the crowded, narrow Veemarktstraat and up the stairs of the Het Patronaat church annex to witness Locrian‘s festival-opening set. What greeted me was the most ungodly wall of white noise, one of the loudest bands I’ve ever heard in this venue. On record Locrian can be very abstract, but this performance focused on the more visceral side of the band’s sound, and it was extraordinary to witness in person.
A bit of a half hour lull kicked in afterward as the fest’s first day slowly built up steam. Sourvein in the theatre, Brutus in the Green Room, Hull in the Stage 01—three bands that do absolutely nothing for me. I popped into all shows, thought, ’Yep, still not my thing,’ and headed back to the Patronaat to catch 40 Watt Sun. The venue quickly filled up, and the trio proceeded to play its typically pretty, weepy brand of doom. I had very fond memories of the band’s performance in 2012, so I had no problem leaving 20 minutes into the set in order to check out Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, who annihilated a jam-packed Green Room with its doomy take on black metal.
One of the most anticipated events of the day was the set by Beastmilk. Mat McNerny is already a Roadburn veteran, having led Hexvessel onstage on more than one occasion here. This time around, instead of playing innovative folk metal, he’s playing derivative post-punk, and for all its slavish mimicking of Joy Division a dozen years after it was fashionable, it has clicked, both with metal fans who don’t know how unoriginal it is and with those who have a weakness for vintage goth. Interestingly the songs that worked best were the more forceful selections, such as “Death Reflects Us” and “Genocidal Crush.” It was also a nice, upbeat respite from all that day’s doom ’n’ gloom.
After a quick glimpse of Samothrace, who were mind-blowingly good and convinced me to listen to their previous album more often, I officially hit the wall. When you’re almost fainting standing watching a band, it’s time for a break. So I enjoyed one of my favourite indulgences in Tilburg, a Trappist burger at Polly Maggoo over on the local restaurant row around the corner, with frites, mayo (of course), washed down with the wonderful locally brewed La Trappe dubbel, while wondering if I should have been a little smarter and spent the extra money to get here a day early and be properly rested up. When you immerse yourself in music like I do at Roadburn, the pace can be relentless and punishing, and the fact that I was already feeling it was a dire sign.
I could only spare a half hour to relax, as I had to see Cult of Dom Keller, one of my must-see bands of the day. I first learned of them three years ago when they put out a split single with Shooting Guns, and they were even better than expected, very much in keeping with the heavy Can vibe, playing lengthy, hypnotic heavy rock jams that were catchy, groovy, and quite ferocious. Unfortunately the band was so good I had to miss Nothing’s hyped performance at the Patronaat, but I didn’t need to see an overrated Ride cover band. I zipped into the main stage to see Corrections House, who came off as very convincing with their blend of riffs, industrial beats, and snarled poetry by Mike IX Williams. I’d rather have seen him with Eyehategod, but it was still solid.
Liverpool doom kings Conan were the big draw of the day, and the Patronaat quickly filled to capacity. I had a prime spot as they started, sounding the heaviest I have ever heard—this side of YOB anyway—but two ten-minute songs in, I was a wreck, the exhaustion setting in again despite my recently downed Red Bull. At the Patronaat, there’s one thing you do when you’re tired: head upstairs to the plush balcony. I luckily found a quiet corner, and after dozing off twice while writing my notes—it took me five minutes to write one sentence—I drifted off, awash in the thunderous, reverberating sounds of Conan’s spectacular set.
Strangely, after that surreal power nap, in more ways than one, I felt the best I had in 12 hours, and after a quick peek at Crowbar—yep, that sounds like Crowbar—I headed to the Green Room to see Anciients’ first European show. Oddly, it was the first time I’ve seen them live in a year and a half. They sounded fantastic, benefiting hugely from the impeccable mix, and the packed room was very enthusiastic as the band played “Overthrone,” “Falling in Line,” and a new song during their 45 minute set.
After a peek at Bong’s main-stage show—like Crowbar, Bong was Bong—I scored a good spot in the tiny Stage 01 where Finnish duo Mantar played a sensational blend of sludge, doom, and pure rock ’n’ roll. Half an hour in, though, it was time to call it a day. Over to the quirky and noisy take-out joint Karnak for a traditional midnight dürum döner kebab, then the weary 15-minute shuffle back to the hotel, where I immediately slept for ten hours.