[Live Report] Roadburn 2017 – The Negative, The Best, The Worst

The eighteen edition of the Roadburn concluded on Sunday 23rd April after 00:30 and it was a complete success. I was finally able to attend this legendary festival after hearing about it for the last eight years from friends who had come to Tilburg for this occasion, and others who were moaning relentlessly about how hard it was to get a ticket. This year, I finally caved in and bought a four-day ticket to discover what made this festival so special after visiting the same city and venue for the Netherland Deathfest. What I discovered was a festival full of easy going people, calm and open minded, quite respectful of others. A place to enjoy a large range of sounds, as long as it’s heavy. A perfect place, so to speak, for four short days.

Although mostly associated with the slowest side of Metal, Stoner, Doom and Sludge, the festival saw a large number of Black metal bands perform (Deafheaven, Mysticum, Ash Borer, Wolves in the Throne Room), a testimony of how popular and innovative the genre is at the moment. The festival also showed an understanding of current affairs by underlining in the opening paragraph of the booklet how important Roadburn was a place for a community to welcome difference and tolerance. Necessary words in the dark period we are living.

The Negative

However, let’s start with the negative. Although I was looking forward to buying some merch from some of the bands playing there (Fange, Chelsea Wolfe…), the festival was taking a 20% cut off all the merch. This had the effect of making the merch less attractive with LPs costing 25 Euros, CDs around 15 Euros and most T-shirts for 20 Euros. The official band and festival merch was easy to find but very few distros were available with only Southern Lord offering a selection of LPS for a decent price (15 Euros for single LP and 20 Euros for double LPs) and some bargain CDs (everything for 3 Euros). There was so little room for non-festival merch that AmenRa was able to have two tables full of merch for the complete duration of the festival!

What was less surprising was how hard it was to get in some of the smaller rooms. Roadburn attendees are mostly music savvy people who are here to see more than just the headliners. A positive side of the festival that turned into a logistical nightmare for anyone trying to see smaller bands at either Cul de Sac (a nearby bar, which I didn’t even try to visit) or Extase (another nearby bar). Even the Patronaat was hard to get into for some of the most hyped artists like Dälek, Zeal and Ardor or Sumac. The price of the longest queue goes to Batushka with people waiting in line over the side of the 013. It’s a negative point worth mentioning to anyone considering to come to a future but aside from asking the venues to get bigger, I really don’t see what the organisation could do.

The Bands

Thursday

The Best
Unearthly Trance just put out a fantastic come back album but their performances are actually better than before they went on hiatus. The new songs from Stalking the ghost sounded faboulus in the Green room.
I had almost forgotten how much I loved Wolves in the Throne Room but the Americans made me remember how great Two hunters and Celestial lineage were. Not only was the sound crystal clear, the light shadow was also tremendous providing a kaleidoscope of colours to this already mesmerising performance.
Bongzilla concluded the day with a stoned out performance that could have been a disaster but remained musically and visually entertaining. Despite their substance abuse (which made their background footage of over dramatic 70’s anti-drug government footage), they performed an excellent set of songs from Gateways.

The worst
I was looking forward to seeing Vanum after a very good set from Ash Borer but sadly the bad drum sound in Extase turned me off after a song.

It is worth noting that the festival was welcoming its first Rap group with Dälek and that the long queue showed how enthusiastic Roadburn attendees were of seeing them. True to themselves, the trio gave the audience a bass heavy but energetic set of songs from their latest, Asphalt for eden, and Absence from whom the opening song Asylum (permanent underclass) was a highlight right from the beginning of their show.

Friday

The Best
Magma delivered a set to satisfy long time fans and newly converted. The legendary French kraut rock act performed long dynamic pieces of other wordly music, proving again how open minded the festival is. With Dälek and Magma, Roadburn opened up the gate to even more diversity.
The price of the biggest sound goes to Whores and their enormous noise rock. Tour mates Big Business also performed on the same day but despite their excellent set, Whores blew them out of the water enough to made anyone not regret missing out AmenRa‘s set with guest performances from Scott Kelly (Neurosis) and John Baizley (Baroness) on Am kreuz.
Fange brought the first mosh pit of the festival to life thanks to their massive and noisy mix of sludge and Entombed guitar tone. After introducing themselves with a court « Fange, France », they brought some uneasiness and hatred to the crowd who lapped it up. Some necessary evil in a sea of positive.

The Worst
Despite my love for their album, Gnaw their Tongues‘ music is best appreciated at home. The originality of their sound is annihilated by the live performance thanks to a very poor sound and the impossibility to recreate the unsettling atmosphere of the records live.
King Woman played at Extase during Magma so I almost forgot to see them. Thankfully I caught the last song but the poor sound in the place made me not regret missing them.
Finally, as I was talking about how open-minded the Roadburn crowd is, it has to be said that this sentiment does not include Hardcore. The crowd for Integrity‘s Cleveland legend was very sparse on the main stage and it didn’t help that the band was too rough to perform a very tight and convincing set. Old classics like Vocal test, Hollow, Systems overload and Misha were still performed with force and conviction but the difference between the clean and the messier guitar sounds of the two guitar player (one being A389’s own Dominic Romeo, from Pulling Teeth with the clean sound) as well as the light drum sound didn’t help to lift their set at the late hours after midnight.

Saturday

The Best
Oranssi Pazuzu does not need to be introduced anymore since they have become legends but their live shows are still hypnotising experiences conjured from some dimension that should not be mentioned. They delivered another one of their incredible show at Roadburn and turned a room full to the brim into lifelong devoted.
After such an inspiring performance, I needed to dust my feet off and Youth Code provided the perfect performance with some blazing industrial beats inside the Patronaat. The duo’s mix of industrial breakbeat and screamed vocals didn’t cause any mass dance around the venue but I certainly danced my feet off.
Aluk Todolo‘s performance, on the other hand, didn’t provide any danceable beats but put everyone into a trance with their psychedelic rock. It’s anyone’s wonder how these guys write their songs but their compositions are fascinating enough that they make an hour feel like twenty minutes. The guitar player also provided a revealing moment when he put his guitar down towards the end and started playing his pedal board like a guitar, displaying unwillingly that he plays with his effects more than with his guitar’s strings.

The Worst
I only realised after Memoriam that I had missed an occasion of seeing the new band from Bolt Thrower‘s singer but what was more frustrating was to wait for Disfear on the main stage while they were slaying the Patronaat. Mysticum’s long-awaited performance was also very forgettable. I don’t fancy listening to Black metal mixed with Gabber beats in 2017 especially when it comes with fascistic visuals.

Sunday

The Best
The best was late to come but it came in the form of the latest performance from Ulver. It had been six years since the release of the War of the roses, the first album with their fourth member, Daniel O’Sullivan, and six years since the release of Miracles, that same man New wave project, but good things come to those who wait and Ulver took this time to release their own take on the genre. The assassination of Julius Caesar does not sound like Depeche Mode or Tears for Tears but if you crossed the soundscape minded sound of Perdition city with these two bands you might end up somewhere close to these songs. A firm and soothing answer to the shouts of some over-eager fan after the fourth song who screamed « Come back to Black metal », like some ex-boyfriend desperately trying to bring back his ex six years who remarried since.
Then came Come to Grief, the new band formed by members of Grief who can’t call themselves exactly like that. Legally it matters, but live it doesn’t as the four musicians proved with some angry slow punk riffs and some Doom beats. The penultimate and the last second also gave us the second mosh pit of the festival, proof that fans from the Netherland can’t resist the call of the mosh when nasty sludge riffs come calling.
Inter Arma then brought the house down with an hour long performance without any stops. Songs from Paradise gallows and Sky burial were performed with seamless continuity and with a massive but clear sound, just like on the album but with an added dose of bass. They aptly concluded their set with two members of Forn coming to hit two bass drums with the drummer to add another layer of thunder to an electrifying show. A beautiful and energising performance from a band with a bright future

The Worst
Missing Sumac because of the long queue. Hearing afterwards that their show was great. Les Discrets for being Les Discrets. You may like them but I have the right to question your good taste.

Finally, I have to add that, although I missed most of her performance, Emma Ruth Rundle‘s last song was mesmerising. How can a single person can bring a Metal crowd to shut up and listen in silence to such beautiful haunting acoustic melodies is beyond me and this single song will remain with me forever. Simply beautiful. An apt adjective to describe this Roadburn 2017. Beautiful in every way.

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