Fridays are kind of the wild card of Roadburn: it’s the day an invited curator takes care of the Main Stage, Green Room and Stage01. Depending on whose doing it, results may vary from Jus Oborne converting the Stage01 into an old school horror movie theatre, to Sunn O))) being indirectly responsible for the first mosh pit of the festival at the hands of Trap Them. or Mikael Åkerfeldt booking what must have been the least heavy day in the festival’s recent history.
This year marked the return of Enslaved after being artists in residence in 2010, with Ivar Bjørnson making up half of the curating team along with fellow countrymen Einar Selvik from Wardruna, whose 2011 show has since achieved near cult status. Truth be told, they couldn’t have started the day any better, as their first selected band to hit the main stage was the renewed Virus. Ever since their Het Patronaat outing in 2012, their live formation has changed back to the trio who wrote “Carheart” – from which they played, amongst others, the amazing “Be Elevator” – with Plenum returning to bass duties and Carl-Michael “Czral” Eide being the sole guitarist. Having seen (and enjoyed) them live before, the improvement was astonishing as reflected in the contagious good mood of their mentor Czral. With a new album coming out soon, they played three tracks from it and they sounded amazing, specially “Phantom Oil Slick” and set closer “Rogue Fossils”, with the latter being described by Mr. Carl-Michael as their “hit”. No arguments from us there, if it made total sense to have it close the show at the first time we hear it, then it’s got to be something special.
In all seriousness, it is not easy to conceive a harsher liveable place than Iceland. Unconditionally frosty, floating all alone in the Atlantic at the mercy of unpronounceable volcanos and high-strung geysers – it’s hostile for those caught off guard. Svartidauði know all these elements much too well and their ghostly black metal reflects the inhospitable. However, take a brief moment and picture the glacial Icelandic quartet coalescing itself in a boiling Green Room, totally (and we mean… to-ta-lly) congested with people. Man, it was hot, do trust our word. How could Svartidauði not suffer from it? They thawed. Their music constantly felt the paradoxical gall between its wintry kernel and Tilburg’s exceptionally warm Friday. Note: it was far from disappointing – actually, we didn’t miss a single minute of what was on display –, but how stunning could it have been if only in a different setting where sweat was not Mr. leading actor? We had to wait for their compatriots on Sólstafir to begin at the Main Stage so that we could breathe a bit easier and finally grasp the grand magnitude of “Flesh Cathedral”.
What might very well have been one of the fullest the Main Stage was during this edition came afterwards, when Sólstafir took the stage to play their first normal show of the weekend – they had played the live soundtrack to “Hrafninn Flýgur” in the same place the day before. Backed by some stunning visuals, the Icelandic quartet justified the massive affluence by being at their enchanting best. While their most recent “Ótta” was a natural focus point for the performance, it’s hard to look past any rendition they do of “Fjara” from “Svartir Sandar”, specially when it illustrates how the whole concert was: a song of rare beauty whose qualities were kept intact in such a large setting.Much cooler, and not half as packed as what we had just seen in Svartidauði, Green Room fairly welcomed Junius glaring post-rock. Their flawless job on stage is partially linked with a non-prig attitude; the American convey those bold crescendos with a much-appreciated keenness – not static, vehement, brandishing a sturdy carapace of firm riffs and captivating structures. Touring Europe alongside City Of Ships, with whom PA’ talked right before Roadburn, we’ve felt the urge to peek into Cul de Sac to find out if the new “Ultraluminal” sound as good live. It hella does. Hailing from the lightweight category of this year’s lineup, City Of Ships’ nineties vibe is definitely acrider and raucous when exposed on stage. Ten minutes after the very first chord and there you had it: full-blown metalheads rocking out some buoyant rock.
Not as cheerful, but absolutely sonorous, the Bavarian dudes on Der Weg Einer Freiheit unfurled at Het Patronaat the reasons whySeason Of Mist opted to give them a contract for the recently released “Stellar”. Besmirching everything in their sight, whilst wrapped in blue toned stage smoke, the sometimes doomish mid paced black metal was absorbing to the point of offering a scathing alternative to Fields Of The Nephilim. Yeah, it was that competent, and even if you were expecting to have a clear glance on them right on the church’s second floor, you’d fail miserably: the cathedral addendum was chock-full with people. They enjoyed Tilburg and Tilburg unequivocally appreciated the German.
Eyehategod in a church. It’s gotta be too good to be true, right? It could have easily been too much of a happy occasion to fit their sludge nature, but those long feedback and trash-talk filled breaks between songs made sure the atmosphere was as uneasy and violent as it should have been. We even got a stand-up moment from Mike IX, something like «How many guys with Saint Vitus patches does it take to change a light bulb? None, they are all up Wino‘s ass!» From “Masters Of Legalized Confusion”, to “Medicine Noose” or the unavoidable “Sister Fucker”, here’s more or less how it went: Eyehategod played in a church, the church fought back, the band smiled and applauded its efforts. Then they played some more, the church fought back harder, and this cycle went on and on. Yeah, it was fucking awesome.
To an extent, it’s hard to think of the last three shows in the Main Stage as being independent entities. In what’s most likely a first time for the festival, the curators themselves played in all three of them, adding to a tally that by that time already included Einar‘s workshop and Ivar‘s project Bardspec. The final sequence then began with Wardruna‘s Nordic spirituality. The band presented an extended yet Gaahl deprived formation with Einar being the sole presence on the front of the stage and an assortment of backup singers (or chanters in this case), percussionists and other backing instrumentalists. Unfortunately it was precisely through the excessive amount of people on stage that the show got its biggest setback, as the ritualistic character of the songs became too diluted for its own good. Despite this shortcoming, the sounds echoing in the 013 were indeed mesmerizing and pretty, which was certainly the goal.
In hindsight, part of the lack of immersion we experienced was probably due to going straight from EHG to Wardruna. Thankfully, a much needed kick in the ass came in the form of Enslaved‘s celebration of Norse gods, with Ivar and company presenting a set spanning pretty much their whole career, from 1992 to 2010, where every song was separated by short a Norwegian spoken-word bit which we’ll just assume introduced each one of the gods being sung about. On the more recent songs like “Fusion Of Sense And Earth” or “Giants”, it was unfortunate that the voice of keyboardist Herbrand Larsen wasn’t as stellar as it usually is, but the presence and excitement emanating from Grutle and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal more than made up for that. Besides, we were treated to an incredibly rare sequence of Enslaved playing their old school black metal, comprised of “Allfǫðr Oðinn” from “Hordanes Land”, and “Loke” and “Fenris” from “Frost”. If that didn’t make this show unmissable, we don’t know what will.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_49RPwf6vM There are always alternatives in Roadburn. If you were one of those not actually that into ritualistic Nordic folk music, The Heads were simultaneously melting folks’ faces off as everyone expected from the good-natured veterans. Lucifer, however, placed at Stage01, deceived those who were forecasting a Gaz Jennings’ gem. Just another female-fronted old-fashioned hard rock group with very few distinctive traits, good enough to drink a beer but not that great to make you stay for a second one.
Downfall Of Gaia, on the other hand… Look, we know these Germans (and an American on the drums, also) all too well – this writer in particular have already interviewed them two times –, but we were far from predicting what was about to roll at Cul de Sac. Two years ago, at Amplifest, they were good, rock-solid interesting. But in Roadburn they were fucking bewildering. We don’t know if that was due to the new drummer and/or how excellent “Aeon Unveils The Thrones Of Decay” is – something has changed in Downfall Of Gaia, because what we witnessed was beyond any doubt one of the festival’s greatest performances. More forceful than you ought to think and utterly relentless; it was like seeing a libertarian Ash Borer (ed: we have no idea what Ash Borer’s political beliefs are, by the way) clobbering the tiny bar until the ultimate knockout. Bravo, gentlemen! Afterwards, Profetus, another act from whom we were expecting tons, tasted almost flavourless. Sorry, guys, not your fault! Damn you, Downfall Of Gaia, ruining Friday’s late night. Even Mortals, the funnily heavy gals in Mortals, while walloping Cul de Sac with their groovy prowess, did not match the German glorious showdown.
As we move on to Skuggsjá being played live for the second time ever, let us keep on praising Enslaved, this time for being one of the most daring and creative bands we’ve seen. It’s not only their own discography which is incredible on its own right, but also accepting to replace Celtic Frost at the last minute at Roadburn, getting together with a noise band to write one of the best records of the last decade (Trinacria‘s “Travel Now Journey Infinitely”) and composing a collaborative piece with the crazy black jazz playingShining, the “Armageddon Concerto”, which was played live in the013 back in 2010. Now they’ve gotten together with Wardruna to write a commissioned piece celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution. While the aforementioned work withShining included a lot of material from both bands (even if it was not being played by its authors), this one was fully composed from the ground up. With a lot of chanting and spoken word bits in Norwegian filling the set, there will always be a part of Skuggsjáwhich we will not fully comprehend, but that doesn’t mean the mixture of the riff-based Enslaved compositions with the ritualistic atmospheres of Wardruna didn’t get to us – they did – and while we would have certainly traded some of the clean chanting for way more of Grutle doing weird-yet-amazing screams and a more cathartic finish, that shouldn’t distract us from the fact that we witnessed an incredibly rare and beautiful performance unfolding before our eyes. Come to think of it, that’s kind of the hallmark of Roadburn. Very few festivals can claim that.