While doing so was probably not necessary at this point, last year’s stunning Tyranny show at the Het Patronaat stressed how much of a winning combination that venue is with funeral doom and sunlight. It might seem strange to wish for such slow, mournful music so early in the day, let alone in the only room of the festival where daylight is actually present, but it is so by going through the stained glasses surrounding the old church’s annex and the effect thus created is the perfect backdrop for dirgeful music. This was precisely what we saw when Bell Witch kicked off this year’s edition of the festival, with a show that was as heavy, as dense, and as loud as it needed to be, be it in the more expansive bits or in the downright plunges into funeral doom territories, where special mention must be made of the howling screams of drummer Adrian Guerra.
Thursday was feared by many for the most self-evident reason of them all – the bloodcurdling clashes. Let just say this right away: Floor was quite probably one of our most anticipated performances and… We totally fuckin’ forgot they were sludge-stomping the Main Stage. Yeah, we missed them – reach for your whip and punish our sinful souls – and SubRosa is partially (well, totally!) responsible for it. While queuing to access a Het Patronaat utterly packed, a guy was already mentioning his goosebumps by just listening to what the Salt Lake troupe was delivering up there. It was not that much of an overstatement since we got ours as well as soon as those melodic enchantments stifled us and the room chord after chord. The women triumvirate is not only visually captivating as grisly witches from the past, but sonically mesmerizing due to a matchless brand of heavy – a hodgepodge of low vibrations and classical arrangements exuding from those entrancing violins. Hands down one of the best performances we’d seen in Tilburg this year.
Once again making our way to the crowded room once known as the Batcave, we were left at the hands of Mortals, whose first of two shows was one of the day’s highlights. Before they took the stage, you could spot their drummer Caryn Havlik merrily setting up stuff sporting a Viking style horned helmet, an interesting reflection of the mixture of brutality and groove shown by the three women. Perhaps a nice way of picturing what took place in that room is to think of what it would be like if High On Fire suddenly started to blacken their music and play small rooms again, that with enough of an identity to make us feel bad to have invoked another band to describe them, especially considering that Mortals‘ show was better than any of the two played by the legendary outfit in 2013.
What is the most enthralling about Primitive Man is how they strip everything down to its core. You won’t find useless knickknacks or perfectly avoidable gimmicks – it’s just right there. When Ethan McCarthy told the drummer Isidro Soto to give everything he had on his tank for an already stuffed Green Room fifteen minutes ahead of time, you knew you were in for a treat, a sultry and greasy one. “4330”, from their recent split with Fister (more on these dudes in just a bit), begun a quarrel of assaulting riffs and punishing rhythms, insomuch that a drumstick flew off instantaneously on a d-beat rampage, hitting this writer’s mug – no need for apologies, it’s all good, guys. It was a drenched in sweat performance, staggeringly viscous as a sludge gig should be, and let’s just say it: gnarly primitive. Those damn feedbacks are still ringing and, concerning long-lasting tinnitus complications, Fister had a word to say at Cul de Sac. Unsurprisingly, everyone’s there was looking over everyone’s shoulders trying to get the best possible glance at the American trio, which is about to release “IV”, its one-long-track full-length. The savagery was masterly unlocked through those loud amps and to see, over the next days, numerous metalheads proudly roaming Tilburg with Fister merch served as a validation of how good they were.
As Primitive Man was laying the Green Room to waste, Eagle Twin lead the Stage01 on a headbanging frenzy. From “Ghosts Of Eden” to “Carry On, King Of Carrion”, the duo’s unique blend of awesomeness was on display in its full glory. You’d be hard pressed to find two musicians more talented and creative in the festival’s lineup and, given how stacked that was, that’s saying something. The throaty vocals, that DIY guitar/bass combo and those great fucking riffs of Gentry Densley would be enough to turn an Eagle Twin performance into quite a singular experience, but the beast has two heads and the second was in prime force as well, withTyler Smith hitting that sweet spot between smashing things and being subtle about it that few ever achieve.
Landing early on front at Het Patronaat, while the sun was festooning itself to set on the horizon once again, allowed us to witness how laidback Thou are when not bushwhacking stage after stage. Joke-tellers, photo-bombers – all this right until the very first riff. Then, you better grasp yourself to anything you can, because the hazard is clear as a bell simply by staring into Bryan Funck’s deranged eyes. The American ensemble translates its studio aptitude to live environment ingeniously; not mechanically, but with an alacrity that was well welcomed at the old church. Those switches between orotund melody and heavy denseness sounded as natural as they come and to see at first hand “Free Will” – keep in mind that “Heathen” is our last year’s number one record – was a joy to behold and remember for a long, long time. And, hell yeah, kudos for the “L.A. Woman” snippet.
Before heading back to Het Patronaat for Monolord, we felt the need to have a quick glimpse on what the apache David Eugene Edwards was delivering right at the Main Stage, four years after he magnetized the very same place with a show that it is still remembered as one of the greatest ever in Roadburn’s magnificent history. This time, Wovenhand presented themselves rather differently with “Refractory Obdurate”, their Deathwish Inc.debut built with the aid of former members of Planes Mistaken For Stars, a more rockish and less mystical-indigenous effort. The consequences of it are plain obvious and we know them for a fact since last October, when they played the Portuguese Amplifest: Wovenhand’s more straightforward approach obliges DEE to stand up on his feet and songs like “Masonic Youth” give the band almost a rebel punk tonality – eventually imperilling the self-absorbed spirituality which made a Wovenhand performance a truly out-of-this-Earth occasion.
Many spent almost all Thursday blabbering about how they could not miss for anything in this world Monolord’s gig at Patronaat. And the hysteria is manifestly justifiable and comprehensible: the Gothenburg trio somehow clusters everything Roadburn’s essence, at its gist, is. You have the drowsy yet revved guitar promenades, the psychedelic-reverbed vocal clauses and an overall outer dimension resonance that leads you to whatever the hell you want to be – it is a Tilburg portico temporarily accessible for you to enjoy. “Vænir”, their brand new LP out on RidingEasy , sounds superior and quite probably no one was stepping down the church stairs feeling disappointed.
Eyehategod? Oh, my, so many stories we could tell about getting shitfaced with them in Portugal, many moons ago, but let’s just focus ourselves on the fact that the New Orleans entity is probably one of the most revered in all Roadburn: being on the bill or not, you’ll always see tons of EHG shirts, patches, hats, beanies, whatever the paraphernalia is, parading the straats of Tilburg. To have them once again thrashing up the Main Stage, five editions after the volcano turmoil, was something really special – particularly when they’re finally touring the new record and having overcome LaCaze’s tragic death. At Mike IX’s shout «We’re Eyehategod from New Orleans, Louisiana», the feedback realm is invariably and mandatorily unleashed. Then, it’s up to you to deal with those southern riffs from “Agitation! Propaganda!” to “Serving Time In The Middle Of Nowhere”, bouncing back and forth, swamp after swamp. It’s like watching history in motion: the abrasive guitars, the nihilistic writings shrieking screamed by Mike. Even the way both Williams and papa Bower deal with frontline hecklers is amusingly unique. They fucking own every stage they play and people just attest it. Even if you prefer to see them with no barriers in a small club – everyone does, basically –, you can’t just ignore how comfortable and naturally they act when blending “Blank” into “Shop Lift” on a big stage. The crowd moshed as if there would be no tomorrow, but, hey, there would, man, there would…
Eyehategod playing the Main Stage would usually be a no-brainer, but with a second set of the NOLA legends happening the next day at Het Patronaat, that gave us the chance to see the North-American trios of KEN mode and Helms Alee, respectively performing at the Green Room and Stage01. The former are at their best when they let themselves go full blown noise on a live setting and while it took them a few songs to do so, the intensity build up was well executed and worth it. With their sixth record “Success” scheduled to hit stores this summer, it was clear that its authors are in fine form. Climbing up the stairs to reach the always packed Stage01, we got treated to the criminally underrated Helms Alee. They are heavy, don’t get us wrong, but it’s hard to sit through a performance from them without a smile on our faces, something strange for this kind of post-metal unless you’re watching Big Business, but unavoidable when you see the happy faces of bassist Dana James and drummer Hozoji Margullis as they sing and ferociously play their instruments. That songs like the already classic “Punch Stabby” and “8/16” rock as hard as they do kind of helps too. They look like they enjoy what they do and we surely enjoy seeing them do it, so there’s not much to add except this: even if you find the main act of their current European tour slightly placid – and you’ll have no argument from us there – go see them.Helms Alee alone will be worth the admission price.
Down the stairs again for some proper old school metal with Goatwhore being the third NOLA act of the day. No mercy, no atmospheric stuff, just hard hitting black thrash all around leading to one of the first mosh pits of an edition abnormally rich on those – and it all started with “Fucked By Satan” from last year’s “Constricting Rage Of The Merciless” being dedicated to the late Selim Lemouchi of The Devil’s Blood. With Goatwhore originally supposed to play the tiny Cul de Sac, it’s not hard to guess that the venue’s survival would have been in jeopardy and, judging by the crowd presence at the Green Room, way too many people would have been kept outside.
Suppose you are at Roadburn faced with one of those clashes that, no matter how you look at them, there is no obvious way of being solved. Our answer to that is: chose the one on the Stage01. It’s going to have that extra intimacy that makes it all the more special. At least that’s our reasoning for missing the first half ofBongripper‘s “Miserable” set on the Main Stage and choosing instead to go see Lazer/Wulf. A decision fully justified in the light of how awesome the show of the trio from Georgia was, with their insane experimental metal / math rock hybrid being something you don’t often catch at this festival. Technically speaking, you’d get as awestruck as you imagine with the surprising bit being how good their relaxed stage presence was, with lead guitarist Bryan Aiken‘s facial expressions and general mannerisms during and in between songs being a definite highlight.
It was still however possible to catch the second part of theBongripper set, i.e. the last song, “Into Ruin”. While in 2012 things worked better for them when they played the church and a normal set, this time around it was good to see a tighter performance compared with the “Satan Worshipping Doom” one; the sound was better and the Chicago quartet was able to throw itself at it in way that reflects true care for its own craft, with that blasting riff at the end of it serving of a prime example of that. Together with Lazer/Wulf‘s crazy show, it was more than a proper way to cap an excellent kick off to the 20th edition of a truly remarkable festival.
It felt good to be in Tilburg.