Whilst we keep praying for significantly shorter days whenever we are enduring the daily grinds at work, in Tilburg there’s only one wish to be asked: 32 hours instead of 24 for us to absorb those Leffe, Grolsch and Duvel beers, while gazing the gorgeously beautiful Heuvelstraat and its early afternoon bucolic commotions. Because it’s all too short, all too quick and suddenly you just have to move your butt from that bar stool because Diamanda Galás is waiting. And the British G.I.S.M. fan whom you’ve just met mocks you slightly for doing so, as he walks firmly to V35 because finding official merch from the Japanese is far from being an easy task.
But there’s more life beyond crust and Diamanda‘s long-awaited performance was about to start at the Main Stage. Its taprooms stopped pouring alcohol, the exit doors got sealed and the lights went dim as the legend seated in front of the piano. Silence. Some phone cameras feebly blinking. And then her voice. Uncomfortable, unsettling, a Joan Mitchell painting assuming human forms as it drips unnatural tones, darker and darker as it grows. Not for everyone, that’s for sure, considering the people who decided to leave the stage after that first inharmonious rendition of contorted range. But some kept still, not risking a move, as one does when witnessing Nature opening its entrails – e.g., an eerie pandemonium concentrated in a woman figure, gushing sardonic stances about what blues and goth actually means. Diamanda was never easy. Never.
When festivals have shows at the same time, there are some slots that all bands probably dread – imagine seeing yourself at the same time as Neurosis. On Friday, that dreaded position laid at the beginning of the day and partially clouded “Mirror Dawn”, Hexvessel’s joint performance with Arktau Eos. A smooth re-entry in Roadburn mode, it gave us a glimpse at what Hexvessel could be if imbued with the more ritualistic side of their countrymen, both in terms of the more enveloping musical atmosphere and to the performative side in itself. There’s something about that approach that just fits well with quite a lot of “Dawnbearer” and “No Holier Temple”.
So, with Diamanda Galás headlining the day at an early hour, how exactly did Lee Dorrian follow that up on his own programme? By curating death metal and grindcore legends Repulsion right after. It’s the kind of thing that makes absolute sense in Roadburn and it worked a treat. In a few months that main stage went from having Chris Reifert’s Autopsy display what proper death metal should sound like to having Carlson and Olivo reminisce on stage about writing a song in the living room of Chuck Schuldiner. To see that old school scene kicking it in a huge modern venue in 2016 has gotta bring a smile to your face. Plus, they went through their grindcore in a tight and ferocious manner, hitting it straight out of the park in that amazing finale of “Maggots In Your Coffin” and “Horrified”.
We all know that Neurosis is the sum of all parts. But there’s something unique in Steve Von Till‘s grandeur which turns his stake into something greater, bigger, more imperious. Perhaps his crooning voice – the grain of Americana meeting the unparalleled dolefulness of Tom Waits – or the way he harmonizes every single pinch of sound, like a writer who imputes meaning in all words, punctuation and lexical absence. Von Till has an uncommon aptitude for melody and minutiae, he is the sixth [as in paranormal] element of Neurosis whirlwind, an artist like very few are. So mentioning how full Het Patronaat was is just stating the obvious, as we were stepping up those stairs to feel the warmth exhaling from his amplified acoustic strings. You could only hear two things at that moment: the tap beer festival running constantly at the venue’s entrance and Steve‘s music. Three things, actually: the clapping at every song’s end, not as “this is actually good”, but more like “thank you, sir”. Gratitude floating between the stage and the audience was a constant, with some bursting into tears as “Birch Bark Box” from the recent “A Life Unto Itself” started to echo. Moving.
As a fan, one of the coolest things about tight-knitted scenes is that once you discover one element, there are usually a few other gems just waiting to be picked up. With the Icelandic invasion of this year’s Roadburn, quite a few of those were readily available to be seen live. We that (and their three excellent demos) in mind, we went to the Extase to see the drones of NYIÞ before the Úlfsmessa took place later on. If the other acts bring the black metal (and post-punk) onto that performance, NYIÞ bring everything else, albeit in much toned down manner. With all the band members shrouded in black hoods, what they did more than justifies the ritual moniker, from the alchemical preparations done on the spot, mass-like readings, the way runes were drawn on the floor in ceremonial manner, the bones decorating the set, crowd members getting chalk marks and wine spat on them. Lest one might get the impression that this was all exuberance with no substance, the overall effect was the absolute enhancement of songs like the beautiful “Hati Þá Guð Og Helgir Englar Allir”, thus turning the occasion in one of the highlights of the day.
Cocaine Piss gives zero fucks. As punk as one can be, the Liège crew started ten minutes ahead of schedule – the crowd was already shouting “START THAT SHIT”-, so those who got there at the indicated time probably had the opportunity to watch only like their last four/five minutes. It was loud, dissonant, brute, whimsical, danceable and ferocious, as Aurélie told us it would be. She is one of a kind of frontwoman, not afraid of defying the big guys, moshing and making fun of them right at their faces, with her cap turned backwards and her high-pitched clamors. Short and incisive.
Quite the opposite was CHVE‘s performance at Het Patronaat. Slowly unveiling his first solo full-length, Amenra‘s frontman didn’t turn his back on the audience this time, but preferred to have a sit to juxtapose instruments, modulations and nuances, as a wildfire kept growing on the video screen. All this in a placid cadence, so serene, so peaceful, until Dwid Hellion, the legendary frontman of Integrity and the father of Holy Terror, who’s been living in Belgium for a while now, appeared with sunglasses hanging on his shirt. Then, the projection screeched, turning itself into a black and gray spheroid, the sound turned into an abhorrent testimony of harsh noise, as the American injected his prescription of dread and visionary disgust for human life. Dwid was never fond of tranquil things and Van Eeckhout‘s endeavor became an ugly creature.
Extase was however home to yet another extraordinary performance that day, courtesy of Terzij de Horde. After having seen them plenty of times before, including a couple of times playing that same set, I went in expecting something good but definitely not prepared for what they delivered, not prepared to be moved as strongly by “Wacht / Lex Barbarorum” and “Sacrifice – A Final Paroxysm” (that first guitar lead was a thing of beauty) as I was. Enveloped by hellish red lights, the Dutch quintet enjoyed an exquisite sound, one where everything complemented itself near perfection, Johan’s whirlwind bass playing as highlighted as ever without taking anything from the other instruments. The performance in itself was as intense as we got this year, with singer Joost epitomising the notion of raging against the dying of the light and ending up covered by rivers of sweat. Deafheaven and Liturgy might get all the hype in this genre, but the tallest band in The Netherlands plays circles around them.
G.I.S.M. played live in Europe for the first time and we saw that happening. Right. Full stop. Do you need to say anything else? We will brag ourselves about this for the rest of our lives, we will wear it on our chest like a medal of honor, as if it was our D-Day. And, well, it was a disembarkment per se: people from all over the world – we mean it, all.over.the.world, we actually met three guys that flew in from California just to see the Japanese (!) – flooded Tilburg with crust punk memorabilia and an avid appetite for chaos. During the early hours, we all kept predicting how Sakevi would show up on stage – a chainsaw, a flame-thrower, a balaclava? – but all the bets fell short when the absolute anthem that “Endless Blockades For The Pussyfooter” is erupted to level a crowd which was already calling for mayhem. No utter delirium from Sakevi, but that nasty d-beat galore was unreal and relentless (what a drummer by the way!), cranking “Death Agonies And Screams” or “Nuclear Armed Hogs” with the vitriol we’ve been feeding on since we got our “Detestation” bootleg cassette tape. As beautiful as something ugly can be, just pounding heads and making that united nations of punk, present right at the front of the Main Stage, really, really overjoyed. Sakevi roared, shouted inconspicuous things of all sort, we shouted back, celebrating a night that has to be cherished forever. Good god, G.I.S.M. played live and we saw it.
When talking about Oranssi Pazuzu in the write-up of the first day, I remarked that we also experienced being surprised for a concert I hadn’t planned on seeing. The truth is that in order to fully witness the Úlfmessa, I decided to skip Pentagram and see Dark Buddha Rising instead. In an interesting parallel with the previous day, it was again a Finnish band doing an expansive psychedelic take on a metal genre right before the Icelandic scene took over. While this approach has arguably been way more overdone with doom than it has with black metal, Dark Buddha Rising’s execution is a refined a one and their catalogue is rich enough to for the performance to retain it’s validity, exhibiting both tidal waves of immense crushing doom and groove laden progressions to get there in the first place, thus avoiding the feel of unnecessary repetition so often accompanying these sets.
Late at night, a tight and small venue, alcoholic beverages, mild intoxications going on, a ill-tempered vocalist declaring that “this is has been one of the worst weeks of my life”, obnoxious Southern riffage going off, volume at its outright peak, people congesting Cul de Sac from the front door to the restroom area – mosh, sweat, hatred, Herder. One of our favorite European bands doing their thing with no strings attached whatsoever, anthems for born fuck ups and self-loathing fellas. It was all one can wish for in a vile sludge concert, ending with “Wasted” and a whiskey bottle being shared between JB and the crowd (*cof* and us…). Sick.
The time had finally come to witness the third Úlfsmessa spectacle whose first two inceptions had so many had raving about. All eleven musicians were donning the same dark hoods we had previously seen during NYIÞ and it was indeed the drone collective gluing together the whole set and providing the overall ritualistic atmosphere. Amidst their drones, the three other collectives showcased enhanced versions of songs from their catalogue, first with the blackened post-punk of Grafir and afterwards with an absolutely savage black metal attack by Naðra and Misþyrming. While we’d argue that the first part of the show didn’t quite gel together in the mesmerizing way we were expecting, that of course could be the fault of our own build up for the show, the ferocity of the last acts on top of the menacing ambience felt all around made for a great experience.
Before wrapping up, indulge me for one final moment to discuss the role of expectations in the Úlfsmessa. It is safe to say that quite a few that witnessed the first of these occasions was not as familiar with the individual songs of all four bands as most were this time around and that in turn must made it all the more overwhelming, whereas if you approach it knowing the songs and then expecting something completely unique to take place on the stage, some degree of disappointment might creep in then. It is here that we were at fault, what the Úlfsmessa is in fact is a ceremonial celebration of the music written by these four bands at this early stages of their career and the sooner we understood it for what it was the sooner we started to fully appreciate the magnitude of the occasion. It is one that presumably won’t make much sense to be repeated to many times more, but the anticipation of what these young musicians have in store in the future is as intriguing a prospect as it gets.