The second part of my Roadburn Festival coverage can be found below (the first part is here). Please forgive the lapses into first person narrative – it’s not something that I do very often at all but Roadburn has been a deeply personal experience each time I’ve attended and I feel that I couldn’t have taken a step back from it while writing something about it.
2018’s edition was a strange time for me; I’d moved country a few months prior and still had many unsettled feelings and that I didn’t really belong anywhere yet. The music I saw that year hit hard and seeing Bell Witch, Worship and Mizmor in one long day really took me to places I had tried not to think about. This year I feel more at home in my new country and the experience of the festival was reflected in that. I felt grief for the person I once was but also hope for what is to come. There is so much relief to be found this year, and this culminated in the Have A Nice Life performance on the main stage on Sunday – I can finally let go of my fears and embrace the future.
Saturday begins, not with music, but with conversations and two panels that are part of the ever-expanding Side Programme at Roadburn Festival. Heilung speak openly and with much humour about their processes and what their music means to them before the Aesthetic Immersion panel gives us a look behind the lens and the images that we see in magazines and on press releases. Moderated by Louise Brown (ex-editor of Terrorizer and Iron Fist) and completed by Ester Segarra and Teddie Taylor (two incredible photographers with wildly differing styles) and Behemoth’s Nergal. It’s a fascinating talk and one that could run for twice the advertised one hour length, especially with Nergal present – the strangest moment comes when he suddenly presents the Hexvessel LP and tells us what kind of pen he personally likes to sign records with (bring your own gold or silver Sharpie, fans). Still, the conversation surrounding image is one that many people have a lot of thoughts on and it’s certainly something that could be expanded upon next year.
Musically, Saturday is a heavy day and emotionally it resonates even further. After seeing Vile Creature’s second set of the weekend at the Ladybird Skatepark I happened across a friend who told me the terrible news regarding his friend Michiel Eikenaar of Nihill and previously Dodecahedron. Michiel was a prominent member of the Dutch black metal scene and also a collaborator of the festival itself and so hearing of his death at Roadburn gave the news another saddening dimension. Knowing that the Dutch scene are presenting their works on Saturday gave me a heavy heart and despite not knowing Michiel personally, I know some of his friends and I feel so much sadness for them.
SUMAC open up the musical side of Saturday and their newer, experimental sound is one that melds well with the Roadburn outlook; the heaviness of the music weighs against moments of stellar beauty and the band open up their hearts to pain throughout their time on stage. Unfortunately I have to leave after twenty minutes or so due to a family matter (being FaceTimed from the pub where they are celebrating a birthday is an interesting counter-moment).
The Dutch black metal scene is taking over the stunning confines of Het Patronaat today and it’s a wonderful setting for the music that is played today. Grief-laden hearts are laid bare on the stage today and for me, I begin that journey with Laster. They have a unique stage presence and their style of black metal is at odds with their peers and that’s what makes the Netherlands such an intriguing place for music. There’s no clear sound and each band takes the genre blueprint into new and exciting places.
Terzij de Horde are next and they give Het Patronaat a taste of their fury, their heartache and their passion with vocalist Joost Vervoort pushing himself to the edges of the stage and into the crowd to allow them to feel his pain. It’s etched in his voice and on the band and they play with a fire that pulses out and envelopes the church in a layer of darkness.
For Dodecahedron, who are next, it’s an even more difficult task to take to the stage and honour their friend and bandmate. Vocalist William van der Voort has a monumental responsibility this evening and it’s clear for the band that this is important. The aggression that pours forth is tempered with extreme sorrow and I truly do not know how they get through this set. The powerful energy that emanates from the stage is enough to destroy buildings and for Dodecahedron it is a moment that seems much needed, cathartic perhaps. They are a twisting, dread-inducing presence and in final song “Dodecahedron – An Ill-Defined Air of Otherness” the lyrics “…The death of your body,” take on new layers and meanings. It is an utterly soul destroying performance and one that leaves many present completely breathless.
After this experience it seems necessary to take the time to sit down and process what just happened. That people going through such profound loss can play their very hearts out to a full venue…it is not without its breakdowns and for much of the time the band are teetering on the edge of their own pain but it seems that now the mourning process can begin. After this I choose to miss MAALSTROM and decompress for a while before finding out the details for the much touted Thou covers set.
Having been originally scheduled in the tiny Hall of Fame it soon became clear to the band and organisers that this simply would not work and so at the last minute it is announced that Thou will play the Ladybird Skatepark. Ultimately this is an excellent decision as the crowd of people already waiting thirty minutes before is big – the band is well known for throwing cover versions into their sets and the energy before this performance is one of huge expectation. As it turns out, Thou go all out and do an entire thirty minute set of Misfits covers and damn, it is incredible fun and definitely needed after the heaviness of the day leading up to it. The crowd are in high spirits from the outset and when Emma Ruth Rundle takes to the stage, still wearing a giant backpack, and is joined by Nate Newton (Converge) as well, all hell lets loose. “Last Caress” is the final song and all players are joined by Adam from Gilead Media in a performance that will go down in Roadburn history.
Sunday is the day that, for me, is the most important. Have A Nice Life are playing their seminal record Deathconsciousness in full and my personal anticipation is extremely high. How would they pull of the weirder moments of the record? How would it flow as one piece on the stage? Would Dan Barrett’s voice hold out (he has laryngitis)? Deathconsciousness is a record that means so much to so many people and for those who have been listening to this record for many years then today’s performance is a reminder of much pain and loss. The album itself veers from depression, euphoria, hope and tragedy and for fans it is a record that has been with them through their hardest moments.
“Bloodhail” ushers in the first big moments and when “Earthmover” closes the set with Dan screaming “We wish we were dead” after a performance that is draining on his voice, and perhaps on his mind, there is a sense of resolution, that at last everything you have ever worked towards has come to fruition, that there is light to be found and that a record written by two friends over ten years ago can bring you to a festival and a rapt audience in their hundreds. It’s uplifting, in a way, and while the record holds many memories of sadness there is a sense of rebuilding in it that I wasn’t aware of until hearing the songs played live. This time I am fully aware of my crying and I wandered off in a daze afterwards until I found my same friend from Friday and we hugged and I burst into tears once again with the gravity of it all. That is Roadburn for me – a place where emotions are given free reign, where people come together for the love of music and for the love of each other, where you are able to really be open and unburdened.
Afterwards, Daughters take to the main stage and bring power forth in entirely different ways with vocalist Alexis Marshall owning not only the stage, but the bar and the audience. Noise rock is not a particular favourite but Daughters are an electric live act that plays off the uncomfortable feelings they evoke by getting extremely up close to their fans.
Thou play their final set of the week with a Magus era performance that cements their Artist in Residence status completely. The band show no signs of fatigue after such a busy weekend and the tracks they play are beautifully rendered. Bryan Funck’s vocal is distinct and the band commands the giant stage from beginning to end. “The Changeling Prince” is wonderful and the weighty tones of “Sovereign Self” are divine but it’s “In The Kingdom Of Meaning” that is brought to life with the shattering vocals of Emily McWilliams that bring Thou to a place of heaviness not constructed with sounds but with words of self-reflection and inner dialogue.
Roadburn Festival 2019 is closed out by Imperial Triumphant in Het Patronaat, playing the last ever Roadburn set in the church and it’s a performance that is not to be missed judging by how full the venue is with thirty minutes still to wait before the American band take to the stage. It promises to be a spectacle and when the band appear with cloaks and golden masks, it’s clear that they are here to devastate. Their jazz-infused black metal has taken some time in fully-forming but it’s last year’s Vile Luxury that propelled them forward and the skill on display on record is more than evident this evening. Live trumpets bring their music to life and the trio bask in the glory of the audience before everyone spills into the street and tries to process what the last four days have brought to them.