Roadburn Festival is somewhat of a new experience, for me, having attended in 2017-2019. However, it is full of extremely fond memories and experiences and many that I still think about today. I am a worse photographer than I am writer, but I like these photographs a lot. I created some playlists for listening to in lieu of going this year – Vol. I is here and Vol. II here, and last year I also wrote quite a big two part review of the Festival – Vol. I is here and Vol. II here.
By now, it’s clear that many spring and summer events are cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting our planet. One such event is Roadburn Festival which takes place every April in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
The festival is best known for bringing excellent music to a dedicated audience and this year they really pushed themselves and their curators to convoke an interesting line-up. Artists would collaborate, albums would be debuted and newly commissioned works would be premiered. It is a shame that the 2020 edition is now postponed, in as much of its entirety as possible, until 2021 but there is still much that can be done to support the artists who will be losing income over these coming months from missing shows and being unable to ship merchandise to some parts of the world. The health of the world hangs in the balance and this is the only sensible and reasonable action that can be taken.
It’s the end of the year and the end of a decade that was driven by change. A lot changed for me, personally, over the last ten years and I can only hope that it led to my becoming a better person. But that is subjective, as is choosing a list of records that I super enjoyed over the last ten months. There was a lot of music released in 2019 and a lot of music I just didn’t hear. There was a lot of music I did hear and never wanted to listen to again. There was music I couldn’t get enough of and listened to constantly. I listened to a handful of non-metal records that I really loved – these records can be seen on a list that will soon be published on Scene Point Blank. I also wrote a list for Metal Hammer but due to deadlines this was required to be finalised at the beginning of October and so my “final” list of albums I really liked has changed a little since then.
For those two lists I had to rank my choices and here I will rank only my top three – these are the records that really made a huge impact on me this year. The remaining records are all excellent, too, of course. If there’s a review of the album then you can find it by clicking on the band name and if you navigate to the record label then you’ll find the bandcamp page for the album (where available) in order to show your own support to these artists.
If you read anything that I wrote this year, then thank you. I hope to continue in 2020.
The Fifth Alliance hail from The Netherlands and their sound is one of blackened edges – black metal, doom and sludge all feature – and this amalgation of influences makes for an intriguing and harrowing journey into darkness. Silvia Saunders vocals range from gorgeous, mournful cleans to deep, guttural roars and it’s this stark contrast that gives The Fifth Alliance a stunning lead over others in the post-black metal genre. Opening the album is “Black,” a song which begins on slow, deliberate strikes of guitar and simple drum patterns before Silvia’s voice winds through the instrumentation on soft, haunting clean lines that evokes melancholy. Slowly, the song starts to build towards something more monolithic and the drums pound a more urgent beat and guitars ramp up their own tension behind the serenity of the vocals. Of course, such peace is not built to last and soon the song flips its MO entirely, becoming a blackened and raging act of defiance. Vocals are switched to harsh shouts and the black metal influences are given space over the doomier initial steps of the song.
Bern’s Dachstock is the kind of venue that seems lived in; the graffiti that adorns every available wall space feels like it’s been there since the dawn of time and the punk aesthetic that seeps into the atmosphere is the kind that you’d have expected to find when Neurosis were still starting out – it’s fitting then, that this is the place that they are playing this evening and the hot, stifling air only adds to the electric atmosphere that is already rippling through the venue as Oakland’s Kowloon Walled City take to the stage.
The quartet are heavy where it counts and despite the weighty tones thrown out by the guitars and prominent bass, there is a sparse feeling to their sound – the music is allowed to breathe and move around Scott Evans’ voice, which is throaty and rage-filled from beginning to end, while still fulfilling the sludge aesthetic. Kowloon Walled City play with their sound enough to make them stand out from the crowded “post” scene and their approach is crushing and one that leaves the audience visibly shaken.
Dead To A Dying World do not do anything by halves and the six members of the Texan band are joined by several more players on their third full length, giving their already bombastic sound an energy that drives it further forward into thoughtful realms. Elegy is a beautiful work that truly seeps under your skin – from the opening simplicity of “Syzygy” and Mike Yeager’s deep voice to the closing moments of the monolithic “Of Moss and Stone,” – and the record takes you on an emotional journey with a deft handle on the quiet/loud dynamic and a roster of guest appearances that serve to add dimension and clarity.
The relative serenity of the opening ode is entirely at odds with the aggressive pitch of the next track and “The Seer’s Embrace” plays Yeager’s voice against the screams of Heidi Moore and the gorgeous depth of Eva Vonne’s viola (an instrument really brought to the fore on this album) to create layers of sound that caress tenderly before snatching back any promise of safety. Each aspect of Dead To A Dying World’s sound is given space to flourish and while there are several members of the band, there are no overpowering moments to be heard – everything works in harmony, including the vocalists that have been asked to participate in the album. Emil Rapstine (The Angelus) adds a light, ethereal voice in the quieter passages that form the mid-section of the song and this voice works so well, blends so seamlessly into the band’s sound that it becomes an element that was seemingly always there.
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.
Beginning a review is always the most difficult part of the writing process. There are many thoughts and feelings that you want to express and so many experiences that you want to put across in the right way and your train of thought moves fluidly from one thing to the next…. but getting that down in a coherent and interesting way is something that often falls short. For a weekend spent at Roadburn Festival that process becomes ten times more difficult as experiences are not exactly in short supply and each person has their own unique take on what the city of Tilburg has given them for the four day festival run. No two people will likely have exactly the same experience of Roadburn and it’s often said by the festival team and those who have attended many times “Roadburn is what you make of it, it’s personal, it’s yours.” And that is such a true statement. This is my third Roadburn and while it’s not a festival I can claim to have been to as many times as another person…it often feels like some bands are being booked directly out of my dreams and for the thousands of other attendees this is most probably true for them. Somehow Walter gets into your mind and pulls out your musical desires and the festival becomes as much a part of you as it is for the organisers.
Originally a one-man band from New Zealand, founding member Krigeist’s relocation to Scotland brought new opportunities to enhance his music and after session members and live line-ups were solidified, Barshasketh began to take the form that we see today on their fourth full-length, Barshasketh. Stripping back their sound to that of their early days, Barshasketh are reclaiming the essence of black metal and while their music isn’t breaking down barriers or smashing genre lines, the expertise and musicianship on display here is more than solid and definitely worth multiple listens.
2017 has been an interesting year for music, for realisations, for speaking out and for making changes. Personally, I made a big move to another country (Switzerland) which has been overwhelming at times. I got a job fairly quickly and I’m still trying to figure this country out but mostly I feel settled here.
I thought I should say something here because it’s been at least one hundred years (four months) since I did and somehow a round-up slipped my mind in 2016. It’s been a busy year for writing and sadly this little blog has suffered due to other commitments. I continue to write for Metal Hammer and recently joined the team at the Quietus. I’ve written for Noisey a number of times this year and Scene Point Blank continues to be a big part of my writing life.
This year I contributed to Metal Hammer’s Top 100, the metal list for tQ and Scene Point Blank’s Top 25 – which will be a more general list that includes things other than metal but here on Bleak Metal I will list a few records that I enjoyed very much this year.
2018 has already begun in the writer’s world and I’ve heard a few records already – Watain’s Trident Wolf Eclipse, Tribulation’s Down Below, Portal’s Ion, Summoning’s With Doom We Come and Erdve’s Vaitojimas – and so far the calibre of music coming out in the first few months of the new year is extremely high. My plans are to do more here on Bleak Metal (which I say every bloody year) and as long as my hands don’t fall off then it should be possible.
Thank you for reading this little blog and for taking an interest.