Baby’s First Roadburn: Thursday

Roadburn’s first day was an experience so vast that even after it’s been done (for me) for nearly an hour, I’m still finding the words hard to conjure. I was able to see both the earliest set and the latest and somehow managed to retain sufficient sobriety and energy to enjoy myself the entire way. There’s no better place to begin than with the beginning though, so today’s entry of Baby’s First Roadburn begins in the upper half of a converted church, Het Patronaat. I quickly worked my way to the front of the rapidly crowding venue in the early afternoon heat. It was a bit stuffy but quickly proved to be worth it when the day’s first act took the stage.

The Poisoned Glass

The Poisoned Glass is a brand new group consisting of G Stuart Dahlquist and Edgy59, both formerly of modern doom legends Burning Witch. Their brand of droning dark ambient and doom translated surprisingly well in the echoing hall, with Edgy convulsing like a possessed creature while howling to the pulse of Dahlquist’s bass. Both members ended the first song with a rapid assault on a single massive floor tom onstage, adding to the ominous ritualistic nature of things. With chiming keys further supplementing the alternately sparse and dense soundscapes the band created, atmosphere was the key aspect of The Poisoned Glass’s set and despite the early hour, they delivered in true fashion. For a band with only one prior live appearance under its belt, The Poisoned Glass is clearly one that has honed its skills in captivation and entrancement.

Grafir

My personal trajectory sent me out of Patronaat and immediately around the corner to Extase to catch that venue’s opening act. It seems Roadburn is experiencing an Icelandic black metal takeover this year, and you can be certain that Black Metal & Brews will be covering the entirety of it. With Grafir as the first of the Icelandic groups to perform, excitement was high in the tiny room even if the crowd was small. While not as high profile (yet) as heavyweights in Misþyrming and Nadra, Grafir excelled with their punky and inventive take on dizzying black metal. With unpredictable song structures and an exuberant energy, the band displayed a rather natural sort of fluid picture of every step in black metal’s evolution from its origins to its present. As the band finished their set, the vocalist urged the crowd to attend the following night’s Ulfsmessa. It’s a suggestion I won’t ignore after a performance like that.

Inverloch

A quick walk to the Green Room after Grafir’s set led to a chilling performance by Inverloch, although the room was already nearly to capacity by this point, making actual entry a challenge. Still, I managed to catch three songs of nearly perfectly balanced doomy death metal from some of the genre’s most innovative minds. diSEMBOWELMENT association aside, this was a strong live sound, although I ultimately found myself getting slowly pushed out of the room and decided to go with the flow and catch the closing minutes of Cult of Luna‘s set just around the corner in the 013 Main Stage.  I thought that I’d lost interest in the band’s balance between crushing and delicate, yet even in just a few minutes I found myself recalling why they’d been high school favorites of mine. I imagine I’ll be revisiting Somewhere Along the Highway after all.

Der Blutharsch

After all manner of mangled and distorted sounds, heading to Patronaat was the right decision, as it was time for Der Blutharsch and the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand to perform. I anticipated I’d stay for just a couple of songs to experience it and move on, but I was drawn in by their psychedelic grooves and hypnotic energy. The sun was still high in the sky, but the atmosphere in Patronaat was already becoming more lunar and mystifying as Der Blutharsch played on. Had I not been pacing myself for the day, I might have even been inclined to dance along, but I kept myself relatively well behaved. I spoke with a friend briefly who mentioned this was a marked departure from more militaristic gigs of theirs she’d witnessed in the past. While it was my first experience with the band in a live setting, their recorded history certainly indicates a departure. If anybody was bothered by this change, the crowd’s reaction gave no indication, as the venue was packed from start to finish.

Usnea

Portland locals Usnea had me running back to the Green Room immediately after Der Blutharsch’s set, yet I found again that the Green Room wasn’t so inviting at the time. If it had been tough to get in during Inverloch, it was evident that seeing Usnea would be even harder. I managed to watch about five minutes from the doorway before futility and looming exhaustion got the better of me. Their sparse, melodic take on roaring doom sounded better than ever in such a sizable venue and with such an entranced crowd, and I hope their tour continues on in such a fashion.

Oranssi Pazuzu

After a break for some beers with friends and a meal from a food truck, I wandered into the endlessly long queue to see Oranssi Pazuzu at Patronaat. While our arrival was timely, over half the band’s set had gone by before entry was an option. This is a serious testament to the burgeoning popularity of Oranssi Pazuzu, whose newest album is a mighty strong addition to an already massive catalog of blisteringly psychedelic black metal. Keys and effects all sounded perfectly in place atop the buzzing guitars and shrill vocals as the band worked its way through the latter half of their set. Dynamics are something that many extreme bands struggle to find, but Oranssi Pazuzu’s set seemed built on balance and fury.

misþyrming

Following a band with the stature and clout of Oranssi Pazuzu is surely a challenge, yet Icelandic black metal act Misþyrming were easily as capable and appropriate of an act as any. Their set consisted of entirely unreleased material, which translated brilliantly live. Their pummeling and expansive black metal struck me as even more fully developed than what they had presented previously with Söngvar elds og óreiðu, a fantastic album in its own right. This new material, titled Algleymi according to the Roadburn program guide, is a stunning example of what’s to come from an act who has grown to monumental size in such a short time. I found myself at a loss for words in how to describe their performance. I’m sure the whispers will come throughout the internet from those who might not have been quite so awestruck as myself. Keep an eye out.

Hell

While the temptation to watch legends Paradise Lost was strong, Oregonian favorites Hell were up next in Patronaat and I couldn’t pass up the chance to watch them at their European debut with their new violinist. I found myself front and center for most of the set, which drew from a large portion of their catalog. The highlight of most Hell sets for me is the eerie meandering melancholy of “Mourn,” but it was even more jaw-dropping to finally witness “Decedere” in a live setting with all the samples and violin in place. Few bands can justifiably name themselves Hell, but to witness such heaviness in a former church of all places confirmed exactly how deserving this group is.

Dead Neanderthals

The rest of the night for me became a denoument of sorts, following the two insane sets I’d just witnessed. I joined with a few friends to attempt to see CHRCH in Extase, and succeeded to some capacity. The venue was crowded in an almost suffocating way, but I was able to hear the band well enough from the back of the room even though I couldn’t really see them. Unanswered Hymns was a surprise hit last year, and while it was fun to see this material in a live setting, I found myself feeling a bit too cramped to really enjoy it. I popped into the Green Room to see Abyssion but felt myself feeling similarly fatigued and unsure if it was exactly what I needed to hear at the moment, despite how enjoyable their last album was. I settled on waking myself up a bit by catching the explosive duo of Dead Neanderthals in Cul de Sac. Closing out the night with some of the most jarring and spastic free jazz was a surefire way to really remind me that Roadburn is not a “metal festival” like I told everybody back home, but more of an exploration of the fringes of extreme music. I’m completing this post around noon here on Friday and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next in another day of heavy brilliance.