Baby’s First Roadburn: Friday

For the second day of Roadburn, I decided to try to pace myself instead of committing to overly ambitious scheduling. Instead of being five places at once, I’d allow myself time to sit down and have a drink between bands and just really soak things in. I failed at this decision miserably, instead committing myself to many queues in order to catch the acts that mattered most to me. As with day one, despite my exhaustion I had a magnificent time and saw many things that I’ll remember for years.

 

My day started particularly early and gave me my first glimpse of a full set on the main stage, as Diamanda Galás was my anticipated pick of the day. Her skills as a singer are often praised, with a voice that seems to contain the suffering and passion of a dozen people all at once, yet her proficiency with the piano is equally stunning. Fluttering between ragtime style piano and wails like dozens of mourners weeping in despair, the immensity of her set was the kind that transcends words, leaving me simply feeling and not thinking so much. Watching her writhe and shriek while hunched over her piano was easily one of the most evocative things I’ve witnessed in the festival so far, and I’m not sure anything else will hit me as both so human and so alien all at once.

Sinistro

Any artist would struggle to follow a set like Galás’ yet Sinistro took the stage in the Green Room just moments after her set had ended in the main room and their peculiarly heavy and melodic doom set the tone quite nicely for the rest of my day. Their vocalist seemed to struggle for control within herself, finding it for brief moments before caving under the weight of whatever torment they were conjuring. This Portuguese act was one of two I attended on Friday in which I had no prior familiarity with the band’s material. I’m really glad I caught them and regret that I had to leave after a few songs in order to attempt to catch a set at the chronically crowded Cul de Sac.

Alkerdeel

Even showing up twenty minutes early for Alkerdeel‘s set was a gamble, I found. I was able to make my way to a decent vantage point for their urgent and frantic black metal, which seemed miraculous considered how packed the venue was. While technical difficulties marred the beginning of their set, they prevailed and delivered some incredibly tense and captivating black metal that seemed both focused and unhinged all at once. I had to leave before their collaboration with Gnaw Their Tongues began, which was a disappointment to me, but allowed me to make my way to Extase in time to avoid yet another long queue.

 NYIÞ

What was worth showing up as early as I could to Extase? NYIÞ. This ritual experimental act is easily the most bizarre of the Icelandic groups performing at Roadburn this year, and I found myself utterly entranced by their performance. It’s really hard to describe what exactly happened, as droning and trudging instrumentation was the primary method of delivery, yet the effect was so strong. Singing bowls and incense littered the stage as hooded figures all swapped instruments at regular intervals, with everything from trumpets to electric guitars making their way into the set. The tall orator who performed most of the ritualistic acts would have been ominous had their not been such a sense of unity during the set. While I couldn’t even describe the how or the why of it, this band caught my attention in a serious way.

Terzij de Horde

Staying in Extase was an easy decision to make, as I knew that Terzij de Horde were next. Their ambitious take on black metal translated even better in the live arena than it does on recording and they provided the first actual singalongs that I witnessed during Roadburn, as much of the crowd chanted along with frontman Joost’s highly cerebral lyrics. I found myself headbanging despite my goal of pacing myself for the rest of the festival and I feel no real regrets about this decision, despite my terribly sore neck this morning. It was refreshing to see a band clearly having actual fun playing such serious music. These guys haven’t made it stateside yet, but they’ll be a serious force to catch when they do.

Of the Wand and the Moon

I found myself dreading a line at Patronaat to catch Of the Wand and the Moon but apparently I arrived right on time to avoid any fuss. I’ve long enjoyed this neofolk act’s blissful sounds and felt that I needed to mellow out a bit after turning my brain to putty during Terzij de Horde. This turned out to be a great idea, as the band’s live sound was subtle yet lush and dense. I felt as though I’d burrowed my way to the heart of one of the records and was watching the actual creation process occur onstage before me. To call Of the Wand and the Moon the most comforting set of Roadburn would make it seem light, but there was a cathartic beauty to the whole thing that felt quite heavy.

Lychgate

Lychgate was placed high on my list at the recommendation of a friend and descriptions of an actual church organ being brought onstage. I crawled into the entryway of the Green Room to sneak a peek at the earliest parts of Lychgate’s set and it seemed like the mix for those near the side entrance wasn’t enough to convey the immensity of the band’s music. I could barely hear the organ and the whole thing seemed huge, but slightly blurred from where I stood. Still, Lychgate had a commanding presence and I’d love to try again at a point when I’m able to stand somewhere I can actually hear the band.

Dark Buddha Rising

I decided to make my way back to Patronaat early for Dark Buddha Rising, as I knew the evening would see the venue filling to capacity early on. Having never heard a note of their music, I was in for a bit of a ride. Psychedelic sludge and drone filled Patronaat for the better part of an hour, with spacey sound effects and oddly warped vocals pairing nicely with the chaotic light show. I’d smelled marijuana intermittently during Roadburn prior to this set, but I feel like I was in a cloud of it at parts of Dark Buddha Rising’s set, and I can totally understand why folks felt compelled to get high to such pulsing and bizarre tunes.

Ulfsmessa

My most anticipated part of the entire festival was the Friday night Úlfsmessa, a collaborative set with members of Grafir, NYIÞ, MisÞyrming, and Naðra. Eleven figures stood onstage, hooded in black, as the bands alternated songs, often with NYIÞ’s compositions serving as the glue between everything. This ninety minute set transcended the boundaries I’d previously envisioned for an experience at a black metal show, holding me captive throughout its entirety instead of losing steam at any time. With so many people on one stage, all veiled and mysterious, it was chilling and memorable. From moments in which certain members of the Úlfsmessa went into the crowd to offer wine to the audience at random to the unspeakable final ten minutes of the experience, the pairing of ritual and black metal was as seamless as it could ever be. If I remember one part of my first Roadburn for the rest of my life, this is what it will be. I fought exhaustion and dehydration effortlessly due to how gripping it was.

The last band of the day may have ended, but the party continued in the 013 basement with The Sisters of No Mercy DJing the “Bitches Brew” afterparty. My personal highlight was the evening’s last song, Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades,” during which I was dragged into an impromptu mosh with beer in hand. The crowd sang loud and with a complete lack of self-awareness. It was a beautiful sense of unity to close out an already insane day.