Roadburn 2016


It’s been six months since I began my adventures at Roadburn. While many of you kept up with my daily posts about my experiences, I feel that the best way to document my travels and the concert itself is to bring it all together here in one article. For those interested in reading the longer and less focused posts about each day’s activities, the Baby’s First Roadburn series is easy enough to find. While they’re thorough, they were written in the midst of a period of pure sleep deprivation and excitement, which in a way epitomizes the Roadburn experience but doesn’t really do much for the quality of my writing and editing skills.

In 2016, Roadburn has established itself as something larger and broader than its early origins would’ve ever let on. With five venues playing host to bands playing everything from throwback folk rock to raucous black metal with a heavy dose of psychedelic stoner rock in the middle, the festival felt like a mix of the highlights of every other music festival I’ve eyeballed in the past. While I told family that this was a “metal festival” to save time, the description feels quite inadequate and lazy the more I reflect on it. While many of the artists I enjoyed the most played something rooted in heavy metal, quite few were content to maintain the traditions and boundaries that such a term would imply, instead electing to push their small world just a bit farther into experimentation and growth. In that regard, Roadburn has remained as true to its innovative and psychedelic roots as one could have ever hoped while managing to draw established and prominent artists alongside cutting edge acts at the forefront of changing genres.


The Legendary Innovators

It’s inevitable that the main draw of a festival like Roadburn is its capacity to bring diverse and influential acts together in the same space. In 2016, it seemed like half of the acts on the festival were important enough to feature prominently on the main stage of the 013 venue. While I missed performances from heavyweights like Pentagram and G.I.S.M. due to scheduling conflicts, I still took in my fill of timeless performances from acts whose music has had undeniable influence.

While heavy metal and rock’n’roll were the main focal points for much of my Roadburn experience, two of the finer moments with big names came courtesy of artists with far less aggressive direction. I started my second day of Roadburn wholly entranced by the virtuosity and eccentricity of pianist and singer Diamanda Galas, who opened up the 013 stage for Lee Dorrian’s curated set of performances entitled Rituals for the Blind Dead. From her unpredictable vocal acrobatics to her nonchalant dismissal of hecklers, she was every bit the captivating star I’d hoped while remaining oddly human amidst the otherworldly nature of her art. While far more focused and subdued than Galas, I also found myself taking great comfort in watching Of the Wand and the Moon perform later the same day in the Het Patronaat venue. Seeing such lush and mournful neofolk bliss in the remnants of a former church was a refreshing and inspiring experience that provided a welcome break from the chaos of many of the louder and more chaotic sounds of the festival.

Still, Roadburn was not without its moments of heavier classics. While Tau Cross is a newer band, the legacy of its members and the quality of their debut record warranted a main stage performance at 013 that did not disappoint in any way. Despite a health scare for frontman Rob Miller just a week earlier in New York, the band’s energy and presence were unparalleled and their songs felt even more anthemic when delivered to a large room of eager fans. Similarly, Finnish psychedelic black metal wizards Oranssi Pazuzu may not be world famous at this point, but their impact on the world of underground metal in the last decade has been unavoidable and the thirty minutes or so I spent catching their performance at Patronaat stand out as one of the highlights of my entire experience. While I’d had my concerns about the music feeling a bit light on the record, the live spectacle made it clear that Oranssi Pazuzu is simply saving the most jagged parts of their sound for the concert halls of the world, where the band excels in a way that makes most other black metal look flat in comparison.

As for the biggest moments of all, Amenra and Neurosis both did double duty on the 013 stage to great success. While Amenra’s decided to alternate a subdued and oddly intimate (for the size of the venue) acoustic set with a more traditional and urgent plugged in set over the two nights, Neurosis delivered the real treats with two nights of brilliance celebrating thirty years as a band. I’m one of those unfortunate few who had not yet seen Neurosis play live, so catching a career-spanning performance gave me the opportunity to make up for time missed. In a world where cataclysmic metal with lengthy songs and tribal drumming has risen as a trend and all but crumbled into generic mediocrity, seeing the masters of such sounds deliver with a freshness and passion that transcends words was reinvigorating. I felt as though I had been transported to the place of high school wonder when I first found A Sun That Never Sets and everything was still so ripe and new to me. There were no words for the experience of watching Neurosis perform live, just feelings that I won’t ever forget.


The Newcomers and The Unexpected

While one could easily leave a piece about Roadburn’s relevance and impact at the main sets and still have a weighty account, it would be foolish to ignore some of the younger acts to perform this year, especially as an enthusiastic fan of black metal. Indeed, a large portion of the roster of Iceland’s Vánagandr label made appearances at Roadburn, adding a seriously dark pulse to a festival that has not been traditionally known for its black metal. In addition to the bizarre black metal end of the spectrum, performances by acts like Galley Beggar and Dark Buddha Rising exposed me to the beauty and brilliance in sounds I’d otherwise have never explored.

While Misþyrming was clearly the act with the largest audience, Grafir was the first of the Icelandic acts to play, and the energy of their set had me invigorated from the get-go. I was slightly disappointed that I had to leave in the middle of a hypnotizing set by The Poisoned Glass, whose haunting take on drone was as confrontational as it was masterful, but I knew I’d be much more likely to catch them again than I would Grafir. These first two acts of Roadburn were enough to cement the festival as one of the best concert experiences of my life. Everything that followed only sealed the deal more completely. Misþyrming’s performance of new material from the unreleased album, Algleymi, was even more stunning than Söngvar elds og óreiðu, which was wonderful to hear live. My favorite performance of the Icelandic groups, however, was NYIþ, who played to a crowded room in Extase, one of Roadburn’s smaller stages. The ritualistic nature of the performance itself was a strong accompaniment to the sparse, peculiar experimental sounds the group created. A moment or two of ferocious black metal near the set’s end served as a reminder that no attendees should ever trust a moment of calm or serenity, but the set as a whole was mostly an exercise in immersion. It was the perfect teaser for the Úlfsmessa event, in which all four bands shared the stage simultaneously. It was the defining moment of Roadburn 2016 and despite my aching bones, I was alert from start to finish.

If the Vánagandr acts weren’t enough, I was also wholly impressed by violent black metal from Belgian weirdos Alkerdeel, who played in almost complete darkness in the middle of the afternoon. I didn’t stick around to see the portion of their set with accompaniment from Mories of Gnaw Their Tongues due to the aforementioned NYIþ set, but even the parts I saw were enough to really win me over. One of the highlights from a band I’d never even heard of was the angular and experimental chaos that Atomikylä delivered. I’d have never thought to attend it, but at the urging of my dear friend Kim, I went and had one of my best experiences of the whole festival.

Another undeniable highlight was getting to see friends of mine perform on three separate occasions. The most impacting experience was finally meeting and watching my friends in Terzij de Horde perform at Extase. I’ve been supporting and supported by this Dutch black metal act for the majority of my time as a writer and it was an honor beyond words to be front and center while they laid waste to the audience in such a tiny venue. I drank a healthy amount of affordable beer and lost my mind for a short while as they raged away in that packed little room. I couldn’t have asked for a more special, wonderful time. In addition to Terzij de Horde, two incredibly talented bands from Portland played some of their finest sets at Roadburn. Witnessing Hell’s III with violin accompaniment at Het Patronaat was breathtaking and seeing Usnea play to a packed Green Room was inspiring. I’ve followed both bands for quite some time and it was a true delight to see them in such a receptive, large setting.

The Takeaway and the Future

Above all else, what really impressed itself upon me at Roadburn was the sensation of community and acceptance that went beyond any I’d found in any other place. I had an opportunity to connect with many beautiful friends from around the world. Some I’d interacted with digitally beforehand, while others were folks I simply happened to connect with while in queue or having a beer. The kinship was overwhelming and beautiful. The love was so present and humbling. I even wound up chatting with a few musicians who weren’t part of this year’s performances and upon later inspection came to love their music just as well. And yes, that’s a direct hint about a review coming up in the near future on this very blog.

With tickets for Roadburn 2017 going on sale in six days (October 20th is just around the corner!) I can’t help but feel this is the most appropriate time to share my excitement and enthusiasm. If you’re coming from outside of Europe, it’s not a budget-friendly trip, but it’s a trip with worth that exceeds monetary value. Whether you’re excited about catching the bands that have been announced so far or you just want to be part of a community that bonds over art and music, you’ll find yourself a secondary home in Tilburg. With Oranssi Pazuzu making a triumphant return and Perturbator, Warning, and Coven among those already confirmed, it’s bound to be a monumental experience If all else fails, come find me. Let’s have a drink or two and talk about awesome black metal.