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2017-05-02

ROADBURN Festival 2017 • DAY TWO: Friday, April 21st

- The riverbed will run red with the blood of the saints and Magma of the holy -


Zeal & Ardor


Friday is the longest Roadburn day. Knowing this surely helped in spending the morning as lazy as possible. But as comfortable as falling in and out of sleep in my hotel room bed was; when noon came nearer I had to get active, so I drove to Tilburg, but not yet to my usual parking spot.

As if there was no way of spending too much money on vinyl at the festival I visited a local record store, where I ended up with some old and new Depeche Mode and a Shirley Bassey compilation.
After that I got temporarely lost, because I was arrogant enough to think I'd find the way without my navigation system, but nope. Obviously underestimated the complexity of Tilburg.

No reason to panic though, I found back to the center early enough to grab my spiciest KFC dinner ever and headed over to Het Patronaat in time to see Schammasch.


Schammasch

Well, at least I was early enough to watch them from the back, but that was ok, considering that I would only follow a quarter of their almost two hour long set anyway.

An advantgarde black metal band playing the longest set of the whole festival seems like an odd choice, but Roadburn likes exactly those - and bands playing concept albums in full, even if they go slightly over the 45-minute-mark. Schammasch were performing their work "Triangle" here. As the title says it's segmented into three parts with a shift in the musical direction on each disc.

Right from the start this was a mighty, eclectic performance and surely worth staying until the end, especially since the second half would only get more interesting in my ears.

But there was the giant BUT, which is the Magma rule:

No matter how fantastic the bands on the other stages may be - when Magma plays, you see Magma!

Sadly this also affected the whole set of King Woman, who I had initially looked forward to before the running order was released, but sorry, rules are rules.




Magma

I have no idea what I can write about Christian Vander's visionary mixture of prog, jazz, classical music and opera, for which he even invented an original language, that I haven't been stumbling in my unworthy mortal words in other live and record reviews about Magma before.

When I first saw them on this very same stage and weekday in 2014, it was one of those rare musical epiphanies, which part your life in before and after. Witnessing Magma for the first time definitely leaves you knowing more about what music is capable of. And the effect doesn't decline much at the second encounter (last October in Hamburg for me) or even the third time.

Magma are a positively overwhelming overstimulation of the senses, and they don't need any fancy light show tricks or other production gimmicks for it. The music alone is so virtuoso, wild, moving, hypnotizing, primal, dark and heavy, joyous, insane, out of this world... there's just nothing like it.

The set was almost similar to the only slightly longer one in Hamburg, as the band performed the two classic compositions "Theusz Hamtaakh" and "Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh", together clocking in at a whopping eighty minutes. It felt noticable different though, because there is such an high-energetic jazzy flow in the performance that surely no Magma show totally resembles the previous in spite of the extremely complex arrangements, which make almost every prog metal musician look like a toddler.

I could go on endlessly about what an unbelievable animal Christian Vander is on the drums (I fittingly even met a guy in the front with a Muppets "Animal" shirt), how stellar his wife Stella still stirs the rudder of the kobaian choir, or how entertaining it was to concentrate on watching Benoît Alziary having a total blast on the vibraphone for a couple of minutes... But hell, there's so much more of Roadburn still to be covered.

Of course the French band was celebrated frenetically and I surely wasn't alone with that certain "ok, I can go home now" sentiment afterwards.


And if you'd ask me about the best band of the festival, the question is either extremely hard to answer - or ridiculously simple.
Simple because, well... obviously...  But on the other hand it would be kind of unfair to all those other artist battling for that crown. And actually in a way I tend to not even consider Magma, because they are just so beyond even Roadburn, so not from this universe, that they don't really count.



I didn't haste to another stage now, because a small breather was most welcome, so I used the time for my first merchandise purchases. Couldn't say no to the Magma slipmat I had set my eyes on for quite some time already, but all in all I was pretty disciplined (too disciplined in some cases in hindsight).
No festival shirt for me this time, because a) it seems that my old shirts tend to lose their prints after one year and b) I'm just not a fan of the artwork of Baroness frontman and this year's guest curator John Dyer Baizley.

The daily poster designs of Costin Chioreano (who's new ambient album "There Is A Place Called Home" also landed in my bag since I his previous work scored place four in my best albums of 2016 ranking) were great though, because they really depict a story you can put into context with these four days. So I got a signed poster version of that at least. And I still haven't found a worthy place on the wall for it.


Baizley's band, which would headline the evening, for some reason hasn't clicked with me at all, which came in handy, because so that would be ninety minutes, where the main stage wouldn't crash with other program points for me. But I was very keen to see the next group Baizley's curation was bringing there now:


Oathbreaker

Oathbreaker had been a true revelation when I had discovered and then seen them on a small club stage in December and I was confident that the Belgians would kill it here, too.

Unsurprisingly the group began their set with the opener of their rightfully loved latest album "Rheia", so at first there only was the fragile voice of Caro Tanghe immediately getting everyone's attention with its open vulnerability, until the singer and her band broke out into extreme black metal frenzy, which would dominate about half of their performance.

A rare effect Oathbreaker have mastered is that those black metal blasts, which are also rooted in hardcore, just like the rest of their music always have an enormous emotional impact. Tanghe's voice is undeniably influenced by Made Out Of Babies singer Julie Christmas. Given that Christmas has earned recent praise for her collaboration with Cult Of Luna, it's also noticable that those are present in Oatbreaker's arrangements too, with hypnotic post metal build-ups and even some ambient passages.
Yet even with those clear influences; In their entirety and the overall impact of their performance Oathbreaker have developed a very own unmistakble presence and I don't think it's an exagerration to claim that they are one of the most exciting live bands in the genre right now.

And what an achievement alone to successfully throw me out of my current Magma headspace without problems. Looking at the running order of the day I can't imagine any band fitting better into that spot.

The only nagging question that remains after two Oathbreaker shows is: Would I have a chance to take just one picture of the singer's face not hiding under her curl curtain if I stood in the right half of the audience instead of the left or middle?


I would have encouraged anyone to watch a couple of songs of the fabulous melvins-affiliated Big Business in the Green Room next door now, but since I had checked that box at the Droneburg Festival in Hamburg only a couple of days before, I was content in staying and keeping a good spot for our all queen of darkness Chelsea Wolfe.

(Same goes for the over-the-top crunchy noise rock of Whores. a few hours later, so in the end I didn't set one foot into the Green Room this whole day.)


Chelsea Wolfe


Effectively it's nonsense to mention that Chelsea Wolfe opened her set with a haunting, dark and eery piece, because despite her stylistic range this description fits every single song she performed.
It was a welcome surprise however, that "Feral Love" from "Pain Is Beauty" was chosen as the first track. The following hour then was shaped by her dark droning 2015 masterpiece "Abyss", with a few excurses to older material.

Her live band was a different one than on her last European tour, but it was just as spot-on. Precise and heavy, but always giving the music's inherent waves of gloom enough room to wash over you, this was a perfect performance.
And of course the centerpiece was the spellbinding enigmatic aura of Chelsea Wolfe herself, a shy but charismatic presence that is incomparable to any other singer I can think of.


A brilliant show, yet as so often I couldn't stay until the very end, because there was a band of equal importance to me waiting inside the church over the street.


Subrosa (subdued)

The "subdued" second set of Subrosa was a dream of sheer beauty.
Of course this included the extra festive dresses of the three ladies on stage (during the last song joined by Dreadnought's Kelly Schilling again) which were an exclusive sight for the first few rows, as everyone on stage was seated today. But for most listeners the beauty mainly emerged from what was audible.

Following the spirit of an unplugged show, while technically being as amplified as ever (with the exception of one almost-a cappella song - no, not "House Carpenter"), Subrosa took a sombre, quieter approach on a selection of older songs, mainly from the albums "No Help For The Mighty Ones" and "More Constant Than The Gods".
Rebecca Vernon's softer vocals and the brilliant harmonies of Kim Pack with Sarah Pendleton where fully in the spotlight here and couldn't be more enchanting.

Andy Patterson didn't play a full drum set, but a mixed set of percussions, a little electronics I think (honestly couldn't really make out what was happening back there) and dulcimer, which of course came into play together with Kelly Schilling's flute in the majestic grande finale of  "No Safe Harbor", which closed a fabulous set.

Despite some ignorant chatterers in the back of the venue the inimacy and deep sad loveliness of Subrosa subdued made me love this performance even more than the "For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages" show.
One of two Roadburn 2017 concerts I'd really love to hear released on record in a few months. (The other one to follow on Saturday.)


Wow, it was almost 9 pm now and there hadn't been a flinch in quality yet. And the best thing: still five hours to go!


However I seriously needed to sit down for a while. The set of Amenra on the main stage had already begun, so I walked up the stairs and found a listening spot on the balcony.


Amenra


In a conversation the day before where me and another guy preached to a third one the importance of witnessing Magma, he told me that his life-changing Roadburn experience had been Amenra, so I kind of promised him to go see them. Well, they had been on my agenda anyway, but given my exhaustion and them being tightly sandwiched between other artists of interest, I just couldn't follow their show with my full attention.

So I can't claim that I lived through that overwhelming experience quite some people seem to associate with Amenra. But even without being able to dive there myself, I still got enough exposure to their post-hardcore / post metal / Neurosis-related music to at least understand and respect the notion that this band has a very deep significance to its fans.


Yet I needed some less depressing and crushing tunes now. And for the first time visiting the Extase bar on this day, it was an exciting, refreshing change of pace I found there.



Hedvig Mollestad Trio


Just imagine the name without the "M" in it and the abbreviation would unmistakably tell you that above everything else the Hedvig Mollestad Trio is one thing, it is hot!

And in case your brain's not operating on the weird damaged level of mine, take a look at how the bandleader on guitar and her bass player are rocking their fire alert red dresses! This group wasted no time and instantly set the roof (which the temporarely used contrabass almost touched) on rock'n'roll.

The Hedvig Mollestad Trio is a group you can probably put on the billing of any rock, jazz, blues or ehm... Roadburn festival and it will always find a thrilled audience.
From The Jimi Hendrix Experience to Causa Sui with all kinds of wild prog and fusion influences and even total jazz freakouts they just pushed on and on through their vivid energetic jams, earning a joyful and ecstatic reaction from the audience.

Undoubtly a potential candidate for top spots in favorite Roadburn shows listings, at least surely in their genre!


I couldn't stay for the whole seventy minutes though, and while our minds are wandering over to the line outside Het Patronaat now, I'm taking a moment to think about the question if there is any non-creepy way to give props to that lady in the drone metal shirt who literally danced between my legs for half the time... But that would surely lead to the necessity of explaining how that was technically possible without any active initiative  from my side (which it was), so I better don't mention it at all.

D'Oh! Well, actually... To mention her was a complicated transition trick already leading to the title of my Roadburn review for Saturday. No shit, I already know that one, while still having two bands to review ahead of me here.


Zeal & Ardor


It's safe to say that no other artist came to Tilburg with a blind credit of trust and a hype surrounding his music as huge as Manuel Gagneux from Switzerland with his slave-chants-meet-black-metal project Zeal & Ardor. Noone had seen it live when he was booked for the festival, because there wasn't even a band at that point, as Gagneux had recorded the whole "Devil Is Fine" EP by himself.

I'm a member of the growing club of those who love this refreshingly creative record and have consequently rated it as my favorite EP of 2016, but I would never have been as bold as Walter Hoeijmakers and put the artist on a festival headlining spot at the same time as Baroness and this year's artist in residence Gnod!
Seriously, after substracting the electronic and musical clock interplays from "Devil Is Fine" there's really only a handful of not too long songs to work with.

But Gagneux formed a band (including two background singers for his satanic gospel arrangements) and the band wrote enough pieces for a show of fifty minutes.

When the show started I had only made it to a place on the same level as the mixing desk, but I was happy to be inside at all - and other than in the Cul de Sac or Extase your sound experience doesn't suffer from standing in the back.

Now finally to the show: It was marvellous. The room was flooded by a positive spirit and celebrated every song with thunderous applause. It certainly also helped that Roadburn in general doesn't offer too many bands to sing along to, so people are eager to take the few chances they get.
The unreleased tracks fitted right in while opening the range of Zeal & Ardor even beyond the known chain gang, blues and black metal influences with some beats strongly hinting towards hip hop and thus bridging to Dälek who had performed here the night before.

It's almost impossible to do the vibe of this show justice.

Maybe something unexpected had to happen after half of the set to make this even more justified as subject of Roadburn lore and legend than it already was at this point...

Meanwhile I had moved a few steps and was leaning on the barricade directly beside the mixer, when it happened: the front PA was suddenly dead! And of course I had this short "I didn't touch anything" shock, haha. While I got a close look at the panic and perplexity of the sound crew, the audience wasn't ready to have the atmosphere spoiled. One guy shouted "We love you!" and the whole room cheered. Hundred people were singing an a capella version of "Devil Is Fine".

Then finally the band returned and Gagneux, totally stunned by the whole resonance, laughed the situation away. "That's what happens when you play Satanic music in a church." 

They started into another song, but unfortunately the PA soon broke again.

With the minutes mercilessly marching on I gave up a while too early to take a longer break before the last band of the night, so I missed that Zeal & Ardor indeed returned a second time and had just enough time left to perform their hymn and EP title song, now in its full glory.

At least I had stayed long enough to tell the story. Even with major technical issues (the only performance besides Coven with problems worth mentioning) this was Roadburn at its best!


 
There were several good options to close the long Friday night now, among those dance and 80s worship with Perturbator (but it would have been beyond stupid to leave Het Patronaat before, since the line outside was longer than ever now) and high quality black metal from Iceland with Auðn, who had really convinced me as Metal Battle contestants at last year's Wacken Open Air, so much indeed that I bought their debut album afterwards. So this one was painful to miss.

But two full festival days were almost over now and without the warm-up on Wednesday this year I still hadn't seen one single artist in the Cul de Sac.
And the promise of some super bass heavy doom with Eastern elements in a fashion related to Bong had my interest. Plus this could very likely be a concert where there would be a comfortable sit-in near the stage, so you could relax and chill to the drone.
    

Zaum


Anyone who his familiar with psych, sludge, shoegaze, post rock etc. has seen his share of huge or excentric effect boards on concert stages. And even though it isn't necessarily a competition, every once in while you will encounter a gearhead who takes this game to a whole new level.

Enter Kyle Alexander McDonald, bass playing and singing half of Zaum.
I have absolutely no idea, what only half of the pedals on his board do, but I'm pretty sure that in its free time, when it's not playing music, the board runs a factory, building cars or something.

When he plugged it in for soundcheck it started to play sitar samples on its own with all kinds of little gizmos blinking, and every touch of a bass string resulted in probably three different signals with one extremely deep and distorted low end and some oriental sounding overtones which had no resemblance to what you'd expect from the instrument at all. Maybe midi synthesizer?
The sound guy didn't have a clue either and just said something like "I have no idea what you're doing there, but it's fine."


When the show began the stage was very sparsely lit, mainly by candles, which set the perfect mood for the mantra-like doom ritual that was to follow. The bass and whatever else was conjured by the power of the board, which I am now sure doesn't run factories, but flies into space to create new life in different star systems, droned and meditated through all bodies in the room, thus shattering and enlightening the audience at the same time.
For me it was just the perfect music to come down between 1 and 2 AM in the night, after over ten hours of sonic bliss.

The only regret after this show is that I stuck to my only-one-record-per-artist rule and only bought the elder of the two albums of Zaum. Love this stuff!


So that was it, the long Friday.

Mind-blowing.

And two more days still to come!






reviews of the other festival days:

ROADBURN Festival 2017 • DAY ONE: Thursday, April 20th
Roadburn destroys minds and will not play Stonehenge again

 

ROADBURN Festival 2017 • DAY THREE: Saturday, April 22nd
She's a droniac, droniac on the floor  / And she's droning like she's never droned before

 

 ROADBURN Festival 2017 • DAY FOUR: Sunday, April 23rd
The silence of the wolves






Schammasch:








Magma:


























Oathbreaker:
















Chelsea Wolfe:
























Subrosa:



















Hedvig Molstad Trio:



















Zeal & Ardor:











Zaum:








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