Roadburn Day I: Icelandic Dominance, Finnish Forest Folk, and American Gloom Conquer All
The first entry in our doom-drenched Roadburn Festival diary sees Misþyrming, Hexvessel, and HELL come out on top.
Misþyrming / All photos by Maija Lahtinen
Roadburn 2016 boasts the long-running Dutch festival's most eclectic and intriguing lineup yet (which, as Roadburn veterans will surely agree, is really saying something). Where else could you find Japanese punk icons G.I.S.M. rubbing elbows with the Icelandic black metal upstarts in Misþyrming, or bounce between Full of Hell's vcious noise and Oranssi Pazuzu's mad Finnish prog/black metal, or catch hardcore legends Converge barrel through Jane Doe in its entirety? Welcome to Roadburn, the hesher Mecca where dreams come true and flashes of strange, exciting musical wonder are only ever a few feet away.
As I've learned time and time again over my years attending this fest (this marks my 7th Roadburn!) it's impossible to see everything, and if you try, you're going to collapse from frustrated exhaustion well before the Metal Disco kicks off at 1AM (and who'd want to miss that?). So with that in mind, I'm going to be filing daily capsule reports highlighting the best and weirdest performances of the weekend, accompanied by the brilliant photography of Maija Lahtinen.
Day 1 of the fest was wild enough, but this is only the beginning...
CULT OF OCCULT
Everything about Cult of Occult's aesthetic seems designed to throw you off—the name screams "extremely serious no-fun black metal," the figures onstage are clad in standard black with nary a robe of hood in sight, and the projections behind them (the album cover for their latest release, Five Degrees of Insanity) looks like a twisted King Crimson tribute. Then, once they start playing, you're bowled over by their viscous, apocalyptic sludge, punctuated by needling melodies that pierce the gloom like distorted air raid sirens. As they crawled and thundered through huge rancid riffs and shuddering lows, Cult of Occult reacquainted us with the simple joy of headbanging—everywhere around me, heads bowed, shoulders rocked, and hair swung, consumed by a primal urge to respond to an inescapable rhythm.
Hexvessel's dreamy, joyfully proggy forest folk made for a perfect palate cleanser between Cult of Occult's filthy mire and the Oranssi Pazuzu's upcoming black metal circus. Standing before a beautful pastel backdrop of a dead forest maiden, Noisey's favorite survivalists led the audience through trilling folk harmonies and bouts of sureal melody, making their status as a main stage act quite clear in the process. The overall vibe was of rose-tinted psychedelia, The Wicker Man updated with a baller sound system —around me, women in paisley dresses twirled, someone started blowing bubbles, and when the band came back out for an unexpected encore, it all seemed part of the grand dance. If you ever have the chance, go see Hexvessel play. They'll transport you to another world—one that's gentler, stranger, and creepier than anything you've seen before.
The line to see Oranssi Pazuzu inside Het Patronaat was massive even by Roadburn terms, so it was pure luck that landed me inside close to the stage as Finland's finest (and only) purveyors of psychedelic black metal sent the rest of the faithful packed inside the church walls into an ecstatic trance. Sweat, strobe lights and pounding rhythms dominated, scales were mangled and transformed, bodies hurled themselves across the stage, and Oranssi Pazuzu proved yet again that they're one of the most compelling live acts in the world. It's hard to describe what it's like to see them play—this fan-shot video gives you a slight idea of the chaotic aspect, but really, you just need to see them for yourself.
I've been gushing about Misþyrming for what seems like years now, and have seen them play a good few times, but their performance of their upcoming new album, Algleymi, last night at Het Patronaat set the bar way, way higher than perhaps even the band itself expected. When I caught up with them after the show, they still seemed shell-shocked as they wiped off their stage "blood" and noshed on dried chili fish (you can talke the boys out of Iceland, but...). As vocalist/guitarist Dagur told me, this marked the first time they'd played the entire new album in full, so there was no muscle memory for them to rely on—it was all raw, urgent, and new. It was also fucking fantastic; the Algleymi material incorporates more of a rock'n'roll swing than their previous efforts, and shows a much more dynamic side of their customarily hypnotic, aggressive black metal. I can't wait to be able to sit down and absorb it, but from what I heard, it looks like the best album of 2016 (or 2017? Who knows) is already a lock.
Also, the only note I made during their set was "HOLY SHIT," so make of that what you will!
After the vicious, physical intensity of Misþyrming's set, it would've been criminal to send another black or death metal band onstage at Het Patronaat; there was simply no topping it. It was wise of the Roadburn powers that be to completely flip the script and place HELL onstage once the Icelanders had stickily cleared out, because the Salem, OR sludge/drone collective served up a completely different kind of aural violence. Their painfully slow feedback-heavy dirges seethed and ebbed, rattling the church's stained glass windows and enveloping those assembled in a gaping maw of noise further perforated by drummer and vocalist A.L.N.'s hellish pterodactyl shrieks. The stark, startling melodies that infiltrate the murk soared up tp the rafters, bolstered by their guest violinist's beautifully weeping strings.
The band's tongue-in-cheek stage banter was a jarring (though welcome) contrast to the deadly serious nature of their music—and to be fair, they did promise us earlier in their hour-long set that, "It won't be fun."
As they came to a particularly savage crescendo, my friend Jake learned over and howled in my ear, "This sounds like My Dying Bride on methadone!" Honestly, he wasn't wrong.
Ending the night with Abyssion was one of the smarter decisions I made on Day 1. I only caught the tail end of their set in the main 013 venue's new, revamped Green Room, but even a few minutes of their wacky, psyched-out post-punk jams (and their sunglasses-sporting frontman's jaunty onstage two-step) were enough to cap off the night in fine, freaky style. I was super stoked to see these guys in the flesh, and they definitely didn't disappoint—when comes the US tour??
Our stalwart photographer Maija Lahtinen also captured performances from Iverloch and Usnea—check out the rest of her photos below, and stay tuned for Day II!
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey. Follow her Roadburn adventures on Twitter.