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PREVIEW: Roadburn
The Quietus , April 9th, 2015 07:59

As Roadburn returns to Tilburg with a line-up led by Wovenhand, Fields Of The Nephilim and more, Toby Cook and Harry Sword look ahead to the highlights of this year's festival bill

Roadburn Festival takes to Tilburg, Netherlands once again this weekend for its 17th edition, bringing with it a face-melting line-up of music and alternative showcases. As a preview to the festival, tQ's Toby Cook and Harry Sword are on hand to guide you through the weekend's highlights.

Toby Cook's ten performances not to be missed

Hails! Bearded and back-patched warriors, that time of year is again upon us; 'tis time to make that Mecca-like pilgrimage to Tilburg for Roadburn. With the line-up expanding and broadening with each passing year, however, it can so often become an aneurysm-inducing task just trying to work out who to see. Well, put your bong-addled brains to rest, since, this year, Columnus Metallicus is pulling up its hooded robe, planting its staff in the ground and making the journey with you. So, let this be your guide to the long weekend's must-see events… And follow the smoke to toward the riff-filled land.

Bongripper (playing Miserable in full)

I've said it so many times now that it could almost be my catchphrase, but "I fucking love Bongripper". The Chicago outfit's appearance at the 2011 edition of the festival, where they played Satan Worshipping Doom in its entirety, is now the stuff of Roadburn legend, and I'd bet my stash on this being no different. When Miserable was reviewed on the Quietus last year, I hailed its three epic tracks as having consumed "all that made Bongripper Bongripper – the doom, the drone, the punk-ish intensity – swallowed it like the gaping, angler fish-from-Hell-like mouth on the cover and disgorged it in one, cohesive mass that is about as much fun as watching a family pet get sucked through a lawnmower". Seriously, what's not to like about that?!

Sólstafir (performing an instrumental score to the cult classic Viking movie Hrafninn flýgur (When The Raven Flies))

One of the many things that makes Roadburn so special is that each year there are performances which you are almost guaranteed not to see anywhere else. Ever. This is such a performance, with one of the most atmospheric heavy rock bands currently in existence using their mastery of taught, glacially powerful excursions and elemental expansiveness to live soundtrack this 1984 Icelandic/Swedish Viking revenge epic. Sweeping, desolate landscapes, rival Viking gangs, glorious 1980s production values… and, err… filicide, it's all there. And surely there can't be a more appropriate band to craft a musical interpretation. Get on site early, though, as it's this performance that essentially opens the festival proper.

Anthroprophh

With The Heads acting as this years 'artists in residence' (and of course playing a set themselves… more on that later), it's perhaps little surprise to see Heads man Paul Allen's Anthroprophh also on the bill. Perhaps more exploratory than The Heads – and that's saying something – the trio exist as a sort of garage rock Monster Magnet on kosmische overdrive, channelling Sun Ra's Hawkwind-stra; and if that sounds like the sort of pretentious twaddle you'd hate, then catching this lot is absolutely essential. (And also, why are you at Roadburn in the first place?!)

Wardruna

About as far away from the drug-damaged, Marshall stack-melting barrages of riffs that categorise many of Roadburn's performers as it's possible to get, ancient Nordic folk revivalists Wardruna promise to be in no way less rewarding. Featuring former Gorgoroth vocalist Gaahl, Lindy Fay Hella and multi-instrumentalist and traditional Norwegian folk musician Einar 'Kvitrafn' Selvik (as well as a host of near-ancient instruments, some of which have at times, allegedly, been loaned from the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History), Wardruna are an immersive and pastoral experience like no other. Their often droning, percussive exploration of ancient runic history somewhat paradoxically represents both the past and the future of black metal culture, and each performance is utterly unique. Definitely not to be missed.

Enslaved and Wardruna perform Skuggsjá, the sound of Norway's Norse history

The undisputed highlight of the Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Einar 'Kvitrafn' Selvik (Wardruna)-curated 'Houses of the Holistic' programme, and being performed for the first time ever outside of Norway, Skuggsjá translates into 'mirror' or 'reflection' in the Norse language, and the piece not only contextualises harder music's role in the democracy in Norway in 2015, but also joins threads from the country's ancient musical history and solidifies harder music's position as the country's most important cultural export.

With the two bands utilising a plethora of instrumentation – from guitars and drums to ancient folk instruments – and poetry read in proto-Scandinavian, Norse and Norwegian to tell the rich, complex and sometimes controversial history of Norwegian metal this is likely to be one of the most sonically and spiritually rewarding performances; a real one-off.

The Heads

"A psych set that will focus more on their tripped-out jams"… and Paul Allen is back on lead guitar duties. I mean, seriously, do you need more of a reason than that to throw your brain into the Bristolians' cosmic skillet and have it scrambled by melting tongs of Stoogian riffs and Kraut-like propulsion? With the band unfortunately having to cancel their planned residency at last year's festival, their two sets this year could well become the stuff of Roadburn legend, and their Saturday show in particular offers the perfect psychedelic counterpoint to the likes of Enslaved and Fields Of The Nephilim.

Claudio Simonetti's Goblin live score Dawn Of The Dead and Suspiria

"But muuuuuum, it's, like, not even the real Goblin…. Whaaaa!" When Goblin arrived in London last year to perform these very same soundtracks a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) was about ready to hand over half his redundancy package and brush off his girlfriend in order to secure a ticket to either show, so if you can't accept the current incarnation of Goblin then there is something seriously wrong with you. Masters of their craft, there may as well be a sub-genre of film score simply called 'Goblin', and while the seminal soundtrack for Dawn Of The Dead, the very zenith of undead cinematic masterpieces, is as unsettling as it is brilliant, it's the Italian group's collaborations with the legendary horror director Dario Argento that have seen them produce their most complete and uninhibited material. If you're sticking around for Sunday's afterburner, the Susperia performance is beyond essential.

Botanist

Full disclosure: I'm mildly obsessed by Botanist. Having started out as a one-man project, with leader Roberto Martinelli (or 'Otrebor' as he's know when in his Botanist guise) using only drums and a hammered dulcimer to craft what could best – yet only loosely – be described as jarring, primitive black metal, based around the concept of humanity's ultimate destruction by plants, Botanist have since grown into an even more astounding entity. Expanding his scope and instrumentation, bringing in elements of drone and shoegaze via the employment of a harmonium (obviously!) and even guitars, last year's VI: Flora proved to be perhaps their most challenging and most rewarding to date. With a full band assembled for the most complete and immersive performance possible, Botanist are unique even for Roadburn. And if you see someone down the front who looks like a less healthy Riff Raff smashing a bunch of lilies into his face it's probably me, so come say hi... Or maybe not.

Oozing Wound

Weed. Riffs. Weed. Beer. Thrash. High On Fire. Metallica (pre-…Justice). Weed. Suicidal Tendencies. Beer. Spaceships. Aliens. Predator 2. Riffs…. Oozing. Fucking. Wound. Proof positive that having a sense of humour is no barrier to writing shit-kicking, neck-snapping, bong-blasting riffs, in a relatively short space of time the Chicago trio have gone from unknowns to one of the most hotly anticipated performances at this year's festival – in no small part due to the fact that this also represents their first European jaunt… Welcome to the spaceship, motherfuckers.

Terminal Cheesecake

"Blatant drug reference…" (I once lost my mind at a Terminal Cheesecake show, and woke up in possession of an acid green T-shirt of theirs, about three sizes too big, which I can never wear. What more convincing do you need?!)

Harry Sword's pick of the bands

Roadburn Festival descends on the peaceful Netherlands city of Tilburg once again this week and - like some stone deity stamping its cloven hoof and emitting great peals of feedback and bowel-shaking sub frequencies in place of words while quaffing a vast flagon of cold kriek - four days of heady, eclectic and suitably monolithic vibes will ensue. For this, the 17th edition, the crew present a gloriously varied line-up that sees a veritable dreadnought of 'eavy music represented.

From the classically-minded doom and stoner rock for which the esteemed Dutch festival is perhaps best known to a bewitching selection of, well, absolutely all manner else, whether you like it meditative, greasy, heavy, smokey or just plain insane, Roadburn have your - very possibly Saint Vitus or Pentagram be-patched - back.

So, without further ado, please allow me to set out my personal Roadburn highlights (you can decide yours here). As ever, there will also be panel discussions, art exhibitions, film and documentary screenings aplenty. It all amounts to an aural and visual feast of near peerless proportions. Crivvens and lorks!

Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell

If you'll forgive us going all Planet Rock, take a second to imagine your dream line-up for a band. Mine is 'Fast' Eddie Clarke on guitar, Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister on bass and vocals and Phil 'Philthy Animal' Taylor on drums. Come on, can you even imagine that line-up?! What's that? It's the actual Motörhead line-up from 1976-1982? Oh yeah, so it is. OK, I'll take Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell then. Because - make no mistake - they play some of the greasiest and most 'proper' rock & roll since, well, the classic Motörhead line-up. And by proper rock & roll I do not mean some ghastly, NME-sanctioned 'stripped down' shitfest. I mean a band that sound like they listen exclusively to Budgie, early Quo, Groundhogs, Stonewall and Sir Lord Baltimore and live on just beer. Their two albums for Rise Above - Don't Hear It… Fear It! and last year's Check 'em Before You Wreck 'em - are both total joys played by men who should know better but refuse to yield. So good they're playing twice!

Acid Witch

Acid Witch come from Detroit and write heavy metal songs that are - almost exclusively - concerned with VHS horror movies and hedonistic pursuits. They fill albums with it; they repeat it; they do it all again; they absolutely love it, damn it, and so should you, because Acid Witch are glorious. Signed to the consistently excellent Hells Headbangers imprint - home to Midnight - they conjure up a filthy racket as indebted to the rawest outposts of the NWOBHM as to slower sludge. Turn off your useless brain and bang your absurd head!

Bongripper

Hailing from the wintery urban climbs of darkest Illinois and making some of the most fearsome and doom-laden instrumental only grinding gear around, Bongripper are a seriously impressive foursome. Last year's masterful Miserable LP was a fantastically powerful and nuanced set that was the aural equivalent of taking a fistful of Valium and wading through a vast pit full o' sweet, hominy grits. They're going to be playing the record in its entirety at Roadburn this year - lucky us, I say.

Death Penalty

If there is a man who knows riffs it is the mighty Gaz Jennings. Like Tony Iommi, he, kind of, is riffs, such is his vast and admirable command of his chosen weapon - the axe. He also looks like he could play an executioner in Game Of Thrones which - for a metal guitarist in a band called Death Penalty - is a huge bonus. He was in Cathedral for the best part of a quarter century and thus presided over some of the most fearsome, groovy and downright heavy metal to have ever come from the cold shores of Britain. However, don't expect pure doom here because - although named after the first Witchfinder General LP - Death Penalty also anoint at the outer church of NWOBHM, and much of their material rollicks along at a right royal gallop. In Michelle Nocon they also have one of the most powerful singers in the scene, her soaring range tempered with a gloriously gritty 'seen it all' timbre. Truly awesome stuff.

EyeHateGod

Sludge legends from N'awlins, EyeHateGod are kind of built for Roadburn. The band tragically lost drummer and founding member Joey LaCaze recently, but have continued touring the superb self-tited LP released last year, a record that captured his last performances. A career high, it saw the band continue their sludge, hardcore and blues-infused gumbo pot of brutal swung grooves and throat-shredding nihilism, a mix for which they are justifiably loved the world over. True legends. Expect serious volume, rolling waves of feedback and a packed house.

Goblin

Some movies are intrinsically tied to their soundtrack, like Quasimodo to his bell tower. Take Dario Argento's Italo masterpiece Suspiria, for example. An extravagantly disturbed vision of truly operatic opulence, it was scored by Italo prog masters Goblin and - thus - taken to great heights of tension and magnificence. They bring two full soundtrack performances to Roadburn alongside screenings of the movies - both Suspiria and George A. Romero's Dawn Of The Dead. A rare opportunity to see two of the most inventive scores in horror history performed in their entirety. All together now… "Witch! Witch! Witch!"

Gnaw Their Tongues

What do you expect from a band called Gnaw Their Tongues? If the answer is unbridled venomous heaviosity - of the kind that makes tQ editor John Doran do cartwheels through meadows - then that is the correct answer. A fearsome proposition, Gnaw Their Tongues churn out blackened grind, symphonic atmospherics, slow motion drone and strangulated vroom…. in battle there is no law, b'gads, none at all!

Fields Of The Nephilim

Don the eyeliner, light a big black candle and dance around in so much dry ice that you can't see your own thumbs because Fields Of The Nephilim are playing Roadburn, bringing their beloved gothic rock of epic proportions to the 013. Invited by Enslaved - who are hosting their own 'Houses of the Holistic' day on the Saturday - Fields Of The Nephilim will present their uniquely grandiose widescreen histrionics and sumptuously be-hatted chops to bear on a dark, Dutch Saturday night.

The Heads

The Heads have the honour of being this year's 'artists in residence'. Over the course of 20-odd records the Bristolian fuzz mongers have put out walls of majestic riffery befitting of the headphones of a giant West Country farmer on the rampage over the Somerset Levels, driven by an insatiable thirst for cider and navigating only by light of a madly glowing harvest moon.

White Hills

Keep on truckin'… white line fever… the long blinks… don't stop here, it looks completely deserted, must be another stop soon, right? White Hills are a New York duo who make pulsing motorik psych. The autobahn of your mind is calling… but redemption is not forthcoming!

Toby Cook looks beyond the music

There's more to Roadburn than just the music. In particular the excellently-curated programme of side events that run in parallel to the music. Because at this point you're probably more concerned with rinsing all trace amounts of weed out of your grinder, and making sure there isn't a long forgotten, half-finished wrap of drugs lurking in the inner lining of your wallet, here's a brief guide to the best of the film screenings, exhibitions and panel discussions that you should be checking out…

Noisey @ Roadburn cinema

Spending (what will hopefully be) a glorious spring afternoon ensconced in a darkened room watching Phil Anselmo talk about how much he digs the Melvins might not sound like the best way to spend an afternoon. And yet, it also sounds like the best way to spend an afternoon ever! Premiering – in its full, uncut form – at Roadburn this year, the Noisey-produced documentary Nola recounts the history of the musical phenomenon of what has since become termed 'sludge metal'. It journeys to the genre's spiritual home, New Orleans, Louisiana, and talking to those who helped create sludge metal – the likes of EyeHateGod and Crowbar – and those who are continuing to fly the flag and push it forward – Down and Goatwhore in particular. Featuring interviews with the likes of Mike IX Williams and Jimmy Bower from EHG, as well as Phil Anselmo, Pepper Keenan and Goatwhore's Sammy Duet, the film is a surprisingly moving exploration of not just a music scene and its participants, but also some of the tragedies that helped create it.

Elsewhere on the Noisey cinema programme there's the painfully contrived, yet surprisingly revealing One Man Metal, which investigates the often disturbing world of 'bedroom black metal' by talking to Leviathan's Jef 'Wrest' Whitehead amongst others. And the short, yet touching Mr. Roadburn, which follows Roadburn's chief booker Walter Hoeijmakers around behind the scenes at last year's festival. Even if you're a Roadburn veteran this one is more than worth a look.

Costin Chioreanu and Arik Roper art exhibitions

One created the stunning and mildly cryptic artwork for the latest At The Gates album, At War With Reality, and the other produced the iconic cover for the most recent reissue of Sleep's seminal Dopesmoker. Art and music have always been inextricably linked, but in heavy music the connection often seems to be that much deeper and more profound. Arik Roper, who has created art for the likes of Sleep, High On Fire and Weedeater, has honed a visual style so unique that his images are not just synonymous with the stoner/doom scene, but they have almost become the definitive visual representation of it. There aren't many opportunities to view in such intimate detail the scope and variety of Roper's work, and journeying just round the corner from the main venue to Project Space Tilburg to feast your eyes on it is as essential as seeing any band.

As if that wasn't enough, Costin Chioreanu's soon-to-be iconic artwork for At The Gates' At War With Reality, will be on display around the 013 venue for the duration of the festival, whilst Roadburn will also be hosting the launch of his book, a collection of his other mixed-media works titled Magic As A Golden Mean.

Seminar: The Evolution Of Norwegian Black Metal

Few genres are as controversial and often misunderstood as black metal. Beyond the murders, the church burnings and negative media hype that so quickly spring to mind whenever the genre is mentioned, black metal is perhaps one of the most unique and continually evolving cultures in underground music. Journalist Harald Fossberg, whose recent book Nyanser av svart charts the rise of black metal from its isolated, scattered origins, into the constantly changing musical phenomenon it's become, leads the seminar which explores the various catalysts which sent a loose group of Norwegian teenagers down the path towards what we now term as black metal. Also giving their thoughts on the subject are Enslaved's Grutle Kjellson and Ivar Bjørnson. As Bjørnson puts it: "Norwegian black metal is like a marathon where everybody started in the same spot and then ran in different directions."

Industry panel: What Do Record Companies Really Look For In The Bands They Sign?

Such is the opportunity for sarcastic responses here I almost feel this should've been a caption competition in Viz or something. Contrary to widely held beliefs, however, most record companies are not Sony and most bands are not Unlocking The Truth. Discussing the question of what record companies really look for in the age of the internet, where bands arguably don't always need a record company in the way they once did, are representatives from noted independent metal labels Relapse, Century Media, Season Of Mist and Metal Blade, with Metal Hammer/Subterranea editor, and good friend of the Quietus, Jonathan Selzer chairing. If you're in a band that's not already signed to Sony this might just prove to be essential.

Record Collectors Anonymous

Is the first thing you do before visiting a town or city for the first time to look up exactly where the vinyl-stocked records stores are? Have you lived off cheese on toast for three weeks because, despite being unemployed, if you didn't buy that mint condition copy of Bitches Brew then and there you might never have had another chance? Have you had to hide records from your girl or boyfriend because apparently it's not acceptable to spend £30 on a Sleep album you already have on CD? Then this panel is for you my friend. Hosted by Iron Fist editor (and yet another friend of tQ's) Louise Brown, 'R.A.' is "a safe place where [you] can discuss the highs and lows of collecting records, from the decline of the record store, to eBay wars and storing and collecting your records."… See you there!

See you in Tilburg ya shitters. Hails!

Roadburn takes place between the April 9 and 13 at the 013 and other venues in Tilburg, Netherlands. A limited number of day tickets are still available via the festival's website

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