Photo by JJ Koczan of The Obelisk
Roadburn is unequivocally the best music festival in the world if you like your tunes hard, heavy, slow, or strange. Heavy doses of doom, psych, and stoner vibes still course through its veins, but the past few years have seen Walter—Mr. Roadburn himself—and his comrades punch up the bill with new and unexpected takes on bastardized rock'n'roll; the lineup's gotten darker, heavier, and meaner, even as the people working on- and offstage seem to be in an endlessly-running competition to be the chillest of the chill. This year's edition was insane; Enslaved, Fields of the Nephilim, Goblin, Wovenhand, Anathema, Eyehategod, and Floor were some of the big names at Roadburn 2015, but as usual, there was tons more to discover beyond the mainstage.
You don't come to Roadburn to rage, per se. Yeah, of course you're probably going to end up at the Little Devil at half past four in the morning, full of pilsner and singing your guts out to Iron Maiden, but that's not the point. You come to Roadburn for the atmosphere—for the friends and fun and no-bullshit approach to rocking out that this small corner of the Netherlands serves up for four days each spring. That, and of course, the music.
I've been coming to Roadburn for years; the first time I came, I only knew three people and was really only interested in a few bands. This year, I can barely move an inch between the 013 and Het Patronaat without bumping into six old friends I need to hug immediately, and there were so many killer bands playing that I metamorphosed into a human ping-pong ball shortly after I wandered in. Before I head over for the Afterburner, Roadburn's traditionally low-key Sunday wrap-up gig, here are a few of the performances that really stuck with me.
Thou is consistently one of the best live bands in metal, and when removed from their preferred basement or intimate club settings, they shine even brighter. Graced with the sterling sound system at Het Patronaat and given room to spread out, the (mostly) Lousiana-based outfit sounded positively massive, and it doesn't get much better than watching vocalist Bryan Funck menace a crowd of doom devotees beneath a soaring roof and stained glass windows.
Scott H. Biram
Roadburn's always got a ton of big names and legendary figures on offer, but my favorite part of its musical program is the way it scatters hidden gems throughout the lineup like Easter eggs. Scott H. Biram is my favorite new discovery this year; his bluesy riffs, gruff voice, and countrified Texas swagger were exactly what I needed to ready my bones for another four hours of doom.
Svartidaudi was THE band I wanted to see this year (which, given how many sick bands were playing, should say something!) and not only did they live up to my sky-high expectations, they stomped all over them on their way up. The Icelandic black metal scene is the world's best right now, and Svartidaudi are its kings. Fucking incredible.
There's a moment that comes at every big music event, when you find yourself on your own; your phone is dead, you lost your friends at the bar, and you're surrounded by strangers. For a split second, you think, "I want to go home." Your heart sinks, your buzz fades...then you spot Jake, and Steph, and a guy in a sweet Fistula shirt, and realize that you're already there. Profetus' gorgeous, shuddering funeral dirges were a beautifully apt soundtrack for that cold moment right before the fun kicked back in.
I saw Eyehategod play "Sister Fucker" in a church. Lord have mercy.
King Dude was a goddamn revelation. I've only recently gotten into TJ Cowgill's beautifully blasphemous apocalyptic folk, and am still thanking my lucky stars that I was able to witness his performance at Het Patronaat, the former church that Roadburn has repurposed as a temple to the riff. Armed with just a guitar, a piano, and a voice that could make the Devil himself weep, Cowgill played a string of fan favorites (I've still got chills from the newer cut "A Little Bit of Baby Gonna Make Me Wanna Live Again") and bantered with the audience like an old drinking buddy in between.
I was really excited for the chance to see this German atmospheric black metal outfit live, and left thoroughly pleased. In an unexpected moment of synchronicity, Sun Worship's lean, intense performance gave me the same feral vibe that Wolves in the Throne Room exuded when they played that same tiny stage years ago.
There's a pocket of Northwest England that is just frighteningly proficient at turning out slab after slab of disgustingly heavy doom that drips and oozes with barely-contained hatred. Coltsblood may be the best of the lot, and drove that point home to a sweat-drenched, packed-out crowd at the 013's Stage 01, slamming through wave after wave of dense, sludgy distortion. The noxious black/death metal aspects of their sound upped the chaos, and left us all utterly destroyed.
Kim Kelly can't wait for next year—until then, keep her company on Twitter: @grimkim