Iceland and Finland are dominating Roadburn 2016—either there's some kind of demonic Eurovision-style conspiracy at play, or the Scandinavians have really gotten tired of being pegged as stoic traditionalists. Out of the many, many killer bands and artists performing at this year's incarnation, the two most compelling forces present are the Icelandic black metal contingent (helmed by Artists in Residence Misthyrming) and a loose collective of Finnish dark psychedelia acts, including Hexvessel and Oranssi Pazuzu (who blew my mind to smithereens yesterday).
And, as we saw last night beneath the rafters of Het Patronaat, pairing up the two camps directly makes for a truly out of this world experience; the one-two punch of Dark Buddha Rising and the Úlfsmessa left us all reeling, to say nothing of the day's earlier offerings.
Dark Buddha Rising pushed the idea of what psychedelic music is and can be into a totally different realm last night. Hypnotic drones wove in and out, trading off with an insane low end heavy enough that I could feel my bones vibrating as I stood next to the stage, drinking in the flashing lights and rattling skulls. Their set was far more violent than their name may suggest, thanks to new-ish vocalist M. Neuman's habit of hurling his wiry frame across the stage and doubling over in seeming agony, with teeth bared and face hidden beneath a tabgle of hair. He clawed at the air, wrestling with the invisible waves of noise like a possessed conductor all the while holding sustained howls from beyond. He was electrifying to watch, and provided an ideal focal point as the rest of the band, heads bowed, cycled through an hour of trance-inducing ritual psychosis.
The Úlfsmessa, on the other hand, was anything but trance-inducing; rather, the ninety-minute collaborative performance kept the completely packed audience alert with dread and unease. A ritual—because really, that's the only word that fits—of this magnitude has never been seen at Roadburn before, with its ten members, four guitars, two basses, Hammond and Roland organs, trumpets, horns, cello, incense, bones, water, wine... the end result was magificent. The hooded members merged in and out of different guises and genres, from raw post-punk and creepy ambient to raging black metal. Grafir, Misþyrming, Naðra, and NYIÞ all appeared in distinct sections, though the entire collective came together for some aspects as well, including the nerve-wracking finale, during which I don't think a single person in that crowd of hundreds moved a muscle and I'm pretty sure some foul spirits may have been summoned. Out of my seven years attending this festival (and after seeing the Úlfsmessa performed twice in Iceland) I can honestly say that there's no way to top this. Til hamingju!
Friday's other major highlight came from further afield—cult hardcore punk legends G.I.S.M. headed straight from the Land of the Rising Sun and straight down our throats with a furious set fresh out of the early Eighties. For a band that's lain dormant for 14 years and existed for 35 (not to mention one that was playing its first show outside Japan on Roadburn's intimidatingly huge main stage), the trio's performance was utterly on point—it sounded as though 1985 had never come and gone.
I've never, ever seen a Roadburn pit as violent or manic as the one they kicked up (the closest comparison I can think of is when Doom played Het Patronaat in 2012, and the crowd was awash with stagedivers, including YOB's Mike Scheidt). It was a nice reminder of how broad Roadburn's scope really is, and how wide the definition of "heavy music" can stretch. Also, it was FUCKING G.I.S.M. Even without beloved guitarist Randy Uchida—who passed away from cancer in 2001shortly after the ban released its final album—G.I.S.M. cut an impressive figure onstage, and sent the assembled congregation of into a frenzy. The myriad punks and oogles that had been killing time outside all day crowded into the 013's cavernous main venue, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with more typical Roadburn achetypes in denim and black leather, and collectively went fucking wild.
Night Viper was another favorite, and another band you've have never expected to find playing Roadburn five years ago—and as I predicted in the writeup for our stream of "The Hammer," they slay live. As I walked up to the venue, Extase, I could hear vocalist Sofie-Lee Johansson's piercing wail reverberating with perfect clarity through a solid steel door; it was so packed and hot inside that I considered heading back out and chilling by said door, but then I would've missed the chance to properly take in the band's synchronized hair swinging and 80s speed metal aesthetic. Inside, the air hung heavy with sweat as the Swedish foursome powered through fist-pumping, thrash-happy NWOBHM anthems. Roadburners more accustomed to slow motion headbanging seemed delighted by their high energy antics, and Johansson belted out her lines with theatrical aplomb; the woman can SING, a fact which she underlined neatly on a slower, soulful mid-set ballad. She can also cackle with the best of them, which is an extremely important for any heavy metal singer worth their leather.
Night Viper's set was so good that I left wanting more, and immediately bought one of their bright yellow shirts. Roadburn will always be about doom, but as a fan (and as a writer) it's really refreshing to be able to mix it up with bands like this one, and G.I.S.M, and NYIÞ, whose dark ritual soundscapes suffocated Extase wth thick waves of distortion, trembling sustain, and all-around horror. It was too packed during their set to get any decent photos, but left enough of a mark on the attendees that, well, you just had to be there.
Check out the rest of photographer Maija Lahtinen's shots below (including some especially crazy snaps of one of her favorites, Arktau Eos‘) below, and keep your eyes peeled for Round 3 tomorrow!
Hexvessel & Arktau Eos‘
DARK BUDDHA RISING
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey; follow her festival adventures on Twitter.