Day Two: Friday, April 11
If there ever was a perfect harbinger for this day, it was the sound of a gong being struck playfully by a stagehand outside the 013 as I was walking up to the venue in the early afternoon. Under the curation of Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, the progressive rock lineup of a lifetime had been assembled, with such staggering talents on the main stage that I would be camping out there from three in the afternoon to one in the morning. A day of prog for the ages.
Promise & the Monster kicked things off in understated fashion in the Green Room, Billie Lindahl’s haunting, pastoral sounds reminding me of Hanne Hukkelberg and many other unique female singer-songwriters from Scandinavia I love so much. Not your standard Roadburn fare, but a brave choice by Åkerfeldt, and her music did not go unappreciated.
At 3:30 it was time for the first of five enormous heavy hitters on the main stage. And how do you describe the indescribable? France’s legendary Magma played the most powerful, peculiar, beautiful progressive rock imaginable, the octet singing in tongues, vibraphone and piano punctuating the music alongside the incredible drumming of founder and bandleader Christian Vander. It was creepy, playful, mournful, joyous. And above all else, alien. Not of this world, but miraculously so. I sat there on a terrace halfway up, leaning on the wall, agog, mesmerized. The effect was so visceral I had to catch my breath when the show ended.
Comprised of acoustic guitar, electric bass, violin, flute, bongos, and male and female singing, there’s something ancient and pagan about Comus. It starts off pretty, prancing down the English garden path, but then starts turning over the stones, exposing a side that’s earthy and unsettling. All of Comus’s debut album was performed, but the most crucial inclusion on this day in particular was the standard “Drip Drip,” which contains the lyrics that inspired Åkerfeldt to name Opeth’s third album My Arms, Your Hearse. It was a spellbinding performance by a band that sounded a thousand years old without coming across as gimmicky and fake. Coming from these understated men on chairs (and the charming Bobbie Watson of course) this felt so much more sincere and real than folk metal, which reduces it all to a cartoon.
A half hour later the main stage was jam packed for the hugely anticipated set by Italian prog innovators Goblin. It started off in fascinating style, first with the taut, jazzy “Snip Snap” followed by searing hard rock of “Roller.” Of course, most people were dying to hear Goblin’s more horror-oriented fare, and gregarious leader Claudio Simonetti led the band through selections from Dawn of the Dead and Phenomena as clips from the films played on the huge screen behind. A band that truly deserves the adjective “cinematic”, Simonetti’s keyboard playing carried the pieces into murky, atmospheric directions. At the same time, though, Goblin could bring the groove, which they proved on “Tenebre,” a track that had the usual laid-back Roadburn crowd moving, and dare I say, dancing. And when the foursome launched into the opening bars of the timeless melody of “Suspiria,” it was clear the thrill of seeing it performed live wasn’t lost on most people.
After a welcome break in the action to recharge, it was back to the main stage to see Candlemass perform the much-loved 1988 album Ancient Dreams. It was all faithfully done, the band in fine form, the versatile Mats Leven once again proving to be an outstanding lead singer, but something about this set felt a little anticlimactic for me. Perhaps it was because it’d be hard to top that incredible show the band played at Noctis 666 last September, or maybe it was because it just couldn’t sustain the momentum set by Goblin’s sensational set. And it didn’t help that Obliteration were, well, obliterating the Green Room around the corner. Every time a Candlemass song ended, you’d hear an ungodly rumble in the background, with people starting to drift into the Green Room to see what the ruckus was about. Indeed, the Norwegian band’s devout take on old-timey Swedish death metal was ragged, energetic, and contagious, the room continuing to fill by the minute.
While it would have been cool to see Terra Tenebrosa do its avant-garde thing in the Patronaat—and indeed the cool crowd was there in full force—nothing would tear me away from the 013 on this incredible night, especially with Opeth bringing it all to a much-anticipated climax. In previewing Mikael Åkerfeldt’s curated day here, I speculated that Opeth’s headlining set would reflect all elements of the music he had brought in, and indeed that’s exactly what he and the band did in a 90-minute performance that covered all the bases of Opeth’s oeuvre. Although no tracks from the band’s new album (which includes a song called “Goblin,” interestingly enough) were aired, there was prog (“The Devil’s Orchard”), psychedelic (“Atonement”), and much to the satisfaction of most people there, plenty of old material, including “White Cluster,” “Deliverance,” and “Blackwater Park.” In this tremendous environment, with all factors coalescing beautifully (venue, performance, mix, audience) it was the best Opeth show I have ever seen, a perfect way to end a revelatory day.