Day Four: The Afterburner
Fatigue is always inevitable at music festivals, but the exhaustion at Roadburn is particularly unique, in that the immersion in music and art is so complete, so intense for nearly 12 hours a day, that if you’re not careful the thousand yard stare will set in. For me, if I don’t take an hour in the busy night to sit down, eat, and recharge, I’m going to pay dearly later on. Still, try as I might, it’s always a huge challenge getting through the annual Sunday Afterburner, even though it’s paced a lot slower than the previous three days.
One thing I always do on Sunday is check out the art exhibit at the nearby Gust van Dijk gallery, and this year’s was of particular interest for me. A regular contributor to Roadburn’s poster art in the past, Romanian artist Costin Chioreanu has emerged as a startling and original talent, his work transcending metal clichés and incorporating elements of Escher and Cezanne. Unlike John Dyer Baizley, whose work is very iconic, there’s more of a narrative quality to Chioreanu art, often a fascinating balance of darkness and innocence. The gallery had a very impressive collection of his black ink work, including a couple illustrations that were used for posters this year. A neat little quirk was the display of cassette covers he designed as a kid, adorning his bootlegged albums by Darkthrone, Death, and Voivod with his own unique interpretations of the original album art. Even as a youngster you could see he had a real knack for the craft.
Over at the 013, the day started in sombre fashion with a special tribute to the late Selim Lemouchi, who died mere weeks before he and his band was slated to perform at Roadburn. Featuring eleven musicians onstage, including his sister (and collaborator in The Devil’s Blood) Farida, Selim Lemouchi’s Enemies performed the 2013 album Earth Air Spirit Water Fire in its entirety.
Personally, I hated the album when it came out, and I found it not the least bit troubling that the incredibly talented Lemouchi was moving from his marvelous heavy rock to such meandering progressive rock. With the very sloppy final Devil’s Blood album earlier that year and this equally sprawling record, it felt as though Lemouchi was coming unglued, and I said as much in my review. When you mercilessly trash a record like I did with that one, and the musician dies a few months later, you can’t help but feel you owe it to the musician to try to give the music another chance. To be honest, I felt bad, and actually bought the album instead of asking the label for another promo download. I owed it to the guy, someone I’d admired as a musician since 2007, to try to appreciate the music once more.
As I watched the band play onstage, my frustration with the album came back once more. I just couldn’t buy into the compositions completely. It was a transitional album, as Lemouchi was still trying to find himself as an artist. Yet something extraordinary happened late in the set as the band played “The Deep Dark Waters.” The song made its shift into mellow, atmospheric prog, some absolutely gorgeous solos were performed, and stunning slow motion film clips of Lemouchi being drenched in water appeared on the gigantic screen behind. While that happened the band hit a level of Pink Floyd grandeur that the album only hinted at. And that’s when it hit me, and it probably hit everyone else, how we all could sense the greatness that Lemouchi could have achieved if he’d stuck around a bit longer. His mercurial body of work feels so tragically incomplete, but he was a major talent, and this loving tribute was a beautiful way to send him off.
The mood needed a serious lift after that moving set, and rising death metal stars Bölzer were just the thing. Word of mouth surrounding the Swiss duo has been building steadily over the past year, and it was clear the band is catching on, as the biggest overflow crowd I’ve ever seen at Roadburn gathered around the entrance of the Green Room to catch a glimpse, to be enveloped by their swirling, atmospheric music. Thankfully there was PA in the lobby so those outside the room could hear the guys play their intense, oddly haunting music. Hoping for an easier way in, I went back upstairs and tried the back door of the Green Room balcony, and finally was able to wriggle in and experience the music a little more intimately. I’d already seen Bölzer before—like Candlemass, at Noctis—and this show proved to be just as impressive, although the band clearly was none too happy with their performance.
Meanwhile, back at the main stage was a set I was personally looking forward to, Candlemass leader Leif Edling’s new project Avatarium. Although Edling had to sit this show out—Anders Iwers from Tiamat filled in—it was still a very enjoyable show by a band that’s still finding its footing. Singer Jennie-Ann Smith gives Edling a very unique style to work with, and the band’s combination of doom, psychedelic, and folk worked well in a live setting, with Smith excelling on songs like “Moonhorse” and “Lady in the Lamp.”
Despite this lighter pace, the exhaustion set in very quickly, and if I was going to endure all of Triptykon’s hugely anticipated show, I’d have to recharge, so I hoofed it back to my hotel for a cheap feast of sandwiches, fruit, Dutch cheese, and beer purchased at a local supermarket earlier in the morning. That meant I wound up missing the first 45 minutes of YOB’s second performance at the fest, but since I saw them the other day, it was no big loss. So I made my way back onto the venue, which was thundering away thanks to the trio’s typically gigantic sound, and took my now-traditional spot underneath the PA (this time with earplugs!) and took in the power from up close.
This day was all about the build-up towards Triptykon, and judging by how briskly the new album Melana Chasmata was selling upstairs—made available a day early for Roadburn attendees—I wasn’t the only one who thought so. The theatre started filling up early, and I was able to secure the best vantage point in the building, the first terrace above the floor, which gives you an unfettered view, not to mention maximum sonic impact. And at nine PM sharp the lights dimmed and the strains of “Crucifixus” kicked in as the band made its way onstage. Immediately Thomas Fischer and company proceeded to pull the rug out from everybody, starting with 12-minute closing epic on the new album, “Black Snow,” then launching into the Eparistera Daimones track “Goetia.”
“This is our first concert for the new album,” announced Fischer, wryly adding,” and that’s why we’re going to play an old song.” The opening bars of “Circle of the Tyrants” were played, and the crowd went nuts, a modest mosh pit even starting during the classic song’s thrash section, a rarity for this festival. Fischer was in a strangely good mood too, cracking a smile when fans shouted “OOH!” in imitation of their hero. New songs “Altar of Deceit” and “Tree of Suffocating Souls” were debuted, Celtic Frost’s “Visions of Mortality” was carted out, Hellhammer’s “Messiah” was dedicated to the much-loved Walter Hoeijmakers, and the show concluded with a gargantuan rendition of “The Prolonging.” Aided by guitarist V. Santura, drummer Norman Lonhard, and the perpetually badass Vanja Slajh on bass, Fischer and Triptykon were spellbinding.
Although Fischer was scheduled to hold a post-show signing session, and although Heretic was playing down the street, with Morne to follow at the main stage, that was it for me. My Roadburn was done. There’d be no topping Triptykon, I’d already seen a lifetime’s worth of bands over the course of four long days, and my body and mind were both saying, “No more.”
Roadburn 2014 was an extraordinary festival in more ways than one. As always, it’s an absolute feast of underground music, experienced in a world-class venue amidst respectful concertgoers, held in a charming little city that clearly has a deep appreciation of the arts. But this year felt like a turning point, where bands like Magma, Promise and the Monster, Goblin, and Loop showed that Roadburn’s scope can easily widen well past the doom/sludge metal demographic and still go over extremely well. New doors were opened this year, and it now feels like the sky’s the limit.
Now to just figure out a way to get back there.