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Live Review: Roadburn 2016, Day 3

Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth in concert
Brothers of the Sonic Cloth / All photos by Tim Bugbee

In an effort to explore Roadburn’s side attractions I attended a showing of Jérôme Siegelaer’s Redesign, an experimental film made mostly from overlaid and looped footage. Since it was 11am and I was one of two people in the audience, I quickly found myself trapped in a game of intellectual chicken. The first of us to leave the theater would be revealed as a pleb, while the one who stayed would prove himself to have a deeper appreciation of cinema. I caved first, but sitting in that theater for as long as I did got me thinking about the nature of experimentation. Usually we view experimental art as a finished product, even if that product pushes or redefines our expectations. In the world of pop criticism we don’t think of experimental music as a process. But that’s what the word really means right? To experiment is to try things out, to develop new techniques and see what works and what doesn’t. By that logic Roadburn is filled with artists experimenting, either by collaborating with other musicians or playing their music in new forms. And if the musicians here in Tilburg are so willing to experiment and adjust their boundaries, why shouldn’t we do the same in the audience. With that in mind, I dove headfirst into the third day of the festival.

Dool

If you were teleported into the middle of the crowd at Cul De Sac this afternoon for Dool’s set, you’d be forgiven for assuming that you were at an oddly early local show rather than part of an international multi-day festival. You’d also be correct, in a sense. Dool are Dutch in origin, from Rotterdam, and the crowd was largely unfamiliar with their music, just as they would be for a show by your average bar rock group. Luckily Dool are by no means your average bar rock band and they went about winning the crowd over with no hesitation. Dool is pronounced “dull” but their music is anything but. The group hardly reinvent the doom metal wheel, but they have a clear identity regardless. You can hear hints of Royal Thunder’s hard rock melodicism, Pallbearer’s righteous guitar interplay, and even a pinch of Dave Mustaine’s spidery arpeggios a la “Call Of Ktulu.” These points of reference are all integrated cleanly into a single sound that’s immediately accessible but hardly cloying. Their set did lose a bit of steam halfway through when their singer switched to acoustic guitar, but when the band stick to their three part electric arrangements they have serious potential.

Skepticism in concert

Skepticism

Skepticism are a decent metal band, but they are an even better ambient group. Their optimal tempo is preposterously slow, almost to the point of complete stasis. The slower they get the less their music feels related to any semblance of rock and roll, and they more they feel like they are being beamed in straight from the surface of the moon. When they do get closer to normal human speeds, and when their guitarist switches from earth moving chords to a reedy thin lead tone, things get a bit dicey. I’m not going to blame Skepticism for this inconsistency however. Their set was chosen entirely by their fans, which is a nice gesture. If their fans are into them moving between settings that’s all well and good, but give me a perpetual keyboard driven drone while their singer brandishes a flower like some kind of doom metal Tuxedo Mask and I’d be perfectly content.

Galley Beggar in concert
Tim Bugbee

Galley Beggar

I only caught the last third of this charming folk rock band’s set, but I enjoyed what I saw. It got a bit too close to jam band territory at times, and the noodle arm dancing in the crowd didn’t help. But they were self-deprecating in an endearing way, and their musicianship was top notch. Galley Beggar’s presence at Roadburn does raise an interesting question. Is Roadburn a metal festival? There are obviously a lot of metal bands here, but there are plenty of acts outside of that umbrella too. There are space rock bands, punk bands, hardcore, folk, prog, and whatever the fuck Diamanda Galas does. All of this could be considered “metal-adjacent” but rarely do these genres rub shoulders with each other. What does Galley Beggar have to do with G.I.S.M.? What does New Keepers Of The Water Tower have to do with Converge? Where is Roadburn’s center of gravity, what keeps this all from feeling disconnected and disparate?

Tau Cross in concert
Tim Bugbee

Tau Cross

Sometimes you don’t want to answer big questions like that. Sometimes you just want to listen to rock music, loudly and in person. Despite disparaging the concept of a rock show twice in these recaps, it’s important to remember that we’re all here ostensibly because we enjoy guitars being played through amps over drums. Tau Cross reinforce the notion that good metal bands tend to be good rock bands by proxy. Singer Rob “The Baron” Miller, who you may know of from Amebix, sold the shit out of these songs, moving across the stage with the swagger of a classic rock frontman. When surrounded by all the stone faced seriousness of extreme metal its critical to have a band like Tau Cross that play music not just because it expresses something, but because doing so is fun.

Converge playing Blood Moon
Tim Bugbee

Converge (Performing Blood Moon)

I have more thoughts on this set, and its significance in relation Converge’s career coming later, so I’ll keep things short. What makes this set so fascinating, beyond the sheer star power involved, is that it presents new points of entry into their body of work. Blood Moon gives us a look at a host of alternate Converge’s. Converge the five piece with Steve Brodsky playing lead guitar. Converge the Cure covering post-punk band. Converge the alt country band that plays murder ballads with Chelsea Wolfe and Steve Von Till. Converge the industrial-tinged post metal band with Ben Chisholm handling a sampler and keyboards. In each scenario they felt entirely at home, and never sounded like anything other than Converge.

Amenra in concert
Tim Bugbee

Amenra

Heavy music, be it metal, hardcore or anything in between, often operates on an all or nothing basis. Extreme highs, extreme lows, extremely loud or achingly quiet. Amenra’s acoustic set falls in that fourth category. The band played in Roadburn’s largest sound system, but were so soft that the crunch of plastic cups under the audience’s feet was audible throughout the show. Not ideal. It’s hard to tell if this issue registered on stage, since Amenra performed while seated in a tight circle in the middle of stage, essentially shutting the crowd out of the performance. “We’re very nervous,” singer Colin van Eeckhout admitted near the end of the set, but their staging felt more like a creative choice than a matter of diffusing stage fright. But while this set up fit the somber mood of the band’s music, it did seem to leave the audience at a loss. Amenra performed well, but only earned big applause after finishing a pitch-perfect cover of Tool’s “Parabol.” Playing with the degree of restraint that Amenra showed today is much, much harder than it looks, and the band deserves credit for committing to the performance, regardless of the lukewarm reaction.

Neurosis in concert
Tim Bugbee

Neurosis

When Neurosis launched into the title track of “Pain Of Mind” they gave us a look into a parallel universe. Picture Neurosis, forgotten ’80s punk band that reunites on the 30th anniversary to play songs long past their expiration date. Considering how common this scenario is, we should be thankful that Neurosis never broke up and instead endured, and by enduring changed into something else entirely. The two hours worth of material that Neurosis played to close off Day Three showed each step of the band’s evolution, pulling songs from their entire discography. Well, the near entirety, Jarboe was not in attendance but after hearing them jump into their earliest punk material, which hasn’t been played live in literally decades, it didn’t feel out of the realm of possibility.

Hearing Neurosis revisit their earliest recordings had an air of novelty to it. The drastic amount of growth between their first two albums and Souls At Zero makes it difficult to take their simplistic punk days seriously. But once the novelty wore off, Neurosis moved on to doing what they do best: demolishing everything in sight. Their performance felt like a series of escalating “BOY HE BOUT TO DO IT” moments, starting with Scott Kelly, who appears to be roughly the same height as an adult grizzly bear, emerging from the shadows of the stage and ending with the church bells of “Stones From The Sky” echoing over the crowd. And each time, they fucking did it. The sheer depth of their catalog is astounding. “Lost” from Enemy Of The Sun was just as devastating as Eye Of Every Storm’s “Left To Wander,” despite the two being released a decade apart. As incredible as Neurosis’s career trajectory has been, the quality and emotional tenor of their work has remained consistent enough that songs from Honor Found In Decay can rub shoulders with Times Of Grace without sacrificing the setlist’s integrity.

Somewhere in the raging maelstrom of “Through Silver In Blood” something clicked for me. Neurosis are completely singular in extreme music. They stand at the intersection of metal, hardcore, folk music, ambient, and psychedelia yet sound like they are crossing genre lines so much as blending them. This is Roadburn’s elusive center of gravity. Listen closely to Neurosis and you can hear Dark Buddha Rising’s transcendence through repetition, Mispyrming’s raw misanthropy, Tau Cross’s mysticism, Converge’s gnarled empowerment, Cult Of Luna’s mechanized churn, and The Body’s fearlessness.

“We have a mean streak,” Scott Kelly said during a Q&A earlier in the day, “We’re very competitive people.” He neglected to mention who their competition was, probably because no one comes close.

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