...

Photos by Eus Straver

...

Founded by Artistic Director Walter Hoeijmakers in 1998, first held in 1999 and now regularly held in the small Dutch town of Tilburg, Roadburn Festival has emerged as one of the world’s most exciting places for heavy music. Each edition of the DIY-minded fest features a carefully-crafted lineup of rising talent and legacy artists; between its musical diversity, relatively small size (tickets are limited to 3,000), and the fact that performances take place on great-sounding indoor tages, it’s pretty much heaven on Earth for an often festival-averse record nerd like myself and the many others who find ways to return despite the distance and travel costs. My mantra for Roadburn 2015—and really ever since I first stepped foot into RB HQ at 013 Poppodium three years ago—was, “Every diehard music fan deserves a chance to see their favorite bands in an environment like Roadburn.”

For all its eclectic predilections, over the years Roadburn has become an international tastemaking event. On the American side of the Atlantic, its impact can be seen in the birth of similar niche festivals, including this spring’s inaugural Psycho California. The US Customs official who grilled me upon my arrival home last week mostly wanted to know whether or not High on Fire was on the bill this year. Proof or coincidence? You decide.

...

Wovenhand

...

For its 20th anniversary, which took place April 9-12, 2015, Roadburn presented headlining sets from Wovenhand, The Fields of the Nephilim, Enslaved and Wardruna, the latter two bands also coming together for a rare performance of Skuggsjá, the Sound of Norway’s Norse History, a piece commissioned for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution that ties together elements of the country’s musical past and present. In addition, Wardruna’s Einar Selvik and Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson were invited as guest curators for Friday’s music selection, resulting in a bill they titled, “Houses of the Holistic.” Though Roadburn officially spans Thursday through Saturday, its actual conclusion is a day-long Sunday showcase appropriately dubbed the “Afterburner.” This year, Anathema treated fest-worn but ready fans to a career-spanning set that featured founding vocalist Darren White and its former bass player Duncan Patterson.

...

Wardruna

...

At Roadburn the celebration of music is hardly limited to the concert stage, and this year’s “Side Programme,” of non-concert happenings was arguably its biggest to date. Along with industry panels, film screenings, and metal discos (yup, that’s a thing!), this year’s offerings included art from Norwegian live sketch artist Kim Holm, mixed-media artist Costin Chioreanus, a gallery exhibition featuring the work of Arik Roper, and musicians’ workshops with Bjørnson and Selvik, the later ending with a breathtaking acoustic rendition of Wardruna’s “Helvegen.”

Although the festival showcased an array of music including folk, krautrock, progressive, experimental, and a cross-section of psychedelic sounds, for our purposes here at Invisible Oranges, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best metal (and related) highlights from Roadburn 2015:

Bell Witch:
Het Patronaat is the church-turned-music-venue located just across the road from 013. Its high ceilings, hardwood floors and stained-glass windows add a certain reverence to even the grimiest of sounds (more on that later). Arguably no band captured its ceremonial feel quite like Bell Witch, the Seattle-based doom duo who helped kick off the festival with such massive textures that even the first notes could be felt reverberating up the venue’s long, spiral staircase. Comprised of bassist and vocalist Dylan Desmond and drummer Adrian Guerra, Bell Witch delivered a mix of material from their 2012 album, Longing, and their latest LP, Four Phantoms, enchanting what might otherwise have been a restless opening-day crowd with their gorgeous, somber and spacious sounds.

Big Naturals:
Featuring Gareth Turner and Jesse Webb of Bristol’s heavy psych innovators Anthroprophh (an offshoot of Roadburn’s 2015 artist-in-residence, The Heads), Big Naturals brought a DIY basement show flavor to the club setting of Cul de Sac on Friday afternoon with a blistering two-man attack of metallic sludge, heavy noise rock and spacey innovation. Backed by a wall of amps, the duo took to the venue’s floor where Webb expertly pulverized his drum kit while Turner switched off between guitar, bass, floor toms and cymbals, not to mention electronics and electric upright bass, like a musical mad scientist. For those who like a little weirdness, exploration and tightly-wound groove to their music, Big Naturals is definitely new-favorite-band material.

Bongripper:
One perk of visiting Roadburn from abroad is that sometimes you have a chance to catch your hometown bands play in surroundings unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed them in before (geographic coordinates aside). As a Chicago resident, for me this year meant a choice of heavy hitting sets from Minsk, Oozing Wound, Russian Circles, and Bongripper. The latter reportedly blew Roadburn away back in 2012 and had returned for two main stage performances, including a full rendition of their 2014 album, Miserable. Freed from the confines of the small- to mid-sized rooms they’re often found in, on Thursday night the instrumental band’s already-cavernous sound took on staggering dimensions, with even the subtlest nuances of their music coming through loud and clear. Beyond impressed with Round 1, I stopped by their Afterburner set, where somehow the sound seemed even more massive.

...

Eyehategod

...

Eyehategod:
Few shows sound more sacrilegious at face value than that of a band called Eyehategod playing a church, but in any case, the worshippers came out in full force to see the New Orleans sludge legends grind Het Patronaat into a frenzy on Friday night night. Though the five-piece hit the 013 main room the day before, the more-intimate surroundings proved to be a better fit for their brutal grooves.

...

Enslaved

...

Enslaved:
Despite the darkness that lies within their music, Bergen, Norway’s Enslaved always seems to be the life of the party, and happy to extend their good spirits to all who come to share in their performances. Perhaps those vibes come out even more strongly here at Roadburn, which vocalist/bassist Gruntle Kjellson dubbed “The best festival in the world” between songs during their Saturday main stage performance. Despite having performed two sets the night before (including the collaborative Skuggsjá with members of Wardruna), their energy was in full swing as they sailed through a riveting set featuring material from their 2012 album RIITIIR and the recently released In Times.

...

Fields of the Nephilim

...

The Fields of the Nephilim:
Roadburn always finds ways to highlight threads between music past and present, and the appearance of iconic British gothic rockers The Fields of the Nephilim was one of this year’s best examples (though from pre-festival announcements, their booking seemed to stem more from sheer love than of a desire to share a music history lesson). While for some, they may have appeared as outliers on the bill, you’d only have to look to other groups across the lineup including Sólstafir and Wovenhand (who both also share the band’s penchant for cowboy hats) to see how the music of Fields and their gothic brethren have long permeated the core of heavy music. The band worked their ghostly magic on the 013 main stage in stunning Friday and Saturday performances that became among the most talked-about of the week. In the context of Roadburn, their celestial, brooding, post-rock explorations, and sonic heft felt even heavier, and their higher-energy, danceable numbers, including “Moon Child” and “For Her Light” alluringly contrasted with frontman Carl McCoy’s unflappable, cool swagger.

Fistula
The night after their sludgy brethren decimated Het Patronaat, Akron, Ohio sludgelords Fistula treated a raging crowd to a particularly venomous performance that included classics such as “Smoke Acid, Shoot Pills” and incited the most virulent pit of the fest. Even after the lights went up, there were still 50 or so people gathered by the stage screaming for more.

Gnaw Their Tongues:
As a whole, this year’s Afterburner was decidedly more laid back than last year’s rollercoaster of a bill headlined by Triptykon, which made the aural savagery of the Netherlands’ Gnaw Their Tongues stand out that much more. Masterminded by multi-instrumentalist Mories (also of Cloak of Altering, Pyriphlegethon and Aderlating, among others), and accompanied live by guitarist Eric Neuser in the darkened Cul de Sac, Gnaw Their Tongues’ onslaught of harsh noise, blackened ambient, sludge, and industrial beats may have earned the distinction of being the only festival performance to cross the line into too uncomfortable and raw for much of the crowd (and that is really saying something around here!), but those who withstood, or lost themselves within, the blissful sonic torture were beyond ecstatic.

Introducing Belgium:
In conjunction with Belgian booking agency Ruffstuffmusic, Roadburn presented a day-long showcase at the Cul de Sac on Saturday to highlight Belgium's cutting-edge heavy music community. Ambient drone artist Ashtoreth (Peter Verwimp) began his performance by burning herbs onstage, filling the air with billows of fragrant smoke as he lured in listeners with layered vocal loops and Western-flecked minimalist guitar until dozens sat down on the club floor, mesmerized like school children at storytime. Next up was Your Highness, who hail from Antwerp but pack a blues-soaked metallic riffery that sounds more like it emerged out of the American South, though with an East Coast hardcore transplant on vocals.

Svartidauði:
With an underground buzz only heightened by its propulsive 2014 EP, The Synthesis of Whore and Beast, for many Iceland’s Svartidauði was one of the most-anticipated acts of Roadburn 2015. Even from the thunder of their brief soundcheck it was obvious that something special was underway. Clad in black masks, Svartidauði proceeded to dominate the tightly-packed Green Room with its raw and expansive vision of modern black metal that left most everyone wanting more.

Tombs:
Although I’ve seen Brooklyn’s Tombs several times before, I couldn’t pass up a chance to catch the experimental black metal band in the divine surroundings of Het Patronaat. My instincts (or self-indulgence?) quickly proved to be the spot on. With the recent addition of Fade Kainer on synth, the band seems to have entered the next realm of intensity, with an arena-worthy stage presence to match. I know bandleader Mike Hill is a fan of the wall of sound aesthetic, and in this case it was easy to imagine the entire city of Tilburg crumbling under the weight of Tombs’ music.

...

Virus

...

Virus:
Led by multi-instrumentalist Czral (Carl-Michael Eide, also of Aura Noir, among others), Norwegian avant-metal trio Virus opened the 013 main stage on Friday afternoon with a flawless set that got even the sleepiest attendees reeling over their intricate melodies and adventurous changes and variations. Despite the dexterous, technical nature of their music, they gave off a casual and friendly vibe, making their music all the more inviting. I’m still sorry I wasn’t able to catch the entire set, and if I’m ever given a chance you can bet I won’t make the same mistake twice.

Uzala:
Uzala’s Chad Remains and Darcy Nutt are familiar faces around the Roadburn Festival (and late night haunt The Little Devil) and at long last, the killer Boise, Idaho-based doom trio took their much-deserved place on the festival stage. Uzala slayed the Green Room on Thursday afternoon with their despairingly rich tones, heavy atmospheres and piercing guitar heroics, which were anchored by drummer Chuck Watkins’ commanding beat and topped with Nutt’s transfixing voice. For a band that plays such gloomy music, Uzala remained energetic, excited and contagious through the end of their set, which included an impressive new tune, “The Gallows.”

— Jamie Ludwig

...

This article has been edited to properly reflect the date of the first Roadburn.

...