The Roadburn experience is unique to every person who attends, whether that’s in terms of bands seen, how that band made the person feel or how that attendee approached new acts and much-loved favorites — no two people will have the exact same encounters with the music or the Festival. That’s the magic of Roadburn and why it’s held in such high regard the world over. Just taking a moment to stand still and soak in the atmosphere will allow you to hear many different languages being spoken around you while people meet friends both old and new over a love for heavy music.

The main principle of Roadburn in 2022 is “Redefining Heaviness,” and that energy flows through the Festival area as crowds make their way to the first shows of Thursday, perhaps already having been in Tilburg for a day or more in order to get their bearings and attend the Wednesday pre-show party, “The Spark.” The music on offer ranges from the rawest black metal to the most experimental and obscure sounds the world has to showcase and Roadburn embraces that with its whole heart. The team behind the Festival spend months and almost their entire beings on booking bands that line up with the values that Roadburn promotes, commissioning special projects and looking for the right visual artists to bring their concepts to life.

Immersion in Roadburn is key, at least for this attendee, and so full sets were a priority for those bands I really wanted to catch, while others were a “nice to see if I can manage it” vibe. It is definitely not possible to see everything unless you want to spend five minutes with a band before moving on, never eating and never sitting down. It’s not recommended but it’s also your festival experience, so you do you? For this traveler, Thursday started early with a 4am wake-up call and a 6am flight to Amsterdam and it was already in mind that perhaps the official start time of 2pm with Big Brave was pushing it slightly in regards to the mental and physical capacity to fully engage with the Festival straightaway. You can check out the preview that was posted shortly before the Festival and have fun matching up the bands mentioned with what was actually witnessed, but I’d decided to go with the flow, as it were, and see how my brain felt in the moment. And after arriving in Tilburg at 11am, my brain needs a nap.

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Roadburn 2022-Vile Creature x Bismuth
Vile Creature and Bismuth. Photo credit: Cheryl Carter
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Thursday

For this reason, then, my first band of the weekend is a collaboration between Vile Creature and Bismuth with their commissioned piece, A Hymn of Loss and Hope on the Main Stage of the 013. Entering the space felt like coming home, in a way, the familiar sights and smells immediately brought back memories of vying for a good spot to see the band (as a short person this is vital) and to be comfortable in the crowd, the biggest many of us have seen since the Spring of 2020. The atmosphere is electric and a tangible feeling of anticipation fills the air as people begin to fill the floor and stare at the projected backdrop that proclaims “Roadburn 2022,” in simple but promising terms. As the lights dim and Vile Creature and Bismuth take to the stage, the expectant crowd welcome them as though heroes, the first to return to the hallowed halls of the 013 and the first band on the Main Stage for Roadburn 2022. It is a moment that sends chills down the spine as the reality sets in — we are here, watching live music, with people, in real life. It’s mind-boggling for a split second and as the two collaborators channel downtrodden doom and shiver-inducing screams, the haze begins to pass as thousands of people come to understand that this is really happening. It is wonderful to be in this moment and despite technically being alone in a physical sense, the knowledge that the people surrounding you are experiencing their own private moments brings us closer together. As A Hymn of Loss and Hope ends, there is a buzz in the air as the crowd exits the stage and seeks the next thrill.

De Koepelhal houses The Terminal and Engine Room stages, as well as being the main hub for merch and the Ladybird Skatepark (more to come on that). Areas for food and drinks and situated outside as well as the temporary Hall of Fame venue while construction is in progress on the old site. This new Hall of Fame is much bigger and honestly, should become a permanent fixture in the future or even a large cafe/restaurant type of place as while places to sit are plenty, sometimes there is little choice but to sit on the floor somewhere. Anyway, I digress, The Terminal is the next stop for this attendee and Year of No Light are already laying waste to the venue upon arrival. Their light show is mesmerizing as is their stunning take on instrumental post-rock. Their sound is crisp and deliciously heavy and the darkness of the venue allows for the audience to become fully absorbed in their performance.

After Year of No Light it is time to walk back to the Main Stage (this is a fairly quick walk if you’re lucky with the traffic but the renovations that are happening all around the city make the times slightly longer than usual) for Italian band Messa and their playthrough of newest album, Close. Captivating from the start, the band meld doom and Mediterranean influences to create a sound that inspires devotion, not least through vocalist Sara’s powerful voice and commanding presence. Messa’s set is one of the most talked about of the weekend and their not-so-secret set on Saturday - the band somehow accidentally let it slip in advance and it was a case of when it was happening rather than if it was happening - in the Skatepark was packed out due to this word of mouth.

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Roadburn 2022 - Messa
Messa. Photo Credit: Cheryl Carter
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After Messa, a short break is required before heading into the evening programme. Word on the street is that Thou have been spotted arriving and there is a definite feeling of “what the hell is going on?” buzzing around the Festival sites. Roadburn are known for adding surprise shows and secret sets from bands you didn’t even know were coming, so this news is already heightening the tension of the day. The TimeSquare app (the app the Festival recommends to use which has the full timetables of each day, plus alerts fifteen minutes before your picks start as well as having the most up-to-date information on when and where bands are playing) fast becomes a close friend as you constantly check for new additions, replacements for those acts who unfortunately couldn’t make it and the much touted secret shows Roadburn keep mentioning to us to keep an eye on. Still, nothing much will stop me from catching 40 Watt Sun as Perfect Light has been a favorite since release. Patrick Walker leads the band and it’s his voice which carries much of the emotion they are known for while the music takes on the role of supporting act in order to create a delicate and engrossing hour on stage. Looking around the main stage crowd it is clear that many here hold 40 Watt Sun close to their hearts as heads are bowed and eyes closed, the stories of Walker washing over them as if they were their own. It is a powerful moment that only breaks once “Stages” ends and those present can finally exhale their own personal pain.

As the crowd spills out in the main street, the news comes that Thou are indeed at Roadburn and they’ll be playing at Ladybird Skatepark at 9pm. The capacity of the skatepark is limited due to the amount of fire exits available and it is important to arrive early to begin queuing for this venue. The skatepark hosted some legendary sets in 2019—Thou played their infamous Misfits cover set there and the energy of the park is much different to the other venues of Roadburn. There’s something about the DIY aspect that gets the crowd in the right frame of mind and as Thou appear on the stage for one of the heaviest sets of the weekend, the audience rightly goes wild and the momentum barely stops for the entirety of their set.

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Roadburn 2022-Thou - Skatepark Thursday
Thou. Photo Credit: Cheryl Carter
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Over on the Main Stage, Sólstafir are playing their 2011 opus Svartir Sandar and during the last song of the set, the visuals change from artwork of the album to the moving pictures of the film Valhalla Rising. This holds significance as this was a fan-made video of their final song from the album, “Djákninn,” accompanying visuals from the movie—to close the set using this is a beautiful nod to the dedication of their fans and the band to them and it is a visceral and dramatic end to a performance that encapsulates exactly why the Icelandic band’s legacy is still as strong today as it was upon the release of the album over a decade ago.

The evening still holds promise in its final acts of the day yet getting into the Next Stage for The Bug looks to be a lesson in futility. Still, Russian Circles are a perfect way to end the first day of Roadburn Festival 2022 as their heavy post-metal fills the Main Stage to the rafters, the sound swelling with each sweep on the guitar and strike of the drum as the trio bring Thursday to its close. Afterwards, there’s a choice of bars to hit on the affectionately named Weirdo Canyon strip that forms the main landing zone for many Roadburners, with favorite bars taking precedence for some, while others look for a cool place to have their final beer of the night, and a few hit their beds to get some rest before Friday starts.

Friday

The most intriguing prospect of Friday is the collaboration between Perturbator’s James Kent and Cult of Luna’s Johannes Persson, a commissioned piece entitled Final Light and the first musical port of call for me today. Accompanied by two drummers with Kent on synths/keys and Persson on guitar/vocals, the industrial leaning post-metal (this barely seems like the right description but words are not always found so easily) the duo create is some of the most insane of the weekend. Movement is mandatory and the atmosphere is lit up by the deep bellows of Persson who commands the audience from the outset. The high expectations of what Final Light would sound like are completely justified as the two musicians come together to mold their respective genres into an entirely new beast.

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Roadburn 2022-Wiegedood
Wiegedood. Photo Credit: Cheryl Carter
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Speaking of insanity, next is Wiegedood who showcase their most recent album, There’s Always Blood At The End Of The Road and pummel the audience with deadly blast beats and dour spoken word sections. This contrast plus the stark lighting choices give Wiegedood a dangerous edge as their music begins to take new forms in the spaces between songs. Time for introspection is in short supply both at Roadburn and in life, and the Belgian’s approach to this performance gives those moments to the audience in the vast hall of the Main Stage before once again launching full throttle into punishing, existential black metal.

Before the commissioned work of This Shame Should Not Be Mine from GGGOLDDD, there is the announcement that Lamp of Murmuur are playing a surprise secret show at the Little Devil bar. This is a tiny venue and a chance to catch the band before their Terminal set on Sunday and the lure is much too great (sorry, GGGOLDDD). A dash to the bar that lies 10-15 minutes walk away ensues to make sure entry is gained for the show and a prime spot is taken at the front once the gathered crowd is allowed into the stage area. The atmosphere is charged with excitement as the mysterious M. and his chosen band enter into the tiny stage. Cloaked in robes and smoke, the band begin a whirlwind of a set that only slows down when they notice some technical difficulties in the shape of an air conditioner leaking onto the amp stack. The band are professional about it, however, and despite a small argument with an audience member who apparently is very annoyed about the interruption (should the whole band die from electrocution for you to hear the rest of the set?), M. keeps their cool and makes sure the audience is aware of what is happening at all times. It’s not long before Lamp of Murmuur are able to continue and anyone who is here has the sense that they are witnessing something very special indeed. It is joyous and exhilarating to be a part of this audience losing their minds in unison as the band launch into “Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism” to end the show. Sunday seems very far away for another chance to catch thia group of musicians live.

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Roadburn 2022-Lamp of Murmuur - Secret Show Friday
Lamp of Murmuur. Photo Credit: Cheryl Carter
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After Lamp of Murmuur finish, Alcest begin their performance of 2010s Écailles de Lune back at the 013’s Main Stage. The band are held dear to many and the audience fill the room from the front to the rafters of the balcony. Frontman Neige switches from gentle vocalizations to heightened screams - certainly one of the most recognizable voices in black metal - as the French band bookend the album with a handful of fan favorites to round out their stage time. The performance is magical both from a musical perspective and from the point of view that Neige is bringing to life a world he encountered as a child. The band emulates the majesty of the unknown in climbing guitar solos and serene passages while the fear of passing through into a new world is filtered through Neige's shrieks and Winterhalter's rich drums. As their set draws to a close the is a buzz in the air that is added to when the huge gap in the Main Stage’s timetable is revealed to be a collaboration between Thou and Mizmor.

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Roadburn 2022-Alcest
Photo Credit: Cheryl Carter
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At this point, a rest is needed and while the plan is initially to see HEALTH over at the Engine Room, the possibilities of what Thou and Mizmor can create together is far more intriguing and so the Main Stage becomes the focus for many on this beautiful Friday evening. It turns out that the performance will be songs from a collaborative album, Myopia, recorded in secret and released to the public on this same day. The Main Stage is taken on a journey of cinematic proportions as the songs reveal the darkest depths of Thou’s sludge and the dramatic twists of Mizmor’s blackened doom. To say it is cathartic is hardly doing the music justice but there is a collective sense of release as the final notes wash over the room, that there was something powerful at play here and to be present is to be cleansed.

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Roadburn 2022-Thou x Mizmor Friday
Photo credit: Cheryl Carter
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Several deep breaths are required after the songs of Myopia and the choices for what to see next are between Swiss band Sum Of R playing their newest album Lahbryce in full or the psychedelic delights of TAU & The Drones of Praise at the Next Stage. Sum Of R wins out in this instance and the performance is captivating to say the least. Expanding the line-up is Marko Neuman on vocals (Dark Buddha Rising) and Jukka Rämänen on drums (also of Dark Buddha Rising) to complement the curious sounds of the band. Neuman is electrifying to watch as he possesses a terrifying energy that pulses out across the gathered audience and draws them into his circle. Lahbryce is hypnotic on this scale and it is the perfect close to Friday. The choice now stands at partying or bedtime and for this festival goer, it turns into a need to lie down as Saturday looms on the horizon.

We'll continue our post-fest rundown of Roadburn 2022 later this week. Stay tuned!

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