Ah Roadburn, my old friend. I might have only been to your party twice previously but now I’m here for your 20th, made to feel welcome and to have my excitement fulfilled under tsunami waves of all manner of reverberating amped-up heavy vibes from all over the world. The last couple of years I had perceived the line-up getting a bit too psychedelic/proggy for my tastes (what, like I’m straight edge or something…) but this year, with no Hellfest on the cards and a wanderlust still to be satisfied, it seemed some of the cream of the underground extremities had been cherry picked to appeal to me here, and I am not known for my resistance to temptation!
Only an hours flight from Liverpool to Schiphol but when that hour is at 6.30 am it meant our heads were already a bit west due to even earlier starts, but getting across Holland is relaxed and efficient. Arrival in Tilburg and for a change we didn’t have to worry about camping as we’d “arranged” a flat-share in town, 10 minutes from the venue. This then took a bit more arranging than we’d anticipated but then there’s still plenty of time to enjoy the sun with an outside beer at the bars in the area of the venues before the day starts proper at 3pm. Providing the first toll for the congregation to assemble is Bell Witch from the USA, a two piece bass and drum eruption of colossally distorted funeral doom that shakes the soul in this converted church annex that provides the Het Patronaat venue. Next up here is one of my anticipated highlights with Subrosa (above), from Salt Lake City, and even though it’s only afternoon still we are captivated and transported to somewhere darker and yet enlightening. They almost brought me to tears of joy at Hellfest last year and similarly here it’s an experience of devastating beauty. Epic drawn out doom interplayed with gentler, folkier harmonies, but made heart-achingly good through the soaring, weaving twin violins and Rebecca’s spine-tingling vocals. A band I would go and see every time they are over. Swiftly over to the 013 main stage venue for the first chance to see Floor too, also from the States and back with a renewed power since reforming after their brief late ‘90’s existence. Great stoner riff-fests from the three-piece, with the vocals so strong and all seemingly having great fun, but I think the sound mix here didn’t quite match the Kurt Ballou produced noise of their recent Oblation album. I’d gone to see Denver’s Primitive Man (below) in Liverpool during the week on their way here, in the hope of freeing up some time here in the hectic schedule and clashes. Trouble was they were so good at their brand of ultra-filthy, monstrous sludge that I found myself back here again for more. The pleasingly uncomfortable intimacy of the former was preferable, but here was still an evil sonic treat in the packed Green Room second stage.
I made an effort to get up to see Eagle Twin in the smallest of the stages in this hall, Stage 01, but it was soon too rammed and unless you are close to the front you won’t see much at all. Having seen and enjoyed their dark, country-fied post-metal in the UK not long back I instead took somewhat of a breather back at the main hall. Here there was space enough on the stepped up auditorium to have a good watch and listen to Russian Circles, from Chicago, who previously I may have somewhat ignorantly dismissed as being unremarkable in a flooded post-rock/instrumental metal field. Hence pleasant surprise in that they were a good deal heavier than I was expected and some of the riff workouts almost had a latter-day Godflesh feel. Another trip across to the church for Thou, who again I’d last seen from some distance at Hellfest. The set from the cult Louisiana noise worshippers is a lot more (relatively) uptempo in its sludge grooves than my recollections of the drone-ier previous one, but it’s all good and coloured by the raspy vocal death rattled over the top. Evening time now and I seem to have lost my compatriots in the haze so instead chill for a bit watching the dark Americana gospels of Wovenhand, but in my fragile head space this is all getting a bit blurred between them and Fields of the Solstafir. I elect to have easy going chill out times with locals and travellers alike, before heading back into the Het for Monolord (below) from Sweden. I’d been looking forward to seeing them after hearing some excellent reworked Sabbath cover but wasn’t prepared for what an absolute pleasure of doom heaviness they turned out to be. Genuinely thought they could righteously be called inheritors to the Sabbath crown, masters of the distorted tone reality, such an eclectic but ultimately solid mix of raw jamming doom from the three-piece, awash with psychedelia but with a punchily heavy core. Marvellous.
Had a bit of a wander through the main venue spaces next, initially to KEN Mode but I didn’t find the Canadian’s noise-core sound here as hardhitting and intense as it had been in the upstairs room of a pub in Leeds where I’d seen them before. I’d liked the sound of the different angle of noise-core from Seattle’s Helms Alee, with more pounded out rhythms and strong female vocals in the mix, but unfortunately all I could do was hear as opposed to see at Stage 01 so it was back to the main hall again. Here was the chance to offer my apologies to New Orleans’ Eyehategod (above) after passing out through most of their set at Obscene Extreme last year, and although I was well on the way again, their tight and explosive set of punked up sludge definitely kept me going and reminded me what an effective and special band they have evolved into being, over their long and traumatic history. Things picked up speed all the more next for more NOLA action with Goatwhore (below), in the Green Room. I’d been a bit down on their last album which seemed a bit clean cut metally in my opinion, so I was left reeling by the intense fury of blackened thrash that punched some sense into me and dropped my jaw to the ground. A proper relentless whirlwind of riffs driven along by spectacularly intense drums, another unexpected highlight of the day. Left with Bongripper from Chicago playing their new album “Miserable” in the main room, and it was far from that title that I was feeling as the grinding heaviness of their instrumental doom rocked me into the early hours. Has here, today been the 51st state of the USA? I know what state I was in as I breezed home for the night…