It is undoubtedly a special festival, but there is often something extra special which ensures my intermittent attendance (fourth time since 2011). This year it was 30th anniversary celebrations of the seminal post-metal behemoths Neurosis, coming over from Oakland Ca. to deliver two nights of entirely differing retrospective sets. The prospect of that emotional devastation was enough but with the sure knowledge that the rest of the bill would fill up with gems to make it once more a worthwhile expedition skipping through the tulips crushed beneath the boots of nihilistic doom!
Getting on the road at 3am to head for the airport was unusually hard seeing as I am often up at that time but I couldn’t rely on booze while driving. Gathered my doom friends from Chester and met up with another first timer at the airport too, I am all about the leading astray. So with the first ale at 5.45am and then on to 10% by the time we had arrived in Tilburg we were revved up for the party. And such was the atmosphere with the early congregation of folks milling between this little clutch of venues in an urban setting. My first beer was swapped by local Marcel for a better one that he recommended (and it was), my Fistula shirt was photographed by David from Brooklyn who had printed them, and I caught up with Selin my Turkish friend last seen in Bristol. Such is the nature of the happy community drawn here from all over, with a collective capacity of 3-4k people you inevitably are going to make connections with the like-minded. I had a first little taste of the musical offering with The Poisoned Glass over in the converted church of Het Patronaat, two piece keyed into each other, just distorted bass and a raw vocalist manipulating some electronics, though they both played a floor tom simultaneously, novel. Then I went back to the train station to meet my German friends I was camping with, and discover all my stuff was irretrievable from the locker I had left it in! Well, irretrievable as I hadn’t actually locked it in and some honest folks had handed it in to reception, phew. I thanked them and pointed out I might not be the last clueless idiot they encountered this weekend. We then set up swiftly at the “urban” campsite, 15 minutes from the venue and with excellent facilities before diving back into the action as the bands were in full flow already. Still gutting we missed the early gems of Cult of Luna and Inverloch, but hey, we’re on the up not down.
full of hell
Next one caught was one I was looking forward to, Usnea from the States. In the Green Room second stage they ground us well with some blackened and harsh funeral doom, although towards the end there was a little of the psychedelic overlay I recalled from their album. On this same stage next a hairpin bend swerve of style with the mix of grind and experimental electronics, drone or white noise from Full of Hell, supremely intense. Potentially going to see the psychedelic black metal of Oranssi Pazuzu over at Patronaat revealed a recurring theme of the weekend, as with the main venues and the festival in general having increased capacity the unchanged smaller venues developed insane queues, with often hundreds still waiting for a one in one out chance to see someone even long after their set has started. I wasn’t going to waste my valuable time on the streets, so headed round to see the new Extase venue for the first time. Pretty straightforward room at the back of a pub/bar, pretty extraordinary to experience Arktau Eos. I knew nothing of them but was drawn into the unbelievable masked ritual of stripped down occasional corrosive guitar strum, rolling intensity from the floor sitting drummer, and an almighty wash of effected vocal drone, plus the occasional bone flute. With whatever they were burning in there which I’m sure was not available from any coffee shop, the whole thing was a heady experience probably the strangest I have ever seen, even by Roadburn’s eclectic and open/blown minded standards. Almost a relief to see a touch of some relatively conventional extremeitywith Converge playing their “Jane Doe” album on the main stage, but they still don’t really hit the spot for me as with previous listenings, lacking in the overall impact of their sound mix. Their popularity does give me a chance to get into Patronaat to see Mistyrming (name actually contains some rune that’s not on this keyboard!), the Icelandic black metallers who are artist in residence at this years event, giving them and associated acts several sets to inflict their harsh vision upon us. Even for a flooded genre something in the fire and ice of the far north is conjuring something special as the small country is arguably a leading and respected scene worldwide, and these youngsters deliver the most violently energetic and stimulating show I’ve seen for a while.
The focus on their all-out blistering attack is genuinely impressive. Main stage for today’s main event, Paradise Lost playing their “Gothic” Album in its entirety. Being old bastard I naturally preferred their more death debut but the their progression into this more anthemic and measured doom is rightly held in high regard as seminal. Vocalist Nick is good self-deprecating form and the songs do sound good, the whole experience is added to by amazing custom background projections, but I’m satisfied to leave after a handful to go and see Behold! The Monolith next door. New to me before being announced but something that really intrigues, with expertly paced epic doom blended with something approaching thrash tempo riffing. It certainly works for me! We are left to finish with Finn’s Abyssion who perhaps down to our long, long day on the go we were a bit confused about what they might sound like, but the atmospheric mix of almost folky black metal with drones is palatable enough and sustains us til it’s time to crash eventually. Though by the time I get back to the camp site I realise I’ve left my vinyl purchase at the venue and have to return and return, much to the complaint of my poor aching feet!
behold! the monolith