A festival with such a uniquely immersive spirit that it tends to sell a vast amount of tickets before the acts have even been announced, Tilburg, Netherland’s Roadburn is where you go to chill in nearby cafés, feel part of a dedicated, music-loving community, watch one-off, commissioned performances in awe, and perhaps most importantly, discover new bands that will stay with you forevermore.
Back after two years as an actual, real-life gathering, the opportunities to wander into a venue, have your senses massaged and world reconfigured are manifold once more. This year’s line-up is its broadest yet in terms of sonic style and the spectrum of human experience it encompasses. But if it looks daunting in terms of all the possibilities on offer, fear not, and put your faith into this handy guide of 10 unmissable, metal-adjacent bands and artists that will blow your mind and shake up your soul.
1. Jo Quail
If the return of Roadburn feels like long-delayed catharsis, that probably goes double for Jo Quail, the boundlessly creative cellist whose become an enriching presence in the metal scene, either working with or supporting artists such as Heilung, Amenra, At The Gates, Wardruna, Winterfylleth and Myrkur and My Dying Bride to name more than a few.
Commissioned to write a piece for a one-off performance, the resulting work, The Cartographer, will finally get its delayed airing this year, and while the details remain under wraps, her innovative use of loop stations, the elemental nature of her music and organic, ever-revelatory nature with which it unfolds will no doubt be taken up to an even higher level.
2. The Devil's Trade
Much like Roadburn itself, encountering The Devil’s Trade, aka Dávid Makó, feels like crossing over a threshold where time works differently, senses become heightened (especially if you’ve been to one of Tilburg’s special cafés) and nothing beyond exists.
Makó might look like Tom Hardy’s portrayal of infamous hardman Charles Bronson, but there’s a reverent, ravaged humility to his voice, reminiscent of 40 Watt Sun’s Patrick Walker (also playing this year), that gives rise to something vast, and a sense you’re entering hallowed territory where ancient cycles are observed, nocturnal spirits are communed with and layers of the heart are painstakingly peeled away.
Arguably one of 2020s most extreme, bewildering, and ultimately enrapturing releases, Nairobi, Kenya duo Duma’s self-titled debut album was a densely textured electro-grindcore assault. Not only intent on short-circuiting all rational thought, it also came across like a nosebleed-inducing sensurround, priming you for communion with primordial yet still ravenous entities and states of visceral, cyclone-spun delirium.
While many post-Whitehouse power electronics bands are usually engaged in puerile attempts to shock, Duma’s undeniable sense of purpose sounds driven by something buried far deeper in the psyche, and their live performance is guaranteed to rattle you into another plane of existence.
Finally answering that age-old question, what would industrial, gadget-tinkering innovators Einstürzende Neubauten have sounded like had they emerged from Indonesia with centuries of shamanic ritual to call upon, Senyawa look set to produce one of Roadburn’s wildest, freeform, yet clearly-directed-by-capricious-deities sets.
Needling pulses, trashcan clutter, possessed, hollered chants and war cries are just part of the arsenal at this duo’s disposal, giving the impression of something hastily assembled and yet ageless, as if naked wild spirits had found themselves in a junkyard and equipped themselves with whatever was available.
5. Helms Alee
Although you could cite Mastodon as a distant musical relative, in terms of mammoth riffs and an ability to turn albums into vastly scenic journeys (there are gaze-beyond-the-horizon shades of Subrosa too), Helms Alee’s wildly exploratory, sprawling nature has evaded the critical spotlight, but it makes them perfect for Roadburn too.
Just like their five previous albums, this year’s Keep This Be The Way sounds like being dropped into a world where you don’t fully know the landscape but where every moment feels either like a discovery or a fist-raising, body-lurching point of rock-out orientation, before you get sent off on another intrepid tangent. The Seattle-ites are rarely less than accessible, but good luck finding the exit doors afterwards.
6. Wyatt E
Having previously hosted the likes of Master Musicians Of Bukakke and China’s sublime black metallers Zuriaake, where would Roadburn be without a shadowy band with their faces covered in gauze? Despite being ostensibly named after legendary Old West lawman Wyatt Earp, these Belgians are the latest inductees to turn their veiled gaze to the East in search of mystic vibes and stoned punters swaying for a possible number of reasons.
In Wyatt E’s case, however, their music might be the one thing keeping those punters upright, as their lengthy tracks unfold like a snake charmer’s lament. Nomadic grooves, wafting and wailing sax and undulating mirage-drones gradually build up to suggest a somnambulant drift through a bazaar located in the depths Guillermo del Toro’s imagination. Perfect for the midnight, bleary-eyed haven slot.
7. The Bug
Kevin Martin was once the sax-torturing frontman of God, a multi-membered, two-drummer beast renowned for being so inordinately heavy that three quarters of the audience would traditionally seek refuge within the first 10 minutes of their sets.
Having formed Techno-Animal with Godlfesh’s Justin Broadrick, he went on to find unforeseen fame as The Bug, pursuing his obsession with seismic, inner ear-imploding bass into the realms of dancehall and grime, to universal critical acclaim. One the back of last year’s devastating, dystopian Fire album, he’s returning to Roadburn – after past sets with Moor Mother and Earth’s Dylan Carlson – with MCs Flowdan and Logan for a foundation-shaking experience that’s going to be ground zero for all lovers of absolute conviction-fuelled extremity.
8. Divide And Dissolve
Appearing in early 2021, with the world having just passed its first new year in lockdown, Divide And Dissolve’s largely instrumental second album, Gas Lit, hit a powerful resonance that was both orphaned lament and rumblings of an uprising to come.
It’s transitional states such as this that can be the most dynamic, and while Takiaya Reed and Sylvie Nehill were documenting a displaced, indigenous experience summoning power at the fringes, the duo’s ability to draw out something dormant and restless from the deepest strata of our collective psyche will make their Roadburn set one of those communal experiences we’ll share with each other by being struck wordless in its aftermath.
9. Big | Brave
Another band whose complex experiences of race have necessitated enthralling new forms to articulate them, Montreal’s Big | Brave walk a fine line between exultant and agitated. Robin Wattie’s kneaded, nasal-inflected vocals bear comparison to Emma Ruth Rundle - who invited them a part of her curatorship for 2020’s Covid-cancelled edition of Roadburn - but there’s a push and pull to her voice, and an incendiary edge, aligned with the stop-start-radiate dynamics of the grooves that pushes their nominally doom sound into realms more avant-garde than metal.
Despite the cancellation, Big | Brave’s set at 2018’s Roadburn redefined tension-release as an overwhelming clash of opposing forces, caught on an emotional precipice where either annihilation, transformation or both beckoned on the other side.
10. Lingua Ignota
As deeply personal and harrowing as the music of Lingua Ignota, aka Kristin Hayter, is, it belongs to a rarefied, sparsely populated realm (Diamanda Galás, Neurosis and possibly Swans being the only neighbours in visible distance) that feels supra-human, as though the energies she’s channelling have transformed her into something archetypal, transcendent yet terrifying – an emissary of judgement offering no refuge from her gaze.
Utilising industrial judder, classical instrumentation as though recorded from the ruins of an old world, and a crystal clear voice as imperious yet intimate as the angel of death drawing a finger across your cheek, while wielding lanterns to guide you through the labyrinths of purgatory, there’s a paralysis-inducing emotional weight to her live sets that’s seen rapt fans hyperventilating and a need to decompress in their wake. Having played before in 2019, and been asked to be artist in residence for 2020, Lingua Ignota and Roadburn feels like a symbiotic relationship - a step beyond everyday consciousness, and a beacon to navigate by, illuminating innumerable paths to explore.
Roadburn takes place at the 013 and neighbouring venues from April 21-24.
Visit the official Roadburn website for the full line-up