A festival where no one ever complains about headliners, and whose overall exploratory spirit becomes a calling for music-lovers across the world, Roadburn doesn’t feel like an annual highlight so much as an experience that occupies its own, incalculably uplifting plane. In the 013’s vast main auditorium, SUBROSA’s  string-led, apocalyptic doom – followed by a stripped down yet captivating ‘Subdued’ set the following day – beautifully bridges erratic, agonisingly heavy passages with melodic moments as they play through latest album, For This We Fought The Battle Of The Ages, to a reverent audience. If Roadburn is all about peace, unity and musical enrichment, no one told UNEARTHLY TRANCE . A band with more bile-per-riff than most, they perform in the adjacent Green Room like actual, swivel-eyed murderers revelling in a slow, gruesome descent into sonic hell. Pastoral perhaps, but a brewing storm, ESBEN AND THE WITCH  transfix the room as their spellbound incantations plot their way towards a cataclysmic moment of reckoning. Playing the first of four sets this year, Mancunian collective GNOD  serve up warped, abstract electronica and guitar-driven psycho-delic freakouts, but the Saturday’s tribute to Faust and Tony Conrad’s 1972 album, Outside The Dream Syndicate, is a masterclass in improvised delirium. As the undisputed instigators of occult rock, COVEN’s  first live appearance in their new incarnation feels like an essential thread has finally been woven into Roadburn’s wide-ranging tapestry. If the band themselves haven’t yet caught the swing and tempestuous sensuality of the original lineup, an ageless Jinx Dawson remains a fearsome channel. Her voice is still a potent, imposing force, Black Sabbath and Wicked Woman still resonating as thrillingly uninhibited underground tenets. His rapid, eccentric, and somewhat sexualised movements suggest that DEAFHEAVEN  frontman George Clarke has been taking lessons from a hippy Ian Curtis. Here they’re more Sunbather-heavy than their last outing, with Dream House sounding bigger than Jupiter. Bodies on the floor, others swaying in a trance, it must be BONGZILLA . Hurling out mammoth Sabbathy riffs to the foggy masses, backed by videos of anti-drug propaganda, it’s a deafening love-in for all things green.
Kicking off Friday at the converted church, Het Patronaat, as though it were an apocalyptic sermon, a robed and imperious SCHAMMASCH  lead the congregation through all 110 minutes of their Triangle opus. A journey of enlightenment through colossal surges and gestating tribal grooves, the Swiss psychonauts use epic scale as their starting point and expand into vast new realms beyond. A packed Green Room spills into the corridor as TRUE WIDOW  bring the riffs on a stoney afternoon as their doom echoes through the deep red lights. OATHBREAKER’s  sheer power and ferocity threatens to level the 013, while Caro Tanghe’s vulnerability and melancholic nature leaves our senses numb. Seen almost as a sacred priestess around these parts, CHELSEA WOLFE  proves to be a torchbearer for twilight realms. Her stately yet enervated procession is both a psychic retuning and a devastatingly soulful rite of passage. AMENRA’s  deeply affecting set is a primal, all-encompassing experience: a backdrop flashes desolate natural imagery while Colin H van Eeckhout’s animalistic presence seems possessed. They’re also joined onstage by Scott Kelly and John Baizley – a memorable moment for the Roadburn history books. BARONESS  are a somewhat less fraught proposition for Baizley these days, the warmth radiating out of later material such as Little Things and Fugue suggesting a classic band still in the making, and one entirely comfortable in their own skin. ZEAL & ARDOR’s  intoxicating black metal and chain-gang gospel is cut short when the Patronaat sound blows out – twice. But the packed audience stay, belting out Devil Is Fine. Synthwave sentinel PERTURBATOR  seems a bit restrained and restricted in such a small venue. The tunes are killer but eye-frying spectacle is conspicuous by its absence.
DYLAN CARSON’s collaboration with Kevin Martin a.k.a. THE BUG  is a sublime meeting of minds, the latter’s bowel-shattering sub-bass and scabrous, industrial interference providing the drone guru with an unusually robust but deftly hazy backdrop. Returning to Roadburn like an omen-pregnant comet, ORANSSI PAZUZU  sound like they’re reconstructing your DNA. Pounding rhythms like a subterranean alien sect drive firmament-razing riffs, and brain-freezing synths are akin to being ravaged by a vast, cosmic intelligence. Ferocious EBM duo YOUTH CODE  destroy any notion of melody with their sharp, glitchy assault, throwing themselves around the stage. A revived WARNING  channel love and loss like no other band in doom metal. Performing the classic Watching From A Distance album, Patrick Walker and his comrades reduce the entire room to a blubbering, headbanging mess. Not every death metal band would fit at Roadburn, but MEMORIAM  have the pedigree to pull this off. They do things the brutal, war-torn, old-school way and all is laid to waste. SLOMATICS  launch into the first of many colossally stoned and epic riffs and the Green Room walls shake. The church is rammed for Jacob Bannon’s WEAR YOUR WOUNDS . Despite taking a few songs to really click, the music is dripping with bleakness and heavy emotion, with rousing closer Goodbye My Friend tugging at all the heartstrings. There are few albums more important to the evolution of all things slow and heavy than Turn Loose The Swans, and as MY DYING BRIDE  slither majestically through it tonight, it sounds somehow fresher and more relevant than ever. While the Tomas Lindberg-led crust gods DISFEAR  send the Patronaat into an orgiastic frenzy, watching MYSTICUM  on the main stage is like hurtling into the eye of a tornado while three, screaming maniacs fire machine guns at your backside. The multi-screen stage set is undeniably stunning, but the Norwegians’ music is a little too one-dimensional to stably underpin the visual bombardment.
OXBOW  are slightly less unnerving than in the past, but there’s no doubting their unique allure. New songs like Ecce Homo glisten with skewed venom and frontman Eugene S Robinson is as compelling as always, but annoyingly doesn’t strip down to his underwear. Do you like riffs? PALLBEARER  have riffs. The new saviours of doom’s sensational Heartless set sends the 013 into an hypnotic state of juxtaposing tranquillity and dread. Leif Edling is a doom legend and he’s back, at last, with his new band THE DOOMSDAY KINGDOM . There are no curveballs as the Swedes perform their first ever gig, just thunderous and wonderfully pure heavy fucking metal. ULVER’s  latest detour into synth-pop realms makes much more sense in the flesh. With shades of Talk Talk, Peter Gabriel and even A-Ha, this slick, atmospheric show is a classic Roadburn curveball and all the better for it. Whether it’s the sumptuous indulgence of Youth’s oddball soundscapes or the Mad Hatter mischief of David Tibet’s cracked poetry, HYPNOPAZUZU’s  is a strange, edgy musical world that leaves half the audience beaming, the other half terminally confused. Job done, leaving INTER ARMA’s  earth shattering pulse to send out one last wave of rapture as Roadburn resonates on an all encompassing frequency once more.