Roadburn is not exclusively about desert rock and stoner music anymore. It’s still there, but really, how far has the festival come? On Thursday, there’s something more primal happening. Folk music, in its broadest sense, is taking center stage at Roadburn, as we see performances of Myrkur, Heilung, and Hexvessel on the main stage.
Editor: Guido Segers
Let’s face it, many of us are looking for an escape. We are drawn to the mountains, to forests and even the sea, as it is more pure and natural than the world we engage with during the day. Black metal has for years captured that love for nature, but in recent years we see folkish music re-emerging. Not like the ’60s and ’70s, but perhaps more spiritual, more essential.
Myrkur doesn’t do black metal today. A controversial booking for some, she steers completely away from that sound with a set of folk songs from various origins. Danish, Nordic (that’s not a nationality, but there was a time before all that) and Scottish songs pass by, sung with a voice that is rapturous and angelic in this setting. As she plays the piano, a brilliant band is backing her, creating absolute magic on the main stage. But it’s really folk, pure folk, at Roadburn. And aren’t we all loving it? Mesmerized the crowd drifts off to ages past.
We look further north with Hexvessel a bit later. Their forest folk is enhanced by heavy guitar work and a solid rhythm section, but the star of the show are the melodies and the tundra footage. Beautiful landscapes, so far removed from the urban environment we dwell in right now. The hidden folk melodies are what makes these Finnish musicians such an odd experience, but equally dreamy, leading the listener away.
But for the main name today we are guided even further down the path towards the primordial. Bird sounds greet you as the set of Heilung kicks off. Bones and skins decorate the stage as the ritual starts…Walter Hoeijmakers – high priest of Roadburn himself – takes part in the mesmerizing opening rites as peace and unity is exclaimed by the speaker of the circle. A horn sounds and we begin. Tribal drums follow, with an agitated chant and animalistic shouts, as we move further away, more free, more in harmony with the otherness . Driven by percussion, the most ancient form of music, the group performs an act that is unlike any other. Alienating and enticing at the same time.
As the sounds fade away in the night, one could ponder what it all means. Are we turning towards something more primal? Always a part of heavy music, hidden in plain sight. Or ar we moving away from what we know? None can tell, but it is typical that Roadburn leaves you with more than just pleasant tunes. It is music that nourishes the soul.