Burn Off Those Covid Blues: The Would-Be Breakouts of Roadburn 2020

As they do each and every year, the team at Roadburn assembled one hell of a lineup for this year’s iteration of the festival. But as it has for so many in recent months, Covid-19 spoiled the party. The loss of one festival is far from the most pressing matter in these frightening times, but it could have a significant impact on the music scene, with a host of scene leaders (and future scene leaders) losing out on the opportunity to perform at one of the world’s most dynamic and exciting events.

Even though the festival doesn’t prescribe to the usual lineup of smaller bands building up to a big-name headliner, there is nevertheless a host of lesser-known names on the roster who would have made Roadburn 2020 a chance to prove themselves. With that in mind, today we want to shine a light on the 2020 lineup’s would-be breakthrough acts. If you’re unfamiliar with any of these names, check them out, as you should have been hearing about them after their sets this week anyway.

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Sólveig Matthildur

Icelandic musician Sólveig Matthildur has already performed a solo set at Roadburn, a secret set when playing with Kælan Mikla back in 2018, but a planned show off the back of last year’s brilliant Constantly In Love would surely have seen her runaway as one of the weekend’s highlights. Her soundscapes, powered by shimmering synths and luxuriant vocals, are gothic and yet never dark, constantly luring you into some kaleidoscopic otherworld – whether it’s dread or beauty that lies at its centre, we will have to wait to discover.

 

Lankum

Even for Roadburn’s infamously eccentric lineups, the addition of a straight-up Irish folk outfit may seem on paper an odd choice for 2020’s iteration of the festival. Dive deeper into Lankum’s captivating music, however, and an intriguing inclination towards the realms of drone and ambient music creep into earshot. The band’s latest album, The Livelong Day, is opened by a rendition of the energetic drinking song ‘The Wild Rover’, which the band reimagines with scraped strings and restrained croons – this is no normal folk album. The band are by all means already successful, but it’s high-time that the heavy music scene embraced them, and Roadburn would have gone a long way to achieving that.

 

Torpor

The UK doom and sludge scene continues to go from strength to strength years after what seemed like a trend was due to settle down, but even amongst such fervent waters, Torpor shine brightly as the biggest fish in the pond. Where previous efforts had shown their worth to the scene, the trio’s 2019 album Rhetoric Of The Image saw them shoot straight to the top of the pack by interspersing savage lumbering grooves and bleak growls with swelling synths, poetic spoken-word, melancholic chimes and cinematic soundscapes to birth an album that’s simultaneously familiar and thrillingly inventive. Roadburn was to be their chance to break out of our shores, as they are destined to do.

 

Dynfari

This Icelandic band deserve your ears for pushing black metal forward in 2020. The band were set to take the audience through The Four Doors Of The Mind, a conceptual album they unleashed back in 2017 that explores various stages of grief. Unlike many others in the genre, the band seemingly aren’t afraid of progression, with an ambitious sound that’s often more post-rock than black metal, and occasionally sounds older, drawing on instruments like acoustic guitar, accordion, flute and bouzouki. Menacing but poignant, we were certainly looking forward to catching Dynfari’s epic soundscapes live.

 

Lana Del Rabies

Even for a genre as vague in sonic definition as noise, it feels wrong to call Lana Del Rabies simply noise. The project, created by Arizona’s Sam An, is vast in scope, blending harsh noise with synthesised electronics and industrialised heaviness. It’s dark and intense but also (though this is likely a no-no in the realm of noise) fun as fuck to listen to. Where the likes of Pharmakon – a standout from last year’s Roadburn – offer catharsis through music that’s first and foremost intense and jarring, Lana Del Rabies’ music is cacophonous but also energetic and dynamic, with a creative spirit audible within the fusion of raucous rhythms and grating distortion. Every good Roadburn needs one truly cathartic noise set. We’re confident this would’ve been it.

 

Of Blood And Mercury

If there’s one act that were set to be a breakout act of Roadburn 2020 it’s Belgian outfit Of Blood And Mercury, who were set to unveil their debut album and play their second ever show at the festival. The band’s Olivier J.LW and Michelle Nocon have both performed at Roadburn with Emptiness and Bathsheba, but if you’re familiar with those acts, throw any preconceived notions of heaviness you may have out the door before listening to this band. Of Blood And Mercury boast an alluring yet intensely dark strain of dream-pop, which will be on full display when Strangers drops this Friday.

 

Doodswens

It may seem odd to call a band that played at last year’s Roadburn a potential breakout act of this year’s, but after a set in the skatepark in 2019 Doodswens were set to perform on a bigger stage this time around, and would surely have given us a glimpse at the two releases they currently have in the pipeline. For now, only a demo and a single are available on Bandcamp, but these are more than enough to have us excited for more. The duo’s punky brand of lo-fi black metal festers in bleak atmospheres, with some of the most razor-sharp shrieks we’ve ever heard soaring over gloriously gritty guitars. Check them out now so you can gloat when they’re the next big thing.

 

Elizabeth Colour Wheel

This group operate a delicate balance between a refined sound and a DIY spirit; a punky realism and an ethereal otherness; a dynamic energy and a lethargic stomp. In blending disparate styles Elizabeth Colour Wheel are a unique proposition in the realm of doom and, as they call it, “shoepunk” (an amalgamation of shoegaze and punk), with a style that’s capable of both intense beauty and ruthless heaviness. Their debut record Nocebo demands your attention at all times, and we can only assume their live show is just as enticing. The band are yet to make it across the Atlantic, but we’re sure that European audiences will devour their music once they do.

 

White Ward

2019’s Love Exchange Failure saw this Ukrainian epic black metal group channelling their inner Bohren & Der Club Of Gore at their cinematic best, mixed with the raw intensity of No One Knows What The Dead Think. The release saw the group focus on the disillusions of city life and the effect of artificial living in an urban metropolis which creates isolation and degradation. The level of storytelling combined with the ebb and flow of ferocity melded with film noir interludes feels readymade for a festival that pushes the boundaries of creativity.

 

Acid Rooster

This Leipzig ensemble have been around for some time but only dropped their self-titled debut just last year, quickly establishing themselves as one of the hottest propositions in contemporary heavy psych. The band’s embrace of improvisation alongside written parts allows for freeform compositions, shot through with krautrock influence, that are as trippy as anything you’ll find elsewhere on the Roadburn 2020 bill. We’ll have to hold on until next year to experience the cosmic voyage they were sure to take us on, but we’re sure it’ll be worth the wait.

 

The Devil’s Trade

Folk doom is a growing style in the contemporary doom scene, seeing folky instrumentation blend poignantly with bruising riffs, but its counterpart of doom folk is so-named because it favours the latter genre over the former, blending the two in a less heavy but far more alluring way. Hungarian one-man project The Devil’s Trade instils doom’s sense of desolate melancholy into enchanting folk, with stripped-back instrumentation and expressive vocals luring you in before the doomy aura sets in and takes hold. Roadburn’s famous Het Patronaat was not set to be used this year, but we can’t help but imagine how immense these tracks would have sounded in that hallowed hall.

 

Dead Neanderthals

The Dutch experimental duo were due to celebrate their tenth anniversary at this year’s edition with four sets, one being a collaboration with Sly And The Family Drone incorporating tracks from 2017’s stellar Molar Wrench. It seems somewhat at odds to put such a long established band in a “breakthrough” article, but the groups uncatergorisable amalgamation of free jazz, noise and grind has probably seen them go under the radar to all but those delving into metal’s darkest and oddest recesses. The group were due to be joined by Skeletonwitch guitarist Scott Hedrick, who added the wailing guitar drones of last year’s hypnotically mesmerising album Ghosts, which would also have marked the first live performances of the release’s lengthy two tracks. It’s a shame Dead Neanderthals won’t get the chance to mark their decade anniversary with the celebration these innovators truly deserved.

 

Rorcal

This Swiss outfit were set to perform their latest album, Muladona, at Roadburn 2020, which would likely have been one of the most memorable moments of the festival. The band’s strain of post-black metal weirdness, shot through with an innate desire to innovate, has always been nothing short of breathtaking, so much so that they’re already considered masters by many, but Muldona’s immense scope presented live would surely have been enough to see the band take their rightful place as leaders of the modern black metal landscape. It’s an album just as progressive as its predecessors but with noticeably shorter track lengths and doses of sludge ruthlessness mixed in amongst the band’s insightful use of melody – if you haven’t already heard it, do so asap.

 

Many Blessings

This Denver drone outfit already has the added PR of coming from Primitive Man and Vermin Womb’s Ethan McCarthy, but Roadburn 2020 would have been the stage upon which Many Blessings’ imposing music shined brightly on its own merits. The project has taken a relative backseat since Primitive Man’s formation, but is returning in a big way, with a new album due this May. McCarthy’s unique brand of ambient and drone is less obsessed with the overwhelming aggression of his other bands, focusing more on the unnerving element that usually operates in the background of Primitive Man’s music. Nevertheless, it is still deserving of the term “crushing”, boasting an immense weight that builds slowly, as if someone’s foot is on your head and they’re slowly applying more pressure.

 

Words: George Parr, David Brand