After a rather intense introductory day for my first DESERTFEST BELGIUM ever, we’re off to a denser second day with a considering slab of doom bands, while some others got us soaring straight out into the stratosphere. (PHOTOS: Sandrine Correia)
CROWBAR is on when I enter the Trix venue — a band I tend to see quite a few times a year, and which is an all-round favorite and the guarantee of a proper kick in the butt, just like Orange Goblin last night. While the last song echoes on the Desert Stage, I head over the Vulture to see SONIC WOLVES, an Italian band who caught my attention thanks to a stunning, psychedelic and shimmering tour artwork by Diogo Soares. In the end, this heavy, sludgy performance happens to be less thrilling and experimental than expected, mostly because of the messy pummeling over the bassist’s quite irritating vocals. See, tour artworks can be misleading, displaying visuals that are sometimes far from the music and band’s vibe.
While I skim through the festival’s leaflet, something catches my eye. Once upstairs, my appetite for fresh stuff gets instantly satisfied by today’s absolute highlight: THE OSCILLATION. I got into garage rock only recently (how benighted of me!), but I can tell this garage psych outfit tinged with krautrock and drone could be described as a cross between New Candys and 10000 Russos, with the world-weary vocals and drill drumming remind me of The Soft Moon. This all contrasts with a sense-awakening and colorful lightshow made of geometric patterns and flash lights. What a soft trance we get into! I feel starry-eyed, like under-influence… Needless to say that the comedown is about to be tough.
ENSLAVED are such an unexpected act for Desertfest, it feels surreal. They’re like the Amon Amart of prog black metal. Happily, I find another fresh and lively garage-psych-whatever act — and another great discovery of this festival: SWEDISH DEATH CANDY. The name speaks for itself and the fidgeting musicians are just as cool (and drunk), instantly spreading good vibes throughout the stage. What a party! They are a perfect fit for the Vulture Stage. With their high octane performance and 60s-tinged riffage, the Brits get our asses moving, while also soothing us through some hypnotic melodies…
The next show brings a rough change of mood, with WIEGEDOOD pouring darkness and hatred through blinding and deafening performance. With Church Of Ra members at the helm, you couldn’t expect less than a hulking sound and despaired vibe highlighted by static red lights.
The overlapping stage times force me to leave half-set in order not to miss a bit of YOB on the main stage. I’ve waited for two years to see them on a stage again — and five months to hear the new album live. “Ablaze” opens proceedings and the crowd is in no time blown away by YOB’s heaviness. Both stirring and mesmerizing, this first song gets us in the mood… “The Screen” then crashes like a monolith in a lake. It didn’t move me on record, but it suddenly makes sense to me. Crushing, bleak, staggering. Then come the classics, such as the spine-shivering “Ball Of Molten Lead”. I miss the intimacy of a club, the main stage feels too vast and crowded to fully enjoy the set. Yet I let my mind wander, hypnotized by the reverb-laden riffs. Mike greets the audience with the modesty and class that characterize him, right before kicking off the final song — and one of the biggest music climaxes of all time — “Our Raw Heart”.
I look at my watch, knowing that MESSA have started. I’ll see Yob in my hometown soon, so I decide to cut through and slowly make my way to the Vulture, while wiping a tear along with an irrepressible smile. As expected, the Italian wizards are on in front of a packed crowd. They’ve been widely acclaimed lately, and might play main stages sooner than we think. Dripped in a velvet-smooth bass, the performance is lulled by one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard — not to mention the shy but charming singer’s eerie aura. The rest of the band remains withdrawn, or maybe it’s just those red lights. In the end, it just took the finest of all rituals to crush our ears in a room filled with incense.
It is now time to reach the skies with a long-wandering outfit, and one of my top bands of the day: YURI GAGARIN. Colored oils on the Canyon Stage’s screens are taking a whole new meaning with the Swedes’ psychedelic cosmic stoner rock. So obviously, it’s all about the big ol’ space here. Believe it or not, they have nothing to do with Russia though. Unknown planets and uncharted solar systems are passing front of my eyes, and when I get closer and close my eyes, landscapes filled with fractals start colliding inside my mind, while relentlessly engulfing themselves in wormholes. Endless solos tell stories in an extraterrestrial language that is almost impossible to decipher. I feel light-hearted and let myself go with the flow of their lyrics from another world…
Return to mother Earth is pretty tough, which is why I skip HIGH ON FIRE and take the time to land back again. I don’t need brutality. Not now. I then realized the chaos that surrounds me in that empty room, with countless plastic cups filling a beer-drenched ground. Have you people never heard about bins? Human beings will always surprise me, especially when it comes to being so dark and self-destructive.
Speaking of which, DOPETHRONE are next on the Canyon Stage! The Montreal trio put out a mixed performance at Hellfest last June — blame it on a massive hangover, but we won’t hold it against them for being up to their reputation — so it feels great to have them on top form tonight! They have their close friend Julie as special guest on this tour, whose blackened vocals can be heard on the last album ‘Transcanadian Anger’, the heaviest record they ever put out and one of the coolest releases of the year. However, I’m not sure of her actual added value, as the hulking sound and Vince’s vocals almost cover hers. Setlist-wise, the band delivers as expected, sprinkling the set with the usual beer-spitting and spaztic grins. Then comes the classics from ‘Dark Foil’, when Vince suddenly calls out for Mike… Wait? Mike Scheidt? On “Scum Fuck Blues”? I’m about to lose my mind. Yet Mike never shows up, probably lost somewhere in the venue’s immensity. Bummer. “Killdozer” wraps up one of the filthiest performances of the weekend, a great way to propel us into Morhpeus’ arms, before the final and third day of the festival.
Last modified: 9 January 2019