Revisiting Roadburn: 25 Years of Redefining Heavy

Revisiting Roadburn: 25 Years of Redefining Heavy

- By Creative Team

Knotfest contributors Jon Garcia and Matt Rushton explore one of extreme music's most essential destinations and tally the highlights that reiterate Roadburn's lofty rank among international festival experiences.

Words by Matt Rushton and Jon Garcia / Photo by Paul Verhagen


Back for its 25th edition, Tilburg, the Netherlands’ Roadburn Festival is something that’s always talked about with such reverence and admiration by fans and bands alike, and at this year’s event it’s easy to see why. With its first incarnation in 1999, Roadburn has come a long way in the years since, finding a permanent home at the 013 venue back in 2005 where it’s kept its main stage ever since; the rest of the festival takes place in multiple venues around Tilburg and thus the atmosphere of it all spreads across the whole city.

Headed up in 2024 by the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Chelsea Wolfe, Khanate, Lankum, clipping., Health and Blood Incantation, each act over the weekend delivered something truly memorable, with plenty of the bands themselves noting just how honored they were to play at such a special festival. Commissioned pieces and special sets, art galleries, film compilations on the stage screens between bands, some of the best light shows you’ll see… Roadburn had it all both within and away from the music.

Here are some of the highlights.



Riot City (MR)

What better way to begin a festival focused on spotlighting the darker and gloomier sound of the alternative scene than with a straight up traditional heavy metal band exemplifying all the fun the wider genre has to offer. Should it work? No. Does it? Unquestionably. Canada’s Riot City begin the Wednesday pre-party in the Next stage with a 45 minute set of wall-to-wall bangers; vocalist Jordan Jacobs sings and screeches his heart out as well as the classic vocalists of yesteryear, and accompanied by some incredible speed metal musicianship, turns everyone in the room into a fan within the first ten minutes of the night. A true drinking band - mirrored by the band pouring beers into each other’s mouths whilst soloing - Riot City are somehow the perfect way to open this year’s Roadburn fest, leaving everyone immensely excited for the next four days.

Sonja (JG)

Led by guitarist and singer Melissa Moore, the Philly three-piece blasted through a set of nine sleazy, grimy heavy metal offerings. It was a perfect one-two punch with Riot City and set the crowd into a euphoric, raucous mood.

Clad in white knee-highs and a two-piece power suit to match, Moore captivated the crowd with her guitar chops and siren wail. Taking a hefty chunk of their set from their aptly-titled debut Loud Arriver, they threw in a Danzig cover (‘Devil’s Plaything’) and an Iron Maiden deep-cut (‘Deja-Vu’) for good measure.

They didn’t waste a single note, and the crowd – whether they knew the songs or not – were moving with the tunes until the end.

Sonja is an underrated and bright new star in the heavy metal landscape. With performances like this, it won’t be long before people have no choice but to pay attention. 


Final Gasp (MR)

Final Gasp finish the evening with a set made up of essentially their entire first, and only, album, along with a great Hüsker Dü cover thrown in for good measure. 2023’s Mourning Moon is a shapeshifting album of snappy songs showing a band who clearly have great ideas but just need a little more cohesiveness in style, something that is reflected too in a live environment. The band do though demonstrate a musical tightness above many of their peers along with an ability to captivate a crowd, and overall it’s a solid way to round out a fun evening before the main event begins tomorrow.


Hexvessel (MR)

Mat McNerney, AKA Kvohst, is a name most Roaburners will be greatly familiar with - a selection of his many projects would be right at home here in Tilburg - and the first of his two appearances here this weekend is with Hexvessel who perform their 2023 triumph Polar Veil in full. Donned in corpse paint and with an eerie stage set to match, the packed crowd are completely taken by the vast sounds of a band firmly in control of their craft in the festival’s first set of the weekend. Kvohst’s beautifully sorrowful vocals are matched by the musician’s expertise, and along with the sound being so vibrant all across the venue, this feels like like the best possible way to open the festival, and a set that already has the crowd clamoring for tomorrow’s commissioned Hexvessel Folk Assembly set.

Wiegedood (JG)

Photo by Abigail Coulson

One of the biggest things that sticks out to me with Roadburn as a festival, is there are numerous times over the weekend where you go to see a band while having absolutely no idea what to expect.

Enter Wiegedood with the first such performance of the weekend. The Belgian black metal band came to the festival armed with a live soundtrack to the silent Japanese horror film A Page of Madness, something they’d only performed once before.

It was as out-there as it sounds and I’m not sure if it was at all enjoyable, nor do I think that was really the point. The film – about a janitor working in a mental asylum to be close to his wife –  is nearly incomprehensible on first watch, and Wiegedood spent minutes at a time sitting on ambient noise, droning guitars and rhythmic breaths, never leading to any payoff. (Again, probably not the point).

By the time they did explode into the tempest of extreme noise that they’re known for, they’d been at it almost 25 minutes. The Main Stage started quite full with about a quarter of that actually making it to the end.

Inter Arma (JG)

Photo by Peter Troest

What can you say about this band that hasn’t already been said? The Richmond-based group has been innovating their style of death metal for years, and came to Roadburn to debut their impressive new album New Heaven.

A 45-minute voyage through claustrophobic death metal, winding doom metal, with progressive and psychedelic touches. Watching drummer T.J. Childers is brain-breaking at times, especially with how much musical landscape Inter Arma covers on New Heaven.

Every song on the album stands on its own, far apart in style and substance from top to bottom, ending with the gothic and dusty ‘Forest Service Road Blues’. Singer Mike Paparo croons out a tune that could potentially close the credits of Red Dead Redemption 3.

But unbeknownst to the audience, Inter Arma has more surprises up their sleeves this weekend…

White Ward (MR)

Photo by E.Lu.Lu. Photo

White Ward’s journey to Roadburn has been a long and arduous one. Originally slated to play the 2020 edition of the festival, the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered the entire festival along with many others. Re-booked to play in 2023, the band’s plans were crushed once again by the Russian invasion of their home country of Ukraine. This year, finally able to play, the Engine Room stage is the busiest it is all weekend with the venue having to start operating a one-in-one-out policy before the band even start playing.

Minus their saxophonist Dima Dudko due to his recent joining of the Ukrainian military, the band still rattle ferociously through an hour set of songs comprising the emotion of everything the band and their country have had to go through over the last couple of years. Scheduled last year to play their recently-released album False Light in full, this time around the setlist contains a perfect balance of songs from that record along with their prior two, Love Exchange Failure and Futility Report, and the many die-hard fans in the audience clearly appreciate the diversity shown.

The visuals and light show match the intensity of how hard and impactfully the band play, and by the end of their set everyone in this building is emotionally drained but visibly thankful that this could finally happen. The audience applaud the band in front of Ukrainian flags for a solid 5 minutes at the end of their set, with the four-piece completely humbled, before vocalist/bassist Andrey Pechatkin asks the crowd if they want one more song - of course they do, but sadly there’s another band waiting to play so the request is denied, something that elicits a knowing laugh from the group. Arguably the best and most emotional set of the whole weekend, White Ward are a band whose future has never looked brighter.Roy

Chelsea Wolfe (JG)

Photo by David Fitt

There is a sort of spiritual element that comes with being in a room while Chelsea Wolfe is performing. What she and her bandmates conjure is its own entity, living and breathing through Wolfe’s spectral voice.

The Main Stage was filled to capacity for her headlining set, with people standing in the hallway holding doors open just to feel the experience.

Wolfe played through every one of the 10 tracks to her immaculate new album She Reaches Out to She Reach Out to She, while still working in a half-dozen songs from the rest of her discography. It’s really incredible to watch her deftly move from the trip-hop of her new material to the doom and electronica of ‘The Culling’ or ‘Feral Love’, and is a testament to her artistry.

Augmented by an impressive light show, the band transported the audience into Wolfe’s realm and remained transfixed in appreciative silence for the duration of every song, not wanting to miss a single note.

Royal Thunder (JG)

Before hitting Main Stage on Friday night, Royal Thunder played the intimate confines of Next Stage, serenading the crowd with a handful of songs from the early part of their discography, a set coined Time + Space + Revival.

CVI and the self-titled EP were well represented, with Mlny Parsonz belting out ‘Whispering World’, ‘Low’, and ‘Hotel Bend’ for the audience while Josh Weaver’s guitars shimmered through the speakers.

Interestingly, there were two unrecognizable songs in the set that could be a nod toward new Royal Thunder? It’s hard to get a gauge on them from one performance, but they didn’t sound out of place sandwiched between the previous songs ‘Parsonz Curse’ and ‘Now Here - No Where’.

Backxwash (MR)

Roadburn has so many unique selling points but one of the top of the list is its secret sets, which do feel a genuine surprise as they’re announced on the festival’s app only around an hour in advance followed almost instantly with a palpable excitement building on-site. Arguably the biggest of those this weekend is the last act to take to the main stage on the Thursday night and one of 2023's highlights, Zambian-Canadian rapper Backxwash. Armed only with a microphone and a stunning visual on the screens behind her, Backxwash commands the stage and the crowd, impressively managing to bring out every last bit of energy from each of the audience even at 1 in the morning. After that scintillating set, upon leaving the venue on night one, all the first-timers here already know that this is a special festival indeed.




Ragana & Drowse (MR)

The first set on the Terminal Stage this afternoon is a special collaboration between Washington’s blackened screamo/doom duo Ragana and Oregon’s shoegaze musician Drowse, dubbed The Ash from Mount Saint Helens. Special sets like this are always a favorite here at Roadburn and seeing how well this goes down with the enamored crowd, it’s likely to be no different in being remembered with reverence for years to come. The vocals are shared between the three musicians who each show a very different style, and Ragana switch instruments back and forth to create a short set of three very different sounding songs, whilst still managing to hold together a particular style - an epic, noisy amalgamation of the prowess of these two projects resulting in a marriage that hopefully makes it onto a record in the not-too-distant future.

Mat McNerney presents Music for Gloaming: A Nocturne by the Hexvessel Folk Assembly (MR)

Mat McNerney returns for the second time this weekend, this time around with a brand-new hour-long project consisting of his fellow band-members plus other musicians from a variety of projects, including an excellent guest appearance from Vicotnik, Mat’s former bandmate in Dødheimsgard. With no-one in the audience really knowing what to expect from this set, it comes as a surprise when hearing the word ‘folk’ that the set begins with Kvohst screaming for the first time in a while, instantly taking the excitement levels in the crowd up several notches. What follows is a magnificent display from a group who seem to revel in the opportunity to play brand new songs to a crowd who are instantly fans, a set full of twists and turns, a light show featuring a different color for each song to match its vibe, and another project that would be a crying shame if it weren’t released for the wider world to hear. Mat ends the set by thanking artistic director of the festival Walter Hoeijmakers, for allowing him the opportunity to create and share something so special.

Lucy Kruger & the Lost Boys (JG)

The beauty of Roadburn is the ability to go to any stage and have a completely different musical experience than the previous one. It doesn’t feel out of place to see warped, twisted extreme metal one moment and then drift away with ethereal, dark indie the next.

Lucy Kruger & the Lost Boys provided an excellent breath of fresh air, while still managing to cast a heavy vibe on their weightless audience. Brooding, sometimes sinister tones buoyed Kruger’s haunting, captivating voice. Whether in a deep whisper, a pained scream or a melodious hook, the crowd hung on her every word, transfixed by the swirl of musical energy she and her bandmates emanated.

Closing with the riotously catchy ‘Burning Building’ gave just an extra bit of levity to the set, and sent everyone to the exits with a pep in their step and a smile on their face.


Photo by Niels Vinck

The opportunity to see DOOL – in their home country, no less – was one of the biggest draws of Roadburn for me. This band helped get me through those early nightmare months of the pandemic, and they haven’t played live much over the last four years. It genuinely felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Before a blank white sheet, DOOL unveiled their latest album The Shape of Fluidity in full, sometimes appearing as nothing more than silhouettes against a green or deep purple background. Each track showcased their magical ability to change the atmosphere in a room, and sonically affect emotions with the powerful music they play. Somehow they’re even better live than on record.

Vocalist/guitarist Raven van Dorst carried the deeply personal nature of the songs with their voice and commanded the stage with their confident, powerful and energetic presence. Meanwhile, guitarists Nick Polak and Omar Iskandr joined van Dorst in a six-string seance to envelop the audience in their mystical musical incantations. New drummer Vincent Kreyder held the music together perfectly, and stood out even more than on record.

It was an emotional atmosphere, for both the audience and the band, and the ovations they received – both between songs and after the final bow – prove they have a potential album of the year in the pocket.

DOOL are just now stepping into their voice and their potential. They laid their souls bare before an accepting and appreciative audience, and it was evident how much the reception meant to the band. Given how consequential the album is, that connection may have been one of the best moments of the festival.

clipping. (MR)

Photo by Willem van Breugel

Again demonstrating the far and wide boundaries to which this festival stretches, hip-hop three-piece clipping. waste no time in getting an almost originally half-cynical crowd into exactly the mood they want them. Rapper Daveed Diggs is an expert in flow and brings in crowd-participation effortlessly, and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes each offer their own style to build up a sound that punishes the speakers and pleases the fans. A stunning guest appearance from R&B/soul pianist and vocalist Counterfeit Madison breaks up the set nicely, and the collaboration between the two acts. works superbly. By the end of the set, there are visibly plenty of aforementioned skeptics who are now clearly re-evaluating what they think they like, and it’s an interesting examination of what it means to be a heavy music fan in 2024

Royal Thunder (JG)

For their main event, Royal Thunder played their latest album Rebuilding the Mountain in full. The crowd size was certainly more sparse than it had been for other Main Stage bands, another reminder that this band is criminally underrated and underappreciated.

No matter, with Steve Blanco of Imperial Triumphant on keys, Royal Thunder rolled into the first song of the album and never looked back. As huge and as powerful as they’ve ever sounded, they took their best album to date and gave it life in the Netherlands.

Parsonz once again commanded the spotlight, filling the room with her powerful, soulful voice. As expected, the three-song run of ‘Twice’, ‘Pull’, and ‘Live to Live’ proved to be the highlight of the set, with Parsonz’ immense and uplifting vow at life for the song’s climax.

Royal Thunder always sound immense, and Blanco provided the extra texture that was such an important detail on the studio recording. Bass and guitar lines wove together with keyboards seamlessly, always present but never overpowering.

It took six years for Royal Thunder to follow up their previous album, a time that nearly ended the band. Nights like this one prove how lucky we are to still have them around, and the sky is still the limit for the band. 



Knoll (JG)

What’s better than a thousand Europeans singing Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ after an hour of brain-melting extreme noise? Not much.

The Engine Room was packed for Tennessee’s Knoll, opening the day on Saturday and Tilburg ate up every second of their macabre, avant-garde approach to grindcore. Knoll deftly lurched through plenty of songs from their new album to the biggest crowd of their career.

One of the highlights of the set is watching vocalist Jamie Eubanks perform ‘Utterance’ toward the end of the set. It’s one thing to be told that there were no vocal layerings on As Spoken, and it’s another thing to see Eubanks bellow overtones that sound like four vocalists at once. Hands down the best extreme vocalist in the game.

Couch Slut (JG)

This band is a terrifying multi-car pileup that you can’t look away from.

Performing their just-released new album You Can Do It Tonight just next door at The Terminal immediately after Knoll, NYC’s Couch Slut is more a band that happens to you live. You have no control over anything, you just have to hold on tight and hope you come through unscathed.

Vocalist Megan Osztrositz sauntered onto the stage, announcing they’d only gotten 90 minutes of sleep before the extreme/noise-rock outfit launched into the sludgy, bass-driven opener of ‘Couch Slut Lewis’. By that time, The Terminal was filled to capacity and people had to wait to get in line to see the spectacle.

Osztrositz howled and screamed through the album, making jokes between songs about “brunch time with Couch Slut” and whispering “I’m on druuuuuuuuugs” to a delighted audience.

The visceral and uncomfortable nature of the album infected all of us masochists in the crowd, with the highlights being the completely fucked up story Ostrositz weaves in ‘The Donkey’, and the scary-as-hell 7-minute closer ‘The Weaversville Home For Boys’.


The Keening (JG))

I love albums that are slow burns, the ones that take several listens to really crack into and will still offer surprises beyond that.

The Keening’s debut Little Bird - a solo venture from ex-SubRosa mainstay Rebecca Vernon – is one of those. But despite the music appealing to me and them being a band I really wanted to check out, the album hadn’t quite clicked with me yet.

That changed Saturday afternoon.

Hearing Little Bird in its entirety was the most transformative and transcending set of the weekend. Something about seeing it performed in front of me moved all the pieces in place, the stories in the songs revealed themselves, and the haunting yet heavy ethereal folk stylings about lifted my feet off the ground.

Watching Vernon switch between guitar and piano – sometimes in the same song – while Andrea Morgan belted operatic vocal harmonies and emotional violin lines just made everything make sense. By the time 17-minute closer ‘The Truth’ had finished and The Keening – rounded out by Christy Cather (guitar), Billy Anderson (bass) and Nate Carson (drums) – took their final bow, I needed a minute or two to compose myself to be ready to get back to the real world.

Birds in Row (JG)

Maybe the best light show of the weekend?

Gris Klein by French hardcore band Bids in Row is a fantastic album. A rousing listen from start to finish, and one that you can play over and over again without it getting stale.

So to see that along with strobe lights that shook, shone, flashed, changed color and augmented everything that was happening on stage, was truly a surreal experience.

The groove of the drums is a huge driver of the band, allowing listeners to close their eyes and bop along with the upbeat songs, but hearing the emotional wails of guitarist/vocalist ‘B’ also connected the audience to the meanings of the songs, even if they didn’t know or understand the lyrics.

There wasn’t much chatter during the set, but B did take a moment to dedicate one of their final songs to anyone suffering through mental illnesses and anyone trying to make the world a better place, citing his healthcare and social worker parents as influences to who he tries to be. Fighting back tears all the way through, it displayed how for most of us music isn’t just a cool thing to do, but a real release and escape to help us navigate the ever-challenging endeavors of life.


Inter Arma (MR)

With their SECOND secret set of the weekend and third total, following on from their New Heaven set at The Terminal and their classics set at the Hall of Fame, Inter Arma return with a covers set, this time around the back of the Terminal building at an indoor skatepark. The bright lights and the entire environment could be thought of as a strange setting for a band whose own music is so dark, yet Inter Arma here embrace a more fun side of themselves with a range of their own spins on party tunes to Neil Young, with their trademark heavy stamp on each, and it really works. The entire experience feels like a punk show, and full of die-hard fans and a band clearly having the time of their lives, like something truly special - something that everyone realizes and will remember for a long time to come.

Khanate (MR)

Photo by David Fitt

Amongst all the special moments and sets over the last few days, there’s something even more elevated in excitement around the return of doom legends Khanate playing their first show in 19 years. The supergroup consisting of members of OLD, Blind Idiot God, Burning Witch and Sunn O))) seem elated to be back on stage after so long, playing for a crowd who have clearly been so desperate to see this for many many years. There are many other bands playing the bill over the weekend who are here tonight to watch these legends of the game too, and Khanate do not fail to impress over their hour and a quarter, creating a vibe that captivates from the first minute to the last and excites old fans and new. Hopefully it’s not another 19 years until they’re next around, because this feels vital.

Blood Incantation (MR)

Closing out the Main Stage on the Saturday night is Blood Incantation, a band who even though only 13 years into their career, already feel like a classic group given the quality and breadth of their work. Having already performed their ambient record Timewave Zero yesterday, this time around they show off a selection of their death metal output to take us into the early hours of Sunday morning in the most extreme and brilliant way. Their music perfectly matching their visuals on the back wall, this hour flies by with the band and crowd truly invested in the experience, and you can easily see Blood Incantation becoming a Roadburn favorite for many years to come.



Habitants (JG)

Another band to put in the ‘just go hang and vibe’ category, Habitants were a wonderful way to start the last day of Roadburn. Also, waiting until 3 p.m. on Sunday for the first band of the day was actually a pro move that I think more festivals should adopt.

Vocalist Anne van den Hoogen cast an ethereal shroud over the audience, and The Gathering’s René Rutten led a spectacular group of musicians that created their own atmosphere. Immersive and intriguing, Habitants play the kind of music you can just as easily lose yourself in as you can be swept up in.

Die Wilde Jagd with Metropole Orkest (MR)

The final day’s Main Stage begins just before 4pm with another commissioned project, this time seeing progressive artist Die Wilde Jagd teaming up with a selection of the Metropole Orkest, the world-famous jazz/big band/classical orchestra founded in 1945. Whether out of intrigue or fandom, the Main Stage room is the busiest it has been over the entire weekend, with hordes of people trying to watch through the open fire-doors from the corridors outside. The set holds attention for its entire length and features changing styles and impeccable musicianship throughout. A testament to the festival that a project like this performs it, and easy to tell that everyone on stage is utterly exhilarated to be playing.

Devil Master (JG)

Photo by David Fitt

Honestly, I don’t really have any notes or thoughts for this band. They just straight up rule, and I think more bands need to play punk-infused black’n’roll while wearing capes. Their set was a great time.

The Jesus and Mary Chain (MR)

Possibly the ‘biggest’ band Roadburn have ever booked, revered Scottish post-punkers The Jesus and Mary Chain headline the festival with aplomb on its final night. The fact that the band are now over 40 years into their career and still sound and look fresh and energized like a new band is an incredible feat, and that they can translate that to instantly charm an audience that may be less familiar with them is perhaps an even greater one. With their peers being bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and My Bloody Valentine, it’s likely that The Jesus and Mary Chain won’t have played too many festivals on the same stage as Blood Incantation and Wiegedood, but that only seems to give them more vigor to want to wow the crowd, and by only a few songs in, everyone in this entire venue is having the very best time. With songs so anthemic, a sound so huge and each member of the band really showing their very best, I can think of no greater set to bring down the curtain on what has been a truly astonishing festival. Until next year, Roadburn.


Dödsrit (JG)

It’s 11 p.m. on the last day of the festival. The body hurts, the mind is tired, the belly is empty.

Nope, they were excellent. They barely spoke to the audience in favor of playing as much of their new album Nocturnal Will as possible. 45 minutes of blackened, melodic crust played like no other band has managed to achieve.

There were no surprises and it was so easy to get lost in Dödsrits pace that the set felt like it was over in a flash. Only at Roadburn can you walk away from an A+ set from an incredible band, and still barely fit it in as a top highlight. I love this festival.



Gros Couer (JG)

Ending the weekend on a jolly note, Belgian psychedelic groovesters Gros Coeur turned the intimate confines of Next Stage into a euphoric dance party. Funky basslines, frenetic keyboards, bright guitar lines and plenty of extra percussion gave the Roadburners that stuck around one hell of a final note to take home.

There wasn’t a still body in the room, as everyone was taken over by the rhythm and soundscape and danced the set away. Huge props for the woman in front of me that brought bubbles; it added just that extra special touch to the final band.

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