"Here we take a look at some of the highlights of the last year of mind melting heaviosity."

Some of the most magical Roadburn moments are primed with amorphous, free form chaos – the feeling that anything can happen at any moment. Terminal Cheesecake, 2015 was a glorious case in point: a maelstrom of dense, flowing noise, juddering subs, krautrock adjacent jams and, above all, a near medieval sense of mischief played at an ear bleeding volume. It felt all the more insane for the fact that it was happening on Sunday night, when most in attendance were already brain fried as it was.

Any Roadburners reading this will no doubt have a glorious cornucopia of their own such treasured memories and, after a year in lockdown, the need for mind transference has arguably never been greater. Luckily, a plethora of bands, labels and festivals continue, often against harsh odds, to fight the good fight through some of the toughest – and weirdest – years in living memory: offering up the sonic sacrament despite it all. Hypnotic, swirling, droning, noisy, beautiful, beatific – here we take a look at some of the highlights of the last year of mind melting heaviosity. Call it psych, call it noise – call it Susan if you like – take the following as crucial brain feeders.

Harry Sword

Rocket Recordings have long been central instigators in heavy, noisy, trippy, joyous sounds of various persuasions. Over the past 20 years they’ve put out a welter of sounds that span everything from the gnarled hypnotic heaviosity of Gnod to the playful theatrical ritualism of Goat; the widescreen, epic instrumentalism of Hills to the driving electric pummel of Teeth of the Sea

The past year has seen a number of highlights on the label. Gnod and Joao Pais Filipe’s Faco de Fogo combines the former’s mesmeric sensibility with the latter’s idiosyncratic percussive chops (Filipe is a skilled metalworker who makes his own cymbals and gongs) to seriously immersive ends.

Initially meeting at the Milhoes de Festa festival in Portugal where both were playing (Gnod were intrigued by a gong in the shape of a skateboard that Filipe was exhibiting), they got together for a three day jam session at Filipe’s metalwork studio and then a further four days recording, which was laid down with hardly any overdubs. Riffing on the four elements – earth, air, water and fire, with each jam named after one – it’s a swirling, pulsating, often foreboding quasi industrial vibe they work up, tempered by a loose jazzy swing. Indeed, this is something Gnod are past masters of – living and working at the Salford Mill, they often (particularly on records like Infinity Machines and Mirror) riff on a gritty, tripped out urban vibe that is, even at its darkest. always imbued with a sense of humanity and soul. Here, Filipe’s percussion (check the frenetic hand held drums and windchimes on Faca De Ar) lifts the final mix into funkier, brighter territory: it’s all about the contrast.

Keeping with Rocket, Anthroprophh did what they do best – swirling, wall of fuzz, face melting riffage – on the rough as gargling moonshine Toilet Circuit EP, imbuing the whole thing with a rawkus, punky, in-your-face sensibility not dissimilar to Dinosaur Jr at their most full-on, albeit minus the melancholy.

Pigs X7 built on the Buckfast-fuelled Sabbathian thwack of 2017’s Feed The Rats and the (even) heavier King of Cowards – a rawkus, motorik chug-fest that combined the brute swing of sludge metal with an unhinged Stooges-esque vibe (the highlight of which was a rollicking, steamroller pean to, well, a stretch of motorway in the form of ‘A66’) with the roaring Viscerals. Pretty much all you need in the form of squall and grease and seedy riffage was present and correct, not least on the epic Halloween Bolson – nine minutes of descending grot, a hoedown for the encroaching dark ages.

One of Rocket’s long time bands Hey Colossus released a bone fide masterpiece in the form of Dances/Curses, this time on bassist Joe Thompson’s Wrong Speed Records. An epic double that hummed with otherworldly portent and dusky atmosphere, Dances/Curses traded on patient arrangements, haunting melody and driving, mesmeric rhythm. It’s one of those rare albums that exists very much in its own headspace – you need to listen beginning to end with no interruptions for full effect – and was, rightly, lauded by many as the album of 2020. Approaching a tribal, ritualistic vibe on tracks like Tied in a Firing Line and A Trembling Rose, Dances/Curses is the sound of a band at the absolute pinnacle of their creative powers – a shimmering, hypnotic trip that would well soundtrack rainy motorway night drives. Mark Lanegan even lent his Marlboro-blasted larynx to the dramatic call of The Mirror.

White HillsSplintered Metal Sky was, in the absence of travel, a passport straight to the still beating, blackened heart of grindhouse 1980’s New York City. A dilapidated, clanking, quasi-industrial vibe prevailed on tracks like Now Manhattan and Digital Trash that – while speaking of the stress and clatter of big city life – somehow suited the jittery, paranoid, anxious mood of a year in lockdown perfectly. Think Suicide, Stooges, No Wave, bedroom synth experiments. Bleak – but immense fun –this was an industrial vision of the city put through the sideways psychedelic blender, evoking a singularly cinematic vista of New York, like something out of Death Wish: the street prophets, humid summers, dealers, street punks n’ hustlers – it’s all threaded together amidst clanking beats, weird, fizzy, dial up modem samples, white noise, drones and the call and response vocal dynamic of Dave W and Ego Sensation. Another killer release from the ever dependable God Unknown Records – one of the mainstays of modern psych.

Moving from the gritty and resolutely urban into outer stellar orbit, a special mention must surely go to wildly prolific guitarist Mike Vest. Well known for his work in Bong, Blown Out, Drunk in Hell and the majestic 11 PARANOIAS (check 2019’s Asterismal, which is strictly for the headstrong – planetary collapse bass weight, wall of noise fuzz attack, titanic desert sand storms, asteroid impact, time collapsing in on itself… all that good stuff), he’s also lent his formidable chops to a welter of solo projects (not least last years dronal hypnofest Absolute released under his Zodan moniker, as well as the welter of Lush Worker releases that tend to focus on noisier lo-fi gear) and collaborations.

Last year’s Lost Bones of the Holy Butterfly by Mienkunaru, in particular, was stunning. A collaboration with ex Overhang Party guitarist Junzo Suzuki, it encompassed two 20-minute tracks: churning, noisy, questing, tripped-out instrumentals of the very highest grade. Vamping around pummelling tribal drums and squalling reverb laden riffage that melded both players’ styles to powerfully majestic effect, it was all wrapped up in that special Vest feeling – ever-rising epiphany through continually embellished repetition. God tier, head twisting gear to be played at skull cracking volume.

Indeed, Vest’s numerous collaborations – and it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to list it all – point to a spirit of singularly open-ended collaboration that personifies the fertile psych/noise scene in his native Newcastle Upon Tyne. Box Records – run by none other than PigsX7 vocalist Matt Baty – has provided something of a nucleus for a deluge of wild sounds in the city, and further afield, since 2009. Putting out everything from early records by Bong and Gnod, through to the demented noise of Terminal Cheesecake (not least 2019’s superlative La Sucre De Livre) to folksier fare by Richard Dawson and haunting drone excursions by Jospeh Curwen, one of the most essential releases of 2020 came on the label in the form of Luminous BodiesNah Nah Nah Yeh Yeh Yeh. A greasy, dunderheaded racket entirely befitting of a band composed of members of Part Chimp, Terminal Cheesecake and Melting Hand, this is roc’n’roll left to boil over until a blackened, chemical crust forms on the bottom of the pan; a punch drunk stumble through every dive bar west of hell (in Roadburn terms, we’re talking a debauched midnight session at the Cul De Sac made sonic flesh). What can you say about a band with a song entitled Fuck the Beatles other than, ‘Please sir, may I have some more?’

Talking of febrile city scenes, a special nod must also surely go to Svart Records. Mainstays of the wider Finnish psych world – and perennial Roadburn favourites – Svart were originally known for putting out beautiful reprints of black and doom metal rarities and classics (think Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, Katatonia etc), before moving into more left field waters and signing bands from the wonderfully fertile and wonky late noughties Tampere scene.

With some of the most beautiful natural country in the world and an ancient history steeped in folklore and magical myth and legend, it’s no accident that music from this corner of the world is so often underpinned by a palpably ancient bearing: one that emphasises whimsical melody and haunting, circling, folk inflected riffs. Hexvessel are a perfect case in point. Long time Roadburn favourites, last year saw the release of one of their finest LP’s thus far in the shape of the ethereal Kindred. Driven by acoustic instrumentation and frontman Mat McNerney’s understated, melodically astute delivery, it’s a beautiful, foreboding record that speaks of forest rites and transcendent beauty in the failing light of dusk. Bog Bodies was particularly magical, patient finger picking and saxophone bedding down a story of an ancient body – a victim of sacrifice – appearing to the air once more, while opener Billion Year Old Being moved from ethereal acoustics to wild, fuzzy freak out in the space of seven minutes: total killer.

If Hexvessel are grounded by the earth, however – the mulch and mud; the twisted ancient tree roots – label mates Kairon; IRSE! are of the stars. Responsible for some of the wildest sounds in the global psych cannon, they meld electronic flourishes, understated vocals and a massive, juddering, post rock-esque wall of sound guitar tone. It’s a bewitching brew, heard to fine effect on the dense miasma of Polysomn – a record that sounds as if My Bloody Valentine had somehow stumbled through a timewarp and ended up jamming with Hawkwind at a free festival in 1976 – jangling guitars, elfin chants and frequent blasts of fuzz emanating from the warm speaker stacks.

Keeping things Nordic, a final note looking forward to the soon to be released second DJINN LP on Rocket, Transmission. Named after the North African supernatural deities that sit somewhere between good and evil, and featuring members of the wider Goat/Hills family, DJINN are a wild, free jazz-inflected combo who combine easy grooves, handheld percussion, wild sax and hallucinatory arrangements: proper head music that calls to mind the soundtrack to the requisite ‘acid scene’ in some crackling, long-lost 1970s biker movie. If the tracks heard from the album so far – Creator of Creation in particular – are anything to go by the album will be a treat; lounge music for a giant Zeppelin in the sky, mushroom tea served from a gleaming golden urn; the long haired, giant goggled captain lost amidst the clouds, as the sky turns a multi coloured hue… keep on truckin’.


Shem – Top draw, hypnotic krautrock flavours from Stuttgart. The just-released Shem II is a cracker, full-on astral motorik groove with a beat that goes on (and on) and spectral drones drifting atop like some rusting outer orbit chunk of space debris.

Cancervo – New Sardinian trio who specialise in downtuned, instrumental stoner gear. Their debut LP is a wall of mesmeric thrum inspired by the mountain from which their name derives, and the folklore associated with it: specifically a mythical half dog/half deerfigure said to prowl

Mong TongTaiwanese retro-focused, synth-inflected gear that carries a strong, freaky, 1980s straight-to-VHS soundtrack vibe. Beatles, creeped out, compelling. Their debut LP Mystery came out last year on Gurgurubrain Records – it’s simple, spacious, atmospheric stuff with plenty of reverb-laden guitars and satisfying aquiline bleeps and pings.