Report: Soulcrusher Festival 2021

Doornroosje, Nijmegen, the Netherlands

1 and 2 October 2021

Report by Erik (E) and Wouter (W), contributions by Ingrid (I)

Pictures by Wouter (W)

Well here goes the first live review of 2021 for us, and we’re happy that it concerns Soulcrusher. With a diverse line-up and loads of bands operating in different niches of the darker side of the metal and other sub-genres it was a treat for the ears and eyes. We must admit that making this review is hard…very hard. Simply because we weren’t used to being in a large audience anymore. Secondly, there were loads of friends and acquaintances we haven’t seen a few years due to the malignant Corona virus. So please bear with us…. The party started Friday late afternoon. Both the weekend tickets as well as Saturday day tickets were sold out, Friday wasn’t completely sold out but still very busy. Irrespective, the good old feeling of being at a ‘normal’ concert hit straight after entering Doornroosje. The entrance was very well organized with the few Covid-19 rules that still apply in The Netherlands and we had no problems entering quickly. Due to work we missed the very start of the festival, but Noctambulist just started playing when we arrived. (E/I)

Indeed, festivals again! After a slight delay (some day we will laugh about the ‘Dansen with Janssen’ debacle) and some magnificent warm-up festivals abroad, finally a metal festival next door, indoors! Dutch post/blackgaze ensemble Noctambulist (Tilburg, NL) kicked off Soulcrusher for me, on the main (Red) stage with their somewhat un-orthodox, dual vocal (funk at times inspired?) style. Not fully capturing yours truly’s attention innitially. However, during the show, the music grew on me, as they reminded me of Ultha’s high gain (past the clipping point) guitars, whilst groovily swinging somewhere underneath. The long, triple guitar solo at the end got to me – this is one to keep following the coming years! (W)

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Autarkh (Tilburg, NL) came forth out of the split-up of Dodecahedron, following the early passing of Michiel Eikenaar. Taking avant-garde and progressive metal to a newer level, the band consisted of a bass player and two guitars. Drums and sound effects and were dealt with by one off the member behind a laptop and sound staging machines. Personally, the chaos factor I experienced whilst listening to both their studio and live plays was a bit too much for me. For people of more progressive and avant-garde palate, this music was perfectly curated for the somewhat Roadburn leaning festival that Soulcrusher is. (W)

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Long time masters of mood and atmosphere, The Ruins of Beverast (Alexander von Meilenwald), came to Soulcrusher performing songs of their newly (and heavily recommended) release The Thule Grimoires. The set, although as always incredibly loud, was clearly their first in a long hiatus due to the Covid-19 caused social corrosion. Spotting/hearing errors is normally hard during their live shows, but some were audible during their play. Its a shame the bass and guitar sound was initially loud enough to drown out the vocals, but this was fixed over the course of the show. Irrespective, I enjoyed the show massively, with the mesmerizing tunes of Ropes into Eden as well as the older material like Daemon, Kains Countenance Fell (oh man, that opening chord!!) and the maddening isolation of Between Bronze Walls. As the show progressed, their play became closer to the usual level of enthralling perfection, and seeing how the guys enjoyed playing Between Bronze Walls set the record straight – this performance was one for the books! (W)

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Due to corona rules, there were some last minute changes in the line up and Bølzer was one of them, replacing Enslaved as headliner on the Red Stage this evening. We’ve seen multiple shows of this Swiss duo, some have been great, some a bit less, but today’s show definitely can be put in the category ‘great shows’. The duo played a flawless set this evening, consisting of some older songs and we even were treated with a new song. The sound was solid as a rock, as was the band itself. Superb guitarwork and sharp drums didn’t stop from the beginning until the end. It’s a mystery why the venue wasn’t filled to its fullest during their set because that would have been the cherry on the pie.(I)

Last but not least was Finnish death/black ensemble Krypts. The atmosphere (probably aided by some beers during the course of the day) was very nice in the small and mostly overcrowded small (Purple) stage. The band played an energetic, uncompromising set whilst effortlessly displaying the level of talent that is currently required to stand out in this somewhat worn-out genre. Krypts is a worthy mention and one to keep track of in the (near) future. (W)

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Night came and went and we were more than ready for day two! Unfortunately, as the entrance required showing your Covid ‘free’ QR code, the queue for getting in the next day was way too long – making me miss the opening of Regarde les Hommer Tomber. Kuddos to the friendly security, but next time please increase the amount of staff scanning the QR codes, as well as combining this with the ticket checks (which was a useless next and separate step).

As mentioned, French ensemble Regarde played the main (Red) stage, in front of a packed audience. The show was brutal, heavy, aggressive and a perfect fit to the aforementioned queue annoyance. The show changed my earlier perception of their music, probably as their latest (Ascension, 2020) is both a bit more accessible as well as aggressive, compared to their earlier work. No moment of rest in this enrapturing show. The band has clearly grown since 2017 – both the front guitarists and vocalist (T.C.) owning the big stage effortlessly with their un-compromisingly well played melodic and at times far-out black metal. (W)

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Next up: Dutch (Eindhoven) female duo of (perhaps a bit over-exposed) Doodswens. They play a mix of stamping black metal, in the style old school Norwegian black – adding some laid-back and groovy elements. The latter, although blast beat laden, felt really nice to listen to. The first song started off a bit hit-and-miss, probably due to the duo being a bit out of practice playing live. This improved big time during the second and third song – the latter which I really appreciated, with the aforementioned laid-back riffing really hitting the mark. Indeed, musically speaking, they don’t bring a lot of new or ground breaking stuff to the table. However, the sound and groove is very enjoyable. Their dedication and perseverance, only using one guitar and a drum kit, is nothing short of impressive. (W)

Side stepping within the realm of black metal, yet deeper into the ambient, I found myself captivated by the multi-instrumental treat Wolvennest put on stage. Using, as their description says ‘70’s Krautrock psychedelic sounds mixed with early 90’s Norwegian Black Metal’, the music was captivating and hypnotic. The visual effects of a big screen added to the occult experience these Germans put to stage. The vocals by Shazzula are otherworldly, especially combined with the theremin synthesizer sounds. This was a true highlight of the excellent booking mix of Soulcrusher. Highly recommended for an evening listen, when one is looking for something other than the ‘same ol’, same all’ metal.

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Running off to wrong stage (probably due to not being used to combine clocks with schedules, in venues with actual people around) had me likewise running back to make it in time to the main (Red) stage to witness Wiegedood (Belgium). Since the ‘re-opening’ of Europe in terms of festival and concerts in August, this was my third time seeing them live – and boy oh boy do they rock the ears, stage and the audience each time around. Minimalism shines in ecstatic near-perfection with just two guitars, a drummer and three albums named De Doden Hebben het Goed I, II and III. Their music generates an atmosphere that renders everything else out, the speed at which they play leaves little doubt: these guys mean business. Besides one of my personal favorites Ontzieling, Doodskalm and De Doden Hebben Het Goed II were part of their killer setlist. Sign me up for their next play, as one can never have enough Wiegedood! (W)

Due to family obligations I (Erik) arrived fashionably late on Saturday, around 18 o’clock trying to get to the stage to watch Briqueville. But alas….. it was so crowded I simply couldn’t get in. Ah well, shit happens, so I had enough time to get a good Belgium beer and go to the Red Stage in order to watch Celeste. This post-Black/Sludge/Post-Hardcore band has been active since 2005 and has managed to spawn quite some quality releases. With red lights on their heads, they tried to deliver an exhilarating haunting performance. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t manage to get into the vibe they created. Irrespective, I have to admit it being a tense and tight performance. Let’s say I had to acclimatize before delving into the darkness delivered. (E)

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With Schammasch it was an entirely different experience. Seeing them just before lock-down in 2020 I knew what to expect: A spot on, both visual and musical performance, oozing with atmosphere. And I say expect because in the beginning the sound was simply terrible. Luckily, this changed after a few minutes, so that I could fully enjoy the music of this Swiss occult/avant-garde Black Metal ensemble. And with songs from the excellent “Hearts of no Light” album such as “Winds that Pierce the Silence”, “I burn within You”, the fierce “Kanabasis” and the hauntingly beautiful “A Paradigm of Beauty” the musicians showed their true qualities. With great ambiance and great craftsmanship Schammasch is one the best black metal bands around, both live as on album. They certainly deserve more recognition and I can’t wait to hear some new work. Great performance…period! (E)

After that it was off to the German post-metal outfit called The Ocean. And boy, the venue was packed. The band got a great response but somehow the hardcore/post-rock presented didn’t touch my dark soul. It isn’t because the band operated badly. On contrary, they gave a very solid set. Probably the voice of Loïc Rossetti just isn’t my cup of tea. Aside from my personal opinion, they gave pure hell on stage and the response from the audience was great. Meanwhile, I am going to listen to their latest album “Phanerozoic I” and II and hope to give this band a re-match very soon. (E)

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Verwoed managed to get a lot of positive appraisal, both in the Netherlands as well as in the rest of the world, with its superb “De Val” album. Followed up by “Woudloper” and aided with excellent performances, even a TV-performance, hosted by Raven van Dorst (Dool, Elle Badita), they tried setting the Purple stage ablaze with it’s raw and emotional Black Metal – and they managed (oh hell yeah, W) to do so. Funny thing is they started with a song of Cocteaux Twins (dream pop) as an interlude before exploding with their own songs. And with songs as “De Val” and “De Kwelling van het Bestaan” they managed to enthrall the audience with a powerful and spot on live performance. Because of the time table I couldn’t watched the entire performance because …..

……I really wanted to watch Oranssi Pazuzu. With their smasher “Mestaryn kinsi” album (2020, see also my review) they managed to get even more popularity then they already had. Their psychedelic avantgarde (Black) Metal sounds like a LSD-trip and successfully intrigued me with their strange unorthodox sound(s). With songs as the haunting “Ilmestys”, the aggressive “Tyhjyyden sakramentti” and superb “Uusi Teknokratia” they delivered a full blown acid trip. There is just one thing lacking, which are proper visuals. This would surely give their outrageous music a well deserved extra dimension. Besides this remark, Orannsi gave a superb show which kept you on the proverbial ‘edge on your seat’ – luckily I was standing ;). The keyboards/synths twisted guitar riffs, diverse drum patterns and the screams/voice of bass player Ontto was a true fun to watch and listen to. This music has so many angles, hooks and mood swings. it is real trip to delve into. I am not going to use any further words. This music is best experienced by being there or simply listen to it. Oranssi Pazuzu is a more than justified headliner of Soulcrusher and offers a real in-depth live experience. If you get the chance: go seem them! (E)

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After Oranssi I managed to get a glimpse of Coilguns but it was too short to give a really good impression for this review (I had to catch the train). At a glance: this post-rock ensemble sounded quite good and I hope to get the proper time to get acquainted with them in the near future. (E)

Soulcrusher proved again to be an excellent live experience. Packed with good bands, great bands, good drinks and food and off course … an excellent audience. I am happy to say that this was my first festival of 2021 on Dutch soil. So dear reader, I hope you have enjoyed this review and decide that you will accompany me next time on this great venture (don’t worry, I will, W). Saturday was sold out and deservedly so. I had great fun (even if seeing so many people at once lead to a bit of overstimulating the senses, W) and saw great music!