Seattle doom duo Bell Witch spent much of the past year touring in support of 2017's excellent one-track epic Mirror Reaper — and taking in live sets by other bands. So when we asked the band's drummer, Jesse Schreibman (above, left), to compile a "best of the year" list for us, he chose to focus on live shows. "While most lists focus on recordings, I still think the best way to enjoy music is in the live setting," he says. "I have always believed that I cannot truly understand a band until I see them live. There is a unique and unadulterated feeling I get from seeing a band I love play live that I will never get from merely listening to a recording. Here is a list of my favorite performances I had the pleasure of witnessing this year."
I grew up in the Bay Area of California and The Warfield is just one of those legendary venues where you grow up wanting to see bands perform. Every badass band has played The Warfield, and if you get to play there it is truly a right of passage. The fact that we got to play there was a dream come true for me, but what was really incredible was witnessing the excitement flooding off of the stage while Sleep performed. You could tell that this was not an everyday show for them. The fact that they had sold out that legendary room was a really big deal for them, and I am sure they would be the first to admit it. There was an energy present in the room that was not duplicated for the rest of the tour, and I am humbled to have been able to witness it.
Yob is a force to be reckoned with. They are hands down the best live band out there right now when it comes to raw performance, and this show was a pinnacle of the overwhelming amounts of times I have seen them. The energy they convey, the positivity they exude, and their ability to relate to their crowd is only matched by their always seemingly perfect performance. It was truly an honor to share the stage with them night after night, and this was one of those shows that I will never forget. Primitive Man are currently the most brutal band out there and have a tour schedule that has always been mind-blowing. I am lucky enough to call them my friends and have watched this band grow into a monster from day one. As much as I love small punk venues, it's always eye-opening to watch bands on incredible sound systems and stages. I was so proud to know these guys that night ... such an amazing set.
Ataraxie is one of the bands that I had never seen, and could not believe we got to play with. Their blend of black metal, doom and general creativity is truly unique. Not to mention the most brutal vocals ever. They were astonishing live and I can't wait to see them play again. Monarch! have become family over the years. Not only are they the most amazing people, but they have an unrivaled ability to throw in a surprise or two at every show, all while completely commanding the listener with their absolute control over dynamics. This show was probably their best show of the tour. If you ever have a chance to see them live, it is remarkable.
Esoteric are legends of heavy underground music. Their absolute control of dynamics, intensity and downright professionalism were completely evident at this show. I had never seen them before and I felt honored to see them perform on their home turf. They rarely play, but when they do it is fucking epic. Not to mention they are incredibly nice guys. I cannot wait to hear a new album from them.
Godspeed is uncategorizable to me as a band. If the grey wolf is a keystone species in the arctic, Godspeed is a keystone band to experimental music. Their ability to evoke emotion is unparalleled, and their commitment to the DIY ethic is truly inspiring. Watching them play made me want to go home and practice. The amount of control it takes to write and perform their music is really only realized when seeing them live. Each member performs an integral part, without ever over playing. There was also something very surreal about seeing them in the birthplace of democracy ... and I have never seen 4,000 people smoke inside. I will never forget that show.
Mournful Congregation put out one of my favorite albums of the year. No one in the genre will ever match their guitar work and attention to detail, and The Incubus of Karma was the perfect follow-up to their ever impressive catalog. Getting to see them play their new album for the first time in front of an audience was a monumental experience. They played so perfectly it almost sounded like the recording but louder. I am always so impressed by bands that can pull this off. I cannot wait to see them perform again in Europe!
One of my favorite things about still actively playing music is feeling older. I grew up as the young kid in the scene almost my entire touring life ... but now, as the hair thins, and the weight gains, it is time for some new blood. Fetid and Mortiferum are two bands from the Seattle area that have done so much in a very short time. They were both respectively picked up by 20 Buck Spin and Profound Lore (my two favorite labels currently) on their first releases, and they are showing that the younger generation are coming out swinging. Their intensity, brutality and excitement for music was undeniable at this show. I cannot wait to hear what comes from these bands in the future, and there is nothing more comforting to me than the fact that there is a new crop of people committed to playing music, touring and being stand-up humans.
This band is a wrecking ball in a live setting. There is nothing I enjoy more than a power trio, and these dudes really stress the former rather than the latter. They have a truly unique sound accented by one of my favorite current drummers. Cheers, Tyler! They really kicked ass that night and I felt really weird having to play after them. I can't wait to hear the new album!
There were so many amazing bands that played this festival. I will only mention four. UADA have become very close friends of ours, and it was so cool to get to see them play so far from home. Not only was their newest album incredible, but getting to watch them grow as a band has been an absolute honor. This performance was hands down the best I had ever seen them, and I have no doubt that I will say the same thing about the next performance I witness by them. Skeletal Remains surprised the shit out of me. They were sooooo good. I had never really listened to them before, but goddamned I do now. Instant fan. Raw, unabashed, talented. Fuck yeah. Immortal showed everyone that they are still one of the sickest black-metal bands out there. I really have nothing to say other than I was completely floored. I cannot wait to see them again. Autopsy was the absolute highlight of the festival for me. Best singing drummer in the world ... sorry, Phil. Unrelenting energy, and some of the best shit talking to a tired crowd I have ever heard. I have so much respect for them and I can't wait to see them play again.
What can I say that has not been said already about this festival? Probably nothing. It deserves every ounce of respect it gets. I have never been somewhere that truly caters to the arts, in all forms, than Roadburn. Every band that played had to give it their all, because they were invited to be there, and you couldn't help but feel the energy. I hope to be able to play there again, and if not, I will definitely be back regardless. Keep it up, Walter and crew!