First, a note on the travel: There was a lot of it. Taking the day off work, I left early on Thursday morning, stopped in Toledo, Ohio, to hit Ramalama Records for the second time, and headed up to Lansing, Michigan, and find one Postman Dan, whose name will probably pop up a few times throughout this and the Day Two review to come and who I’m just going to assume you know if you’re reading this, because if you’ve ever been in the Midwest at a show or gone to fests like Emissions from the Monolith, Templars of Doom, Alehorn of Power, or if you were at this one, you probably do know him. He’s a pretty friendly guy, and he gets around.
Enough so that he invited me to crash at his place Thursday night, which I was happy to do. We went down the road a ways in Lansing and caught local Melvins aficionados BerT doing a new song in their rehearsal space — the band was kind enough to plug back in when we got there just after they’d finished practice; the new material sounded killer and they gave me a copy of their droning new split tape with Hordes and threatened an East Coast tour to come — before, during and after a few beers and in the morning, hit up Lansing’s Flat, Black and Circular record store for a batch of goodies the likes of which I’ve not acquired in a while. Needless to say, report to follow.
Soon it was off to Cudahy, Wisconsin, where just a few short blocks from the Milwaukee Airport, the second installment of the Days of the Doomed fest would be starting in no time. It was about 11 hours from Jersey to Lansing, and about five and a half from Lansing to Cudahy, but I was alright with the drive so long as I got there on time. Made it with an hour to spare and found a way more pro setup at The Blue Pig than I expected. A raised stage included a separate drum riser, professional lighting rig and a P.A. that seemed to frame the entire stage in speaker cabinets. The bar was around the corner from the open floor in front of the stage (it looked like two spaces that had a wall in the middle taken down to accommodate the stage area) and TVs in the back showed the Brewers and the Twins all weekend. The walls, as one might figure from the venue name, were blue.
Already, fest organizer Mercyful Mike Smith was running around engaged in that special kind of stress that I’ve only seen in those forced to corral large numbers of doomers to be in one place at one time. With time to eat before Snake Dance launched the shorter Friday lineup that also included Nebraskans Super Invader as well as Sanctus Bellum, Stone Magnum, Orodruin and Revelation (War Injun didn’t make it out), I made my way down the block to the cafe next door to The Blue Pig and had some Albanian sausages with feta and tomatoes and an order of fries to provide a foundation for a decent night’s drinking ahead.
It was news to me to find this out, but apparently what’s special about Albanian sausages is you taste them every time you burp for the rest of the night — and, perhaps, your life — but I ordered them because I’d never seen them before, and if it was an education I wanted, it was an education I got. Back at The Blue Pig, the home brew was a lighter-type beer called Spotted Cow, and I commenced pint-sized incremental suicide solutions at a moderate to slow pace, wanting to keep my head about me for the drive back to the hotel down the road and in general to remember what was happening because I knew it would be a while before I’d be able to write about it.
To that end, I took notes. I hate taking notes at shows. There’s no way to do it and not look like a complete dick (thanks to Eli Brown for visual evidence, and yes, I wore fucking sandals; funny, I don’t remember doom having a uniform when I started listening to it), but you can see the results at the top of this post, and clearly there was a lot to note, beginning just as soon as the Chicago two-guitar foursome Snake Dance got started. Introduced as most of the acts were by Smith himself, Snake Dance immediately commenced a straightforward at all costs hard rock that was vaguely adherent to punk the way Motörhead nods at The Stooges, but more or less disinterested with everything that came after a certain point in time. Hard to peg a year to it, but you can bet it’s before grunge hit.
Guitarist/vocalist Scott seemed to be in charge from the outset, and when he asked the still-arriving crowd, “Anybody like muscle cars?” before playing “426 Hemi Cuda,” he did so in a manner so irony-free, I was immediately reminded of Negative Reaction, similarly existing on a plane most people will never know or access and still reaching out to an audience to see who’s on board for the ride. Scott would soon shout out to Monster Magnet and C.O.C., and that only furthered the connection in my mind with that band’s more heavy rocking latter-day output, which weren’t bad for what they were, essentially a more punk-minded exploration of those influences.
And yeah, they were alright to open. Maybe having come a long way was a part of it, but sometimes I want a fest like this to have a headliner early to start things off, kind of like what Leif Edling was talking about in that recent interview — someone with more of a draw to lure people in early, get them drinking and really give the weekend a launch. I’ll say, however, that by the time Snake Dance were finished, the room was already pretty full, and it remained so for the duration of the night and the Saturday to follow, so what the hell do I know. Not like I’ve ever put one of these things on.
Solace/The Disease Concept guitarist Tommy Southard (there to close the fest out with the former band) recommended Super Invader, so I bought their two CDs on his word. The bassless three-piece came through fine for their lack of low end, though I wondered if they had some personal objection to it or just hadn’t yet found the right person, since it didn’t seem like it would hurt them. A few Church of Misery riffs here, a few Orange Goblin cadences there, but basically they were a stoner metal band with a light-box that shone every time pierced-septum vocalist Adam stomped on it and also seemed to contain a fog machine. Something to be said for that kind of novelty. It looked homemade and I respect that.
They covered Cavity‘s “Supercollider,” and I respect that too. In general, their riffs were better than their stage raps — taking a break from his throaty vocal approach, Adam at one point tried to shout out the Green Bay Packers and was met with doomly crickets – but with more stonerly grooves, they gradually won sympathy for their cause, and I didn’t regret buying the CD. Should be interesting to hear how the live sound translates when I get to listen, but either way, they gave a decent enough showing and guitarist Dustin had presence to back up his riffs and tone.
Two bands into the day’s total six, I still had yet to be overwhelmed, but the sort of workmanly beginning to Days of the Doomed II was fitting the kind of overall metallicism that seems to have triumphed in the Midwestern heavy underground — at least if this weekend’s sampling was anything to go by. Where on the East Coast, it seems to be a race to find out who can accumulate the most indie cred while also denying they’re a stoner rock or a doom band, the sense I got at The Blue Pig was more in line with a post-Pantera metal brotherliness. Not sure I feel more aligned with one or the other at this point — one bases its elitism vaguely on class/education and the other vaguely on gender/race, and each has its appeal musically despite being problematic on these levels — that’s not to mention the fashion requirements, which are a separate issue unto themselves — but for what it’s worth, it’s not like I caught shit at any point during the fest for sitting in the corner next to the classic arcade game and writing notes between and during the sets. And I very easily could have. I stole the bar’s pen.
Since everyone was playing through the same backline of cabinets, changeovers were quick and the show was running early almost as soon as it was running. I’d been specifically looking forward to seeing Houston-based Sanctus Bellum — last week’s Wino Wednesday featurees — and was glad to get a copy of their soon-to-be-reviewed second album, The Shining Path, from the band. They were super-solid, and among the more intricate of the acts in the lineup of the whole weekend, stylistically speaking. They straddle that very line in the previous paragraph between what is straightforward metal and what is doom and what is rock, and seemed on stage as they have on both their albums to have crafted a niche for themselves within that line.
In what I consider to be one of the weekend’s biggest personal victories, I waited until Saturday to nerd out to vocalist Justin Waggoner about his former band, Mr. Plow‘s final and Kurt Vonnegut-themed album, Asteroid 25399, but helping in that process was just how different Sanctus Bellum really is. In this context, his raw, lightly effected vocals (which produced several coughs between songs) come through with more in common with the moments in Acid Bath when Dax Riggs decided to be soulful than any kind of stoner rock, and the guitars were darker in tone and method alike. Their tone, though consistent with the albums, seemed to be coming through the P.A. thin, and when I looked and saw that both guitarists Jan Kimmel and Maurice Eggenschwiler were playing through Dime amps, I wasn’t necessarily surprised, remembering a similar issue when I saw Crowbar in Jersey late in 2010.
Still, their songs make complex ideas seem relatable, and bassist Ben Yaker and drummer Carl Cousins made for a plenty-strong rhythm section to fill out the two guitars in the five-piece. Waggoner didn’t front the band, per se, and instead, he, Yaker, Kimmel and Eggenschwiler stood in a line in front of the stage. When it came time for a cover of Pentagram‘s “The Sign of the Wolf” — one of the fest’s two Pentagram tributes — the vocalist stepped back and the band brought up guests out of the crowd, including Orodruin guitarist John Gallo and bassist Michael Puleo, who’d shortly kick more than a fair amount of ass after Indiana’s Stone Magnum got through with their leather ‘n’ chrome Judas Priest-style trad metal.
No disrespect to musically. They were among the tightest bands of the whole weekend had a crisp, clear idea of what they wanted to do and a pro presentation to match. They like their Trouble and I won’t fault them for that either. But the stage moves left me cold and the chrome cross on the mic stand felt like too much. The songs weren’t terrible, and in fact I’m usually on board for a totally unironic embrace of the cliche — the weekend had more of them than it had covers; Stone Magnum taking on Deep Purple‘s boogie rocking “Black Night” — but watching, found myself more enthralled that the Brewers and the Twins were tied 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth.
I spent a good portion of the rest of that evening trying to reason out why, too, because once Orodruin started, it’s not like they were high experimental art. On paper, what’s the difference between a “Locksmith of Misery” and a “Wicked Wizard?” that I should so much prefer the other to the one? They were both trad doom, just with vastly different takes on it, and where Stone Magnum were more schooled in how to be a metal band, Orodruin were unquestionably more schooled in the ethics that inspired that metal in the first place. One of Days of the Doomed II‘s most potent power trios and an act I’d never seen before, they absolutely fucking killed. Puleo was among the most effective vocalists in the whole fest lineup (and yes, Eric Wagner played Saturday), and of the more than several three-piece bands who played, their dynamic between the players seemed to have the biggest impact on the overall sound. Gallo proved to be a madman on guitar, his tone unmatched and his stage-faces framed by his oddly-shaped beard, and drummer Mike Waske was absolutely essential to their stomp and swagger.
My sense for what to expect from Sanctus Bellum was pretty good, but Orodruin surprised the hell out of me, and I was really glad to have picked up a copy of the limited-to-30 CDR In Doom, from which they played several songs, including set-highlight “Shipwrecked.” Low, slow and dark, they felt like a band people are missing out on, who should tour and sell out of their merch every show they play. They weren’t clean, but they were tight and their sound was diverse but unwaveringly natural and unforced, and for a band who lives some 11 and a half hours away in Rochester, NY, they made a home for themselves in Cudahy and got the best crowd response of the night, including from me. Claws were thrown.
Even guitarist/vocalist John Brenner of Revelation acknowledged Orodruin‘s having killed it in a break between songs, saying they were a tough act to follow. He was right. Brenner has a righteous tone of his own, bassist Bert Hall is a board certified badass, Steve Branagan somehow manages to make rock drumming sound intimate, and they’ve put out more albums between Revelation and their alter-ego band Against Nature in the last three years than most people do in a lifetime, but their stage presence is subdued, and watching them, it’s more about the emotional resonance of the music than it is about the classic horror awesomeness. Nonetheless, the Marylanders did not — could not, really — disappoint, though I was glad I’d seen Against Nature at SHoD last year so I had some idea of what to expect. I felt like that gave me some advantage over a lot of the Days of the Doomed crowd, which began to thin out as the trio wound down.
That said, the differences between seeing a Revelation set and an Against Nature set are marked. Sure, it’s the same people — in the crowd too; I recognized SHoD organizers Rob and Cheryl Levey and a host of other faces from Maryland — and a lot of the same kind of presentation, but the personalities of the songs are much different, and what sounds like humbleness in Against Nature is recast as a deep woe in Revelation. Still, there’s a classic rock influence in there that’s impossible to deny — Brenner said it came from, “Trying to play Rush wrong” — and that came across as well as the warmth in Hall and Brenner‘s tones.
It was not yet one in the morning when Revelation were done, but they’d played their full set and I was quick to get back to the hotel after a long enough day of driving, drinking and rocking (not at the same time, though I did rock and drive for a little bit there, listening to the new Witch Mountain with Postman Dan) with the prospect of Saturday still to go. I said a few quick goodnights, threw down a smoke bomb, and disappeared as mysteriously as I’d arrived.
Day Two to come tomorrow. More pics after the jump in the meantime. Thanks for reading.
Tags: Cudahy, Days of the Doomed II, Orodruin, Revelation, Sanctus Bellum, Snake Dance, Stone Magnum, Super Invader, Wisconsin