The hotel breakfast — not so much. I woke up pretty early after Day One of Vultures of Volume II, drawn by the allure of free scrambled eggs or at very least some carbs to start the day, but some lumpy-looking sausage and a weird egg/potato/cheese combo deal scared me off. A cup of coffee and a rigid search of the interwebs later, I found a cafe up the road a little ways.
A quick lunch would turn out to be my only meal of the day, because once it got going, Vultures of Volume II Day Two simply did not stop. First band, on at 1PM. Last band, off a little before 2AM. It was 13 acts and very nearly 13 hours of front-to-back performances, and by the time the day was a quarter over, the Delmar Inn in Hagerstown had developed full-on as a festival ecosystem. Just about everyone knew everyone else, and the vibe was thick throughout. Some were dragging after getting down a little too hard the night before, or at least hard enough, but the only thing to do was keep going. This festival, in the fine tradition of gatherings like Emissions from the Monolith, Stoner Hands of Doom, Days of the Doomed and the Eye of the Stoned Goat, would brook no absence.
Yeah, I was beat, but fuck it. It was rock and roll and I drove a long way to be there. The lineup for Day Two was Elder, Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand playing a solo set, Wretch, Weed is Weed, Carousel, Righteous Bloom, Foghound, Witch Hazel, Thousand Vision Mist, Wizard Eye, Wasted Theory, Buzzard Canyon and Heavy Temple, and the latter had the illustrious task of getting things rolling:
It had been more than two years since the last time I saw Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, which was also the first time, and in between, bassist/vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk has completely revamped the trio’s lineup — she’s now joined by drummer Siren Tempestas and guitarist Archbishop Barghest — and has moved forward following the release through Ván Records of the band’s self-titled debut EP (review here), which by my estimation was one of last year’s finest short releases. They played four songs, all of them new, and I was glad for the glimpse at what’s to come, finding creative progression evident in how smoothly Heavy Temple seemed to weave in and out of parts, the fluidness with which they utilized classic stoner riffing without necessarily being beholden to it, and the dynamic between Nighthawk and her newcomer cohorts, Barghest an almost shoegazing presence on stage while Tempestas seemed to throw her whole body at the kit while she played. Some presentation nuances to be ironed out between the three of them — that is, I think at this point the band could do away with the stage names, and Nighthawk is the only one in a ritual robe, though that was the case last time as well — but past those crucial decisions to be made between robes and denim shorts, they were sonically more than dead on, rounding out their set with well-timed starts and stops and off-mic screams that were effective in adding drama to a set that showed Heavy Temple as a band well on their way. Looking forward to their next EP, which is reportedly already recorded.
There was little one might reasonably ask of a hard rock act that Buzzard Canyon didn’t offer, whether it was the soul behind the dual vocals of Amber Leigh and guitarist Aaron Lewis, or the straight-ahead but still weighted grooves of bassist Randall Dumas and drummer Matt Raftery. Actually, there was one thing one probably could’ve asked of them: the second guitar they left behind in Connecticut when they departed for Maryland early in the morning on Saturday in time to make their slot at Vultures of Volume II. Pretty much everything else they had covered. There was just about no way I was going to go into their set thinking of them as something other than Lewis‘ band — I’ve just known that dude for simply too long, been a part of projects with him, done shows with his other band, When the Deadbolt Breaks, etc. — but it was not only great to see him play after what’s been too long, but likewise great to see him explore the more upbeat, rocking side. Buzzard Canyon‘s debut, which they decided on stage was eight tracks, maybe nine, probably 11 by the time it’s done, is apparently in the works, and though they were down a guitar, they did well as a four-piece, playing both songs from the two-songer CDR they brought with them to give away, “Wyoming” and “Not My Cross,” the former of which seemed a long-enough time to wait to break out the cowbell and the latter of which closed their set in reinforcement of the active feel of the material, not at all afraid to have a good time or encourage the crowd to do the same.
You know, I do dig Wasted Theory. The Delaware four-piece have come a long, long way since the first time I saw them, and they’ve done a couple tours and weekenders since they put out their 2014 full-length, Death and Taxes (review here), and that has only furthered their cause in both the tightness of their execution and their confidence on stage. Sometimes though, I feel like I’m just not quite dudely enough for it. Here’s these guys, and they’re killing it, singing songs about running ‘shine through the southland and this and that, and I’m standing there watching them feeling like I should probably call up my primary care physician and see if I can get some testosterone supplements or something so as to properly appreciate what’s going down on stage. As has been the case the last couple times I’ve seen them — and I’ll see them again before the month is out, if all goes according to plan — “Hellfire Ritual” and “Black Widow Liquor Run” were highlights, guitarist Larry Jackson, Jr. having his “whiskey-soaked” in full effect while on either side, bassist Jonathan Charles and guitarist Dave McMahon followed a hairpin course of riffs propelled by Brendan Burns‘ drums. They would not be the day’s last kick in the ass, but they were a vehement one all the same, even for one so apparently hormonally imbalanced as I. In all seriousness, Wasted Theory are scary tight for being still-recently off their first record, and by all appearances they’re only continuing to nail down what they do. Not trying to tell anyone their business, but Ripple Music, keep an eye out.
We’re just about a month out from the release date of Wizard Eye‘s much-awaited self-titled second album on Black Monk Records, and the Philadelphia three-piece — Erik on guitar/vocals/theremin, Dave on bass/vocals, Mike on drums — seemed very much to be in good spirits ahead of the release. It was, as it was the last time I saw them, an absolute pleasure to watch them play. What they do isn’t overly complex or painstakingly crafted for nuance, but it’s impeccably well done and deceptively individualized. Most of what they played was culled from the impending Wizard Eye, which finds their semi-crusted rolling grooves firmly intact on songs like “Flying/Falling,” “Thunderbird” and “Eye of the Deep,” but there was one inclusion on the setlist I didn’t recognize — “Revenant” — which isn’t from the tracklisting I’ve seen for the new record, or from their 2010 debut, Orbital Rites, so I’m not sure if maybe it’s new or was left off the new album or what. Doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that after five years between outings they might have more material than just what’s showing up on the new LP. Either way, I’ll take their fuzz-overdosed nod any time I can. They were locked in tight at Vultures of Volume II, and remain a much better band than people seem to know, which is something that the new album will hopefully work to correct. Erik went to the theremin just once, earlier in the set — was it “Gravebreath” or “Flying/Falling?” — but even so, they were a blast to see again and offered stone-baked groove in plenty for their afternoon set.
Thousand Vision Mist
Given that they take their moniker from the name of Life Beyond‘s 2002 debut/swansong full-length, and given that they share guitarist/vocalist Danny Kenyon with that defunct MD trio, I guess I just assumed that when they got started, Thousand Vision Mist would essentially be an incarnation of the same kind of straight-ahead, post-The Obsessed/Revelation Maryland-style doom. That was not the case. Together with be-chapeaued bassist/vocalist Tony Comulada and drummer Chris Sebastian, Kenyon led the charge through a set of fiery but progressive metal. Doom was definitely a part of it, and listening to the studio versions on their 2015 debut demo of cuts like “Garden of Ghosts,” “Drifter” and “Tears of the Moon” — which was particularly proggy coming from the Delmar stage — that holds up, but by no means was it the sum-total of what they had to offer. Instead, they pulled off quick turns and shifts while also having a heavy sensibility, and the technical intricacies came across fluidly as the crowd clearly loved on a hometown act. As a power trio, the dynamic looked to be more the guitar and bass, then the drums, rather than the standard guitar/rhythm section divide, but I’d by no means consider the matter settled considering they just have the five-song demo out, and for what it’s worth, they played a new song “Skybound and Beyond,” which they said had been written on Thursday, just two days prior, and though it seemed like it was about to come flying apart at any moment, it never actually did, and Thousand Vision Mist‘s impressive control over their sound can only continue to suit them as they move forward.
It might have been enough for York, Pennsylvania, four-piece Witch Hazel to earn sympathy points for the recent loss of their hometown venue, The Depot, and it might have been enough that they broke out the weekend’s first tambourine to go along with their post-Pentagram ’70s-ish shuffle, but they also featured some especially passionate cowbell/headbang action in the last song (when else?) from frontman Nate Tyson, and dedicated a song to Iron Man, so if there were bases to cover, they were duly covered. Some of it was a little over-the-top — as intended — with the eyeliner, elaborate pants, and so on, but hard to fault Witch Hazel for keeping an eye toward presentation. Their new album, Nocturnity, is available now, and is a 28-minute concept piece that seems to be about a family with a bloodline that cures vampires, but though I don’t think “Moon People Unite” comes from that record, the crowd started to make its way back in to get a glimpse at what Witch Hazel — Tyson, guitarist Andy Craven, high-cymbal drummer Nick Zinn and bassist Seibert Lowe, who was playing his first show with the band — had to offer with their shuffling style and weirdo neo-classic edge. They closed with “Secret Door” from their 2013 debut, Forsaken Remedies, which only furthered their boogie cred.
No sooner did Baltimore’s Foghound walk on the stage than they owned it. Seriously. Before they even started playing, the entire room was theirs. Last time I saw the band was Eye of the Stoned Goat IV in Worcester, MA (review here), and they killed then, but this was a different league entirely. No doubt part of that stems from relatively-new bassist Rev. Jim Forrester, who, like Foghound drummer Chuck Dukehart III, is a Sixty Watt Shaman expat. Forrester was kinetic on stage — and off it, as he hopped down on the regular throughout — and seemed to pull the rest of the band along with him, Dukehart sharing vocal duties with guitarists Bob Sipes and Dee Settar all the while, the three of them switching back and forth here, coming together there, racing through material from their upcoming second album. They were a shot of life just when I was feeling like I needed it most, and while the locals, who obviously have more occasion to see them than I do, weren’t necessarily surprised by what they delivered, I was utterly blown away. Their new stuff was faster, meaner and tighter than 2013’s Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and I liked that CD plenty. The tempo of the songs, the stomp and the energy they brought made them the band of the day up to that point, and cuts like “Serpentine” and “Rockin’ and Rollin'” were absolutely propulsive alongside the other “Dragon’s Tooth” and “Resurrect the Throwaways,” which remains almost insidiously catchy. That song was a bit of a slowdown comparatively, but the momentum held up anyway to the end of the set, and if Foghound brought even half of that level of vitality to the studio, their second record’s going to be a stunner.
Whatever unfortunate drama brought about the change in the first place, I have to think particularly after seeing them play at Vultures of Volume II that the changeover from Beelzefuzz to Righteous Bloom will be a positive in the longterm for the band. Not even because Bert Hall — speaking of chapeaus; his deserves its own Facebook page just so I can like it, unlike it, then like it again — is such a monster player, though rest assured he is, as he’s proved over the years in Revelation and Against Nature, but just for how much easier it is to take them seriously with the new name. I never saw Beelzefuzz as a four-piece after they added Pale Divine frontman Greg Diener as a lead guitarist, but he serves in that capacity well in Righteous Bloom, Hall is indeed a master of groove, and Darin McCloskey‘s fluid drumming is every bit as effective in the new band as it was in the old, adding classic style to underscore the eerie progressivism in frontman Dana Ortt‘s effects-heavy guitar work and live-multitracked vocals. Some of what they played came from Beelzefuzz‘s 2013 self-titled debut (review here) — “All the Feeling Returns,” “Lotus,” “Hypnotize” and “Reborn” garnering knowing appreciation from the crowd, myself included — but newer songs like “Within Trance” (posted here) and “Nazz Riff” went over with no trouble, as well as older demo cuts “Peace Mind,” which opened, “The Soulless” and “Hard Luck Melody,” Ortt‘s wide-eyed delivery throughout playing off a quiet “hey man” hippie routine between the songs that was Akerfeldtine in its entertainment value. Fact of the matter is that he could easily become the kind of dude who, years from now, people will talk about the first time they saw him play and try to compare notes for who got in lowest on the ground floor. I can’t make any such claim, but watching Righteous Bloom for the first time post-Beelzefuzz sure felt like a landmark anyway. Hall fit in perfectly, Diener‘s soloing was tasteful, McCloskey‘s timing and swing are as close to a sure thing as life has to offer and Ortt was the madman front and center. There was nothing — and I mean nothing — not to dig. Their album can’t get here fast enough.
If you’re having a good time, Carousel want to be the reason why. The Pittsburgh natives’ sophomore LP, 2113, was still pretty fresh in my head after its recent stream and review, so I was glad to have the chance to catch the four-piece live and experience the songs first-hand. They played the first three of them in a row — “Trouble,” “Photograph” and the unrepentantly hooky “Buried Alive in Your Arms” — and guitarist/vocalist Dave Wheeler took the time to note between the second and third that the band is very well known for their expert sequencing. That was something I mentioned in my review, but I wouldn’t flatter myself to think they had any idea who I was other than drummer Jake Leger, who also plays in reactivated ’70s rockers Bang, who toured with Kings Destroy last year for a run on which I tagged along. I’m sure it was a happy coincidence. Still, Wheeler was right, 2113 was a well put together album, and I’m not really sure what might be wrong with that. Either way, their boozy classic-heavy good times carried over remarkably well live — turns out they know how to structure a set as well, dipping back to the title-track from their 2013 debut, Jeweler’s Daughter (review here), after “Buried Alive in Your Arms” — and their cardiovascular-style delivery felt like an all-around win. Wheeler took the time to introduce the band, starting with bassist Jim Wheeler before getting to Leger and guitarist/backing vocalist Matt Goldsborough, who he noted handles guitar as well in Pentagram from time to time and in Trouble offshoot The Skull, and ending with himself: “And I’m Dave,” the band playing behind him all the while in classic showman fashion. They slowed down the set and brought the energy level back up effectively with the 2113 title-track, and their catchy songcraft, ’70s vibes and, yes, sequencing, found much welcome.
Weed is Weed
You could give me a pad and paper and two full weeks to brainstorm ideas, but I’m not sure I could come up with anything more stoner rock than Dave Sherman fronting Weed is Weed while singing through a mic on a custom stand made to look like a bong. It even had incense burning near the bottom so there was smoke coming out. That, my friends, is charm, and Weed is Weed have plenty of it to go around between Sherm clearly having a blast with the entire thing and the riffery provided by three — three! — guitarists: Gary Isom (ex-Spirit Caravan), Russ Strahan (ex-Pentagram) and Rob Portillo. With Darren Waters holding down yet more low end on bass throughout such family-friendly hits as “Cleptus Butanus” — a song about stealing lighters that featured a line about having enough in your pocket to build a butane rocket — and “The Bong Remains the Same,” Weed is Weed also introduced their new drummer, Tyler Lee, age 18. Gotta start ’em young. Worth noting that “The Bong Remains the Same” will also be the title of the six-piece’s next EP, and it must have been a hard call between that and “Reign in Bud,” which closed out, Lee teasing a Slayer drum thud reference at the beginning before they took off on another stoner-for-stoner onslaught, their groove as undeniable as their central theme was dank. Does anyone say dank anymore? I don’t even know. In any case, Weed is Weed‘s particular brand of fun was infectious, and even as a non-smoker, their puns were second to none. Not a stem in the nugget.
In much the same way that Righteous Bloom is a continuation of Beelzefuzz, so too does Wretch feel born directly from the demise of The Gates of Slumber. The Indianapolis three-piece had traveled the farthest to get to Hagerstown — headliners Elder would be no slouch in that department either — and they were heavy enough that the head sitting on top of guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon‘s full-stack of cabinets was at several points very close to vibrating off and falling to the floor. It didn’t, thankfully, and Simon, drummer J. Clyde Paradis — who, like Simon, is a The Gates of Slumber alum — and bassist Bryce Clark held down some of the weekend’s most thoroughly doomed vibes, morose plod and downer tones emanating at max volume. “R.I.P.” was a highlight, which feels strange to even say, and a couple of songs from the final The Gates of Slumber album, 2011’s The Wretch (review here), were aired, among them “Bastards Born” and “The Wretch” itself. They finished out with “The Jury,” which originally appeared on 2004’s …The Awakening debut from the defunct outfit, their set having been cut short on account of the usual running late, but ending on a faster note somehow suited them. From what I’ve seen, Wretch have a few studio tracks floating around, but I’ve yet to hear of anything recorded being due for public consumption. Seems like a no brainer that they’re one to watch given their pedigree and Simon‘s established post-Vitus doom supremacy, but it’ll be even more interesting to see how they manage to stand themselves out from The Gates of Slumber and how much of what that band was will ultimately carry forward into the new one.
Only one problem with putting Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell on so late in the day for a solo acoustic set — everyone’s sloshed. Much to the room’s credit, people actually did really well policing themselves to keep conversation to a minimum as Cottrell ran through a set of dark neofolk accompanied only by the Delmar‘s fog machine and laser lights, the response to which was mixed but which I thought worked well. Anyone can play a sad twanger like “Maybe it’s True” from Cottrell‘s 2015 self-titled solo debut in the dark, but to do it with a lightshow going? That’s impressive. Those committed to being loud either moved to the back bar or went outside, but everyone who stayed was treated to Cottrell‘s quiet, alternately traditional and minimalist atmospherics, her breathy delivery calling to mind any number of blues singers who earned the first name “Mama” while keeping consistent in its downtrodden feel to work with her main outfit. Influences were worn on her sleeve in covering Townes Van Zandt‘s “Rake,” a song both Wino and Scott Kelly have taken on previously, and the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” — the mere mention of which immediately sends my mind reeling back to David Eugene Edwards and 16 Horsepower‘s version on 2000’s Secret South full-length, though everyone from Burl Ives to Neil Young has given it a shot — was slowed-down and given due melancholy to comport with the rest of the set. A marked change in sound from the rest of the day, but more consistent in overall mood with Wretch than one might initially think, Cottrell offered a moment of clarity as Vultures of Volume II made ready to round out its journey on a sea of riffs.
“Dead Roots Stirring” made for an especially righteous opener. I hadn’t seen Massachusetts trio Elder since the release show for their 2015 third album, Lore (review here), which continues to rightly garner praise from all corners of the globe and has positioned the three-piece as headliners for the first time both on tour and at fests like this one. They are quite possibly the East Coast’s most pivotal up and coming act at this point — the great heavy hope of an entire seaboard’s next-gen scene — and with Lore, they’ve moved into a progressive style that’s entirely their own without giving up the sonic impact of their earlier work. And where the turns of “Compendium” were somewhat choppy back in March, two full tours (US and EU) later, they’re no less fluid than was “Dead Roots Stirring” at the start or “Release” from their 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (streamed here), guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo having apparently long since mastered the complex notations of his own design while bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto held together the tight turns of that song and “Spirit at Aphelion,” also from the new album. Between songs, DiSalvo apologized to anyone who might’ve run into the band the night before, and that got a laugh from the crowd who had very clearly stuck around to see them specifically. They’ve grown not just tighter on the more recent songs, but in terms of their stage presence as well, and particularly with Donovan and Couto, they were so locked in that they didn’t even really have to look at each other to know where they were and where they were going. That kind of chemistry only really develops with touring acts, which of course Elder have become, and and they continue to move forward with Lore and beyond, it will continue to serve them well. They are distinct sonic personalities, between Couto‘s swing, Donovan‘s smooth, warm-toned basslines and DiSalvo‘s penchant for exploring progressive psychedelic passages, but the way they’ve come to work together is truly something special, and they showed that in top form at Vultures of Volume II, building and releasing tension throughout “Spirit at Aphelion” and closing out their set and the fest as a whole with “Gemini” from Dead Roots Stirring (review here), which seemed tailor made to be suited to the task. They’re still growing. They’re not done. But still, don’t be surprised a couple years from now when new bands are coming out and noodling like you hear on Lore, because people have picked up in a serious way to what Elder are doing. They’ll get no argument from me.
In the back of my mind I’d had the thought of starting to drive home directly after the fest ended, getting in my car and pushing through all night on the highways of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, maybe beyond. Didn’t happen. Instead, I not only went back to the hotel to crash out, but overslept and wound up making my return home even later than I’d intended. After 13 bands, the extra two hours of sleep might well have enabled my survival.
Before I wrap this up, I have to note the hard work of Kathy Reeves in putting Vultures of Volume together. No way a two-dayer like this is easy to make happen, but she pulled it off and made it look that way anyhow. Job well done, and thanks for having me down for the reminder of just how unique and welcoming the Maryland heavy scene is.
Thanks also to Darin McCloskey, Matt Dayton, Mike Smith, Fanny Shamer, Ron McGinnis, Jaki Cunha, Dustin Davis, Chris Wolfe, Don Welch, Lisa Hass, Melanie Streko, Jon Pacella, Jim Forrester, Håkan Nyman, Kesha Atwood Nyman, Elyse Mitchell, Ron, Andrew Thornhill, Nick DiSalvo, Jack Donovan, Matt Couto (though, man, those are some fierce looks in those shots), and everyone else whose names I’ll hope to add over the next however long.
Most of all, thanks again to you for reading. More pics after the jump.