Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Night Three, 06.23.19

Posted in Reviews on June 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 night three poster

It’s about quarter to two in the morning, and I walked into the AirBNB where I’m staying a little bit ago, and have been doing that thing where you dick around on social media because you feel like you want to be doing something else but you’re not so you just lose yourself in the scrolling. Waste of time. I’d rather do this.

The end of Maryland Doom Fest 2019 is bittersweet. This one felt good, and I’m tired, but I’m sorry to see it done. The bands were great, of course — always — but more than that, it’s the people. People so generous with their time, open, kind. Incredible people. Hew-mons.

I was walking out of the venue after Conan and got down the road and I just sat on a step in front of some shop for a couple minutes and put my head between my knees — crash position — to try and process it. I didn’t succeed. I only got up when a roach walked past, otherwise I’d probably still be there, trying to hold on a little bit to tonight, to not resign it to the vapor of my memory. Sets were good, but it was the experience of being here, feeling for a few minutes as much as I’ve ever felt like a part of a thing. It’s beautiful, and raw, and it doesn’t come easily to me. Thank you. In the past, I’ve felt like an interloper in this scene. A tourist. Sitting in this room by myself now, I feel stunned. I feel like I got hit by the best train ever.

In the literal sense of amazement, amazed.

My plan is to get up tomorrow (later today) and get out of here and at some point write about the last day of the fest, which was today — have fun with that math — but I don’t know when or how or where that’s happening. And I reserve the right to delete this entire thing and replace it with some staid bullshit if I so choose, but as slapdash as my consciousness is right now, I wouldn’t trust my judgment on the matter enough to decide.

Thanks for everything. It was so real.

— Morning now. Let’s hit it:

Witchkiss

Witchkiss (Photo by JJ Koczan)

My first time seeing Witchkiss, and I hope not my last. The NY-based founding duo of drummer/vocalist Amber Burns and guitarist/vocalist Scott Prater were operating as a two-piece for a minute there, but they’ve brought in bassist Tyler Irish, and though I hadn’t seen them before, it was hard to argue with the result of their doing so. They were less an assault with volume than a gradual unfolding, and presumably because it was early it took a song or so for them to really dig into what they were doing, but they got there, and the atmosphere wasn’t lost for the weight of tone, with Burns‘ headset mic cutting through that morass and Prater‘s growls adding to the post-sludge feel as they progressed. Their 2018 debut, The Austere Curtains of Our Eyes (review here), made a splash, and rightly so, but they’ve announced intentions toward a follow-up for next year, and they seem to be ready to move forward, both in terms of sound and in the fact that they’re touring with Conan and very obviously putting work in to get their name out. I expect if they come back Maryland Doom Fest at some point, they’ll be playing in a well-earned later slot.

Shadow Witch

Shadow Witch (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Barefoot showman/shaman/frontman Earl Walker Lundy said from the stage that Shadow Witch‘s next long-player won’t arrive until 2020, which is fair when one takes into account the busy schedule of their label, Italy’s Argonauta Records, but they played two new songs in “Witches of Aendor” — which is neither to be confused with Endor, from Star Wars, or Andor, from Star Trek — and “Shifter,” and both sounded right on coming out of the recognizable strains of “Beneath the Veil” from late-2017’s Disciples of the Crow (review here). Lundy, dancing, kinetic, probably in need of a good foot-wash, is very much a focal point for Shadow Witch‘s live presentation — and yeah, he’s the singer, so that happens — but guitarist Jeremy Hall, bassist David Pannullo and drummer Justin Zipperle are ultimately responsible for the niche Shadow Witch have carved for themselves in a kind of dark heavy rock vein, sometimes aggressive, but not metal, sometimes doomed, but not doom. It would suit a narrative to say it was true of the new songs, but it was true of the old as well that Shadow Witch revel in that individuality of purpose, and as much Lundy becomes the personification of it, it’s the whole band making it work.

Faith in Jane

Faith in Jane (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Thurmont, Maryland, power trio have been this scene’s best kept secret for the last few years at least. They’ve put out records at a good clip since 2012 — last year’s Countryside (review here) is their fifth; recording live helps — and legitimately at this point are a band who should be bigger than they are, stretching their legs on tour, opening for national acts coming through, and so on. Watching them on stage at Cafe 611, my impression wasn’t all that different than when I saw them here in MD four years ago: they have a shit-ton of potential. The difference is now they kind of need to decide what to do with it, how they’re going to dig into the heavy grunge vibes and push forward with maybe more straightforward songwriting of songs like “Mountain Lore,” which closed the set, meandering into and out of jams along the way. Figuring out where they want to be. As it was, when they were done, I went to their merch table and bought a copy of every CD they had for sale. I’m pretty sure I already own Countryside and 2016’s Rhythm of Elevation, but screw it, I wasn’t taking the chance. Next time Earthless rolls through Baltimore, Faith in Jane should be opening. Then they should spend the next three years solid on the road and become the best heavy band that Maryland ever produced.

Horehound

Horehound (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Faith in Jane were on a different trip, but neither Shadow Witch nor Witchkiss were wanting for atmosphere. Pittsburgh’s Horehound took that to a different level. I’ve lost track at this point how many labels the four-piece have worked with between 2018’s Holocene (review here) and their 2016 self-titled debut (review here), but it’s definitely enough to be called “several,” including frontwoman Shy Kennedy‘s own Blackseed Records. The band are all the more ambassadors for the Steel City underground for the fact that Kennedy runs the Descendants of Crom fest there — while we’re giving a CV, she also did a t-shirt design for this site — and they excelled in that role, honing the most immersive sound I would hear all weekend. It’s not just that it was a wash, but their balance of hypnosis and bash was something I felt fortunate to behold in person and gave new character to the growl-laced “L’Appel du Vide” from Holocene, as guitarist Brendan Parrish, bassist Nick Kopco and drummer JD Dauer dug into a combination of lurch and semi-angular progressions, always seeming to wind their way back to the right spot to start again. They were striking in their patience as well, unwilling to let go of the mood they worked so hard to craft, even when at their most pummeling.

Thousand Vision Mist

Thousand Vision Mist (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Guitarist/vocalist Danny Kenyon (ex-Life Beyond), bassist/vocalist Tony Cormulada and drummer Chris Sebastian also played Maryland Doom Fest in 2018 (review here) and 2016 (review here), so it’s more than fair to call them veterans at this point. Their sound is a dug-in form of heavy progressive rock, managing to hold to a lack of pretense even as Kenyon‘s guitar wanders off to parts unknown only to snap the crowd back into consciousness as he rejoins Cormulada and Sebastian in the underlying groove. They’re not a band trying to take over the world, which kind of put them in direct contrast with Toke, who followed, but they pulled a good amount of the local faithful and had three new songs on offer alongside “Prince of Grace” from their debut album, 2017’s Journey to Ascension and the Loss of Tomorrow (review here), and “Tears of the Moon” from their prior 2015 demo. In my experience, they’ve never been anything but solid live, and a check-in annually works just fine by me. I have to wonder though at some of their themes, if somebody in the band is a pilot. “We Flew too High,” “Tears of the Moon” or “Final Flight of Fall” and “Skybound and Beyond” from the album. Someone writing this stuff would seem to spend an awful lot of time in the sky.

Toke

Toke (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The reigning princes of North Carolinian sludge took the stage at Cafe 611 like they owned the place and then went on to prove that, indeed, they did. Their second album, 2017’s Orange (discussed here), continues to shit hot fire on the weed-worshiping social-media-word-of-mouth contingent, which is nifty, and the band — in addition to providing a recent lesson on PR crisis management by getting out in front of a sexual harassment claim against their now-former drummer — with guitarist Tim Bryan and bassist/vocalist Jason “Bronco” Pierce as the remaining founders will do shows later this year with Black Label Society, have already been out with Church of Misery this year and continue to build a reputation based on ultra-stoned, crusty-jeans riffs. They had plenty on offer for the willing nodders at Maryland Doom Fest — which was basically everybody in the place — and they tapped their inner Sourvein in order to coat the assembled in moss-coated weedian groove. I think of them at this point kind of where Monolord were a few years back. They’re a band tapping into something primal, breaking their ass in every way possible to reach as many people as possible with it, and there’s no real perceptible limit to how far they can go with it. I don’t know if anyone has signed them for their next record yet or what, but they probably should.

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This marked the third time I’ve seen Kings Destroy in the last couple months playing material from this year’s excellent Fantasma Nera (review here), and while they didn’t have their we’re-on-tour-thousand-yard-staredown — because yes, in that scenario, they’re staring down everything within that thousand-yard omnidirectional radius — they still did thorough justice to their most rock-based collection of songs to-date. Citing “Unmake It” as their “doom song” — compared to “Barbarossa” or “Bleed Down the Sun,” maybe — they followed with “Seven Billion Drones” and a near-constant sense of melody between the guitars of Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski and the vocals of Steve Murphy, a duty he shared more with bassist Aaron Bumpus than even this Spring. As I recall it, the only song Bumpus didn’t step up to the mic for was the speedy “Mr. O” from their 2015 self-titled (review here), and it was easy to hear where the harmony might’ve fit if he had. I won’t take away from their delivery of that cut or any other, the propulsion in Rob Sefcik‘s drums able to slash pace in half at a measure’s notice and still not lose the thread, and the finale of “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse” once again provided the riff-based hook that tied the entire set together and gave it a sense of movement that has been the band’s own all along, whatever styles they’ve been fitting into and not fitting into — mostly the latter — over the last decade.

Zed

Zed (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Before San Francisco’s Zed went on, webernets metal radio guru and regular Doom Fest master of ceremonies Dave Benzotti led the band, the crowd, and pretty much everyone in the place in a sing-along of Journey‘s “Lights.” And I mean, the place kind of went off. Belting it out. They play that at sports events and such in San Francisco — I guess it would be like playing anything by Springsteen, or, you know, Journey, in New Jersey — so alright, but more importantly, when Zed took the stage, they did so at an immediate sprint that swept the Cafe 611 along with it, and once they started moving, they did not stop, save for a quick tune-up before the next max-intensity forward thrust. I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing their new album, Volume, yet — it’s out next month on Ripple — but I feel like I got to know it a bit anyhow as they played songs like “The Other Kind,” “The End,” “Wings of the Angel,” “Poison Tree” and “Chingus,” so that was welcome. They were clearly known to the bulk of people in front of the stage but even for those who wouldn’t have seen them last year, Zed made a readily convincing argument in their own favor, the energy of their performance serving as an infectious final shot of adrenaline to hold a long-weekend crowd over until the bludgeoning soon enough to come. All this and Journey too. Sometimes life is genuinely weird, but it works.

Conan

Conan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You know, Conan headlining Maryland Doom Fest is a big fucking deal, and it’s worth recognizing that. They’re a UK band. They played Sunday night, having just on Friday took stage before 8,000 people at Hellfest in Clisson, France — and much to their credit, come to the venue on Saturday night just to hang out and get the lay of the land — and not only are they among the planet’s most crushing live acts, but they’re a legitimate international enterprise. They might be the biggest band who’ve ever played the festival, and their involvement is emblematic of the growth of Maryland Doom Fest as a whole over the last five years and most especially in 2019. Also helping Conan‘s case? They. Fucking. Killed. I’ll be honest, once the moshing started behind me while I was taking pictures up front, I was gonna check out before the set was done, try and sneak in some work before crashing, but I stayed through the entire set (not up front), and they were nothing less than spellbinding. Cafe 611 was probably the smallest room I’ve seen Conan play since the first time I saw them in 2012, and it was like their tonal onslaught had nowhere to go, so the vibrations from Jon Davis‘ guitar and Chris Fielding‘s bass and the thud of Johnny King‘s drums just kept bouncing off the walls and looping back on themselves. Earplugs? Useless. Why bother. There was no getting away. I stood to the side and watched the pit go and go, a couple dedicated crowdsurfers carried here and there and back again, but Conan were unbelievable. Davis‘ guitar cut out early in the first song, but they got it worked out and there was no letup from there. “Foehammer” into “Battle in the Swamp” into “Paincantation” into “Satsumo.” It was that kind of evening. The perfect blowout sendoff for Maryland Doom Fest 2019 and a reinforcement of Conan‘s long-established dominance over damn near everything.

That’s it, it’s done. You already know what I did after the show last night — I went and held my head and then wrote the intro above, if you missed it — and that was that. I was up at six this morning to start writing and sorting pictures having finally keyed down enough to sleep a little before three. Take that, brain. Ya jerk.

Before I do the “more pics after the jump” thing and sign off, I want to thank JB Matson for the incredible work he does in putting this festival together. What’s he’s built has become something truly special, and the future only seems to get brighter as he goes. All the best for 2020 and I hope to be able to be back in town for it. Lineup announcement on Halloween, maybe? I’ll keep an eye out.

And I want to thank The Patient Mrs. for taking over full-on childcare duties to allow me to go and blow off some steam in Frederick and get my head right and hear all the nice things people said about the site and see killer bands and not eat, and not sleep, and wear silly-ass pants and have a good time. Thank you.

And thank you for reading. You guessed it: more pics after the jump.

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Night Two, 06.22.19

Posted in Reviews on June 23rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 night two poster

At some point early on yesterday I decided to drink as much coffee as I possibly could before the show started. It was not a choice I regret. Day two of Maryland Doom Fest 2019 played host to a whopping 11 bands on the Cafe 611 stage and five more — Crooked Hills, Seasick Gladiator, Thunderchief, Pale Grey Lore and Electric Age — at Guido’s, none of whom I’d see because, like yesterday, I got carded at the door and couldn’t get in. Still, 11 bands in an evening is a healthy dose, and Cafe 611 was packed out pretty early on. People always come and go, mill about, go smoke outside and whatnot at a show like this, but when everyone was in front of the stage, you knew it. Such was the case most especially for Beelzefuzz and the evening’s headliners, Pentagram.

I do think pounding all that caffeine was a boon to the night generally, but neither can I discount the quality of the bill in that regard. Aside from being the last Beelzefuzz show, as was announced earlier this month, there was plenty else to envy in the lineup. Also in the merch area. I was like, “I’ll buy some shirts later,” and then missed my shot at a festival shirt and a Beelzefuzz shirt, so commerce was being had for sure. I’ve been coming here for a couple years at this point, and it definitely feels more crowded this year than it ever has. Inevitable for an event that’s growing as this one is, I suppose, and well deserved on the part of Maryland Doom Fest itself.

No question I was feeling it by the end of the night, but spirits were high nonetheless. I don’t want to sound self-aggrandizing or anything, but people have been really very nice to me and said kind things about this site and stuff, and that’s both incredibly awkward and very much appreciated. Both of those things. It means a lot to me, and it makes me blush. Both of those things are true.

I feel like, as Maryland Doom Fest continues to grow, it’s nights like this that will be the biggest source of future nostalgia.

And it started long before sunset:

Greenbeard

Greenbeard (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There’s a lot of varying kinds of heavy at Doom Fest this year, but not a lot of boogie, and so Austin, Texas, trio Greenbeard were an immediately welcome start to the day. The three-piece have toured steadily over the last couple years and late in 2018 they released a three-songer EP called Onward, Pillager! through Sailor Records that was intended as a preview and fund drive for a full-length to come this year. I don’t know what the status is of that follow-up to 2017’s Lödarödböl (review here), but while their atmosphere is all party and uptempo vibes and awesome times, they’re not screwing around as their shuffle meets desert-hued tone and melody, and that was clear at Cafe 611. Guitarist/vocalist Chance Allen, bassist Jeff Klein and drummer Buddy Hachar (who played here with Doomstress last year) were spot on in their delivery and they drew people in even as the show was just getting started. They were vital, and fun in a way that stood them out from the doomly pack and only made them more of a highlight at the outset. They were a wake-up call to get up and throw down. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason there hasn’t been news of their next album is because they’re talking to labels.

Eternal Black

Eternal Black (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What Eternal Black do with their new album, the just-out Slow Burn Suicide (review here), is bring a much-needed sense of perspective to traditionalist doom. The New York three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ken Wohlrob, bassist/backing vocalist Hal Miller and drummer Joe Wood took what they did on their first record, 2017’s Bleed the Days (review here), and actively learned from it and pushed themselves forward. There are few things I consider as admirable when it comes to bands, so, aside from the fact that before they played I got to meet Joe Wood‘s parents — I’ve known Joe for a very long time, and he is among the sweetest people in the universe, so yes, this was a high point of the day for me — I was very excited to hear their new songs live. They didn’t disappoint, basically playing side A of the record with “Lost in the Fade,” “Below,” “The Ghost” and “Sum of All Fears” along with “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” from the debut. I’ve been fortunate enough to see them a couple times now, including here in 2016, but the crunch and impact they’ve fostered in their sound as they’ve continued to progress is as much their own as it is quintessential NYC heavy, and I very much look forward to seeing where the path they’re on takes them.

Atomic 26

Atomic 26 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Every bill needs a sore thumb, right? That one band who maybe is a little bit the square peg? Well, hello to Maryland’s Atomic 26, whose style of hardcore still had some tonal heft one might trace to a residual influence from earliest Clutch, but definitely were intended to be an outside-genre inclusion in the lineup. Hey, that’s cool. Dudes brought it, aggro chugga and all. I can only be honest and say I neither had the frame of reference to appreciate what they were doing or the inclination toward the genre itself, but at a certain point, whatever, man. They were having fun — shenanigans aplenty — and I’m not about to begrudge that. I’ll note as well there was a contingent up front for their whole set who were obviously well familiar with the proceedings, and the energy they started with offered no letup by the time they were done. I don’t know if their set means Maryland Doom Fest is starting to branch out in a different direction, widen the scope, or what, but sometimes you gotta have something different, and Atomic 26 — it’s iron, in case you were curious — ticked that box nicely.

Knoxxville

Knoxxville (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What, you’re not gonna hang out and watch JB‘s band? Of course you are. Festival organizer JB Matson anchors Knoxxville on drums, and as he’s got two basses and two guitars surrounding him on either side, there was a definite sense of fullness to what they were doing, despite the lack of a singer. My understanding is they had one and now they don’t. I’m sure the narrative is more complex than that, but that’s the upshot all the same. In instrumentalist fashion, they proffered workingman’s doom rock, both very much of the region and right to the heart of what Maryland Doom Fest is rooted in being, which felt like a reorientation after Atomic 26 but was a shift easily made. They’re they only group this weekend thus far to have two basses, and I have no idea why more bands don’t do that. Two guitars? Yeah, that’s cool. Pretty standard. But what the hell could be more doom than piling low end on top of low end? Even with that additional heft factor, Knoxxville moved at a decent clip, treating the crowd to essential local fare that most of all typified the lack of pretense — or if you prefer, bullshit — that Maryland doom has always done better than anyone else. They’ll either get a singer or they won’t, but they were right on as it was.

Forming the Void

Forming the Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m honestly not sure what I can tell you about Forming the Void that I haven’t already said after the other two times I’ve seen them this year (reviews here and here), but when it comes to the Lafayette, Louisiana, four-piece, the point is worth reiterating just how much these guys are right there. There they are. They’ve found their sound over the course a working-quick three albums, they’re already confirmed to go abroad next year for the first time, they’ve got a new record in the can and they’re right at the cusp of realizing their potential. The heavy prog-tinged melodies in the guitars and harmonized vocals of Shadi Omar Al-Khansa and James Marshall are an immediate standout factor, but the rolling riff style and the weight given to the material from bassist Luke Baker and drummer Thomas Colley is not to be minimized in terms of the overall affect of watching them on stage. They’re about to hit the road for a week with Year of the Cobra, and if that tour is going where you are, just go. That’s it. Go. I’ve yet to see Forming the Void that they didn’t surpass the experience of the time before, including last night, and in style and substance, they’re a bright spot in the American heavy underground. Even better, they still feel like they’re just getting started.

Sixes

Sixes (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Yes, Sixes are very, very heavy. There’s no arguing with that and I won’t try. What seemed more important as the Californian ultra-downer megasludgers brought to Maryland Doom Fest 2019 was more than tone, however. The consuming darkness of their atmosphere was simply on another wavelength from everything else I’ve seen this weekend so far, and they basked in that bleak extremity with purpose and intensity. Like many of the bands who played, they had some technical delays getting going — it would very much be that kind of day — but their lurching, charcoal-black style and largely-unrelenting force came through without hindrance and their sound was a spiraling chasm of ritualized volume. You could almost taste it. Bitter, without the sweet. But they weren’t just assault, and they were able to make the ambient stretches just as heavy as the full-on punishment. They’re signed to Black Bow — among others — and touring Europe later this year with Conan, so take that as the endorsement it is, and though I didn’t get to dig into 2018’s debut, Mephistopheles, when it came out, they made a convincing case for rectifying that immediately, courtesy of the plugs vibrating in my ears crying out for mercy that would not come.

Atala

Atala (Photo by JJ Koczan)

A fresh reminder of what a difference a great drummer makes. Atala‘s Jeff Tedtaotao was neither the first of the day nor the last, but as guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton and bassist Dave Horn manifested sand sludge in communion with a land far, far away from Frederick, it was Tedtaotao‘s drumming that gave the band their sense of push and roll. It was not my first Atala experience — which I feel like one should for sure discuss in a way otherwise reserved for talking about ayahuasca, and not just for the bookending-vowel commonality — but it was my first time seeing them since the release last month of their fourth album, The Bearer of Light (review here), on Salt of the Earth Records, and as the prevailing impression of that record was, “Wow, these songs are cool and this production is raw and live-sounding as hell,” the interest in hearing that material come from a P.A. was high. “Desolate Lands,” “Upon the Altar” and the particularly crushing “Won’t Subside” answered that call, and as this was their second time at Maryland Doom Fest, they seemed at home on the Cafe 611 stage. They’re not a band I’m likely to ever complain about seeing live, and I felt like when they were done I only had a richer understanding of The Bearer of Light, so all the better.

Beelzefuzz

Beelzefuzz (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Man, up yours, Beelzefuzz, for making me feel feelings. As noted above, founding guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt announced the end of the band after a decade together in one form or another, as he, drummer Darin McCloskey and lead guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener will continue in Pale Divine — which I believe leaves bassist Bert Hall as a free agent; Revelation reunion? — and I’m legitimately sorry to see them go. They played their final set to a crowd full of family and friends as well as some people who’d never even heard them before, and that could hardly have been more appropriate. With the progressive edge or Ortt‘s organ/vocal-harmony effects, McCloskey‘s smooth and classy style of drumming, Hall‘s complement thereto, the born-to-do-it soloing of Diener and his splitting the vocal duties with Ortt, they were a band who should have been around longer and who will be talked about in this part of the world for a long time to come. Whatever tumult they’d been through with the name change, lineup change, all of it, didn’t matter while they played. Their last show was about celebration, and from “Hypnotized” and “All the Feeling Returns” to the so-fitting last lead line reaches of “Hard Luck Melody,” they lived up to the legacy of what could and should have been for them all along. Special band. Will be missed.

Foghound

Foghound (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Somewhere in the Big Book of Guaranteed Good Times, there’s a picture of Foghound playing Maryland Doom Fest. I probably didn’t take it, but still. It’s there. Not yet a year removed from their most recent album, Awaken to Destroy (review here), the dual-guitar Baltimorean four-piece came in, kicked ass, set the room on (figurative) fire, then split. It was awesome, they’re awesome, you’re awesome. Awesome. With Adam Heinzmann another year’s worth of locked-in on bass/periodic vocals — he shared a mic with guitarist Dee Settar, while guitarist Bob Sipes and drummer Chuck Dukehart each had their own — and the very-present spirit of bassist Rev. Jim Forrester in the place, they were the heavy rock boot to the ass that you knew was coming but still managed to be jolted by anyhow. They don’t tour, and they could, but neither do they screw around, and though they played here in 2018, between the fact of the new album out and the fact that they’re fucking Foghound and it’s Maryland, so yes, you want them to be there, they were awakened and they destroyed. If you’re at all into heavy rock, I can’t imagine a situation in which you would’ve watched their set and not been a fan by the end of it, whether or not you were before. That’s it. Done.

Apostle of Solitude

Apostle of Solitude (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Indianapolis four-piece Apostle of Solitude released the best doom album of 2018 in the form of From Gold to Ash (review here) on Cruz Del Sur. They played here in 2017, but I was absent that year — can’t remember why, but I’m sure I had a doctor’s note for whatever it was; they also played in 2015 at the first one — so it had apparently been four years since I last saw them live, which for a band as good as they are is egregiously long. They opened the set with “Keeping the Lighthouse” from the new album, the hook of which will likely remain stuck in my head long after this weekend is over, and followed with cuts like “My Heart is Leaving Here” and “Ruination be Thy Name” to only further the impact, drummer Corey Webb earning shouts of “BEAST!” from the side of the stage after the first song with which one could only agree. Webb, bassist Mike Naish, and guitarist/vocalists Chuck Brown and Steve Janiak (the latter also of Devil to Pay, and both now of the semi-reignited The Gates of Slumber) were monstrous. I don’t know what pagan gods were bestowing gifts of riffs upon the masses assembled in front of the stage, but, you know, thanks and all that. At an event like this, I usually have one set where I end up pulling my earplugs out and just kind of giving into the volume and the vibe of the thing. At Maryland Doom Fest 2019, that was Apostle of Solitude, and it’s not a choice I regret in the slightest.

Pentagram

Pentagram (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Is this the beginning of the redemption of Bobby Liebling? I have no idea, but I’d guess probably not. By any measure, we’re talking about someone who has actively or inadvertently squandered just about every visible opportunity and/or second chance he’s worked for or had come his way in his life, and so when it comes to Pentagram‘s future, if you look back over the last 50 years or so, it’s hard to imagine any radical change. Does the fact that the dude assaulted his mom, got called out on tour for sexual harassment, and so on, mean that the band doesn’t deserve to headline at Maryland Doom Fest? It’s certainly debatable. But if the redemption of Bobby Liebling were ever to happen, this would be the place it started, and the room was certainly rooting for him, from the young woman who kissed his hand during “Starlady” early on in the set to the crowd surfing and moshing that took hold later as the house lights came up and they went into “Forever My Queen.” The word is “polarizing,” but as Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” so make of it what you will. The band behind Liebling — bassist Greg Turly, drummer “Minnesota” Pete Campbell (who was announced as the winner of the night’s raffle right before going on stage) and guitarist Matt Goldsborough — were on point, and the response was there as it’s been for the last decade-plus. You kind of have to shrug or throw up your hands. That’s me not taking a side. Pentagram will keep going either way. What else is there?

As I write this, it’s almost 1PM and the last day of the fest starts in a couple hours. Nine more bands on the Cafe 611 stage and I’m not even going to embarrass myself trying to get into Guido’s again. Very rock and roll of me, I know. I’ll get ’em in 2020. Shower first, and then more coffee and all the water. I’d like to sit for a bit and get my head on straight as I was lucky enough to do yesterday, and the energy was so good throughout last night that I want to try to recapture it as much as I am able, particularly after feeling by the end of Friday like I’d been hit by the doomtruck. I’m hardly in peak physical condition — my legs and back are feeling it — but we’ll see how it goes. The mind is willing, the flesh is… increasingly saggy.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Night One, 06.21.19

Posted in Reviews on June 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 night one

I shudder to think of the poor bastard who, when this weekend is over, will have to mop up all the melted eardrums from the floor of the Cafe 611. With the expansion this year to four days — because again, the pre-fest yesterday was essentially a full night of the festival; 2020 pre-party on Wednesday? — Maryland Doom Fest enters a whole new echelon of being physically overwhelming. By the time Mothership went on last night, I was feeling it. Hard. Mostly in my back. And granted, they ran late and had some technical trouble getting set up, but I have the feeling that even had they been on time, I still would’ve been dragging my keester like the anchor it is.

But if that’s the case, it’s only true because the day was so goddamn good. Apart from not being allowed into Guido’s to see Benthic Realm because I didn’t have ID — my driver’s license got lost, I have no idea where or when or how, just looked in my wallet a couple weeks back and it was gone and the new one hasn’t arrived yet — and I guess the male pattern baldness, gray hair, wrinkles under my eyes and stiff, loping movements weren’t enough to confirm my age. “Sorry sir, you’re right. I’m actually three 16-year-olds in disguise as one old dude.” I respect the diligence, and the dude was just doing his job, so after a “seriously?” that was 100 percent genuinely asking if he was being serious, I wasn’t gonna make a stink, but that was a surprise.

It was a bummer though. Krista from the band I think had on an Obelisk t-shirt yesterday, and Dan‘s a really good guy all the time and being as I won’t be in Massachusetts anymore, let alone Worcester where they’re from, it would’ve been cool to see them. Nobody’s evening is made or broken by my showing up, but I wish I had caught their set. That’s all. It’s been a while since I got carded. Doubly so because I don’t drink.

That was the only snafu though, and otherwise, it was a have-my-cake-while-eating-my-cake-and-your-cake-golly-cake-is-good kind of evening as MDDF19 launched in earnest. It was a 6PM start, but the bill was stacked, so let me not waste time with tales of my own foibles.

Maryland Doom Fest 2019 night one:

False Gods

False Gods (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Oh they were mad. An angry start to the day to be sure. I give New York-based ultra-aggro five-piece crushers False Gods credit for coming up with the most excellent tagline, “If it’s too slow, you’re too young,” which is great, but for the most part, they actually moved at a pretty solid clip, taking aspects of post-hardcore and post-metallic intensity and putting them through a ringer of sludge riffs and tones, growls and screams cutting through. They’ve got a new two-song EP out called The Serpent and the Ladder, featuring, yes, “The Serpent” and “The Ladder,” and as frontman Mike Stack paced back and forth at the front of the Cafe 611 stage, his screams sometimes backed by growls from drummer Paulie Stack (let’s assume they’re related), the bass of Johnny Geirak offered density to underpin the more atmospheric elements of Greg March and Nick Luisi‘s guitars. A mid-set spaceout was welcome, but otherwise the chestbeating felt sincere and the impact of their sound was like a shock to the system. There would be no easing into the day, clearly. Welcome back to Maryland Doom Fest 2019. Now be pummeled.

The Druids

The Druids (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There’s another Druids, who are from Iowa and signed to The Company and who put an album out this year and made a bit of a splash with it. That’s not this The Druids, who are from here in Maryland and not signed to The Company but did put a record out in February called Totem (review here) that’s fully diggable in its blend of space and heavy rocks, a blend put to semi-psychedelic use in a we’re-actually-stoned stoner mindset. I had been looking forward to seeing them — not the least because Gary Isom (Spirit Caravan, last night with Weed is Weed, etc.) plays drums — and felt justified in that. Isom‘s pedigree notwithstanding, they’re young. And they sounded like it, guitarist/vocalists Eli Watson and Danny Alger and bassist Jeremy Dinges bringing a fresh energy to the material that, while not stylistically revolutionary, still benefited it greatly. Dave Davidson, who has worked the sound for every Maryland Doom Fest that I’ve been to, kept reminding them between songs how much time they had left, as though if he didn’t, they might get high and wander into a jam, never to return. Not great for keeping to a schedule, but I wouldn’t mind hearing that, either.

Kingsnake

Kingsnake (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Pro-shop, and I’m not honestly sure how much else needs to be said. Philadelphia’s Kingsnake kicked off a Pennsylvania threepeat on the Cafe 611 stage, and they did so with hard-edged, Southern-tinged heavy that seemed to roll out the funk of Clutch into a more forward drive. Hooks? They got hooks. Riffs? They got those too. And they deliver. I’ll always remember them for their roots in Sugar Daddie, but that was like 14 years ago now, so it’s safe to say in that time Kingsnake have come into their own, and what they bring is down-home heavy vibes, for the distinguished working gentleperson who, whether they’re sipping IPA or living the High Life, knows exactly what they want out of the experience. They marked the beginning of schedule collision between Cafe 611 and Guido’s Speakeasy, the second venue about 150 feet right on the next block (easy walk, nice to get a bit of non-doomfart air), but I caught both the beginning and the end of their set, and they killed it to a high standard. Their got-it-togetherness was well on display, and reportedly they’ve had new songs in the works for a while to follow 2016’s Resonance, so hopefully something comes out soon.

Spiral Grave

Spiral Grave (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve been tracking the emergence of Spiral Grave since the band announced their existence in the earliest moments of this year, and my first opportunity to see them live wasn’t one I was about to pass up. I walked right into Guido’s no problem this time — also part of what made it such a surprise later — as Spiral Grave were still setting up, but by the time they went on, that room would be completely packed. Not that that’s saying much — the space is intimate, to put it mildly — but still. They opened with their first single, “Nothing” (premiered here) and proceeded to give the assembled a preview of things to come as they move toward their in-progress debut album. The amalgam of Iron Man and Lord — quintessential Maryland doom meets oft-experimentalist Virginian noise chaos — works. Guitarist Willy Rivera (the Lord contingent) has beefed up his riffing style to suit the grooves of bassist Louis Strachan and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann, and the underlying metallic sharpness in his work suits the vocals of Dee Calhoun well. They’ve been in my “look forward to more” category for a while. Only more the case after seeing them play. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were back here next year after the album release. Nor would I complain.

Backwoods Payback

Backwoods Payback (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sometimes life is pretty sweet, like when Backwoods Payback plays. The West Chester, PA/Richmond, VA trio were here last year heralding the arrival of their Summer 2018 LP, Future Slum (review here), and it was only more of a pleasure to see them this time around because, you know, the more the merrier. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson have a reputation that precedes them here, and I don’t know if it was people who saw them at the last Maryland Doom Fest or who heard the record or what, but they packed the room out and had people singing along. Or maybe that was just me. Either way, they made highlights out of Future Slum cuts like “Pirate Smile” and “Whatever,” “Generals” and “Lines,” which closed out with its tense build, as well as what I’d swear was some even-newer stuff but was too ass-kicked afterwards to ask. If you’ve never seen them, their style is as much grown-up punk as it is ’90s-weird-kid, but it’s delivered with heft and heart that are second to no one, and they’re the kind of band who win people over. They didn’t have to do that at Cafe 611 — the room was on their side to start with — but the converted were plenty happy to hear them preach. There are very few bands I so much enjoy watching play.

The Age of Truth

The Age of Truth (Photo by JJ Koczan)

No easy feat to be sandwiched on a bill between Backwoods Payback and Year of the Cobra with Lo-Pan still to follow, but Philly’s The Age of Truth wrapped up the Keystone triad with an unequivocal mastery of West Coast-style heavy rock meeting Northeastern noise crunch and aggression. Also repeat offenders from last year (review here), they remain entrenched in their righteous 2017 debut, Threshold (review here), starting with the immediate lock-in nodder “Come Back a God” — which still reminds me of Dozer, in the best way — as frontman Kevin McNamara pointed up to the sky, or at least the ceiling, and guitarist Mike DiDonato, bassist Bill Miller and drummer Scott Fressetto behind him were in go-mode from the start. For a band who haven’t spent months on the road — they’ve done plenty of shows, but not really full-on toured, and I don’t know if they want to or not — they rose to the occasion in such a way as to make me wonder how that might tie into their next record, if the tightness of their live presentation will be mirrored in their songwriting or captured output. Whatever they might have planned in that regard, they sounded ready to move forward, and in what, again, was a difficult spot, they shone, indulging a bit of drank in the process.

Year of the Cobra

Year of the Cobra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Looking at their setlist after they played, I felt way better about how few of Year of the Cobra‘s songs I recognized while they were on stage. The Seattle two-piece will release their second album later this year as their debut through Prophecy Productions — I’m not saying I’m holding a spot on my best-of-the-year list for it, but basically I am — and though they’ve toured hard to support 2016’s …In the Shadows Below (review here) and the subsequent 2017 EP, Burn Your Dead (review here), including just recently with Lord Dying, I’m embarrassed to say I’d never seen them before. That fact has been gnawing at me, so I was relieved when they went on, and all the more so when they absolutely leveled Cafe 611. They played “Cold” from the EP and “White Wizard” from the first record as well as the title-track of their first short release, 2015’s The Black Sun (review here), but everything else seemed to be new, titles like “Ash and Dust,” “The Divine” and “Into the Fray” scribbled out to represent a barrage of low-end tone, wash of crash and increasingly nuanced vocal melodicism from Amy Tung Barrysmith. With Jon Barrysmith on drums, they were a nation-of-two duo whose time on the road was obvious in their we-do-this-all-the-time vibe, and my only regret of the evening was not buying a shirt. That’s something I’ll rectify next time, and yes, there will be a next time.

Lo-Pan

Lo-Pan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Come on, Lo-Pan. You know that scene in that one episode of The Simpsons from the ’90s where Homer joins not-Lollapalooza and Sonic Youth are there and they steal Peter Frampton’s watermelon? That’s like Lo-Pan stealing all the awesome and keeping it for themselves. As they absolutely tore exclusively into cuts from their new record, Subtle (review here), it was as though they were standing next to an empty cooler going, “Come on, Mr. Frampton! You’re not gonna eat all that watermelon!” It was my first time seeing them since they added guitarist Chris Thompson, which was a couple years ago now — look, I can’t make excuses; sometimes it’s hard being a human being, let alone leaving the house — and with their lightbars on the sides of his and bassist Scott Thompson‘s cabs, singer Jeff Martin in back giving a clinic in vocal dynamics and drummer Jesse Bartz bashing away up front, they did what Lo-Pan do: they destroyed. I don’t think I’ve seen them at any point in the last decade and not come out of it unable to name a more powerful American heavy rock band. I’ll catch them again in a couple months as they tour with C.O.C. and Crowbar — they’re doing a one-off in Teaneck, NJ; fuck yes — and I’m already looking forward to that. This is a band to treasure.

Pale Divine

Pale Divine (Photo by JJ Koczan)

So here’s the thing: Pale Divine just put out a record. Not this week, but last November they released their self-titled LP (review here), and as it was their first outing in six years, it’s totally unreasonable to think they might do another one anytime soon. Pale Divine doesn’t owe anyone anything. You know how the pre-fest was all the Stoner Hands of Doom bands? Well, okay. Pale Divine played that fest seven times, including the first one 20 years ago. But on the other hand… since the album came out, guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener, bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis and drummer Darin McCloskey added Dana Ortt — who’ll also play his last show with Beelzefuzz this weekend — on guitar and vocals, and they’re just at another level for having done so. You could hear the harmonies between Diener and Ortt on vocals throughout their set, and the interplay on guitar was no less glorious. So yeah, Pale Divine, you don’t have to put out another record right this moment. Don’t feel obligated. But if you wanted to make that happen sometime in the less-than-six-years-from-now near future, I think it would really be for the best all the way around. The wax is barely dry on Pale Divine, so it’s not even fair to ask, but I’m asking anyway. Or at least a live record as a stopgap. I’d take a 7″. A demo tape. Something. Anything.

Mothership

Mothership (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You know why I like Mothership? They play both kinds of music: rock and roll. How are you gonna be dead on your feet when Mothership are playing? The Dallas power trio manifest the best of Texas’ heavy legacy and offer it up in kinetic fashion. Already this year they’ve toured with Death Angel, done a spot on the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest out on the West Coast, and been on the road with C.O.C. (review here), and that’s after doing Europe last Fall on a by-now-legendary stint with Elephant Tree and Stoned Jesus, so yeah, Mothership are basically on fire and after a late start owing to some non-intentional feedback and other technical whathaveyou, they played like it. They’ve basically been go-go-go since before the arrival of their 2017 third full-length, High Strangeness (review here), and their “Midnight Express” shows no signs of slowing. They’ve made themselves ambassadors for ’70s heavy without ever really dipping into retroism, and more than just ape what classic bands did before them, they take those lessons and push them forward onto new ground. I honestly don’t know when they would’ve had time to write a new LP or anything like that, but they seem to have a keen sense of how to keep their momentum going — spoiler: it’s by busting their collective ass — so I have to think they’ll get there sooner or later, if they can manage to stop long enough to hit record. Hard to imagine the tour offers stopping, frankly. I’ll admit I didn’t stay for the whole set, but even with the hiccup at the outset, there was no question they owned that room.

I guess it was like 2AM when I got back to the AirBNB? Something like that. I crashed quickly, even before pictures were done being transferred from my memory card, and slept until eight this morning. Saw nine bands on Thursday, 10 bands on Friday. Today’s Saturday and there are 11 at the Cafe 611 alone — more if I can manage to con my way back into the good graces of Guido’s — and that’s the busiest day of the thing. I am beat but upright, and very much in need of a shower. At least I got a toothbrush yesterday. Today’s need is Advil.

Good times, y’all. Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Pre-Fest, 06.20.19

Posted in Reviews on June 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest shod preparty poster

One could go on at some length about the legacy of the Stoner Hands of Doom Festival, which, like much of the pre-social-media universe, feels like part of some bygone era, when in fact the last edition was held in 2013. The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 pre-fest party — which I’ll only argue with because, really, when you have nine bands playing, that’s a festival one way or the other — was co-billed as SHoD XX in honor of the 20th anniversary of that fest’s first edition in 1999. Two of the bands on the evening’s bill were actually there in Virginia and Maryland on that weekend — Solace and WarHorse — but everyone who took the stage at Cafe 611 in Frederick, MD, was a veteran of it one way or the other. Slow Horse and Tummler remain sadly unaccounted for.

SHoD traveled — that first Arizona lineup is legendary — but spent a few pivotal years in Frederick down the road at what used to be Krug’s Place, and in both mission and manifestation, there isn’t a better festival to inherit the mantle than Maryland Doom Fest, though at the same time, it’s never been so plain just how much MDDF has come onto its own and found its place among the wider festival sphere. The WarHorse reunion is a coup, but for the greater incorporation of Guido’s as a second venue and the expansion to four days, Maryland Doom Fest has expanded its reach across borders and styles in a way that has only added to and enriched its original purpose. Earthride headlining tied it all together as only they possibly could.

It was a 5:30 start and I rolled into the venue about half an hour before that. Already, familiar faces were in ample supply, and they’d only be more so over the course of the evening. I have the feeling it’s going to be that kind of weekend. Right on.

The night went like this:

After the Sun

After the Sun (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Along with Earthride and Solace (who were two for two at that point), Ohio’s After the Sun played SHoD in 2000, the same year they formed. They’d return in 2001 as well. Given their style, it’s pretty notable that they’re actually not from Maryland itself, as their traditional take on doom definitely seemed to have been born of an awareness of the likes of The ObsessedPentagramUnorthodox, and so on. After putting out an EP in 2001, they released their first full-length just last year in the form of a seven-song self-titled, and they served it well live, making a highlight out of “Delusion of Sanity” late in the set. They had a new short release, The Demise, out for the festival, and were solid, workingman’s doom rock, the guttural belt-out of vocalist Doug Perry recalling earlier metallic grit while the chug of Lance Collier‘s bass and Rob Perkins‘ guitar and the thud of Bryan Kaiser‘s drums provided suitable backing for such conviction. The fact that they’ve released more music in the last nine months than in the prior 17 years shouldn’t be lost, and one has to wonder what their future plans are with this feeling very much like a return set, on-stage altar and all.

Freedom Hawk

Freedom Hawk (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This band just rocks. It hasn’t been that long since the last time I saw them, and they were still one of the sets for which I was most excited. There’s no bullshit to Freedom Hawk. They’ve got the songs. They plug in and kick ass and then they’re done. Five records deep, they know they’re doing it right and they play with that conviction. “Blood Red Sky,” “Lost in Space,” “Solid Gold,” “The Darkness and the Light,” “Radar,” “Executioner” and “Indian Summer” made for a quick set that seemed even faster than it was, but the Virginia Beach four-piece very obviously made the most of their time. I still have “Indian Summer” stuck in my head, if that’s any indication. Freedom Hawk only played the final Stoner Hands of Doom in 2013, which was held in Richmond, Virginia, and saw fest-organizers Rob and Cheryl Levey hand the reins to Brendan Burns (who at the time ran the Eye of the Stoned Goat festival), but any excuse to have them in just about any lineup is cool as far as I’m concerned. They’re just doing a weekender around Maryland Doom Fest, but they absolutely brought it like they’d been on the road for weeks.

Weed is Weed

Weed is Weed (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Double-duty Sherman! And on guitar, no less! With Gary Isom playing drums! With the incense-burning bong-shaped mic stand present and accounted for, Earthride frontman Dave Sherman took the stage with the three-guitar riff machine Weed is Weed to bask in crunchy nodder vibes and, as they always seem to do, have a really good time. I’ve been lucky enough to see them a couple times now — always in Maryland — and I don’t think they’ve ever had the same lineup twice. Sherman playing guitar was a nice touch, and Isom‘s move back to drums (from guitar) was of course nothing to complain about either. They lurched into “The Bong Remains the Same” and the eponymous “Weed is Weed” and sundry other greatest hits, and the room was with them all the way. I don’t know if they’d get the same reception anywhere else, but at Cafe 611, they were home, and it was a family atmosphere all the way through. The lights were green, and by the time they were done, they only seemed greener. If the East Coast had the Pacific region’s same proclivity for using the word “gnarly,” Weed is Weed might be the standard by which that was measured.

Deer Creek

Deer Creek (Photo by JJ Koczan)

At some point early in the set, Deer Creek guitarist/vocalist Paul Vismara noted that it was the band’s first show east of the Mississippi River in something like 17 or 18 years, and he thanked all the bands who have played their native Colorado in the meantime because, as he put it, “that’s a long fucking drive.” I believe it. Vismara — currently working on cover art for the next Solace record — and fellow guitarist Conan Hultgren, who also ran Game Two Records — the first Sourvein, the Halfway to Gone/Alabama Thunderpussy split, releases from Pale Divine, Negative Reaction, etc. — led the four-piece through a round of massively-riffed tonal plunge, a noisy, sludgy aggression cutting through the thickness of Hultgren‘s and Paul Vismara‘s guitars and Stephanie Hopper‘s bass, set to roll from drummer Marc Brooks. Their late-2018 EP, Quisling, wanted nothing for atmospherics, and their live presentation had that same sense of open-space, but neither was the impact neglected, the band hitting hard and locking into raw doom and sludge with an abandon more willful than reckless and a focus on mood that no one else would touch for the remainder of the evening.

Devil to Pay

Devil to Pay (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I know Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay played SHoD in 2012, because I was there. It was the one in New London, Connecticut. They also played in 2004, 2007, 2009 (I was there, too), and indeed 2013, so with five appearances total, that makes them the most-SHoDded of the bands playing the first night of Maryland Doom Fest. Not a minor distinction, but of course they’ve done plenty since as well, making their debut on Ripple with 2013’s Fate is Your Muse (review here) and following it with 2016’s A Bend Through Space and Time (review here). They’re about due for a new record — though now sharing guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak with Apostle of Solitude (playing this weekend) as well as The Gates of Slumber — and indeed they had new songs called “Heave Ho” and “37 Trillion” in the set alongside favorites like “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife,” which seemed to fit well alongside their melodic, heavy and straightforwardly structured songs. Like Freedom Hawk, they’re rarely dug into frills of any kind, and it had been too long since I saw them, but they reminded of what a well-kept secret they are and gave me something to look forward to in their next record, whenever it might show up.

Wasted Theory

Wasted Theory (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Big news coming next week from Wasted Theory. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s not a new record — according to drummer Brendan Burns that’s still in the “messing around with riffs” stage, and fair enough since they released Warlords of the New Electric (review here) just last year — but it’s big news. And cool news. You know, I don’t always get down with where Wasted Theory land in terms of theme and whatnot, but as I watched guitarist/vocalist Larry Jackson, Jr. lead the band — Burns, guitarist Andrew Petkovic, bassist Corey Pettingill — through the set, I thought back to the first time I saw them early in 2013, and the difference six years have made in their sound is huge. On every level in terms of songs and performance, they’re a more professional, realized band, and yeah, they should be with three full-lengths out, but it’s still striking just how far they’ve come and how much work they’ve put in to find their place in Southern heavy rock. They’ve locked into their niche and set about developing as players and songwriters, and despite lineup changes they’ve never done anything but move forward. Look out for that news this week and join me in being vicariously happy for the band when the time comes.

Solace

Solace (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Solace are chaos. So much chaos. From the about-to-fly-off-the-rails dual-leadwork of Justin Daniels and Tommy Southard to the fact that they had Danny Golin (Halfway to Gone) sitting in on drums for the set after only rehearsing with him twice, to frontman Justin Goins spilling all the beer, the New Jersey five-piece are barely able to be contained on a stage — and at Maryland Doom Fest, they weren’t; Goins definitely spent some time in the crowd. They started recording their new album a year ago, reportedly, and I’ve already put up I think more than one news piece about it being done, but indeed, the thing’s still in progress, but whatever they do, wherever they go, Solace bring that sense of punk-metal danger with them, and it’s not just about a threat of violence, though maybe that too, even in the one new song they played, but the material itself has this frenetic energy to it that pushes everything into the red — figuratively and literally in terms of the lighting in this case — and when their set was done, you could almost feel the crowd at Cafe 611 exhale the breath it had been holding while they played. Hey, Solace — finish the goddamn album already. The world needs more of this kind of destructive catharsis. Badly.

WarHorse

Warhorse (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Yeah, so I know Massachusetts’ WarHorse only have two shows booked — this and Psycho Las Vegas in August — but I’m going to tell you straight up that this reunion is going to have to be a real thing whether they like it or not. The offers are going to keep coming. As in: “start writing songs and get your passports ready.” Already on the lips of fest-goers since the start of the day, the trio of bassist/vocalist Jerry Orne, drummer Mike Hubbard and Terry Savastano laid waste to the room. If Solace were the bull in the china shop, WarHorse were the steamroller knocking over the building afterward. It was magnificent. I never saw them during their original run, but their lone LP, As Heaven Turns to Ash (discussed here), is the stuff of legend — especially in the Northeast — and within the first five minutes of “Horizons Burn Red,” it was obvious they need to keep going. The set was that, plus “I am Dying,” “Scrape,” “Lysergic Communion” and “Black Acid Prophecy,” and when they were done, people were shouting for more. Rightly so. You know how you’ve been listening to that record for all these years and thinking like, “Wow, this must’ve been amazing to see live?” Well, it still is. Tour, new songs, album, festivals, all of it. They sounded like a band ready to get their due.

Earthride

Earthride (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m not sure how else you could hope to close out the night but with Earthride, who, again, tied together the spirit of Stoner Hands of Doom with Maryland Doom Fest perfectly. There was some problem early on with the bass rig, but it got worked out and after being introduced by drummer Eric Little‘s daughter — he looked pretty flabbergasted — they were off and rolling soon enough into the quintessential Chesapeake nod of “Something Wicked,” the title-track of their most recent album (review here), which came out in 2010. The intervening years have found vocalist Dave Sherman involved in Weed is Weed and the Spirit Caravan reunion that morphed into the current incarnation of The Obsessed, as well as other projects in the works and lineup changes in Earthride itself mostly in the bassist role — Greg Ball has handled guitar for the last several years — and true, they had the Witch Gun 7″ out in 2017, but even so, it’s time for a fourth Earthride album. I was dragging ass by the time they went on, but Earthride are kingpins of Maryland’s heavy underground and there’s nothing quite like seeing them on their home turf. As ever, I came out of doing so with no regrets whatsoever. They are a definitive band for what Maryland Doom Fest is all about.

It was, uh, late, when I got back to the AirBNB where I’m staying a few blocks away from the venue. I crashed on the futon in this room at about 2AM and was up before 7 thinking I needed to start making coffee and writing. Correct on both accounts. Today is another packed day — they all are — but it starts a little later, so I’ll see if I can’t crash for a bit this afternoon ahead of making my way over to Cafe 611 again. Also need to buy a toothbrush, so yeah, I think I’ll go do that. After I sort pictures.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Gran Duca Premiere “All Hail the Autowagen” Video; Beneath Thy Roots out June 28

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gran duca

Germany’s Gran Duca will release their debut album, Beneath Thy Roots, on June 28. The record, which is comprised of 11 tracks and runs a CD-style 55 minutes, finds them clean in their production and clear in their intent, working in a couple different vibes across the not-inconsiderable span. There’s an edge of aggression here and there throughout, from 6:57 opener and longest track (immediate points) “Monstrosity” onward, as heard in cuts like “Howlin’ Rollin'” and the later “House of Fools,” but that comes accompanied by dreamy turns like the early going of “Fields to Plow” and the later interlude “Panta Rhei,” as well as the loud/quiet trades of “Witchwoman” and the boogie-laced “The Walk.” The record’s a little under an hour long. There’s plenty of room for the band to flesh out different ideas, and they take advantage of the opportunity.

In the middle of it all is “All Hail the Autowagen,” for which you’ll find a video premiering below. At 5:59, the centerpiece of the album builds momentum quickly through a careening initial riff laced with fuzz in Johannes Gerber and Hendrik Friedel‘s guitars, while, as they are throughout, bassist Christoph Bextermöller and drummer Felix Hoffmeyer are more than able to handle the turns each progression provides, the former thickening out a tense chug that takes hold at about two minutes in while the snare of the latter punctuates it easily. They dive into a bluesy quiet section around the midpoint — the video earning its multicolor visuals, plus it sounds cool — and gradually build back up to the chorus riff without actually going so far as to bring the whole thing back, keeping basically the second half of the song instrumental. Fair enough to give Gerber a break on vocals, as he’s clearly been working hard belting out verses and hooks across Beneath Thy Roots up to that point, and there’s still plenty more to come, as “Fly with Me” and “House of Fools” demonstrate back-to-back.

The word the PR wire uses that most stands out to me below is “tasteful,” and I think that’s a fair assessment, especially as it’s their first full-length release. One expects that over time they’ll do further work in discovering their individual sound within the sphere of heavy rock and roll, perhaps manifesting more of the underlying bluesy spirit of some of their tracks and growing the nascent dynamic they hint toward here, but those are concerns for the next LP or the one after that. With Beneath Thy RootsGran Duca establish themselves as an outfit based on a foundation of songwriting, and as has been shown time and again, once you have that, you can pretty much go anywhere.

Enjoy “All Hail the Autowagen” below:

Gran Duca, “All Hail the Autowagen” video premiere

Gran Duca on “All Hail the Autowagen”:

We are psyched to share our second single and a trippy video to the song “All Hail The Autowagen” with you today! The song is inspired by cracking whips and long drives with our favourite van! One of the most heavy, straight forward grooving but yet psychedelic tracks taken from our upcoming album Beneath Thy Roots, out June 28th! Get your tickets for the trip and enjoy!

Dirty and mean, innovative and intelligent song structures, Germany’s up and coming, mud rock power unit GRAN DUCA are set to release their first full-length album this summer, on June 28th!

Recorded live at ‘Institut für Wohlklangforschung’ by Hannes Huke, GRAN DUCA deliver an exciting mix of raw stoner sounds, complex progressive vibes and a healthy dose of classic rock qualities. 70’s retro tunes and a heavy 90’s groove without platitudes, GRAN DUCA tastefully know how to please the old and new school rock fan! Fuzzy and distorted guitars, thick and deep rhythm lines, raw and authentic vocals, the eleven songs on Beneath Thy Roots are same inventive as catchy.

GRAN DUCA is:
Johannes Gerber (Vocals & Guitar)
Hendrik Friedel (Guitar)
Christoph Bextermöller (Bass)
Felix Hoffmeyer (Drums)

Gran Duca on Thee Facebooks

Gran Duca on Instagram

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Sunn O))) ‘Life Pedal’ Now Available; Touring West Coast in September

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

For a band who’ve never made a habit of doing anything other than whatever the hell they want to, Sunn O))) sure have a lot of tour dates lined up, leading one to assume that, well, they want to be touring. In April, they released Life Metal on Southern Lord, bringing a new vision of melody to their long-established abyss of drone, changing the character thereof after two decades of slow-motion slaughter. And that was just the first track. So yeah, only fair they’re wanting to show it all off, as they’ll do both domestically and abroad throughout the Summer and Fall, and as they’ve already done on the East Coast. The latest batch of dates cover the West Coast, and they’ll take place between journeys to Europe, as they’ll pop over to Germany and the Netherlands for fest appearances next month and then be back in October for another run. Go go go.

They have a fancy new pedal available now made in an edition of 1,000 in league with EarthQuaker Devices. Kudos to whichever clever soul decided to call it ‘Life Pedal.’

Life Metal is streaming in full below courtesy of Southern Lord‘s YouTube, and the dates came down the PR wire. You know how this works:

sunn o (photo by A F Cortes)

SUNN O))): EARTHQUAKER RELEASE EXCLUSIVE DISTORTION PEDAL; LIFE PEDAL MARKS COMPANY’S FIRST ARTIST-ORIENTED COLLABORATION

SUNN O))) Announces West Coast US September Tour Dates; Life Metal Out Now On Southern Lord

SUNN O))) and EarthQuaker Devices join forces to create Life Pedal. This is a limited, hand numbered, tube amp crushing octave fuzz and distortion with boost. Life Pedal empowers the operator to immerse themselves in the same full spectrum overdriven sonic palette as used on the Life Metal album. Details below.

In the writing sessions for Life Metal SUNN O))) worked extensively shearing our tones toward a broader energy spectrum over high powered saturation and across planes of sonic character, with the ambition to take full advantage of producer/engineer Steve Albini’s exacting capture skills. The results are astounding: there is breadth and luminosity of colour, vast sonic cosmoses, flashes of abstract colour (synthetic and objective) through resulting themes which emerged from the mastered depths of saturation and circuits between the two players and their mountains of gear.

The Life Pedal is designed to represent the core front-end chain used in those sessions, to drive the tubes of the band’s multiple vintage Sunn O))) Model T amplifiers into overload and ecstasy. This is a 100w tube amp full stack’s holy dream, or its apostate nightmare. An octave fuzz inspired by the Shin-Ei FY2 & FY6 units leads the circuit into a LM308 chipped and brutal rodent big box distortion, recreated with the best components, and including a three-way clipping switch (op Amp, Asymmetric & Symmetric). Second stage is a purely clean boost to further overdrive the preamp tubes of ones vintage system into -scaped harmonics, and feedback overtone bliss. Chasms are cleared, mountains sheared, glaciers calved, novæ birthed. Transcend to complete saturation enlightenment.

Order the Life Pedal, in an edition of 1000 pedals, exclusively from the official SUNN O))) Reverb Shop hosted by Reverb.com HERE and view the Life Pedal trailer HERE.

Southern Lord is also pleased to announce that SUNN O)))’s Life Metal is now available in a second vinyl pressing with exclusive new colours.

SUNN O))) will play select festival shows in Europe this July, before returning to US soil for the second leg of their Let There Be Drone: Multiple Gains Stages tour. SUNN O))) will then head back to Europe and the UK this October.

Life Metal can now be purchased via the SUNN O))), Southern Lord, and Southern Lord Europe stores.

SUNN O))) Tour Dates:
Summer European Shows:
7/30/2019 Festsaal Kreuzberg – Berlin, DE #
7/31/2019 Festsaal Kreuzberg – Berlin, DE #
8/01/2019 Dekmantel Festival – Amsterdam, NL

US West Coast
9/01/2019 Granada – Dallas, TX *
9/02/2019 Emo’s – Austin, TX *
9/04/2019 The Gothic – Denver, CO *
9/08/2019 Mayan – Los Angeles, CA *
9/09/2019 The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA *
9/11/2019 The Showbox – Seattle, WA ^
9/12/2019 Revolution Hall – Portland, OR ^

Europe + UK Tour:
10/07/2019 Backstage – Munich, DE %
10/08/2019 HfG / ZKM – Karlsruhe, DE %
10/09/2019 Kaserne Basel – Basel, CH %
10/10/2019 Felsenkeller – Leipzig, DE %
10/13/2019 Kablys + Kultura – Vilnius, LT %
10/14/2019 Vene Teater – Tallinn, EE %
10/15/2019 Kulttuuritalo – Helsinki, FI %
10/17/2019 Kraken Sthlm – Stockholm, SE
10/18/2018 Kulturkirchen Jakob – Oslo, NO
10/19/2019 BLA – Oslo, NO (exclusive duo performance)
10/21/2019 Koncerthuset – Copenhagen, DK
10/22/2019 Doornroosje – Nijmegen, NL
10/24/2019 SWX – Bristol, UK
10/25/2019 QMU – Glasgow, UK
10/26/2019 The Crossing – Birmingham, UK
10/27/2019 Albert Hall – Manchester, UK
10/28/2019 Roundhouse – London, UK
# w/ Caspar Brötzmann
* w/ Papa M, Big|Brave
^ w/ Papa M
% w/ Caspar Brötzmann Bass Totem

https://www.instagram.com/sunnofficial
https://www.facebook.com/SUNNthebandOfficial
https://sunn.bandcamp.com
https://sunn-live.bandcamp.com
http://www.southernlord.com
http://southernlord.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/SLadmin
https://www.instagram.com/southernlordrecords

Sunn O))), ‘Life Pedal’ introduction

Sunn O))), Life Metal (2019)

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Atala, The Bearer of Light: Burn in the Raw

Posted in Reviews on June 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

atala the bearer of light

The Bearer of Light is Atala‘s fourth full-length. Issued by Salt of the Earth Records, it follows 2017’s Labyrinth of Ashmedai (review here), 2016’s Shaman’s Path of the Serpent (review here) and a 2015 self-titled debut (review here), and while its predecessor seemed to follow a pattern set forth by the second album, in style as well as method, The Bearer of Light‘s seven-track/43-minute run is marked by a few notable changes. The production is a big one. The self-titled was produced by Scott Reeder, and the next two by Billy frickin’ Anderson, so the fact that guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton (who also did the cover art) took the reins himself this time around with a purposeful intent toward rawness is not to be overlooked. Indeed, The Bearer of Light is largely cloaked in its barebones recording, with Stratton‘s distorted guitar leading the charge cut through by Jeff Tedtaotao‘s sometimes-tinny snare and the dirt-coated low-end in Dave Horn‘s bass.

There’s still some opportunity for melody to shine through, as happens on the 3:45 side B cut and shortest track overall, “Venomous Lure” — also one of several songs to begin with a spoken sample, very much in ’90s sludge fashion — or even opener “Desolate Lands,” but much of the character of the record overall derives from movements like “Upon the Altar” and the threat-conveyance in “Won’t Subside,” which stretches to 11 minutes and layers its vocals in blown-out shouts over a lumbering, grueling central riff, like if earliest YOB had disappeared in the Mojave and come back hallucinating monsters from the exposure. Born of and depicting a harsh but beautiful landscape, the Twentynine Palms, California-based three piece indeed still qualify as a “desert band,” but their take on what that means is a noted departure from the laid-back punk-derived fuzz that has become typical of desert rock as a genre. Their trip is meaner on the whole, and particularly in the crashes of “Naive Demur” and the gutturalism of “Upon the Altar” is more kin to Crowbar than Kyuss. So be it. Some bands are suited to being contrary, and Atala hit that mark well on The Bearer of Light.

Though also structured for vinyl — kind of a given these days for heavy music — one can find summary of the point of view through which The Bearer of Light is working in its trailmarker tracks, by which I mean its opener, centerpiece and closer. Launching with “Desolate Lands” and closing with the acoustic “Dark Skies,” Atala puts “Sun Worship” at the heart of The Bearer of Light, which would seem to be no coincidence given the flow of the release overall. And while that view doesn’t necessarily account for the perceived sociopolitical reckoning of “Won’t Subside” or “Naive Demur,” or even “Dark Skies” somewhat, it stresses the importance of the desert itself as part of the character of the work, which it is, whatever other topics might be discussed in the not-always-easily-deciphered lyrics.

atala

“Sun Worship” begins with a sample of George Carlin from 1999’s You are All Diseased talking about becoming a sun worshiper as opposed to following Christianity and then undertakes a massive intro roll with far-back semi-spoken, maybe throat-sung vocals before a count-in transitions to the verse riff proper, clean vocals there meeting head-on with a meaner chorus soon enough. There’s a kind of chant in the second half of the song, which seems to purposefully devolve ahead of its fadeout, moving into the more structured “Venomous Lure” and subsequently the long-gone-not-coming-back foray of “Won’t Subside.” Certainly the stage is set for these transitions earlier in The Bearer of Light throughout “Desolate Lands,” “Upon the Altar” and “Naive Demur,” but at the same time one finds footing in the beginning, middle and end, the willfulness with which Atala dig deeper into their approach in this batch of material isn’t to be understated. Though somewhat obscured by the production — which is as close as I come to a qualm with it — that breadth is there in the material, in the interplay between melody and outright nastiness, and in the coherence of their craft and general reach of their sound. Stratton‘s fuzz lead alone in the opener is enough of a hook to capture the listener’s attention, never mind the rumble and roll that surrounds.

Subtle volume swells back the acoustic guitar of “Dark Skies,” with a rhythmic strum taking the place that otherwise might be held by percussion and soulful vocals overtop, reminding that one element Atala have never lacked has been conviction. They present that perhaps most boldly of all on The Bearer of Light, finding a way to commune with the desert without giving themselves over to stylistic cliché or losing the progressive thread of their work to this point, keeping that feel of searching for something in themselves and in their songs that has helped define them up to now. With the turn of production, it becomes more difficult to see where Atala might head next time around, if they’ll return to work with someone else at the helm or take the lessons of this collection forward and continue in the fashion of DIY recordmaking. I don’t know, but what feels most essential to stress is that The Bearer of Light is more than a test of a new production method.

It’s that too, to be sure, but it also brings out Atala‘s widest range of songwriting, and sees them able to handle themselves no matter which direction a given piece might go, whether it’s the extremity of “Upon the Altar” or the relative accessibility of “Venomous Lure” and the organically delivered finish of “Dark Skies.” Their output remains considered and rife with perspective instrumentally as well as lyrically, and their chemistry has never sounded as fluid as it does on The Bearer of Light, which is doubly impressive given that the sound of the album is so clearly intended to lean toward live performance. Four records deep over a five-year span, Atala are still growing, still pushing themselves to places they haven’t been, and one suspects that might just be the case no matter how long and how far they go.

Atala, The Bearer of Light (2019)

Atala on Thee Facebooks

Atala on Instagram

Atala on Bandcamp

Atala website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

Salt of the Earth Records website

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DVNE Sign to RidingEasy Records; New Album Due Later This Year

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 19th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

RidingEasy Records would likely have been on hand last August when Edinburgh’s DVNE made their debut US appearance on the main stage at Psycho Las Vegas (review here), and having seen that performance, it leaves little to wonder why the label might have snagged them for the release of the follow-up to 2017’s widely-lauded Asheran. I seem to recall hearing at some point that Psycho was managing the band as well, so the West Coast connection there and the fact that they’re playing the festival again this year kind of brings it all together. They’ll hit the studio sometime in the next couple months to record an album, and whether it makes it out before the end of 2019 or not, I have little doubt its arrival will be hotly anticipated.

They’re something of a standout in terms of style for RidingEasy as well, which I imagine will only help them as they go forward with the backing from the label. US tour next year? Doesn’t seem like an unreasonable ask following the album’s release.

The PR wire makes the signing official:

dvne

DVNE sign to RidingEasy Records, play Psycho Las Vegas

Edinburgh, Scotland band to release new album in 2019

Edinburgh, Scotland quintet DVNE have signed to L.A. purveyors of heavy, RidingEasy Records for worldwide release of future recordings.

The band also returns to the US this summer to perform at the hugely popular Psycho Las Vegas festival on August 17th.

DVNE (pronounced dune) is a 5 piece progressive rock/metal band from Edinburgh Scotland. Founded in 2013, the band was then called Dune in reference to Frank Herbert sci-fi masterpiece of the same name.

The band consists of Victor Vicart (guitar, vocals, keys), Dudley Tait (drums), Daniel Barter (guitar, vocals), Jack Kavanagh (bass) and Richard Matheson (keys).

To date, the band has released one studio album and two EPs. They emerged within the UK scene with their first EP Progenitor (2013), shortly followed by a second EP, Aurora Majesty (2014). At their releases, both EPs received very favourable receptions. Dvne quickly began to make a name for themselves in the UK and around Europe, with various tours over these territories and support shows of households names such as Eyehategod, Crowbar, Dragged Into Sunlight to name a few. The band’s sound at the time was already crossing over various music style including post-metal, progressive rock and sludge metal, but it is with their first full-length album Asheran that the band established further their unique blend of heavy music.

Released in August 2017, on double-disc vinyl, CD and digital, Asheran was overwhelmingly praised by the press. Since Asheran’s release, Dvne has toured all over the UK, Europe and North America and appeared at prestigious festivals such as Psycho Las Vegas, Desertfest London and Inferno Festival Norway to name a few.

Not content to repeat their previous releases and always looking to push their sound forward DVNE are about to enter Chamber Studio in Edinburgh this summer to record their 2nd full-length concept album, planned for release on RidingEasy in late 2019.

DVNE LIVE:
08/17 Las Vegas, NV @ Psycho Las Vegas

https://www.facebook.com/DvneUK
https://www.instagram.com/dvne_uk/
https://songs-of-arrakis.bandcamp.com/
ridingeasyrecs.com

DVNE, Asheran (2017)

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