Posted in Whathaveyou on November 12th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Just days after announcing Anathema‘s special reunion set, Roadburn 2015 turns around and lets loose with another round of lineup additions, including Wovenhand headlining Thursday night — ask me about how they were the heaviest band I saw at the fest in 2011; I’d love to tell you all about it — and Enslaved and Wardruna each playing individual sets on top of their collaborative Skuggsja set. Russian Circles will also play, and Helms Alee with whom they’ll be on tour in Europe, and it’s kind of buried under all the other details, but some other killer acts have joined the bill as well.
Among those, an immediate standout is Uzala, whose “Tenement of the Lost” has been stuck in my head the last few days, with its glorious wash of feedback and the sweetly depressive melody that emerges therefrom. The thought of Argus taking stage at Roadburn is a thrill as well, and Tombstones, who released their Red Skies and Dead Eyes (review here) album last year, and Bell Witch and Eagle Twin and Sun Worship and even more than that. It’s an astounding and exciting bunch of acts.
I won’t delay any further. Dig in:
Wovenhand, Russian Circles, and more announced for Roadburn 2015; Enslaved and Wardruna unveil more show details
Roadburn is very pleased to announce Wovenhand, Russian Circles, Wardruna, and a second Enslaved performance among the latest additions to the 20th edition line up of the festival which will take place in April 2015.
Wovenhand and Russian Circles added to Thursday line up
Wovenhand’s incendiary performance at Roadburn 2011 remains one of the most talked-about shows in the festival’s history, and it’s a great pleasure to have David Eugene Edwards and his band back at the festival for what should be another thrilling, transformative concert. The band will reignite the 013 stage as the headline act on Thursday April 9.
Led by former 16 Horsepower frontman Edwards, Wovenhand similarly delves deep into the darker, more gothic side of Americana, only on a much more personal, introspective level. The latest album ‘Refractory Obdurate’ is the band’s most visceral work yet, with its heavier arrangements packing a devastating punch.
Already veterans of Roadburn, Chicago instrumental trio Russian Circles will return to the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival for a much anticipated main stage performance on Thursday, April 9, filling the main hall with their spacious, tonally lavish sound.
With a blend of post-rock airiness, heavy riffing and progressive rhythms, they are one of the most evocative instrumental bands in the underground today, and we at Roadburn couldn’t be more excited to welcome them back.
Roadburn curators confirm details of special performances
After a stunning sneak preview of the upcoming Enslaved album, we can only conclude that the band keeps blasting past their own and their associated genres’ limits. Listening to the album prompted us to invite the band for a second show at Roadburn 2015 on Saturday, April 11th, so that all of our beloved attendees can bask in the band’s creativity and talent, and share our excitement about what is sure to become another Enslaved classic.
We at Roadburn are huge admirers of Enslaved, thus it won’t have come as a suprise that we have invited their guitarist/composer, Ivar Bjornson, along with Einar Selvik (Wardruna), to curate the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival (a special event named ‘Houses of the Holistic’) on Friday, April 10 at the 013 venue.
Besides performing Skuggsjá, the sound of Norway’s Norse History, together with Wardruna, Enslaved will also perform a show dubbed ‘House of Northern Gods’, which will consist of a set list specially put together for ‘Houses of the Holistic’, featuring songs from the band’s entire catalogue that embody the Norse gods, with accompanying visuals created by revered Romanian artist, Costin Chioreanu.
“The Friday show during Roadburn 2015 will indeed be a special one”, says Ivar Bjørnson. “We have named the concert ‘House of Northern Gods’ and it will consist of a walk-through of an imaginary, magical house. It is a mental construction that could represent the mythological Valhalla with its inhabitants – or in Jung’s school of psychology: the archetypical roles of the human psyche. This will be the foundation for the set-list and the framework around the concert; there’s a stem of thematic songs from ‘Allfadr Odinn’ (the Paternal archetype) on ‘Hordanes Land’ in 1993 up to ‘Materal’ (the Maternal archetype) from 2012’s ‘RIITIIR’ where various characters/ roles in the ‘House of Northern Gods’ are represented and materialized into music. These are the songs that will make up the Friday show at Roadburn 2015!”
“As if it wasn’t a big enough honour to play one show at Roadburn 2015, we get to play a second show Saturday!” Ivar continues. “We are already hard at work with planning to turn these into the most spectacular two Enslaved shows possible, as we know that this double-Roadburn-whammy is not likely to happen again (we’ve heard of lightening striking twice, but thrice?). This second show will be one of the first European shows where we present our new album, that will be released something like a month prior to Roadburn 2015. We don’t like to brag; but be prepared for something monumental! We will also make use of the fact that Tilburg will be loaded to the brim with friends and colleagues at this point, so don’t be surprised if the show culminates in Enslaved having good friends on stage to make sure we go out with a blast! He who lives will see…
Ivar Bjornson’s fellow curator, Einar Selvik will also be performing with Wardruna in a special performance, dubbed ‘House of the Spinning Seer’. The winners of Metal Hammer’s Golden God award for Best Underground Band, will take to the stage on Friday 10th of April as another part of ‘Houses of the Holistic’.
“We are very excited as well as honored to be back to perform at Roadburn 2015″‘ says Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik, “and so we plan to use this occasion to give the audience a concert out of the ordinary. It will be a Wardruna concert in an all-new form. With almost twice the amount of musicians that we normally have on stage our sonic threads of old and new shall be majestically spun and our soundscape carefully woven on the loom of the spinning seer.”
Argus, Bell Witch, Darkher, Eagle Twin, Helms Alee, Sun Worship, Terminal Cheesecake, Tombstones, Brimstone and Uzala have also been confirmed for the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival.
Curated by Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Wardruna‘s Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik, Roadburn Festival 2015 (including Fields of the Nephilim, Anathema, Skuggsjá, Enslaved, Wardruna, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin performing Dawn of The Dead and Susperia in its entirety, Zombi, Sólstafir, White Hills, Bongipper, Floor, Eyehategod and The Heads as Artist In Residence among others) will run from Thursday, April 9 to Sunday, April 12 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
Posted in Features on October 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m sure there are others. Seems to be the rule of this kind of thing that, if there’s a list, sure enough there’s something left off it. So to whoever I didn’t remember to include, please know it wasn’t premeditated. Basically I woke up this morning and thought of a bunch of kickass records that came out today and, after a cup of coffee, decided to put this together. Not exactly like I’ve been stewing on the idea for weeks or anything.
But, with a stylistically varied slew from trad doom to classic metal to weirdo drone ambience, Oct. 1, 2013, does indeed feel like a special kind of day for those who might hunt down a new release. Who doesn’t like that ritual? Pre-orders are great and all, but picking up an album on the day it comes out holds a place in my heart reserved for few rites. If I could’ve gone to a midnight sale last night and picked up all of these, I’d have been there in a second.
Barring that, I hope you at least find something here you might want to check out. Like the headline says, as far as I’m concerned, these are all worth your time. Let’s go alphabetically:
1. Argus, Beyond the Martyrs
Released by Cruz Del Sur. Argus‘ third album, Beyond the Martyrs (review here), finds the Western Pennsylvania troupe delving further into their classic metal roots. Singled out by the powerful vocals of Brian “Butch” Balich (formerly of Penance), songs like “No Peace beyond the Line” and “Cast out Your Raging Spirits” also feature ripping, landmark solo work and driving, fist-pumping rhythms. It’s a straightforward collection, but don’t be fooled — Argus take these classic elements and make them their own to such an extent that Beyond the Martyrsis their strongest work of songwriting yet. Get it here.
Argus, “By Endurance We Conquer” & “No Peace beyond the Line”
2. Black Rainbows, Holy Moon
Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Persistently underrated Italian trio Black Rainbows return with a new 38-minute release dubbed Holy Moon. They’re calling it an EP, but for my money it’s a full-length album, and it’s their most varied work to date. Rounding out with a cover of MC5‘s “Back to Comm” that stretches past 12-minutes in a huge heavy psych jam, Holy Moonalso finds the three-piece delving into Colour Haze-worthy lush exploration on “Chakra Temple” and riffing out with classic stoner fuzz on “The Hunter.” EP or LP, it’s a winner, and as Black Rainbows have toured Europe persistently these last couple years, it’s hopefully a matter of time before more people catch on. Get it here.
Black Rainbows, Holy Moon
3. In Solitude, Sister
Released by Metal Blade Records. Swedish metallers In Solitude return to reap the benefits of touring with Down and others in support of their 2011 sophomore outing, The World. The Flesh. The Devil. The Uppsala five-piece give traditional metal a genuine facelift with their third album, Sister, basking in some of the simplicity of approach and hook-filled songwriting of modern cult rock and casting off the grandiosity and pretense of Mercyful Fate but keeping all of the lurking sinister vibe. Look for In Solitude to make even more of an impact than they did their last time out. They’ll be touring in October with Watain. Get it here.
In Solitude, Sister
4. Iron Man, South of the Earth
Released by Metal Blade/Rise Above. 2013 has produced little news as welcome as the announcement that long-running Maryland doomers Iron Man were signing to Rise Above for the release of South of the Earth, thus ensuring they’d not only reap the benefit of that label’s considerable doomly credibility but also secure a North American issue through Metal Blade. Their first full-length with frontman Dee Calhoun, it’s also their strongest production yet, and one can only hope South of the Earth is the moment that marksIron Man beginning to get the recognition they’ve long since deserved as not only pioneers of Maryland doom, but one of its most engaging acts. Get it here.
Iron Man, “Hail to the Haze”
5. Mühr, Messiah
Released by Canardian Records. Early in 2011, I caught wind of the debut release from Dutch outfit Mühr, and that two-song offering (discussed here) left enough of an impression that when I heard they had a follow-up coming in the form of the single-track/47-minute Messiah, I was immediately excited. A couple years later finds Mühr a much different outfit, more dynamic and patient in their builds, but still able to break into some unbridled tonal crush when they so choose. On its own, “Messiah” is more diverse than some bands ever get in their careers, and Mühr emerge as masters of a complex aesthetic, at times gorgeous and at times terrifying. Not to be missed. Get it here.
Well, there you have it. There’s a ton of great stuff coming out this month, from bands like Horisont, Russian Circles, Pelican, Red Fang, Monster Magnet, on and on, but it’s important to start the month off right. And broke. Enjoy.
Got something I missed or something you’re especially looking forward to in the coming weeks? The comments are right there.
Posted in Reviews on August 27th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s hard to discern just what Pennsylvania traditional doom metallers Argus intend with the title of their third album, Beyond the Martyrs. On a superficial level, one doesn’t think of a martyr as a place or a level of development to move past, but more than that, what’s supposed to be beyond them? What comes after that? Death? Devastation? Peace? Paradise? Which martyrs are the five-piece talking about? Is it a Christ figure? The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades? The closing title-track — which arrives eighth on the 42-minute Cruz del Sur LP with cover art by Brad Moore — is instrumental, so that’s not much help in terms of answering the questions of theme. Tracks prior like “No Peace Beyond the Line” and “Trinity,” “Cast out all Raging Spirits” and opener “By Endurance We Conquer” could be read to have elements of religious conflict to them — certainly conflict, anyway — but if there’s a narrative to Beyond the Martyrs, it’s not one as stated by the band so much as one that relies on the listener to plot its course. Maybe that’s on purpose. As a band, Argus seem much more interested in making solid and conscious use of the dual guitars of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson and one of traditional metal’s most powerful belt-it-out voices in former Penance vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich, who delivers a standout performance here no less righteous than that on 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed(discussed here) and 2009’s self-titled debut (review here). Balich is a big part of carrying across the dramas of Beyond the Martyrs– as a standalone frontman should be — and the songs he’s working on top of set a memorable foundation from which to soar as he and a bevvy of guitar solos please, bassist Andy Ramage and drummer Kevin Latchaw hammering out straightforward structures to make “No Peace Beyond the Line,” “Trinity” and “Cast out all Raging Spirits” among the album’s several highlights. That is to say, Argus isn’t just about its singer, despite his considerable presence within these tracks, and Beyond the Martyrsfinds a progressive balance between metal and doom that moves fluidly to cast its own personality somewhere between the two.
That process begins immediately with the deceptively catchy chorus of “By Endurance We Conquer.” Latchaw double-times it on his hi-hat to build up tension during the verse before the hook opens up. I don’t know whether it’s because of the arching militaristic bombast of the song or if it’s just the way the epic feel is crafted, but on first impression, “By Endurance We Conquer” stands out more for its voracious chestbeating and listing of virtues than for the delivery of the title line, but after a couple times through, the opener more than justifies its presence at the fore of Beyond the Martyrs, acting as something of a vanguard for the rest of the album to come. Already much of the record’s ethic is established: Balich carries a verse into a memorable refrain and the guitars answer back with accomplished solos and driving riffs underscored by strong, powerful heavy metal rhythms. As far as songwriting methodologies go, you could do a lot worse. “No Peace Beyond the Line” takes more time to unfold, but winds up in a fist-pump chug for its verse as the vocals tease the song’s greater hook still to come in a sort of bridge part that early on substitutes for an actual chorus. They cycle through twice before the guitar solo takes hold, and though it’s not until the last minute that they arrive, it’s the repetitions of “There is no/There is no/There is no peace beyond the line” that ultimately give the song one of Beyond theMartyrs‘ most lasting impressions, the vocals doing a layered call and response to deliver the title and finish with a nailed-it adrenaline-push yell. I don’t know where the line is, but there’s no peace beyond it. The issue is settled. After such a strong opening duo, some comedown is inevitable, but “The Hands of Time are Bleeding” fights redundancy by upping the doom in its slower early going and picking up to an effective linear buildin both pace and overall rush. A stop at 3:09 is a startling transition, but I’d guess that was probably the idea, and the solo that continues after stands out all the more for it. Vocals return toward the end, and though the results aren’t quite as instantly engaging as with “No Peace Beyond the Line,” the change in mood is effective leading to “Trinity” which is arguably the darkest moment on the album.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m not sure what exactly lies “beyond the martyrs,” but I look forward to finding out when the third album from Pennsylvania doom merchants Argus drops. Cruz del Sur will release Beyond the Martyrson Oct. 1 in North America, and as their last outing, 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed(discussed here) was such a classic-tinged thriller, it’s a date you might want to write down. Get a pencil. I’ll wait.
ARGUS: Beyond the Martyrs Coming This October on Cruz Del Sur Music
Cruz Del Sur Music will release Beyond the Martyrs, from US doom metal outfit ARGUS, on October 1st in North America and October 7th release in the UK.
Beyond the Martyrs starts where their 2011’s release Boldly Stride the Doomed had left us…at the Ruins of Ouroboros. In between these two releases ARGUS has tested its strength and valor in several live shows both in their homeland and in Europe, receiving high praises from fans and from the record industry. Although a sense of impending fate marks again their compositions, the characteristic doom metal elements which were a distinguished trademark of ARGUS’ past releases have now given way to what is primarily to a genuine heavy metal approach, its nature rooted in the most classic environment of Heavy Metal tradition.
1. By Endurance We Conquer 2. No Peace Beyond The Line 3. The Hands of Time Are Bleeding 4. Trinity 5. Four Candles Burning 6. The Coward’s Path 7. Cast Out All Raging Spirits 8. Beyond The Martyrs
ARGUS’ third album is sure to force metal heads everywhere to raise horn-crested fists to the sky. Beyond the Martyrs contains the hallmarks of their previous works – twin guitars, soaring vocals, and a driving rhythm section; it is heavy, melodic, epic, and brooding all at once. After their successful shows at festivals such as Hammer of Doom in 2011 and Dublin Doom Days in 2012, the band will hit again the European soil with a proper tour in October 2013 in order to promote Beyond the Martyrs.
Butch Balich – vocals
Jason Mucio – guitar
Erik Johnson – guitar
Andy Ramage – bass
Kevin Latchaw – drums
Having done work for the likes of Penance, Place of Skulls, Sixty Watt Shaman, Züül and a host of others over the last 20-plus years, artist Brad Moore is known for a signature, definitively-metal style that nonetheless largely defies the black and white and mostly black convention of metal in favor of rich colors and textures. His work on Pennsylvania classic doomers Argus‘ two albums to date — 2009’s Argus and 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed — has proven particularly distinct.
As such, when Argus unveiled the art yesterday for the forthcoming third full-length, Beyond the Martyrs, I hit up Moore on the quick to see if he could give some insight on what went into painting it and what inspired the tone and complexity of the piece, which you can see below.
Click the image to enlarge, and special thanks to Moore for his input:
Argus, Beyond the Martyrs front cover
When Argus approached me about painting the artwork for their debut LP, we all agreed we wanted to sidestep the “warriors with swords” thing, and that gory art wouldn’t adequately complement the style of music and subject matter the band were striving to create. We all felt a “Lovecraftian” approach was best, to framework doomy metal that has a mystery to its feel. I created the creature that adorns the Argus covers (at least, the ones I had a hand in) to be the mascot, and though you’ll see it does not utilize any of Lovecraft‘s personal motifs (tentacles, amorphous blob-like gods, etc.), the whole effect is like those Lovecraft paperbacks. I deliberately use unusual color schemes for Argus, as I feel that way too many doom/death metal bands use a grey/black monotone approach that gives the scene, as a whole, a generic feel. I did paint their second LP, Boldly Stride the Doomed, in a very monochromatic style, to completely separate the two recordings, as Boldly is a much darker album than the self titled debut.
Getting to the newest Argus effort, Beyond the Martyrs, the cover painting is titled “Alien Gateway to the Gallery of the Martyrs” precisely because the band wanted to have an “otherworldly” atmosphere to the proceedings, and to have the artwork reflect a dark-but-with-colors feel. In essence; not the near over-the-top colors of the first one, but having toned-down colors to maintain the doom, but suggest a correlation of the two albums that signifies the forward growth of the band. This Argus outing will be their most aggressive! I, for one, am happiest with this new artwork the most, both in mood, and technical achievement.
Argus will release Beyond the Martyrson Oct. 1 in the US and Oct. 4 in Europe on Cruz Del Sur. More on the album to come.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
While any opportunity to see Pennsylvania doom classicists Argus is always welcome, the band unfortunately have announced they won’t be taking part in Days of the Doomed III next year in Wisconsin. Taking their place is Leather Nun America from California, who released their fourth album, Kult Occult, on PsycheDOOMelic last year. I’ll look forward to picking up a copy at the show in June.
Fest organizer Mercyful Mike Smith sent along word:
Well, unfortunately due to unforeseen family commitments, ARGUS has been forced to pull out of Days Of The Doomed Fest III. Bummer, but family always comes first.
That being said, I am extremely excited to announce that we have added west coast doom mongers LEATHER NUN America to DOTD Fest III! Prepare for the bludgeoning! Tickets are on sale now at www.daysofthedoomed.com! Don’t miss out!
At the end of last year, when I made my Top Five Records I Didn’t Hear in 2011 list, I said that hopefully I’d run into Pittsburgh trad doom merchants Argus at a show and be able to buy their second full-length, Boldly Stride the Doomed, from them directly. That very thing happened at Days of the Doomed II in Wisconsin, and I suddenly felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Until I actually put the record on. Then the weight — the formidable tonnage of Argus‘ hyper-refined doomly classicism — was right back where it started and then some.
Every time I hit the short bass solo from Andy Ramage in “Wolves of Dusk,” I get a chill up my spine, and Boldly Stride the Doomed is filled with those little moments, flourishes here and there that stand out from the already strong performances. John Mucio and Erik Johnson‘s guitars are full of them, and Butch Balich proves on “The Ladder” alone why he’s one of the most underrated vocalists in doom, American or otherwise. The former Penance singer is a focal point throughout the 10 tracks, and rightly so, but the band behind him (and as regards the mix, the vocals are very much at the fore) more than stands up, whether its the guitar solos (who’s playing what is in the liner notes) or drummer Kevin Latchaw‘s footwork driving the rhythm of “Fading Silver Light.”
Piano adds grandeur to “42-7-29″ and the recent podcast inclusion “Pieces of Your Smile,” at well over 11 minutes, is epic metal without the pomposity. Trouble and Candlemass influences persist, but Argus is very quickly becoming their own band sonically, and it’s not just Balich, who proved his mettle long ago. It’s the whole band, working as a band, that makes Boldly Stride the Doomed land with such heavy feet. As madly catchy as cuts like “Devils, Devils” were from the first record, I wouldn’t trade “A Curse on the World” or “Durendal” for anything.
So yeah, lesson learned. Don’t let another Argus album slip when it comes down the line for review. Hopefully I get the chance to put that wisdom to good use before too long. Until then, if you haven’t heard the album yet, here’s “Durendal,” just because it happens to be the song I have on at the moment:
Posted in Reviews on June 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Day Two at Days of the Doomed II began with what, if I were the proprietor of a diner or family restaurant, I would call the “Aristotle Omelet”: Feta cheese and gyro meat with tzatziki sauce on the side. I almost asked for pita instead of toast, and if I had it to do over again, I’d get tomatoes in there as well, but it nonetheless was the foundational meal for a hearty afternoon and night of doom to come. Did better for me in any case than the bar pie that later served as dinner at The Blue Pig, the delicious smell of which offered no hint of the agita betrayal to come.
Postman Dan and I, in good spirits despite the periodically downpouring rain, tried to hit a record and horror/movie/music memorabilia store called Graveyard (not, presumably, to be confused with the band of the same name), but finding it closed for the weekend, headed over to the venue to catch the start of the day. A lineup 11 bands strong — Blizaro, Beelzefuzz, Apostle of Solitude, Argus, Blood Farmers, Blackfinger, Earthen Grave, The Skull, Earthride and Solace – began with Die Monster Die, and if you told me the reason Graveyard Records was closed was because the owner was busy opening down at The Blue Pig, I’d believe it.
The three-piece Die Monster Die, who’ve reportedly been a band since 1984, played the kind of rudimentary, horror-loving post-Misfits punk ‘n’ roll you’d expect. Every town has an equivalent act (in New Jersey, that act happens to still be The Misfits), but for being immediately familiar, choruses about snakepits and college girls — watching them, I could picture the words followed by exclamation points on a movie poster — weren’t offensively redundant. Two false starts preceded their first song, and though they looked like a monster ran into a couple bikers and asked if they wanted to be his rhythm section, somehow it worked.
Ever one for making the wrong decision, I waited to start drinking until later in the afternoon. Already my head was swimming with the thought of the drive first back to Lansing to drop off Il Postino (which I’ve never called him, but will one of these days) and then subsequently to New Jersey, so until I actually began downing beers and decided I didn’t give a fuck anymore, the earlier part of the day felt a little like a pre-gallows last meal. Nonetheless, I was stoked to find Blizaro taking the stage after Die Monster Die with Orodruin‘sJohn Gallo on guitar and Mike Waske on drums. Joined by bassist Mark Rapone — who would’ve won had Days of the Doomed II had a beard competition — Gallo took the fore vocally and unleashed a palpable horror obsession that was all the more fitting after the lead-in it got from Die Monster Die.
A mad scientist cackling behind his Moog, Gallo made no bones about his allegiances. Blizaro came across like Goblin raised on Pentagram, and theirs was honestly the only Paul Chain cover I’ve ever heard that actually fit with a band’s own originals. They did “Voyage to Hell” from Paul Chain Violet Theatre‘s 1984 outing, Detaching from Satan (it also appeared on Chain‘sAlkahest in 1995), and though they were silly and they knew it, and though Gallo‘s vocals were rougher than Orodruin bassist Michael Puleo‘s had been the night before in that band, the atmosphere was distinct enough that comparisons between one act and the other felt superfluous. Two out of three of the same dudes, but a different band with a different kind of charm.
Their set went long. Rapone broke a bass string. It happens. They never really regained the momentum they had going into that technical difficulty afterwards, but they still got to finish out their full setlist because Beelzefuzz — apparently in a game of oneupsmanship as regards misfortune — blew a tire en route to The Blue Pig and didn’t have a spare. Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude stepped in to fill the slot, and though at this point they’re too good a band to play so low on the bill, the circumstances were what they were. By the time Blizaro finished, Apostle of Solitude only went on 20 minutes early, anyway. I don’t know if people figured Beelzefuzz weren’t coming or what.
Either way, Apostle of Solitude had a new demo for sale (the band has since granted me permission to host it for streaming; it’ll go up tomorrow) with three songs, and they played two of them — demo opener “Blackest of Times” and “Die Vicar Die” — quickly showing off melodic progress in their approach. The insistence in the drumming of Corey Webb and the bass of “Iron” Bob Fouts made the groove of “Blackest of Times” even more satisfying, and the addition of guitarist Steve Janiak (also of Devil to Pay) following 2010’s second album, Last Sunrise, has clearly given frontman Chuck Brown more range vocally. Arrangements on the newer material were more complex, and Janiak and Brown sounded even better during the chorus of “Die Vicar Die” live than they do on the recording.
For what it’s worth, that song was stuck in my head before it was finished — the chorus I was hearing was “All the good die,” instead of the title line, which I didn’t know yet — and it has remained there pretty much ever since. Brown waffles the melody as he and Janiak hold out the second “die,” and it reminds of ’90s heavy without directly emulating grunge or being anything other than Apostle of Solitude‘s increasingly individual take on doom, separating stylistically even from fellow Hoosiers The Gates of Slumber, whose bassist Jason McCash was working the merch table while Apostle played and who had reportedly had a rough show a few nights earlier in their hometown. Some light teasing ensued.
And though Brown preceded set-closer “The Messenger” from their 2008 Sincerest Misery debut with an “Alright ladies” — because it’s not metal unless someone questions your masculinity first — that wasn’t enough to take away from the early headliner feel of their performance. Pennsylvania natives Argus capitalized on that vibe and took the stage gracefully bearing more reverence than even vocalist Butch Balich‘s pedigree in Penance could give them. It seems their two albums — 2009’s Argus debut and the follow-up, Boldly Stride the Doomed (which was on my Top 5 I Didn’t Hear in 2011 but which I bought from their merch table) — have made quite an impression.
No argument. Argus, who were already pretty solid when last I encountered them live (SHoD in 2009; no review), have grown into an accomplished and formidable traditional doom outfit. Balich is the focal point, his vocals are stellar and powerful, but the dual guitars of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson behind him made a strong case for classic riffage, and the rhythm section of drummer Kevin Latchaw and bassist Andy Ramage complemented the metallic drive well. The mix seemed off in that the vocals were loud, but listening to “Durendal” from the second album, I didn’t even mind. Chewing gum the entire time, Balich hit notes that would’ve cut lesser singers in half, making it sound easy. If I had that kind of talent, I’d chew gum too.
The room was filling up by the time they were halfway through — no time like the present to start drinking — and The Blue Pig seemed pretty quick to roast, but the band handled it well, and boldly strode through the extended “Pieces of Your Smile” and a cover of Candlemass‘ “At the Gallows End” (from Nightfall, 1987) that was as well performed as it was bravely chosen. Balich is probably one of two or three doom vocalists in the US who could hope to stand up to Messiah Marcolin, and though he didn’t display the kind of dramatic acrobatics (or, if you’d prefer: dramacrobatics) that distinguished Marcolin in his day, neither did he fall short of the task before him. Having given the mic to the crowd twice in the chorus, he kept it to himself for the last round, as if to make plain his ability to do so. Point taken.
Like Apostle of Solitude before them, Argus also finished off with the first song from their first record (unless I have that order wrong and it was the Candlemass cover last; someone please correct me if need be). “Devils, Devils” was well met with a sing-along chorus, and by the time it was done, Beelzefuzz had finished loading in their gear. They looked haggard and stressed from their road troubles, and with the extra time that had been taken from Blizaro‘s bass string and longer set, there wasn’t much room for them on the bill. They got on stage quickly after Argus and as a “thanks for making the trip”-type consolation prize, played two songs.
Car troubles suck, and because I’d enjoyed what I’d heard of them previously, I made sure to buy the Marylanders’ demo. They seemed to be way more classic rock-influenced that I’d previously given them credit for being, but still, they were barely there. Two songs wasn’t really enough time for them to build any momentum or hook the crowd, and they were pretty much a stopgap on the way from Argus to Blood Farmers, however cool those two songs might have sounded. Fest organizer Mercyful Mike Smith took the stage after they were done and said something about probably being the most hated guy in the room for cutting them short, but I think everyone knew the deal. They’ll just be one more thing to look forward to about SHoD in August.
It was somewhere right around this time, maybe a little later, that I realized The Blue Pig had Newcastle in bottles. Probably the timing there is fortunate, or I’d have long since been on my ass by the time Blood Farmers got going. As it was, I was conscious enough to watch guitarist Dave Szulkin (also of the recently-reviewed The Disease Concept), bassist/vocalist Eli Brown and drummer Tad Legerreceive a proper and encouraging amount of respect from the crowd. Blood Farmers are a fest band for me, it seems. I caught them last year twice, both times at festivals, and while I’d like to see how they’d do on a bill of their own, their no-frills doom does really well standing them out subtly from a crowded surrounding lineup like that at Days of the Doomed II.
This was the second time I’d heard new song “Headless Eyes” live — it’ll also reportedly be the title-track of their next album — and it confirmed its awesomeness. On the whole, the performance was more or less on par with last year’s SHoD showing, but Brown‘s vocals are more confident, and after hearing Szulkin‘s guitar in The Disease Concept, I almost couldn’t help but pay closer attention to his solos, which impressed more than I’d previously given them credit for. It’ll be really interesting to hear what a new Blood Farmers album sounds like. It’s been 17 years since their self-titled came out, but their footing is sure, creatively, and they’ve only gotten tighter the more I see them. I’m anxious to hear how the full-length comes out.
Between the bands, I was taking notes at the bar (you can see them at the top of this post) and the bartender asked me, “Are you keeping score?” I said I was, that they were winning, and asked for another Newcastle, which she graciously gave me. With the start of Blackfinger‘s set, the evening was about to get awfully Troubled, and it seemed only right to be ready. I was looking forward to Blackfinger specifically, apart from just getting to hear Eric Wagner sing, after interviewing him last year and spending a not-at-all-insignificant amount of time with their single, “All the Leaves are Brown” to prepare. They played that song and a host of others from their yet-to-be-released debut album.
Should say something about Trouble‘s impact on the Midwestern doom mindset that more than a quarter of the day’s lineup would be devoted to members of the band and their projects, and not to take away from the rest of Blackfinger or what the band was doing as led by Wagner‘s songwriting — where was the standup bass? — but really, he couldn’t help but stand out. The sunglasses, the curls, the calm stage demeanor seemed to make of him a center around which the rest of the band revolved. All well and good — I don’t think anyone would argue the Chicago native doesn’t deserve to have a project in which he has sole control — some kind of solo… project…? — but speaking as a doom fanboy and someone with a keyboard in front of him, it’s time for all these dudes to get over their crap and get Trouble back together.
I’m sorry, but it needs to be said. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Blackfinger or former Trouble bassist Ron Holzner‘s Earthen Grave, who followed. In fact, I’d hope that both Wagner and Holzner would continue their involvement in these other bands as well and just go back to Trouble in addition to working with them. I know things were shitty when the band was trying to put out Simple Mind Condition in the States in 2007 and the label, Escapi, folded and whatever else happened and egos clashed and blah blah blah, but seriously, let’s get this thing moving. It’s time. Time for one of those killer heavy metal comebacks and time for Trouble to regroup, get some good PR behind them, tour with Saint Vitus and get their fucking due from the booming American doom scene. Season of Mist? Napalm Records? Fuck it, somebody‘ll sign the band. Get some new shit going — maybe don’t call the album The Dark Riff, as previously intended — and do it before you decide you’re sick of the whole thing and walk away entirely.
Watching both Holzner and Wagner do a set of Trouble songs as The Skull only underscored the point of how much a full Trouble reunion — Wagner, Holzner, Bruce Franklin, Rick Wartell and Jeff “Oly” Olson — needs to happen. But let me back up. Before that, Holzner veered farther from the Trouble blueprint with Earthen Grave, who are somewhat more progressive and who had the honor of playing host to the weekend’s only female performer in violinist Rachel Barton Pine. That’s right. One lady, and even she had to wear a leather bustier before they’d let her on stage — okay, maybe not, but you get my point. They were also the weekend’s only six-piece (unless you count Solace, who have Beer as their unofficial sixth member). They did songs from their self-titled full-length, which I bought, and though I was underwhelmed at their 2009 demo, I feel like I got some better sense of what they were going for watching them live, the guitars coming through with more energy and vocalist Mark Weiner proudly showing off his Earthride shirt and stage presence at once. Being sandwiched by two Eric Wagner-fronted sets is no easy task, and I salute the Earthen Grave singer for standing up to it.
By midway through their set, though, I was drunk enough for a shot of Crown Royal — What? No Jameson’s? — to seem like a mildly good idea, and things only got more tragic as The Skull took shape on stage. The catalog they were drawing from — i.e. Trouble‘s — was vast, and it was like they went into it saying, “Oh, so it’s doom you want is it?” And you know what the thing is about Trouble‘s doom? It’s fucking doomed. That’s some depressing shit right there, and I guess I was feeling the weight of the trip, the day, the beer, and all of it when they hit. I hadn’t realized Olson wasn’t going to be a part of The Skull as well, but as he reportedly dropped out to wait for a full reunion, I give him even more respect for not doing it half-hearted.
I was starting to feel like I was doing it half-hearted myself, but then The Skull kicked into “At the End of My Daze” to close out their set and I got all pathetic doom geek about it. Didn’t do much to improve my mood, but I fortunately had enough wits about me to stop imbibing, and when Earthride got started, their thickened Maryland doom grooved away the rest. I know frontman Dave “Sherm” Sherman has a gravelly speaking voice, and I know he talks about Wino a lot, and I know he’s a character on stage and his stage moves are a lot of fun and it’s awesome when he puts his arms up on the handlebars for the song “Earthride” and whatever else, but more than anything, what I took away from Earthride‘s performance at Days of the Doomed II? The dude can fucking sing.
Really. He’s always been about presence, right? There’s never been any doubt who you’re watching when you’re watching him front Earthride — that’s Sherm, no doubt about it. And he’s become a godfather of Maryland doom, and rightly so. But on 2010’s Something Wicked and in the several times I’ve seen him since, he’s shown that he’s more than going through the motions or capitulating to doomly expectation. He’s putting his heart and soul into singing those songs, and his melodic range isn’t his hallmark — it’s like not he’s James Fucking LaBrie up there — but it says something that rather than rest on his laurels as he easily fucking could at this point with three killer Earthride records under his belt (not to mention the EP, the digipak re-release of which they had for sale at their merch table and which I bought) and a tenure playing bass in Spirit Caravan before that, Sherman is pushing himself to be a better singer and actually becoming one. I have 10 mountains of admiration for him, sincerely. The dude sweats doom in the face of neither glory nor remuneration.
Add to that the fact that Earthride — as a full unit — are possibly the tightest now that they’ve ever been and become more of a blues band every time I see them, and you can’t lose. Bassist Josh Hart‘s Rickenbacker combined with guitarist Kyle Van Steinburg‘s tone results in a molasses so lurching there were moments during their set at Days of the Doomed II where I wasn’t sure they were actually moving the way you look at a glacier and have to wonder. Drummer Eric Little, charged with giving that glacier its push, punctuated the hooks of “Something Wicked” and “Fighting the Devils Inside of You” just right, and new song “Blackbeard’s Scorn” was the heavy’s heavy. Earthride‘s been together going on 15 years in one form or another and it feels like they’re just hitting their stride.
And if I can directly quote from my notes just once in this already considerable second in a series of two reviews, let me just say this about Solace, “Do I really have to drive out to fuckin’ WI to see a band from Jersey? Worth it.” Here’s the way “the Solace magic” works: You don’t play a show in more than a year. You get back together with your former drummer with whom you haven’t played in even longer than that — Kenny Lund told me at one point it’d been four years since he’d played out with Solace — then you show up at the fest you’re closing out, get loaded, and absolutely fucking destroy. Ta-da!
If Solace had their shit together, it wouldn’t work. If they arrived on time, or didn’t leave you wondering if their set was even going to happen, it wouldn’t have the same force when it actually did. It has to be as volatile as it was at Days of the Doomed to be Solace. Their frustration is what makes it go.
However many times I’ve seen Solace at this point, I don’t even know. This was not their cleanest set, not the tighest, or crispest, or soberest. What it was, though, was honest. I stood in front of the stage at The Blue Pig and I watched five guys rip through a set of songs they believe in the way people believe in god; the kind of deep, instinctive belief that you couldn’t separate them from if you even wanted to, and watching them, wanting to was about the farthest thing from my mind, seconded only by the drive home I’d be starting in about eight hours. They were the only band all weekend to make the stage they were playing on look small. I said that afterwards to vocalist Jason and he asked me if it meant they were getting fat. No, it meant that he, guitarists Tommy Southard and Justin Daniels, bassist Rob Hultz and Lund brought something to close out Days of the Doomed II that no one who played before them had been able to capture. On stage, Southard called it “drunk Jersey scum rock.” Maybe that’s what it is — that’s as good a name as anything I could come up with — but whatever you want to call it, it’s theirs and theirs only.
They finished with an extended jam on Pentagram‘s “Forever My Queen” — the second of the weekend’s two Pentagram covers — and by halfway through the song, Lund was leaning on the back wall. I know from speaking to them that they were down on the performance, but god damn, if you’re going to end a festival, do it with something you can’t possibly imagine anyone following, and that’s what Solace brought to Wisconsin. And then it was over.
Before I go, a note on the travel: There was a lot of it. I left out of the hotel at about 7:40AM Wisconsin time, dropped Postman Dan off in Lansing at 2PM and made it back to my humble river valley with miraculous expediency at 11:40PM, taking the life of only one possum in the process. It was a fucking lot of driving. More than I’d prefer to do in one day. But for the quality of memories I brought back with me to the Garden State, worth even the cost of gas on the Ohio Turnpike.
Special thanks to Mercyful Mike Smith for hosting me (and everyone else, I suppose) at Days of the Doomed II, to The Patient Mrs. for booking my hotel (Eli from Blood Farmers‘ line was, “Ooh, the Wyndham. Somebody has a job,” and thanks to him too), to Postman Dan for the most excellent company and Michigan microbrew recommendations, Tommy and Jenn Southard, Lisa Hass, the staff at The Blue Pig and, most of all, to you for reading.