Backwoods Payback Touring in March

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 17th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

backwoods payback

It will have been a couple months by the time Backwoods Payback hit the road again on their next DIY tour, this one headed west and south through a cut of the Midwest en route to SXSW in Austin, Texas, where they’ll play on March 14 before hitting Houston and leaving the Lone Star State behind with a couple more shows to wrap up. The Pennsylvania/Virginia (Pennsylginia?) three-piece will continue to support last year’s right-on-right-on Future Slum (review here), which put them ahead of the curve on any kind of grunge revival happening in the heavy underground while keeping to the punk root — and, clearly, work ethic — that’s been present in their sound all along.

To that end, don’t think the use of Raymond Pettibon art in their latest tour poster is a mistake or a coincidence, let alone the Black Flag-esque logo. They’re clearly aware of the kind of road-sloggery they’re doing, and while one doubts they’re eating dogfood — pretty sure convenience store burritos are cheaper anyway; plus they’re too friendly not to get fed — their commitment to “in the van” is admirable. Admirable enough you should get out and see them, anyhow. And maybe buy a t-shirt or an LP. You know, support and all that stuff that everyone hashtags nowadays.

Hashtag blessed, hashtag PR wire:

backwoods payback march tour

Backwoods Payback March Tour

Backwoods Payback
March 2019
SXSW TOUR

Heading back out and hitting the spots we have been missing.

Week never ends up right? Don’t let that dull your knife!

Backwoods Payback March 2019:
7- sprout music West Chester PA
8- now that’s class Cleveland OH
9- melody inn Indianapolis IN
10- livewire Chicago IL
11- the blue room Dubuque IA
12- bottleneck Lawrence KS
13- Witts end Dallas TX
14- spider house Austin TX
15- rudyards Houston TX
16- boom boom room Lafayette LA
17- growlers Memphis TN
18- highlands tap Louisville KY

Tour event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/386403138780580/

BACKWOODS PAYBACK:
Jessica Baker – Bass
Mike Cummings – Guitar/vocals
Erik Larson – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/backwoodspayback/
https://backwoodspayback.bandcamp.com/

Backwoods Payback, Future Slum (2018)

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Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Early-Bird Tickets Limited; Day Lineups Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 poster square

The actual schedules aren’t out yet for the four days of Maryland Doom Fest 2019, but even the day-splits for the massive lineup are good to know since this will be the first one with two venues and, thus, the first one with schedule conflicts (assuming the rooms run at the same time). That will invariably lead to some difficult choices, but so it goes in the land of doom — aka Frederick, MD. One way or another, the lineup is maddeningly good from its headliners in Pentagram, Conan, Earthride and Mothership right on down through the likes of Seasick Gladiator and Greenbeard, playing earlier in the day. But it’s good to get some basic idea of who will be where, when, because given the swath of bands, it’s going to be one to schedule where your feet are at any moment in order to miss as little as humanly possible.

By the way, how fucking awesome is the idea of Maryland Doom Fest paying homage to the 20th anniversary of the long-running/now-defunct Stoner Hands of Doom festival? That lineup could hardly be more perfect if they got Eternal Elysium over for it as SHoD once did. Especially the top three there. Unstoppable.

Here’s the info. There’s a lot of it:

Early Bird Discount Ends 12/31! THE MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019 – 5th Anniversary – June 20th-23rd with PENTAGRAM, CONAN, EARTHRIDE, MOTHERSHIP, WARHORSE, 40+ More!

The Maryland Doom Fest celebrates its 5th anniversary this upcoming June and has confirmed FIFTY of today’s heaviest bands to grace the stages of two venues in 2019. For the first time in its history, MD Doom Fest brings international artists, the mighty CONAN from the United Kingdom and INTERITUM from Tasmania, with 48 hallowed USA acts coming from coast to coast!

In a dual-ceremonial event, the MD Doom Fest Pre-Party on Thursday, June 20th is a 20th Anniversary celebration of the Stoner Hands of Doom Festival (ShoD), with a spectacular lineup. All bands have performed at fantastic SHoD fests of years past! The Pre-Fest / SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration will be monumental. We invite everyone to become part of the family at The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 events for #4daysofdoom!!

THE MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019
June 20th – 23rd, 2019 + Frederick, MD

PENTAGRAM + CONAN + EARTHRIDE + MOTHERSHIP

Year Of The Cobra + Lo Pan + Freedom Hawk + Warhorse + Pale Divine + Apostle Of Solitude + Kings Destroy + Solace + Foghound + Beelzefuzz + ZED + Wasted Theory + The Age Of Truth + Atala + Toke + Backwoods Payback + Weed Is Weed + Forming The Void + Sixes + After The Sun + Shadow Witch + Faith In Jane + Clouds Taste Satanic + Pale Grey Lore + Knoxxville + Devil To Pay + Eternal Black + Thonian Horde + Kingsnake + Greenbeard + Interitum + Benthic Realm + Horehound + Funeral Horse + Thousand Vision Mist + Deer Creek + Crooked Hills + Stone Dust Riders + Thunderchief + Wolf Blood + The Druids + Atomic 26 + Dead Sisters + Seasick Gladiator + Electric Age + Temptations Wings

+++ Early Bird Discount Weekend Passes available until December 31st +++

https://www.marylanddoomfest.com/tickets/

MD Doom Fest Pre-Party
SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration
Thursday, June 20th

+ Cafe 611 +
Earthride
Warhorse
Solace
Wasted Theory
Devil to Pay
Deer Creek
Weed is Weed
Freedom Hawk
After the Sun

DAY ONE
Friday, June 21st

+CAFE 611+
Mothership
Pale Divine
Lo Pan
Year of the Cobra
The Age of Truth
Backwoods Payback
Kingsnake
Interitum
The Druids

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Clouds Taste Satanic
Benthic Realm
Dead Sisters
Funeral Horse

DAY TWO
Saturday, June 22nd

+CAFE 611+
Pentagram
Apostle of Solitude
Foghound
Beelzefuzz
Atala
Sixes
Forming the Void
Knoxxville
Atomic 26
Eternal Black
Greenbeard

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Electric Age
Pale Grey Lore
Thunderchief
Seasick Gladiator
Crooked Hills

DAY THREE
Sunday, June 23rd

+CAFE 611+
Conan
ZED
Kings Destroy
Toke
Thousand Vision Mist
Horehound
Thonian Horde
Shadow Witch
Faith in Jane

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Temptations Wings
Wolf Blood
Stone Dust Riders

Early Bird Discount Weekend Passes are available until December 31st, 2018!
(Early Bird Discount is only for Weekend Passes- $74.)

On January 1, 2019, all regular price ticket options will be available.
Weekend Passes $89. Single Night: Fri. $35 / Sat. $40 / Sun. $35
Weekend Pass holders can attend Pre-Fest/SHoD for $15 at the door, all others: $30.

https://www.facebook.com/events/371836710006412/
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/
https://www.themarylanddoomfest.com/

Apostle of Solitude, “Keeping the Lighthouse” official video

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Announces Lineup: Pentagram, Conan, Earthride, Mothership, Lo-Pan and More to Play

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 announcement

Holy fucking shit. It’s a good thing Maryland Doom Fest 2019 isn’t until next June, because it’s going to take me that long to process how badass this lineup is. It’s like JB decided this was the year everybody plays. A fourth day has been added. A second venue has been added — it’s Cafe 611 and Guido’s Speakeasy now — and wow. Just, fucking, wow. The headliners: PentagramConanEarthride and Mothership. And the list of bands that follows is absolutely staggering. Of course some things are bound to change between now and then, and there are announcements yet to be made about the pre-show, but really. They’ve absolutely, positively gone to a completely new level of festival here.

It’s gonna be crowded.

And it’s gonna be a blast. If you need me, I’ll be booking my room at the Motel 6 in Frederick.

The announcement was simple and came just in the form of the poster — art is by Kyle Stratton, whose band Atala also make a return to the bill — and from near and far, far and wide, acts are coming in to make what looks like it’ll be an absolutely unforgettable weekend (-plus) of heavy.

Here’s the lineup:

maryland doom fest 2019 poster

MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019 – JUNE 20-23

DOOMSTERS, GRUNGERS, SLUDGERS, STONERS, & PAGANS —

We are extremely pleased to present to you……The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 lineup!!!

50 of the heaviest, most talented bands to grace the stage.

We bring you INTERITUM from Tasmania, CONAN from England, PENTAGRAM from our soil, and an additional 47 top performing USA acts traveling from all across the continent!!

As if that’s not enough, the MDDF Pre-Fest Party will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the SHoD (Stoner Hands of Doom) Festival with a spectacular lineup of bands who have performed at the great SHoD fests in years past!! The Pre-Fest / SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration will be monumental in countless ways!!!!

Please support the Doom scene and share this epic event with your comrades and we will see you at #4daysofdoom !!!!

EARLY BIRD Discounted ticket sales start Dec. 17th, 2018 – for two weeks only.

This astronomical lineup and the 2019 festivities are dedicated to my very good friend and prior MDDF partner from 2015 – 2018, Mark Cruikshank!!

DooM !!! ~JB

Lineup:
Earthride
Warhorse
Solace
Wasted Theory
Devil to Pay
Deer Creek
Weed is Weed
Freedom Hawk
After the Sun
Mothership
Pale Divine
Lo Pan
Year of the Cobra
The Age of Truth
Backwoods Payback
Kingsnake
Interitum
The Druids
Clouds Taste Satanic
Benthic Realm
Dead Sisters
Funeral Horse
Pentagram
Apostle of Solitude
Foghound
Beelzefuzz
Atala
Sixes
Forming the Void
Knoxxville
Atomic 26
Eternal Black
Greenbeard
Electric Age
Pale Grey Lore
Thunderchief
Seasick Gladiator
Crooked Hills
Conan
ZED
Kings Destroy
Toke
Thousand Vision Mist
Horehound
Thonian Horde
Shadow Witch
Faith in Jane
Temptations Wings
Wolf Blood
Stone Dust Riders

https://www.facebook.com/events/371836710006412/
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/
https://www.themarylanddoomfest.com/

Earthride, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2018

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Backwoods Payback Announce November/December Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

backwoods payback

There are some really good shows on this tour. Boston. Brooklyn. Houston. New Orleans. Atlanta. And in between there aren’t many bummers to be found either, frankly. Backwoods Payback, whose recent live sets rank among some of the best I’ve seen domestically this year, head out once again supporting their 2018 album, Future Slum (review here), which, if you haven’t heard it, why not? They’ll do the Northeast and head south before cutting west into Texas, basically tying together a long weekender and a longer stretch as they do, en route to wrapping in North Carolina back on a northern swing. I could tell you to go see them and blah blah blah and all that kind of crap, but the bottom line is that the stream of Future Slum is embedded down there under the PR wire info for the tour, and you don’t check it out, it’s your loss. The rest of the blathering I’ll save for year-end list time.

Okay then:

backwoods payback tour

BACKWOODS PAYBACK ANNOUNCE TOUR

Sludgy grunge outfit Backwoods Payback are about to embark on a tour in support of their recent album Future Slum, sharing the stage with Doomstress, Royal Thunder, and many more on their way from the Northeast to Texas and back.

Says the band:
“Future Slum is here and it’s time to start spreading it across the land.

We are heading to some areas we haven’t toured in quite some time and a few bucket list destinations as well. The lineups for these shows are nuts. They form a pretty solid vision of where we come from, where we are, and where we are going.

This is just the beginning… Watch the trees, look past the tip of the knife… We will be running with the wolves.”

Order/Stream Future Slum here: https://backwoodspayback.bandcamp.com/album/future-slum

Tour Dates
11/16 – Midway (Boston MA) w/ Set Fire, Cortez, Lord Fowl
11/17 – Brickhouse (Dover, NH) w/ Set Fire, Scrimmy the Dirtbag, The Humanoids
11/18 – St. Vitus (Brooklyn, NY) w/ River Cult, Eternal Black, Blackout
11/19 – Basement Transmissions (Erie, PA) w/ Fog Giant
11/25 – Banditos (Richmond, VA) w/ Book Of Wyrms
11/27 – Springwater (Nashville, TN) w/ Shadow Horse, Hogan’s Goat
11/28 – Dan Electros (Houston, TX) w/ Doomstress, Red Beard Wall, Mr. Plow
11/29 – The Mix (San Antonio, TX) w/ Red Beard Wall
11/30 – Lost Well (Austin, TX) w/ Red Beard Wall
12/1 – Santos (New Orleans, LA) w/ Suplecs, Choke
12/2 – The Earl (Atlanta, GA) w/ Order of the Owl, Royal Thunder
12/3 – Slims (Raleigh, NC) w/ Chaosmic

BACKWOODS PAYBACK:
Jessica Baker – Bass
Mike Cummings – Guitar/vocals
Erik Larson – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/backwoodspayback/
https://backwoodspayback.bandcamp.com/

Backwoods Payback, Future Slum (2018)

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Review & Video Premiere: Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on August 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

backwoods payback future slum

[Click play above to view the premiere of Backwoods Payback’s ‘Generals.’ Their new album, Future Slum, is out now.]

Future Slum could hardly sound more sincere if Backwoods Payback had cut themselves open and bled it out. And, listening to the melodic, post-grunge ending of “It Ain’t Right” — an Alice in Chains reference, maybe? — I’m not entirely sure they didn’t. There are raging moments as the album begins at a sprint in “Pirate Smile” and “Generals” seems to lay hands on the listener only to shove them out of its way, and the later “Alone” offers tonal thickness and grooving lumber of a more seasoned pace. This while “Lines” finds the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson locked into blood-boiling tension before skillfully cramming in one last chorus for the opening salvo that ends with the rolling “Whatever” bringing forth a hook that one might call “signature” before guest vocalist Mlny Parsonz of Royal Thunder hurls out a scream that reminds of the harsher edge Backwoods Payback stand ready to unleash at any given moment.

Rest assured, Cummings will answer soon enough in “Threes” at the end of side A as Larson gives his toms a torrential workover, and “Generals” wants nothing either in terms of aggro edge. To the notion of authenticity as a myth in terms of art or, really, anything — it’s a false standard at the very least — Future Slum is a challenge. It is so much the band’s own, and so much of it comes across as an arrival point in their ongoing growth, that in kind with the atmospheric spaces it covers in “Cinderella” and “Alone,” its punk, metal, grunge and heavy rock elements craft an identity that stands in the middle of a Venn diagram of genres while delivering a hard no to committing to any of them for more than the purposes of the single track being served. And as they make their way through the 10 songs/34 minutes of Future Slum, what ties their disparate ideas together — aside from Baker‘s basslines, which would probably be enough on their own — ends up being that flat-out refusal to play to style or be anything other than the band they’ve become.

This isn’t accidental, of course. Backwoods Payback have never been shy in terms of getting out and touring, and as they returned in trio form with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here) after a half-decade’s relative quiet — they had a 2012 live release (discussed here) and 2014’s In the Ditch EP (review here) filling that gap — following 2011’s Small Stone-delivered sophomore album, Momantha (review here), they maintained their commitment to pushing their sound forward on stage. Future Slum only benefits from this on a performance level, as CummingsBaker and Larson are tighter as a unit than they were even just two years ago, and one can hear it in the initial thrust of “Pirate Smile” as much as the dug-in emotionalism of the memorable “Big Enough,” a wistful highlight as much for its self-harmonizing as the instrumental build happening beneath, culminating in a wash and some quiet strum soon enough devoured by the opening riff of the penultimate “Alone.”

backwoods payback (Photo by Useless Rebel)

I used to call Backwoods Payback “dirt rock,” and there’s an aspect of that still applicable, but Future Slum makes easy tags a thing of the past, and as a fan, it’s all the more an exciting release for that. It’s been two full-lengths thus far, but since Cummings and Baker brought in Larson on drums, one can hear in the songs not that they’re playing against each other, but that all three members of the band are challenging each other to make the whole group stronger. And they do. Future Slum has three inclusions over four minutes long, and the band’s execution is accordingly teeth-grindingly tight, but as they continue to refine their processes and their delivery, their output makes it plain for anyone to hear that they’ve reached a new level in style and substance. Fortunately, in accord with this is a consistency of songwriting. Cummings‘ lyrics are spit poetry and the forward drive he, Baker and Larson are able to conjure amid dynamic turns of tempo and melody, is unmistakable. Fire Not Reason laid the foundation, and as a result of that, Future Slum is the strongest release they’ve ever had.

That’s true in terms of performance, craft and overall production sound, which remains thick where and when it needs to be while allowing the three-piece to still have a live feel and highlight nuances like the layered-in guitar effects in the second half of the opener or the timely shouts that punctuate the lines of “Generals.” Following the weighted nod of “Alone,” “Lucky” closes out as the longest cut at 4:57 and seems to find some middle ground in a Sabbathian central riff and steady initial pace, but true to form, it ups the tempo in a classically metallic turn — no less Sabbath, for that matter — that soon enough gives way to the slower chorus before landing in a chug that seems to disintegrate as it fades out, ending Future Slum with a bit of tension that one might even dare to think Backwoods Payback would answer with the start of their next album. Whether they do or don’t, and wherever they might go from here, the organic nature of their progression only makes Future Slum all the more of an accomplishment.

Some 11 years removed from their self-titled debut, they’ve risen to their own challenge and come together to create something special and truly theirs. It’s not dirt rock. It’s not stoner, or Southern rock, or doom or grunge or hardcore punk or whatever else. It’s Backwoods Payback. They’ve carved their sonic persona out of all of these things, and most of all, stayed true to themselves while embracing such a breadth of influence. In their faster and slower songs alike, one can hear the sense of immediacy, and it’s completely reasonable why. Backwoods Payback have been around, and they’re not dumb. This is a moment they’ve managed to capture, and there are parts of Future Slum that sound like they’re almost chasing after themselves before they get away. That’s not a negative at all. Rather, as it manifests here, it serves notice of the consciousness underlying their efforts, and they’re right. This is a watershed for them. Their urgency is nothing if not well placed.

Backwoods Payback, Future Slum (2018)

Backwoods Payback on Thee Facebooks

Backwoods Payback on Instagram

Backwoods Payback on Twitter

Backwoods Payback on Bandcamp

Backwoods Payback website

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Live Review: Backwoods Payback, Set Fire and Owl Maker in New London, CT, 07.21.18

Posted in Reviews on July 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Backwoods Payback (Photo JJ Koczan)

Right down the block from where the El ‘n’ Gee used to be — the space is still there, with a new name and a line outside waiting to get in — is 33 Golden St., a classic rock and roll basement bar that feels immediately like home. It’s not dirty in that hey-it’s-rock-and-roll-so-we-never-need-to-sweep kind of way, and the room is warm and welcoming and they play Sabbath over the P.A., so somebody clearly has their head on straight. My guess is that would be the owner, Craig, though I didn’t get to meet him to tell him so.

The occasion for the trip to New London was to see Backwoods Payback, who’d so recently laid waste to Maryland Doom Fest 2018 in Frederick, MD, as part of heralding their new album, Future Slum, and the purpose for the long weekender was much the same. Joining them on the intended bill were Set Fire from Boston and Southern Connecticut’s Owl Maker, as well as Witchkiss, who dropped off at the last minute owing to a family emergency. Without the fourth band, it was an easy atmosphere to the evening. Three bands, cool vibe, stage tucked into the corner at the end of the bar. The place reminded me of what O’Brien’s in Boston might be with a little upkeep.

Owl Maker led off and were not entirely unknown to me, having checked out their March 2018 EP, Paths of the Slain (review here), Owl Maker (Photo JJ Koczan)from which they played a couple songs including “Freya’s Chariot” and “99.” Led by guitarist/vocalist Simon Tuozzoli, also of Vestal Claret and UP Recording Studio, the trio was completed by the punch of Jessie May‘s bass and the metallic-style drumming of Chris Anderson.

Deadpan humor and NWOBHM-inspired riffing — also a more direct line, with a cover of Iron Maiden‘s “Wrathchild” — ensued, and he had a few good ones, but I think my favorite song intro from Tuozzoli might’ve been, in full metal voice, “This song is one less than 100. This is ’99’!” Good fun. Formed in 2016, they’re still feeling out where they want to be sonically, but their pursuit of that is well-directed and they played 33 Golden with a solid idea of who they are as a band and how they want to get where they’re going. They have a new collection on Bandcamp called Summer Singles and I’ll look forward to hearing what they do next.

A couple familiar faces in the trio Set Fire, who played next. Three, actually. Drummer Rob Davol was a bandmate of guitarist/vocalist Jim Healey‘s in the trio Shatner and used to play in drunken rockers Cocked ‘n’ LoadedHealey of course featured in Black Thai and We’re all Gonna Die in addition to Shatner and various others along with his resonant singer-songwriter solo work. And keyboardist/synthesist Jess Collins used to play in Mellow Bravo, so all three members have significant roots in Boston’s fertile if insular rock underground. Along with the bands, Healey also helps put together the Grub, Sweat and Beers festival, which was held this weekend, and which Set Fire and Backwoods Payback would both play the night after this show.

Got all that? Despite their incendiary moniker, which to my mind

Set Fire (Photo JJ Koczan)

seems to foretell harsher noise rock, Set Fire‘s style is dug deep into classic straightforward heavy, shades of Soundgarden — the second cover of the night there, in homage to Chris Cornell — and other ’90s acts coming through as filtered through the distinctive vocals of Healey and Collins, either of whom could easily front a band on their own. Together, they make Set Fire a melodic powerhouse, and Collins‘ keys and Korg and Healey‘s double-neck guitar filled out the space a bassist might otherwise occupy such that there was no loss of presence either in the low end or on stage in general. They were encouraging to watch and clearly enjoyed the collaboration between the three of them. I did likewise.

I’ve all but stopped wearing a watch, so my sense of time isn’t what it used to be, but I know it definitely wasn’t early when Backwoods Payback took the stage. Maybe 12:30? Something like that. The West Chester, Pennsylvania, three-piece are absolutely locked in. Brutally locked in. More locked in than they know, and they know they’re locked in. And a band like that, you want to see as much as you can. So while it’s been mere weeks, I knew I wanted to catch them at this gig. They’d had van trouble leaving Long Island after the show the night Backwoods Payback (Photo JJ Koczan)before and managed to catch the last ferry across the Long Island Sound to New London, so perhaps guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson were a bit harried, but though they brought the culprit component on stage with them and at one point hoisted it like a slain beast to show the room, tubes flailing this way and that, their actual performance didn’t suffer in the slightest.

The highlight was the short, grunge-derived roll of “Big Enough” from Future Slum, but anytime Backwoods Payback want to show up and play “You Don’t Move” from 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), you won’t hear me complain. Air tight and still dangerous, their dirt rock aesthetic has matured but is especially propulsive with Larson behind the kit, each player challenging the others to play better, be stronger on stage. The result is a kind of torrent that’s weighted emotionally as well as tonally. When it moves fast it absolutely burns, as on “Generals” from the new record, or “Snakes,” which closed out, and when it grooves, as on “Day to Day” or the ultra-catchy “Dirge” from the last album, it holds a tension and a nod that seems ready to break out at any second. They’re in utter control, however, and as much as Fire Not Reason showed the force of this Backwoods Payback (Photo JJ Koczan)lineup, Future Slum shows how remarkably well they can wield that force.

They didn’t start early, so they didn’t finish early either — funny how that works — but the ride home wasn’t nearly as bad as some I’ve had in my time, and the show was easily worth giving up a bit of my otherwise rigid schedule to see. I didn’t even wake up the baby when I got in, so bonus. Great night all the way around, from arriving at the venue for the (overdue) first time to hanging out after, and one all the more worth appreciating for the infrequency of its caliber.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2018 Night Three, 06.24.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on June 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland-doom-fest-2018-night-three-poster

Before I get started on the last night of Maryland Doom Fest 2018, I want to thank JB Matson and Mark Cruikshank for the incredible work they’ve put into making this event something truly special. Think Maryland was ready for a festival to help define and codify its generations-spanning underground scene? Maryland Doom Fest has done so in four years’ time, and not only has it helped give an understanding to what Maryland doom is, but it’s working actively to broaden those horizons as well. And its reach is growing. Not only in bands. Last night the dude standing to my left was there with friends from Portland, Oregon, and to my right was a handful of folks from Albuquerque, New Mexico, all packed right at the front of the stage. It’s growing, and quickly.

But as Maryland Doom Fest enters what might be its Golden Age in presenting shows people will talk about years later — “ah yeah, were you at Doom Fest when Windhand played?”, etc. — the event has also kept its head on its shoulders about the work in progress. It’s a grounded experience, very much of its place, and a thrill to be able to return here and see it, especially after missing last year. I very much hope to be back to Frederick and back to Cafe 611 in 2019.

I don’t mind telling you I rolled into the venue in time to catch the first band feeling like I’d had my ass kicked up and down 6th St. already — because I had, two days running — but the momentum of the final day of Maryland Doom Fest 2018 was as thick as the riffs and it was a pleasure to be shoved along to a riotous finish.

Happened like this:

Gateway to Hell

Gateway to Hell (Photo JJ Koczan)

Baltimore natives Gateway to Hell started a few minutes late, which unless I’m mistaken resulted in a shortening of their set. If so, all the more a bummer, because when they were done, I wanted more. They made their debut last year with the EP, Clovers (review here), and though I had a more metallic impression of them in my mind from that going into their set opening the last day of Maryland Doom Fest 2018, with an orchestra of effects there was an experimentalist psych edge to the guitar work of Alex Briscoe that blended with straight-ahead rhythms from bassist Eric Responsible (who wins the weekend as regards surnames) and drummer Dan Petrucelli, all of which gave frontman Jerrod Bronson ground to belt out lyrics over top. They had intense moments to be sure, but I wondered if their next release might bring more of that weirdo sensibility to bear in their sound. Fingers crossed. It worked really well on stage.

Bedowyn

Bedowyn (Photo JJ Koczan)

Comprised of vocalist/guitarist Alex Traboulsi, guitarist Mark Peters, newcomer bassist Channing Azure and drummer Marc Campbell, Raleigh, North Carolina’s Bedowyn were about as close as Doom Fest got to black metal this year, and well, it was pretty close. Bedowyn, who got their start in 2011 and have an EP and full-length under their collective belt, blend that genre with a handful of others — thrash, classic metal, heavy rock, and so on — to conjure an aggressive but still poised sound, and Traboulsi‘s vocals turned from screams to sort of cleaner shouts while Campbell‘s drums held together all the part changes and stylistic turns. They went on early, so got an extra five minutes to play and made the most of it as a standout coming from someplace different than just about everything on the bill, which, again, was packed the whole way through. Also, if I remember right, I was told Campbell played drums with two broken fingers, thereby earning immeasurable bonus points. So there’s that too.

Saints and Winos

Saints and Winos (Photo JJ Koczan)

I guess everyone was on the 4:15 doombus to Frederick, because all of a sudden I turned around and the room was was pretty full for Saints and Winos from Rochester, New York. Mixing clean and harsh vocals, they tipped hats to more extreme and sludgy sounds, but had their basis in heavy rock and roll and a somewhat classic style, with plenty of low end fuzz and metallic swing very much in the spirit of the weekend in those terms and as regards general ease of pace. Their debut album, the all-caps WE RISE, came out late last year and featured three-part harmonies from guitarist Joe Dellaquila, bassist Amanda Rampe and drummer J.B. Rodgers on songs like “Great Wall,” and there was some of that on stage as well but it didn’t quite come through the house P.A. with the same kind of balance. Hazards of being the third band on the bill with complex arrangements. They were engaging enough to make me dig into the record anyway, and while there’s room to grow in their sound, it was plain to hear that potential during their set.

Book of Wyrms

Book of Wyrms (Photo JJ Koczan)

Look, I don’t want to say classic doom will never die, because let’s face it: everything fucking dies. Someday the ocean is going rise up and eat us all about 30 seconds before the asteroid hits and splits the planet in two, only to be later consumed by the sun, also dying, so yeah. Classic doom will die, but it sure as shit ain’t dead yet. Book of Wyrms made an intriguing opening statement with 2017’s Sci-Fi/Fantasy (review here), which came out via respected tonal specialists Twin Earth Records. The lineup of vocalist/effects-bringer Sarah Moore Lindsey, guitarists Kyle Lewis and Ben Coudriet, bassist Jay Lindsey and drummer Chris DeHaven dug into traditional stoner-doom vibes that were, indeed, a pleasure to witness, and their potential was writ large over their time on stage in much the same fashion as on the record. I don’t know if it’s the balance of samples vs. riffs or doomed aspects and more heavy rock roll and melody in Lindsey‘s vocals, but there’s something waiting to be tapped in their sound that, if they get there, will make all the difference for them. As it was, they carried the room with ease.

Sierra

Sierra (Photo JJ Koczan)

What a way to start a tour. And what a tour to start. Canadian three-piece Sierra obviously enjoyed launching a run of shows as they did last year at Maryland Doom Fest 2017, because they were doing the same thing all over again. This time, they’ll be out supporting fest-headliners Weedeater, and as they’ve been a steady presence on the Tone Deaf Touring circuit the last several years — they’ll also be at de facto sister fest Descendants of Crom in Pittsburgh this September — they’re tight enough in their delivery to have a professional sheen. They’re a tricky band as well, because it’s easy to watch them and say, “Okay, heavy rock, fair enough,” but that’s not it. There’s more just under the surface. To say Rush is a lazy comparison based on the simple fact of their northern origins, but they’re more prog than they let on, and they work smoothly in tipping that balance back and forth between the straightforward and the more complex. Of course, that makes them more exciting to watch, since they’re neither purely clinical nor just another collective bearing riffs, but instead offer something more varied between the two. It was my first time seeing them, and they were better than I knew, making a highlight of “Rainbows End” before finishing out with a cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Into the Void.”

Curse the Son

Curse the Son (Photo JJ Koczan)

However, I knew damn well that Curse the Son were going to be incredible. Perfect band for the setting, great slot, a room that would just bounce their volume off the walls. Yeah, it was gonna work out. And it did. It’s been a little bit — more than I’d prefer, certainly — since I last saw the Hamden, Connecticut, trio, and in that time, they’ve released their third album, Isolator (review here), signed to Ripple Music and brought in drummer Robert Ives alongside bassist/backing vocalist Brandon Keefe and founding guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, so yeah, it’s been reasonably busy. Another band Maryland Doom Fest 2018 is sharing with Descendants of Crom, they also appeared at this Spring’s inaugural New England Stoner and Doom Fest, and as Vanacore announced from the stage, they’re working toward a new album for early 2019. “Huzzah” would be putting it mildly. They were the first band all weekend for whom I removed my earplugs and let go a little bit to headbang and really take in. A lot of Maryland doom resides in a mid-paced groove. Curse the Son play slower and lower, and that nod was exactly what my weary soul needed. With Vanacore‘s tonal morass and vocals cutting through, older cuts like “Spider Stole the Weed” and “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” were familiar and welcome, and though he had some rather significant shoes to fill, the swing and intensity Ives brought to the drums was a dead-on fit. They don’t really tour, but still, theirs was one of my favorite sets of the whole weekend, and if you’re reading this and you ever get the chance to see them live, do it.

Backwoods Payback

Backwoods Payback (Photo JJ Koczan)

Under general circumstances, I’m not one to gush, but I tell you know lie, I went up to each member of Backwoods Payback individually — to guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson, each separately — and told them how incredible their new album, Future Slum, is. I don’t even know how many times the word “awesome” left my mouth, but needless to say it was an embarrassing number. The thing about it is, they just absolutely nailed it. Same could easily be said of their set at Maryland Doom Fest 2018. Playing new material and old after opening with “You Don’t Move” from their most recent outing, 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), they absolutely laid waste to Cafe 611. And it’s for the same reason: everything has clicked. The songs, the lineup, the performance, the presence — it’s all in the same place and they’re experienced enough and smart enough to throw it at the audience in just the right way. And the conviction from all three of them. Plenty of bands this weekend meant what they were doing. To be blunt, nobody was phoning it in. But with Backwoods Payback, it was another level entirely, and when Cummings jumped off the stage toward the end of the set and shared the mic with a couple kids in the crowd who knew the words, it felt like a moment that encapsulated the band’s capacity to hit hard and still translate that their conviction into a meaningful experience. I’ll have more to say about the new record and I’ve already made plans to see them again next month, but this one was a landmark not to be forgotten anytime soon.

Caustic Casanova

Caustic Casanova (Photo JJ Koczan)

I knew Caustic Casanova were underrated, and seeing them for the first time, I guess I was interested to find out if I could find a reason why. Their sound is certainly accessible enough; the Washington, D.C./Frederick trio play a style of heavy rock that in part feels drawn from ’90s college/art rock weirdoism and part drawn from a desire to mash that against sonic pummel and punker drive, but they’re also a thoughtful band. Each part has its purpose, and even in their delivery live, there was a sense of focus that pervaded what they were doing. It was fun to watch, definitely, but there was a strong intent there — nothing felt like an accident, however experimental it may have been in the composition. One knows they’re Melvins fans because they did a cover of “Cow” on their latest 7″, but their style has much more to it than just post-Buzzo riffing and tryhard avant gardeship so often resulting from that influence. And if Caustic Casanova are underrated, the reason is precisely because they’re not easy to pin down. They’re a dynamic, complex trio given to deft rhythmic turns and an indie aspect to complement/contrast their heavier elements, and they don’t fit into any single genre tag necessarily beyond the blanket “progressive heavy rock,” which is a pale descriptor for the actual depth of character in the music they make.

Duel

Duel (Photo JJ Koczan)

The rest of the night would be given to riotousness, and Duel were the start of that. Up from their home in Austin, Texas, this would mark the largest tour they’ve undertaken in the US, but they come into it with multiple European stints on their CV. Recently also announced for Heavy Mash 2018 in October (info here), their latest release is actually a live album called Live at the Electric Church (review here) that Heavy Psych Sounds put out as a complement to their two to-date studio LPs, 2016’s Fears of the Dead (review here) and 2017’s Witchbanger (review here), and from that, I thought I had a pretty decent idea what to expect. What took me by surprise, though, was the energy behind what they were doing. They’re classic heavy rock in their stylistic root, but rather than present it as some staid relic to be showcased like a museum piece under glass, they instead break that glass with their bare hands, smear the blood over their faces and proceed to capture the dangerous spirit that drove the earliest days of riffery in the first place. Actually, they do more than just capture it. They make it their own, so that this sound so often associated with the past becomes something inextricably forward thinking. I dug the records, so wasn’t surprised to be into the live show, but the sheer vitality of it was staggering. They made it a celebration.

The Midnight Ghost Train

The Midnight Ghost Train (Photo JJ Koczan)

Their last show. Heavy rock and roll loses one of its most potent live acts in The Midnight Ghost Train, who made Maryland Doom Fest 2018 the occasion for their final gig. Ever? Maybe. One has learned time and again never to say never in rock and roll, but the band made it known in April they were calling it quits, and this was their version of going out with a bang. Did you ever get to see The Midnight Ghost Train? It’s a question I can see myself asking in conversation for years to come — they are a litmus test for music and performance as a kinetic force, and a comparison point to which few will be able to live up. Founded by guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss and ending with longtime drummer Brandon Burghart (I don’t know what else he’s got going, but I can’t imagine any band not wanting him in its lineup) and relative newcomer bassist Tyler Harper (also of Capra), they were fury incarnate with a bittersweet underpinning. I’ve watched The Midnight Ghost Train shows for a decade, and I tell you with no reservation that they’re among the most powerful heavy rock bands I’ve ever seen. Moss transforms into a shuffle-blues madman, Burghart‘s swing is nigh-unmatchable, and Harper stood toe-to-toe with the guitar, which is saying something. They will be missed. But they went out as they always were — on fire — and I stayed up front the whole time and felt fortunate to be there to see it, as I think did everyone else in the room. They were a big part of what made the day so special. And even if they get back together at some point, years down the line or whatever, the impact of this night, this set, stands as a monument to who they were as a group and Moss‘ realized vision of heavy, funky, bluesy righteousness.

Weedeater

Weedeater (Photo JJ Koczan)

Well, if one band over the course of the three-day event was going to ignite a genuine mosh, it might as well be Weedeater, whose tonal dominance was evident from soundcheck onward despite “Dixie” Dave Collins breaking a string on his bass. Years of near-constant touring have given North Carolina’s Weedeater a reputation that well precedes them, and though it had been years since I last caught them, I knew the lumbering sludge that was about to unfold as soon as they hit into “God Luck and Good Speed” to open their set, with guitarist Dave Shepherd and drummer Carlos Denogean doing no shortage of the heavy lifting when it came to rolling out massive, lumbering nod. I’m too old for that slam-dancing shit, so I hightailed it from the front of the stage on the quick, but Weedeater left no question as to why they were headlining. What the hell else could possibly follow them? They’ve made a career on sounding unhinged, and even down to Denogean wailing away at his kit, they lived up to that, but they’re long since veterans, too, so they’re not just fucking around. They’re professionally fucking around. Good work if you can get it. The crowd knew the set the whole way through, and though Weedeater are coming up on due for a follow-up to 2015’s Goliathan (review here), which they’ve basically been on tour supporting since it came out, their command of the stage wasn’t something that just happened. It was whittled down from the years of grinding on the road they’ve done. Worth it? You’d have to ask them, but watching them play for the first time in a long-enough while, they looked like a band that made themselves headliners the hard way, and who have earned every accolade, every top slot, every laudatory hyperbole they’ve gotten. Like so much of the festival that led up to them, they were the right band, right time.

I saw and met a lot of really wonderful people this weekend who had absurdly nice things to say about this site and whatnot, from the Horseburner guys to hanging out with Mike from Backwoods Payback and Leanne Ridgeway from Riff Relevant, to seeing Paul-forever-to-be-known-as-MadJohnShaft and talking about the various European fests he hits, Dave Benzotti, Erik Larson, Earl Walker Lundy, Ron Vanacore, Deanne Firkin, Billy from Philly and the gents from The Age of Truth, Mark and Pete from ZED, Uncle Fezzy, Darren Waters, Dee Calhoun, Shy Kennedy, Pat Harrington, the dudes from Bailjack, Steve Moss, Melanie Streko, Lisa Hass, Chuck Dukeheart and the Foghound gang, Mat from Castle, Doomstress Alexis, Mark Schaff, Justin from Molasses Barge, Brenna from Lightning Born, on and on and on.

Thank you is my point. People say incredible stuff about this site, and I can’t ever really let myself hear it, but I’m happy if someone feels positively about a thing that happens here. Every now and then I do too. This weekend was one of those times. Thank you for reading and being a part of it.

It was five and a half hours north in the car when I let out of the Super 8 in Frederick to get to Connecticut, which is how this review ended up being later than I’d prefer, but so it goes. Before I end the post, I need to send a special thanks to The Patient Mrs., whose management and running point on The Pecan the last few days made this trip possible in the first place. That’s a hard job, even more for her than for me, and I owe her eternally for her efforts in allowing me to pursue crazy ideas like, “so I’m gonna go to Frederick for a weekend and hit Doom Fest you got the baby okay cool thanks.” It means more to me than I can say.

More pics after the jump. Thanks again all.

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