The lineup is set for the two-day Days of the Doomed III fest out at The Blue Pig in Cudahy, Wisconsin, and it’s looking to be fairly monstrous again in 2013. June is a ways off, so obviously anything can change at any time, but hell, pretty much pick any five of the bands on this list, put them on a bill together, and it’s a show worth making a trip to see. Dream Death and Orodruin within the span of 24 hours of each other? Penance leading into Iron Man? Well, I guess you’re just gonna have to sign me up for that one.
A new trailer, put together by Kathy Reeves, has surfaced for the fest that gives a glimpse at the lineup and sets the tunes to, what else?, old public domain car crash footage. Awesome. Enjoy and here’s looking forward:
Posted in Reviews on February 11th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
What was clear at the outset was that it was going to be a long night. With 10 bands in a matter of seven and a half hours, The Eye of the Stoned Goat 2 was going to have to be a well-oiled machine to keep itself running anything close to smoothly. I arrived in New Castle, Delaware, shortly before the 5:30 start time and readied myself for the tide of riffs to come. The acts, there were many, did not disappoint in this regard.
JB McGinnes was the venue, located in a strip mall along a stretch shortly off I-95. I was immediately reminded of Krug’s Place in Frederick, Maryland, though the layout was different — Krug‘s is two separate rooms where JB McGinnes is a bar up front with the surprisingly large stage in back and no partition between — but the vibe was roughly the same. Food service available, some decent-enough beers if you’re looking for them, and an unpretentious vibe, somewhere between local townie, Irish and sports bar; pool tables off to one side, the kitchen (and ice cream parlor?) off to another.
The lineup ranged as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as Maryland, and with Delaware acts Blackhand and Wasted Theory, the First State had its representation as well. Very much a regional representation, and clearly intended to be that. Thee Nosebleeds, one of several acts from Philly, started off just about on time and like a schmuck, I took notes throughout the course of the night. Here’s how it all went down:
The West Philly trio got up to speed as their set went on, and I took it as a telling sign that two out of the three members wore shirts with Small Stone bands on them. Their music played out that grown-up punker sensibility, but the idea was heavy rock and it was an idea Thee Nosebleeds worked well within, playing songs that were strong in the chorus and straightforward without necessarily being boring. Vocalist/guitarist Kermit Lyman tore into several killer solos that immediately set a high standard for the night, and the band brought up Erik Caplan of Wizard Eye (a favor Caplan‘s unit would later return for Lyman) for a theremin guest spot that added some variety to the set. It was an energetic start, no frills and riffy, and in that way set the course for a lot of the evening to come.
Also a trio from Philly, but barely more than a month old and steeped in an entirely different kind of heaviness, Heavy Temple hit the stage quickly after Thee Nosebleeds wrapped. Acts shared backlined equipment all the way up until Iron Man however many hours later, but though they’re pretty clearly just starting out, Heavy Temple got their point across, blending thickened post-rock mysticism with rolling Sleep-style stoner groove. Bassist/vocalist Elyse Mitchell (ex-ChromeLord) donned a robe and black lipstick while guitarist Shawn Randles and drummer Andy Martin (the latter also of Clamfight) opted for more everyday costuming, but while they may have some presentation issues to work out, this being their first show, the songs seemed to be right where the band wanted them, and it was enough to make me look forward to how their organic tonality might develop. They had a different take than just about any other band on the bill, and the shift was welcome, if early.
Last seen with Truckfighters in their native Philadelphia, single-guitar foursome Skeleton Hands had the first standalone frontman of the night in Pete Hagen, who introduced the band with suitable burl in a rasp of “Skeleton Hands, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania!” before the testosterone-driven riffing began. Their set was tight, crisp and professional, heavy Southern metal guitar work with touches of Down or a much-less-Virginian Alabama Thunderpussy. That kind of thing doesn’t always work when yankees try it out — I didn’t even know Philadelphia had a bayou! — but Skeleton Hands were entertaining all the same and suited to the bigger stage at JB McGinnes. People were beginning to really file in as they played and they seemed to work quickly in getting a hook into the crowd, while also setting up a smooth transition into Blackhand to come, who shared a lot of their stylistic traits.
Newark, Delaware’s Blackhand (two “hand” bands in a row!) brought The Eye of the Stoned Goat 2 to its apex of burl. The chest-thumping, boot-stomping double-guitar man-metal was like a supplement ad on late-night tv, but like Skeleton Hands, it was also a tight, pro set. Blackhand went even further into the Down/Pepper Keenan school of riffing, the two axes only adding to the overarching metallicism of what they were doing, and though their influences weren’t that far off from what Skeleton Hands or Wasted Theory still to come were working with, Blackhand were nothing if not distinct, proffering heavy rock for those perhaps looking to transition off Black Label Society into something with a little more underground flair. They also drew and held a solid crowd and I imagine made some new friends among those in the marching path of frontman Bruce Marvel, who made use of his wireless mic to stand on the speaker cabinets in front of the stage and make a rousing call to arms.
Tone! Don’t get me wrong, I get the appeal of the whole dudeliness-for-dudeliness’-sake thing, but when Wizard Eye got going, I felt like I’d just come home. The Philly three-piece — Erik Caplan on guitar/vocals/theremin, Dave on bass/vocals and Scott on drums — were the fuzziest band of the night, with a heaviness not so much displayed through aggression, but through the weight of the music itself. Caplan and Dave traded back and forth vocals and brought Thee Nosebleeds‘ Lyman up for a guest spot fronting the band, which he did with vicious energy and a more decidedly hardcore punk presence. Wizard Eye were refreshing and just the first of several acts still to come who need to get a record out. Their sound is too cohesive and too developed to have a demo’s production do it justice. Low end for days.
Fun fact: It was Wasted Theory drummer Brendan Burns who put together the whole bill for The Eye of the Stoned Goat 2. The fest was clearly a labor of love for Burns, who moonlights as SnakeCharmer Booking, and there’s little more respectable than that. His band brought the fest past the 9PM line and found the event running smoothly and with a good crowd at JB McGinnes between rocker heads, curious locals and a couple pool players toward the front, and Wasted Theory shifted the vibe sonically back toward the straightforward heavy rock of Thee Nosebleeds earlier, if blended with elements out of the more C.O.C.-inspired camp. They weren’t quite as nascent as Heavy Temple, but for having been together for less than a year, they seemed to have the idea down and guitarist/vocalist Jackson answered back Blackhand‘s Marvel by jumping on the speaker cabinet and the drum riser. The gauntlet? Thrown down.
It’s worth giving the disclaimer at this point that there’s just about no way I can be impartial when it comes to Clamfight. Aside from the whole helping them release I Versus the Glacier thing, I just dig them too much to offer any kind of valid critique. And so, from where I stood, from Andy Martin‘s first roar (no sign of exhaustion from the double-duty he pulled in Heavy Temple) to Sean McKee‘s first shrieking solo (wow was he loud in the mix), Joel Harris‘ riffing two-step and Louis Koble‘s in-pocket fills, I was on board already. “Sandriders” and “The Eagle” were awesome, don’t get me wrong, but the surprise of the night might have been when they broke out the ultra-brutal “Rabbit” from the first album as a closer. Clamageddon! Clampocalypse Now! A Clamtastrophe! It wasn’t like they’d been lacking in heavy up to that point, because they hadn’t, but that brought it to a different level entirely, the scathing intensity in the culminating groove an entirely different kind of chest-thumping — namely that done by the volume coming out of their cabinets and the air pushed through Martin‘s kick drum. Again, I’m not impartial in saying so, but they were the heaviest thing I saw all night, and the scariest part about it was that I don’t think they’ve even begun to peak as a band yet. I could go on. I won’t. But I could.
Not living near them, I have too easy a time forgetting how good Beelzefuzz actually are. Conclusion? They need to get an album out. They had their 2012 demo for sale — along with some awesome-looking custom stash boxes that bassist Pug Kirby apparently crafted — and guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt even mentioned the possibility of a new record on stage, citing the release date as, “eventually.” Bummer. Beelzefuzz have apparently hooked up with The Church Within Records, so I guess whenever it arrives, it’ll do so through that venerable imprint, but in the meantime, they had a killer set at Eye of the Stoned Goat much as they had at SHoD, and were greeted with due revelry by a host of the Maryland doom faithful who’d made the trip to New Castle. Ortt‘s guitar-as-organ and live multi-tracked vocals distinguished Beelzefuzz from everyone else in the lineup, and with Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey‘s tight trad doom grooves, I just hope that when they finally get that album together, they manage to capture the depth of their approach as well as they carry it across live.
For the life of me, there needs to be a statue of “Iron” Al Morris III. Cast it in bronze and stick it right in the town center in Frederick, Maryland. I don’t know who you write to in order to make something like that happen, or even if Frederick has a town center, but seriously, Morris — 20 years on from putting out the first Iron Man CD — is worthy of inclusion in the discussion of Doom Capitol legends like Wino, Bobby Liebling and Dave Sherman. I mean that. The guy’s an icon and no one knows it, and he continues to press on with riff after riff, year after year. Frontman Dee Calhoun assured the crowd in a lengthy tuning break that the band would have a new full-length out this year — they’ve released two EPs since Calhoun joined — and the news was well met. Nothing against prior vocalist Joe Donnelly, but this being my second time seeing the band with Calhoun up front, his presence and singing style is a little more classic metal and it fits the band much better. The rhythm section of bassist Louis Strachan and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann made the rich grooves of “Groan” from the Dominance EP a highlight, but really, Iron Man‘s set just made me look forward to hearing what they’ll be able to do on their next record.
It was late and I was beat. I don’t mind saying it. I sat at one of the tables by the side of the bar — I’d kind of moved around all night as I took notes in one spot and the next — and looked up to notice that JB McGinnes had left the tvs on for the entirety of the fest. Pale Divine and Avon Cosmetics commercials make for some pretty strange bedfellows. No wonder they didn’t book that licensing gig. The Pennsylvanian trio featured their latest album, 2012′s Painted Windows Black (review here), with cuts like “The Prophet” and set-highlight “Angel of Mercy,” and essentially playing in the dark suited the mood of their doom overall. With McCloskey returning on drum duty after playing with Beelzefuzz, guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener and bassist/vocalist Ron “Fez” McGinnis (also of Admiral Browning) explored a wrenching emotionality set to classic and traditional downtrodden riffing. Diener‘s voice in my experience is never lacking in power and presence, and anytime you put McGinnis on bass, it’s only going to make your band stronger. As technically proficient as he is bearded (and he’s plenty bearded), he’s apt to put all six of his strings to work at any given moment, and where on paper, considering Admiral Browning‘s frantic progressive instrumentalism, it might not seem like a natural fit, in reality he’s a highly adaptable musician as much at home in Pale Divine as I expect he would be on any end of the heavy spectrum. Some dudes can just play. Between his prowess, the band’s pervasive melancholy and lurching heaviness, Pale Divine made for a suitable finish to Eye of the Stoned Goat 2 and those who stuck around long enough to find out seemed to agree.
It was getting on 1:30AM by the time I left and a two-hour drive and some late-night diner burgers with good friends later, finally crashed out around four to get up the next morning and finish the drive home. As I’d known from the start it would be, it was a hell of a night, but there was a lot to see and I’ve no regrets for making the trip.
Thanks to Brendan Burns, Dustin “D-Money” Davis, Pamela Wolfe-Lyman, Chris Jones, Lew Hambly, George Pierro, John Eager and everyone else I was fortunate enough to be able to meet and hang out with in New Castle. Here’s looking forward to doing it all again next time.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Unparalleled in its support for underground heavy, the Stoner Hands of Doom fest has begun to unveil the lineup and other info for the 2013 edition, SHoD XIII. The traveling fest, which in 2012 took place at the El n Gee in New London, CT, heads south this year, to Richmond, Virginia, where it will take over Strange Matter on Nov. 7-10.
I’ve never been to Richmond that I can recall, and this seems like a pretty good occasion to go. Fest organizer Rob Levey has begun the preliminary announcements of things like the above dates and locale and a basic list of bands that should give some idea of where SHoD is headed musically. Dig it:
We are almost there we have secured a place for SHoD XIII it will be held Veterans Day weekend Nov 7th – 10th the location is a mid atlantic city in the south but not the deep south. There will be some limitations this year on time so won’t be able to have as many bands as usual.
Wow I tell you our supporters are awesome anyway the club we are doing this year’s SHoD is called Strange Matter in Richmond Virginia here are the list so far either definite or very close.
Admiral Browning Beelzefuzz Fire Faithful Pike Possum Wizard Eye Backwoods Payback Demonaut Stone Magnum Wasted Theory Planetoid Deadweight Second Grave
Be around 20 more when we are done talk to you soon.
Posted in Features on September 1st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s a gorgeous Saturday morning in East Lyme, Connecticut. Why wouldn’t there be traffic on I-95? Seven hundred gajillion TARP funbucks later, I sat in a miles long line of cars weaving into and out of two exceedingly busy lanes. Much to the chagrin of the dude from Massachusetts next to me with a boat towed off the back of his pickup, I was barely paying attention to my drifting. Some of the sternest looks I’ve had in at least a week.
I managed to sneak in a quick to-go breakfast with The Patient Mrs., who is in the area, and then basically came right here. It’s about 10 to noon now, and I don’t know what time Akris is going to start — they’re setting up now — but when they do, it’ll be the launch of day three of Stoner Hands of Doom XII and the first of two massive all-day shows here at the El ‘n’ Gee in New London.
No doubt it’s going to be a long day, but hell, I’m here. I’ve got a deli sandwich in a cooler in the trunk of my car for later, and enough earplugs to last a month. My plan is basically to do the same as I did yesterday — but, you know, twice as much of it — with updates as the day goes on. Hopefully you enjoy keeping up as much as I do.
SHoD XII day three begins in just a bit. More to come.
UPDATE 12:46PM: Hope you like bass. Akris, the Virginian duo of bassist/vocalist Helena Goldberg and drummer Sam Lohman, fluidly blend thrash, doom and noise, but are also able to dive quickly into runs of progressive technicality. Goldberg played through three heads — Sunn Concert Master and Slave and an Earth Super Bass Producer — and should go without saying was assaultingly, feel-it-in-your-chest loud, and Lohman had his own kit set up toward the front of the stage and off to the site, turned sideways. If I wasn’t awake yet, Akris were loud enough to get the job done, but as overwhelming as it was in terms of volume, the tone wasn’t muddy. The vocals cut through the low end (duh) and I’m not sure whether Lohman‘s drums were actually coming through the P.A. or not — they were mic’ed up, but he looked to be crashing down hard enough to be heard down the street, so who knows — but there was no trouble hearing him either, and even when Goldberg was at her loudest and most raging, everything came through distinct. Their demo was cool and hopefully it’s not too long before they follow it up with either a full-length or an EP. I’d be interested to hear how the dynamic between them came across over the course of a whole album. In the meantime, they were a shot of energy to start the day. Much needed and much appreciated.
UPDATE 1:44PM: From the wilderness of New Hampshire, double-guitar doomly foursome Eerie were quick to align themselves with the extreme. In look and attitude, I half expected the band to bust out throat-ripping screams and searing blasts. Didn’t happen, but they weren’t lacking for grimness besides. Instead, they doomed out a wall of riffs and varied abrasive and clean vocals, relying on steady undulating riffs, not unfamiliar, but hard to place directly somewhere between Cathedral and the semi-psych tonality of earliest Zoroaster. One of the guitarists broke a string early into the set, but if it really affected the sound, I wouldn’t know it. The two guitars played well off each other, and if the broken string did anything, it was force him into a higher register and into starker contrast with his fellow six-stringer. They have a record that I’ll hope to pick up and check out further, but it’s high time New Hampshire’s untamed forests spawned a unit as dark as Eerie — who might need to take a different name for how well it actually describes them. They seemed to have common cause with Statis, who are on next, but what the alliance might be, I don’t know. Either way, if Akris were the stoner hands, Eerie were the doom. Doom like “we only use our first initials” kind of doom.
UPDATE 2:27PM: Well, mystery solved. Stasis‘ drummer — listed on their Thee Facebooks as the mysterious “TBA” — was the same dude who played guitar and handled vocals in Eerie. See? I know it’s precisely that kind of investigative reporting that keeps you coming back to The Obelisk. Anyway, a trio from Portland, Maine — where Revelation and Ogre will doom this very evening — they were more on the sludge end than Eerie before them, but while guitarist/vocalist Michael Leonard Maiewski wasn’t including the same kinds of Euro-doom derived ambient parts, there was still a decent cut of drama in what they were doing. Bassist Mindy Kern had a Warlock or some such bass — many interestingly shaped instruments this weekend — and I don’t know to say for sure, but I think the sound guy working the board here at the El ‘n’ Gee is about ready to hang it up and go get a real estate license. It’s a universal fallback plan. So far, the three bands that have played have been so loud that by the time Stasis were halfway through, he’d left, perhaps in pursuit of lunch, I don’t know for sure. Would require some more of that investigating. I’ll get with the budget office and see if we can swing it. Stasis threw down a little mud, but the wash of low end was obviously intended. Wouldn’t be sludge if it wasn’t dirty.
Curse the Son
UPDATE 3:20PM: Beardbanging all the while, guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore led Hamden, CT, trio Curse the Son down a long trail of smoke to the riff-filled land. Playing through a righteous custom Dunwich amp — they make ‘em pretty — Vanacore’s riffly plod was second to none I’ve heard so far over the course of this year’s SHoD, and with the rhythm section of bassist Cheech and drummer Mike Petrucci stomping away, the band gave a strong herald for their upcoming Psych-achefull-length. Most of what they played seemed new, but I did recognize a tune or two from the prior Klonopain(review here) long-player, but really, old material or new, it’s all about the riffs, and Curse the Son has that down. I’d like to see Vanacore (who’s fighting a sinus infection but didn’t let on on stage) in a beard-off with Ben McGuire from Black Cowgirl, who play later, but in the meantime, Kin of Ettins is on next, having come all the way from Texas for the show. Curse the Son gave them a good lead-in and the crowd seems to be right on board. There’s been a lot to dig about today so far, though it’s hard to believe we’re only four bands into the day.
Kin of Ettins
UPDATE 4:22PM: In a dark venue such as this, it’s kind of easy to lose track of time. Whenever someone opens a door to outside and the sunlight comes in, I’m surprised. It’s still daylight out. It’s four in the friggin’ afternoon. Obviously no one told doomly Dallas four-piece Kin of Ettins that. They rocked like it was well after 11PM, proffering a doom that wouldn’t have been at all out of place on Hellhound Records in the mid-’90s and delivering it with just a hint of Texan swagger and inflection. Bechapeaued guitarist/vocalist Jotun (above) made mention in thanking Rob Levey for putting this together that he and bassist Donar were at the first SHoD in 2001 in Dallas. Must be quite a trip 11 years later to play it in New England, but they did well, and with one hand, guitarist Teiwaz ripped into impressive leads, overcoming some early technical difficulties and making a song like “Snake Den Time,” the title-track of a reportedly coming full-length, a standout. They saved the best for last, however, with the cut “Echoes in the Deep,” which also ended the set on their Doomed in Dallas live EP (review here). Awesome to have them represent the fertile Texas scene at Stoner Hands of Doom, and I’m glad I got to see it.
UPDATE 5:13PM: It’s only been about a month since I saw Black Cowgirl in Philly with The Company Band, so they were pretty fresh in my consciousness, as much as anything is at this point. In that time, however, their self-titled full-length (comprised of two prior EPs put together) has seen its CD release, so they haven’t exactly been sitting still. They were much as they were at the Underground Arts, maybe drummer Mark Hanna was a little less inclined to stand up behind his kit, but beyond that, the two guitars of Ben McGuire and Nate Rosenzweig still worked well together and bassist Chris Casse held down the grooves ably without being overly showy. Someone put themselves in the spot in the bar area where I had been setting up the laptop, so I moved outside, and it’s apparently a pretty fantastic day out. Not quite enough to make me regret spending the whole thing inside the dark club, but still. The thing that stands out most about Black Cowgirl‘s set is the dynamics within the band’s approach. The performances were spot on, but even more than that, their songwriting is strong and varied and their ability to convey that in a live setting like this makes them that much stronger a band.
UPDATE: 6:12PM: Wonderfully monikered Maryland classic doom trio Beelzefuzz just wrapped their set with a cover of Lucifer’s Friend‘s “Ride in the Sky.” A pretty bold choice, given that Trouble did the same tune and The Skull is playing later tonight, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t pull it off, guitarist/vocalist Dana using his pedal board as much for his vocals as for his guitar. And I do mean “vocals,” plural. At several points in the set, he was doing live double-tracking, clicking on to add another of his voice and then clicking off. He got jumbled up doing it, but it was impressive nonetheless, as was his voice in general. Though I dug their demo, I’d only ever seen Beelzefuzz for two songs at Days of the Doomed II back in June, so a full set was welcome. Following the energy of Black Cowgirl, they were a calmer stage presence, but tight performance-wise, and usually if it’s going to be one or the other, I’ll take that. Dana‘s guitar magically became a Hammond organ at several intervals and that was awesome as well. The Maryland contingent — a big part of SHoD for the last couple years — will have further representation from Admiral Browning in a few hours, but Beelzefuzz were a welcome dash of Krug’s Place in the meantime, making me a little wistful for Frederick. New London’s been alright in the meantime, though.
One Inch Giant
UPDATE 7:14PM: This was the last stop on Swedish rockers One Inch Giant‘s US tour. I saw the first one earlier this week in Brooklyn. Pretty awesome of an underground band, relatively unknown, to get over here and do a week of shows like that. Unlike in Brooklyn, I watched their whole set this time around, though it seems I’d seen more of it than I thought last time. They sent out a building jam to the ladies, hit the blastbeats again — frontman Filip Åstrand warning the crowd beforehand by saying, “I know you like them slow, but this one’s fast” — and gave a solid, energetic showing of their straightforward European-style heavy rock. I couldn’t help but wonder if Åstrand washed his Morbid Angel shirt between the two shows, but as I couldn’t smell him while was taking pictures, I figure probably there was laundry done at some point during the week. Their stuff was straight ahead catchy, and I think maybe some of the ideas got lost in translation between the Euro and US markets, but for both the fact that they’re here and for what they actually did while they were on stage, it was more than respectable.
UPDATE 8:11PM: As good as some of the doom I’ve seen over the last couple days has been, I don’t know if anything tops Rochester, New York’s Orodruin. They haven’t put out an album since 2003′s Epicurean Mass, but here as at Days of the Doomed, they came on and promptly blew the crowd away. John Gallo doesn’t so much play riffs as he conjures them, summoning them from his guitar in some kind of doomly ceremonial rite. The band played as a four-piece tonight, with second guitarist (and if I’m wrong on the name, please correct me) Nick Tydelski joining the melee alongside bassist/vocalist Mike Puleo and drummer Mike Waske. As a four-piece, they were no less potent than as a trio, and they had what I think was the biggest crowd of the fest so far. I didn’t count heads or anything, but all the people I’ve seen milling about the El ‘n’ Gee today finally seemed to all be in the same place at the same time. Good reason, as Orodruin are hands down one of the best traditional doom acts I’ve ever encountered live, breathing new life into what in most hands is a genre based in no small part on retread. Not knocking that, just saying that these guys have something special. Their In Doomdemo/EP is here and on sale. I bought one in Wisconsin, but I’m almost tempted to pick up another, just to have it. Fucking a.
UPDATE: 9:10PM: Anything strike you as a little strange about the picture above of Ron “Fez” McGinnis of Maryland progressive noisemakers Admiral Browning. He’s singing! When their set first started, I said to myself, “Now why the hell would they leave a microphone on stage?” thinking maybe it was just so guitarist Matt LeGrow could say thanks or something, but then Fez had one too, and sure enough, vocals. Not just vocals though, harmonies too. Either these dudes just discovered they could do that stuff or they’ve been holding out. I’d always kind of thought of Admiral Browning‘s tech-minded approach as being too complicated as to allow for structuring into verses, but it worked and it worked well. They still had plenty of instrumental material on offer, but they’ve put themselves into a different echelon entirely by adding singing, all the more so for actually being able to pull it off. And of course, as LeGrow and McGinnis were belting out the songs, drummer Tim Otis was running a marathon across his kit behind them. Legitimately, I’d be surprised if he covered any less than 26.2 miles. They paid homage to Buddy Rich with “Traps” and, after a story of how they ran into Geraldo Rivera in Coney Island earlier today, shouted out “La Araña Lobo” in his mustachioed honor. My plan had been to run out to the car and grab my long-awaited turkey sandwich from the cooler in my trunk, but Admiral Browning kept me right in here. That might not sound like high praise, but there isn’t much that beats “turkey sandwich” in my book. Kudos, gentlemen.
UPDATE 10:10PM: Chicago’s Earthen Grave went sans violin for their set. I seem to recall Rachel Barton Pine, who usually handles that instrument, being either pregnant or recently a mother, and either way, I’d expect that to account for her absence from SHoD. It’s a valid enough excuse. The show went on, as I’m told the show must, and Earthen Grave delivered a crunchier-seeming set of traditional doom and metal. Vocalist Mark Weiner has hit himself in the head on purpose both times I’ve seen the band — here and at Days of the Doomed II — and so I guess he’s just that crazy. He had on a Church of Misery shirt and was happy to show it off along with his formidable pipes, but bassist Ron Holzner has “used to be in Trouble” on his side, and that’s always an attention-getter. The band was pretty crisp, even for lacking their violin, and the assembled heads dug in wholeheartedly as they kicked into a new song, the title of which I didn’t get. Good to know they have new stuff in the works though. I did run out and grab that turkey sandwich, eating half as I sat on the lip of the open trunk of my car — a doomer tailgate party of one — but when I came back, Earthen Grave made me think perhaps I should revisit their self-titled full-length, and covered Pentagram‘s “Relentless,” which is a bit of a coincidence, since that band is about to go on stage in Brooklyn playing that album in its entirety. Go figure.
Devil to Pay
UPDATE 11:12PM: No coincidence that Devil to Pay guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak was representing the Ripple Music logo, as it was recently announced the Indianapolis four-piece had signed to that label for the release of their new album. Janiak said on stage that the record is due out in January — it’ll be their first since 2009′s Heavily Ever After– and they played a few songs from it, including the gloomy highlight “Yes, Master.” Devil to Pay are always pretty humble on stage, but they’re pretty clearly riding a high. They seemed confident and assured in their sound, guitarist Rob Hough breaking out the weekend’s first and only (to date) windmill headbang, and Janiak‘s tenure in the doomier Apostle of Solitude has brought a new dynamic to his vocals, which had a kind of post-Alice in Chains grunge feel. I had been looking forward to the new album already, but it’s good to have some affirmation for the anticipation. The night is starting to wind down, and with Pale Divine and The Skull still to go, things are about to get awfully doomed around here, but Devil to Pay‘s heavy rock was a great balance between the stoner and the doom, and Janiak is beginning to emerge as a genuine frontman presence. Cool to watch.
UPDATE 12:14AM: The funny thing about watching Pale Divine‘s set tonight was that for most of the contingent up front to see the band, they were local, like well-known, like married-to-them local. For me, seeing Pale Divine, who hail from Pennsylvania, is something exotic, something that doesn’t happen every day. It had me thinking about the bands that I feel that way about — Jersey acts like The Atomic Bitchwax or even a Long Island band like Negative Reaction — who I take for granted. My moment’s pondering didn’t last much longer than that, however, because I was astonished to see Fezzy from Admiral Browning was playing bass alongside guitarist/vocalist and band founder Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey, who also played with Beelzefuzz tonight. Fez was a little punchy on the bass, but that dude’s the kind of player that could pretty much fit in anywhere so long as it’s heavy, and it was cool to see him in a more traditionally riffy context, playing off Diener‘s Wino-inspired riffs. A highlight was “Amplified,” the opening track of their first album, Thunder Perfect Mind, and when the whole thing was done, I won the Stoner Hands of Doom raffle! More on that later, as The Skull is about to go on.
UPDATE 1:40AM: You know what the difference is between The Skull and your Trouble cover band? First of all, you don’t have a Trouble cover band, but even if you did, chances are it wouldn’t have Ron Holzner playing bass in it or Eric Wagner singing, and as someone who saw Trouble proper on their tour with Kory Clarke fronting them, I can say first hand that that makes a big fucking difference. Seems frivolous to say “Psalm 9″ and “Bastards Will Pay” were high points — the whole set was a high point. Together with guitarists and a drummer culled from Chicago metallers Sacred Dawn, Wagner and Holzner ran through a set of classics that seemed utterly antithetical to the late hour. They killed, and the people that stuck around ate it up. Nobody even spoke in between songs. Everyone just stood there and waited to see what was coming next? How about “Revelation (Life and Death)?” Well, yeah, okay, right on. I guess the big difference between tonight and when I saw The Skull at Days of the Doomed is I’m not miserable piss drunk tonight, so I’ve got that working for me. When their set was finished, Wagner said he’d keep going if someone bought him a beer, so beer was acquired and they wound up closing with “At the End of My Daze,” which was incredible of course. The bar called a “get the fuck out” last call after they were actually done, so I’m writing this in the car in the parking lot outside, about to drive back to where I’ll crash out and get up tomorrow for the final day of Stoner Hands of Doom. Tonight was unreal.
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.
No ulterior motives here. Sean from Clamfight tipped me off to Maryland classic metal newcomers Beelzefuzz (ex-members of Moonshine Mile) and their video for the track “Contrition,” and I figured I’d post it because I thought it was cool. Kind of like oldie prog meets high-register Candlemass at your favorite townie bar. I dug it. You might too.
Plus, it’s a chance for me to once again show off my newfound defiance of YouTube‘s removal of the frame and color customization options, which you know I wasn’t going to pass up. Enjoy the video and the FDA100 orange surrounding: