Total Coverage: Stoner Hands of Doom XII (Night Two)

Posted in Features on August 31st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m not sure how long my laptop battery is going to last, or what I’m going to do when it dies, but the idea for tonight is to write as much as I can while I’m actually at the El ‘n’ Gee in New London for the second night of Stoner Hands of Doom XII. Tomorrow starts earlier, so I don’t know when else I’ll have time to write.

In other words, I basically said “Fuck it, I’ll do it live.”

What you see in the photo above is the view from the couch I’m sitting on in the corner of the bar area. There are no plugs in the walls save for one that’s otherwise occupied. Tonight’s lineup is seven bands, which is one more than yesterday. Connecticut natives When the Deadbolt Breaks are setting up their gear behind me on the stage, and they’ll be followed in turn by Wizard Eye from Philadelphia, Long Island’s own John Wilkes Booth, Massachusetts’ Faces of Bayon, CT’s Lord Fowl, Maryland doomers Revelation. Rhode Island upstarts Pilgrim will close out the night. They’re here already wandering around, as are the Wizard Eye dudes.

Gonna be a good time no matter what else goes down, I’ve got no doubt. It’s also fest organizer Rob Levey‘s birthday tonight, so to Rob, happy birthday from the couch.

Night two of SHoD XII gets underway in about an hour, give or take. I’ll hopefully have updates as we go along, added to this post.

When the Deadbolt Breaks

UPDATE 7:43PM: As ever, Connecticut natives When the Deadbolt Breaks dipped their audience in a distortion caked coating of the truly deranged. They’ve gotten a new bassist since I last saw them, guitarist/vocalist Aaron Lewis perpetually chasing a rhythm section that can keep pace with him, both in tempo and tone. And by “keep pace,” I mean play slow as fuck. Reportedly, the second platter of Deadbolt‘s forthcoming 2LP release is one 60-minute-long song. That’s probably a solid format for the band to work in, as Lewis‘ songs have always tended to wander into these sort of pits of ambient quicksand. When he spaces out thusly, the atmospherics are almost always hypnotic, such as 10 minutes ago, when John Wilkes Booth vocalist Kerry Merkle had to rouse me back to conscious before handing me a couple stickers. The crux of Deadbolt‘s approach though is playing those sections off the droning doom that follows and metering them with sections of mournful, Danzig-style clean singing. There still isn’t a subgenre designation for what they do, but maybe sooner or later someone will come up with something. In any case, with all the lights turned low and a projector going, they were a suitably menacing start to tonight’s diverse roster of acts.

Wizard Eye

UPDATE 8:41PM: Guitarist/vocalist Erik from Philly trio Wizard Eye looked the part of the wizard manning his theremin, his dreadlocks dragging on the floor of the stage behind him, impossibly long. Long like you think of roads as being long. The three-piece blended Weedeater sludge with Fu Manchu stonerisms, had some Sabbath in there of course, but did not short either on aggression. Erik does guest leads on the new Clamfight CD and he showed off a bit of that prowess as well, in between bursts of dual-vocals with bassist Dave while Scott slammed away behind. They’ve got a CD for sale that I’ll pick up before the night is through, I’ve no doubt. This despite the incense on the stage behind Erik, which has now made the front of the El ‘n’ Gee smell like a teenager’s bedroom. Part of the package, I guess, and if it’s to be a total sensory experience, I suppose I shouldn’t complain. They were — what’s the word again? — heavy. Some familiar elements, but put to good use, and the theremin went a long way in adding to the overall wash of noise. Stone and tone: It’s not exactly the new math when it comes to this kind of thing, but Wizard Eye did well with it. The balance of the vocal mics was a little off coming through the house, but I get the sense in a smaller room, they’d be absolutely crushing. Philly’s Kung Fu Necktie, perhaps, or some basement where the soundwaves have no place to go and no choice but to cleave your skull.

John Wilkes Booth

UPDATE 9:33PM: I’ve known these dudes for years. Played shows with them, seen them come into their own as a band. It’d been a while though, and in the interim, John Wilkes Booth — as bands will do — wrote a shitload of new material. Also, apparently at some point Kerry Merkle‘s megaphone had babies and grew an entire family of effects pedals for the vocalist. Well done, proud papa. It’s been over three years since they released their Sic Semper Tyrannis full-length (review here), so maybe they’re due for a new record as well. In any case, their crunching ’90s riffs — not quite stoner, not quite noise, but definitely heavy and skirting the line between the two — did not fail to satisfy, and Merkle‘s effects added complexity to what, admittedly, I used to enjoy the rawness of, without necessarily distracting from what bassist Harry, drummer Christian and subdued guitarist Jason were doing. Solid heavy rock band, as ever, and it’ll be interesting to hear how the vocal extras factor into a new recording. Actually, I guess I’d just like to hear a new recording, however the pedals may or may not play into it. These guys pretty obviously just do it because they love to do it, and that’s always welcome on any stage I happen to be in front of.

Faces of Bayon


UPDATE 10:25PM: If the next wave of stuff people decide to give a shit about was to be doom riffing mixed with old school death metal, I’d be happy to watch Massachusetts’ own Faces of Bayon lead the charge. Before the set even started, the charm was evident, as guitarist/vocalist Matt Smith asked the crowd in a low growl if they liked stoner doom. Later, after his amp cut out in the middle of one of the tracks from their Heart of the Fire LP — which, pros to the last, bassist Ron Miles and drummer Mike Brown kept going — Smith apologized to the crowd with a simple, “Sorry,” before resuming his tale of the fall of Lucifer in a low, throaty whisper. No substitute for that kind of charm, and to go with it, Faces of Bayon were crushingly heavy, Miles playing a six-string in the deathly tradition. I don’t think the winds of trend will ever blow in their favor, but I also don’t think they give a shit. They closed with a new song from an upcoming album which Smith said would be recorded this fall, and I guess someone needs to tell these dudes Labor Day’s on Monday so they can get on it. That last album got a huge response, so I’ll look forward to seeing how the next one comes out. If their closer was anything to go by, you can bet on slow, heavy and evil, with more than just a dash of stoner.

Lord Fowl


UPDATE 11:11PM: Double kudos to Connecticut’s Lord Fowl for not only rocking the house, but for rocking the house after the ultra-doom bestowed upon it by Faces of Bayon. I had wondered how the transition would go from Faces of Bayon‘s downer moodiness and morose heavy to Lord Fowl‘s upbeat arena-ready hooks, but the latter more than pulled it off. Their record, being the last one I reviewed before leaving to come up here on Thursday, was still pretty fresh in my head, but even those who didn’t know the songs were hooked by the time the four-piece were through album and set opener “Moon Queen” and its follow-up “Touch that Groove.” Another transition straight off the Moon Queen album that worked really well was “Streets of Evermore” into “Dirty Driving,” guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino trading off lead spots in the process. I don’t know how much of the audience knew the songs going into the set, but Lord Fowl’s brand of rock is basically undeniable if you’ve ever had a ’70s chorus stuck in your head. They were unafraid to smile on stage, and everywhere they went, they made sure the crowd came with them. It was a lot of fun, and I still think there’s a lot more potential to them even than they showed tonight, though they showed plenty.

Revelation

UPDATE 12:17AM: Of the handful of times I’ve seen Maryland doom stalwarts Revelation, this was easily the best. If you want to think of this weekend as one huge tone-off, then John Brenner and Bert Hall are the dudes who sneak in just at the last minute totally unsuspecting and walk away with the prize. They didn’t play anything new — as Brenner said on stage, they don’t know the songs — but their set was tighter and more energetic than I’ve ever seen from them. They weren’t jumping around the stage by any means, not thrashing about, but they delivered all the same. Brenner’s Laney sounded gorgeous, Hall played a bass that had an axe built into the body — one assumes it’s in case he has to chop wood in the middle of the set — and drummer Steve Branagan held down both quiet and loud with ease. Like several of the acts tonight – When the Deadbolt BreaksJohn Wilkes Booth, Faces of Bayon – they’ve got new material in the works (as a recent audio stream will attest), but as the penultimate band of the night, they did well bridging a sizable gap in modus between Lord Fowl and Pilgrim still to come. The room has mostly cleared out and it’s getting late, but the people still here are glad to be, alternating between partying outside in the fenced patio area of the El ‘n’ Gee and just getting drunk(er) at the bar. Either way.

Pilgrim

UPDATE 1:14AM: That picture above of Pilgrim was taken before the show started. Much to the credit of the hot-as-hell Rhode Island trio, they were here the whole show, and didn’t leave so far as I know as so many who played did. Maybe they went and got a bite to eat or something like that — to be fair, I wasn’t keeping tabs on them all night. Before their set started, they asked specifically to play in the dark, and the request was granted, so I was doubly glad to have snapped a few shots outside of them on the couch outside on the sidewalk. They’re the first band to play this fest that everyone in the place went right to the front of the stage to see. I stood back, and I think doing so helped me to see what it is about them that has the hype rolling so hard. To share: They’re young, and they’re frighteningly cohesive. They play off familiar elements — slow riffs, emotional anguish — but do so with strong performances and an air of sincerity. If you wanted to paint a picture of an exciting young act in the genre, that picture would probably look a lot like Pilgrim, and whatever excitement they have around them, they do well to justify it with the promise they show both on stage and in their recorded work. They were a great cap for the night and had a tremendous response. No complaints from my end. The only x-factor is if they can keep it together, but pending that, they’re most definitely on the right track. If nothing else, they’ve proven they’re a band worth pulling for.

UPDATE 2:25AM: Blue moon indeed. It’s full and up there and hard to argue with, and I’m down by the shoreline of the Long Island Sound outside with the laptop and I’m tired but things have been far worse. The trip back from New London to here was uneventful, at least in comparison to the evening preceding. Tomorrow I’m going to have to figure out a way to see every band play and also provide myself with some basic kind of nutrition. There’s a grease truck in the public parking lot across the street from the El ‘n’ Gee. The last two nights in a row I’ve been tempted to get a cheeseburger for the ride and both times I’ve chickened out and just gotten a bottle of water. Maybe tomorrow will be my day.

Akris are slated to open the gig at noon. I doubt they’ll actually start on time, but that’s what’s slated to go down, so I’m going to try to be there before then. I’ll crash out in a couple minutes, but not just yet.

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Faces of Bayon Interview with Matt Smith: The Golden Road That Leads to the Fire

Posted in Features on August 26th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Anyone who heard Massachusetts stoner-doom trio Faces of Bayon‘s debut CD, Heart of the Fire, would likely be glad to tell you the band has a penchant for the epic. Well, the interview I did with guitarist/vocalist Matt Smith, who also did a stretch in landmark New England outfit Warhorse, follows suit. Smith — joined in Faces of Bayon by bassist Ron Miles and drummer Mike Brown — was more than eager to open up on a range of topics surrounding the band.

And to be fair, there’s a lot to talk about. Not only is Heart of the Fire among 2011′s most fascinating and diverse doom releases — balancing punishingly heavy riffs and a darkened psychedelic feel against a narrative documenting the fall of Lucifer — but the circumstances under which it was realized would have been the undoing of many bands. The three-piece’s original drummer, Matt Davis, died in January of this year, leaving Smith and Miles with the difficult choice of pressing on or quitting altogether.

I don’t feel like I need a spoiler alert before I say they kept the band going. Faces of Bayon regrouped with Brown on drums and pushed forward with the release of Heart of the Fire. The album now stands as a tribute to Davis, who both played on and recorded it. Though he didn’t live to see it, Smith credits him for it existing and being released at all.

In the conversation that follows, Smith recounts the devastation the band felt at the loss of Davis and the support of the local community around them that made them keep going, the delays in releasing Heart of the Fire, being the only doom band on the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival this year, what inspired him to adopt the Luciferian concept and how that story — it’s pretty famous, you’ve probably heard it — relates to his own experience of going through a divorce.

The complete 6,000-word Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

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Faces of Bayon, Heart of the Fire: Brimstoner Doom

Posted in Reviews on June 10th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Proffering doomed desolation with just an edge of riff worship and plenty of tonal brutality, Massachusetts trio Faces of Bayon leave a huge impression with their debut full-length, Heart of the Fire (Ragnarok Records). The Fitchburg outfit formed in 2008, recorded all of Heart of the Fire live in the studio and dedicate the finished product in memory of drummer Matt Davis, who died suddenly in January 2011. Mike Brown has since come aboard to handle drums, but on Heart of the Fire, it’s the band’s original three-piece, with Davis and bassist Ron Miles (Scattered Remnants) led by guitarist/vocalist Matt Smith, who did a stint in now-fabled outfit Warhorse prior to their 2001 As Heaven Turns to Ash LP. Smith’s vocals characterize a lot of Heart of the Fire and situate Faces of Bayon in a ‘90s death/doom vein, a cut like second track “Ethereality” bringing to mind a punchier version of early Paradise Lost or maybe even My Dying Bride without the violins or the drama. His growl – an exclusive approach across Heart of the Fire but for the quiet atmospheric piece “Godmaker” – is throaty, gruff and mostly saturated in echoing reverb, setting a kind of misanthropic atmosphere to the songs, which deal lyrically in part with the fall of Lucifer. However, Faces of Bayon are – most of all – ridiculously, floor-shakingly, chest-rattlingly heavy. From Miles’ ultra-low bass that kicks in 12-minute opener “Brimstoned” from under Smith’s feedback, to the righteously riff-led groove of “The Original Sin,” the three-piece taps into a weight of tone few ever attain, and manage to carry it through Heart of the Fire sounding clear, confident and in complete control.

Heads who recognize the name Warhorse or who dug the wretched atmospheres once affected by Winter will take demented pleasure in most of Heart of the Fire and the balance Faces of Bayon strike between their heavy influences. “Brimstoned” never loses sight of the nastiness of tone with which it begins, Miles and Davis following Smith’s riff as it leads them lower into some unknowable abyss, but at the same time, underneath that thickened and deathly distortion, there’s a current of groove running that’s both purely American in its style (distinguishing Faces of Bayon from the European end of the genre as typified by the Paradise Lost comparison above) and what manages to most hook the listener. Even as the song breaks into a quiet passage with whispered growls and quieter guitar lines – it’s a setup, they get heavy again soon enough – that groove is maintained, and it’s at the core of a lot of the success of Heart of the Fire. Perhaps the most memorable track on the album if only for its repeated usage of the line “Cry me a river,” second cut “Ethereality” finds Smith pushing his vocals down even further, while also having them show up higher in the mix – hazards of recording live – and though it seems at times like he’s straining to sustain the growl, it doesn’t at all upset the ambience of the song, which is viciously depressive and pained anyway. Again here Faces of Bayon make a firm statement about their willingness to push low-end heaviness to the forefront. A drawn out guitar solo toward the end of the song is like a hand come up from quicksand, but it too is ultimately sucked down into a morass of  feedback and cymbal crashes.

If there’s relief to be found anywhere in the album’s first half, it’s on “Godmaker,” which despite being consistent in terms of mood, is a quiet, somewhat psychedelic tale of Luciferian abandonment scored by soft guitar lines and far-away drumming from Davis. It is Smith’s only clean vocal performance on Heart of the Fire, and though he remains effects-laden, he does a decent job through his several verses. Important to note that even when the lyrics are concerned with these themes, Faces of Bayon don’t put on airs about worshiping the devil or anything like that. “Godmaker” and Heart of the Fire as a whole are concerned more in telling an all-too-human story of disappointment. These songs are emotionally-wrought, not dogmatically blasphemous (unless you consider giving fallen angels an emotional response to be blasphemy). As “Godmaker” leads into the epic 13:33 “The Original Sin,” Faces of Bayon slam back into the heavier side of their sound, but base the song around a more stoner metal progression than any of the earlier tracks. Of all the material on Heart of the Fire, “The Original Sin” feels the most riff-based. Smith goes back to growling, but taken out of its context, his guitar line could have been subject to almost any vocal treatment and have worked. The tempo is still slow, but faster than “Brimstoned,” and consistent until about the last four minutes, when Davis cuts the drums out and an excruciating rash of feedback and noise ensues.

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