Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Night Three, 06.23.19

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

maryland doom fest 2019 night three poster

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

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

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

In the literal sense of amazement, amazed.

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

Thanks for everything. It was so real.

— Morning now. Let’s hit it:

Witchkiss

Witchkiss (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Shadow Witch

Shadow Witch (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Faith in Jane

Faith in Jane (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Horehound

Horehound (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Thousand Vision Mist

Thousand Vision Mist (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Toke

Toke (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Zed

Zed (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

Conan

Conan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

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

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

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

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

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

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 17

Posted in Radio on June 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

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So because I suck at naming themed episodes, this episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio was ‘Some of the Best of 2019 So Far.’ Yeah, I know, way to commit. Whatever. You get the point. We’re six months deep into the year if you can wrap your head around it, and it’s a good time to check in and see where we’re at.

One thing that stood out to me in making the playlist is that it’s been an exceedingly good half-year for doom. New records from Saint Vitus, Candlemass and Lord Vicar would be enough of their own, then you toss in stuff like Obsidian Sea and Demon Head, among others and it’s kind of incredible. Kings Destroy’s “Dead Before” is high on the list of the best songs I’ve heard this year, so I wanted to include that for sure, and there was room to space out a bit with Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree. I also really dug the Sigils record, and kind of felt like I didn’t write enough about it, so that’s in there too.

The bottom line, of course, is there was more than I could fit in one episode, and there are enough tracks that feel conspicuous in their absence for me to not put together a second episode working on the same theme. So I think I’ll probably do that next time. Can I get away with playing The Claypool Lennon Delirium on Gimme Radio? I don’t know, but it might be fun to try.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 06.07.19

Uffe Lorenzen Angakkoq Triprapport 0:04:08
Kings Destroy Dead Before Fantasma Nera 0:04:25
Green Lung May Queen Woodland Rites 0:06:41
BREAK
Spidergawd All and Everything Spidergawd V 0:06:12
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard Katyusha Yn Ol I Annwn 0:13:23
Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree Grandmother Grandmother 0:10:58
Sigils Samhain You Built the Altar, You Lit the Leaves 0:09:39
Thunderbird Divine Bummer Bridge Magnasonic 0:05:34
BREAK
Candlemass Under the Ocean The Door to Doom 0:06:15
Saint Vitus 12 Years in the Tomb Saint Vitus 0:05:23
Demon Head Strange Eggs Hellfire Ocean Void 0:07:01
Obsidian Sea A Shore Without a Sea Strangers 0:08:49
Lord Vicar Levitation The Black Powder 0:04:57
BREAK
Lo-Pan A Thousand Miles Subtle 0:04:06
Valley of the Sun Dim Vision Old Gods 0:03:55
Yatra Snakes in the Temple Death Ritual 0:06:41

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Friday at 1PM Eastern, with replays every Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next show is June 21. Thanks for listening if you do.

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Kings Destroy, Fantasma Nera: Where You’ll Find Yourself

Posted in Reviews on March 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera

The usual disclaimer: I won’t pretend to be impartial about a new Kings Destroy release. I’ve followed with great intrigue the process by which the New York five-piece have made Fantasma Nera, from the composition of the songs to working with producer David Bottrill — who has helmed records for Tool, King Crimson, and many, many others — to their aligning with Svart Records for the release with an eye toward touring around it, right up to attending the release show at the Saint Vitus Bar last weekend (review here). I’m not bragging, like I’m Johnny Groundfloor or something; I’m telling you this because in addition to being a fan of their work — something that should already do away with any false-anyway notion of impartiality when it comes to critique — I consider these guys friends and I can’t and won’t pretend otherwise for the purposes of an album review. If that somehow for you invalidates whatever I say about Fantasma Nera or the band in general, then fine. Tune back in Monday for plenty more overly wordy stoicism. Or don’t. Up to you.

At 10 tracks and 43 minutes, Fantasma Nera is the most accomplished album Kings Destroy have put out in the decade they’ve been together. Their fourth behind a 2015 self-titled (review here) and 2017’s single-song None More EP (review here), it redefines their scope as a band entirely, with a greater focus on melody and a nothing-spare efficiency of songcraft that enhances rather than detracts from the impact of moments like the apex to “Seven Billion Drones” or the swinging chug and hook of “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse,” the winding beginning of opener “The Nightbird” or the angular turns of the penultimate “Bleed Down the Sun.”

Tonally, it’s the smoothest-sounding Kings Destroy have ever been, as Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski suit their sound to a more rocking feel overall that sets well in the rush of “Barbarossa” early in the record or the more foreboding riffing of “You’re the Puppet” later on, and even in the presentation of the underlying groove of bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik (also of Begotten), the shift is palpable, puling away from some of the outward confrontationalist attack that seemed most to define their second outing, 2013’s A Time of Hunting (review here), and instead metering the in-your-facery in a way they never have before. I do not imagine that getting a bunch of dudes whose roots are in New York hardcore on board with the idea that not everything needs to be played as hard as possible at all times was an easy task, but the truth is Kings Destroy laid the foundation for this kind of work their last time out, even if the actual result is a considerable leap forward.

kings destroy

Perhaps most of all, it’s a collection of songs by a band putting everything on the line. As vocalist Steve Murphy successfully brings in falsetto on “Unmake It,” or is joined by a gang chorus on “The Nightbird” — a theme that continues directly from self-titled closer “Time for War” — or pushes into new levels of melodic complexity that seem drawn from YOB‘s “Marrow” in melancholy album highlight “Dead Before,” which is brilliantly paired with the bouncing riff of “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse” right after, there’s a sense that Kings Destroy, all five of them, are leaving it all out there. Closer “Stormy Times,” in which Skowronski and Porcaro come together in a final stretch of harmonized soloing to end the record, seems to be a moment of exhalation, and it ends with notes held out to fading feedback as though at the end of it the band could finally breathe. Though Fantasma Nera is unquestionably their most “rock” album in the sheer listening process, it carries a sense of extremity nonetheless in how much of themselves they put into making it.

And I haven’t said this to anyone in the band yet, but my principle concern in listening to these tracks is that Fantasma Nera might be the last Kings Destroy record. That after putting everything into this, there might not be anything left. I don’t know that, of course, and I don’t think at this point they would either, but Kings Destroy aren’t just making a sonic turn with this material — they’re providing a culmination of what their prior offerings were driving toward. In a way, Fantasma Nera defines them more than did the self-titled. What do you do after that? Where do you go from there?

Hell if I know.

They’re questions that don’t need immediate answering, but the thought lingers in the back of my head even while the title-track and “Barbarossa” proffer hooks in a salvo with the opener that help define the spirit of what follows, and even as the second half of the record takes on more of a commentary component between “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse,” “Seven Billion Drones,” “You’re the Puppet” and “Stormy Times” — hell, even “Bleed Down the Sun” could be read that way, if you take the imagery as metaphor — it retains the urgency of expression of “Fantasma Nera” itself or “Dead Before,” which in its verses is the most subdued Kings Destroy get here, but is nonetheless vital in its melody and emotionalism.

If Fantasma Nera were to be the last Kings Destroy record — and I’m not saying it is, or that it should be; I’m just working in a hypothetical; they’ll probably put out another album in a couple years and blow this one out of the water — then they’re not leaving anything in reserve. There’s no holding back in these songs. It’s all laid bare for the listener to take in, as though the band reeled back and unleashed the material they’ve been aiming for all this time. My hope is that it’s not the last one, but whether it is or not, there’s no doubt after “Stormy Times” works its way out that they’ve pushed themselves to what at least for right now is their limit in terms of craft and performance. It is a new peak for them, and a triumph begging to be heard.

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Live Review: Kings Destroy, Gozu, Forming the Void and Clamfight in Brooklyn, 03.02.19

Posted in Reviews on March 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Half a decade ago, I tagged along with Kings Destroy on a West Coast tour that took us, among other places, through a snowstorm in Wyoming. It was late at night, and cars were sliding off the road and pulled over with their flashers on, plows nowhere to be seen. A general wreck. I took over driving that night — hi, I’m sober — and we just went to where we were staying very, very slowly. One does not want to flip the Sprinter van with all the gear in it when one is not even in the band.

I thought about that snowstorm at seven in the morning on Saturday to go south from Massachusetts to see Kings Destroy‘s record release show at the Saint Vitus Bar in the Lost City of Brooklyn after seeing them the night before in Boston, with Gozu and Forming the Void, who’d also be playing again, while Philly’s Clamfight stepped into the opening spot. It’s not every band on the planet I’d leave the house for, let alone take six hours to make a four-hour trip. It all worked out, though, and nobody flipped any vehicles. A win, even before the night started.

It was an early show, which is fine by me forever. There was an NYC Beer Week event with metal breweries at the Vitus Bar before the show kicked off, and Alewife Brewing had a special beer for Gozu — a Gozu Gose — and so it was a double release gig, with Kings Destroy marking the arrival this week of their fourth album, Fantasma Nera, and Gozu having a few cans of their own special brew on hand. There was no way it wasn’t going to be a party.

The beer thing was basically irrelevant to me other than the Gozu cans were cool looking, but it made sure the crowd had gotten plenty of “tasting” done by the time Clamfight went on. Here’s how it all went from there:

Clamfight

Clamfight (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Hugs all around. I’ve known Clamfight for well over a decade at this point, and they played three songs at the Saint Vitus Bar, but honestly, apart from being happy to see them and the fact that in the time since I last did — in the same place, no less — they released last year’s III (review here), which was by any measure a huge leap forward in sound and approach, I spent the bulk of their set feeling cripplingly nervous. I had put out on social media a post with their track “Echoes in Stone” that said how I daydreamed about singing the song on stage with them, and they invited me to do it. When I was in a band a decade ago, we used to do shows together a lot and it was how we got to be friends. They invited me to do the song, and, after much hemming and hawing, I actually did it. I sang backups to drummer Andy Martin and was up on the Vitus Bar stage with him, bassist Louis Koble and guitarists Joel “Papa” Harris and guitarist Sean McKee and I did the song. The last time I was on a stage was eight years before, and I thought I’d never do it again, but in the end, the situation felt right and when it was done, I was glad I did it. Sore, and glad. And sore. But also glad. And sweaty. Before I got up, they also killed and the metal-breweries crowd left over from the beer event earlier were right on board with their more aggressive side. It had been too long since I saw them, and I’m glad to know I’ll catch them again at New England Stoner & Doom Fest this Spring.

Forming the Void

Forming the Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was really, really easy to watch Forming the Void play two nights in a row. They seemed comfortable on a bigger stage, and were able to spread out a bit more in their setup, but the huge tones and progressive melodies came through no less effectively for the larger space they occupied in Brooklyn than they had in Boston. And it’s interesting to see that people are clearly onto them. They brought out a good, growing-band crowd both nights, and what they brought to the bill was to be the one on the lineup that people hadn’t seen yet on the tour. The seeing-them-for-the-first-time band, because of course neither Gozu nor Kings Destroy — nor Clamfight, for that matter — were strangers to the venue, but you could see in the crowd people being engaged by the Louisiana natives, and that initial curiosity turning into fandom in real-time. Touring suits them. They’re building a stage presence and as they become more confident in their approach, that will become all the more a factor, but they’re already able to take a room and bring the people in it onto their side, and that is a massive step. Good band. Good band. Go see Forming the Void. Their next album or two — they work quickly — will tell the tale, but already, good band. They’ll be at Maryland Doom Fest in June, I’m hoping with new material in tow.

Gozu

Gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Appropriately enough, Gozu and Kings Destroy switched up the order from the night before in Boston, giving the New York band the play-last spot in their hometown, but Gozu still tore through Saint Vitus Bar like headliners. This was their last night of the three on the road with Kings Destroy and Forming the Void — Portland, Boston, Brooklyn — and they railed into their set in absolute blowout fashion. If I didn’t know they were playing with a new drummer in Alex Fewell, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, and it was clear they were getting it together as they were going. No flubs that I heard, and frankly, I was paying pretty close attention. If he’s permanent, Fewell (also of thrashers Black Mass) would be the third drummer in Gozu, and though he’s playing established material with parts originally written by someone else — either Mike Hubbard or Barry Spillberg — he brings his own sensibility to it. I was glad to see him a second night with the band, because that came through all the more. He’s not a pure tech drummer, but he’s able to carry the sharp-edged “Nature Boy” without trouble and still swing when called upon to do so. By the time guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney was shaking his hips later into the set in the middle of the stage with guitarist Doug Sherman and bassist Joe Grotto headbanging on either side, Gozu seemed fully locked in and sustainable as they are now. I don’t know how fluid their situation is, but their intent to keep moving forward was plain to see, and it’s worth being thankful for that.

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I was at the record release show at Saint Vitus Bar in 2015 for Kings Destroy‘s self-titled third LP (review here). I got to do a track premiere for that one. This time, I wasn’t cool enough, but as they move toward the release of their fourth album, Fantasma Nera, this week as their offering under the banner of Svart Records, I couldn’t help but think back to that show and the massive difference in sound between that material and the newer stuff. They liken it to grunge, which is fair in a sense, but New York — and really, East Coast — grunge was always a bit meaner, and that holds true for Kings Destroy as well. What they’ve ended up with is a kind of heavy rock that in some ways communes with their hardcore past, but is much more melodically present and more than ever sure of its songwriting approach. I said of the Boston show they were still feeling out how to present the new songs live — once again, they played all Fantasma Nera material except for “Mr. O” from the last album — but being on their home turf definitely helped. This was their 25th show at the Saint Vitus Bar. I haven’t been at every one of those shows, but I’m happy to have seen as many as I have, and I know full well this won’t be the last one I catch. They are the masters of that domain, new songs or old, and owned the show the way you own your living room. I stood in the middle of the crowd — something I rarely do — and however many times I’ve seen them later, still felt lucky to be there.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of yourself and your place. Some people come to underground music with an endgame in mind. They have a goal and are working toward that goal. That’s not always the wrong call, but if you’re looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of underground heavy, you’re doing it wrong. It’s not about the gold, it’s about the rainbow. It’s not what you get from the work, it’s the work itself. The work is the reward. People can support each other and help out and whatever else, but at the end of the night when you’re driving home from the show, if you’re not happy with the work, there’s no point to any of it. Because that gold? It’s bullshit. You’re never going to get it. But rainbows really do exist and they’re fucking awesome. Live for the work or live wrong. Nights like this, they help you align your perspective and inspire you to keep it right.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: Gozu, Kings Destroy, Forming the Void and Test Meat in Boston, 03.01.19

Posted in Reviews on March 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Someday the Middle East will be gone. The real estate is simply too valuable. Walking up to what’s one of Boston’s most celebrated venues, you can see the encroaching condos across the street looming over the restaurant, nightclub and huge Downstairs basement space like skeletal godzillae, hollow inside and just waiting for their alluring names to add to the faux-distinguished aesthetic. They will conquer, maul, consume and dismember ex-culture even as they celebrate the “spirit” of the place and little the street with green straws. This will be the story of Boston until the city drowns.

But while it’s still there, it’s all the more worth appreciating for its inevitably-fleeting nature, so I got off my ass and did that. Gozu headlining the Middle East UpstairsMidEastUp to the locals, which after six-plus years living in the area, I’m still not — as the second of three nights with New York’s Kings Destroy and Louisiana’s Forming the Void, plus Test Meat added as a fourth, Boston-based bookend opener.

The crowd was there early and stayed late and the vibe was a party all the way through. Here’s how it went down:

Test Meat

Test Meat (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Darryl Shepherd is nothing less than an institution. In the pantheon of New England heavy rock and roll, his decades of contributions in bands like Slapshot, Milligram, Roadsaw, Hackman, Blackwolfgoat, etc., are a CV that is a touchstone of the Boston underground. The man, in short, is a treasure, and rather than rest on his considerable laurels, he continues to move forward. Test Meat began as a trio and has pared down to the two-piece of Shepherd on guitar/vocals and Mike Nashawaty (ex-Planetoid) on drums. They played set up on opposite sides of the stage, both toward the front, and with Nashawaty‘s cannon-esque kick drum facing Shepherd head on. Shades of classic grunge were given a noise rock underpinning songs like “Brunt” and “Class,” the purposefully short songs digging intensely into the punk roots of Nirvana with some of Helmet‘s tonal crunch and penchant for starts and stops. Their 2018 7″, Please Hurt, was for sale alongside some winning-the-night stickers with their moniker presented in Testament‘s classic logo — it worked really well — and while those recordings were done as a trio with Aarne Victorine on bass, the inherent rawness of working as a duo suited the songs really well, and as they move forward, I’d have to wonder if they wouldn’t be best served playing off that spirit. Either way, they were a righteously barebones start to the night.

Forming the Void

Forming the Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Big riffs, big melodies, vocal harmonies playing out from guitarists on both sides of the stage while massive roll emanates from the drums and bass between them — Forming the Void are right there. Right on the edge of it. The material is strong, the performance is strong, and up to this point, they’ve built significant momentum in their favor, with both live shows and a steady stream of releases. Running through “Shrine,” “Arcane Mystic” and “On We Sail” from last year’s third album, Rift (review here), the four-piece showed clearly how much atmosphere they bring to their work, so that it’s about more than just tone or groove, and the mood they create feels as much purposeful as it is resonant. I don’t know another way to say it: This is really good band. They are on their way, and if they keep touring and tightening up their approach, watch out. They reportedly have studio time booked for their next album, which even though they’re signed to Ripple at this point and have worked quickly to get three records out in three years, feels fast, but they haven’t failed to progress yet, and their approach is only growing broader each time. This was my second time seeing Forming the Void. If you haven’t yet, that is a thing you should make efforts to rectify as soon as possible. They are right on the verge of becoming something really special, and the crowd at the Middle East knew it.

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What, am I gonna pretend to be impartial about Kings Destroy? Clearly not. Their fourth record, Fantasma Nera, comes out this week on Svart, and if you ever wanted to hear a band pour everything they have into a collection of songs, that’s what it sounds like. I’ll hold over-editorializing that thought until I review the album, but their oh-shit-we-just-hit-another-level feel was evident not only in the fact that they’ve changed their stage setup, but that all but one song — “Mr O.,” from their 2015 self-titled (review here) — were new. The uptempo “Barbarossa,” the title-track and “Seven Billion Drones” were highlights, that latter particularly given a harsher edge live than on the record, but it was fascinating to see Kings Destroy, who for nearly a decade have made on-stage confrontationalism such a huge part of their approach, function in a more restrained and controlled context. In some ways, Fantasma Nera is their most rock-based offering to-date, but it’s also the most undeniably their own, and though they were still getting used to presenting those songs live, watching them play, it was already clear that they’ve only become a richer and more complex band. Ending with the triumphant riff in “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse” didn’t hurt either. Again, I’m not going to feign critical distance from their work. I’m both a fan of the band and I consider them friends, so if you want to take this with that grain of salt, that’s fine. It’d only be your loss to miss them.

Gozu

Gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Gozu have been the best heavy rock band in Boston for a while now, and it suits them. Whether it’s been their time on tour in Europe or playing bigger shows like their run on the Metal Alliance Tour in the States, they’ve of course branched out beyond Beantown’s confines, but when they play in town, they make it easy to root for the hometown squad. They always pull a good crowd, and this show was no exception, and they absolutely delivered. It had been a good night already. Three bands, all killer, each doing their own thing, but Gozu topped it all off beautifully. In impeccable command of the room, well familiar with the place and the stage and the sound and light or lack thereof. All of it. It was a band in their element. It has been too long since I last saw them, but their 2018 LP, Equilibrium (review here), stepped forward willfully from what they accomplished in 2016 with Revival (review here), and catching that material live was a total pleasure. Guitarist Doug Sherman called everyone to the front of the stage, and people came forward, and he, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney, bassist Joe Grotto and new drummer Alex Fewell absolutely made it worth their trip. As midnight crept on and passed, there was no letup as Gozu underlined the absolute force they’ve become over the last decade-plus. They owned that room, and whatever might or might not become of the Middle East with condo-encroachment, on this night, Gozu capped an evening that showed a vitality that endures regardless of market prices.

Hood up, hat on, out the door into the cold. Down some poorly-shoveled sidewalk to the car. Home in an hour or so, no traffic. In bed about 10 minutes later and up four hours after that for a six-hour-in-the-snow drive to New Jersey to see three out of these four bands again in Brooklyn, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 11

Posted in Radio on March 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

Oh, it was a cold and snowy Sunday night, but the rawk was hawt, and so on. Okay, so maybe I’m not much for the introductions, but I dug this episode. I want to screw with what I’ve kind of made the “format” of this show, and starting out with Kings Destroy, Clamfight and Forming the Void in honor of the show I saw on Saturday at the Saint Vitus Bar was fun. So it’s a little more than just be being like, “Duh, I like this record so here’s this song by this band,” though of course that pretty much applies here as well. I don’t know. Just something a little different. Branch out a bit. Try not to set rules for myself.

Speaking of a lack of rules, this one gets a little weird. Look out for Return to Worm Mountain and Hhoogg in the second hour, and then Volcano leading into longer tracks from Sons of Morpheus and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree. That last song from the latter is 17 minutes long, and hell yeah I was going to include it. So good. That record is an unexpected turn from them, but absolutely awesome, so if you know it, all the better, and if not, maybe you’ll dig. Dig dig dig.

New tunes besides from Hexvessel, Snowy Dunes, High Reeper, Yatra and the sadly-defunct Cloud Catcher, and a classic riff-roll from Spirit Caravan round out what I thought was a pretty killer mixtape, so yeah, if you checked it out last night or get to listen to it tomorrow morning, thank you.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.03.19

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera Fantasma Nera*
Clamfight Echoes in Stone III
Forming the Void On We Sail Rift
BREAK
Yatra Smoke is Rising Death Ritual*
Hexvessel Wilderness Spirit All Tree*
Snowy Dunes Let’s Save Dreams Let’s Save Dreams*
High Reeper Bring the Dead Higher Reeper*
Cloud Catcher Beneath the Steel The Whip*
BREAK
Spirit Caravan Cosmic Artifact Jug Fulla Sun
Hhoogg Journey to the Dying Place Earthling, Go Home!*
Return to Worm Mountain Song for the Pig Children Return to Worm Mountain*
Smokey Mirror Sword and Scepter Split w/ Love Gang*
Volcano No Evil Know Demon The Island*
BREAK
Sons of Morpheus Slave (Never Ending Version) The Wooden House Session*
Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree Cinitus Grandmother*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is March 17. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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New England Stoner and Doom Fest II: More Lineup Announcements; Pre-Party Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

new england stoner doom festival 2019 art

It’s time to talk about the real potential of the New England Stoner and Doom Fest. No, I don’t mean the lineup. That’s awesome. You know it and I know it. I’m talking about the acronym. That’s always huge for a festival. How is it abbreviated? Think MDDF or SHoD or any of the DFs spread around the universe. These things matter.

I’ve seen NESDF tossed around for New England Stoner and Doom Fest, and that’s cool, but it’s missing the opportunity. You could have a festival abbreviated NES! Who the hell wouldn’t buy that t-shirt? I hereby cast my vote in the imaginary referendum on festival abbreviations for New England Stoner and Doom Fest to henceforth and forthwith and withhence be known as NES fest. Second the motion?

There’s reportedly one more band to be added and reportedly several in the running for that slot, so this might not be the final update before May 3-5 gets here and NES fest kicks off (see me using the acronym already?), and the lineup for a pre-party at 33 Golden St. in New London has been announced as well, which will be headlined by Fox 45, so, you know, more of a good thing and all that.

The full lineup as has been revealed follows. Note the Wretch reunion. NES fest!

New England Stoner & Doom Fest II

The New England Stoner and Doom Festival will make its return in 2019 on May 3,4, and 5 at Altones in Jewett City, CT.

Earthride
Brimstone Coven
Wretch
Kings Destroy
+1 TBA
Foghound
Pale Divine
Vessel of Light
Spiral Grave
Solace
Black Road
Curse the Son
Shadow Witch
Hell Camino
Clamfight
Eternal Black
Thunderbird Divine
Stonecutters
When the Deadbolt Breaks
Mourn the Light
Entierro
Bone Church
Buzzard Canyon
The Age of Truth
Void King
Horseburner
Scuzzy Yeti
Witchkiss
Cortez
Benthic Realm
Faith in Jane
Conclave
Set Fire
3 Parts Dead
Insano Vision
Old Earth Analog
Pinto Graham
The Stone Eye
Sentinel Hell

Pre-party @ 33 Golden St.:
Fox 45
VRSA
Dark Ritual
Owl Maker
Feed the Beast

www.newenglandstoneranddoomfest.com
https://www.facebook.com/events/1613285008788252/
https://www.facebook.com/NewEnglandStonerAndDoomFest/
https://www.saltoftheearthrecords.com/

Wretch, Bastards Born (2017)

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The Obelisk Presents: Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera Release Tour with Gozu & Forming the Void

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on January 31st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kings destroy

Brooklyn’s Kings Destroy are getting ready once again to fuck with the formula via their fourth long-player, Fantasma Nera, which branches into new levels of progressive songwriting and melody while turning their confrontational aspect inward as much as outward in theme and execution. Like everything they’ve done, it leaves the past in its dust. Set to release March 8 on Svart Records — which is a label of taste broad and reliable enough to suit them — its arrival will be preceded by a run up the Eastern Seaboard in the company of Gozu and Forming the Void, and it’s my sincere pleasure to be among the presenters of the tour.

They’ll be at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 as well this June — along with many, many others — but even for those planning to see them there, this is an early chance to get introduced to the songs and, presumably, pick up a copy of the album before it’s officially out. Preorders are great and available now, but there’s nothing quite like a merch table either.

The shows kick off Feb. 27 in Kingston, New York, with hometown heroes Geezer and head into Canada for a stop on Montreal before swinging through Rochester, Cleveland and Pittsburgh to finish up. I’ll be at the Brooklyn gig that has Clamfight as the much-welcome fourth for the bill, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to be a party. A sweaty, sweaty party.

Poster is by Bill Kole, and you can stream the Fantasma Nera title-track below:

kings destroy tour poster

Fantasma Nera pre-orders are available now via Svartrecords.com/artist/kings-destroy with physical bundles including colored vinyl and other merchandise. Digital pre-orders include an instant download of the title track.

The band has announced an East Coast Tour prior to the week of release as well as a recently announced performance at the Maryland Doom Fest on June 20.

Kings Destroy tour dates:
February 27 Kingston, NY The Anchor w/ Geezer
February 28 Portland, ME Geno’s
March 1 Boston, MA Middle East w/ Test Meat
March 2 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus w/ Clamfight
March 3 Montreal QC TurboHaus
March 4 Rochester, NY Bug Jar
March 5 Cleveland, OH Now That’s Class
March 6 Pittsburgh, PA Howlers w/ Horehound

Kings Destroy is Aaron Bumpus (bass), Stephen Murphy (vocals), Carl Porcaro (guitar), Rob Sefcik (drums) and Chris Skowronski (guitar).

Kings Destroy, “Fantasma Nera”

Kings Destroy on Thee Facebooks

Kings Destroy on Instagram

Kings Destroy website

Kings Destroy on Bandcamp

Svart Records website

Svart Records on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records on Twitter

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