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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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Night Two, 06.22.19

Posted in Reviews on June 23rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 night two poster

At some point early on yesterday I decided to drink as much coffee as I possibly could before the show started. It was not a choice I regret. Day two of Maryland Doom Fest 2019 played host to a whopping 11 bands on the Cafe 611 stage and five more — Crooked Hills, Seasick Gladiator, Thunderchief, Pale Grey Lore and Electric Age — at Guido’s, none of whom I’d see because, like yesterday, I got carded at the door and couldn’t get in. Still, 11 bands in an evening is a healthy dose, and Cafe 611 was packed out pretty early on. People always come and go, mill about, go smoke outside and whatnot at a show like this, but when everyone was in front of the stage, you knew it. Such was the case most especially for Beelzefuzz and the evening’s headliners, Pentagram.

I do think pounding all that caffeine was a boon to the night generally, but neither can I discount the quality of the bill in that regard. Aside from being the last Beelzefuzz show, as was announced earlier this month, there was plenty else to envy in the lineup. Also in the merch area. I was like, “I’ll buy some shirts later,” and then missed my shot at a festival shirt and a Beelzefuzz shirt, so commerce was being had for sure. I’ve been coming here for a couple years at this point, and it definitely feels more crowded this year than it ever has. Inevitable for an event that’s growing as this one is, I suppose, and well deserved on the part of Maryland Doom Fest itself.

No question I was feeling it by the end of the night, but spirits were high nonetheless. I don’t want to sound self-aggrandizing or anything, but people have been really very nice to me and said kind things about this site and stuff, and that’s both incredibly awkward and very much appreciated. Both of those things. It means a lot to me, and it makes me blush. Both of those things are true.

I feel like, as Maryland Doom Fest continues to grow, it’s nights like this that will be the biggest source of future nostalgia.

And it started long before sunset:

Greenbeard

Greenbeard (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There’s a lot of varying kinds of heavy at Doom Fest this year, but not a lot of boogie, and so Austin, Texas, trio Greenbeard were an immediately welcome start to the day. The three-piece have toured steadily over the last couple years and late in 2018 they released a three-songer EP called Onward, Pillager! through Sailor Records that was intended as a preview and fund drive for a full-length to come this year. I don’t know what the status is of that follow-up to 2017’s Lödarödböl (review here), but while their atmosphere is all party and uptempo vibes and awesome times, they’re not screwing around as their shuffle meets desert-hued tone and melody, and that was clear at Cafe 611. Guitarist/vocalist Chance Allen, bassist Jeff Klein and drummer Buddy Hachar (who played here with Doomstress last year) were spot on in their delivery and they drew people in even as the show was just getting started. They were vital, and fun in a way that stood them out from the doomly pack and only made them more of a highlight at the outset. They were a wake-up call to get up and throw down. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason there hasn’t been news of their next album is because they’re talking to labels.

Eternal Black

Eternal Black (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What Eternal Black do with their new album, the just-out Slow Burn Suicide (review here), is bring a much-needed sense of perspective to traditionalist doom. The New York three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ken Wohlrob, bassist/backing vocalist Hal Miller and drummer Joe Wood took what they did on their first record, 2017’s Bleed the Days (review here), and actively learned from it and pushed themselves forward. There are few things I consider as admirable when it comes to bands, so, aside from the fact that before they played I got to meet Joe Wood‘s parents — I’ve known Joe for a very long time, and he is among the sweetest people in the universe, so yes, this was a high point of the day for me — I was very excited to hear their new songs live. They didn’t disappoint, basically playing side A of the record with “Lost in the Fade,” “Below,” “The Ghost” and “Sum of All Fears” along with “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” from the debut. I’ve been fortunate enough to see them a couple times now, including here in 2016, but the crunch and impact they’ve fostered in their sound as they’ve continued to progress is as much their own as it is quintessential NYC heavy, and I very much look forward to seeing where the path they’re on takes them.

Atomic 26

Atomic 26 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Every bill needs a sore thumb, right? That one band who maybe is a little bit the square peg? Well, hello to Maryland’s Atomic 26, whose style of hardcore still had some tonal heft one might trace to a residual influence from earliest Clutch, but definitely were intended to be an outside-genre inclusion in the lineup. Hey, that’s cool. Dudes brought it, aggro chugga and all. I can only be honest and say I neither had the frame of reference to appreciate what they were doing or the inclination toward the genre itself, but at a certain point, whatever, man. They were having fun — shenanigans aplenty — and I’m not about to begrudge that. I’ll note as well there was a contingent up front for their whole set who were obviously well familiar with the proceedings, and the energy they started with offered no letup by the time they were done. I don’t know if their set means Maryland Doom Fest is starting to branch out in a different direction, widen the scope, or what, but sometimes you gotta have something different, and Atomic 26 — it’s iron, in case you were curious — ticked that box nicely.

Knoxxville

Knoxxville (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What, you’re not gonna hang out and watch JB‘s band? Of course you are. Festival organizer JB Matson anchors Knoxxville on drums, and as he’s got two basses and two guitars surrounding him on either side, there was a definite sense of fullness to what they were doing, despite the lack of a singer. My understanding is they had one and now they don’t. I’m sure the narrative is more complex than that, but that’s the upshot all the same. In instrumentalist fashion, they proffered workingman’s doom rock, both very much of the region and right to the heart of what Maryland Doom Fest is rooted in being, which felt like a reorientation after Atomic 26 but was a shift easily made. They’re they only group this weekend thus far to have two basses, and I have no idea why more bands don’t do that. Two guitars? Yeah, that’s cool. Pretty standard. But what the hell could be more doom than piling low end on top of low end? Even with that additional heft factor, Knoxxville moved at a decent clip, treating the crowd to essential local fare that most of all typified the lack of pretense — or if you prefer, bullshit — that Maryland doom has always done better than anyone else. They’ll either get a singer or they won’t, but they were right on as it was.

Forming the Void

Forming the Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m honestly not sure what I can tell you about Forming the Void that I haven’t already said after the other two times I’ve seen them this year (reviews here and here), but when it comes to the Lafayette, Louisiana, four-piece, the point is worth reiterating just how much these guys are right there. There they are. They’ve found their sound over the course a working-quick three albums, they’re already confirmed to go abroad next year for the first time, they’ve got a new record in the can and they’re right at the cusp of realizing their potential. The heavy prog-tinged melodies in the guitars and harmonized vocals of Shadi Omar Al-Khansa and James Marshall are an immediate standout factor, but the rolling riff style and the weight given to the material from bassist Luke Baker and drummer Thomas Colley is not to be minimized in terms of the overall affect of watching them on stage. They’re about to hit the road for a week with Year of the Cobra, and if that tour is going where you are, just go. That’s it. Go. I’ve yet to see Forming the Void that they didn’t surpass the experience of the time before, including last night, and in style and substance, they’re a bright spot in the American heavy underground. Even better, they still feel like they’re just getting started.

Sixes

Sixes (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Yes, Sixes are very, very heavy. There’s no arguing with that and I won’t try. What seemed more important as the Californian ultra-downer megasludgers brought to Maryland Doom Fest 2019 was more than tone, however. The consuming darkness of their atmosphere was simply on another wavelength from everything else I’ve seen this weekend so far, and they basked in that bleak extremity with purpose and intensity. Like many of the bands who played, they had some technical delays getting going — it would very much be that kind of day — but their lurching, charcoal-black style and largely-unrelenting force came through without hindrance and their sound was a spiraling chasm of ritualized volume. You could almost taste it. Bitter, without the sweet. But they weren’t just assault, and they were able to make the ambient stretches just as heavy as the full-on punishment. They’re signed to Black Bow — among others — and touring Europe later this year with Conan, so take that as the endorsement it is, and though I didn’t get to dig into 2018’s debut, Mephistopheles, when it came out, they made a convincing case for rectifying that immediately, courtesy of the plugs vibrating in my ears crying out for mercy that would not come.

Atala

Atala (Photo by JJ Koczan)

A fresh reminder of what a difference a great drummer makes. Atala‘s Jeff Tedtaotao was neither the first of the day nor the last, but as guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton and bassist Dave Horn manifested sand sludge in communion with a land far, far away from Frederick, it was Tedtaotao‘s drumming that gave the band their sense of push and roll. It was not my first Atala experience — which I feel like one should for sure discuss in a way otherwise reserved for talking about ayahuasca, and not just for the bookending-vowel commonality — but it was my first time seeing them since the release last month of their fourth album, The Bearer of Light (review here), on Salt of the Earth Records, and as the prevailing impression of that record was, “Wow, these songs are cool and this production is raw and live-sounding as hell,” the interest in hearing that material come from a P.A. was high. “Desolate Lands,” “Upon the Altar” and the particularly crushing “Won’t Subside” answered that call, and as this was their second time at Maryland Doom Fest, they seemed at home on the Cafe 611 stage. They’re not a band I’m likely to ever complain about seeing live, and I felt like when they were done I only had a richer understanding of The Bearer of Light, so all the better.

Beelzefuzz

Beelzefuzz (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Man, up yours, Beelzefuzz, for making me feel feelings. As noted above, founding guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt announced the end of the band after a decade together in one form or another, as he, drummer Darin McCloskey and lead guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener will continue in Pale Divine — which I believe leaves bassist Bert Hall as a free agent; Revelation reunion? — and I’m legitimately sorry to see them go. They played their final set to a crowd full of family and friends as well as some people who’d never even heard them before, and that could hardly have been more appropriate. With the progressive edge or Ortt‘s organ/vocal-harmony effects, McCloskey‘s smooth and classy style of drumming, Hall‘s complement thereto, the born-to-do-it soloing of Diener and his splitting the vocal duties with Ortt, they were a band who should have been around longer and who will be talked about in this part of the world for a long time to come. Whatever tumult they’d been through with the name change, lineup change, all of it, didn’t matter while they played. Their last show was about celebration, and from “Hypnotized” and “All the Feeling Returns” to the so-fitting last lead line reaches of “Hard Luck Melody,” they lived up to the legacy of what could and should have been for them all along. Special band. Will be missed.

Foghound

Foghound (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Somewhere in the Big Book of Guaranteed Good Times, there’s a picture of Foghound playing Maryland Doom Fest. I probably didn’t take it, but still. It’s there. Not yet a year removed from their most recent album, Awaken to Destroy (review here), the dual-guitar Baltimorean four-piece came in, kicked ass, set the room on (figurative) fire, then split. It was awesome, they’re awesome, you’re awesome. Awesome. With Adam Heinzmann another year’s worth of locked-in on bass/periodic vocals — he shared a mic with guitarist Dee Settar, while guitarist Bob Sipes and drummer Chuck Dukehart each had their own — and the very-present spirit of bassist Rev. Jim Forrester in the place, they were the heavy rock boot to the ass that you knew was coming but still managed to be jolted by anyhow. They don’t tour, and they could, but neither do they screw around, and though they played here in 2018, between the fact of the new album out and the fact that they’re fucking Foghound and it’s Maryland, so yes, you want them to be there, they were awakened and they destroyed. If you’re at all into heavy rock, I can’t imagine a situation in which you would’ve watched their set and not been a fan by the end of it, whether or not you were before. That’s it. Done.

Apostle of Solitude

Apostle of Solitude (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Indianapolis four-piece Apostle of Solitude released the best doom album of 2018 in the form of From Gold to Ash (review here) on Cruz Del Sur. They played here in 2017, but I was absent that year — can’t remember why, but I’m sure I had a doctor’s note for whatever it was; they also played in 2015 at the first one — so it had apparently been four years since I last saw them live, which for a band as good as they are is egregiously long. They opened the set with “Keeping the Lighthouse” from the new album, the hook of which will likely remain stuck in my head long after this weekend is over, and followed with cuts like “My Heart is Leaving Here” and “Ruination be Thy Name” to only further the impact, drummer Corey Webb earning shouts of “BEAST!” from the side of the stage after the first song with which one could only agree. Webb, bassist Mike Naish, and guitarist/vocalists Chuck Brown and Steve Janiak (the latter also of Devil to Pay, and both now of the semi-reignited The Gates of Slumber) were monstrous. I don’t know what pagan gods were bestowing gifts of riffs upon the masses assembled in front of the stage, but, you know, thanks and all that. At an event like this, I usually have one set where I end up pulling my earplugs out and just kind of giving into the volume and the vibe of the thing. At Maryland Doom Fest 2019, that was Apostle of Solitude, and it’s not a choice I regret in the slightest.

Pentagram

Pentagram (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Is this the beginning of the redemption of Bobby Liebling? I have no idea, but I’d guess probably not. By any measure, we’re talking about someone who has actively or inadvertently squandered just about every visible opportunity and/or second chance he’s worked for or had come his way in his life, and so when it comes to Pentagram‘s future, if you look back over the last 50 years or so, it’s hard to imagine any radical change. Does the fact that the dude assaulted his mom, got called out on tour for sexual harassment, and so on, mean that the band doesn’t deserve to headline at Maryland Doom Fest? It’s certainly debatable. But if the redemption of Bobby Liebling were ever to happen, this would be the place it started, and the room was certainly rooting for him, from the young woman who kissed his hand during “Starlady” early on in the set to the crowd surfing and moshing that took hold later as the house lights came up and they went into “Forever My Queen.” The word is “polarizing,” but as Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” so make of it what you will. The band behind Liebling — bassist Greg Turly, drummer “Minnesota” Pete Campbell (who was announced as the winner of the night’s raffle right before going on stage) and guitarist Matt Goldsborough — were on point, and the response was there as it’s been for the last decade-plus. You kind of have to shrug or throw up your hands. That’s me not taking a side. Pentagram will keep going either way. What else is there?

As I write this, it’s almost 1PM and the last day of the fest starts in a couple hours. Nine more bands on the Cafe 611 stage and I’m not even going to embarrass myself trying to get into Guido’s again. Very rock and roll of me, I know. I’ll get ’em in 2020. Shower first, and then more coffee and all the water. I’d like to sit for a bit and get my head on straight as I was lucky enough to do yesterday, and the energy was so good throughout last night that I want to try to recapture it as much as I am able, particularly after feeling by the end of Friday like I’d been hit by the doomtruck. I’m hardly in peak physical condition — my legs and back are feeling it — but we’ll see how it goes. The mind is willing, the flesh is… increasingly saggy.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Night One, 06.21.19

Posted in Reviews on June 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 night one

I shudder to think of the poor bastard who, when this weekend is over, will have to mop up all the melted eardrums from the floor of the Cafe 611. With the expansion this year to four days — because again, the pre-fest yesterday was essentially a full night of the festival; 2020 pre-party on Wednesday? — Maryland Doom Fest enters a whole new echelon of being physically overwhelming. By the time Mothership went on last night, I was feeling it. Hard. Mostly in my back. And granted, they ran late and had some technical trouble getting set up, but I have the feeling that even had they been on time, I still would’ve been dragging my keester like the anchor it is.

But if that’s the case, it’s only true because the day was so goddamn good. Apart from not being allowed into Guido’s to see Benthic Realm because I didn’t have ID — my driver’s license got lost, I have no idea where or when or how, just looked in my wallet a couple weeks back and it was gone and the new one hasn’t arrived yet — and I guess the male pattern baldness, gray hair, wrinkles under my eyes and stiff, loping movements weren’t enough to confirm my age. “Sorry sir, you’re right. I’m actually three 16-year-olds in disguise as one old dude.” I respect the diligence, and the dude was just doing his job, so after a “seriously?” that was 100 percent genuinely asking if he was being serious, I wasn’t gonna make a stink, but that was a surprise.

It was a bummer though. Krista from the band I think had on an Obelisk t-shirt yesterday, and Dan‘s a really good guy all the time and being as I won’t be in Massachusetts anymore, let alone Worcester where they’re from, it would’ve been cool to see them. Nobody’s evening is made or broken by my showing up, but I wish I had caught their set. That’s all. It’s been a while since I got carded. Doubly so because I don’t drink.

That was the only snafu though, and otherwise, it was a have-my-cake-while-eating-my-cake-and-your-cake-golly-cake-is-good kind of evening as MDDF19 launched in earnest. It was a 6PM start, but the bill was stacked, so let me not waste time with tales of my own foibles.

Maryland Doom Fest 2019 night one:

False Gods

False Gods (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Oh they were mad. An angry start to the day to be sure. I give New York-based ultra-aggro five-piece crushers False Gods credit for coming up with the most excellent tagline, “If it’s too slow, you’re too young,” which is great, but for the most part, they actually moved at a pretty solid clip, taking aspects of post-hardcore and post-metallic intensity and putting them through a ringer of sludge riffs and tones, growls and screams cutting through. They’ve got a new two-song EP out called The Serpent and the Ladder, featuring, yes, “The Serpent” and “The Ladder,” and as frontman Mike Stack paced back and forth at the front of the Cafe 611 stage, his screams sometimes backed by growls from drummer Paulie Stack (let’s assume they’re related), the bass of Johnny Geirak offered density to underpin the more atmospheric elements of Greg March and Nick Luisi‘s guitars. A mid-set spaceout was welcome, but otherwise the chestbeating felt sincere and the impact of their sound was like a shock to the system. There would be no easing into the day, clearly. Welcome back to Maryland Doom Fest 2019. Now be pummeled.

The Druids

The Druids (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There’s another Druids, who are from Iowa and signed to The Company and who put an album out this year and made a bit of a splash with it. That’s not this The Druids, who are from here in Maryland and not signed to The Company but did put a record out in February called Totem (review here) that’s fully diggable in its blend of space and heavy rocks, a blend put to semi-psychedelic use in a we’re-actually-stoned stoner mindset. I had been looking forward to seeing them — not the least because Gary Isom (Spirit Caravan, last night with Weed is Weed, etc.) plays drums — and felt justified in that. Isom‘s pedigree notwithstanding, they’re young. And they sounded like it, guitarist/vocalists Eli Watson and Danny Alger and bassist Jeremy Dinges bringing a fresh energy to the material that, while not stylistically revolutionary, still benefited it greatly. Dave Davidson, who has worked the sound for every Maryland Doom Fest that I’ve been to, kept reminding them between songs how much time they had left, as though if he didn’t, they might get high and wander into a jam, never to return. Not great for keeping to a schedule, but I wouldn’t mind hearing that, either.

Kingsnake

Kingsnake (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Pro-shop, and I’m not honestly sure how much else needs to be said. Philadelphia’s Kingsnake kicked off a Pennsylvania threepeat on the Cafe 611 stage, and they did so with hard-edged, Southern-tinged heavy that seemed to roll out the funk of Clutch into a more forward drive. Hooks? They got hooks. Riffs? They got those too. And they deliver. I’ll always remember them for their roots in Sugar Daddie, but that was like 14 years ago now, so it’s safe to say in that time Kingsnake have come into their own, and what they bring is down-home heavy vibes, for the distinguished working gentleperson who, whether they’re sipping IPA or living the High Life, knows exactly what they want out of the experience. They marked the beginning of schedule collision between Cafe 611 and Guido’s Speakeasy, the second venue about 150 feet right on the next block (easy walk, nice to get a bit of non-doomfart air), but I caught both the beginning and the end of their set, and they killed it to a high standard. Their got-it-togetherness was well on display, and reportedly they’ve had new songs in the works for a while to follow 2016’s Resonance, so hopefully something comes out soon.

Spiral Grave

Spiral Grave (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve been tracking the emergence of Spiral Grave since the band announced their existence in the earliest moments of this year, and my first opportunity to see them live wasn’t one I was about to pass up. I walked right into Guido’s no problem this time — also part of what made it such a surprise later — as Spiral Grave were still setting up, but by the time they went on, that room would be completely packed. Not that that’s saying much — the space is intimate, to put it mildly — but still. They opened with their first single, “Nothing” (premiered here) and proceeded to give the assembled a preview of things to come as they move toward their in-progress debut album. The amalgam of Iron Man and Lord — quintessential Maryland doom meets oft-experimentalist Virginian noise chaos — works. Guitarist Willy Rivera (the Lord contingent) has beefed up his riffing style to suit the grooves of bassist Louis Strachan and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann, and the underlying metallic sharpness in his work suits the vocals of Dee Calhoun well. They’ve been in my “look forward to more” category for a while. Only more the case after seeing them play. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were back here next year after the album release. Nor would I complain.

Backwoods Payback

Backwoods Payback (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sometimes life is pretty sweet, like when Backwoods Payback plays. The West Chester, PA/Richmond, VA trio were here last year heralding the arrival of their Summer 2018 LP, Future Slum (review here), and it was only more of a pleasure to see them this time around because, you know, the more the merrier. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson have a reputation that precedes them here, and I don’t know if it was people who saw them at the last Maryland Doom Fest or who heard the record or what, but they packed the room out and had people singing along. Or maybe that was just me. Either way, they made highlights out of Future Slum cuts like “Pirate Smile” and “Whatever,” “Generals” and “Lines,” which closed out with its tense build, as well as what I’d swear was some even-newer stuff but was too ass-kicked afterwards to ask. If you’ve never seen them, their style is as much grown-up punk as it is ’90s-weird-kid, but it’s delivered with heft and heart that are second to no one, and they’re the kind of band who win people over. They didn’t have to do that at Cafe 611 — the room was on their side to start with — but the converted were plenty happy to hear them preach. There are very few bands I so much enjoy watching play.

The Age of Truth

The Age of Truth (Photo by JJ Koczan)

No easy feat to be sandwiched on a bill between Backwoods Payback and Year of the Cobra with Lo-Pan still to follow, but Philly’s The Age of Truth wrapped up the Keystone triad with an unequivocal mastery of West Coast-style heavy rock meeting Northeastern noise crunch and aggression. Also repeat offenders from last year (review here), they remain entrenched in their righteous 2017 debut, Threshold (review here), starting with the immediate lock-in nodder “Come Back a God” — which still reminds me of Dozer, in the best way — as frontman Kevin McNamara pointed up to the sky, or at least the ceiling, and guitarist Mike DiDonato, bassist Bill Miller and drummer Scott Fressetto behind him were in go-mode from the start. For a band who haven’t spent months on the road — they’ve done plenty of shows, but not really full-on toured, and I don’t know if they want to or not — they rose to the occasion in such a way as to make me wonder how that might tie into their next record, if the tightness of their live presentation will be mirrored in their songwriting or captured output. Whatever they might have planned in that regard, they sounded ready to move forward, and in what, again, was a difficult spot, they shone, indulging a bit of drank in the process.

Year of the Cobra

Year of the Cobra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Looking at their setlist after they played, I felt way better about how few of Year of the Cobra‘s songs I recognized while they were on stage. The Seattle two-piece will release their second album later this year as their debut through Prophecy Productions — I’m not saying I’m holding a spot on my best-of-the-year list for it, but basically I am — and though they’ve toured hard to support 2016’s …In the Shadows Below (review here) and the subsequent 2017 EP, Burn Your Dead (review here), including just recently with Lord Dying, I’m embarrassed to say I’d never seen them before. That fact has been gnawing at me, so I was relieved when they went on, and all the more so when they absolutely leveled Cafe 611. They played “Cold” from the EP and “White Wizard” from the first record as well as the title-track of their first short release, 2015’s The Black Sun (review here), but everything else seemed to be new, titles like “Ash and Dust,” “The Divine” and “Into the Fray” scribbled out to represent a barrage of low-end tone, wash of crash and increasingly nuanced vocal melodicism from Amy Tung Barrysmith. With Jon Barrysmith on drums, they were a nation-of-two duo whose time on the road was obvious in their we-do-this-all-the-time vibe, and my only regret of the evening was not buying a shirt. That’s something I’ll rectify next time, and yes, there will be a next time.

Lo-Pan

Lo-Pan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Come on, Lo-Pan. You know that scene in that one episode of The Simpsons from the ’90s where Homer joins not-Lollapalooza and Sonic Youth are there and they steal Peter Frampton’s watermelon? That’s like Lo-Pan stealing all the awesome and keeping it for themselves. As they absolutely tore exclusively into cuts from their new record, Subtle (review here), it was as though they were standing next to an empty cooler going, “Come on, Mr. Frampton! You’re not gonna eat all that watermelon!” It was my first time seeing them since they added guitarist Chris Thompson, which was a couple years ago now — look, I can’t make excuses; sometimes it’s hard being a human being, let alone leaving the house — and with their lightbars on the sides of his and bassist Scott Thompson‘s cabs, singer Jeff Martin in back giving a clinic in vocal dynamics and drummer Jesse Bartz bashing away up front, they did what Lo-Pan do: they destroyed. I don’t think I’ve seen them at any point in the last decade and not come out of it unable to name a more powerful American heavy rock band. I’ll catch them again in a couple months as they tour with C.O.C. and Crowbar — they’re doing a one-off in Teaneck, NJ; fuck yes — and I’m already looking forward to that. This is a band to treasure.

Pale Divine

Pale Divine (Photo by JJ Koczan)

So here’s the thing: Pale Divine just put out a record. Not this week, but last November they released their self-titled LP (review here), and as it was their first outing in six years, it’s totally unreasonable to think they might do another one anytime soon. Pale Divine doesn’t owe anyone anything. You know how the pre-fest was all the Stoner Hands of Doom bands? Well, okay. Pale Divine played that fest seven times, including the first one 20 years ago. But on the other hand… since the album came out, guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener, bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis and drummer Darin McCloskey added Dana Ortt — who’ll also play his last show with Beelzefuzz this weekend — on guitar and vocals, and they’re just at another level for having done so. You could hear the harmonies between Diener and Ortt on vocals throughout their set, and the interplay on guitar was no less glorious. So yeah, Pale Divine, you don’t have to put out another record right this moment. Don’t feel obligated. But if you wanted to make that happen sometime in the less-than-six-years-from-now near future, I think it would really be for the best all the way around. The wax is barely dry on Pale Divine, so it’s not even fair to ask, but I’m asking anyway. Or at least a live record as a stopgap. I’d take a 7″. A demo tape. Something. Anything.

Mothership

Mothership (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You know why I like Mothership? They play both kinds of music: rock and roll. How are you gonna be dead on your feet when Mothership are playing? The Dallas power trio manifest the best of Texas’ heavy legacy and offer it up in kinetic fashion. Already this year they’ve toured with Death Angel, done a spot on the Heavy Psych Sounds Fest out on the West Coast, and been on the road with C.O.C. (review here), and that’s after doing Europe last Fall on a by-now-legendary stint with Elephant Tree and Stoned Jesus, so yeah, Mothership are basically on fire and after a late start owing to some non-intentional feedback and other technical whathaveyou, they played like it. They’ve basically been go-go-go since before the arrival of their 2017 third full-length, High Strangeness (review here), and their “Midnight Express” shows no signs of slowing. They’ve made themselves ambassadors for ’70s heavy without ever really dipping into retroism, and more than just ape what classic bands did before them, they take those lessons and push them forward onto new ground. I honestly don’t know when they would’ve had time to write a new LP or anything like that, but they seem to have a keen sense of how to keep their momentum going — spoiler: it’s by busting their collective ass — so I have to think they’ll get there sooner or later, if they can manage to stop long enough to hit record. Hard to imagine the tour offers stopping, frankly. I’ll admit I didn’t stay for the whole set, but even with the hiccup at the outset, there was no question they owned that room.

I guess it was like 2AM when I got back to the AirBNB? Something like that. I crashed quickly, even before pictures were done being transferred from my memory card, and slept until eight this morning. Saw nine bands on Thursday, 10 bands on Friday. Today’s Saturday and there are 11 at the Cafe 611 alone — more if I can manage to con my way back into the good graces of Guido’s — and that’s the busiest day of the thing. I am beat but upright, and very much in need of a shower. At least I got a toothbrush yesterday. Today’s need is Advil.

Good times, y’all. Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Pre-Fest, 06.20.19

Posted in Reviews on June 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest shod preparty poster

One could go on at some length about the legacy of the Stoner Hands of Doom Festival, which, like much of the pre-social-media universe, feels like part of some bygone era, when in fact the last edition was held in 2013. The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 pre-fest party — which I’ll only argue with because, really, when you have nine bands playing, that’s a festival one way or the other — was co-billed as SHoD XX in honor of the 20th anniversary of that fest’s first edition in 1999. Two of the bands on the evening’s bill were actually there in Virginia and Maryland on that weekend — Solace and WarHorse — but everyone who took the stage at Cafe 611 in Frederick, MD, was a veteran of it one way or the other. Slow Horse and Tummler remain sadly unaccounted for.

SHoD traveled — that first Arizona lineup is legendary — but spent a few pivotal years in Frederick down the road at what used to be Krug’s Place, and in both mission and manifestation, there isn’t a better festival to inherit the mantle than Maryland Doom Fest, though at the same time, it’s never been so plain just how much MDDF has come onto its own and found its place among the wider festival sphere. The WarHorse reunion is a coup, but for the greater incorporation of Guido’s as a second venue and the expansion to four days, Maryland Doom Fest has expanded its reach across borders and styles in a way that has only added to and enriched its original purpose. Earthride headlining tied it all together as only they possibly could.

It was a 5:30 start and I rolled into the venue about half an hour before that. Already, familiar faces were in ample supply, and they’d only be more so over the course of the evening. I have the feeling it’s going to be that kind of weekend. Right on.

The night went like this:

After the Sun

After the Sun (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Along with Earthride and Solace (who were two for two at that point), Ohio’s After the Sun played SHoD in 2000, the same year they formed. They’d return in 2001 as well. Given their style, it’s pretty notable that they’re actually not from Maryland itself, as their traditional take on doom definitely seemed to have been born of an awareness of the likes of The ObsessedPentagramUnorthodox, and so on. After putting out an EP in 2001, they released their first full-length just last year in the form of a seven-song self-titled, and they served it well live, making a highlight out of “Delusion of Sanity” late in the set. They had a new short release, The Demise, out for the festival, and were solid, workingman’s doom rock, the guttural belt-out of vocalist Doug Perry recalling earlier metallic grit while the chug of Lance Collier‘s bass and Rob Perkins‘ guitar and the thud of Bryan Kaiser‘s drums provided suitable backing for such conviction. The fact that they’ve released more music in the last nine months than in the prior 17 years shouldn’t be lost, and one has to wonder what their future plans are with this feeling very much like a return set, on-stage altar and all.

Freedom Hawk

Freedom Hawk (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This band just rocks. It hasn’t been that long since the last time I saw them, and they were still one of the sets for which I was most excited. There’s no bullshit to Freedom Hawk. They’ve got the songs. They plug in and kick ass and then they’re done. Five records deep, they know they’re doing it right and they play with that conviction. “Blood Red Sky,” “Lost in Space,” “Solid Gold,” “The Darkness and the Light,” “Radar,” “Executioner” and “Indian Summer” made for a quick set that seemed even faster than it was, but the Virginia Beach four-piece very obviously made the most of their time. I still have “Indian Summer” stuck in my head, if that’s any indication. Freedom Hawk only played the final Stoner Hands of Doom in 2013, which was held in Richmond, Virginia, and saw fest-organizers Rob and Cheryl Levey hand the reins to Brendan Burns (who at the time ran the Eye of the Stoned Goat festival), but any excuse to have them in just about any lineup is cool as far as I’m concerned. They’re just doing a weekender around Maryland Doom Fest, but they absolutely brought it like they’d been on the road for weeks.

Weed is Weed

Weed is Weed (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Double-duty Sherman! And on guitar, no less! With Gary Isom playing drums! With the incense-burning bong-shaped mic stand present and accounted for, Earthride frontman Dave Sherman took the stage with the three-guitar riff machine Weed is Weed to bask in crunchy nodder vibes and, as they always seem to do, have a really good time. I’ve been lucky enough to see them a couple times now — always in Maryland — and I don’t think they’ve ever had the same lineup twice. Sherman playing guitar was a nice touch, and Isom‘s move back to drums (from guitar) was of course nothing to complain about either. They lurched into “The Bong Remains the Same” and the eponymous “Weed is Weed” and sundry other greatest hits, and the room was with them all the way. I don’t know if they’d get the same reception anywhere else, but at Cafe 611, they were home, and it was a family atmosphere all the way through. The lights were green, and by the time they were done, they only seemed greener. If the East Coast had the Pacific region’s same proclivity for using the word “gnarly,” Weed is Weed might be the standard by which that was measured.

Deer Creek

Deer Creek (Photo by JJ Koczan)

At some point early in the set, Deer Creek guitarist/vocalist Paul Vismara noted that it was the band’s first show east of the Mississippi River in something like 17 or 18 years, and he thanked all the bands who have played their native Colorado in the meantime because, as he put it, “that’s a long fucking drive.” I believe it. Vismara — currently working on cover art for the next Solace record — and fellow guitarist Conan Hultgren, who also ran Game Two Records — the first Sourvein, the Halfway to Gone/Alabama Thunderpussy split, releases from Pale Divine, Negative Reaction, etc. — led the four-piece through a round of massively-riffed tonal plunge, a noisy, sludgy aggression cutting through the thickness of Hultgren‘s and Paul Vismara‘s guitars and Stephanie Hopper‘s bass, set to roll from drummer Marc Brooks. Their late-2018 EP, Quisling, wanted nothing for atmospherics, and their live presentation had that same sense of open-space, but neither was the impact neglected, the band hitting hard and locking into raw doom and sludge with an abandon more willful than reckless and a focus on mood that no one else would touch for the remainder of the evening.

Devil to Pay

Devil to Pay (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I know Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay played SHoD in 2012, because I was there. It was the one in New London, Connecticut. They also played in 2004, 2007, 2009 (I was there, too), and indeed 2013, so with five appearances total, that makes them the most-SHoDded of the bands playing the first night of Maryland Doom Fest. Not a minor distinction, but of course they’ve done plenty since as well, making their debut on Ripple with 2013’s Fate is Your Muse (review here) and following it with 2016’s A Bend Through Space and Time (review here). They’re about due for a new record — though now sharing guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak with Apostle of Solitude (playing this weekend) as well as The Gates of Slumber — and indeed they had new songs called “Heave Ho” and “37 Trillion” in the set alongside favorites like “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife,” which seemed to fit well alongside their melodic, heavy and straightforwardly structured songs. Like Freedom Hawk, they’re rarely dug into frills of any kind, and it had been too long since I saw them, but they reminded of what a well-kept secret they are and gave me something to look forward to in their next record, whenever it might show up.

Wasted Theory

Wasted Theory (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Big news coming next week from Wasted Theory. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s not a new record — according to drummer Brendan Burns that’s still in the “messing around with riffs” stage, and fair enough since they released Warlords of the New Electric (review here) just last year — but it’s big news. And cool news. You know, I don’t always get down with where Wasted Theory land in terms of theme and whatnot, but as I watched guitarist/vocalist Larry Jackson, Jr. lead the band — Burns, guitarist Andrew Petkovic, bassist Corey Pettingill — through the set, I thought back to the first time I saw them early in 2013, and the difference six years have made in their sound is huge. On every level in terms of songs and performance, they’re a more professional, realized band, and yeah, they should be with three full-lengths out, but it’s still striking just how far they’ve come and how much work they’ve put in to find their place in Southern heavy rock. They’ve locked into their niche and set about developing as players and songwriters, and despite lineup changes they’ve never done anything but move forward. Look out for that news this week and join me in being vicariously happy for the band when the time comes.

Solace

Solace (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Solace are chaos. So much chaos. From the about-to-fly-off-the-rails dual-leadwork of Justin Daniels and Tommy Southard to the fact that they had Danny Golin (Halfway to Gone) sitting in on drums for the set after only rehearsing with him twice, to frontman Justin Goins spilling all the beer, the New Jersey five-piece are barely able to be contained on a stage — and at Maryland Doom Fest, they weren’t; Goins definitely spent some time in the crowd. They started recording their new album a year ago, reportedly, and I’ve already put up I think more than one news piece about it being done, but indeed, the thing’s still in progress, but whatever they do, wherever they go, Solace bring that sense of punk-metal danger with them, and it’s not just about a threat of violence, though maybe that too, even in the one new song they played, but the material itself has this frenetic energy to it that pushes everything into the red — figuratively and literally in terms of the lighting in this case — and when their set was done, you could almost feel the crowd at Cafe 611 exhale the breath it had been holding while they played. Hey, Solace — finish the goddamn album already. The world needs more of this kind of destructive catharsis. Badly.

WarHorse

Warhorse (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Yeah, so I know Massachusetts’ WarHorse only have two shows booked — this and Psycho Las Vegas in August — but I’m going to tell you straight up that this reunion is going to have to be a real thing whether they like it or not. The offers are going to keep coming. As in: “start writing songs and get your passports ready.” Already on the lips of fest-goers since the start of the day, the trio of bassist/vocalist Jerry Orne, drummer Mike Hubbard and Terry Savastano laid waste to the room. If Solace were the bull in the china shop, WarHorse were the steamroller knocking over the building afterward. It was magnificent. I never saw them during their original run, but their lone LP, As Heaven Turns to Ash (discussed here), is the stuff of legend — especially in the Northeast — and within the first five minutes of “Horizons Burn Red,” it was obvious they need to keep going. The set was that, plus “I am Dying,” “Scrape,” “Lysergic Communion” and “Black Acid Prophecy,” and when they were done, people were shouting for more. Rightly so. You know how you’ve been listening to that record for all these years and thinking like, “Wow, this must’ve been amazing to see live?” Well, it still is. Tour, new songs, album, festivals, all of it. They sounded like a band ready to get their due.

Earthride

Earthride (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m not sure how else you could hope to close out the night but with Earthride, who, again, tied together the spirit of Stoner Hands of Doom with Maryland Doom Fest perfectly. There was some problem early on with the bass rig, but it got worked out and after being introduced by drummer Eric Little‘s daughter — he looked pretty flabbergasted — they were off and rolling soon enough into the quintessential Chesapeake nod of “Something Wicked,” the title-track of their most recent album (review here), which came out in 2010. The intervening years have found vocalist Dave Sherman involved in Weed is Weed and the Spirit Caravan reunion that morphed into the current incarnation of The Obsessed, as well as other projects in the works and lineup changes in Earthride itself mostly in the bassist role — Greg Ball has handled guitar for the last several years — and true, they had the Witch Gun 7″ out in 2017, but even so, it’s time for a fourth Earthride album. I was dragging ass by the time they went on, but Earthride are kingpins of Maryland’s heavy underground and there’s nothing quite like seeing them on their home turf. As ever, I came out of doing so with no regrets whatsoever. They are a definitive band for what Maryland Doom Fest is all about.

It was, uh, late, when I got back to the AirBNB where I’m staying a few blocks away from the venue. I crashed on the futon in this room at about 2AM and was up before 7 thinking I needed to start making coffee and writing. Correct on both accounts. Today is another packed day — they all are — but it starts a little later, so I’ll see if I can’t crash for a bit this afternoon ahead of making my way over to Cafe 611 again. Also need to buy a toothbrush, so yeah, I think I’ll go do that. After I sort pictures.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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

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

maryland doom fest 2019 poster square

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

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

Here’s the info. There’s a lot of it:

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

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

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

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

PENTAGRAM + CONAN + EARTHRIDE + MOTHERSHIP

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

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

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

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

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

DAY ONE
Friday, June 21st

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

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

DAY TWO
Saturday, June 22nd

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

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

DAY THREE
Sunday, June 23rd

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

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

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

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

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

Apostle of Solitude, “Keeping the Lighthouse” official video

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

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

maryland doom fest 2019 announcement

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

It’s gonna be crowded.

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

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

Here’s the lineup:

maryland doom fest 2019 poster

MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019 – JUNE 20-23

DOOMSTERS, GRUNGERS, SLUDGERS, STONERS, & PAGANS —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DooM !!! ~JB

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

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

Earthride, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2018

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2018 Night Three, 06.24.18

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

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

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

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

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

Happened like this:

Gateway to Hell

Gateway to Hell (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

Bedowyn

Bedowyn (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

Saints and Winos

Saints and Winos (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

Book of Wyrms

Book of Wyrms (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

Sierra

Sierra (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

Curse the Son

Curse the Son (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

Backwoods Payback

Backwoods Payback (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

Caustic Casanova

Caustic Casanova (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

Duel

Duel (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

The Midnight Ghost Train

The Midnight Ghost Train (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

Weedeater

Weedeater (Photo JJ Koczan)

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

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

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

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

More pics after the jump. Thanks again all.

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2018 Night Two, 06.23.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on June 24th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2018 night two poster

This scene is staggering. In terms of enclaves of hard and heavy, Maryland doom might be rivaled only by Floridian death metal and New York hardcore for longevity, and I’m pretty sure neither of those dates back to the early ’70s. Think about that. For almost as long as there’s been an idea of “heavy,” there’s been Maryland doom. And the number of lifers in bands and out boggles the mind. At best, I’m an interloper here, and I’d never claim otherwise. Every year or two or three, I’m lucky enough to come down for a fest or something like that, poke my head around and be humbled by the spirit that lives in this place. To actually be a part of it? I can’t imagine.

Maryland Doom Fest has taken on the responsibility not only of representing its native creatives, but in providing the scene a bridge to the outside world as well. The second day of Maryland Doom Fest 2018 did like day one and branched out in geography and sound, the scope of the festival increasing each year even as it maintains its ties to the place whose banner it flies. There’d be plenty of doom, but noise and heavy rock as well, metal both tangible and intangible, and more besides. You bet your ass it’s overwhelming. Maryland Doom Fest comes but once a year. Gotta make it count.

Another rainy day in Frederick set the gray-sky tone for a bill that would start out dark and work its way to the murkiest finish of all with Windhand headlining. Here’s how it happened:

Electropathic

Electropathic (Photo JJ Koczan)

As with Unorthodox last night, the new band fronted by Gary Isom, guitarist in Weed is Weed and former drummer in Spirit Caravan, Pentagram, Valkyrie and others, is a cross-generational affair. Along with drummer Ronnie Kalimon (formerly of Asylum, Unorthodox, etc.), Electropathic features young bassist/backing vocalist Zak Suleri and lead guitarist Eli Watson, both of Et Mors, and with Isom in the frontman role, they ran through a set of classic Maryland doom. Defined in no small part by their lack of pretense, they seemed to still be feeling out where they were ultimately headed as a band. They formed in the back half of last year by all appearances, so while none of them is a stranger to the stage, they’re in the process of developing their chemistry and sound. Likewise, Isom was still internalizing his position at the fore — even in Weed is Weed, he’s off to the side of the stage. He held it down though and their riffs resounded like a clarion to the converted still making their way in — time to go to church, school, whatever. Just time to go.

Molasses Barge

Molasses Barge (Photo JJ Koczan)

Hailing and hauling from Pittsburgh, Molasses Barge reaffirmed the connection between Steel City and Maryland doom that’s been there since the days of Dream Death‘s original run and probably even before that. The five-piece released their self-titled album in 2017 on Blackseed Records and had songs from that and new material in tow, which frontman Brian “Butch” Balich announced from the stage saying drummer Wayne Massey “calls this one ‘Tin Snake,'” or something thereabouts (hard to read the notes, sorry if I’ve got the title wrong). Balich is a formidable presence on his own, as he’s proven over the years in Penance, Argus and most recently Arduini/Balich, and in Molasses Barge he sets his powerful voice the task of cutting through the low end tone rollout from guitarists Justin Gizzi and Chuck Forsythe and bassist Amy Bianco that, presumably is what gives the band its name. Classic heavy riffs and a touch of metal underpinning, they were unsurprisingly met with welcome by the early crowd, and brought out Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun to co-front a cover of that band’s “On the Mountain” to pay righteous homage to founding guitarist “Iron” Alfred Morris III, who passed away earlier this year.

Shadow Witch

Shadow Witch (Photo JJ Koczan)

I said as much to vocalist Earl Walker Lundy after their set, but I’ve always sensed something a little weird in Shadow Witch. Across the Kingston, New York, four-piece’s two albums to-date, last year’s Disciples of the Crow (review here) and 2016’s Sun Killer (discussed here), there’s been an edge of something standing them out from the pack. Having now seen them live, I feel like I have a better sense of what it is. In no small part, it’s Lundy himself. He carries across his vocals with utmost conviction and purpose, and backed by bassist David Pannullo, guitarist Jeremy Hall and drummer Doug Thompson, he ran his voice through a range of effects and performed barefoot — a bravery in itself considering the amount of spillage I’ve seen on that stage over the last two days — as free in is movement physically as his voice was to carry across the songs. They dwell in a between-genre space and remaining excitingly difficult to classify, but what matters is they carried their passion over to the audience, who met it with welcome. Good band. Better band than people know. Better band than I knew.

Doomstress

Doomstress (Photo JJ Koczan)

Speaking of bands I should’ve seen already, I went into Doomstress‘ set with the distinct impression that their recorded material to-date has yet to do them proper justice. They tour regularly on week and week-plus runs and had been on the road for four nights already en route to Cafe 611, so it seemed likely the Houston four-piece would be on top of their game. Not to toot my own horn, but I was right. They’re a better band than they’ve shown on either of their short releases. It’s a question of balance in their sound. Not just between tonal heft and aggression/attitude or the commanding stage presence of Doomstress Alexis on bass and vocals with guitarists Brandon Johnson and Matt Taylor and drummer Buddy Hachar (also of Greenbeard), or of between the classic and the modern, but between the actual instruments themselves. The live wash of tone suits them, with Alexis‘ vocals cutting through, where on their recordings thus far there’s more separation of instruments. It’s dirtier live, and for the high quality riffs they play, that dirt fits really well. Especially coupled with the fact that their performance was so tight, it was like they were daring the crowd to match their energy level.

The Age of Truth

The Age of Truth (Photo JJ Koczan)

Another band it was my first time seeing (that’s five in a row!), Philly four-piece The Age of Truth had been hanging out all weekend and getting down with some shenanigans the first night of Maryland Doom Fest, but when they got on stage, it was all business. Well, mostly business. One seems to recall vocalist Kevin McNamara saying something before they went on about taking his shirt off and rubbing his nipples on the microphone — it didn’t happen, though it might’ve been an interesting bit of performance art; “what do those nipples signify?” and so on — but with the start of the set, he, guitarist Mike DiDonato, bassist Bill Miller and drummer Scott Fressetto launched into the most noise-rocking set the festival has thus far featured. Their blend of heavy rock groove and crunching tones and riffs made their Kozmik Artifactz-delivered debut, Threshold (review here), an aggro joy, and their live interpretation of those songs as well as the new cut “Palace of Rain” was all the more engaging for the ferocity of its realization. The slow-rolling-int0-quicker-shuffle of “Caroline” was a highlight, but I won’t take anything away from the impact of “Honey Pot” or anything else either. With an injection of melody into the newer stuff, they left some intrigue as to where they might be headed — a proper tease of something to watch for. It’ll be worth keeping an eye out.

Switchblade Jesus

Switchblade Jesus (Photo JJ Koczan)

Before Switchblade Jesus took the Cafe 611 stage, I was asked by Borgo Pass drummer and all-around-excellent-human-being Joe Wood what they sounded like. The first two words that came out of my mouth were “Texas” and “riffs.” To be fair, that’s not by any means all the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Eric Calvert, bassist/vocalist Chris Black and drummer Jon Elizondo have to offer, but if you’ve never heard them before, it’s a start. They made an encouraging self-titled debut (review here) in 2013 and followed up last year with a contribution to Ripple Music‘s The Second Coming of Heavy split series (review here), which took the foundation of that initial offering and expanded it significantly, pulling back on some of the burl in favor of a more nuanced approach. Their set in Maryland? With Calvert and Black sharing vocal duties and Elizondo pounding away behind, they rose to the occasion. In front of the stage, the crowd headbanged and raised fists and dug in nearly as much as the band itself, whose set was flawless near as I could tell. I’ve seen them twice now, been impressed both times, and could only expect that trend to continue for the next round, whenever that might be.

Foghound

Foghound (Photo JJ Koczan)

The weekend’s emcee, Dave Benzotti, choked up in reading his intro to Foghound, which also served as a remembrance of those the Maryland doom scene has lost over the last year, including bassist Rev. Jim Forrester of Foghound (also Serpents of Secrecy, ex-Sixty Watt Shaman, etc.), and reasonably so given the tragedy of the circumstances of his passing. The inevitability of that loss working its way into the current chapter of Foghound‘s life as a band was thick as the Baltimore four-piece got going, but if they were working toward catharsis, they were doing so with volume and intensity as their means. Their third album, Awaken to Destroy,on which Forrester performs bass and new bassist Adam Heinzmann contributes vocals alongside those of drummer Chuck Dukeheart III and guitarists Dee Settar and Bob Sipes, is done and in the can, and they played material from it both during their own set — the title-track — and afterwards through the P.A., which went unnoticed by many by Dukeheart later explained was a way to get Forrester‘s playing heard even if people didn’t realize they were hearing it at the time. As they also played with a portrait of Forrester signed by many with messages of love (I didn’t have the courage), his presence and absence were both deeply felt by the room, but the music was a fitting tribute and a comfort alike.

Cavern

Cavern (Photo JJ Koczan)

Prog prog prog. Also, prog. It’s fun to watch a band who so delight in being bizarre or outside the norm, and while local instrumentalists Cavern were for sure the odd men out on the bill, that suited them remarkably well and I can only imagine it wasn’t the first time they’ve found themselves in that position. Drummer Stephen Schrock played a kit with his toms out flat before him while Zach Harkins ran his guitar through one of the most elaborate pedal boards I’ve seen this weekend and still had room on stage for a Moog to add atmosphere to the intricate and complex songs they played. Denizens of Grimoire Records, they were a perfectly timed departure. Following Foghound with another straight-up rock band would only be doing said band a disservice, but Cavern were coming from somewhere else completely, so there was no real comparing the two outfits. A jolt to the flow of the night that only served Cavern well, since with all their looped parts, woven-through noise and underlying groove, “jolt” seemed to be the whole idea. It would be all-go riffing from here on out, but whether one considers them on their own merits or in the context of the Maryland Doom Fest 2018 lineup, their efforts toward the bizarre were duly appreciated.

The Watchers

The Watchers (Photo JJ Koczan)

The second Ripple Music act on the bill to have made the trip from the Bay Area behind ZED, four-piece The Watchers delivered one of the most professional sets I’ve seen so far this weekend. I mean, The Obsessed were pro-shop, right? And so were ZED, since they’ve been mentioned, but The Watchers had it all down — from riffs to looks to delivery to vocalist Tim Narducci and guitarist Jeremy Epp working the crowd with natural showmanship while bassist Cornbread and drummer Carter Kennedy locked in groove after groove of rock-solid heavy rock, playing selections from this year’s Black Abyss (review here) as well as the preceding EP, Sabbath Highway (review here). They had a near-commercial level of catchiness, but since that’s not a thing that exists anymore, I’ll just note that as much clear effort as they put into their presentation, the accessibility of the songs came from the songs themselves and the quality of their construction. Were they up there selling it? Absolutely. And kicking ass while doing so, but if the material itself wasn’t so strong the whole thing would’ve fallen flat. The foundation of the entire show was the material itself, and accordingly that show was an utter joy to watch.

Earthride

Earthride (Photo JJ Koczan)

I actually went back and looked up the last time I saw Earthride. It was at Days of the Doomed in 2012 (review here). I also recalled seeing them in Brooklyn in 2011 sharing the stage with When the Deadbolt Breaks, which was a noteworthy coincidence since that band’s guitarist/vocalist, Aaron Lewis, happened to be playing bass in Earthride, having joined just prior to the Maryland band’s just-ended tour with The Skull. Still, six years (and eight days) of not seeing Earthride? Far too fucking long. Dave Sherman, who’d been hanging out all weekend, took the stage in celebration of the welcome-home party that their set was, and with Lewis, guitarist Greg Ball and drummer Eric Little behind him, he held court for what was an absolute highlight of the fest as a whole. I’d been thinking of them as headliners the whole day, and while they didn’t play last, there was definitely a main-event feel going into their set, which started out with “Earthride,” boasted the new single “Witch Gun” (discussed here), the title-track to 2010’s Something Wicked (review here) and capped with “Fighting the Devils Inside You” from 2005’s sophomore LP, Vampire Circus (discussed here). Sherman held the audience and never relinquished his grasp on their attention, and the crowd was as switched on as I’d seen the whole fest. Like I said, they weren’t the headliners in name, but really, they kind of were. And rightly so.

Castle

Castle (Photo JJ Koczan)

Man, I want to hear Castle‘s new album. So bad. The core duo of bassist/vocalist Elizabeth Blackwell and guitarist/vocalist Mat Davis will issue that long-player through a yet-to-be-announced label, but they’re a touring band at their core. They get out. In talking to Davis after their set, he called their current stint a “quick one.” To put that in perspective, it’s a cross-country tour with 12 dates. I’m assuming what he meant was that it was nothing like the weeks-long voyages that will invariably follow the new full-length’s release, and I guess that’s fair, but 12 dates isn’t nothing either. Last time I saw Castle was Maryland Doom Fest 2016 (review here) as they were marking the release of that year’s Welcome to the Graveyard (review here), and though I knew it was coming, I was still blindsided by their intensity. Thrash, doom, classic metal, heavy groove and delighted pummel. Think of them as extreme traditional metal. They bring a classic sound to bear in their material — a number of classic sounds, actually — but have a ferocity to their execution of that which sets them apart from anything that might be considered “retro.” Coupled with the willful eeriness of their atmospheres and cultish themes, they can be all over the place, but that only makes them harder to pin down, and thus, all the more a thrill to watch. As the penultimate act of the evening, they were a last-minute kick in the ass before things got as far out as they would go, and though it had been a long day by then, Castle revived the spirit even as they seemed to herald its demise.

Windhand

Windhand (Photo JJ Koczan)
Windhand were the night’s headliner. They could’ve slinked in late, hid themselves backstage, got on, done their set, collected whatever there was to collect afterward and been on their way. Instead, the Richmond, Virginia, four-piece, who are arguably the most successful East Coast doom band of their generation and whose influence only continues to spread — trying to come up with another name and can’t; if you have one, I’d love to talk it out — hung around all day. They were back and forth through the venue, watching bands, meeting people, this and that. They had the option to take part or not to take part and they took part. And for a group at their level, on Relapse, having toured the world, etc., that’s not nothing. When they finally got on stage and got going, their fog-drenched riffs were as overwhelming as I remembered, and even though they’ve pared down from a five-piece, there was no discernible gap in volume from vocalist Dorthia Cottrell, guitarist Garrett Morris, bassist Parker Chandler and drummer Ryan Wolfe, who produced a soulful, lurching onslaught the likes of which Maryland Doom Fest had not yet known. Their new album, Eternal Return, was announced in April and will be released by Relapse as the follow-up to 2015’s Grief’s Infernal Flower (review here). No doubt it’s one of the most anticipated doom records for the rest of 2018 and whenever it rears its head will be yet another grueling landmark in a catalog that, at this point, teems with them while also constantly showcasing Windhand‘s progression. It was late, but in front of the stage was a press of humanity, and Windhand justified the urgency with a wash of volume and low end that was on a level all its own. A headlining slot well earned.

It’s almost 1PM on Sunday as I wrap this up and I still need to sort photos, shower and change clothes before I head out from Sparks to Frederick, so I’ll turn you over quickly to the pics after the jump and just say thanks for reading.

Because really, thanks for reading. More tomorrow, if you can believe it.

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