Clutch Announce Holiday Tour; Will Spend New Year’s in Cleveland

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 11th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

clutch (photo by Dan Winters)

It just wouldn’t be the holidays without Clutch. Would you believe Book of Bad Decisions (review here) has been out for over a month and I still haven’t bought the CD? Isn’t that the saddest little story you ever heard? Money’s tight, but that’s like an existential crisis for me. A genuine moral quandary. Makes me feel like I’ve gone two days without showering.

Anyway, my only question as regards Clutch‘s holiday tour — New Year’s Eve in Cleveland this time; nifty — has to do with the poster below: What’s up with “featuring Small Upsetters?” I know “Small Upsetters” a Clutch song, and it’s a good one, but would they put that on the poster if it was going to be in the set? Could we be talking about a horn section to fill out “In Walks Barbarella” from the new album, maybe? Some keys? Some additional something or other? What’s that all about? Gonna have to dig into the social media thing and see if I can find an answer, but for now, mystery abounds.

Clutch are on tour now, of course, and that seems to be their last batch of shows until December. No doubt more to come next year.

Dig it:

clutch holiday tour

CLUTCH NEW DECEMBER “HOLIDAY” TOUR DATES ANNOUNCED

Clutch has announced their annual “Holiday” tour dates for December with The Messthetics, Lionize and Mike Dillon Band supporting the tour. Radio pre sale tickets go on sale this Thursday, October 11th at 10:00am and public on sale starts Friday October 12th at 10:00am. The “Holiday” tour starts December 27th and ends with their New Years Eve show in Cleveland on December 31st.

Jean-Paul Gaster on the package said “We are very excited to have our friends Lionize, The Mike Dillon Band and The Messthetics be a part of this year’s Clutch Holiday Run. Each band brings something special to the bill and with so many great players in one place there’s bound to be some surprises. Come out early and celebrate with us!”

All ticket links are available at the official Clutch Facebook facebook.com/clutchband and www.pro-rock.com.

Clutch Holiday Tour Dates:

Thu/Dec-27 Baltimore, MD @ Rams Head Live!
Fri/Dec-28 Sayreville, NJ @ Starland Ballroom
Sat/Dec-29 Portland, ME @ Aura
Sun/Dec-30 Clifton Park, NY @ Upstate Concert Hall
Mon/Dec-31 Cleveland, OH @ Masonic Auditorium at Temple Live

CLUTCH is currently on tour until November 1st supporting “Book of Bad Decisions”.

Tickets available at www.pro-rock.com

Tue/Oct-09 Portland, OR Roseland Theater
Thu/Oct-11 San Francisco, CA The Regency Ballroom
Fri/Oct-12 Los Angeles, CA El Rey Theater SOLD OUT
Sat/Oct-13 San Bernardino, CA Glen Helen Amphitheater w/SOAD ***
Sun/Oct-14 San Diego, CA North Park/Observatory
Mon/Oct-15 Tempe, AZ The Marquee
Wed/Oct-17 Tulsa, OK Cain’s Ballroom
Thu/Oct-18 Sauget, IL Pop’s Nightclub
Fri/Oct-19 Grand Rapids, MI 20 Monroe Live
Sat/Oct-20 Detroit, MI The Filmore Detroit
Sun/Oct-21 Pittsburgh, PA Stage AE
Tue/Oct-23 Toronto, ON Rebel
Thu/Oct-25 Worcester, MA The Palladium
Fri/Oct-26 New York, NY Irving Plaza SOLD OUT
Sat/Oct-27 New York, NY Irving Plaza SOLD OUT
Sun/Oct-28 Philadelphia, PA Electric Factory
Tue/Oct-30 Raleigh, NC The Ritz
Wed/October-31 Norfolk, VA The NorVa*
Thu/Nov-1 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade *

* = no Sevendust/ TB&TSD main support
** = date w/ System of a Down/ no Sevendust/ no TB&TSD

CLUTCH:
Neil Fallon – Vocals/Guitar
Tim Sult – Guitar
Dan Maines – Bass
Jean-Paul Gaster – Drums/Percussion

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Clutch, “In Walks Barbarella” official video

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Darsombra Announce West Coast Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

darsombra

I’ll in no way claim to keep up with posts on everything Darsombra do. How could I? They spend more time on the road than the entire rosters of some labels. To wit, they just wrapped a run through Southeast Asia — because of course they did — and head out in less than two weeks on their next stint, this one through the American Midwest and West Coast. I don’t know if that counts as a homecoming or not, since ostensibly they’re from Baltimore, but I guess they’ll at least have enough time to do some laundry and put gas in their van before they head out again. They just keep going. It’s astounding.

They’re still supporting 2016’s two-song LP, Polyvision (review here), but I think even more than that, they’re just supporting the idea of open creativity itself and trying to put that in front of as many people as possible. They’ll hit everyone sooner or later.

For now, here’s where they’re headed next:

darsombra US tour

Hello America!

We still have a few shows in Indonesia before we come home. Then in a couple of weeks we hit the road again. This time we’re touring the U.S. and coming to some places that we haven’t been to in a few years!

Oct 12 – Pittsburgh PA @ Black Forge
Oct 13 – Dayton OH @ Blind Bob’s
Oct 14 – Indianapolis IN @ Melody Inn
Oct 15 – Bloomington IN @ Blockhouse
Oct 16 – Peoria IL @ Peoria Pizza Works
Oct 17 – Rock Island IL @ Rock Island Supper Club
Oct 18 – Lincoln NE @ 2SMOO
Oct 19 – Laramie WY @ The Great Untamed
Oct 20 – Denver CO @ Seventh Circle Music Collective
Oct 21 – Colorado Springs CO @ Triple Nickel
Oct 26 – Flagstaff AZ @ Flagstaff Brewing Company
Oct 27 – Prescott AZ @ Mousetrap
Nov 1 – Arcata CA @ Richards’ Goat Tavern
Nov 2 – San Francisco CA @ Space Bar Headquarters
Nov 3 – Pomona CA @ 57 Underground
Nov 6 – Tucson AZ @ Galactic Center
Nov 7 – Bisbee AZ @ The Quarry Bisbee
Nov 9 – Albuquerque NM @ Sister Bar
Nov 10 – Amarillo TX @ 806
Nov 12 – Dallas TX @ RBC
Nov 13 – Oklahoma City OK @ The Root
Nov 14 – Kansas City MO @ Record Bar
Nov 15 – Topeka KS @ The Boobie Trap Bar
Nov 16 – Lawrence KS @ Replay Lounge
Nov 17 – Louisville KY @ house show
Nov 18 – Morgantown WV @ 123 Pleasant

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Darsombra, Live in Indonesia, Sept. 18, 2018

Darsombra, Polyvisions (2016)

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Kelly Carmichael Premieres “Desires Tragedy” from Heavy Heart; Album out Sept. 7

Posted in audiObelisk on September 3rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Kelly-Carmichael-Photo-by-Shannon-Holliday

The classic sensibility practically bleeds from the speakers of Kelly Carmichael‘s new solo album, Heavy Heart. Set to release this week (Sept. 7) via Dogstreet Records, the eight-track/47-minute third offering from the Internal Void guitarist under his own name is both a return to form and a shift into something new. Also old. Stay with me. Carmichael‘s first two full-lengths, 2005’s Old Stock and 2008’s Queen Fareena, saw him depart from the weighted riffing of his work with Internal Void — whose last album, Matricide, was issued in 2004 — for acoustic roots blues, digging back to the origin points of rock and roll in the uptempo Delta and Chicago-style vibes, writing his own material and playing classics from the likes of Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and others.

There were aspects of that exploration that felt academic in that Carmichael seemed to be teaching his audience from his own vast knowledge of the blues as well as his soulful execution thereof, but there was no denying the genuine spiritual place he was coming from. Heavy Heart shares that feel, but finds Carmichael teamed with drummer Jesse Shultzaberger and once again taking on heavier riffs and more directly rocking — if occasionally violin-inclusive, as on the piano-based “Soupers” — fare. But there’s still a tie to the idea of roots music, because Heavy Heart isn’t just Maryland doom-style rolling groove or Internal Void by any other name.

Its primary allegiance is to the beginnings of heavy rock in the early 1970s, not simply Black Sabbath but the heavy progressive movement that happened concurrently, and whether it’s the patient King Crimson-esque string sounds and tonal crunch of opener “Shadows Will” or the memorable chug of “Desires Tragedy,” which follows, or the later, almost countrified approach of “Starless Divine,” Carmichael ties his work together with melody and fluid pacing, as well as an undercurrent of songwriting that speaks further to his awareness of classic forms.

Kelly Carmichael Heavy HeartSo it’s a return to form because it’s heavy, it’s something new because it’s a different take on heavy, and it’s something old because that take on heavy is based in large part on the formative period of the style. Heavy Heart is somewhat expectedly led by Carmichael‘s guitar, but his arrangements of piano and violin and bringing aboard Shultzaberger on drums present as genuine a take on mellow ’70s heavy as I’ve heard from the Chesapeake watershed — Carmichael came up in Frederick, MD, but currently resides in West Virginia — since Against Nature‘s subtle progressivisms, and yes, that’s a compliment.

Closing with its title-track, Heavy Heart soothes in its overarching impression, but still has plenty of outwardly rocking moments, as on said closer and a meaty cut like “The Palmist” or “Vine of the Soul,” which pairs spacious noodling with a thicker central riff, and “Desires Tragedy,” which boasts a particularly memorable hook to coincide with its density of tone and Carmichael‘s effects-laden vocals, adding atmosphere to the proceedings throughout. With songs ranging largely between five and six minutes long, Carmichael takes his time fleshing out ideas and bringing parts to life, but there’s variety of mood carrying through that feeds into the overarching flow of one track into the next across the record as a whole, so while the production is organic, it’s not necessarily flat, making it all the more suited to the ’70s stylization of the songwriting.

If this is a sonic place Carmichael is carving out for himself for a longer term than just this album, he seems well comfortable in it already, and there’s no reason that what Heavy Heart begins couldn’t move forward however far Carmichael wants to take it. On the other hand, if it’s a one-off, then it’s still a satisfying excursion into intricately-constructed craft and sound, and should have no trouble appealing not only to the Maryland doom scene from which Carmichael emerged with Internal Void, but to anyone seeking out a take on first-wave heavy not at all beholden to the strict tenets of modern retroism.

Ultimately, Heavy Heart brims with both.

I’m thrilled today to host the premiere of “Desires Tragedy,” which you can hear below followed by more info about the record from the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Guitarist Kelly Carmichael ex-Internal Void, ex-Pentagram premieres a track off his new album Heavy Heart due for release on September 7th. The album features Carmichael on guitar, vocals, bass, and piano, and drummer Jesse Shultzaberger The Woodshedders, Ginada Piñata, and ex-Deep Swell.

Heavy Heart embodies 70’s inspired hard-rock/doom with deep bluesy overtones, interwoven with piano and violin accompaniments. Aside from his solo roots-blues releases, this is his first return to volume induced heavy rock.

Internal Void released their debut album Standing on the Sun in 1992 on the German record label HellHound Records. Their second offering Unearthed, was released on Southern Lord Recordings in 2000, and Matricide in 2004 on Dogstreet Records. In 2003-2005 Carmichael recorded with Pentagram on the album Show ‘em How for the Italian label Black Widow Records.

Shifting gears in 2005-2009 Kelly released two albums of pre-war era roots-blues. Both Old Stock and Queen Fareena featured tunes of Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House and Blind Blake.

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Kelly Carmichael website

Dogstreet Records website

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Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions: Right Turns, Right Time

Posted in Reviews on August 27th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

clutch book of bad decisions

Most of all, it’s a good time. With the flag of their home state of Maryland as their banner, Clutch are some 25 years removed from the release of their debut album, Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes and Undeniable Truths, and their latest work through their own Weathermaker Music imprint, Book of Bad Decisions, finds the self-sustaining, ever-touring groove lords in energetic form with a collection of marked character and 15 varied tracks just about all of which would function well in the live sphere as 56 minutes of a probably-longer headlining set. The permanent lineup of vocalist/sometimes-guitarist Neil Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster worked with producer Vance Powell (Jack White, Tinariwen, Buddy Guy, etc.) with the stated intent of capturing a more live-feeling sound, and tonally and in terms of their delivery, they meet that goal.

As in the past, the producer is an important consideration in Clutch‘s overall impression on a given record, and Powell makes a mark here in taking over for Machine, who helmed their last two outings, 2015’S Psychic Warfare (review here) and 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here), the earlier of which seemed very much to be the blueprint the latter followed in terms of structure, sound and component styles. Three years later, Book of Bad Decisions makes a well-timed departure, learning the lessons of its two predecessors but not being beholden all the way through to the patterns they established. Of course, Clutch‘s sound has its established tenets, trademark quirks, etc., and those remain intact. But there’s a shift in approach throughout even straightforward songs like “Vision Quest” and “H.B. is in Control,” and no doubt manifesting that was part of the reason the band traded out producers in the first place. Though Machine manned the board for 2004’s landmark Blast Tyrant (discussed here; reissue review here), after two outings back to back, it was time for a change.

Clutch issued four singles leading up to the release of Book of Bad Decisions, and each one introduces a different side of the album’s personality. They started with “Gimme the Keys,” which opens the album at a speedy clip in the spirit of “X-Ray Visions” and “Earth Rocker” as Fallon recounts a dangerous night on the road in the Midwest, touting a punk rocker’s guilt at the nostalgia all the while — a nostalgia that would seem to inform the subsequent “Spirit of ’76” and the later “Vision Quest” to some degree as well — before “How to Shake Hands” furthered the gonna-be-president theme of “One Eye Dollar” from 1999’s Jam Room and 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion (reissue review here) with a memorable hook about putting “Jimi Hendrix on the 20-dollar bill and Bill Hicks on a five note.”

With a mid-paced shuffle and active guitar flourish from Sult atop intricate snare work from Gaster, “How to Shake Hands” is a stage-ready track through and through, and as Maines locks down the groove in still-a-secret-after-all-these-years weapon fashion, Fallon, Fallon even seems to sing along with himself in layers for the chorus. The third advance cut, the slide-guitar-laden “Hot Bottom Feeder” (video posted here) brilliantly plays off the four-piece’s Maryland heritage in lyrics that offer a recipe for crab cakes and makes itself a late-album highlight surrounded by songs like “H.B. is in Control” — the initials standing for Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch — and the shoving “Paper and Strife,” both of which are solid back-end cuts leading to the longer closer of the second LP, “Lorelei,” a slower, bluesier answer to its LP1 counterpart, “Emily Dickinson,” which executes a similar feel and adds a shimmering psychedelic lead late from Sult that’s classic sounding and a departure for Clutch all the same, but among the most welcome advents on the album as a whole.

clutch (photo by Dan Winters)

The fourth single, and perhaps most interesting of all, is “In Walks Barbarella,” which might be the side B leadoff, but in any case resounds after the opening salvo of “Gimme the Keys,” “Spirit of ’76,” the title-track and “How to Shake Hands,” with horns included and lyrics that would seem likewise to be a nod to go-go D.C. funk acts like Parliament (the Mothership makes an appearance), Trouble Funk and Chuck Brown. Hardly Clutch‘s first engagement with funk as a style — it’s an essential component in Sult‘s riffing and Maines‘ classy-as-always basswork, but the level is upped and the genre is called out by name — again on the speedier “Ghoul Wrangler” as well, so if Book of Bad Decisions is marking the advent of ‘C-funk,’ so be it. “In Walks Barberella” is loaded with lyrical references to science fiction, Deep Purple, etc., and has the feeling of another live staple-to-be in kind with Earth Rocker‘s “D.C. Sound Attack,” but again, pushed further.

It’s somewhat telling that three out of the four singles appear within the first five tracks, in that Clutch definitely know how to introduce a release to their fanbase — pro-rock and all that — but songs like the ultra-catchy “Vision Quest,” the boogie-minded “A Good Fire” and the speedy “Weird Times” all offer hooks and signature elements of Clutch being Clutch, the latter dipping a bit into social commentary of the present moment’s confusion and barrage, though the basic image of “H.B. is in Control” is perhaps even more effective in that effort. Of particular note is the return of organ to the band’s arrangement repertoire, something they last included on From Beale Street to Oblivion over a decade ago, parting ways with Mick Schauer prior to the release of 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West (discussed here). It first appears on “Book of Bad Decisions” itself and is peppered throughout, adding bluesy feel to “Emily Dickinson,” “Sonic Counselor” and “Lorelei” in a seeming show that, after three records pointedly without, nothing is off-limits for Clutch at this point.

Such expansions of sound, along with the piano that would seem to be worked into “Vision Quest” and the breadth of moments like Sult‘s guitar at the end of “Emily Dickinson,” are emblematic of the right choices Clutch have suitably enough made on Book of Bad Decisions, and they add depth to the context of the down-to-basics material in “Paper and Strife,” “Weird Times” (though there’s some subtle and effective vocal layering in the verses there; a kind of melodic call and response) and “A Good Fire,” all of which remain excellently composed and rife with hooks and engaging rhythmic turns. Speaking as a Clutch fan, there’s little not to enjoy on Book of Bad Decisions, and though so much of the band’s focus for the last two decades — at least — has been on live performance, the album serves as a reminder of the force they can be in a studio setting as well.

One wonders if they’ll tour again with someone handling keys, but whether they do or don’t, those elements are put to excellent use in across the 2LP’s formidable span, and as much as FallonSultMaines and Gaster build momentum during their time to carry listeners from one end to the other — or at very least lead the celebratory parade — they also provide distinctive moments to stand their songs out from each other and from past offerings, even if it’s more a question of aspects recombined rather than revolutionized. Ultimately, Book of Bad Decisions is another righteous collection from an American rock institution, a national treasure of groove and one of the most distinguished acts on a forever-touring circuit. They are in it for the long haul, and these songs only further demonstrate how fortunate their audience is for that.

Clutch, “Gimme the Keys” lyric video

Clutch, “How to Shake Hands” official video

Clutch, “Hot Bottom Feeder” official video

Clutch, “In Walks Barbarella” official video

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Making Clutch’s “Hot Bottom Feeder” Crab Cakes

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

clutch hot bottom feeder recipe

I have to think there are a decent number of Clutch fans having crab cakes this week. Certainly ever since the Maryland lords of groove unveiled their new single last Friday I’ve had the notion in my head. If you haven’t seen it, the track in question, “Hot Bottom Feeder,” comes from the four-piece’s impending album, Book of Bad Decisions, which is out Sept. 7 on Weathermaker Music, and the lyrics, as shown in the video at the bottom of this post, are a recipe for crab cakes. In the clip, vocalist Neil Fallon takes the audience cooking-show-style through the process and after he serves the results to guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, the ending is actually a recipe card for what’s described in the verses. I decided to try it out.

Now, I’m an individual of particular taste when it comes to any number of things, food among them, but I’ve had a few Maryland crab cakes in my time. They’re a regional delicacy of the Chesapeake watershed and if I’m in the area and feeling flush with cash, I usually try to pick a few up frozen to bring home back north. Hasn’t happened in a while though. And a crab cake recipe from Clutch? It couldn’t be any more Maryland if it was a Baltimore Ravens bumper sticker. I hit the local fancy-ish grocer — not the super-fancy grocer, but the pretty fancy grocer — to see if they had any genuine Maryland crab meat. As the first words in the song go, “Never mind that stuff they sell from Vietnam/Get it from the Chesapeake but never from a can.”

The track recommends Backfin, but as Fallon notes, “There’s nothing wrong with Special.” I grabbed a container of what I thought was from Maryland because that was the address on back of the package, but found out after I brought it home it said “Product of India” on the top of the lid. I know I’m old because I suck at reading packages now. Used to have that down. So not a great start, but one presses on. I assembled ingredients: Some whole wheat bread crumbs because I have food issues and authenticity is a myth so keep the 4C. Ground mustard. Mayo. Butter. A raw egg. Some fresh chopped parsley. I’m not huge on parsley and was going to get it dried, but remembered in the video the shot of Fallon chopping it. I’ve trusted Clutch on way more serious issues than garnish herbs, so I rolled accordingly. The idea, after all, was to follow directions.

I was surprised there was no call for Old Bay Seasoning, but again, not my recipe. I resisted all kinds of temptation to embellish. Maybe some jalapeno pesto in there instead of mayo? Maybe some paprika and red pepper flakes to give it a kick? Nope. Keep it simple. This is folk food. It’s not meant to be elaborate. It’s meant to be something you make for your friends and/or family on a Monday afternoon. And yes, with The Patient Mrs. looking on — she doesn’t eat anything with a face, so I knew that was out — I did let The Pecan sample some crab meat as I made my way through the preparation.

Separating said Product of India in my fingers was probably the most time-consuming part, but there wasn’t much shell to find, so that was okay. I threw my ingredients all together in a mixing bowl and got a 1/2 cup measuring cup to shape the actual cakes. In the song, Fallon uses a biscuit cutter. I looked for one at the store, but no dice, so I made do with what I had. They turned out to be a pretty good shape, so as instructed, I stuck them “in the reefer” for a while to cool off, then browned some butter in a pan — also substitution, since “Hot Bottom Feeder” calls for a cast iron skillet; well, all my skillets are in another state, so again, I made do — put the baby on my shoulders and began to fry them on each side.

I didn’t cook a full pound of crab meat, because that’s an awful lot for basically me, but I wound up with three good-sized crab cakes that were awesome. And for all my doubting, I think the fresh parsley actually made a huge difference. Making them made me think about some of the other crab cakes I’ve had, and the difference that some of the “to taste” balances make — some with too much mayo, some with too much mustard, too much breadcrumbs, etc. On the whole, I was pleased. I had two for lunch, without my favorite beverage because time’s always a press these days and I wasn’t exactly eating to relax, and was kind of sitting on the third until I decided to call my mother and have her over for the third. She said it was delicious. Nice to have that support.

“Hot Bottom Feeder” is maddeningly catchy and I hope Clutch like it because it’s the kind of song that’s going to feature in live sets for years to come. I’d never made my own crab cakes before, but the chance to dig into this recipe was too good to pass up, and I sincerely doubt this will be the last time I make it. This week. My particular taste? Well satisfied.

Clutch, “Hot Bottom Feeder” official video

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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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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2018 Night One, 06.22.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on June 23rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2018 night one poster

Over the last four years since its inception, Maryland Doom Fest has become a defining force for its many-storied local scene and for the Eastern Seaboard at large. Its reach nowadays goes well beyond those imaginary borders, of course, but its lineup has always remained cognizant of its core inspiration and purpose — you’re always going to find some Maryland doom at Maryland Doom Fest. 2018’s roster of acts, which is the broadest in terms of style and geopgraphy to date, is no exception. With headliners The Obsessed, Windhand and Weedeater, Maryland Doom Fest 2018 reaffirms its commitment to the oldschool groove and its newer-school interpretations, even as acts like HorseburnerUnorthodoxCavern, DuelEarthrideCaustic Casanova, and many others with them, speak to the same meld of styles and origins.

I could go on all day about that, but as ever with festivals, there’s little time for musing amid the 15-minute set-changeovers and sheer onslaught of stuff to catch. Held as ever at Cafe 611 in Frederick, Maryland Doom Fest 2018 boasts a lineup of 32 bands — nine tonight, 12 tomorrow and 11 on Sunday. My goal? To see all of them. Front to back. Staring down the barrel at the outset it seems nigh-insurmountable, but the truth is it’s going to be a total blast and I know it.

Travel south to Maryland from Massachusetts, with an about-to-be-eight-month-old, is a days-long process, and I’m reminded that two years ago when I made the trip, I was bogged down by a car breakdown and about to start a new job the following Tuesday. It was insane. I’m sure 2018 will be much more relaxed. Ha.

Enough preamble. Let’s boogie:

Horseburner

Horseburner (Photo JJ Koczan)

I’m not sure the world knows it’s anxiously awaiting the third full-length from West Virginian progressive heavy rockers Horseburner, but it probably is. First band of the weekend and they had heads banging both onstage and off. They were exciting to watch, and their 2016 album, Dead Seeds, Barren Soil (review here) — which was reissued last year by Hellmistress Records; the vinyl was in the merch area to the side of the venue — remains a favorite in its manifestation of what might’ve happened had Mastodon become a heavy rock band while keeping their initial heft instead of going ultra-prog as they did. There were some technical difficulties in the drums, but no real delay, and the trio dynamic — could’ve sworn they used to be a four-piece — played well during the set, with no shortage of crunch in their tone but an overarching groove that they never seemed to relinquish. The record’s good, but they’re better live, with the melodies cutting through the push and a bit of hop-into-the-crowd interaction in the finale.

Geezer

Geezer (Photo JJ Koczan)

Back in January, New York psych-blues jammers Geezer announced they were working on a new album. Accordingly, the triumvirate of guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington, bassist Richie Touseull and drummer Steve Markota shared three new songs for the Maryland Doom Fest 2018 crowd. I hounded Harrington after they finished for the titles: “Spiral Fires,” “Dig” and “Black Owl.” The latter provided some highlight low end work from Touseull, and it was “Dig” with a particularly fuzzed out guitar solo and a bit of cowbell from Markota that I’m dying to hear a studio version of. Supporting their latest release, Psychoriffadelia (review here), they also celebrated 2016 self-titled (review here) at the end of their set with the memorably catchy “Dust” and the spacious “Sun Gods.” Having made their debut in 2013, they’ve moved into veteran status and stage presence relatively quickly, and I took particular interest in a lack of slide guitar from Harrington, wondering if perhaps he put it down in order to focus on more intricate styles of playing in the newer songs. Seems like maybe an interview question to file away for later. In any case, they pulled a packed early crowd and were well known to them, playing out the story of a band whose potential is being realized at that very moment for all to see.

Bailjack

Bailjack (Photo JJ Koczan)

Double-guitar four-piece Bailjack had the distinction of being the first Maryland-based act at the festival. Based out of Boonsboro, they had four songs on the setlist, none of which seems to have stemmed from their 2016 debut, Show Me Your Heart. I’d been fortunate enough to see them once before down this way (review here), but they struck me all around as a tighter and more cohesive band. Guitarists Jason Barker and Blake Owens shared lead vocal duties effectively, changing up the soulful and classic heavy rock moods between them with support from Ron “Uncle Fezzy” McGinnis (also Pale DivineAdmiral Browning, Thonian Horde, etc.), which left drummer Alex Llewellyn as the only one without a mic. He kept plenty busy with the locked-in groove of “Predominantly Green,” though, which like just about everything else they played was deceptively complex in its execution, working around a straightforward groove with personality and depth. They were a fitting complement to Geezer‘s ultra-roll, and at one point while they played I looked around and couldn’t believe we were only three bands into the night. The vibe was so set and so thick in the room that it felt like everyone had been there for a day already. Awesome.

Lightning Born

Lightning Born (Photo JJ Koczan)

North Carolina’s Lightning Born played Maryland Doom Fest last year as well, but as they went public earlier this month about signing to Ripple Music for the release of their debut album this Fall, it seems only appropriate that they should make a return appearance. Their bassist, who just so happens to be Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity, just happened to be in France playing another festival — some little shindig called Hellfest or something like that; ha — so filling in was guitarist Erik Sugg‘s Demon Eye bandmate, Paul Walz. I don’t know if it was Walz‘s first time holding down bass duties in Lightning Born or what, but he obviously knew the songs well, and despite some hi-hat difficulties at the outset for drummer Doza Hawes (ex-Hour of 13), once they got going, they were locked in and clearheaded in their intent between heavy rock, doom and classic-style songcraft led by the powerful presence of frontwoman Brenna Leath (also of The Hell No). My first time seeing them and they did nothing but impress, and even putting the pedigree aside for a moment, it’s easy to see why Ripple — who already had a showing in Geezer and would have another before the night was out — would pick them up. Not only do they make the most of their members’ experience in terms of knowing what they want to do, but they obviously have the chemistry between them to make it happen. Would be interested to see them with Dean, and I won’t say he wasn’t missed — nothing against Walz‘s work, it just happens to be that that’s Mike fucking Dean we’re talking about and anytime you get to catch him play is a win — but Lightning Born might as well have named themselves Lightning in a Bottle, as that seems to be what they’ve got.

Disenchanter

Disenchanter (Photo JJ Koczan)

This was by no means Disenchanter‘s first trip to the East Coast — they’ll also be (relatively) back this way later this year for Descendants of Crom in Pittsburgh — but it was the first time I’ve been lucky enough to see the band play. Having toured from their home in from Portland, Oregon, over the last week, the trio sounded like it. Pro shop. Guitarist/vocalist Sabine Stangenberg expressed the band’s gratitude for being included in the lineup and sent out “Green Queen” to any pot smokers in attendance. There may have been one or two. She and bassist Joey DeMartini and drummer Huwy Kilgora Williams set forth a set that pushed even further into the doomed elements that Lightning Born featured in some of their riffs, but had a distinguishing factor that marked them out as a West Coast act nonetheless. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was; tempo? Melody? Rhythm? I actually kind of lost myself while they were playing trying to get an answer. They fit right in with the lineup in tone and influence, to be sure, but there was still some individualized edge to their approach that was a standout factor. Eventually I whittled my hypotheses down to the upbeat nature of their grooves and was willing to leave it at that and, oh, I don’t know, just enjoy the rest of their set, but whatever it was, it made them a highlight of the evening at Cafe 611. Glad I finally was able to watch them.

Thousand Vision Mist

Thousand Vision Mist (Photo JJ Koczan)

Statistically speaking, three out of the four top acts for the evening could be called locals, and Thousand Vision Mist, who also played Maryland Doom Fest 2016 (review here), and a fest-associated gig during last year’s edition, came supporting late-2017’s Journey to Ascension and the Loss of Tomorrow (review here), their debut album. Between that record and having seen them before, they were pretty familiar to me as well as to the assembled in front of the stage, but guitarist/vocalist Danny Kenyon, bassist/vocalist Tony Cormulada and drummer Chris Sebastian still had a few surprises up their collective sleeve in terms of the twists and turns of their material. By the time they started, it was clear just what a special night this was. The flow of bands was right on, each group pulling something different together from the one before while still making sense in the overall context of the night, and with Kenyon‘s roots in Life BeyondThousand Vision Mist maintained a Maryland doom feel despite not really playing doom so much as doom strung through a filter of progressive metal. Precise, driven and complex, they nonetheless had a central groove to tie it all together, and even when Kenyon broke a string, prompting an interlude from emcee Dave Benzotti, they were able to pick back up and end out as though nothing happened. The place was jammed in any figurative sense you want to think of it, and Thousand Vision Mist signaled a turn toward the headlining portion of the night. Right band, right slot.

Unorthodox

Unorthodox (Photo JJ Koczan)

A decade has passed since Unorthodox issued their last album, Awaken, via The Church Within Records, but if you want to be fair, that album came a full 14 years after 1994’s sophomore outing, Balance of Power, which was of course preceded by their 1992 debut, Asylum, but their set was still enough of an event that both Bobby Liebling of Pentagram and Dave Sherman of Earthride — pivotal figures in this scene if ever there were any — stood at the side of the stage to watch them. From their beginnings as Asylum, whose 1985 demo, The Earth is the Insane Asylum of the Universe, saw reissue via Shadow Kingdom in 2008 (review here), guitarist/vocalist Dale Flood has remained the sole founding presence, and as he’s now based in Nashville, Tennessee, he’s settled in with bassist/vocalist Blake Dellinger and drummer Alan Pfeifer, both also of the band Flummox, injecting a youthful vigor into the rhythm section that seemed to bring Unorthodox‘s classic downtrodden MD doom to life. They even had a new song, called “Horus,” that found Dellinger taking lead vocal duties, and Flood couldn’t help but smile as the set played out, the crowd eating up every single second of the rare live set. New album? Hell if I know. To my knowledge, Unorthodox played the first Maryland Doom Fest in 2015 and as I recall were going to play 2016 as well but didn’t end up making it, so I’m not sure I’d count this set as indicative of a full return to activity, whatever that would mean anyway, but if they wanted to build something from it, that vitality was right there in the band waiting to be harvested. They killed. End of story.

ZED

ZED (Photo JJ Koczan)

For my up-at-5AM-usually-asleep-by-nine ass, it was getting late, and I don’t mind saying so. Ibuprofen for a sore back; protein bar for stamina; water on the face for refreshing; water down the gullet for sheer survival — these are the essential tools of the sober weekend festival. One could simply pound six or 12 beers and none of it would matter, I suppose, and from the look of the dudes falling asleep in the side room of Cafe 611, some had clearly gone that route, but the truth was that ZED were all the shove I need to get through to the end of the evening. Everything else was overkill in comparison to their noise-tinged heavy rock, one riff after the next crunched out at max volume through the guitars of frontman Peter Sattari and Greg Lopez, the bass of Mark Aceves adding even further heft to be shoved forward at an impressive pace considering the mass of it by drummer Sean Boyles, who when the Bay Area outfit were done turned around and held up his hat to deliver the message “fuck everything” as plainly as possible. New song “Strippers” signaled a follow-up in progress to their 2016 third album, Trouble in Eden (review here), and one assumes that will arrive like its predecessor via Ripple Music, given how hard ZED were repping the label, from Lopez‘s beanie to Sattari‘s Freedom Hawk hat and Ripplefest shirt to Aceves‘ High Priestess tee. Gotta fly that flag, and they did it proud with a raucous delivery that lost nothing of its professionalism for its blanket electricity. Seemed like the crowd up front was pretty familiar with their stuff — at one point I also looked over and saw fest co-organizer JB Matson singing along stage-side — but I’d be willing to be they turned a few heads as well and made some new fans. It was that kind of set. If “fucking a rock” was a genre, that’s what ZED would be.

The Obsessed

The Obsessed (Photo JJ Koczan)

I don’t think there’s anywhere you could put The Obsessed on a Maryland Doom Fest bill except at the top. That’s where they were in 2016 and it’s where they deserved to be again. Would Maryland doom exist without them? Maybe, but certainly not in the form it has today. It’s been an eventful couple of years for guitarist/vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich and the outfit in which he cut his teeth beginning back in the late ’70s when they started under the moniker Warhorse, but with their first album in 23 years behind them in 2017’s Sacred (review here) on Relapse, the trio of Weinrich, bassist Reid Raley (see also: Rwake) and drummer Brian Costantino were as classic as one could ask and a reminder of just how much of a blueprint for the style The Obsessed have always been. Copious touring in support of Sacred has made them maddeningly tight, and with a blend of new material and old in the set, they spoke to where they are today as well as where they came from — perfectly on theme for the night and the weekend as a whole. As the last of the nine bands playing, they shut the place down and it’s hard to imagine there’s any more one could’ve asked for when they were done. The Obsessed, like basically Pentagram and no one else of the region (Black Sabbath being, of course, universal), are essential and foundational when it comes to Maryland doom. Maryland Doom Fest 2018 welcomed them accordingly, and honestly, I think if they played every year here for the next five headlining one of the nights, they wouldn’t meet with any complaints. From “Sacred” itself to “Neatz Brigade” and “Sodden Jackal,” they proved how hard the heart of this scene and this aesthetic continues to beat. Oh yeah, and they were unbelievably loud. Like, might-as-well-take-your-earplugs-out loud. So, you know, bonus.

After flailing toward a 24-hour gas station and a 90-minute ride back to the town of Sparks, where I’m staying, I crashed out around 2:30 and was up a tragically short time later. Still, first day was excellent and there’s nothing I could ask of a leadoff night that wasn’t delivered. Maryland Doom Fest 2018 day two kicks off in a couple hours and, hell’s bells, I need a shower, so I’m gonna get on that, but there are more pics after the jump if you’re interested.

Thanks for reading.

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