The ride to New London wasn’t bad. No real traffic or anything, but my stomach was tense with GPS jitters, riding up what seemed to me like the nether regions of I-95 in the state, deciduous trees hanging like a claustrophobic ceiling over the roadway. It was the first time I’d made the trip. I didn’t want to get lost, I didn’t want to delay. I expect by the time this weekend is out, I’ll be much more familiar with the route.
My soundtrack on the way there was the self-titled release from Ice Dragon side-project Tentacle, which was fitting, because like that band, everyone who played the opening night of SHoD XII tonight was from Massachusetts. Six bands. I’d have to check my official rulebook on the matter, but I think that might constitute a “takeover.” Fortunately, our Sox-worshiping overlords were benevolent and generous of riff.
On that subject, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a show in Connecticut that someone didn’t ask from the stage whether the audience were Yankees fans or Red Sox fans. As I stood and watched Rozamov‘s guitarist do so tonight, it dawned on me just how badly this state needs its own team. It wouldn’t be a problem anymore, though it was interesting to hear a few shouts of “Pirates!” from the back of the El ‘n’ Gee club, over in the bar area.
Well, that’s as good a segue as I’ve got, so let’s get to it. Here’s how it all went down:
In the end, I had no choice but to buy Boston rockers Rozamov‘s CD, because I couldn’t get it straight whether they were Rozamov (rhymes with “hose ’em off”) or Romazov (as in, “Rome is off, we’re not going”). Principally, they were young. Their first song had no shortage of post-High on Fire gallop, and the two-guitar four-piece only got more complex from there, adding some post-metal and sludge to the mix before rounding out with a song that, well, if it wasn’t “Blood From Zion,” it was darn close. The drummer looked bored, and yeah, they did inquire as to the crowd’s baseball allegiance, but they were young and figuring out what they want to do as a band, so I’m not about to rip into them for not being Sleep. They’re figuring it out. And their CDs were five bucks, so they were doing something right for sure.
Birch Hill Dam
Fact of the matter is I can’t even see this band’s name without thinking of the old Birch Hill nightclub in Jersey, which is bittersweet for all the shitty metal I watched there over the years. Speaking of metal, Birch Hill Dam‘s bassist (above) was most certainly that, with a Bonded by Blood shirt and five-string bass with those red strings that I keep hearing the kids talk about. To contrast, their guitarist wore a classic Unida shirt. I used to have the same one about 100 years and 100 pounds ago. His attire was more in line with the band’s sound for sure than the Exodus duds — nothing against the Bay Area thrashers. Birch Hill Dam released their slickly-produced Colossus album last year (video here), but live they sounded so much like Kyuss that I literally stood there and said, “Damn this sounds like Kyuss.” I’ll give them points for honesty in covering “Green Machine,” paying homage to the deserts of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Whatever dude, I’ll take it, and singer Mike Nygard had his John Garcia working in full force. They had one false start, but were a pro job otherwise, complete with their album cover airbrushed onto screens in front of their amps. You know a band means business when they start in with that stuff.
Raw Radar War
I got to meet vocalist Jonah Jenkins before his band played and told him I vaguely remembered seeing Milligram at Solace guitarist Tommy Southard‘s wedding. He was as gracious about that as Raw Radar War was intense in their set, bringing out the kind of unfriendly, this-isn’t-a-joke-to-us pissed off fuckall that is a mark of their generation of hardcore and all but forgotten among the proverbial “kids these days.” Owning the stage in the process, Jenkins (who’s a bit of a New England legend) moved fluidly between cleaner shouts and Obituary-esque screams and the band behind him turned on a dime from D-beat sub-grind to chugging doom, but honestly, even the slow parts sounded fast, as intensely as they were played. Three bands and three Cottrell beers (a local ale the high alcohol content of which I was duly warned) in, I was feeling good about the prospects for the weekend. I didn’t drink any more than the three, but with three more bands still to go on the night, SHoD felt like it was really getting going, and Raw Radar War were a wake-up call of the kind of anger that dares you to match it, which of course, you can’t. I make no secret of the fact that I’m not a big hardcore guy, but I hadn’t heard Raw Radar War since their split with Deer Creek, and I was glad to encounter them again. Some shit just sounds mean.
The only other time I’d ever been to the El ‘n’ Gee was a show on a weekender tour with these Bostonian doomers. That was three years ago now, almost to the day. Ichabod were heralding the release of their still underrated 2012 full-length (review here), and the actual 2012 finds them a different band entirely, with second guitarist Jason Adam joining alongside founding six-stringer Dave Iverson and new vocalist John Fadden starting off the set with a quiet tension that soon paid off in a barrage of face-melting screams. Fadden, who had a persona to match his throat, cracked jokes from the stage, but Ichabod was deadly serious as they ran through material from their upcoming album, Dreamscapes from Dead Space. “Huckleberry,” if I’ve got the title correct, was a highlight. They’ve always straddled various genre lines — stoner, doom, post-hardcore, post-metal — but as tight as they were, categories hardly figured into it as much as the crunch of tone and righteousness of riff. Bassist Greg Dellaria boasted the night’s only flying-V bass, and early into their set, one of the guitarists from Raw Radar War made his way to the front of the stage with five tallboy beers, because whatever else you can say about the city, Boston takes care of its own. That said, hopefully Ichabod get to do a few shows out of town once the new record drops. They deserve to be seen by as many people as possible.
Black Thai need to put an album out. The four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Jim Healey (We’re all Gonna Die), guitarist Scott O’Dowd (Cortez), intense bassist Cory Cocomazzi and drummer Jeremy Hemond (Roadsaw, Cortez) are too tight and too solid a band not to do it. So, uh, get on it, I guess. Hemond was the only drummer of the night to play on his own kit, setting up his Vistalites and high cymbals before they went on. Might as well, I guess, if you’re closing out the night in the last two bands and it’s not like anyone’s going on after you. I had a hard time believing it had been more than a year and a half since I saw Black Thai at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn, but the numbers don’t lie. On a stage roughly five times the size of that at Hank’s, the riff metal foursome tore through three of the songs from their Blood from on High EP (review here) and left room for a couple new songs as well, culminating in a progressively building churn of distorted crunch that made for a perfect ending to their set. Healey‘s vocals were a little rough — reportedly he was under the weather — but Black Thai is in Philly tonight and Boston tomorrow with Borracho, One Inch Giant and Fire Faithful. If you can see them at any point, it’s worth taking advantage of the opportunity. They’re even more in command of their sound now than they were when last our paths crossed, and with just Roadsaw to go, it seemed like the first night of SHoD was a success.
So this is the part where the roof caves in and the crowd, sparse though it was by the end of the night, is crushed to death, myself included? Nah. Things ended no less smoothly than they’d ran all night. Thinking of prior shows, the last time I ran into the dudes from Roadsaw was at Desertfest in London. The El ‘n’ Gee wasn’t nearly so crowded as the Underworld had been, but the four-piece made the best of it anyway, Hemond making Popeye faces as he rounded out his double-duty on drums, Tim Catz holding together even the most ranging of jams which were surprise inclusions later into the set, guitarist Ian Ross leading those jams with both class and improvisational prowess, and vocalist Craig Riggs whirling his duct-taped microphone around him and running from one side of the stage to the other in his usual madman’s form. “Long in the Tooth,” “Thinking of Me” and “Weight in Gold” from the self-titled were highlights, but it was the later jams that really made it, as it’s not something you’d necessarily expect from Roadsaw at this point, who are so bolstered by the strength of their choruses and of their songwriting in general. Maybe they were just fucking around, but it was still cool. Ross killed it, and they showed by they’re the band to call if you’re looking for someone to close out a night of Massachusetts heavy. Riggs had forgotten the merch, so they didn’t have anything to sell (they laughed about it on stage), but whatever. It was good times anyway and Roadsaw did right by the fest closing out night one. It was apparently also the first time they’d ever played Connecticut in their 19 years as a band. Another notch in their belt.
It was nigh on one in the morning by the time I got back to where I’m staying, and I had a headlight out, so I was making the trip half-blind, which only made me gladder I’d limited my beer intake. Let’s see: Holiday weekend, out of state plates, one headlight. Uh, sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to step out of the car. No thanks. Today I’ll get that headlight replaced and I’ve got some work and other running around to do before I head back to the El ‘n’ Gee, but Stoner Hands of Doom XII is off to a cool start, and with When the Deadbolt Breaks, Wizard Eye, John Wilkes Booth, Faces of Bayon, Lord Fowl, Revelation and Pilgrim to come tonight, things are only going to get louder from here. I’ll take it.