Front to Back: Vultures of Volume II Day One in Hagerstown, MD, 09.04.15

Posted in Reviews on September 8th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

vultures of volume ii poster

Some farms, empty strip mall storefronts, a Confederate flag here and there, and you’ve pretty much got the story of Hagerstown, Maryland. Close to Frederick, which is where many of the bands featured at Vultures of Volume II either make their home or at least play on the regular, the Delmar Inn was a little bit further out of the way, a little less cops-are-likely-to-come-here, down a long stretch of road running along a hillside. Vibe was right on immediately.

Biker bar, and bigger inside than it looked from the parking lot. Near the front, a big bar with plenty of seating, tvs, and the like, and on the other side of a half-wall, a couple pool tables. Another room to the side had more pool tables and places to sit, and in the back where the show itself was held was the two-tier stage, full P.A., lighting rig and the whole nine. A pro shop. The walls were lined with banners of acts who’d been there before, the drop ceiling low but not ridiculously so, more tables in back for those who’d need a break, which by the end of the two-day/20-band Vultures of Volume II, was definitely me.

It was a long weekend of rock and roll, but I knew it would be going into it. It had been way, way too long since I’d last been able to pay a visit to the Maryland doom scene and its familiar and friendly faces. Used to be every year, year and a half or so, but living in Massachusetts adds another three-plus hours onto that trip — while we’re on the subject of the Bay State, I’ll say that the Delmar had its shit together more than every single venue in Boston of comparable size that I’ve been to — so it’s been a while. Felt good to be back.

Friday night’s lineup featured Bailjack, Faith in Jane, Kelly Carmichael, Pale Divine, King Giant, Solace and Spirit Caravan. Show got started at 7PM, and I was there early because I knew I didn’t want to miss a second of it:


bailjack 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

One thing you can always rely on at a fest like Vultures of Volume is that Maryland’s own particular brand of heavy — and for argument’s sake, I’ll note that Maryland’s heavy runs pretty much anywhere from Virginia to Pennsylvania, depending on what band we’re talking about — will be well represented. Following an intro from Wisconsin’s Mike Smith (he of the Days of the Doomed festival series), who was acting as the weekend’s M.C., dual-guitar four-piece took the stage to lead off the first night in deceptively intricate fashion. With three vocalists between guitarists Jason Barker and Blake Owens and bassist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis (also Pale Divine, Admiral Browning and about as bullshit-free an individual as you could hope to meet), and a distinctive split in style between the two guitars, Bailjack effectively divided their attention between freakout-led psych jamming and more classically progressive impulses, drummer Andy Myers holding the various changes together with Fezz‘s bass, which is about as much a staple of the MD scene at this point as riffs. No small feat to keep everything flowing, but they did it as arrangements tipped one way or another or they took off in this or that direction, only warming up more as they went, but though they ran a little late, Bailjack were a fitting leadoff for the night and a sure sign that we were underway.

Faith in Jane

Faith in Jane (Photo by JJ Koczan)

They came very highly recommended, and weren’t five minutes into their set before it was very apparent why. Faith in Jane tap into that classic heavy rock boogie and pull off fleet rhythmic turns essentially without sounding like they’re breaking a sweat to do it. An edge of blues here, a neo-stoner groove there, it’s easy to imagine them getting another release or two under their belt (they have a slew of digital and CD pressings from the last couple years) and catching the eye of a label like Tee Pee or Riding Easy, and they’re young enough that they still have time to develop the potential they showed. The locals obviously know it. Looking around at all the home-made Faith in Jane shirts, I was reminded of the vigilant manner in which Beelzefuzz was supported during their early days (the two acts have little sound-wise in common, but that also was a recommendation worth taking). Until Spirit Caravan played, Faith in Jane had the biggest and most responsive crowd of the night, and it was well earned in their swinging groove, tight execution of a stay-loose sound and nuances like guitarist/vocalist Dan Mize switching between finger-picking and strumming his guitar or bassist Brendan Winston tossing off a quick fill in classic rock fashion. Rounded out by drummer Alex Llewellyn, the MD natives aren’t without room to grow, but already they were a highlight of the weekend and definitely a band it will be well worth keeping an eye on going forward. Their closer, “Stormbringer,” was a beast.

Kelly Carmichael

Kelly Carmichael (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Only thing missing was a sample of John Cleese saying “And now for something completely different.” Kelly Carmichael is the former guitarist of Internal Void and also did a stint in Pentagram, but as traditional as doom gets, that’s really no match for his solo act, which dips back decades further to ’20s and ’30s-style acoustic roots blues. He covered both Robert Johnson and Leadbelly, doing “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)” from the former and a prison worksong from the latter. It was a left-turn stylistically after Faith in Jane, but not at all a hard sell to the crowd that doom draws a line backward in time to the blues. People came and went, but Carmichael held a solid audience for the original “Salty Dog” from his 2009 Queen Fareena album, and had toes tapping all the while. An almost academic approach, but clearly driven by heartfelt passion for the style.

Pale Divine

pale divine 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Hard to picture a setting in which Pale Divine could be more in their element than a fest like Vultures of Volume II. The stalwart Pennsylvania trio mark their 20th year in 2015, with original members Greg Diener (guitar/vocals) and Darin McCloskey (drums) joined for the last three by the aforementioned Ron “Fezz” McGinnis, who also adds backing vocals. Their 2013 demo “Curse the Shadows” (streamed here) was aired, as were “Black Coven” from 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here) and the finale “Cemetery Earth,” from the prior 2007 outing of the same name. They’ve always been a solid band, but haven’t ever really gotten their due outside of the local area and the odd German doom fest, but with Diener‘s steady presence as a frontman and unflappable lead work, McCloskey‘s straightforward style and Fezz‘s rumble, they had nothing to prove to what’s essentially their home crowd, and that suited them. Two decades is a long time to do anything, and one hopes that with their impending fifth album, Pale Divine might be able to reap a bit of reward from the downtrodden, trad-doom they’ve been planting all these years. Fingers crossed for a 2016 release.

King Giant

King Giant (Photo by JJ Koczan)

First two words in my notes on Virginia five-piece King Giant? “So pro.” And they are. King Giant‘s slot at Vultures of Volume II came on the heels of their 2015 third album, Black Ocean Waves (review here), which was accordingly their focus. I’ve never seen them live that they didn’t nail their set, and this time was no exception, though part of me wonders if maybe the flawlessness of their delivery doesn’t in a way undercut what they’re doing. People being more used to Southern metal that’s loose, not necessarily with as much of an atmospheric focus as King Giant have with their prevailing darkness, and between how comfortably they sit right on the border between doom and metal and the clear effort they put into how they present themselves and their songs — “Red Skies” from the new record was a highlight — I think people almost have a hard time believing what they’re seeing is genuine. But it’s not like there’s any money to be in it for, and a band like King Giant wouldn’t exist in the first place if their hearts weren’t into it, because why bother? With vocalist Dave Hammerly out front, guitarists Todd “T.I.” Ingram (also Serpents of Secrecy) and David Kowalski, bassist Floyd Walters III and singly-named drummer Brooks filling up the Delmar stage, King Giant delivered one of the most professional-sounding sets of the weekend until their set either got cut short or cut itself short — I never quite found out which — as the show continued to run late.


Solace (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I was fortunate enough to have been there in Wisconsin in June 2012 when New Jersey heavy rockers Solace played what was then believed to be their last show at Days of the Doomed II. In the intervening three years, bassist Rob Hultz has joined Chicago doom legends Trouble and he and guitarists Tommy Southard and Justin Daniels have welcomed a new vocalist and a new drummer into Solace, with Justin Goins filling the frontman role and Tim Schoenleber behind the kit. I’ll admit that I didn’t know Solace had a (partially) new lineup until a few hours before they loaded in, and I’ll admit further that I had no shortage of sentimental attachment to their prior incarnation — in no small part reinforced by the absolute blowout that was their final set three years ago — but with Southard‘s unhinged guitar at the core, the newcomers Goins and Schoenleber (who’s an ex-bandmate of Southard‘s in Godspeed) more than held their own amidst the chaos surrounding. I went into the set wondering if it could even be done, if it would be Solace, and they proved that yes, it was still Solace, and that if they wanted to move forward — they had new material in tow, so presumably the answer there is also yes — they’ll be able to do that. As they started to wind down the set, Daniels teased they were going to do the last two songs and then take another three years off, which got a laugh, but it seemed pretty clear that’s not what they have in mind looking ahead. Another Solace record? The results were glorious, but it took them nine years to put out 2010’s A.D. (review here), and their bass player lives in Chicago, so I’m not going to hold my breath to have it materialize next month. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it did happen at some point, because only a fool would ever really count them out.

Spirit Caravan

Spirit Caravan (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’d never seen Spirit Caravan. Again. I’d never seen Spirit Caravan. As far as I was concerned, having them atop the bill as headliners was a big part of what made the trip so necessary in the first place. They brought their own crew, with Darren Waters of Weed is Weed and someone who may well have been Chris Kozlowski helping out guitarist/vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, bassist/backing vocalist Dave Sherman and drummer Ed Gulli — a former bandmate of Wino‘s in The Obsessed stepping into the post-reunion role filled previously by Henry Vasquez, still in Saint Vitus — set up their gear. Wino and Sherman both had new cabinets as a result of what seemed to be a recent endorsement, and there were some technical issues early on, but Sherman finally asked to put a microphone in front of his bass cab and that solved it. They barreled through the speedy new song “Be the Night” first, almost I think before most in attendance could pick up on what they just heard, and dipped into classics like “Courage” and “Melancholy Grey,” also working “Streetside” by The Obsessed into the mix. I know Spirit Caravan is widely considered a “Wino band,” and Wino‘s the frontman, and the dude’s a legend and as the guy who’s about to wrap up a 200-part series of Wino Wednesdays, I’m not going to argue, but if there’s a singular passion driving Spirit Caravan, it’s Sherman‘s all the way. It’s just as much a Sherman band. If Bobby Liebling was the architect, (and yes, I know Pentagram were from D.C., but stay with me), and Wino is its ambassador, then Dave Sherman is the beating heart of Maryland heavy, and after seeing him for years with Earthride, he looked at home and gladdest of all to be on that stage playing Spirit Caravan songs. Already the reunion has had its share of drama after a fallout with former drummer Gary Isom, but between watching Sherman stomp out his parts or watching Wino turn around and smile to Gulli as they made their way through “Lost Sun Dance” en route to a cover of The Animals‘ “Inside Looking Out,” it was apparent just how precious a thing Spirit Caravan is to those who are a part of it. The house lights came up during the latter cover, which though it was late I’ll say flat out was a load. That’s what 30 years of playing doom gets you: the lights turned on in front of what’s basically your hometown crowd while you headline. Rightly, they kept playing, and finished out an otherwise excellent night with a take on The Obsessed‘s “Neatz Brigade” that seemed all the more righteous for the defiant stance it represented.

By the time I actually left the Delmar parking lot, it was 2AM. I drove back to the hotel where I was staying with the gentlemen of Elder, who were looking to go swimming, and while I appreciated the invite, I knew it was time to crash out. Saturday was 13 bands in over 12 hours, so every minute of sleep I could get counted.

That Day Two wrap will be up tomorrow or the next day. Thanks for reading in the meantime.

More pics after the jump.

Read more »

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The Debate Rages: What are the Best Songs of the Last Five Years?

Posted in The Debate Rages on July 10th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

what are the best songs from the last five years

Mostly around here I concentrate on albums. Best albums of the year. Best albums of the decade. Still, kind of on a whim this morning I was thinking about the shape of heavy of the last half-decade — or rather, the shapes of it.

Different scenes moving in various directions, the emergence of the Pacific Northwest as a hotbed, the growth of West Coast psych and how in-conversation that seems to be both with California’s skater past and the current European market, itself branched out between heavy psych and ’70s traditionalism, which has also begun to take root throughout the US while, at the same time, a new generation has come up to embrace full-on stoner riffing and/or desert rock ideals.

While I have my album lists going back six years to refer to, this time around, I was wondering specifically about individual songs from the same era. What are the best songs from the last five years?

It’s not always the best album that has the best single piece of work on it, so it seemed worth asking the question separately.

Me, I go in for epics: YOB‘s “Marrow” (2014), Ancestors‘ “First Light” (2012), Colour Haze‘s “Grace” (2012), Hypnos 69‘s “The Great Work” (2011), Witch Mountain‘s “Can’t Settle” (2014), Elder‘s “Lore” (2015) definitely is worth having in the conversation, Solace‘s “From Below” (2010), Grayceon‘s “We Can” (2011), and so on.

But then you have Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “I’ll Cut You Down,” which has had a massive influence since it came out in 2011. And what about a cut like Clutch‘s “D.C. Sound Attack,” or Goatsnake‘s “Grandpa Jones,” or Graveyard‘s “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” or Mars Red Sky‘s “Strong Reflection?” Does a track have to be long to make an impact? What if there’s a perfectly-executed two-minute verse/chorus trade? Shouldn’t that also be considered?

I guess that’s the question.

We haven’t done one of these in a while, so I’m hoping you’ll take the time to add your answers and picks for the best songs of the last five years 2010-2015 in the comments to this post. I know we’re not through 2015 yet, but we’re just trying to have some fun anyway.

Thanks to all who take the time to leave a note in the comments below.

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Drinking with the Devil Dick, by Tommy Southard

Posted in Columns on May 18th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s been almost exactly three years since guitarist Tommy Southard of SolaceThe Disease ConceptSocial Decay, etc., last turned in a Drinking with the Devil Dick beer column, but hey, I’ve got an open door policy and a permanent soft spot for Tommy, so it’s not like when he hit me up and said he wanted to do one I was about to say no. Would never happen. This time around, he hits up Tired Hands and Weyerbacher Brewing near his home outside Philadelphia, and samples a variety of fare, including candied bacon and a beer called “Stoner Witch.”

Solace have a reunion gig booked for this fall at the Vultures of Volume II fest. More info on that to come. In the meantime, enjoy:

i see darkness imperial honey porter on cask with local rasberries

11179977_10206261615597564_3977048150518709014_nWell hello there Obelisk-ers,

It’s been a long time!

Devil Dick here to talk about my current favorite place on Earth to drink beer!

A few years ago a brewery opened up not to far away from where we live in Ardmore, PA. We were intrigued but did not visit right away because I remember my wife “Yelped” it and people were talking about the food portions being small. And my second fave thing after drinking beer is eating, so we passed. I remember telling her I didn’t want to leave being hungry. So it took a while before we took a chance and ventured in. Man, I wish we were there the day they opened because the beers were AMAZING.

The place is called “Tired Hands” and they’ve have become something of a sensation across the triple beers with candied bacon and pannini -1400country. Beer nerds all over salivate to get one of their limited bottle releases in their hands.

The beers are fresh, different and never disappointing. It didn’t take long before the small place that was pumping out 1,000 barrels per year was unable to keep up in production. The once-easy-to-get-a-spot-at bar was full to capacity almost all the time. Fast forward a few years and they opened up a new and much bigger spot called “Fermentaria” just a few blocks away. This larger facility has the capability to bring beer to the Pennsylvania masses, 10,000 barrels per year. The beer has now become available at other bars around the city of Philadelphia. Pretty awesome stuff!

Jean Broillet IV and his wife Julie Foster are locals who have created an instant Mecca for beer nerds in ‘burbs of Philadelphia.

He is mad scientist of brewing, making kooky and delicious beers using interesting ingredients of all kinds. He started out learning the brew trade at Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton Pennsylvania. Jean’s main brewing focus is farmhouse ales. The brewery has brewed so many different beers that I can’t even keep track of them all. Lucky for me, a while back I started saving my growler tags so I remember the beers I had! IStoner Witch really should keep a notebook but then I’d become one of those beer geeks, heh…

Jean along with his staff are also some really cool and interesting people, who all dig music. We have often talked with them about music heavy metal and punk rock or Orange Goblin or Venom… And don’t be surprised if you walk in the place and they are jamming The Misfits or Slayer on the sound system. My kind of place! Jean has even brewed beer with some musicians like Dave Witte of Municipal Waste who is not onlyan amazing drummer but also way into beer. Made a beer in honor of the bands Baroness and Pallbearer. Named one of the beers “Stoner Witch” in homage to the Melvins.

There was beer named “Screeching Loud Thrashing Death Metal Offensive Song” which was named after a comment a lady posted that on Yelp: “Great beer, decent food, really quaint, welcoming space. But the music positively ruined this place for me…. SCREECHING LOUD THRASHING DEATH-METAL OFFENSIVE SONG THAT SETS YOUR TEETH ON EDGE & FILLS YOU WITH MURDEROUS RAGE, The wife with a pea and carrot salad at Fermentaria-1400instantly rendering conversation impossible.”

Hey, not everyone loves Slayer — their loss! They often have the Mike Lorenz Quartet playing on weeknights or at monthly bottle releases. They do killer jazz versions of Sabbath tunes.

The food at “The Brew Café”: Don’t expect typical “bar” food. You won’t get greasy burgers and fries. You can get fresh bread made on the spot, local cheeses, Panini sandwiches and killer salads but by all means GET THE CANDIED BACON!

The new Fermentaria has full kitchen with killer tacos!!!

Oh yeah, and Jean does all the artwork for the place as well. Talented guy, that Jean is.candied bacon bread and cheese plate-1400

Great beer, great food, great music and good people, it’s a win, win, win, win.

I can’t do the place justice with my words. So take a peak their website and Facebook page and check out what they are up to. And if you are in the Philly area do yourself a favor and stop in. Tell them Devil Dick sent you! You won’t be sorry.

Tired Hands Brewing website

Tired Hands on Thee Facebooks

Weyerbacher website

Weyerbacher on Thee Facebooks

Solace on Thee Facebooks 

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Vultures of Volume Fest Announces Solace Reunion, Disciple of Doom and Righteous Bloom for Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 15th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

vultures of volume logo

I was at the last Solace show. It was June 2012 at Days of the Doomed II in Wisconsin (review here). They were piss drunk and still nailed it front to back, a booze-breath tornado of heavy righteousness. Not the best show I ever saw them play — being in New Jersey, I was fortunate to catch them many times and some of my best gig memories are of sharing the stage with them — but their volatility was in full display and they still managed to hold it down. At the time, that was to be it. Three years later, less so.

Even at that point, they’d broken up. The forever underrated Garden State rockers released their last album, A.D. (review here), on Small Stone in 2010, and for my money it was the best record that came out that year. Guitarist Tommy Southard has contributed to various projects since — notably the malevolent sludgers The Disease Concept — and bassist Rob Hultz is now also a member of Chicago doom legends Trouble‘s current lineup, but as Vultures of Volume II — slated for this September, presumably somewhere in Maryland — brings Solace back together, it will be good to see Southard and Hultz back on stage with drummer Kenny Lund, guitarist Justin Daniels and vocalist Jason after such an absence. I won’t hold my breath for new material, but am happy to take what I can get from these much-missed riff pummelers.

Also confirmed for Vultures of Volume II are Righteous Bloom, whose debut LP should hopefully be recorded by then, and Disciple of Doom, which is a new project from Solitude Aeturnus/Candlemass vocalist Robert Lowe. Seems like they’re off to a good start.

Fest is Sept. 4 and 5, venue TBA. Info below from Thee Facebooks:

Let there be silence no more! Vultures of Volume Fest is back for its second installment, taking place September 4th and 5th, 2015!

Followers of the riff… rejoice! The one and only Robert Lowe will be joining us with his brand new project DISCIPLE OF DOOM! Making their first east coast appearance at Vultures of Volume II, Disciple of Doom will be bringing the very best of both Solitude Aeturnus and Candlemass! The power of the riff compels you…

Remain steadfast doomers, for another announcement is about to be unleashed!
You want riffs? You want absolute, unbridled heaviness? Hold those tallboys high, because Vultures of Volume II is proud to announce that the mighty SOLACE rides again! Bringing their New Jersey style of alcohol infused stoner/doom, SOLACE shall leave no beer undrunk, no head unbanged, and no one left standing… You’ve been warned!

The final page may have been turned in the story of Beelzefuzz, but Vultures of Volume II is honored to play a part in the journey of RIGHTEOUS BLOOM! Featuring core members Dana Ortt and Darin McCloskey, along with scene stalwarts Greg Diener (Pale Divine) and Bert Hall (Revelation), RIGHTEOUS BLOOM promise to take you on a trip like no other! Let their magical mixture of psychedelia and heaviness consume you!

More announcements coming soon, including venue/location, and more bands!

Solace, “Man Dog” live at Days of the Doomed II

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Solace Bassist Rob Hultz Joins Trouble

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 21st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I guess when Trouble comes knocking, you answer. Just a day after Trouble-offshoot The Skull had some lineup revelations of their own, Trouble have put word out that bassist Rob Hultz has entered the fold. Hultz is probably best known for playing in NJ doomers Solace, but he’s been based out of Chicago for some time and seems like a natural fit for the doom legends, whose new album, The Distortion Field (review here) is available now. If nothing else, it’s a hell of a line on Hultz‘s resumé.

Here’s the announcement, courtesy of Trouble‘s website:

Trouble Introduce New Bass Player

Metal legends Trouble have announced their new bassist Rob Hultz to debut on Fall Tour

On the eve of the European release of their latest studio album The Distortion Field, Trouble have made a permanent addition to the band line-up with the hiring of bass player Rob Hultz.

Hultz is no stranger to the heavy metal, hard rock, and doom metal genres as his lengthy music resume boasts.  While still in high school, he joined an East Coast hardcore band called Social Decay which served as his introduction to recording and touring.   After a decade, he left with the guitar player to form the doom metal band Godspeed and was signed to Atlantic Records.   Their debut album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York and produced by Rachel Bolan of Skid Row.  The band was represented by Gloria Butler Management and toured with iconic bands such as Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio, and Cathedral, to name just a few.

In 1996, Hultz helped form Solace, another notable doom metal band, which was signed to Meteor City Records, and played large arenas, clubs, and festivals such as Roadburn and Hellfest.  Their last recording A.D. was released on Small Stone Records in 2010 and voted Best Metal Album of the Year on iTunes.  Since then, Hultz has lent his talents on projects for Lethal Aggression and Disease Concept.

Commenting on the band’s decision, Trouble founder and guitarist Rick Wartell states, “Bruce Franklin and I played the bass parts on The Distortion Field, with the exception of one song.  However as we began preparing to tour in support of the album, it became really important to choose the right person for the band.  Rob is not only a great bass player but also a total pro with an impressive band history, and he’s got the Trouble-personality so he definitely fits in well.  We look forward to him joining us on the road and being a band-mate for a long time to come.”

Hultz has already begun rehearsals and will debut live with the band for a series of European show dates scheduled for October 2013, the details of which are still pending and will be announced separately.

Trouble, “The Broken Has Spoken” from The Distortion Field (2013)

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Wino Wednesday: Wino Guests on Guitar and Vocals for Solace’s “Common Cause,” 2003

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 13th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that in more ways than one, 2003’s sophomore outing, 13, is the most pivotal of the three Solace full-lengths. Not only did Agnostic Front and Pentagram covers help define the blend that made the New Jersey doom rockers the vital, aggressive and grooving act they became throughout their own material, but the songs even a decade later remain as memorable and urgent as they are natural sounding and likely drunk. It’s a doom record for doomers, but with its roots in punk as much as stoner rock, Solace found a niche for themselves and delivered what I still consider one of the best heavy albums my beloved Garden State has ever produced.

Among the many highlights of 13 — released by MeteorCity as the follow-up to 2000’s Further debut — is the track “Common Cause,” which features a slide/lead guitar and vocal guest contribution from Scott “Wino” Weinrich. At the time, Wino was post-Spirit Caravan and making his beginning statements with The Hidden Hand while also taking on a role alongside Victor Griffin in Place of Skulls for 2003’s With Vision — an unfortunately short-lived collaboration — so it’s not as though he had nothing going on, and yet the performance stands out for both sonically alongside the other Solace tracks and for how comfortable Wino sounds in the band alongside guitarist Tommy Southard, bassist Rob Hultz and drummer John Proveaux.

The Jersey bruisers, who are more or less defunct despite popping up now and again for an appearance as they did at Days of the Doomed II last year, released two more EPs, a slew of videos and, finally, 2010’s triumphant — fucking brilliant, go put it on again — A.D. (review with ironic headline here), before their split, and even that last album, which took more than half a decade to make, was viciously energetic and seemed to portend good things to come. But some you win, some you lose, and if three brick-wall-solid full-lengths and a handful of other releases is what we get to take away while chasing down subsequent projects and waiting for reunion gigs, it could be worse.

Bottom line is whatever the circumstances, 13 remains a special moment in the band’s ever-tumultuous run, and as I’ve been holding it in my back pocket for a while, I’m glad to finally feature “Common Cause” for Wino Wednesday.


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Live Review: Days of the Doomed II (Day Two), Cudahy, WI, 06.16.12

Posted in Reviews on June 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Day Two at Days of the Doomed II began with what, if I were the proprietor of a diner or family restaurant, I would call the “Aristotle Omelet”: Feta cheese and gyro meat with tzatziki sauce on the side. I almost asked for pita instead of toast, and if I had it to do over again, I’d get tomatoes in there as well, but it nonetheless was the foundational meal for a hearty afternoon and night of doom to come. Did better for me in any case than the bar pie that later served as dinner at The Blue Pig, the delicious smell of which offered no hint of the agita betrayal to come.

Postman Dan and I, in good spirits despite the periodically downpouring rain, tried to hit a record and horror/movie/music memorabilia store called Graveyard (not, presumably, to be confused with the band of the same name), but finding it closed for the weekend, headed over to the venue to catch the start of the day. A lineup 11 bands strong — Blizaro, Beelzefuzz, Apostle of Solitude, Argus, Blood Farmers, Blackfinger, Earthen Grave, The Skull, Earthride and Solace — began with Die Monster Die, and if you told me the reason Graveyard Records was closed was because the owner was busy opening down at The Blue Pig, I’d believe it.

The three-piece Die Monster Die, who’ve reportedly been a band since 1984, played the kind of rudimentary, horror-loving post-Misfits punk ‘n’ roll you’d expect. Every town has an equivalent act (in New Jersey, that act happens to still be The Misfits), but for being immediately familiar, choruses about snakepits and college girls — watching them, I could picture the words followed by exclamation points on a movie poster — weren’t offensively redundant. Two false starts preceded their first song, and though they looked like a monster ran into a couple bikers and asked if they wanted to be his rhythm section, somehow it worked.

Ever one for making the wrong decision, I waited to start drinking until later in the afternoon. Already my head was swimming with the thought of the drive first back to Lansing to drop off Il Postino (which I’ve never called him, but will one of these days) and then subsequently to New Jersey, so until I actually began downing beers and decided I didn’t give a fuck anymore, the earlier part of the day felt a little like a pre-gallows last meal. Nonetheless, I was stoked to find Blizaro taking the stage after Die Monster Die with Orodruin‘s John Gallo on guitar and Mike Waske on drums. Joined by bassist Mark Rapone — who would’ve won had Days of the Doomed II had a beard competition — Gallo took the fore vocally and unleashed a palpable horror obsession that was all the more fitting after the lead-in it got from Die Monster Die.

A mad scientist cackling behind his Moog, Gallo made no bones about his allegiances. Blizaro came across like Goblin raised on Pentagram, and theirs was honestly the only Paul Chain cover I’ve ever heard that actually fit with a band’s own originals. They did “Voyage to Hell” from Paul Chain Violet Theatre‘s 1984 outing, Detaching from Satan (it also appeared on Chain‘s Alkahest in 1995), and though they were silly and they knew it, and though Gallo‘s vocals were rougher than Orodruin bassist Michael Puleo‘s had been the night before in that band, the atmosphere was distinct enough that comparisons between one act and the other felt superfluous. Two out of three of the same dudes, but a different band with a different kind of charm.

Their set went long. Rapone broke a bass string. It happens. They never really regained the momentum they had going into that technical difficulty afterwards, but they still got to finish out their full setlist because Beelzefuzz — apparently in a game of oneupsmanship as regards misfortune — blew a tire en route to The Blue Pig and didn’t have a spare. Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude stepped in to fill the slot, and though at this point they’re too good a band to play so low on the bill, the circumstances were what they were. By the time Blizaro finished, Apostle of Solitude only went on 20 minutes early, anyway. I don’t know if people figured Beelzefuzz weren’t coming or what.

Either way, Apostle of Solitude had a new demo for sale (the band has since granted me permission to host it for streaming; it’ll go up tomorrow) with three songs, and they played two of them — demo opener “Blackest of Times” and “Die Vicar Die” — quickly showing off melodic progress in their approach. The insistence in the drumming of Corey Webb and the bass of “Iron” Bob Fouts made the groove of “Blackest of Times” even more satisfying, and the addition of guitarist Steve Janiak (also of Devil to Pay) following 2010’s second album, Last Sunrise, has clearly given frontman Chuck Brown more range vocally. Arrangements on the newer material were more complex, and Janiak and Brown sounded even better during the chorus of “Die Vicar Die” live than they do on the recording.

For what it’s worth, that song was stuck in my head before it was finished — the chorus I was hearing was “All the good die,” instead of the title line, which I didn’t know yet — and it has remained there pretty much ever since. Brown waffles the melody as he and Janiak hold out the second “die,” and it reminds of ’90s heavy without directly emulating grunge or being anything other than Apostle of Solitude‘s increasingly individual take on doom, separating stylistically even from fellow Hoosiers The Gates of Slumber, whose bassist Jason McCash was working the merch table while Apostle played and who had reportedly had a rough show a few nights earlier in their hometown. Some light teasing ensued.

And though Brown preceded set-closer “The Messenger” from their 2008 Sincerest Misery debut with an “Alright ladies” — because it’s not metal unless someone questions your masculinity first — that wasn’t enough to take away from the early headliner feel of their performance. Pennsylvania natives Argus capitalized on that vibe and took the stage gracefully bearing more reverence than even vocalist Butch Balich‘s pedigree in Penance could give them. It seems their two albums — 2009’s Argus debut and the follow-up, Boldly Stride the Doomed (which was on my Top 5 I Didn’t Hear in 2011 but which I bought from their merch table) — have made quite an impression.

No argument. Argus, who were already pretty solid when last I encountered them live (SHoD in 2009; no review), have grown into an accomplished and formidable traditional doom outfit. Balich is the focal point, his vocals are stellar and powerful, but the dual guitars of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson behind him made a strong case for classic riffage, and the rhythm section of drummer Kevin Latchaw and bassist Andy Ramage complemented the metallic drive well. The mix seemed off in that the vocals were loud, but listening to “Durendal” from the second album, I didn’t even mind. Chewing gum the entire time, Balich hit notes that would’ve cut lesser singers in half, making it sound easy. If I had that kind of talent, I’d chew gum too.

The room was filling up by the time they were halfway through — no time like the present to start drinking — and The Blue Pig seemed pretty quick to roast, but the band handled it well, and boldly strode through the extended “Pieces of Your Smile” and a cover of Candlemass‘ “At the Gallows End” (from Nightfall, 1987) that was as well performed as it was bravely chosen. Balich is probably one of two or three doom vocalists in the US who could hope to stand up to Messiah Marcolin, and though he didn’t display the kind of dramatic acrobatics (or, if you’d prefer: dramacrobatics) that distinguished Marcolin in his day, neither did he fall short of the task before him. Having given the mic to the crowd twice in the chorus, he kept it to himself for the last round, as if to make plain his ability to do so. Point taken.

Like Apostle of Solitude before them, Argus also finished off with the first song from their first record (unless I have that order wrong and it was the Candlemass cover last; someone please correct me if need be). “Devils, Devils” was well met with a sing-along chorus, and by the time it was done, Beelzefuzz had finished loading in their gear. They looked haggard and stressed from their road troubles, and with the extra time that had been taken from Blizaro‘s bass string and longer set, there wasn’t much room for them on the bill. They got on stage quickly after Argus and as a “thanks for making the trip”-type consolation prize, played two songs.

Car troubles suck, and because I’d enjoyed what I’d heard of them previously, I made sure to buy the Marylanders’ demo. They seemed to be way more classic rock-influenced that I’d previously given them credit for being, but still, they were barely there. Two songs wasn’t really enough time for them to build any momentum or hook the crowd, and they were pretty much a stopgap on the way from Argus to Blood Farmers, however cool those two songs might have sounded. Fest organizer Mercyful Mike Smith took the stage after they were done and said something about probably being the most hated guy in the room for cutting them short, but I think everyone knew the deal. They’ll just be one more thing to look forward to about SHoD in August.

It was somewhere right around this time, maybe a little later, that I realized The Blue Pig had Newcastle in bottles. Probably the timing there is fortunate, or I’d have long since been on my ass by the time Blood Farmers got going. As it was, I was conscious enough to watch guitarist Dave Szulkin (also of the recently-reviewed The Disease Concept), bassist/vocalist Eli Brown and drummer Tad Leger receive a proper and encouraging amount of respect from the crowd. Blood Farmers are a fest band for me, it seems. I caught them last year twice, both times at festivals, and while I’d like to see how they’d do on a bill of their own, their no-frills doom does really well standing them out subtly from a crowded surrounding lineup like that at Days of the Doomed II.

This was the second time I’d heard new song “Headless Eyes” live — it’ll also reportedly be the title-track of their next album — and it confirmed its awesomeness. On the whole, the performance was more or less on par with last year’s SHoD showing, but Brown‘s vocals are more confident, and after hearing Szulkin‘s guitar in The Disease Concept, I almost couldn’t help but pay closer attention to his solos, which impressed more than I’d previously given them credit for. It’ll be really interesting to hear what a new Blood Farmers album sounds like. It’s been 17 years since their self-titled came out, but their footing is sure, creatively, and they’ve only gotten tighter the more I see them. I’m anxious to hear how the full-length comes out.

Between the bands, I was taking notes at the bar (you can see them at the top of this post) and the bartender asked me, “Are you keeping score?” I said I was, that they were winning, and asked for another Newcastle, which she graciously gave me. With the start of Blackfinger‘s set, the evening was about to get awfully Troubled, and it seemed only right to be ready. I was looking forward to Blackfinger specifically, apart from just getting to hear Eric Wagner sing, after interviewing him last year and spending a not-at-all-insignificant amount of time with their single, “All the Leaves are Brown” to prepare. They played that song and a host of others from their yet-to-be-released debut album.

Should say something about Trouble‘s impact on the Midwestern doom mindset that more than a quarter of the day’s lineup would be devoted to members of the band and their projects, and not to take away from the rest of Blackfinger or what the band was doing as led by Wagner‘s songwriting — where was the standup bass? — but really, he couldn’t help but stand out. The sunglasses, the curls, the calm stage demeanor seemed to make of him a center around which the rest of the band revolved. All well and good — I don’t think anyone would argue the Chicago native doesn’t deserve to have a project in which he has sole control — some kind of solo… project…? — but speaking as a doom fanboy and someone with a keyboard in front of him, it’s time for all these dudes to get over their crap and get Trouble back together.

I’m sorry, but it needs to be said. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Blackfinger or former Trouble bassist Ron Holzner‘s Earthen Grave, who followed. In fact, I’d hope that both Wagner and Holzner would continue their involvement in these other bands as well and just go back to Trouble in addition to working with them. I know things were shitty when the band was trying to put out Simple Mind Condition in the States in 2007 and the label, Escapi, folded and whatever else happened and egos clashed and blah blah blah, but seriously, let’s get this thing moving. It’s time. Time for one of those killer heavy metal comebacks and time for Trouble to regroup, get some good PR behind them, tour with Saint Vitus and get their fucking due from the booming American doom scene. Season of Mist? Napalm Records? Fuck it, somebody‘ll sign the band. Get some new shit going — maybe don’t call the album The Dark Riff, as previously intended — and do it before you decide you’re sick of the whole thing and walk away entirely.

Watching both Holzner and Wagner do a set of Trouble songs as The Skull only underscored the point of how much a full Trouble reunion — Wagner, Holzner, Bruce Franklin, Rick Wartell and Jeff “Oly” Olson — needs to happen. But let me back up. Before that, Holzner veered farther from the Trouble blueprint with Earthen Grave, who are somewhat more progressive and who had the honor of playing host to the weekend’s only female performer in violinist Rachel Barton Pine. That’s right. One lady, and even she had to wear a leather bustier before they’d let her on stage — okay, maybe not, but you get my point. They were also the weekend’s only six-piece (unless you count Solace, who have Beer as their unofficial sixth member). They did songs from their self-titled full-length, which I bought, and though I was underwhelmed at their 2009 demo, I feel like I got some better sense of what they were going for watching them live, the guitars coming through with more energy and vocalist Mark Weiner proudly showing off his Earthride shirt and stage presence at once. Being sandwiched by two Eric Wagner-fronted sets is no easy task, and I salute the Earthen Grave singer for standing up to it.

By midway through their set, though, I was drunk enough for a shot of Crown Royal — What? No Jameson’s? — to seem like a mildly good idea, and things only got more tragic as The Skull took shape on stage. The catalog they were drawing from — i.e. Trouble‘s — was vast, and it was like they went into it saying, “Oh, so it’s doom you want is it?” And you know what the thing is about Trouble‘s doom? It’s fucking doomed. That’s some depressing shit right there, and I guess I was feeling the weight of the trip, the day, the beer, and all of it when they hit. I hadn’t realized Olson wasn’t going to be a part of The Skull as well, but as he reportedly dropped out to wait for a full reunion, I give him even more respect for not doing it half-hearted.

I was starting to feel like I was doing it half-hearted myself, but then The Skull kicked into “At the End of My Daze” to close out their set and I got all pathetic doom geek about it. Didn’t do much to improve my mood, but I fortunately had enough wits about me to stop imbibing, and when Earthride got started, their thickened Maryland doom grooved away the rest. I know frontman Dave “Sherm” Sherman has a gravelly speaking voice, and I know he talks about Wino a lot, and I know he’s a character on stage and his stage moves are a lot of fun and it’s awesome when he puts his arms up on the handlebars for the song “Earthride” and whatever else, but more than anything, what I took away from Earthride‘s performance at Days of the Doomed II? The dude can fucking sing.

Really. He’s always been about presence, right? There’s never been any doubt who you’re watching when you’re watching him front Earthride — that’s Sherm, no doubt about it. And he’s become a godfather of Maryland doom, and rightly so. But on 2010’s Something Wicked and in the several times I’ve seen him since, he’s shown that he’s more than going through the motions or capitulating to doomly expectation. He’s putting his heart and soul into singing those songs, and his melodic range isn’t his hallmark — it’s like not he’s James Fucking LaBrie up there — but it says something that rather than rest on his laurels as he easily fucking could at this point with three killer Earthride records under his belt (not to mention the EP, the digipak re-release of which they had for sale at their merch table and which I bought) and a tenure playing bass in Spirit Caravan before that, Sherman is pushing himself to be a better singer and actually becoming one. I have 10 mountains of admiration for him, sincerely. The dude sweats doom in the face of neither glory nor remuneration.

Add to that the fact that Earthride — as a full unit — are possibly the tightest now that they’ve ever been and become more of a blues band every time I see them, and you can’t lose. Bassist Josh Hart‘s Rickenbacker combined with guitarist Kyle Van Steinburg‘s tone results in a molasses so lurching there were moments during their set at Days of the Doomed II where I wasn’t sure they were actually moving the way you look at a glacier and have to wonder. Drummer Eric Little, charged with giving that glacier its push, punctuated the hooks of “Something Wicked” and “Fighting the Devils Inside of You” just right, and new song “Blackbeard’s Scorn” was the heavy’s heavy. Earthride‘s been together going on 15 years in one form or another and it feels like they’re just hitting their stride.

And if I can directly quote from my notes just once in this already considerable second in a series of two reviews, let me just say this about Solace, “Do I really have to drive out to fuckin’ WI to see a band from Jersey? Worth it.” Here’s the way “the Solace magic” works: You don’t play a show in more than a year. You get back together with your former drummer with whom you haven’t played in even longer than that — Kenny Lund told me at one point it’d been four years since he’d played out with Solace — then you show up at the fest you’re closing out, get loaded, and absolutely fucking destroy. Ta-da!

If Solace had their shit together, it wouldn’t work. If they arrived on time, or didn’t leave you wondering if their set was even going to happen, it wouldn’t have the same force when it actually did. It has to be as volatile as it was at Days of the Doomed to be Solace. Their frustration is what makes it go.

However many times I’ve seen Solace at this point, I don’t even know. This was not their cleanest set, not the tighest, or crispest, or soberest. What it was, though, was honest. I stood in front of the stage at The Blue Pig and I watched five guys rip through a set of songs they believe in the way people believe in god; the kind of deep, instinctive belief that you couldn’t separate them from if you even wanted to, and watching them, wanting to was about the farthest thing from my mind, seconded only by the drive home I’d be starting in about eight hours. They were the only band all weekend to make the stage they were playing on look small. I said that afterwards to vocalist Jason and he asked me if it meant they were getting fat. No, it meant that he, guitarists Tommy Southard and Justin Daniels, bassist Rob Hultz and Lund brought something to close out Days of the Doomed II that no one who played before them had been able to capture. On stage, Southard called it “drunk Jersey scum rock.” Maybe that’s what it is — that’s as good a name as anything I could come up with — but whatever you want to call it, it’s theirs and theirs only.

They finished with an extended jam on Pentagram‘s “Forever My Queen” — the second of the weekend’s two Pentagram covers — and by halfway through the song, Lund was leaning on the back wall. I know from speaking to them that they were down on the performance, but god damn, if you’re going to end a festival, do it with something you can’t possibly imagine anyone following, and that’s what Solace brought to Wisconsin. And then it was over.

Before I go, a note on the travel: There was a lot of it. I left out of the hotel at about 7:40AM Wisconsin time, dropped Postman Dan off in Lansing at 2PM and made it back to my humble river valley with miraculous expediency at 11:40PM, taking the life of only one possum in the process. It was a fucking lot of driving. More than I’d prefer to do in one day. But for the quality of memories I brought back with me to the Garden State, worth even the cost of gas on the Ohio Turnpike.

Special thanks to Mercyful Mike Smith for hosting me (and everyone else, I suppose) at Days of the Doomed II, to The Patient Mrs. for booking my hotel (Eli from Blood Farmers‘ line was, “Ooh, the Wyndham. Somebody has a job,” and thanks to him too), to Postman Dan for the most excellent company and Michigan microbrew recommendations, Tommy and Jenn Southard, Lisa Hass, the staff at The Blue Pig and, most of all, to you for reading.

Extra pics, as always, after the jump.

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Where to Start: The Obelisk’s Guide to Small Stone Records

Posted in Where to Start on May 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.

Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”

That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.

One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.

Here they are, ordered by the date of release:

1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)

Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.

2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)

Personally, I think 2005’s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.

3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)

In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.

4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)

The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.

5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)

I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.

6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)

Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.

7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)

It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.

8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)

Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.

9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)

It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.

10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)

If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011’s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.

That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘s Songs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.

And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.

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