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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.