Quarterly Review: Godflesh, Serpents of Secrecy, Vymaanika, Zong, Vitriol, Pillars, Lamp of the Universe & Kanoi, Azonic, Thousand Vision Mist, Arcadian Child

Posted in Reviews on January 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Lodewijk de Vadder (1605-1655) - 17th Century Etching, Landscape with Two Farms

Today is the last day of The Obelisk’s Quarterly Review, and it’s kind of hard to believe it’s gone so fast. Before I put the Big Boot to the proceedings like Hulk Hogan getting ready to call it a day with an elbow drop at Wrestlemania — yup, just like that — I have to take a special moment to thank The Patient Mrs. for allowing me the time this week to bang out all of these reviews and get everything sorted on the back end, etc., for these posts. She, of course, as always, perpetually, has been unbelievable, and especially with The Pecan to manage, she’s earned her title more than ever. It is thoroughly, deeply, appreciated. Much love, baby. Thank you.

Okay, Big Boot time. Let’s do this thing.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Godflesh, Post Self

godflesh post self

Guitarist/vocalist/programmer Justin K. Broadrick and bassist BC Green return with Post Self, their second post-reunion full-length behind 2014’s A World Lit Only by Fire (review here) and a collection of churning electro-noise hymnals that work in a sphere that should by now be well familiar to their multi-generational fanbase. The groundbreaking industrial pioneers sound decidedly led by the guitar on the chugging “Parasite” and the airy, almost Jesu-style wash of “The Cyclic End,” but the intensity of the beat behind “No Body,” bass and noise onslaught of “Be God” and synth-driven soundscaping of “Mortality Sorrow” recall the sonic diversity that’s always been as much a part of Godflesh’s approach as their signature cyclical rhythmic style. More perhaps than ever, Broadrick and Green seem to be aware of what defines Godflesh as a band in terms of sound, and as they make the crucial move from a “reunion” band to a working one, they seem as glad as ever to push those boundaries once more.

Justin K. Broadrick on Thee Facebooks

Avalanche Recordings on Bandcamp

 

Serpents of Secrecy, Uncoiled: The Singles

serpents-of-secrecy-uncoiled-the-singles

This two-song single may end up bring the only offering Serpents of Secrecy ever make public, and it was years in coming together. In December, the Chesapeake region group with members of Foghound, Borracho and King Giant suffered the loss of bassist Jim Forrester, who was murdered in Baltimore, and while a debut long-player was in discussion, to-date the five-piece have only issued “Warbird’s Song” and “The Cheat” as Uncoiled – The Singles, and obviously now any kind of follow-up is in question. Whether it’s the raucous burl of “Warbird’s Song” or the bluesy, organ-topped fluidity of “The Cheat,” the J. Robbins-produced tracks demonstrate the potential at heart from the lineup of vocalist Mark Lorenzo – who wound up in the role after members of Alabama Thunderpussy and Mister Bones vacated – guitarists Steve Fisher and Todd Ingram, Forrester and his former Sixty Watt Shaman bandmate Chuck Dukehart III. The only question at this point is whether that potential will ever see further realization. Right on as these songs are, I’m torn on the idea, to be honest.

Serpents of Secrecy on Thee Facebooks

Salt of the Earth Records website

 

Vymaanika, Spectroscope

vymaanika-spectroscope

Multinational space rockers Vymaanika debut with the 20-minute two-songer Spectroscope EP, comprised of its 10-minute opening title-track and the subsequent “Golden Void,” which may or may not be named in honor of the side-project of Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell. I’d believe it either way. The band comprises members from Catalan – guitarist/vocalist/synthesis Carles Esteban and bassist Andrés Paniagua, Chile in drummer/synthesist Jose Jünemann, and the US in guitarist/vocalist/synthesis Benjamin Mahoney, but they all seem to have come together to record in Barcelona, and the breadth of “Spectroscope” and serene psychedelic mantra-making of “Golden Void” benefit from that band-in-the-room vibe. Especially so the latter, which touches early on vocal harmonies over drifting guitar strum, steady synth drone and percussive pulsations before building to a more active apex in its second half. After the cacophony taking hold in the back end of “Spectroscope,” it’s a clear demarcation of a varied sonic persona, and while I don’t know how often Vymaanika will be able to get everyone together with the geographic spread, it’s easy to be glad they did it for this first EP.

Vymaanika on Thee Facebooks

Vymaanika on Bandcamp

 

Zong, Zong

zong zong

Flowing arrangements abound on Zong’s self-titled four-track debut full-length. The Brisbane, Australia-based heavy psych three-piece are well within their genre sphere, but from opener and longest track (immediate points) “Cosmic Embryo” (13:00) through “Arcane Sand” (8:10), the perhaps-Zardoz-referential “Giant Floating Head” (11:48) and closer “Return of the Alien King” (10:32), they demonstrate a natural chemistry, patience and warmth of tone that is no less comfortable in the march and lurch of its penultimate cut than in dug-in repetition-born hypnosis of the leadoff. Deceptively weighted from almost its beginning point with the low end of Michael Grinstead’s bass and the rolling drums of Henry Bennett, there’s also a balance of airiness from guitarist Adam Anderson that adds nuance when called upon to do so, though there are plenty of moments where Zong’s Zong seems perfectly content to cave-jam its far-out atmospheric fluidity. Not an ethic and not a result you’re going to hear me complain about.

Zong on Thee Facebooks

Cardinal Fuzz Records webstore

Praying Mantis Records on Bandcamp

 

Vitriol, Pain Will Define Their Death

vitriol-pain-will-define-their-death

Brutal tech-death pervades Vitriol’s first EP, Pain Will Define Their Death – a three-song onslaught the violence of which is writ large over every minute of its total 12. Sharing a penchant for opening to bigger-sounding choruses like that of its opening title-cut with peak-era Hate Eternal, the pummel factor, ultra-tense push and unmitigated viciousness eschews some of the more machine-like aspects of such technically-minded fare, and while Vitriol’s overarching groove, gutturalist execution and hammer-swing breakdowns are casting out their own assault on the aforementioned opener as well as the subsequent blast-laden “Victim” and “Violence, a Worthy Truth,” they’re working in service to songcraft much more than to an indulgent showcase of prowess, and that makes all the difference in terms of the material’s ultimate impact. That impact? When was the last time you were actually kicked in the face? Nothing if not aptly named, Vitriol’s death metal seethes and rages in kind and bodes remarkably well for future manifest devastation.

Vitriol on Thee Facebooks

Vitriol on Bandcamp

 

Pillars, Pyres and Gallows

pillars-pyres-and-gallows

Hailing classic doom and darker atmospheres, French four-piece Pillars debut on Seeing Red Records via the Pyres and Gallows EP. Its four songs run a gamut of traditional grooves, but lumber with a balance between their rawness and a spirit of underlying riffy nuance that adds texture beneath the gruff, dudely vocals of frontman Klem, the tones of guitarist Djé and bassist Disaster well suited to the plodding companionship of drummer JJ on a song like the problematically-titled second cut “Dirty Whoreshippers” or the 10-minute title-track that rounds out. At 33 minutes, I’m not sure what’s stopping Pyres and Gallows from being a full-length, but if that’s a hint that Pillars have more to say going forward, then fair enough. They may be preaching to the converted in these tracks, but they’re doing so in righteous fashion and with a sense of their own identity under development. Doom on? Yeah, totally doom on. By all means. Please do.

Pillars on Thee Facebooks

Seeing Red Records on Bandcamp

 

Lamp of the Universe & Kanoi, Split

lamp-of-the-universe-kanoi-split

Among the fascinating factors at work on this cross-continental Clostridium Records split release between long-running New Zealand acid folk outfit Lamp of the Universe and Austrian psychedelic fuzz purveyor Kanoi is the fact that both parties involved are solo-projects. For Lamp of the Universe’s Craig Williamson (also Arc of Ascent), he brings three tracks of his signature drenched-wet lysergism in “In the Beginning,” “The Cosmic Body Track,” “Father” and “Space Chant,” while Kanoi’s Benjamin Kantschieder revisits two cuts from 2016’s Mountains of the Sun full-length in the extended “I’m Gone (I’m Gone)” and “Mountains of the Sun” itself. The novelty of having two single parties match wits on such fluid arrangements – my head always begs for collaboration in these instances – is offset by the quality of their work itself. Neither is new to their sphere, but both seem keen to continue to experiment and explore, and it’s from that commonality that the split most benefits.

Lamp of the Universe on Bandcamp

Kanoi on Bandcamp

Clostridium Records website

 

Azonic, Prospect of the Deep Volume One

azonic-prospect-of-the-deep-volume-one

The first Azonic offering since the mid-‘90s finds Brooklyn-based experimentalist Andy Hawkins reviving the project alongside his Blind Idiot God bandmate Tim Wyskida as a melding of drone/noise and percussive ideas. Released through Hawkins’ own Indivisible Music, Prospect of the Deep Volume One – pretty ambitious to put a “volume one” in the title of your first record in 20-plus years – presents two expansive works in “Oblivion of the Deep” (18:53) and “The Argonauts Reckoning” (18:42) as well as the CD bonus track “Voices of the Drowned” (10:12) that brim with atmospheric intent and have an underlying sense of control on the part of Hawkins that speaks to some measure of steering what might in other hands simply feel like sonic chaos. You can hear it early into “The Argonauts Reckoning,” as the layered wash seems to want to fly off the rails and swell and Hawkins’ guitar simply doesn’t let it go, but it’s true elsewhere on Prospect of the Deep Volume One as well, and in listening, it’s the difference between the album being a joy in the immersion, which it is, and a self-indulgent misfire, which it very much is not.

Azonic on Thee Facebooks

Indivisible Music website

 

Thousand Vision Mist, Ascension and the Loss of Tomorrow

thousand-vision-mist-journey-to-ascension-and-the-loss-of-tomorrow

Named for the lone 2002 full-length from Maryland doomers Life Beyond, in which guitarist/vocalist Danny Kenyon also featured, newcomer trio Thousand Vision Mist debut with the progressive-leaning edge of Journey to Ascension and the Loss of Tomorrow, a 52-minute 10-tracker. Yes, Rush are a factor in terms of influence. However, propelled by the drumming of Chris Sebastian, whose frenetic snare adds a Mastodonic feel to “Headstones Throw,” the otherwise classic-vibing “Final Flight of Fall” and the later “Darklight,” among others, the cumbersomely-titled offering sets its balance between modern prog metal, doom and classic heavy rock, with bassist Tony Comulada adding vocal harmonies alongside Kenyon and providing a needed anchor to keep songs like the penultimate “Skybound and Beyond” from actually taking off and leaving their audience behind. Reportedly long in the works, Journey to Ascension and the Loss of Tomorrow isn’t a minor digestion process at its busy and extended runtime, but while the recording is raw, there’s no shortage of fodder for engagement throughout its swath of choruses and head-spinning turns.

Thousand Vision Mist on Thee Facebooks

Thousand Vision Mist on Bandcamp

 

Arcadian Child, Afterglow

arcadian-child-afterglow

Though not at all without its more driving aspects, some of the most satisfying moments on Arcadian Child’s debut album, Afterglow, come from a soothing hook like that of “Rabbit Hole,” which finds the Cypriot four-piece more fully embodying a laid back desert rock atmosphere that underpins the Fatso Jetson-esque opener “She’s on My Mind” and subsequent “Little Late for Love.” As the feels-short-at-29-minutes record unfolds, “Electric Red” blends fuzz and Mediterranean rhythmic push, “Irresistible” toys with layered swirl beneath a solidly-weighted verse and chorus, “Run” makes itself a highlight around a post-Lullabies to Paralyze atmospheric lead and start-stop riff, and the title-track casts momentum in melody and groove into closer “Used,” which pays one more welcome visit to the more serene side of their personality before they’re done. It might be a sleeper, but I’d be surprised if someone didn’t pick Afterglow up for a vinyl release sooner or later; the songwriting, performance, presentation and potential for future growth are all there waiting to be found by the right ears.

Arcadian Child on Thee Facebooks

Arcadian Child on Bandcamp

 

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Maryland Doom Fest 2018 Announces Full Lineup with The Obsessed, Windhand, Weedeater, Earthride and Many More

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Invariably there will be some change between now and next June, and there’s the tradition of the pre-show to consider the night before, but right out of the gate, Maryland Doom Fest 2018 impresses with its scope of heavy rock and doom, cross-country reach and loyalty to its core mission. With The Obsessed, Windhand and Weedeater set to headline, the fourth edition of the fest curated by JB Matson and Mark Cruikshank will welcome return appearances from the likes of Castle, Earthride, Thousand Vision Mist and Foghound, while reaching out to bring first-timers from afar like Texas’ Doomstress and Duel and Switchblade Jesus, Kansas rockers The Midnight Ghost Train, Connecticut’s Curse the Son, New York’s Geezer, and — I believe traveling the farthest — Disenchanter, from Portland, Oregon.

It’s a killer assemblage, and I think the three headliners do a lot in summarizing the whole idea behind the fest in the first place: The Obsessed are among the founders of what we think of as “Maryland doom.” Windhand are the forerunners of the modern scene. And Weedeater bring a riotous sludge party like no one else on the planet. What more could you possibly ask of three bands in terms of expressing what Maryland Doom Fest 2018 is all about?

I’ll have updates as I see them, but in the meantime, mark your calendars for June 22, 23, and 24 at Cafe 611 in Frederick, MD, and I’ll do the same, because this looks absolutely awesome.

Dig it:

maryland doom fest 2018 poster

Maryand Doom Fest 2018

A 3 day weekend of Doom in its purest form.

June 22, 23, and 24

Cafe 611 Restaurant
611 North Market Street
Frederick, MD 21701

Full lineup:
The Obsessed, Windhand, Weedeater, Castle, Unorthodox, Duel, The Watchers, Zed, Switchblade Jesus, The Midnight Ghost Train, Lightning Born, Earthride, Geezer, Disenchanter, Bedowyn, Cavern, Doomstress, Caustic Casanova, Hawkeyes, Curse the Son, Las Cruces, Horseburner, Shadow Witch, Foghound, Witchhelm, Book of Wyrms, Thousand Vision Mist, Molasses Barge, Backwoods Payback, Bailjack, Electropathic, Gateway to Hell

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-maryland-doom-fest-2018-tickets-39468562533
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/
https://www.themarylanddoomfest.com/

The Obsessed, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2016

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Maryland Doom Fest 2017 Adds Second Venue & Expands Lineup

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Exciting news from Frederick as Maryland Doom Fest 2017 announces expansion into a second venue. Guido’s Speakeasy is about half a block down the street from Cafe 611 and a cool, tiny, back-room kind of place that’s a cool spot to catch bands. Last year, Akris and King Buffalo (among others) played while the fest was going on, and this year, MDDF seems just as content to fold the Guido’s doings for the night into its own busy schedule. Makes sense to me. The headliner for the show is an otherwise decent band with a shitty name who have a new record out, and the bottom of the lineup is perfect with Bailjack and Thousand Vision Mist both acts featuring recognizable veterans of the local scene. Good stuff all around. Except for that headliner’s name.

The fest is just a couple weeks away. I regret to inform that I won’t be attending or covering this year, as had been my intent. One’s grandmother only turns 102 once, and frankly, given the shape ol’ girl is in, I don’t dare miss it. Nonetheless I’d like to say out loud what an absolute fucking honor it’s been to be among the presenters for this year’s Maryland Doom Fest and how thrilling it is to see this fest emerge as a major presence in the epicenter of MD doom that is Frederick. It’s actually just what that spot needed in name and execution. Couldn’t be more perfect. I hope it all goes off without a hitch, and a personal thanks to JB Matson, Mark Cruikshank, and all involved for putting my logo on the poster. Again, it’s an honor.

Here’s the lineup and info for that side-show, and one more time, the schedule for the fest proper, just because it’s awesome:

maryland-doom-fest-2017-poster

The Maryland Doom Fest and Leftover Pizza Productions Presents

Saturday, June 24
Guido’s Speakeasy
543 N Market St, Frederick, Maryland 21701

[Five White Dudes in a Band Called] Black Pussy: 10:30- 11:30
Black Dominia: 9:30-10:15
Brother Ox: 8:30-9:15
Thousand Vision Mist: 7:45-8:15
Bailjack: 7-7:30

MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2017 LINEUP:

**PRE FEST PARTY THURS JUNE 22
• Valkyrie 1055 – 1155
• Beastmaker 1000 – 1045
• Borracho 915 – 950
• Weed Is Weed 830 – 905
• Sweet Heat 745 – 820
• Spillage 700 -735

FRIDAY JUNE 23
• Captain Beyond 1210 – 130
• Lo Pan 1110 – 1200
• Apostle of Solitude 1020 – 1100
• Faith In Jane 930 – 1010
• Beelzefuzz 840 – 920
• Wretch 750 – 830
• Demon Eye 705 –740
• Brimstone Coven 620 – 655
• Black Manta 535 – 610
• Sierra 445 – 525

SATURDAY JUNE 24
• The Skull 1215 – 130
• Bang 1110 – 1205
• Wo Fat 1020 – 1100
• Earthride 930 – 1010
• The Watchers 840 – 920
• Hollow Leg 755 – 830
• Serpents of Secrecy 710 – 745
• King Bison 625 – 700
• Heavy Temple 540 – 615
• The Well 455 – 530
• Witches of God 410 – 445
• Black Tar Prophet 325 – 400
• Conclave 235 – 315

SUNDAY JUNE 25
• [Headliner] 1140 – 1245
• The Atomic Bitchwax 1045 -1130
• Freedom Hawk 955 – 1035
• Lightning Born 905 – 945
• Lifetime Shitlist 815 – 855
• Akris 730 – 805
• Burn Thee Insects 645 – 720
• Thonian Horde 600 – 635
• Cavern 515 – 550
• Old Blood 430 – 505
• Horehound 345 – 420

https://www.facebook.com/events/254328948376115/
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-maryland-doom-fest-2017-weekend-passes-tickets-30207219607
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/
https://www.facebook.com/events/1794418777500202/

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Memorial Benefit Announced for Kenny Staubs of War Injun

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 22nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

The shock was immediate when the news came down of the passing of War Injun guitarist Kenny Staubs last week. After all, it had only been a couple weeks since War Injun absolutely leveled Maryland Doom Fest 2016, and it just seemed impossible that someone able to bring such life to the stage as Staubs did would be gone so soon thereafter. I didn’t know the man, we’d never spoken, so I won’t comment on his life, but he was very clearly well loved and no doubt will be dearly missed by family and friends alike.

A GoFundMe page is live now (link here, also below) and a benefit show has been organized in his honor for next Saturday, July 30 at G Boone’s in Boonsboro, Maryland, that features not only War Injun playing to memorialize Staubs‘ contributions to the sphere of MD doom, but a host of other luminaries from the area, including Beelzefuzz, Bailjack, Thonian Horde, Dee Calhoun of Iron Man, Dark Music Theory, Byrgan, and Thousand Vision Mist.

On behalf of the site and myself, condolences to all who knew Kenny Staubs and I hope the benefit show helps to celebrate the life he led and the music he loved.

Info follows:

kenny staubs benefit poster-700

July 30: KENNY STAUBS BENEFIT CONCERT

Let’s celebrate the life of Kenny Staubs, our brother, our friend, and War Injun guitarist. All proceeds pay for his trip to Heaven.

On July 15, 2016 the world lost an incredible man. Kenny was a musician, friend, brother and son. He was much to young and full of life. Kenny touched many lives and if you were lucky to know him, you loved him.

Saturday, July 30 at 3 PM
$20 donation

G Boone’s
7704 Old National Pike, Boonsboro, Maryland 21713

Lineup:
Beelzefuzz
War Injun
Thonian Horde
Bailjack
Dark Music Theory
Byrgan
Dee Calhoun
Thousand Vision Mist

https://www.gofundme.com/kennystaubs
https://www.facebook.com/events/481792672031551/
https://www.facebook.com/warinjunofficial/

War Injun, Live at Maryland Doom Fest 2016

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Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2016 Night Two

Posted in Reviews on June 26th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest poster

I don’t think it’s the record for how many bands I’ve seen in one day, but it has to be close. After a pummeling Day One at Cafe 611 (review here), Day Two of Maryland Doom Fest 2016 featured a whopping, nigh-on-overwhelming 12 acts, starting at 2:15PM and running until shortly before 2AM. Joy among joys, my camera continues to be non-functional, but I did the best I could with my phone and kept it at that. Not sure what I’m going to do about that one yet. Cry a little? Yeah, maybe. Maybe on the way home.

For now, as Jesse “The Body” Ventura once so eloquently put it, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” Day Three starts in a scant couple hours and after two days of marathon nonstop heavy, I’m ready to get back into the fray. Let’s do this thing.

Dee Calhoun

Dee Calhoun (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun recently released his debut solo record, Rotgut (review here), and provided a direct contrast in how the second day started at Maryland Doom Fest 2016 as compared to the first, which opened with Black Urn, who I think remain the most extreme sludge act of the weekend so far. “Screaming Mad Dee” played acoustic heavy metal blues, joined on semi-unplugged bass by Iron Man bandmate and all-around master of things low-end Louis Strachan, and started his set with the album-opener “Unapologetic,” which I suspect is something of a creedo for the singer. Maybe I should say singer/guitarist, since Calhoun proved his mettle on the latter throughout the set, bringing out his son, Rob Calhoun, for a particularly touching rendition of “Little Houn Daddy Houn” that was as genuinely heartwarming as anything I’ve ever seen at a heavy show, and closing out with a cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Snowblind,” the solo for which is a test for any guitar player. Bolstered by Strachan taking on Geezer Butler basslines — talk about “in your element” — Dee nailed it, and the filing-in early crowd, who caught on to shout “cocaine!” for the second verse, was glad to be along for the ride.

Thousand Vision Mist

Thousand Vision Mist (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Danny Kenyon and taking their name from the debut of his former band, Life Beyond, the three-piece Thousand Vision Mist offered one of the day’s most individualized takes on a doomed approach, their progressive turns enacted fluidly by the rhythm section of Tony Comulada (who’d also play later with War Injun) and drummer Chris Sebastian. It hasn’t been that long since I saw them for the first time last fall at Vultures of Volume II (review here), and the impression at MDDF wasn’t much different. People were still filing in as Kenyon and company made their way through the memorable “Darklight” and “Tears of the Moon,” the second of which also served as the centerpiece of their 2015 demo, which was available at the merch table and is their only release to-date so far as I know. They closed with another cut from that initial offering, “Heart String Wild Fire Blues,” finding a place for themselves between Rush and The Obsessed. Not at all bad territory to stake out.

Wicked Inquisition

Wicked Inquisition (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Minnesota’s Wicked Inquisition said early into their set that this was “in all likelihood” their last show ever. The band formed in 2008 and released their self-titled debut (review here) last year after a demo and a couple EPs, blending oldschool thrash, classic metal and doom fluidly on cuts like “M.A.D.” and “Death of Man.” I don’t know for sure, but I’d assume part of the reason they’re calling it quits is that guitarist/vocalist Nate Towle has joined Virginia-based Satan’s Satyrs, and that’s a hell of a back and forth from MN to VA. Whether or not the breakup is permanent is of course up to the future, but Towle, guitarist Ben Stevens, bassist Jordan Anderson and drummer Jack McKoskey leaned toward doom as one of the weapons in their arsenal to be broken out when called for and otherwise kept their metallic tinge shining via some slow-Slayer dual-guitar to keep the crowd hooked. It worked. Cheers to Towle on getting the Satan’s Satyrs gig, which seems like a good one if you want to tour, and best of luck to everyone in Wicked Inquisition going forward. I’m glad I got to see them while I could.

Ironboss

Ironboss (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Long-running Baltimorean outfit Ironboss are about to issue what may or may not be their first album in more than a decade in the form of Rock Fuck Fight, and their set brought the further intrigue of featuring Bruce Falkinburg — hardly recognizable with short-cropped hair from the last time I saw him, which admittedly was years ago when he was playing with The Hidden Hand — on guitar. The burly brand of heavy the five-piece elicited was much less sludge than I thought it would be, I couldn’t help but have a harsher impression thinking back to 2001’s Guns Don’t Kill People… Ironboss Does!!, but I guess that was 15 years ago and a different lineup. Granted, there was a touch of chaos in the atmosphere, almost punkish, but the songs resided in a mid-paced push, comfortable but still aggressive. They apparently just tracked six songs live with J. Robbins, so it would seem that Ironboss have returned to kill again.

Spillage

Spillage (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Been a couple years and a 2015 self-titled debut since I saw Chicago’s Spillage make their stage debut at Days of the Doomed II in Wisconsin (review here), but my prevailing memories of the the band were still positive. Members of the Trouble family tree via founding guitarist Tony Spillman, who’s worked with that legendary Midwestern outfit for some untold number of years, and through Spillman‘s tenure in Earthen Grave, they for sure had that aspect to their sound, but the energy of their delivery and the classic metal vibe that guest-frontman Elvin Rodriguez brought with him in his Dio-style presentation was well suited to making an impression of their own. Along with album tracks like “In Hell,” opener “The Darkness” and “Land of Opportunity,” Spillage closed out with the Cliff Richard cover “Devil Woman,” which also appeared on the record and which they played when last I saw them as well. A staple, then. Hard to argue. After 12 bands, that swinging hook remained among the most prevalent on my mental jukebox.

Wizard Eye

Wizard Eye (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What a joy it is to watch Wizard Eye play. The Philly trio roll heavy grooves beamed in from sonicstonersubspace and the obvious pleasure they take in doing so is infectious. Another act who played Vultures of Volume II last fall (review here), they’ve since released their self-titled 2015 sophomore album (review here), with its excellently crusted take on heavy vibes. Guitarist Erik Caplan had his theremin handy, as always, but along with the caveman shouts from bassist Dave Shahriari and the steady swing from drummer Mike Scarpone, what came through most to me this time around was how killer a guitar player Caplan is. With that theremin, he could easily drop out during solo sections and wail on the theremin, its squealing awesomeness taking the place of any guitar work. Instead, he absolutely shreds out leads and then lights up the theremin on a cut like “C.O.C.” from 2010’s Orbital Rites debut. So it’s adding to the sound, rather than compensating for something not there. It makes all the difference seeing them do a set, which I’m glad to do every single time I’m able.

Hollow Leg

Hollow Leg (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Along with Holly Hunt, Shroud Eater and a couple others, Jacksonville’s Hollow Leg are among the principal reasons to be sad when the polar ice caps melt and Florida sinks under rising sea levels. The four-piece of vocalist Scott Angelacos, guitarist/vocalist Brent Lynch, bassist Tom Crowther and drummer Tim Creter have never failed in my experience to deliver lethal sludge like some fucked-up cousin of Sourvein, but as 2016’s Crown (review here) showcased, their sound has only grown richer over the years and they brought that feel to Maryland Doom Fest 2016 in “Seaquake,” “Electric Veil” and “Coils” along with the earlier digital single “God Eater” (posted here). With Lynch adding to Angelacos‘ dudely rasp, the vibe was even more unhinged as they played, and next to Wizard Eye they seemed only to build on the intensity of volume and heft while keeping the vicious push moving forward. Labelmates with Dee Calhoun on Argonauta Records, they’ve been on the road with Irata for the better part of a week and sounded tight enough to make one believe they were a few shows deep. Clearly too abrasive for some, but I thought they were right on.

War Injun

War Injun (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I guess they went with the name War Injun because calling themselves Maryland Doom Allstars” would sound too much like a softball team. Fronted by Internal Void‘s J.D. Williams, featuring, as noted, bassist Tony Comulada, along with guitarists Russ Strahan (ex-Pentagram, as well as Weed is Weed and many others) and Kenny Staubs (Outside Truth), and drummer JB Matson — one of the organizers of Maryland Doom Fest 2016 — it’s a formidable grouping nonetheless. Their groove was likewise formidable. Matson didn’t make it easy for his own outfit, putting them after Wizard Eye and Hollow Leg as a lead-in for Brimstone Coven, but War Injun not only pulled one of the night’s best crowds, they absolutely leveled the place. Williams, who’d performed the night before with Internal Void, remained a complete madman on stage, and the riffs from Staubs and Strahan were classic Maryland doom through and through, peppered with more aggressive push. Last time I saw them was Stoner Hands of Doom XI in 2011 (review here), and they hit even harder than I remembered.

Brimstone Coven

Brimstone Coven (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Like Castle yesterday, I feel like I came out of Brimstone Coven‘s set with an entirely deeper appreciation for what the West Virginian outfit does. Next month, they hit the road for a handful of Midwestern dates with Castle, as it happens, and both bands are ones that you just have to see live to really understand. That’s not to take away from what Brimstone Coven — “Big John” Williams on vocals, Corey Roth on guitar/vocals, Andrew D’Cagna bass/vocals and Justin Wood on drums — were able to do on their 2016 debut LP, Black Magic (review here), but the impression they made on stage was on a different level, WilliamsRoth and D’Cagna coming together to completely nail down vocal harmonies over weighted doom riffing, shedding some of the cult rock vibe of the record in favor of an almost progressive feel with moments of brash heavy rock for counterweight. It was the kind of set that made me want to go back and take another look at the album, the highlight being “Slow Death,” which seemed at first like a strange one for Williams to shout out “to the ladies,” but ultimately made sense in light of the lyrics. They were the day’s most pleasant surprise, though I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

Blackfinger

Blackfinger (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Of all the sets I’ve seen vocalist Eric Wagner perform — and at this point I’ve seen him perform a few — he always looks like he’s having the best time with Blackfinger. Granted, he was all smiles at Roadburn this year with The Skull as well, but there’s a level of appreciation for some of Blackfinger‘s more Beatlesian melancholy in tracks like “I am Jon” and “On Tuesday Morning,” both from their 2014 self-titled debut (review here), that comes through visually on stage and in the vibrant presentation of the material. Having Terry Weston of Penance/Dream Death on guitar doesn’t hurt either, but with guitarist Matthew Tuite, bassist Matthew Cross and drummer David Snyder, the lineup did justice to Wagner‘s legacy in Trouble as well as their own sonic persona. As always, Wagner‘s charisma as a frontman made him a focal point, but that’s nothing new for him, and he handled the room with his usual laid back flair. Somehow it wouldn’t seem like a doom fest if he didn’t show up in one outfit or another. He carries so much of the essence of the sound with him wherever he goes.

Place of Skulls

Place of Skulls (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Once again, in the tonal battle of Victor Griffin vs. the universe, Victor Griffin wins by a landslide. It took Place of Skulls a while to get going — something with the guitar stack, I don’t know — but once the set started, the trio were among the highlights of the weekend so far. With the night’s biggest crowd at attention, Griffin held court alongside his Death Row bandmate Lee Abney on bass/backing vocals and drummer Russell Lee Padgett, but I could be wrong. It’s been six years since they released As A Dog Returns (review here) — though the 2013 self-titled debut from the short-lived In~Graved project (review here) seems to have been rebranded as a Place of Skulls release this year — and five years since last I saw them play, but for it being the first time in a while, Place of Skulls were very much still Place of Skulls, the band who released one of the best American doom records of all time in 2003’s With Vision, from which they aired the title-track, “The Monster,” “Long Lost Grave” and “Last Hit” along with a cover of The Animals‘ “Misunderstood” that has become a regular feature in Griffin-related sets, be it with In~Graved or Pentagram. Like Eric WagnerGriffin takes a lot of who he is from band to band, and his mark on doom is unmistakable.

Bang

Bang (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve seen Bang play upwards of 15 times on two different continents in the last two or three years, and they’ve never been a letdown. Like the day started easing into the heavy with Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic set, Bang — who also had a new drummer — provided the sweet swing that would smooth the way out. The classic heavy rockers, playing to support reissues of their catalog on Svart Records, were given a rousing introduction by Dave Sherman of The Obsessed, who cited them as a major influence for Maryland doom as a whole and his career specifically. From there, Frankie Gilcken launched the opening riff of “Keep On,” and Bang were underway. Bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara was in top form through “Lions… Christians,” “The Maze” and the ballad “Last Will and Testament,” which was given its usual intro. It was late and the room had dissipated somewhat, but Bang‘s tones were as warm and inviting as ever, and plenty of people held on until the finish, savoring every moment they could get. Again, not by any means my first time at the dance with these cats (except the drummer), but they remain something truly special to watch and are a testament to the enduring appeal of heavy’s essential formative years.

Within minutes of getting back to the Super 8 after the show, I was falling asleep. Still, I felt better after last night than Friday, and with 11 more bands playing tonight, that’s probably a good thing. First band starts in about two hours, and I need coffee, so I’m gonna take care of that as priority one and then go from there.

More to come from Maryland Doom Fest 2016.

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Front to Back: Vultures of Volume II Day Two in Hagerstown, MD, 09.05.15

Posted in Reviews on September 9th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

vultures of volume ii poster

The hotel breakfast — not so much. I woke up pretty early after Day One of Vultures of Volume II, drawn by the allure of free scrambled eggs or at very least some carbs to start the day, but some lumpy-looking sausage and a weird egg/potato/cheese combo deal scared me off. A cup of coffee and a rigid search of the interwebs later, I found a cafe up the road a little ways.

A quick lunch would turn out to be my only meal of the day, because once it got going, Vultures of Volume II Day Two simply did not stop. First band, on at 1PM. Last band, off a little before 2AM. It was 13 acts and very nearly 13 hours of front-to-back performances, and by the time the day was a quarter over, the Delmar Inn in Hagerstown had developed full-on as a festival ecosystem. Just about everyone knew everyone else, and the vibe was thick throughout. Some were dragging after getting down a little too hard the night before, or at least hard enough, but the only thing to do was keep going. This festival, in the fine tradition of gatherings like Emissions from the Monolith, Stoner Hands of Doom, Days of the Doomed and the Eye of the Stoned Goat, would brook no absence.

Yeah, I was beat, but fuck it. It was rock and roll and I drove a long way to be there. The lineup for Day Two was Elder, Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand playing a solo set, Wretch, Weed is Weed, Carousel, Righteous Bloom, Foghound, Witch Hazel, Thousand Vision Mist, Wizard Eye, Wasted Theory, Buzzard Canyon and Heavy Temple, and the latter had the illustrious task of getting things rolling:

Heavy Temple

Heavy Temple (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It had been more than two years since the last time I saw Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, which was also the first time, and in between, bassist/vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk has completely revamped the trio’s lineup — she’s now joined by drummer Siren Tempestas and guitarist Archbishop Barghest — and has moved forward following the release through Ván Records of the band’s self-titled debut EP (review here), which by my estimation was one of last year’s finest short releases. They played four songs, all of them new, and I was glad for the glimpse at what’s to come, finding creative progression evident in how smoothly Heavy Temple seemed to weave in and out of parts, the fluidness with which they utilized classic stoner riffing without necessarily being beholden to it, and the dynamic between Nighthawk and her newcomer cohorts, Barghest an almost shoegazing presence on stage while Tempestas seemed to throw her whole body at the kit while she played. Some presentation nuances to be ironed out between the three of them — that is, I think at this point the band could do away with the stage names, and Nighthawk is the only one in a ritual robe, though that was the case last time as well — but past those crucial decisions to be made between robes and denim shorts, they were sonically more than dead on, rounding out their set with well-timed starts and stops and off-mic screams that were effective in adding drama to a set that showed Heavy Temple as a band well on their way. Looking forward to their next EP, which is reportedly already recorded.

Buzzard Canyon

Buzzard Canyon (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There was little one might reasonably ask of a hard rock act that Buzzard Canyon didn’t offer, whether it was the soul behind the dual vocals of Amber Leigh and guitarist Aaron Lewis, or the straight-ahead but still weighted grooves of bassist Randall Dumas and drummer Matt Raftery. Actually, there was one thing one probably could’ve asked of them: the second guitar they left behind in Connecticut when they departed for Maryland early in the morning on Saturday in time to make their slot at Vultures of Volume II. Pretty much everything else they had covered. There was just about no way I was going to go into their set thinking of them as something other than Lewis‘ band — I’ve just known that dude for simply too long, been a part of projects with him, done shows with his other band, When the Deadbolt Breaks, etc. — but it was not only great to see him play after what’s been too long, but likewise great to see him explore the more upbeat, rocking side. Buzzard Canyon‘s debut, which they decided on stage was eight tracks, maybe nine, probably 11 by the time it’s done, is apparently in the works, and though they were down a guitar, they did well as a four-piece, playing both songs from the two-songer CDR they brought with them to give away, “Wyoming” and “Not My Cross,” the former of which seemed a long-enough time to wait to break out the cowbell and the latter of which closed their set in reinforcement of the active feel of the material, not at all afraid to have a good time or encourage the crowd to do the same.

Wasted Theory

Wasted Theory (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You know, I do dig Wasted Theory. The Delaware four-piece have come a long, long way since the first time I saw them, and they’ve done a couple tours and weekenders since they put out their 2014 full-length, Death and Taxes (review here), and that has only furthered their cause in both the tightness of their execution and their confidence on stage. Sometimes though, I feel like I’m just not quite dudely enough for it. Here’s these guys, and they’re killing it, singing songs about running ‘shine through the southland and this and that, and I’m standing there watching them feeling like I should probably call up my primary care physician and see if I can get some testosterone supplements or something so as to properly appreciate what’s going down on stage. As has been the case the last couple times I’ve seen them — and I’ll see them again before the month is out, if all goes according to plan — “Hellfire Ritual” and “Black Widow Liquor Run” were highlights, guitarist Larry Jackson, Jr. having his “whiskey-soaked” in full effect while on either side, bassist Jonathan Charles and guitarist Dave McMahon followed a hairpin course of riffs propelled by Brendan Burns‘ drums. They would not be the day’s last kick in the ass, but they were a vehement one all the same, even for one so apparently hormonally imbalanced as I. In all seriousness, Wasted Theory are scary tight for being still-recently off their first record, and by all appearances they’re only continuing to nail down what they do. Not trying to tell anyone their business, but Ripple Music, keep an eye out.

Wizard Eye

Wizard Eye (Photo by JJ Koczan)

We’re just about a month out from the release date of Wizard Eye‘s much-awaited self-titled second album on Black Monk Records, and the Philadelphia three-piece — Erik on guitar/vocals/theremin, Dave on bass/vocals, Mike on drums — seemed very much to be in good spirits ahead of the release. It was, as it was the last time I saw them, an absolute pleasure to watch them play. What they do isn’t overly complex or painstakingly crafted for nuance, but it’s impeccably well done and deceptively individualized. Most of what they played was culled from the impending Wizard Eye, which finds their semi-crusted rolling grooves firmly intact on songs like “Flying/Falling,” “Thunderbird” and “Eye of the Deep,” but there was one inclusion on the setlist I didn’t recognize — “Revenant” — which isn’t from the tracklisting I’ve seen for the new record, or from their 2010 debut, Orbital Rites, so I’m not sure if maybe it’s new or was left off the new album or what. Doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that after five years between outings they might have more material than just what’s showing up on the new LP. Either way, I’ll take their fuzz-overdosed nod any time I can. They were locked in tight at Vultures of Volume II, and remain a much better band than people seem to know, which is something that the new album will hopefully work to correct. Erik went to the theremin just once, earlier in the set — was it “Gravebreath” or “Flying/Falling?” — but even so, they were a blast to see again and offered stone-baked groove in plenty for their afternoon set.

Thousand Vision Mist

Thousand Vision Mist (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Given that they take their moniker from the name of Life Beyond‘s 2002 debut/swansong full-length, and given that they share guitarist/vocalist Danny Kenyon with that defunct MD trio, I guess I just assumed that when they got started, Thousand Vision Mist would essentially be an incarnation of the same kind of straight-ahead, post-The Obsessed/Revelation Maryland-style doom. That was not the case. Together with be-chapeaued bassist/vocalist Tony Comulada and drummer Chris SebastianKenyon led the charge through a set of fiery but progressive metal. Doom was definitely a part of it, and listening to the studio versions on their 2015 debut demo of cuts like “Garden of Ghosts,” “Drifter” and “Tears of the Moon” — which was particularly proggy coming from the Delmar stage — that holds up, but by no means was it the sum-total of what they had to offer. Instead, they pulled off quick turns and shifts while also having a heavy sensibility, and the technical intricacies came across fluidly as the crowd clearly loved on a hometown act. As a power trio, the dynamic looked to be more the guitar and bass, then the drums, rather than the standard guitar/rhythm section divide, but I’d by no means consider the matter settled considering they just have the five-song demo out, and for what it’s worth, they played a new song “Skybound and Beyond,” which they said had been written on Thursday, just two days prior, and though it seemed like it was about to come flying apart at any moment, it never actually did, and Thousand Vision Mist‘s impressive control over their sound can only continue to suit them as they move forward.

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It might have been enough for York, Pennsylvania, four-piece Witch Hazel to earn sympathy points for the recent loss of their hometown venue, The Depot, and it might have been enough that they broke out the weekend’s first tambourine to go along with their post-Pentagram ’70s-ish shuffle, but they also featured some especially passionate cowbell/headbang action in the last song (when else?) from frontman Nate Tyson, and dedicated a song to Iron Man, so if there were bases to cover, they were duly covered. Some of it was a little over-the-top — as intended — with the eyeliner, elaborate pants, and so on, but hard to fault Witch Hazel for keeping an eye toward presentation. Their new album, Nocturnity, is available now, and is a 28-minute concept piece that seems to be about a family with a bloodline that cures vampires, but though I don’t think “Moon People Unite” comes from that record, the crowd started to make its way back in to get a glimpse at what Witch Hazel — Tyson, guitarist Andy Craven, high-cymbal drummer Nick Zinn and bassist Seibert Lowe, who was playing his first show with the band — had to offer with their shuffling style and weirdo neo-classic edge. They closed with “Secret Door” from their 2013 debut, Forsaken Remedies, which only furthered their boogie cred.

Foghound

Foghound (Photo by JJ Koczan)

No sooner did Baltimore’s Foghound walk on the stage than they owned it. Seriously. Before they even started playing, the entire room was theirs. Last time I saw the band was Eye of the Stoned Goat IV in Worcester, MA (review here), and they killed then, but this was a different league entirely. No doubt part of that stems from relatively-new bassist Rev. Jim Forrester, who, like Foghound drummer Chuck Dukehart III, is a Sixty Watt Shaman expat. Forrester was kinetic on stage — and off it, as he hopped down on the regular throughout — and seemed to pull the rest of the band along with him, Dukehart sharing vocal duties with guitarists Bob Sipes and Dee Settar all the while, the three of them switching back and forth here, coming together there, racing through material from their upcoming second album. They were a shot of life just when I was feeling like I needed it most, and while the locals, who obviously have more occasion to see them than I do, weren’t necessarily surprised by what they delivered, I was utterly blown away. Their new stuff was faster, meaner and tighter than 2013’s Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and I liked that CD plenty. The tempo of the songs, the stomp and the energy they brought made them the band of the day up to that point, and cuts like “Serpentine” and “Rockin’ and Rollin'” were absolutely propulsive alongside the other “Dragon’s Tooth” and “Resurrect the Throwaways,” which remains almost insidiously catchy. That song was a bit of a slowdown comparatively, but the momentum held up anyway to the end of the set, and if Foghound brought even half of that level of vitality to the studio, their second record’s going to be a stunner.

Righteous Bloom

Righteous Bloom (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Whatever unfortunate drama brought about the change in the first place, I have to think particularly after seeing them play at Vultures of Volume II that the changeover from Beelzefuzz to Righteous Bloom will be a positive in the longterm for the band. Not even because Bert Hall — speaking of chapeaus; his deserves its own Facebook page just so I can like it, unlike it, then like it again — is such a monster player, though rest assured he is, as he’s proved over the years in Revelation and Against Nature, but just for how much easier it is to take them seriously with the new name. I never saw Beelzefuzz as a four-piece after they added Pale Divine frontman Greg Diener as a lead guitarist, but he serves in that capacity well in Righteous BloomHall is indeed a master of groove, and Darin McCloskey‘s fluid drumming is every bit as effective in the new band as it was in the old, adding classic style to underscore the eerie progressivism in frontman Dana Ortt‘s effects-heavy guitar work and live-multitracked vocals. Some of what they played came from Beelzefuzz‘s 2013 self-titled debut (review here) — “All the Feeling Returns,” “Lotus,” “Hypnotize” and “Reborn” garnering knowing appreciation from the crowd, myself included — but newer songs like “Within Trance” (posted here) and “Nazz Riff” went over with no trouble, as well as older demo cuts “Peace Mind,” which opened, “The Soulless” and “Hard Luck Melody,” Ortt‘s wide-eyed delivery throughout playing off a quiet “hey man” hippie routine between the songs that was Akerfeldtine in its entertainment value. Fact of the matter is that he could easily become the kind of dude who, years from now, people will talk about the first time they saw him play and try to compare notes for who got in lowest on the ground floor. I can’t make any such claim, but watching Righteous Bloom for the first time post-Beelzefuzz sure felt like a landmark anyway. Hall fit in perfectly, Diener‘s soloing was tasteful, McCloskey‘s timing and swing are as close to a sure thing as life has to offer and Ortt was the madman front and center. There was nothing — and I mean nothing — not to dig. Their album can’t get here fast enough.

Carousel

Carousel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

If you’re having a good time, Carousel want to be the reason why. The Pittsburgh natives’ sophomore LP, 2113, was still pretty fresh in my head after its recent stream and review, so I was glad to have the chance to catch the four-piece live and experience the songs first-hand. They played the first three of them in a row — “Trouble,” “Photograph” and the unrepentantly hooky “Buried Alive in Your Arms” — and guitarist/vocalist Dave Wheeler took the time to note between the second and third that the band is very well known for their expert sequencing. That was something I mentioned in my review, but I wouldn’t flatter myself to think they had any idea who I was other than drummer Jake Leger, who also plays in reactivated ’70s rockers Bang, who toured with Kings Destroy last year for a run on which I tagged along. I’m sure it was a happy coincidence. Still, Wheeler was right, 2113 was a well put together album, and I’m not really sure what might be wrong with that. Either way, their boozy classic-heavy good times carried over remarkably well live — turns out they know how to structure a set as well, dipping back to the title-track from their 2013 debut, Jeweler’s Daughter (review here), after “Buried Alive in Your Arms” — and their cardiovascular-style delivery felt like an all-around win. Wheeler took the time to introduce the band, starting with bassist Jim Wheeler before getting to Leger and guitarist/backing vocalist Matt Goldsborough, who he noted handles guitar as well in Pentagram from time to time and in Trouble offshoot The Skull, and ending with himself: “And I’m Dave,” the band playing behind him all the while in classic showman fashion. They slowed down the set and brought the energy level back up effectively with the 2113 title-track, and their catchy songcraft, ’70s vibes and, yes, sequencing, found much welcome.

Weed is Weed

Weed is Weed (Photo by JJ Koczan)

You could give me a pad and paper and two full weeks to brainstorm ideas, but I’m not sure I could come up with anything more stoner rock than Dave Sherman fronting Weed is Weed while singing through a mic on a custom stand made to look like a bong. It even had incense burning near the bottom so there was smoke coming out. That, my friends, is charm, and Weed is Weed have plenty of it to go around between Sherm clearly having a blast with the entire thing and the riffery provided by three — three! — guitarists: Gary Isom (ex-Spirit Caravan), Russ Strahan (ex-Pentagram) and Rob Portillo. With Darren Waters holding down yet more low end on bass throughout such family-friendly hits as “Cleptus Butanus” — a song about stealing lighters that featured a line about having enough in your pocket to build a butane rocket — and “The Bong Remains the Same,” Weed is Weed also introduced their new drummer, Tyler Lee, age 18. Gotta start ’em young. Worth noting that “The Bong Remains the Same” will also be the title of the six-piece’s next EP, and it must have been a hard call between that and “Reign in Bud,” which closed out, Lee teasing a Slayer drum thud reference at the beginning before they took off on another stoner-for-stoner onslaught, their groove as undeniable as their central theme was dank. Does anyone say dank anymore? I don’t even know. In any case, Weed is Weed‘s particular brand of fun was infectious, and even as a non-smoker, their puns were second to none. Not a stem in the nugget.

Wretch

Wretch (Photo by JJ Koczan)

In much the same way that Righteous Bloom is a continuation of Beelzefuzz, so too does Wretch feel born directly from the demise of The Gates of Slumber. The Indianapolis three-piece had traveled the farthest to get to Hagerstown — headliners Elder would be no slouch in that department either — and they were heavy enough that the head sitting on top of guitarist/vocalist Karl Simon‘s full-stack of cabinets was at several points very close to vibrating off and falling to the floor. It didn’t, thankfully, and Simon, drummer J. Clyde Paradis — who, like Simon, is a The Gates of Slumber alum — and bassist Bryce Clark held down some of the weekend’s most thoroughly doomed vibes, morose plod and downer tones emanating at max volume. “R.I.P.” was a highlight, which feels strange to even say, and a couple of songs from the final The Gates of Slumber album, 2011’s The Wretch (review here), were aired, among them “Bastards Born” and “The Wretch” itself. They finished out with “The Jury,” which originally appeared on 2004’s …The Awakening debut from the defunct outfit, their set having been cut short on account of the usual running late, but ending on a faster note somehow suited them. From what I’ve seen, Wretch have a few studio tracks floating around, but I’ve yet to hear of anything recorded being due for public consumption. Seems like a no brainer that they’re one to watch given their pedigree and Simon‘s established post-Vitus doom supremacy, but it’ll be even more interesting to see how they manage to stand themselves out from The Gates of Slumber and how much of what that band was will ultimately carry forward into the new one.

Dorthia Cottrell

Dorthia Cottrell (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Only one problem with putting Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell on so late in the day for a solo acoustic set — everyone’s sloshed. Much to the room’s credit, people actually did really well policing themselves to keep conversation to a minimum as Cottrell ran through a set of dark neofolk accompanied only by the Delmar‘s fog machine and laser lights, the response to which was mixed but which I thought worked well. Anyone can play a sad twanger like “Maybe it’s True” from Cottrell‘s 2015 self-titled solo debut in the dark, but to do it with a lightshow going? That’s impressive. Those committed to being loud either moved to the back bar or went outside, but everyone who stayed was treated to Cottrell‘s quiet, alternately traditional and minimalist atmospherics, her breathy delivery calling to mind any number of blues singers who earned the first name Mama” while keeping consistent in its downtrodden feel to work with her main outfit. Influences were worn on her sleeve in covering Townes Van Zandt‘s “Rake,” a song both Wino and Scott Kelly have taken on previously, and the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” — the mere mention of which immediately sends my mind reeling back to David Eugene Edwards and 16 Horsepower‘s version on 2000’s Secret South full-length, though everyone from Burl Ives to Neil Young has given it a shot — was slowed-down and given due melancholy to comport with the rest of the set. A marked change in sound from the rest of the day, but more consistent in overall mood with Wretch than one might initially think, Cottrell offered a moment of clarity as Vultures of Volume II made ready to round out its journey on a sea of riffs.

Elder

Elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)

“Dead Roots Stirring” made for an especially righteous opener. I hadn’t seen Massachusetts trio Elder since the release show for their 2015 third album, Lore (review here), which continues to rightly garner praise from all corners of the globe and has positioned the three-piece as headliners for the first time both on tour and at fests like this one. They are quite possibly the East Coast’s most pivotal up and coming act at this point — the great heavy hope of an entire seaboard’s next-gen scene — and with Lore, they’ve moved into a progressive style that’s entirely their own without giving up the sonic impact of their earlier work. And where the turns of “Compendium” were somewhat choppy back in March, two full tours (US and EU) later, they’re no less fluid than was “Dead Roots Stirring” at the start or “Release” from their 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (streamed here), guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo having apparently long since mastered the complex notations of his own design while bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto held together the tight turns of that song and “Spirit at Aphelion,” also from the new album. Between songs, DiSalvo apologized to anyone who might’ve run into the band the night before, and that got a laugh from the crowd who had very clearly stuck around to see them specifically. They’ve grown not just tighter on the more recent songs, but in terms of their stage presence as well, and particularly with Donovan and Couto, they were so locked in that they didn’t even really have to look at each other to know where they were and where they were going. That kind of chemistry only really develops with touring acts, which of course Elder have become, and and they continue to move forward with Lore and beyond, it will continue to serve them well. They are distinct sonic personalities, between Couto‘s swing, Donovan‘s smooth, warm-toned basslines and DiSalvo‘s penchant for exploring progressive psychedelic passages, but the way they’ve come to work together is truly something special, and they showed that in top form at Vultures of Volume II, building and releasing tension throughout “Spirit at Aphelion” and closing out their set and the fest as a whole with “Gemini” from Dead Roots Stirring (review here), which seemed tailor made to be suited to the task. They’re still growing. They’re not done. But still, don’t be surprised a couple years from now when new bands are coming out and noodling like you hear on Lore, because people have picked up in a serious way to what Elder are doing. They’ll get no argument from me.

In the back of my mind I’d had the thought of starting to drive home directly after the fest ended, getting in my car and pushing through all night on the highways of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, maybe beyond. Didn’t happen. Instead, I not only went back to the hotel to crash out, but overslept and wound up making my return home even later than I’d intended. After 13 bands, the extra two hours of sleep might well have enabled my survival.

Before I wrap this up, I have to note the hard work of Kathy Reeves in putting Vultures of Volume together. No way a two-dayer like this is easy to make happen, but she pulled it off and made it look that way anyhow. Job well done, and thanks for having me down for the reminder of just how unique and welcoming the Maryland heavy scene is.

Thanks also to Darin McCloskey, Matt Dayton, Mike Smith, Fanny Shamer, Ron McGinnis, Jaki Cunha, Dustin Davis, Chris Wolfe, Don Welch, Lisa Hass, Melanie Streko, Jon Pacella, Jim Forrester, Håkan Nyman, Kesha Atwood Nyman, Elyse Mitchell, Ron, Andrew Thornhill, Nick DiSalvo, Jack Donovan, Matt Couto (though, man, those are some fierce looks in those shots), and everyone else whose names I’ll hope to add over the next however long.

Most of all, thanks again to you for reading. More pics after the jump.

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