Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Pre-Fest, 06.20.19

maryland doom fest shod preparty poster

One could go on at some length about the legacy of the Stoner Hands of Doom Festival, which, like much of the pre-social-media universe, feels like part of some bygone era, when in fact the last edition was held in 2013. The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 pre-fest party — which I’ll only argue with because, really, when you have nine bands playing, that’s a festival one way or the other — was co-billed as SHoD XX in honor of the 20th anniversary of that fest’s first edition in 1999. Two of the bands on the evening’s bill were actually there in Virginia and Maryland on that weekend — Solace and WarHorse — but everyone who took the stage at Cafe 611 in Frederick, MD, was a veteran of it one way or the other. Slow Horse and Tummler remain sadly unaccounted for.

SHoD traveled — that first Arizona lineup is legendary — but spent a few pivotal years in Frederick down the road at what used to be Krug’s Place, and in both mission and manifestation, there isn’t a better festival to inherit the mantle than Maryland Doom Fest, though at the same time, it’s never been so plain just how much MDDF has come onto its own and found its place among the wider festival sphere. The WarHorse reunion is a coup, but for the greater incorporation of Guido’s as a second venue and the expansion to four days, Maryland Doom Fest has expanded its reach across borders and styles in a way that has only added to and enriched its original purpose. Earthride headlining tied it all together as only they possibly could.

It was a 5:30 start and I rolled into the venue about half an hour before that. Already, familiar faces were in ample supply, and they’d only be more so over the course of the evening. I have the feeling it’s going to be that kind of weekend. Right on.

The night went like this:

After the Sun

After the Sun (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Along with Earthride and Solace (who were two for two at that point), Ohio’s After the Sun played SHoD in 2000, the same year they formed. They’d return in 2001 as well. Given their style, it’s pretty notable that they’re actually not from Maryland itself, as their traditional take on doom definitely seemed to have been born of an awareness of the likes of The ObsessedPentagramUnorthodox, and so on. After putting out an EP in 2001, they released their first full-length just last year in the form of a seven-song self-titled, and they served it well live, making a highlight out of “Delusion of Sanity” late in the set. They had a new short release, The Demise, out for the festival, and were solid, workingman’s doom rock, the guttural belt-out of vocalist Doug Perry recalling earlier metallic grit while the chug of Lance Collier‘s bass and Rob Perkins‘ guitar and the thud of Bryan Kaiser‘s drums provided suitable backing for such conviction. The fact that they’ve released more music in the last nine months than in the prior 17 years shouldn’t be lost, and one has to wonder what their future plans are with this feeling very much like a return set, on-stage altar and all.

Freedom Hawk

Freedom Hawk (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This band just rocks. It hasn’t been that long since the last time I saw them, and they were still one of the sets for which I was most excited. There’s no bullshit to Freedom Hawk. They’ve got the songs. They plug in and kick ass and then they’re done. Five records deep, they know they’re doing it right and they play with that conviction. “Blood Red Sky,” “Lost in Space,” “Solid Gold,” “The Darkness and the Light,” “Radar,” “Executioner” and “Indian Summer” made for a quick set that seemed even faster than it was, but the Virginia Beach four-piece very obviously made the most of their time. I still have “Indian Summer” stuck in my head, if that’s any indication. Freedom Hawk only played the final Stoner Hands of Doom in 2013, which was held in Richmond, Virginia, and saw fest-organizers Rob and Cheryl Levey hand the reins to Brendan Burns (who at the time ran the Eye of the Stoned Goat festival), but any excuse to have them in just about any lineup is cool as far as I’m concerned. They’re just doing a weekender around Maryland Doom Fest, but they absolutely brought it like they’d been on the road for weeks.

Weed is Weed

Weed is Weed (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Double-duty Sherman! And on guitar, no less! With Gary Isom playing drums! With the incense-burning bong-shaped mic stand present and accounted for, Earthride frontman Dave Sherman took the stage with the three-guitar riff machine Weed is Weed to bask in crunchy nodder vibes and, as they always seem to do, have a really good time. I’ve been lucky enough to see them a couple times now — always in Maryland — and I don’t think they’ve ever had the same lineup twice. Sherman playing guitar was a nice touch, and Isom‘s move back to drums (from guitar) was of course nothing to complain about either. They lurched into “The Bong Remains the Same” and the eponymous “Weed is Weed” and sundry other greatest hits, and the room was with them all the way. I don’t know if they’d get the same reception anywhere else, but at Cafe 611, they were home, and it was a family atmosphere all the way through. The lights were green, and by the time they were done, they only seemed greener. If the East Coast had the Pacific region’s same proclivity for using the word “gnarly,” Weed is Weed might be the standard by which that was measured.

Deer Creek

Deer Creek (Photo by JJ Koczan)

At some point early in the set, Deer Creek guitarist/vocalist Paul Vismara noted that it was the band’s first show east of the Mississippi River in something like 17 or 18 years, and he thanked all the bands who have played their native Colorado in the meantime because, as he put it, “that’s a long fucking drive.” I believe it. Vismara — currently working on cover art for the next Solace record — and fellow guitarist Conan Hultgren, who also ran Game Two Records — the first Sourvein, the Halfway to Gone/Alabama Thunderpussy split, releases from Pale Divine, Negative Reaction, etc. — led the four-piece through a round of massively-riffed tonal plunge, a noisy, sludgy aggression cutting through the thickness of Hultgren‘s and Paul Vismara‘s guitars and Stephanie Hopper‘s bass, set to roll from drummer Marc Brooks. Their late-2018 EP, Quisling, wanted nothing for atmospherics, and their live presentation had that same sense of open-space, but neither was the impact neglected, the band hitting hard and locking into raw doom and sludge with an abandon more willful than reckless and a focus on mood that no one else would touch for the remainder of the evening.

Devil to Pay

Devil to Pay (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I know Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay played SHoD in 2012, because I was there. It was the one in New London, Connecticut. They also played in 2004, 2007, 2009 (I was there, too), and indeed 2013, so with five appearances total, that makes them the most-SHoDded of the bands playing the first night of Maryland Doom Fest. Not a minor distinction, but of course they’ve done plenty since as well, making their debut on Ripple with 2013’s Fate is Your Muse (review here) and following it with 2016’s A Bend Through Space and Time (review here). They’re about due for a new record — though now sharing guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak with Apostle of Solitude (playing this weekend) as well as The Gates of Slumber — and indeed they had new songs called “Heave Ho” and “37 Trillion” in the set alongside favorites like “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife,” which seemed to fit well alongside their melodic, heavy and straightforwardly structured songs. Like Freedom Hawk, they’re rarely dug into frills of any kind, and it had been too long since I saw them, but they reminded of what a well-kept secret they are and gave me something to look forward to in their next record, whenever it might show up.

Wasted Theory

Wasted Theory (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Big news coming next week from Wasted Theory. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s not a new record — according to drummer Brendan Burns that’s still in the “messing around with riffs” stage, and fair enough since they released Warlords of the New Electric (review here) just last year — but it’s big news. And cool news. You know, I don’t always get down with where Wasted Theory land in terms of theme and whatnot, but as I watched guitarist/vocalist Larry Jackson, Jr. lead the band — Burns, guitarist Andrew Petkovic, bassist Corey Pettingill — through the set, I thought back to the first time I saw them early in 2013, and the difference six years have made in their sound is huge. On every level in terms of songs and performance, they’re a more professional, realized band, and yeah, they should be with three full-lengths out, but it’s still striking just how far they’ve come and how much work they’ve put in to find their place in Southern heavy rock. They’ve locked into their niche and set about developing as players and songwriters, and despite lineup changes they’ve never done anything but move forward. Look out for that news this week and join me in being vicariously happy for the band when the time comes.

Solace

Solace (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Solace are chaos. So much chaos. From the about-to-fly-off-the-rails dual-leadwork of Justin Daniels and Tommy Southard to the fact that they had Danny Golin (Halfway to Gone) sitting in on drums for the set after only rehearsing with him twice, to frontman Justin Goins spilling all the beer, the New Jersey five-piece are barely able to be contained on a stage — and at Maryland Doom Fest, they weren’t; Goins definitely spent some time in the crowd. They started recording their new album a year ago, reportedly, and I’ve already put up I think more than one news piece about it being done, but indeed, the thing’s still in progress, but whatever they do, wherever they go, Solace bring that sense of punk-metal danger with them, and it’s not just about a threat of violence, though maybe that too, even in the one new song they played, but the material itself has this frenetic energy to it that pushes everything into the red — figuratively and literally in terms of the lighting in this case — and when their set was done, you could almost feel the crowd at Cafe 611 exhale the breath it had been holding while they played. Hey, Solace — finish the goddamn album already. The world needs more of this kind of destructive catharsis. Badly.

WarHorse

Warhorse (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Yeah, so I know Massachusetts’ WarHorse only have two shows booked — this and Psycho Las Vegas in August — but I’m going to tell you straight up that this reunion is going to have to be a real thing whether they like it or not. The offers are going to keep coming. As in: “start writing songs and get your passports ready.” Already on the lips of fest-goers since the start of the day, the trio of bassist/vocalist Jerry Orne, drummer Mike Hubbard and Terry Savastano laid waste to the room. If Solace were the bull in the china shop, WarHorse were the steamroller knocking over the building afterward. It was magnificent. I never saw them during their original run, but their lone LP, As Heaven Turns to Ash (discussed here), is the stuff of legend — especially in the Northeast — and within the first five minutes of “Horizons Burn Red,” it was obvious they need to keep going. The set was that, plus “I am Dying,” “Scrape,” “Lysergic Communion” and “Black Acid Prophecy,” and when they were done, people were shouting for more. Rightly so. You know how you’ve been listening to that record for all these years and thinking like, “Wow, this must’ve been amazing to see live?” Well, it still is. Tour, new songs, album, festivals, all of it. They sounded like a band ready to get their due.

Earthride

Earthride (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m not sure how else you could hope to close out the night but with Earthride, who, again, tied together the spirit of Stoner Hands of Doom with Maryland Doom Fest perfectly. There was some problem early on with the bass rig, but it got worked out and after being introduced by drummer Eric Little‘s daughter — he looked pretty flabbergasted — they were off and rolling soon enough into the quintessential Chesapeake nod of “Something Wicked,” the title-track of their most recent album (review here), which came out in 2010. The intervening years have found vocalist Dave Sherman involved in Weed is Weed and the Spirit Caravan reunion that morphed into the current incarnation of The Obsessed, as well as other projects in the works and lineup changes in Earthride itself mostly in the bassist role — Greg Ball has handled guitar for the last several years — and true, they had the Witch Gun 7″ out in 2017, but even so, it’s time for a fourth Earthride album. I was dragging ass by the time they went on, but Earthride are kingpins of Maryland’s heavy underground and there’s nothing quite like seeing them on their home turf. As ever, I came out of doing so with no regrets whatsoever. They are a definitive band for what Maryland Doom Fest is all about.

It was, uh, late, when I got back to the AirBNB where I’m staying a few blocks away from the venue. I crashed on the futon in this room at about 2AM and was up before 7 thinking I needed to start making coffee and writing. Correct on both accounts. Today is another packed day — they all are — but it starts a little later, so I’ll see if I can’t crash for a bit this afternoon ahead of making my way over to Cafe 611 again. Also need to buy a toothbrush, so yeah, I think I’ll go do that. After I sort pictures.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

After the Sun

Freedom Hawk

Weed is Weed

Deer Creek

Devil to Pay

Wasted Theory

Solace

WarHorse

Earthride

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6 Responses to “Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Pre-Fest, 06.20.19”

  1. Ron says:

    Great review… I don’t know how you manage to crank out such quality stuff right after the show!

  2. Kelan Richey says:

    I was at show last night Solace killed it I heard they had a new bass player for last two years he is also playing on new album. Bass player shredded absolutely killed it any idea who he is ? Great article man, awesome pics too! Thank you

  3. Cheryl shod says:

    Killer review – thank you so much for doing it!!!

  4. Lucifer Burns says:

    Great Review & Pics.
    Makes Me feel like i was there with You.

  5. […] it, it’s rewarding in that sense that we have been around that long.  I found out today from JJ’s article that we were the most SHoD band that played last night.  We don’t know what the record is, […]

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