Live Review: Psycho Las Vegas Friday, 08.17.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on August 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

psycho las vegas

08.18.18 – 5:00AM – Saturday – Hotel room

Gluttons for punishment, unite! Cast off the chains of your dayjobs and journey to a druggy boozy place where you can smoke indoors and piss away your head-earned on, well, potentially, someone else’s hard-earned. You never liked those brain cells anyway, and what good have they done?

Me, I prefer my brains melted or otherwise obliterated with fatigue. Dripping out my ears, either way. But I see some folks around here going nuclear, and hey, I get it. Safe environment, plenty of support, nothing to lose. It’s self-directed cruelty more than anything else that keeps me sober. I don’t deserve the good time everyone else is having. Kablooey.

It was an early start for a busy day. 12:30PM. I’d imagine there were people who hadn’t gone to bed yet. But DVNE were not to be missed, so, I didn’t miss them. A lot of back and forth early and not really much staying-put later makes for a hell of a time, but everything is right there around the corner and everyone here is very nice. At least the people who’ve said hi to me. I’m sure just by simple population-sample math there are one or two jerks running around, but none I’ve run into.

Witchcraft didn’t make it. That’s a band I’ve dug on some level or other for more than a decade, but wasn’t gonna cry over it. Plenty to see besides with three stages open: The Joint, Vinyl and the Pool.

And like I said, early start. Went like this:

DVNE

dvne (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Good band. That’s what I wrote in my notes. Direct quote: Good band. Pro shop. For DVNE‘s first appearance on a US stage — and sizable US stage at that, in The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino — they hit it like absolute professionals. Crisp in their sound, intense in delivery, every bit in command of the room, from “go” onward. With full lighting and production behind them, CO2 canisters firing and lasers behind and their logo blasted on massive stage-side screens, the Edinburgh progressive post-metal four-piece certainly seemed to be made to feel welcome on what to them was foreign shores. Killed. Just nailed it. They have a new record out next year following up on last year’s righteous Asheran, and playing beneath oranges and reds that echoed that album’s cover art, they delivered a set that quite frankly, unless they break up tomorrow, I sincerely doubt will be their last time on an American stage. In other words, they seem ready to hit the road in a we’re-a-full-time-band-now kind of way, and more power to them. It’ll be worth keeping an eye out in 2019 for when they come through supporting their next full-length, but in the meantime, this set was basically serving early notice of a significant arrival.

Night Horse

Night Horse (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sure, it’s been eight years since L.A.’s Night Horse released their second album, Perdition Hymns (review here), but what the hell? The double-guitar five-piece — one of those guitarists happens to be Justin Maranga from Ancestors — took the stage and quickly warmed up their classic your-dad’s-rock-was-better vibe that, with added charm from vocalist Sam James Velde introducing them by saying, “We’re Integrity from Cleveland, Ohio,” was a total blast. I’ll admit it’s been a while since the last time I had Perdition Hymns or their 2008 debut, The Dark Won’t Hide You, on for a spin, but even though Maranga forgot his slide and no one seemed to have a beer bottle to use instead, they definitely made it work. With guitarist Greg Buensuceso and bassist Nick D’Itri holding down the other side of the stage and drummer Jamie Miller swinging away in the middle, they were way more locked in than one might think for a band who haven’t really kicked around all that much in at least a half-decade. Velde stepped over the barricade and into the crowd during the last song and asked everyone to sit with him on the floor — a proposition that I’d imagine would be way stickier later in the day — while he told the story of the song, and it made for a special moment, as almost everyone actually did it. He got back up and they rocked to a finish, but if you ever needed to know how much Night Horse owned that room, they literally sat it down to give some background on their material. He could do that at every show for all I know, but it was something special here anyway and I felt lucky to see it.

The Munsens

The Munsens (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Denver trio The Munsens posted a new single earlier this week called “Dirge (For Those to Come)” as a preview of their upcoming full-length, Unhanded, and with it, gave a first look at a notable change in direction, pushing more into the territory of extreme sludge than even two years ago found them on their Abbey Rose EP (review here). With guitarist/vocalist Shaun Goodwin and bassist/vocalist Michael Goodwin welcoming drummer Graham Wesselhoff, the shift is easy enough to place, but a corresponding turn to harsher vocals and more grueling fare would seem to be at hand. Most, if not all, of what they played in Vinyl was also from Unhanded, and they unfurled an onslaught of tone and noise that seemed to bounce right off the back of the room and make a wall of death with the next riff cycle. It was brutal, and not as given to crust as Dopethrone, but seemed to be somewhat of that spirit. Delivered with a likewise visual assault of strobe, their time went quick — unless I passed out from all the flashing lights — but was well enough to get the point of the evolution they’ve undergone. I don’t know if I’ll be ready when Unhanded, hits, but at least I’ll see it coming.

Temple of Void

Temple of Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I don’t know whether Temple of Void are the doom of death or the death of doom, but fucking hell they’re heavy. The Detroit five-piece released their second LP, Lords of Death, last year on Shadow Kingdom, and they’d only dip back once to 2014’s Of Terror and the Supernatural (review here) for “Examinate Gaze,” while everything else was from the new album. Fair enough for the significant assault factor of their death metal plunge. They took the stage to the Lords of Death intro “The Charnel Unearthing” — which given the intensity of what followed, I almost found unnecessary; they hit it so hard, why give people the chance to get ready? — and from there proffered an extremity that went beyond even the death metal to the atmospheric weight of what they were doing. Vocalist Mike Erdody had a soulful, tortured aspect to his headbanging and while behind him drummer Jason Pearce slammed into his kit with palpable resentment thereof and guitarists Alex Awn and Eric Blanchard tore into searing riffs and leads given all the more weight by Brent Satterly‘s bass, the sense of emotionalism Erdody brought to his growls was something rare on either side of the genre. It was another level on which Temple of Void make their impact felt, and a distinguishing factor that resonated throughout their time.

Church of Misery

Church of Misery (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There was something of a crunch at this point in the schedule. Church of Misery were going on in the Joint while Temple of Void finished up in Vinyl, and then by the time the serial-killer-crazed Japanese riff lords were done, Yakuza would have already started, also in Vinyl. Still, history said “go see Church of Misery,” and history wasn’t wrong. Bassist/founder Tatsu Mikami is nothing less than doom royalty, and while I’ve seen him perform with several different lineups over the years, it always seems like he’s ready to deliver no matter who’s joined him on stage at the time. Psycho was no exception as he, vocalist/thereminist Hiroyuki Takano, guitarist Yasuto Muraki and drummer Junichi Yamamura ran through a selection of the hits: “Shotgun Boogie,” “I, Motherfucker,” “Born to Raise Hell” and so on. I’m not huge on the whole serial killer thing — by coincidence, I wound up in an elevator today with one of Charles Manson’s descendants who was telling his friends it’s way less cool when it’s your family — but regardless, Church of Misery did plenty of slaying on their own and made it easy to hope they record with this lineup, as it seemed like they were more than ready to get down to business at the Sabbathian core of what the band has always been about. I did end up poking my head in to see Yakuza for a moment — and Bruce Lamont is still way ahead of his time — but Church of Misery weren’t taking no for an answer. I was back in the Joint before long as they blew out the rest of their set and any number of eardrums in the process.

Tinariwen

Tinariwen (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Absolutely stunning. I knew next to nothing about the Tuareg group Tinariwen going into the announcement they’d play Psycho Las Vegas, but the schedule cut off both the pool and Vinyl stages while they played, so clearly they were an act Psycho wanted people to see. Rightly so. Dressed in robes and traditional garb and backed by hand percussion, the band led by guitarist/vocalist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib brought a desert blues that tied to Psycho better than one might’ve ever expected. With acoustic and electric guitars, bass and deep-running vocal arrangements, dancing on stage — some dancing in the crowd too — and video of them on huge screens on either side, it was no less of a production in terms of lighting and staging than Church of Misery or DVNE had been, but the soothing vibe and ebbs and flows in the music made it a total standout. They were another one I was going to stay for a bit and then wander off and find some more coffee, but I was hooked. They could’ve played twice as long and I don’t think I would’ve moved. Their set felt like a gift and on a day that wasn’t exactly hurting for highlights anyhow, they were something truly special to behold. Their 2017 album, Elwan, was recorded in the California desert and has quickly made its way to the front of my must-purchase line.

Boris

Boris (Photo by JJ Koczan)

In their 25-plus years, enough wax poetry has been written in honor of Japanese noise and heavy rock innovators, droners, experimentalists, J-poppers and anything-else-they-want-to-be-that-day Boris that even attempting to talk about their set feels superfluous. I’d only be echoing a chorus of praise that’s resounded for the last two decades. Suffice it to say, they’re masters at what they do. Individually and collectively, guitarist Wata, drummer Atsuo and guitarist/bassist Takeshi are relentless in their forward progression, and though most of what they played after a drifting, slower opening came from the Heavy Rocks and Pink-style, the wash of noise and over-the-top push were never far off. Their 2017 album, Dear (review here), was a stunning glimpse at where they’ve been in their time and where they might still go, and bathed in fog on the Joint stage, they captured much the same feel in celebrating their past while continuing to move ahead toward something new. I don’t know if it’s possible for Boris to be underrated, but the chemistry between them on stage — whether it’s Atsuo shouting into his headset mic to raise the energy level or Wata scorching out another solo or Takeshi switching from his rhythm guitar neck to his bass neck and hurling out blistering low end runs — is among the most pivotal aspects of what they do, and as much as they’ve done to push heavy rock to multiple avenues over their tenure, they’ve only gotten to be a more potent force live.

High on Fire

High on Fire (Photo by JJ Koczan)

If a single person could embody what Psycho Las Vegas is, it might be Matt Pike. The High on Fire frontman and Sleep guitarist has played all three editions of this festival in some form or other — time for a Kalas reunion? — and he, bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel came out like the statesmen they are; one of the most crucial bands not just in underground heavy, but in the wider sphere of metal. Hugely influential, with a maddening signature gallop and tales of war and bludgeonry to delight the downtrodden of spirit. Their upcoming LP, Electric Messiah, marks the third collaboration between the trio and producer Kurt Ballou, and while they didn’t play anything from it, they did give due representation to 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) in “The Black Plot,” “Carcosa” and “Slave the Hive,”  and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here) with “Fertile Green” and “Serums of Laio,” while older works like 2007’s Death is This Communion (discussed here) and 2005’s Blessed Black Wings (discussed here) made their presence felt with cuts like “Rumors of War” and “Sons of Thunder.” I’d argue they were the night’s headliners even before Witchcraft dropped off, but either way, High on Fire were more than up to the occasion, and with “Blood from Zion” from 2000’s The Art of Self-Defense late in the set, they brought together past and present in a way that was every bit the culmination of the evening. There was still plenty more Psycho after them, but no doubt High on Fire left their mark on the night and all who assembled to see them.

I don’t know if you saw it, but on the social medias I posted a picture of The Pecan and asked if anyone could turn it into the cover of Vol. 4 by Black Sabbath. Several came in, which was hugely appreciated, and among them was this one from Slevin, which I subsequently spent the rest of the night staring at because it’s so friggin’ awesome. If you need me, I’ll be meme-ing my baby. Next up, his head on Jean-Luc Picard’s body. It will happen.

Anyway, I came back to the room after the show and sorted pictures and whatnot and then crashed out pretty soon thereafter to get up early and write. My alarm was set for six and I woke up a bit before five and decided to roll with it. Psycho starts an hour later today, but is another super-busy day, so I’m going to get some more rest in preparation for that. I may or may not check in again before that review goes up, depends on time, but there are more pics after the jump here and I appreciate you reading and taking time to have a look if you do.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Psycho Las Vegas 2018: Bowing to Electric Messiah

Posted in Features on August 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

VEGAS

08.17.18 – 11:16AM – Thursday morning – Hotel room

Was up a fair amount overnight. Had a nightmare I was being chased around the festival by some terrible somersaulting clown. He didn’t walk, he only rolled, but he rolled really fast and I’m pretty sure he was trying to kill me. Not friendly intentions, at the very least.

Did the review — did you see it? were there typos? — and was asleep immediately upon its posting. I was like, “Oh jeez I’m pretty awake I’m not sure if I — SLEEEEP.” Done for.

The alarm went off a little over an hour ago and I took the best shower I’ve taken in months. Maybe years. You know how there’s no shower like your own shower? Right? And everywhere you go, going home and taking a shower in your own shower is the best? Yeah, no. The Hard Rock shower is legit better than that going-home shower, unless that going-home shower is a roomy slate-tile affair obviously meant for company with a jet setting that would powerwash the paint off your house. Temperature, perfect. It was nothing short of amazing, and after peeling all the airplane/festival gunk from my skin like I was molting, I wanted to go another round just for the hell of it.

Coffee’s good too. There’s a little shop right by the elevator that’s doing alright. And if you keep your cups they give free refills, but the only trouble is they close at 7PM. I can’t imagine I’ll ever be invited back here, but these things are good to know anyway.

The first of three three-stage days starts today. Vinyl, the Joint and the pool will be open, though only the pool later on. Today, tomorrow and Sunday are all pretty busy days. Not a lot of downtime, and intermittent though it was, I expect last night was actually the best night’s sleep I’ll get. So it goes.

This isn’t the kind of fest that happens every day, so if you have to lose sleep to see what you want to see, it’s a small price to pay. DVNE are on in about an hour and I’m gonna grab more coffee and meander, try and figure out where I go and when and whatnot. If you’re keeping tabs — and yeah, I know, you’re not; this is not me feigning relevance — I’ll have the review up later or tomorrow morning. Thanks for reading.

Tags: , , ,

Live Review: Psycho Las Vegas Pool Party, 08.17.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on August 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

viva psycho

08.16.18 – 4:50AM – Friday morning – Hard Rock, hotel room

None of it makes any fucking sense. Not a lick of it. And it took me the better part of the day to realize that’s the idea. The whole point. What even is underground when you watch Bell Witch play by the side of a casino pool in a sweltering den of capitalist exploitation? What is real? Any of it? I don’t know. That’s the point. Psycho Las Vegas is taking the narrative of what the underground is and punching it in the face until it can’t be recognized anymore. The sheer spectacle of this event. The are-you-overwhelmed-yet-okay-good tilt. It’s so weird. It’s so weird.

psycho las vegas 2018 thursdayIt’s so weird.

But I don’t think you’re supposed to get it. It’s not about making sense in any kind of traditional way. Psycho Las Vegas, in the span of three very-clearly-well-funded years, has become the absolute destination heavy festival in the US. There are plenty of other metal fests that have been around longer and have unquestionable reputations, but for this particular branch of heavy, there’s nothing to match this. I don’t know how anything could.

This was the first day. The pool party. By the Paradise Pool. I apologize deeply to Haunt and Toke. I just didn’t make it in time. I wanted to see both. It just didn’t work out. I got myself situated in time to catch most of Fireball Ministry though, and here’s how it went from there:

Fireball Ministry

fireball ministry (Photo by JJ Koczan)

If you gotta start a weekend of top-class heavy somewhere, it might as well be with top-class heavy. Fireball Ministry had bassist Helen Storer filling in for Scott Reeder alongside guitarist/vocalists Jim Rota and Emily Burton and drummer John Oreshnick, but there was no way in hell they weren’t going to rock either way. Ostensibly, they were here supporting their new album, late-2017’s Remember the Story (review here), but even more than that, they were here representing a sans-frills heavy rock spirit that has endured in spite of trend and generational swap. That is, Fireball Ministry were there when, and they’re here now, and they delivered a powerful set as only a group of no-bullshit, ace-songwriting, still-underrated-after-all-these-years veterans could hope to do. I hoped to run into Rota later to ask him if this was the first casino pool party he’d ever played — hey, Fireball Ministry‘s done a lot of shows, so you never know — but didn’t get the chance. Either way, they absolutely delivered, and while I was fairly gutted to miss the first two bands, if you need to get on board with a show already in progress, Fireball Ministry are more than ready to make their rock your rock. Oh and by the way, they rock.

Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Tough to be the odd band out on this bill, but Dengue Fever managed, and again, I was a little bit in wrapping my head around what was happening. Psycho returnees? Took it all in stride. Let’s assume they were the ones in the patched battle vests dancing to Dengue Fever‘s upbeat semi-punk/semi-funk surf groove. There’s a trick to being here, I think, and no, it’s not just drinking. I’ll grant that Las Vegas is among the worst places on earth to be sober — the town simply wasn’t built for humans to be lucid within its borders — but beyond that, the trick is to just go with it. Dengue Fever played two bands after the dirt-sludge of Toke and two bands before Bell Witch and Wolves in the Throne Room back to back. That was the whole vibe of today in a nutshell. If you sat back and thought about it, you were doing it wrong. It’s a party. It’s a weird party. So party, and be weird. Dengue Fever were more than just a vehicle for that spirit, of course, but in this context, but with the sax blaring and the bouncing rhythms, they seemed to embody this festival’s will to be whatever the hell it wants to be, whenever the hell it wants to be it. Truly Psycho.

Elder

Elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Band of the day. One more record and Elder will be headlining shows like this. It’s a toss-up whose crowd was bigger, theirs or Wolves in the Throne Room‘s, but even so, their presence on stage, their command of their sweeping progressive heavy rock sound, and their drive to genuinely push the idea of ‘heavy’ to places it’s never been all speak to a band ready to be at the next level. Their 2017 album, Reflections of a Floating World (review here), and 2015’s landmark Lore (review here) were assuredly well known to the masses assembled, and even if it was the title-track of  2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) that got the biggest response, people were cheering during part transitions, let alone the standard round of applause between the songs. Elder are that kind of band, and their movements within tracks have only gotten more fluid and nuanced over time. The four-piece incarnation of the band had all the more depth of tone and sonic reach from guitarists Nick DiSalvo and Mike Risberg (the former also vocals, the latter also keys), while bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto offered swing and intricacy of play alike that just furthered the proggy impression Elder make at this point. They killed. I don’t know how else to say it. It was an utter pleasure to watch and they’ve become one of the best heavy rock live acts anywhere, period. If you missed them, sorry.

Bell Witch

Bell Witch (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was sunny when Bell Witch started and by the time they were done, dusk had fallen and the moon was out. Felt about right. They had 80 minutes at their disposal, which would’ve been just enough time to play last year’s brilliant and mournful Mirror Reaper (review here), and sure enough, that single-song outing was basically what comprised their set, even if Erik Moggridge (aka Aerial Ruin) wasn’t around to add his clean parts to it. Bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond and drummer/organist/vocalist Jesse Shreibman had no problem carrying across the outright bludgeoning sensibility of their ultra-doom on their own, however, and with the inward-turned grieving process that is the material itself, Bell Witch nonetheless oozed forth a consuming mass of volume that, despite the outdoor setting, left little choice but to be swallowed whole by it. They’ve toured fairly heavily in support of Mirror Reaper since its arrival — I was fortunate enough to catch them playing it at Roadburn earlier this year as well — and there’s no denying the power of their performance. It’s a masterwork in every sense and deserves to be heard by as many people as possible.

Wolves in the Throne Room

Wolves in the Throne Room (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The fog machines on full blast for the breezy desert night, incense consecrating the stage during the low-end volume-swell drone of their intro, and Washington’s Wolves in the Throne Room actually managed to make the atmosphere of the pool party their own for the duration of their set. It was a raging, scorching performance, as they took hold on the heels of 2017’s Thrice Woven (review here) and blasted out an intensity that was as much about the ambience as it was the assault. The expanded five-piece lineup was fully charged and as guitarist/vocalist Nathan Weaver, whose brother, Aaron, handles drums in the studio while Trevor DeSchryver fills in live, led the band through an outright pummeling set that made itself even further distinguished from everything before it owing to its keys and synth elements and the manner in which it was able to turn from its most seething stretches to minimalist soundscaping seemingly on a dime. The crowd thinned out some by the end — I’ll admit I watched them finish out my hotel room window as well — but for every dragging-ass member of the audience like me, there were even more for whom the party was just getting started, and somehow, Wolves in the Throne Room fit that party as well as anyone else who played on the poolside bill.

It’s about six-thirty now. Need to shower. Need to sleep more. First band today at 12:30PM. Madness is the order of the weekend. Keep falling asleep while typing. Writing with my eyes closed. Still need to sort pictures. Busy busy busy.

Didn’t have enough coffee yesterday. Will work to rectify that soon enough. More pics after the jump though, so thanks for reading.

More later.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Psycho Las Vegas 2018: Arrival

Posted in Features on August 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

psycho las vegas 2018 pool

08.16.18 – 1:38PM – Thursday afternoon – Psycho Las Vegas

Well, I’m here. Alarm went off at 2:30AM. Lyft took me to the airport; easiest part of the trip. Two flights later, landed in Vegas, got in cab, came to casino. Weirdos and scumbags by the dozen. Gleeful in early drinking and excitement for the weekend ahead. Haven’t really slept. You should’ve seen me in LAX trying to finish off that Spacetrucker review. Pathetic. Good times abound though, and will continue to abound, I’ve no doubt.

To wit, the pool party’s already begun. I can see the stage from my room, hear the riffs. I think that was Toke who just played. I don’t know. Just sorting my wristband now, so I couldn’t really get close enough to find out. Whoever it was, they were mighty sludgy.

This is my first Psycho, not my first trip to Las Vegas. Still, I had to buy deodorant and toothbrush/toothpaste at the store downstairs because I’m amateur-hour and completely forgot toiletries. I remembered granola, so whatever that tells you.

In the casino space downstairs where what I presume is the Center Bar — it’s the bar in the middle, so yeah — is located, they have the prize you can win in the Psycho Las Vegas blackjack tournament. It’s in a glass case. An Orange stack, a bunch of everything, I guess. I don’t play cards, but hey. If you’ve got the money to burn, way to go. All my credit cards got rejected putting the hold on my account for this room. So there’s that. Clearly this won’t be a big trip for merch on my end. I don’t even know where the merch is, which is probably for the best.

Flew over the desert coming in. It’s still big, empty and gorgeous.

A/C and volume on full blast. Gonna head down to the pool to check out Fireball Ministry. Looks like rain. In the desert. Makes no sense, but surreal is the order of the day. Need to stop expecting it to make sense. Okay.

Tags: , , , ,

Here’s the Bio I Wrote for All Them Witches’ ATW

Posted in Features on August 1st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

all them witches

A couple months back, I had the distinct pleasure of being asked to write the bio for the next All Them Witches album. Titled simply ATW, it’s a distinct shift in approach from the preceding Sleeping Through the War (review here) not only in that it marks the introduction of Jonathan Draper on keys, but also in terms of overall production. Helmed by guitarist Ben McLeod, it’s the first time the Nashville four-piece have recorded themselves for a full-length offering. It pulls back on some of its predecessor’s more elaborate, “produced” feel and instead captures the natural interplay between the four members of the band. In short, it’s a more live-sounding, stage-ready album. And obviously I jumped at the chance to write the bio for it.

ATW is out Sept. 28 on New West Records. You can stream the opening track “Fishbelly 86 Onions” at the bottom of this post, and thanks for reading:

all them witches atw

All Them Witches – ATW

By most bands’ fifth LP, the sound is pretty set. Parameters established. Refinement dissipated in favor of formulaic execution of what’s worked in the past. Fair enough. All Them Witches take a harder route.

In 2017, the Nashville four-piece offered what might’ve otherwise become their own template in their fourth album, Sleeping Through The War. Their second for New West Records following 2015’s mellow-vibing Dying Surfer Meets His Maker, Sleeping brought larger production value to dug-in heavy psych blues jamming with oversight from producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson).

After exploring new ground on 2013’s Lightning At The Door and 2012’s Our Mother Electricity as well as Dying Surfer, with Sleeping the band had arrived at something new, something sprawling, and grander-feeling than anything before it.

So naturally, in a year’s time they’ve thrown that all to the Appalachian wind, turned the process completely on its head and reversed paths: recording in a cabin in Kingston Springs, about 20 miles outside of Nashville on I-40, with guitarist Ben McLeod at the helm. Take that, expectation.

The result, mixed by Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith, Kurt Vile), is the most intimate, human-sounding album All Them Witches have ever recorded and another redefinition of the band. Introducing keyboardist/percussionist Jonathan Draper to the fold with McLeod, bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler, the new eponymous record isn’t self-titled by mistake. It’s the band confirming and continuing to develop their approach, in the shuffle of “Fishbelly 86 Onions,” the organ-laced groove of “Half-Tongue,” the tense build of “HJTC” and the fluid jam in closer “Rob’s Dream.”

It’s a reaction to being a “bigger” band. To playing bigger shows, bigger tours, etc. From the sustained consonants in Parks’ vocals to McLeod’s commanding slide in “Workhorse” and drifting melancholy at the outset of “Harvest Feast,” All Them Witches is there laying claim to the essential facets of their identity. And the urgency of these tracks – fast pushers and sleepy jams alike – is among their greatest strengths.

It’s a rawer delivery, as stage-ready as the band itself, and as ever, it captures All Them Witches in this moment. Is it who they’ll be tomorrow? Who the hell knows? Check back in and we’ll all find out together. That’s the whole idea.

TRACKLIST:
Fishbelly 86 Onions
Workhorse
1st vs. 2nd
Half-Tongue
Diamond
Harvest Feast
HJTC
Rob’s Dream

All Them Witches is:
Charles Michael Parks, Jr
Ben McLeod
Robby Staebler
Jonathan Draper

http://allthemwitches.bandcamp.com/
http://www.facebook.com/allthemwitches
https://www.instagram.com/allthemwitchesband/
https://twitter.com/allthemwitches
http://www.allthemwitches.org/

All Them Witches, ATW (2018)

Tags: , , , , ,

Six Dumb Questions with Bong

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

bong

The extensive back catalog of UK drone ritualists Bong can be as foggy as the band’s sound itself. Between studio full-lengths, they have a history of EPs, splits, periodic compilations of EPs and splits, and no fewer than 23 live albums that goes back over a decade. Still, they’ve been pretty quiet since issuing We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been in 2015, with just two live recordings that followed. All the more reason to approach their 2018 long-player, Thought and Existence (previously discussed here), with a marked curiosity. What have the trio been up in what one assumes is a bunker deep below the surface of their hometown in Newcastle? From whence does the new album, delivered appropriately through Ritual Productions — with whom the band has worked since 2011’s Beyond Ancient Space (review here) — arrive?

As ever, Bong present more questions than answers. With the lineup of guitarist Mike Vest, bassist/vocalist David Terry and drummer Mike Smith explore a textural range that spreads out across two massive, immersive, compulsive tracks in “The Golden Fields” (17:31) and “Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius” (19:01), emitting a slow moving swirl that draws the listener in with its well-honed patience and fluidity. You’re hypnotized. They’re hypnotized. That’s kind of the whole point. Not to say it isn’t expressing a sonic idea, but that idea is to get lost in it. That’s the interaction Bong are seeking with Thought and Existence. It’s a communion between performers, audience and sound. Take that how you will — and some simply won’t — but it’s a journey one refuses to their own detriment.

Having been fortunate enough to see Bong perform most recently at Oslo’s Høstsabbat in 2016 (review here), I can recall vividly (or, you know, vaguely) the fog-drenched drone they brought to life on that stage, with Terry gurgling out his vocal parts as Vest and fill-in drummer Rich Lewis went exploring by oozing forth in any number of directions at once, taking the room through a massive, voluminous plunge into brain-melting tonal resonance. It was astounding to watch, and in the chants of “The Golden Fields” and the far, far-gone “Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius,” Thought and Existence captures the same sensibility and feeling of journey. It’s not just a willful slog in the front-to-back listen — actually, at 36 minutes, it’s a quite-manageable single LP, as was their last one; 2014’s Stoner Rock was their last 2LP, sort of — turn it up and it’s a physical manifestation of a near-opaque ethereality. Their methods well set at this stage in their career, Bong continue to explore places that most bands dare not tread and atmospheres from whence many a lesser act simply would not return.

In the relatively brief interview that follows, the band talks about some of the makings, processes and concepts behind Thought and Existence. Since rhythm and flow play so much of a role in what Bong does, I’ve left the Q&A largely untouched, and you’ll find it below only really changed from how it came in in terms of format, putting titles in italics and that kind of thing. The rest is as it showed up to preserve the integrity of it, and I sincerely hope it does just that.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

bong thought and existence

Six Dumb Questions with Bong

What is the interaction between volume and ritual for Bong at this point? Where does one end and the other begin?

Playing live. To create the great sustain live, everything must be cranked. Everything! This is a major part of the ritual. A forced meditation for the audience. Even when we are in the studio, this rule need to be enforced. Textures and tones are really important and can only be achieved through high volume. Capturing that in the studio is a challenge but can be ultimately rewarding.

Why Thought and Existence? What is the album exploring and what do you feel it says about the title ultimately? Is there a conclusion reached through the material?

Exploring metaphysical inner space, the past is a present memory and the possibility that all time has expired. The inward expansive nature of the mind and our senses. The brain is actually part of the external world, it is only through our senses that we can truly see or feel the mind. The title itself is expansive and cannot be summed up, but can be perceived in many different ways.

Tell me about writing “The Golden Fields” and “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” When did you start putting them together and how did they begin to take shape?

“Tlön” was written over time, we played various different versions of this track over the shows we were at early last year. It formed over time, the main riff was then extended and tightened up at practice sessions before we went into the studio. “Golden Fields” was roughly planned, with certain stages. Lining up the vocals with the tempo, gaps in the percussion. All our tracks are formed over time, the more we play, the clearer the arrangement seems to be.

How malleable are Bong songs over time? If I went to a Bong show three years from now and heard “The Golden Fields,” would it be the same as on the album? How set are the movements of a given piece? How do you know when writing a song that it’s done?

The arrangements, if any, will stay the same.

When changes or intensities begin, they are totally improvised.

Lead or layered octave guitar harmonies will drift in and out of any track live. Wenever play the same track exact, however you can still distinguish between which track is actually being played.

Our songs are never finished, as long as we keep playing the song live it will always change. Tracks on our albums are recorded moments, they have no real set parameters.

Take me through the recording process for Thought and Existence. Of course you know what you want out a studio experience at this point, but how did these tracks come together during the recording? What’s most important for you to capture in a studio recording process?

It’s all about the initial live takes in the studio.

We play all together to set the right tempo, we try to use the second or third take of a track as a final version to keep the feel, playing a track over and over in the studio can bleed it dry. However, using the first take as a reference point it can make it easier to create dynamics, place vocals and possible arrangements. We spent a lot of time playing these tracks, so we knew the arrangements. So we allocated a lot of time for experimentation adding bowed cymbals, more stereo guitars and Harmonium/Melodeon drones.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

Thought and Existence is out on May 4th on Ritual Productions We are currently booking shows for Europe and UK right now, so get in touch with us, we want play more shows this year. We [played] London at the end of June. More are being confirmed.
Also thanks to everyone who has picked up an LP/Tape/CD/t-shirt or just came to one of our shows. Means a lot to us. We never thought we would get this far.

Bong, Thought and Existence (2018)

Bong on Thee Facebooks

Ritual Productions website

Tags: , , , , ,

Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2018 Night Three, 06.24.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on June 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland-doom-fest-2018-night-three-poster

Before I get started on the last night of Maryland Doom Fest 2018, I want to thank JB Matson and Mark Cruikshank for the incredible work they’ve put into making this event something truly special. Think Maryland was ready for a festival to help define and codify its generations-spanning underground scene? Maryland Doom Fest has done so in four years’ time, and not only has it helped give an understanding to what Maryland doom is, but it’s working actively to broaden those horizons as well. And its reach is growing. Not only in bands. Last night the dude standing to my left was there with friends from Portland, Oregon, and to my right was a handful of folks from Albuquerque, New Mexico, all packed right at the front of the stage. It’s growing, and quickly.

But as Maryland Doom Fest enters what might be its Golden Age in presenting shows people will talk about years later — “ah yeah, were you at Doom Fest when Windhand played?”, etc. — the event has also kept its head on its shoulders about the work in progress. It’s a grounded experience, very much of its place, and a thrill to be able to return here and see it, especially after missing last year. I very much hope to be back to Frederick and back to Cafe 611 in 2019.

I don’t mind telling you I rolled into the venue in time to catch the first band feeling like I’d had my ass kicked up and down 6th St. already — because I had, two days running — but the momentum of the final day of Maryland Doom Fest 2018 was as thick as the riffs and it was a pleasure to be shoved along to a riotous finish.

Happened like this:

Gateway to Hell

Gateway to Hell (Photo JJ Koczan)

Baltimore natives Gateway to Hell started a few minutes late, which unless I’m mistaken resulted in a shortening of their set. If so, all the more a bummer, because when they were done, I wanted more. They made their debut last year with the EP, Clovers (review here), and though I had a more metallic impression of them in my mind from that going into their set opening the last day of Maryland Doom Fest 2018, with an orchestra of effects there was an experimentalist psych edge to the guitar work of Alex Briscoe that blended with straight-ahead rhythms from bassist Eric Responsible (who wins the weekend as regards surnames) and drummer Dan Petrucelli, all of which gave frontman Jerrod Bronson ground to belt out lyrics over top. They had intense moments to be sure, but I wondered if their next release might bring more of that weirdo sensibility to bear in their sound. Fingers crossed. It worked really well on stage.

Bedowyn

Bedowyn (Photo JJ Koczan)

Comprised of vocalist/guitarist Alex Traboulsi, guitarist Mark Peters, newcomer bassist Channing Azure and drummer Marc Campbell, Raleigh, North Carolina’s Bedowyn were about as close as Doom Fest got to black metal this year, and well, it was pretty close. Bedowyn, who got their start in 2011 and have an EP and full-length under their collective belt, blend that genre with a handful of others — thrash, classic metal, heavy rock, and so on — to conjure an aggressive but still poised sound, and Traboulsi‘s vocals turned from screams to sort of cleaner shouts while Campbell‘s drums held together all the part changes and stylistic turns. They went on early, so got an extra five minutes to play and made the most of it as a standout coming from someplace different than just about everything on the bill, which, again, was packed the whole way through. Also, if I remember right, I was told Campbell played drums with two broken fingers, thereby earning immeasurable bonus points. So there’s that too.

Saints and Winos

Saints and Winos (Photo JJ Koczan)

I guess everyone was on the 4:15 doombus to Frederick, because all of a sudden I turned around and the room was was pretty full for Saints and Winos from Rochester, New York. Mixing clean and harsh vocals, they tipped hats to more extreme and sludgy sounds, but had their basis in heavy rock and roll and a somewhat classic style, with plenty of low end fuzz and metallic swing very much in the spirit of the weekend in those terms and as regards general ease of pace. Their debut album, the all-caps WE RISE, came out late last year and featured three-part harmonies from guitarist Joe Dellaquila, bassist Amanda Rampe and drummer J.B. Rodgers on songs like “Great Wall,” and there was some of that on stage as well but it didn’t quite come through the house P.A. with the same kind of balance. Hazards of being the third band on the bill with complex arrangements. They were engaging enough to make me dig into the record anyway, and while there’s room to grow in their sound, it was plain to hear that potential during their set.

Book of Wyrms

Book of Wyrms (Photo JJ Koczan)

Look, I don’t want to say classic doom will never die, because let’s face it: everything fucking dies. Someday the ocean is going rise up and eat us all about 30 seconds before the asteroid hits and splits the planet in two, only to be later consumed by the sun, also dying, so yeah. Classic doom will die, but it sure as shit ain’t dead yet. Book of Wyrms made an intriguing opening statement with 2017’s Sci-Fi/Fantasy (review here), which came out via respected tonal specialists Twin Earth Records. The lineup of vocalist/effects-bringer Sarah Moore Lindsey, guitarists Kyle Lewis and Ben Coudriet, bassist Jay Lindsey and drummer Chris DeHaven dug into traditional stoner-doom vibes that were, indeed, a pleasure to witness, and their potential was writ large over their time on stage in much the same fashion as on the record. I don’t know if it’s the balance of samples vs. riffs or doomed aspects and more heavy rock roll and melody in Lindsey‘s vocals, but there’s something waiting to be tapped in their sound that, if they get there, will make all the difference for them. As it was, they carried the room with ease.

Sierra

Sierra (Photo JJ Koczan)

What a way to start a tour. And what a tour to start. Canadian three-piece Sierra obviously enjoyed launching a run of shows as they did last year at Maryland Doom Fest 2017, because they were doing the same thing all over again. This time, they’ll be out supporting fest-headliners Weedeater, and as they’ve been a steady presence on the Tone Deaf Touring circuit the last several years — they’ll also be at de facto sister fest Descendants of Crom in Pittsburgh this September — they’re tight enough in their delivery to have a professional sheen. They’re a tricky band as well, because it’s easy to watch them and say, “Okay, heavy rock, fair enough,” but that’s not it. There’s more just under the surface. To say Rush is a lazy comparison based on the simple fact of their northern origins, but they’re more prog than they let on, and they work smoothly in tipping that balance back and forth between the straightforward and the more complex. Of course, that makes them more exciting to watch, since they’re neither purely clinical nor just another collective bearing riffs, but instead offer something more varied between the two. It was my first time seeing them, and they were better than I knew, making a highlight of “Rainbows End” before finishing out with a cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Into the Void.”

Curse the Son

Curse the Son (Photo JJ Koczan)

However, I knew damn well that Curse the Son were going to be incredible. Perfect band for the setting, great slot, a room that would just bounce their volume off the walls. Yeah, it was gonna work out. And it did. It’s been a little bit — more than I’d prefer, certainly — since I last saw the Hamden, Connecticut, trio, and in that time, they’ve released their third album, Isolator (review here), signed to Ripple Music and brought in drummer Robert Ives alongside bassist/backing vocalist Brandon Keefe and founding guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, so yeah, it’s been reasonably busy. Another band Maryland Doom Fest 2018 is sharing with Descendants of Crom, they also appeared at this Spring’s inaugural New England Stoner and Doom Fest, and as Vanacore announced from the stage, they’re working toward a new album for early 2019. “Huzzah” would be putting it mildly. They were the first band all weekend for whom I removed my earplugs and let go a little bit to headbang and really take in. A lot of Maryland doom resides in a mid-paced groove. Curse the Son play slower and lower, and that nod was exactly what my weary soul needed. With Vanacore‘s tonal morass and vocals cutting through, older cuts like “Spider Stole the Weed” and “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” were familiar and welcome, and though he had some rather significant shoes to fill, the swing and intensity Ives brought to the drums was a dead-on fit. They don’t really tour, but still, theirs was one of my favorite sets of the whole weekend, and if you’re reading this and you ever get the chance to see them live, do it.

Backwoods Payback

Backwoods Payback (Photo JJ Koczan)

Under general circumstances, I’m not one to gush, but I tell you know lie, I went up to each member of Backwoods Payback individually — to guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson, each separately — and told them how incredible their new album, Future Slum, is. I don’t even know how many times the word “awesome” left my mouth, but needless to say it was an embarrassing number. The thing about it is, they just absolutely nailed it. Same could easily be said of their set at Maryland Doom Fest 2018. Playing new material and old after opening with “You Don’t Move” from their most recent outing, 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), they absolutely laid waste to Cafe 611. And it’s for the same reason: everything has clicked. The songs, the lineup, the performance, the presence — it’s all in the same place and they’re experienced enough and smart enough to throw it at the audience in just the right way. And the conviction from all three of them. Plenty of bands this weekend meant what they were doing. To be blunt, nobody was phoning it in. But with Backwoods Payback, it was another level entirely, and when Cummings jumped off the stage toward the end of the set and shared the mic with a couple kids in the crowd who knew the words, it felt like a moment that encapsulated the band’s capacity to hit hard and still translate that their conviction into a meaningful experience. I’ll have more to say about the new record and I’ve already made plans to see them again next month, but this one was a landmark not to be forgotten anytime soon.

Caustic Casanova

Caustic Casanova (Photo JJ Koczan)

I knew Caustic Casanova were underrated, and seeing them for the first time, I guess I was interested to find out if I could find a reason why. Their sound is certainly accessible enough; the Washington, D.C./Frederick trio play a style of heavy rock that in part feels drawn from ’90s college/art rock weirdoism and part drawn from a desire to mash that against sonic pummel and punker drive, but they’re also a thoughtful band. Each part has its purpose, and even in their delivery live, there was a sense of focus that pervaded what they were doing. It was fun to watch, definitely, but there was a strong intent there — nothing felt like an accident, however experimental it may have been in the composition. One knows they’re Melvins fans because they did a cover of “Cow” on their latest 7″, but their style has much more to it than just post-Buzzo riffing and tryhard avant gardeship so often resulting from that influence. And if Caustic Casanova are underrated, the reason is precisely because they’re not easy to pin down. They’re a dynamic, complex trio given to deft rhythmic turns and an indie aspect to complement/contrast their heavier elements, and they don’t fit into any single genre tag necessarily beyond the blanket “progressive heavy rock,” which is a pale descriptor for the actual depth of character in the music they make.

Duel

Duel (Photo JJ Koczan)

The rest of the night would be given to riotousness, and Duel were the start of that. Up from their home in Austin, Texas, this would mark the largest tour they’ve undertaken in the US, but they come into it with multiple European stints on their CV. Recently also announced for Heavy Mash 2018 in October (info here), their latest release is actually a live album called Live at the Electric Church (review here) that Heavy Psych Sounds put out as a complement to their two to-date studio LPs, 2016’s Fears of the Dead (review here) and 2017’s Witchbanger (review here), and from that, I thought I had a pretty decent idea what to expect. What took me by surprise, though, was the energy behind what they were doing. They’re classic heavy rock in their stylistic root, but rather than present it as some staid relic to be showcased like a museum piece under glass, they instead break that glass with their bare hands, smear the blood over their faces and proceed to capture the dangerous spirit that drove the earliest days of riffery in the first place. Actually, they do more than just capture it. They make it their own, so that this sound so often associated with the past becomes something inextricably forward thinking. I dug the records, so wasn’t surprised to be into the live show, but the sheer vitality of it was staggering. They made it a celebration.

The Midnight Ghost Train

The Midnight Ghost Train (Photo JJ Koczan)

Their last show. Heavy rock and roll loses one of its most potent live acts in The Midnight Ghost Train, who made Maryland Doom Fest 2018 the occasion for their final gig. Ever? Maybe. One has learned time and again never to say never in rock and roll, but the band made it known in April they were calling it quits, and this was their version of going out with a bang. Did you ever get to see The Midnight Ghost Train? It’s a question I can see myself asking in conversation for years to come — they are a litmus test for music and performance as a kinetic force, and a comparison point to which few will be able to live up. Founded by guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss and ending with longtime drummer Brandon Burghart (I don’t know what else he’s got going, but I can’t imagine any band not wanting him in its lineup) and relative newcomer bassist Tyler Harper (also of Capra), they were fury incarnate with a bittersweet underpinning. I’ve watched The Midnight Ghost Train shows for a decade, and I tell you with no reservation that they’re among the most powerful heavy rock bands I’ve ever seen. Moss transforms into a shuffle-blues madman, Burghart‘s swing is nigh-unmatchable, and Harper stood toe-to-toe with the guitar, which is saying something. They will be missed. But they went out as they always were — on fire — and I stayed up front the whole time and felt fortunate to be there to see it, as I think did everyone else in the room. They were a big part of what made the day so special. And even if they get back together at some point, years down the line or whatever, the impact of this night, this set, stands as a monument to who they were as a group and Moss‘ realized vision of heavy, funky, bluesy righteousness.

Weedeater

Weedeater (Photo JJ Koczan)

Well, if one band over the course of the three-day event was going to ignite a genuine mosh, it might as well be Weedeater, whose tonal dominance was evident from soundcheck onward despite “Dixie” Dave Collins breaking a string on his bass. Years of near-constant touring have given North Carolina’s Weedeater a reputation that well precedes them, and though it had been years since I last caught them, I knew the lumbering sludge that was about to unfold as soon as they hit into “God Luck and Good Speed” to open their set, with guitarist Dave Shepherd and drummer Carlos Denogean doing no shortage of the heavy lifting when it came to rolling out massive, lumbering nod. I’m too old for that slam-dancing shit, so I hightailed it from the front of the stage on the quick, but Weedeater left no question as to why they were headlining. What the hell else could possibly follow them? They’ve made a career on sounding unhinged, and even down to Denogean wailing away at his kit, they lived up to that, but they’re long since veterans, too, so they’re not just fucking around. They’re professionally fucking around. Good work if you can get it. The crowd knew the set the whole way through, and though Weedeater are coming up on due for a follow-up to 2015’s Goliathan (review here), which they’ve basically been on tour supporting since it came out, their command of the stage wasn’t something that just happened. It was whittled down from the years of grinding on the road they’ve done. Worth it? You’d have to ask them, but watching them play for the first time in a long-enough while, they looked like a band that made themselves headliners the hard way, and who have earned every accolade, every top slot, every laudatory hyperbole they’ve gotten. Like so much of the festival that led up to them, they were the right band, right time.

I saw and met a lot of really wonderful people this weekend who had absurdly nice things to say about this site and whatnot, from the Horseburner guys to hanging out with Mike from Backwoods Payback and Leanne Ridgeway from Riff Relevant, to seeing Paul-forever-to-be-known-as-MadJohnShaft and talking about the various European fests he hits, Dave Benzotti, Erik Larson, Earl Walker Lundy, Ron Vanacore, Deanne Firkin, Billy from Philly and the gents from The Age of Truth, Mark and Pete from ZED, Uncle Fezzy, Darren Waters, Dee Calhoun, Shy Kennedy, Pat Harrington, the dudes from Bailjack, Steve Moss, Melanie Streko, Lisa Hass, Chuck Dukeheart and the Foghound gang, Mat from Castle, Doomstress Alexis, Mark Schaff, Justin from Molasses Barge, Brenna from Lightning Born, on and on and on.

Thank you is my point. People say incredible stuff about this site, and I can’t ever really let myself hear it, but I’m happy if someone feels positively about a thing that happens here. Every now and then I do too. This weekend was one of those times. Thank you for reading and being a part of it.

It was five and a half hours north in the car when I let out of the Super 8 in Frederick to get to Connecticut, which is how this review ended up being later than I’d prefer, but so it goes. Before I end the post, I need to send a special thanks to The Patient Mrs., whose management and running point on The Pecan the last few days made this trip possible in the first place. That’s a hard job, even more for her than for me, and I owe her eternally for her efforts in allowing me to pursue crazy ideas like, “so I’m gonna go to Frederick for a weekend and hit Doom Fest you got the baby okay cool thanks.” It means more to me than I can say.

More pics after the jump. Thanks again all.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2018 Night Two, 06.23.18

Posted in Features, Reviews on June 24th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2018 night two poster

This scene is staggering. In terms of enclaves of hard and heavy, Maryland doom might be rivaled only by Floridian death metal and New York hardcore for longevity, and I’m pretty sure neither of those dates back to the early ’70s. Think about that. For almost as long as there’s been an idea of “heavy,” there’s been Maryland doom. And the number of lifers in bands and out boggles the mind. At best, I’m an interloper here, and I’d never claim otherwise. Every year or two or three, I’m lucky enough to come down for a fest or something like that, poke my head around and be humbled by the spirit that lives in this place. To actually be a part of it? I can’t imagine.

Maryland Doom Fest has taken on the responsibility not only of representing its native creatives, but in providing the scene a bridge to the outside world as well. The second day of Maryland Doom Fest 2018 did like day one and branched out in geography and sound, the scope of the festival increasing each year even as it maintains its ties to the place whose banner it flies. There’d be plenty of doom, but noise and heavy rock as well, metal both tangible and intangible, and more besides. You bet your ass it’s overwhelming. Maryland Doom Fest comes but once a year. Gotta make it count.

Another rainy day in Frederick set the gray-sky tone for a bill that would start out dark and work its way to the murkiest finish of all with Windhand headlining. Here’s how it happened:

Electropathic

Electropathic (Photo JJ Koczan)

As with Unorthodox last night, the new band fronted by Gary Isom, guitarist in Weed is Weed and former drummer in Spirit Caravan, Pentagram, Valkyrie and others, is a cross-generational affair. Along with drummer Ronnie Kalimon (formerly of Asylum, Unorthodox, etc.), Electropathic features young bassist/backing vocalist Zak Suleri and lead guitarist Eli Watson, both of Et Mors, and with Isom in the frontman role, they ran through a set of classic Maryland doom. Defined in no small part by their lack of pretense, they seemed to still be feeling out where they were ultimately headed as a band. They formed in the back half of last year by all appearances, so while none of them is a stranger to the stage, they’re in the process of developing their chemistry and sound. Likewise, Isom was still internalizing his position at the fore — even in Weed is Weed, he’s off to the side of the stage. He held it down though and their riffs resounded like a clarion to the converted still making their way in — time to go to church, school, whatever. Just time to go.

Molasses Barge

Molasses Barge (Photo JJ Koczan)

Hailing and hauling from Pittsburgh, Molasses Barge reaffirmed the connection between Steel City and Maryland doom that’s been there since the days of Dream Death‘s original run and probably even before that. The five-piece released their self-titled album in 2017 on Blackseed Records and had songs from that and new material in tow, which frontman Brian “Butch” Balich announced from the stage saying drummer Wayne Massey “calls this one ‘Tin Snake,'” or something thereabouts (hard to read the notes, sorry if I’ve got the title wrong). Balich is a formidable presence on his own, as he’s proven over the years in Penance, Argus and most recently Arduini/Balich, and in Molasses Barge he sets his powerful voice the task of cutting through the low end tone rollout from guitarists Justin Gizzi and Chuck Forsythe and bassist Amy Bianco that, presumably is what gives the band its name. Classic heavy riffs and a touch of metal underpinning, they were unsurprisingly met with welcome by the early crowd, and brought out Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun to co-front a cover of that band’s “On the Mountain” to pay righteous homage to founding guitarist “Iron” Alfred Morris III, who passed away earlier this year.

Shadow Witch

Shadow Witch (Photo JJ Koczan)

I said as much to vocalist Earl Walker Lundy after their set, but I’ve always sensed something a little weird in Shadow Witch. Across the Kingston, New York, four-piece’s two albums to-date, last year’s Disciples of the Crow (review here) and 2016’s Sun Killer (discussed here), there’s been an edge of something standing them out from the pack. Having now seen them live, I feel like I have a better sense of what it is. In no small part, it’s Lundy himself. He carries across his vocals with utmost conviction and purpose, and backed by bassist David Pannullo, guitarist Jeremy Hall and drummer Doug Thompson, he ran his voice through a range of effects and performed barefoot — a bravery in itself considering the amount of spillage I’ve seen on that stage over the last two days — as free in is movement physically as his voice was to carry across the songs. They dwell in a between-genre space and remaining excitingly difficult to classify, but what matters is they carried their passion over to the audience, who met it with welcome. Good band. Better band than people know. Better band than I knew.

Doomstress

Doomstress (Photo JJ Koczan)

Speaking of bands I should’ve seen already, I went into Doomstress‘ set with the distinct impression that their recorded material to-date has yet to do them proper justice. They tour regularly on week and week-plus runs and had been on the road for four nights already en route to Cafe 611, so it seemed likely the Houston four-piece would be on top of their game. Not to toot my own horn, but I was right. They’re a better band than they’ve shown on either of their short releases. It’s a question of balance in their sound. Not just between tonal heft and aggression/attitude or the commanding stage presence of Doomstress Alexis on bass and vocals with guitarists Brandon Johnson and Matt Taylor and drummer Buddy Hachar (also of Greenbeard), or of between the classic and the modern, but between the actual instruments themselves. The live wash of tone suits them, with Alexis‘ vocals cutting through, where on their recordings thus far there’s more separation of instruments. It’s dirtier live, and for the high quality riffs they play, that dirt fits really well. Especially coupled with the fact that their performance was so tight, it was like they were daring the crowd to match their energy level.

The Age of Truth

The Age of Truth (Photo JJ Koczan)

Another band it was my first time seeing (that’s five in a row!), Philly four-piece The Age of Truth had been hanging out all weekend and getting down with some shenanigans the first night of Maryland Doom Fest, but when they got on stage, it was all business. Well, mostly business. One seems to recall vocalist Kevin McNamara saying something before they went on about taking his shirt off and rubbing his nipples on the microphone — it didn’t happen, though it might’ve been an interesting bit of performance art; “what do those nipples signify?” and so on — but with the start of the set, he, guitarist Mike DiDonato, bassist Bill Miller and drummer Scott Fressetto launched into the most noise-rocking set the festival has thus far featured. Their blend of heavy rock groove and crunching tones and riffs made their Kozmik Artifactz-delivered debut, Threshold (review here), an aggro joy, and their live interpretation of those songs as well as the new cut “Palace of Rain” was all the more engaging for the ferocity of its realization. The slow-rolling-int0-quicker-shuffle of “Caroline” was a highlight, but I won’t take anything away from the impact of “Honey Pot” or anything else either. With an injection of melody into the newer stuff, they left some intrigue as to where they might be headed — a proper tease of something to watch for. It’ll be worth keeping an eye out.

Switchblade Jesus

Switchblade Jesus (Photo JJ Koczan)

Before Switchblade Jesus took the Cafe 611 stage, I was asked by Borgo Pass drummer and all-around-excellent-human-being Joe Wood what they sounded like. The first two words that came out of my mouth were “Texas” and “riffs.” To be fair, that’s not by any means all the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Eric Calvert, bassist/vocalist Chris Black and drummer Jon Elizondo have to offer, but if you’ve never heard them before, it’s a start. They made an encouraging self-titled debut (review here) in 2013 and followed up last year with a contribution to Ripple Music‘s The Second Coming of Heavy split series (review here), which took the foundation of that initial offering and expanded it significantly, pulling back on some of the burl in favor of a more nuanced approach. Their set in Maryland? With Calvert and Black sharing vocal duties and Elizondo pounding away behind, they rose to the occasion. In front of the stage, the crowd headbanged and raised fists and dug in nearly as much as the band itself, whose set was flawless near as I could tell. I’ve seen them twice now, been impressed both times, and could only expect that trend to continue for the next round, whenever that might be.

Foghound

Foghound (Photo JJ Koczan)

The weekend’s emcee, Dave Benzotti, choked up in reading his intro to Foghound, which also served as a remembrance of those the Maryland doom scene has lost over the last year, including bassist Rev. Jim Forrester of Foghound (also Serpents of Secrecy, ex-Sixty Watt Shaman, etc.), and reasonably so given the tragedy of the circumstances of his passing. The inevitability of that loss working its way into the current chapter of Foghound‘s life as a band was thick as the Baltimore four-piece got going, but if they were working toward catharsis, they were doing so with volume and intensity as their means. Their third album, Awaken to Destroy,on which Forrester performs bass and new bassist Adam Heinzmann contributes vocals alongside those of drummer Chuck Dukeheart III and guitarists Dee Settar and Bob Sipes, is done and in the can, and they played material from it both during their own set — the title-track — and afterwards through the P.A., which went unnoticed by many by Dukeheart later explained was a way to get Forrester‘s playing heard even if people didn’t realize they were hearing it at the time. As they also played with a portrait of Forrester signed by many with messages of love (I didn’t have the courage), his presence and absence were both deeply felt by the room, but the music was a fitting tribute and a comfort alike.

Cavern

Cavern (Photo JJ Koczan)

Prog prog prog. Also, prog. It’s fun to watch a band who so delight in being bizarre or outside the norm, and while local instrumentalists Cavern were for sure the odd men out on the bill, that suited them remarkably well and I can only imagine it wasn’t the first time they’ve found themselves in that position. Drummer Stephen Schrock played a kit with his toms out flat before him while Zach Harkins ran his guitar through one of the most elaborate pedal boards I’ve seen this weekend and still had room on stage for a Moog to add atmosphere to the intricate and complex songs they played. Denizens of Grimoire Records, they were a perfectly timed departure. Following Foghound with another straight-up rock band would only be doing said band a disservice, but Cavern were coming from somewhere else completely, so there was no real comparing the two outfits. A jolt to the flow of the night that only served Cavern well, since with all their looped parts, woven-through noise and underlying groove, “jolt” seemed to be the whole idea. It would be all-go riffing from here on out, but whether one considers them on their own merits or in the context of the Maryland Doom Fest 2018 lineup, their efforts toward the bizarre were duly appreciated.

The Watchers

The Watchers (Photo JJ Koczan)

The second Ripple Music act on the bill to have made the trip from the Bay Area behind ZED, four-piece The Watchers delivered one of the most professional sets I’ve seen so far this weekend. I mean, The Obsessed were pro-shop, right? And so were ZED, since they’ve been mentioned, but The Watchers had it all down — from riffs to looks to delivery to vocalist Tim Narducci and guitarist Jeremy Epp working the crowd with natural showmanship while bassist Cornbread and drummer Carter Kennedy locked in groove after groove of rock-solid heavy rock, playing selections from this year’s Black Abyss (review here) as well as the preceding EP, Sabbath Highway (review here). They had a near-commercial level of catchiness, but since that’s not a thing that exists anymore, I’ll just note that as much clear effort as they put into their presentation, the accessibility of the songs came from the songs themselves and the quality of their construction. Were they up there selling it? Absolutely. And kicking ass while doing so, but if the material itself wasn’t so strong the whole thing would’ve fallen flat. The foundation of the entire show was the material itself, and accordingly that show was an utter joy to watch.

Earthride

Earthride (Photo JJ Koczan)

I actually went back and looked up the last time I saw Earthride. It was at Days of the Doomed in 2012 (review here). I also recalled seeing them in Brooklyn in 2011 sharing the stage with When the Deadbolt Breaks, which was a noteworthy coincidence since that band’s guitarist/vocalist, Aaron Lewis, happened to be playing bass in Earthride, having joined just prior to the Maryland band’s just-ended tour with The Skull. Still, six years (and eight days) of not seeing Earthride? Far too fucking long. Dave Sherman, who’d been hanging out all weekend, took the stage in celebration of the welcome-home party that their set was, and with Lewis, guitarist Greg Ball and drummer Eric Little behind him, he held court for what was an absolute highlight of the fest as a whole. I’d been thinking of them as headliners the whole day, and while they didn’t play last, there was definitely a main-event feel going into their set, which started out with “Earthride,” boasted the new single “Witch Gun” (discussed here), the title-track to 2010’s Something Wicked (review here) and capped with “Fighting the Devils Inside You” from 2005’s sophomore LP, Vampire Circus (discussed here). Sherman held the audience and never relinquished his grasp on their attention, and the crowd was as switched on as I’d seen the whole fest. Like I said, they weren’t the headliners in name, but really, they kind of were. And rightly so.

Castle

Castle (Photo JJ Koczan)

Man, I want to hear Castle‘s new album. So bad. The core duo of bassist/vocalist Elizabeth Blackwell and guitarist/vocalist Mat Davis will issue that long-player through a yet-to-be-announced label, but they’re a touring band at their core. They get out. In talking to Davis after their set, he called their current stint a “quick one.” To put that in perspective, it’s a cross-country tour with 12 dates. I’m assuming what he meant was that it was nothing like the weeks-long voyages that will invariably follow the new full-length’s release, and I guess that’s fair, but 12 dates isn’t nothing either. Last time I saw Castle was Maryland Doom Fest 2016 (review here) as they were marking the release of that year’s Welcome to the Graveyard (review here), and though I knew it was coming, I was still blindsided by their intensity. Thrash, doom, classic metal, heavy groove and delighted pummel. Think of them as extreme traditional metal. They bring a classic sound to bear in their material — a number of classic sounds, actually — but have a ferocity to their execution of that which sets them apart from anything that might be considered “retro.” Coupled with the willful eeriness of their atmospheres and cultish themes, they can be all over the place, but that only makes them harder to pin down, and thus, all the more a thrill to watch. As the penultimate act of the evening, they were a last-minute kick in the ass before things got as far out as they would go, and though it had been a long day by then, Castle revived the spirit even as they seemed to herald its demise.

Windhand

Windhand (Photo JJ Koczan)
Windhand were the night’s headliner. They could’ve slinked in late, hid themselves backstage, got on, done their set, collected whatever there was to collect afterward and been on their way. Instead, the Richmond, Virginia, four-piece, who are arguably the most successful East Coast doom band of their generation and whose influence only continues to spread — trying to come up with another name and can’t; if you have one, I’d love to talk it out — hung around all day. They were back and forth through the venue, watching bands, meeting people, this and that. They had the option to take part or not to take part and they took part. And for a group at their level, on Relapse, having toured the world, etc., that’s not nothing. When they finally got on stage and got going, their fog-drenched riffs were as overwhelming as I remembered, and even though they’ve pared down from a five-piece, there was no discernible gap in volume from vocalist Dorthia Cottrell, guitarist Garrett Morris, bassist Parker Chandler and drummer Ryan Wolfe, who produced a soulful, lurching onslaught the likes of which Maryland Doom Fest had not yet known. Their new album, Eternal Return, was announced in April and will be released by Relapse as the follow-up to 2015’s Grief’s Infernal Flower (review here). No doubt it’s one of the most anticipated doom records for the rest of 2018 and whenever it rears its head will be yet another grueling landmark in a catalog that, at this point, teems with them while also constantly showcasing Windhand‘s progression. It was late, but in front of the stage was a press of humanity, and Windhand justified the urgency with a wash of volume and low end that was on a level all its own. A headlining slot well earned.

It’s almost 1PM on Sunday as I wrap this up and I still need to sort photos, shower and change clothes before I head out from Sparks to Frederick, so I’ll turn you over quickly to the pics after the jump and just say thanks for reading.

Because really, thanks for reading. More tomorrow, if you can believe it.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,