Buried Treasure: Three States, Three Hauls

Posted in Buried Treasure on June 22nd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Click the image above to bask in the full scale awesomeness that was my Midwestern CD haul. Sure, I wrote a little bit about the driving I did last weekend, and a lot about the Days of the Doomed II (seriously, even I was a little surprised at the length Day One and Day Two reviews), but one thing I didn’t mention was the record shopping I did on the way.

I’ll confess that was on purpose. The three stacks above I felt deserved some special attention. Left to right, there are the hauls from Ramalama Records in Toledo, Ohio, Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, and the fest itself, which took place in Cudahy, Wisconsin. Three states, three stacks — a mini-tour of irresponsible spending that served to remind me of why I went back to work full-time in the first place.

Here’s how it went down:

This was my second visit to Ramalama Records in Toledo, and like the first, I found it to be a haven of heavy wares. Last time when I got there, they were playing YOB, and this tie it was High on Fire‘s Surrounded by Thieves, which once again led me to strike up a conversation with the dude working the counter. They’d reorganized some since the last time I was there, but it seems mostly to have been a move to make room for more vinyl, which now takes up the whole left wall when you walk in. Good stuff. They didn’t have a lot used that I was really looking for — lots of metal, some I had, some I wasn’t interested in — but I took the opportunity on my way to Lansing to stock up on a few recent releases I hadn’t yet gotten physical copies of; the special edition of Candlemass being a highlight as well as new albums from Paradise Lost and Pelican and Solitude Aeturnus‘ recent reissue of their early works. The Diagonal and Spaceboy records were used, and I got some Funkadelic in there because that shit is awesome. Not bad for a way to stretch my legs between I-75 and I-280.

I wanted to make sure I stopped in at Flat, Black and Circular (or just FBC to the natives) before I left Lansing to go to the fest in Wisconsin, so last Friday morning, under the careful navigational guidance of Postman Dan — the unofficial mayor of Lansing, Michigan — I hit it up and found that although it’s got a name that hints at vinyl, it’s also a treasure trove of small, rectangular and plastic. Aside from a silver-backed disc Alice in Chains bootleg, I got the Diwphalanx issue of Church of Misery‘s The Second Coming (a double), as well as the newest Master Musicians of Bukkake, the first Six Organs of Admittance, some live Amebix, Yeti by Amon Düül II, the first Saturnalia Temple — which was a surprise — another Funkadelic album, some Unsane on Man’s Ruin, Monster Magnet‘s Tab 25 on Glitterhouse, which is a perfect complement to Hawkwind‘s In Search of Space, a Greenslade disc at random because I liked the cover (album is proggier than expected, but not bad) and the Satan-loving latest album by Lansing locals Beast in the Field, Lucifer, Bearer of Light. Top it off with Unorthodox and you have one of the finest CD hauls I’ve had in a long time. Lot of great shit to happen into and a lot of records there I’m happy to have adopted.

Once I’d effectively space trucked my way through Chicago’s legendary “make you want to stop and eat dinner here” traffic and actually arrived in Wisconsin, I found Days of the Doomed to be a trove of merch that I didn’t yet own that I should own. From Beelzefuzz — the unfortunates who arrived late having blown their tire and then later gave their stuff away for free (I mistakenly said I bought one; nope) to Sanctus Bellum, who were kind enough to give me a copy of the album to review, to Orodruin, whose Epicurian Mass I already owned (it was Claw Tower I needed) to Earthen Grave, whose CD showed up in the mail when I got back to New Jersey, it was hit or miss as regards the outcome of the purchases, but I can’t argue with new Apostle of Solitude demo material (streaming here) or finally getting the chance to pick up ArgusBoldly Stride the Doomed, or Earthride‘s new reissue of their self-titled EP with tracks from SHoD last year, I mark the whole thing a win. Picking up Orodruin‘s limited version of In Doom and the Blizaro stuff too was a bonus, and discs from Super Invader and their prior incarnation, Bullets for Baby, have given me something to look forward to checking out. Just as soon as I stop listening to that Apostle of Solitude demo. Any day now…

I could go on, but the fact is, I came out of last weekend with so much stuff, I’m going to use it all to make a new podcast over the next couple days, so I’ll have more up about it one way or another and I’m sure that’ll be good times. Stay tuned for more to come.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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

Posted in Reviews on June 19th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extra pics, as always, after the jump.

Read more »

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

Live Review: Days of the Doomed II (Day One), Cudahy, WI, 06.15.12

Posted in Reviews on June 18th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

First, a note on the travel: There was a lot of it. Taking the day off work, I left early on Thursday morning, stopped in Toledo, Ohio, to hit Ramalama Records for the second time, and headed up to Lansing, Michigan, and find one Postman Dan, whose name will probably pop up a few times throughout this and the Day Two review to come and who I’m just going to assume you know if you’re reading this, because if you’ve ever been in the Midwest at a show or gone to fests like Emissions from the Monolith, Templars of Doom, Alehorn of Power, or if you were at this one, you probably do know him. He’s a pretty friendly guy, and he gets around.

Enough so that he invited me to crash at his place Thursday night, which I was happy to do. We went down the road a ways in Lansing and caught local Melvins aficionados BerT doing a new song in their rehearsal space — the band was kind enough to plug back in when we got there just after they’d finished practice; the new material sounded killer and they gave me a copy of their droning new split tape with Hordes and threatened an East Coast tour to come — before, during and after a few beers and in the morning, hit up Lansing’s Flat, Black and Circular record store for a batch of goodies the likes of which I’ve not acquired in a while. Needless to say, report to follow.

Soon it was off to Cudahy, Wisconsin, where just a few short blocks from the Milwaukee Airport, the second installment of the Days of the Doomed fest would be starting in no time. It was about 11 hours from Jersey to Lansing, and about five and a half from Lansing to Cudahy, but I was alright with the drive so long as I got there on time. Made it with an hour to spare and found a way more pro setup at The Blue Pig than I expected. A raised stage included a separate drum riser, professional lighting rig and a P.A. that seemed to frame the entire stage in speaker cabinets. The bar was around the corner from the open floor in front of the stage (it looked like two spaces that had a wall in the middle taken down to accommodate the stage area) and TVs in the back showed the Brewers and the Twins all weekend. The walls, as one might figure from the venue name, were blue.

Already, fest organizer Mercyful Mike Smith was running around engaged in that special kind of stress that I’ve only seen in those forced to corral large numbers of doomers to be in one place at one time. With time to eat before Snake Dance launched the shorter Friday lineup that also included Nebraskans Super Invader as well as Sanctus Bellum, Stone Magnum, Orodruin and Revelation (War Injun didn’t make it out), I made my way down the block to the cafe next door to The Blue Pig and had some Albanian sausages with feta and tomatoes and an order of fries to provide a foundation for a decent night’s drinking ahead.

It was news to me to find this out, but apparently what’s special about Albanian sausages is you taste them every time you burp for the rest of the night — and, perhaps, your life — but I ordered them because I’d never seen them before, and if it was an education I wanted, it was an education I got. Back at The Blue Pig, the home brew was a lighter-type beer called Spotted Cow, and I commenced pint-sized incremental suicide solutions at a moderate to slow pace, wanting to keep my head about me for the drive back to the hotel down the road and in general to remember what was happening because I knew it would be a while before I’d be able to write about it.

To that end, I took notes. I hate taking notes at shows. There’s no way to do it and not look like a complete dick (thanks to Eli Brown for visual evidence, and yes, I wore fucking sandals; funny, I don’t remember doom having a uniform when I started listening to it), but you can see the results at the top of this post, and clearly there was a lot to note, beginning just as soon as the Chicago two-guitar foursome Snake Dance got started. Introduced as most of the acts were by Smith himself, Snake Dance immediately commenced a straightforward at all costs hard rock that was vaguely adherent to punk the way Motörhead nods at The Stooges, but more or less disinterested with everything that came after a certain point in time. Hard to peg a year to it, but you can bet it’s before grunge hit.

Guitarist/vocalist Scott seemed to be in charge from the outset, and when he asked the still-arriving crowd, “Anybody like muscle cars?” before playing “426 Hemi Cuda,” he did so in a manner so irony-free, I was immediately reminded of Negative Reaction, similarly existing on a plane most people will never know or access and still reaching out to an audience to see who’s on board for the ride. Scott would soon shout out to Monster Magnet and C.O.C., and that only furthered the connection in my mind with that band’s more heavy rocking latter-day output, which weren’t bad for what they were, essentially a more punk-minded exploration of those influences.

And yeah, they were alright to open. Maybe having come a long way was a part of it, but sometimes I want a fest like this to have a headliner early to start things off, kind of like what Leif Edling was talking about in that recent interview — someone with more of a draw to lure people in early, get them drinking and really give the weekend a launch. I’ll say, however, that by the time Snake Dance were finished, the room was already pretty full, and it remained so for the duration of the night and the Saturday to follow, so what the hell do I know. Not like I’ve ever put one of these things on.

Solace/The Disease Concept guitarist Tommy Southard (there to close the fest out with the former band) recommended Super Invader, so I bought their two CDs on his word. The bassless three-piece came through fine for their lack of low end, though I wondered if they had some personal objection to it or just hadn’t yet found the right person, since it didn’t seem like it would hurt them. A few Church of Misery riffs here, a few Orange Goblin cadences there, but basically they were a stoner metal band with a light-box that shone every time pierced-septum vocalist Adam stomped on it and also seemed to contain a fog machine. Something to be said for that kind of novelty. It looked homemade and I respect that.

They covered Cavity‘s “Supercollider,” and I respect that too. In general, their riffs were better than their stage raps — taking a break from his throaty vocal approach, Adam at one point tried to shout out the Green Bay Packers and was met with doomly crickets — but with more stonerly grooves, they gradually won sympathy for their cause, and I didn’t regret buying the CD. Should be interesting to hear how the live sound translates when I get to listen, but either way, they gave a decent enough showing and guitarist Dustin had presence to back up his riffs and tone.

Two bands into the day’s total six, I still had yet to be overwhelmed, but the sort of workmanly beginning to Days of the Doomed II was fitting the kind of overall metallicism that seems to have triumphed in the Midwestern heavy underground — at least if this weekend’s sampling was anything to go by. Where on the East Coast, it seems to be a race to find out who can accumulate the most indie cred while also denying they’re a stoner rock or a doom band, the sense I got at The Blue Pig was more in line with a post-Pantera metal brotherliness. Not sure I feel more aligned with one or the other at this point — one bases its elitism vaguely on class/education and the other vaguely on gender/race, and each has its appeal musically despite being problematic on these levels — that’s not to mention the fashion requirements, which are a separate issue unto themselves — but for what it’s worth, it’s not like I caught shit at any point during the fest for sitting in the corner next to the classic arcade game and writing notes between and during the sets. And I very easily could have. I stole the bar’s pen.

Since everyone was playing through the same backline of cabinets, changeovers were quick and the show was running early almost as soon as it was running. I’d been specifically looking forward to seeing Houston-based Sanctus Bellum — last week’s Wino Wednesday featurees — and was glad to get a copy of their soon-to-be-reviewed second album, The Shining Path, from the band. They were super-solid, and among the more intricate of the acts in the lineup of the whole weekend, stylistically speaking. They straddle that very line in the previous paragraph between what is straightforward metal and what is doom and what is rock, and seemed on stage as they have on both their albums to have crafted a niche for themselves within that line.

In what I consider to be one of the weekend’s biggest personal victories, I waited until Saturday to nerd out to vocalist Justin Waggoner about his former band, Mr. Plow‘s final and Kurt Vonnegut-themed album, Asteroid 25399, but helping in that process was just how different Sanctus Bellum really is. In this context, his raw, lightly effected vocals (which produced several coughs between songs) come through with more in common with the moments in Acid Bath when Dax Riggs decided to be soulful than any kind of stoner rock, and the guitars were darker in tone and method alike. Their tone, though consistent with the albums, seemed to be coming through the P.A. thin, and when I looked and saw that both guitarists Jan Kimmel and Maurice Eggenschwiler were playing through Dime amps, I wasn’t necessarily surprised, remembering a similar issue when I saw Crowbar in Jersey late in 2010.

Still, their songs make complex ideas seem relatable, and bassist Ben Yaker and drummer Carl Cousins made for a plenty-strong rhythm section to fill out the two guitars in the five-piece. Waggoner didn’t front the band, per se, and instead, he, Yaker, Kimmel and Eggenschwiler stood in a line in front of the stage. When it came time for a cover of Pentagram‘s “The Sign of the Wolf” — one of the fest’s two Pentagram tributes — the vocalist stepped back and the band brought up guests out of the crowd, including Orodruin guitarist John Gallo and bassist Michael Puleo, who’d shortly kick more than a fair amount of ass after Indiana’s Stone Magnum got through with their leather ‘n’ chrome Judas Priest-style trad metal.

No disrespect to musically. They were among the tightest bands of the whole weekend had a crisp, clear idea of what they wanted to do and a pro presentation to match. They like their Trouble and I won’t fault them for that either. But the stage moves left me cold and the chrome cross on the mic stand felt like too much. The songs weren’t terrible, and in fact I’m usually on board for a totally unironic embrace of the cliche — the weekend had more of them than it had covers; Stone Magnum taking on Deep Purple‘s boogie rocking “Black Night”  — but watching, found myself more enthralled that the Brewers and the Twins were tied 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth.

I spent a good portion of the rest of that evening trying to reason out why, too, because once Orodruin started, it’s not like they were high experimental art. On paper, what’s the difference between a “Locksmith of Misery” and a “Wicked Wizard?” that I should so much prefer the other to the one? They were both trad doom, just with vastly different takes on it, and where Stone Magnum were more schooled in how to be a metal band, Orodruin were unquestionably more schooled in the ethics that inspired that metal in the first place. One of Days of the Doomed II‘s most potent power trios and an act I’d never seen before, they absolutely fucking killed. Puleo was among the most effective vocalists in the whole fest lineup (and yes, Eric Wagner played Saturday), and of the more than several three-piece bands who played, their dynamic between the players seemed to have the biggest impact on the overall sound. Gallo proved to be a madman on guitar, his tone unmatched and his stage-faces framed by his oddly-shaped beard, and drummer Mike Waske was absolutely essential to their stomp and swagger.

My sense for what to expect from Sanctus Bellum was pretty good, but Orodruin surprised the hell out of me, and I was really glad to have picked up a copy of the limited-to-30 CDR In Doom, from which they played several songs, including set-highlight “Shipwrecked.” Low, slow and dark, they felt like a band people are missing out on, who should tour and sell out of their merch every show they play. They weren’t clean, but they were tight and their sound was diverse but unwaveringly natural and unforced, and for a band who lives some 11 and a half hours away in Rochester, NY, they made a home for themselves in Cudahy and got the best crowd response of the night, including from me. Claws were thrown.

Even guitarist/vocalist John Brenner of Revelation acknowledged Orodruin‘s having killed it in a break between songs, saying they were a tough act to follow. He was right. Brenner has a righteous tone of his own, bassist Bert Hall is a board certified badass, Steve Branagan somehow manages to make rock drumming sound intimate, and they’ve put out more albums between Revelation and their alter-ego band Against Nature in the last three years than most people do in a lifetime, but their stage presence is subdued, and watching them, it’s more about the emotional resonance of the music than it is about the classic horror awesomeness. Nonetheless, the Marylanders did not — could not, really — disappoint, though I was glad I’d seen Against Nature at SHoD last year so I had some idea of what to expect. I felt like that gave me some advantage over a lot of the Days of the Doomed crowd, which began to thin out as the trio wound down.

That said, the differences between seeing a Revelation set and an Against Nature set are marked. Sure, it’s the same people — in the crowd too; I recognized SHoD organizers Rob and Cheryl Levey and a host of other faces from Maryland — and a lot of the same kind of presentation, but the personalities of the songs are much different, and what sounds like humbleness in Against Nature is recast as a deep woe in Revelation. Still, there’s a classic rock influence in there that’s impossible to deny — Brenner said it came from, “Trying to play Rush wrong” — and that came across as well as the warmth in Hall and Brenner‘s tones.

It was not yet one in the morning when Revelation were done, but they’d played their full set and I was quick to get back to the hotel after a long enough day of driving, drinking and rocking (not at the same time, though I did rock and drive for a little bit there, listening to the new Witch Mountain with Postman Dan) with the prospect of Saturday still to go. I said a few quick goodnights, threw down a smoke bomb, and disappeared as mysteriously as I’d arrived.

Day Two to come tomorrow. More pics after the jump in the meantime. Thanks for reading.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Visual Evidence: New Days of the Doomed II Poster by Sean “Skillit” McEleny

Posted in Visual Evidence on March 19th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

As ever, much respect to Los Angeles-based artist Sean “Skillit” McEleny (interview here) for his new poster for the Days of the Doomed II fest, coming this June to a Wisconsin near you. I’m always happy to highlight Skillit‘s work, as his love of the music seems to come out in every line and color. Go ahead and click to enlarge. No exception here:

For more of Skillit‘s art, check out his website here. For more on the fest, hit up the Days of the Doomed website.

Tags: , ,

Solace, Orodruin, While Heaven Wept and Snake Dance Added to Days of the Doomed II

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 16th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

That Days of the Doomed II poster is starting to get awfully crowded. Over the weekend, the Mercyful Mike Smith, the organizer of the fest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, announced that While Heaven Wept and a reunited Solace (I think we all saw it coming) would be taking part, and today brings two more additions: Orodruin and Snake Dance.

And so an impressive bill gets even more impressive. Here’s the full update from Smith himself:

It is an absolute honor to announce to all of you that the mighty While Heaven Wept will be performing at the second installment of Days of the Doomed Fest this June in Kenosha, WI!!! I’d like to share with you the official statement I received from the band:

“We’re extremely happy to announce that we will be appearing at the Days of the Doomed II festival in June 2012! We’d actually been in discussions with Mike [Smith, fest organizer] even prior to the first edition, so this has been a long time coming indeed! While there was a time when we faced some challenges in making this happen, ultimately the planets have aligned! We look forward to sharing the stage with all of our old friends and bringing the music of While Heaven Wept to the Midwest for the first time! Don’t miss this event as it is the culmination of many years of “homegrown” doom metal events in the USA reaching a level of maturity and passion previously unseen!”

I also have the pleasure of announcing that the masters of heaviness and volume known as Solace will also be making the trek to Days Of The Doomed Fest II! Prepare for ear damage!!!

Want more? Back by popular demand! Rochester, NY, doom mongers Orodruin will be returning to pummel all of you!

One last announcement! I’m happy to introduce Chicago‘s stoner/doom rockers Snake Dance as the fest’s official openers on Friday!

In other fest news, I have been informed by Henry Vasquez that Blood of the Sun will be forced to pull out of Days of the Doomed due to his commitment with Saint Vitus. This is 100 percent understandable, and I wish Henry and the legendary Saint Vitus all the best on their 2012 tour!

And don’t forget the “Raffle of Doom” is in full swing!!! $5.00 gets you a shot at winning some seriously killer loot!!! Visit the official Days Of The Doomed Fest site (www.daysofthedoomed.com) for a full listing of what’s up for grabs!

Tickets are on sale now, and will move fast! Visit www.daysofthedoomed.com to purchase tickets, and to get all the updates on Days of the Doomed Fest II!

Tags: , , , , ,