Live Review: Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Night Two, 06.22.19

Posted in Reviews on June 23rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 night two poster

At some point early on yesterday I decided to drink as much coffee as I possibly could before the show started. It was not a choice I regret. Day two of Maryland Doom Fest 2019 played host to a whopping 11 bands on the Cafe 611 stage and five more — Crooked Hills, Seasick Gladiator, Thunderchief, Pale Grey Lore and Electric Age — at Guido’s, none of whom I’d see because, like yesterday, I got carded at the door and couldn’t get in. Still, 11 bands in an evening is a healthy dose, and Cafe 611 was packed out pretty early on. People always come and go, mill about, go smoke outside and whatnot at a show like this, but when everyone was in front of the stage, you knew it. Such was the case most especially for Beelzefuzz and the evening’s headliners, Pentagram.

I do think pounding all that caffeine was a boon to the night generally, but neither can I discount the quality of the bill in that regard. Aside from being the last Beelzefuzz show, as was announced earlier this month, there was plenty else to envy in the lineup. Also in the merch area. I was like, “I’ll buy some shirts later,” and then missed my shot at a festival shirt and a Beelzefuzz shirt, so commerce was being had for sure. I’ve been coming here for a couple years at this point, and it definitely feels more crowded this year than it ever has. Inevitable for an event that’s growing as this one is, I suppose, and well deserved on the part of Maryland Doom Fest itself.

No question I was feeling it by the end of the night, but spirits were high nonetheless. I don’t want to sound self-aggrandizing or anything, but people have been really very nice to me and said kind things about this site and stuff, and that’s both incredibly awkward and very much appreciated. Both of those things. It means a lot to me, and it makes me blush. Both of those things are true.

I feel like, as Maryland Doom Fest continues to grow, it’s nights like this that will be the biggest source of future nostalgia.

And it started long before sunset:

Greenbeard

Greenbeard (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There’s a lot of varying kinds of heavy at Doom Fest this year, but not a lot of boogie, and so Austin, Texas, trio Greenbeard were an immediately welcome start to the day. The three-piece have toured steadily over the last couple years and late in 2018 they released a three-songer EP called Onward, Pillager! through Sailor Records that was intended as a preview and fund drive for a full-length to come this year. I don’t know what the status is of that follow-up to 2017’s Lödarödböl (review here), but while their atmosphere is all party and uptempo vibes and awesome times, they’re not screwing around as their shuffle meets desert-hued tone and melody, and that was clear at Cafe 611. Guitarist/vocalist Chance Allen, bassist Jeff Klein and drummer Buddy Hachar (who played here with Doomstress last year) were spot on in their delivery and they drew people in even as the show was just getting started. They were vital, and fun in a way that stood them out from the doomly pack and only made them more of a highlight at the outset. They were a wake-up call to get up and throw down. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason there hasn’t been news of their next album is because they’re talking to labels.

Eternal Black

Eternal Black (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What Eternal Black do with their new album, the just-out Slow Burn Suicide (review here), is bring a much-needed sense of perspective to traditionalist doom. The New York three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ken Wohlrob, bassist/backing vocalist Hal Miller and drummer Joe Wood took what they did on their first record, 2017’s Bleed the Days (review here), and actively learned from it and pushed themselves forward. There are few things I consider as admirable when it comes to bands, so, aside from the fact that before they played I got to meet Joe Wood‘s parents — I’ve known Joe for a very long time, and he is among the sweetest people in the universe, so yes, this was a high point of the day for me — I was very excited to hear their new songs live. They didn’t disappoint, basically playing side A of the record with “Lost in the Fade,” “Below,” “The Ghost” and “Sum of All Fears” along with “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” from the debut. I’ve been fortunate enough to see them a couple times now, including here in 2016, but the crunch and impact they’ve fostered in their sound as they’ve continued to progress is as much their own as it is quintessential NYC heavy, and I very much look forward to seeing where the path they’re on takes them.

Atomic 26

Atomic 26 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Every bill needs a sore thumb, right? That one band who maybe is a little bit the square peg? Well, hello to Maryland’s Atomic 26, whose style of hardcore still had some tonal heft one might trace to a residual influence from earliest Clutch, but definitely were intended to be an outside-genre inclusion in the lineup. Hey, that’s cool. Dudes brought it, aggro chugga and all. I can only be honest and say I neither had the frame of reference to appreciate what they were doing or the inclination toward the genre itself, but at a certain point, whatever, man. They were having fun — shenanigans aplenty — and I’m not about to begrudge that. I’ll note as well there was a contingent up front for their whole set who were obviously well familiar with the proceedings, and the energy they started with offered no letup by the time they were done. I don’t know if their set means Maryland Doom Fest is starting to branch out in a different direction, widen the scope, or what, but sometimes you gotta have something different, and Atomic 26 — it’s iron, in case you were curious — ticked that box nicely.

Knoxxville

Knoxxville (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What, you’re not gonna hang out and watch JB‘s band? Of course you are. Festival organizer JB Matson anchors Knoxxville on drums, and as he’s got two basses and two guitars surrounding him on either side, there was a definite sense of fullness to what they were doing, despite the lack of a singer. My understanding is they had one and now they don’t. I’m sure the narrative is more complex than that, but that’s the upshot all the same. In instrumentalist fashion, they proffered workingman’s doom rock, both very much of the region and right to the heart of what Maryland Doom Fest is rooted in being, which felt like a reorientation after Atomic 26 but was a shift easily made. They’re they only group this weekend thus far to have two basses, and I have no idea why more bands don’t do that. Two guitars? Yeah, that’s cool. Pretty standard. But what the hell could be more doom than piling low end on top of low end? Even with that additional heft factor, Knoxxville moved at a decent clip, treating the crowd to essential local fare that most of all typified the lack of pretense — or if you prefer, bullshit — that Maryland doom has always done better than anyone else. They’ll either get a singer or they won’t, but they were right on as it was.

Forming the Void

Forming the Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m honestly not sure what I can tell you about Forming the Void that I haven’t already said after the other two times I’ve seen them this year (reviews here and here), but when it comes to the Lafayette, Louisiana, four-piece, the point is worth reiterating just how much these guys are right there. There they are. They’ve found their sound over the course a working-quick three albums, they’re already confirmed to go abroad next year for the first time, they’ve got a new record in the can and they’re right at the cusp of realizing their potential. The heavy prog-tinged melodies in the guitars and harmonized vocals of Shadi Omar Al-Khansa and James Marshall are an immediate standout factor, but the rolling riff style and the weight given to the material from bassist Luke Baker and drummer Thomas Colley is not to be minimized in terms of the overall affect of watching them on stage. They’re about to hit the road for a week with Year of the Cobra, and if that tour is going where you are, just go. That’s it. Go. I’ve yet to see Forming the Void that they didn’t surpass the experience of the time before, including last night, and in style and substance, they’re a bright spot in the American heavy underground. Even better, they still feel like they’re just getting started.

Sixes

Sixes (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Yes, Sixes are very, very heavy. There’s no arguing with that and I won’t try. What seemed more important as the Californian ultra-downer megasludgers brought to Maryland Doom Fest 2019 was more than tone, however. The consuming darkness of their atmosphere was simply on another wavelength from everything else I’ve seen this weekend so far, and they basked in that bleak extremity with purpose and intensity. Like many of the bands who played, they had some technical delays getting going — it would very much be that kind of day — but their lurching, charcoal-black style and largely-unrelenting force came through without hindrance and their sound was a spiraling chasm of ritualized volume. You could almost taste it. Bitter, without the sweet. But they weren’t just assault, and they were able to make the ambient stretches just as heavy as the full-on punishment. They’re signed to Black Bow — among others — and touring Europe later this year with Conan, so take that as the endorsement it is, and though I didn’t get to dig into 2018’s debut, Mephistopheles, when it came out, they made a convincing case for rectifying that immediately, courtesy of the plugs vibrating in my ears crying out for mercy that would not come.

Atala

Atala (Photo by JJ Koczan)

A fresh reminder of what a difference a great drummer makes. Atala‘s Jeff Tedtaotao was neither the first of the day nor the last, but as guitarist/vocalist Kyle Stratton and bassist Dave Horn manifested sand sludge in communion with a land far, far away from Frederick, it was Tedtaotao‘s drumming that gave the band their sense of push and roll. It was not my first Atala experience — which I feel like one should for sure discuss in a way otherwise reserved for talking about ayahuasca, and not just for the bookending-vowel commonality — but it was my first time seeing them since the release last month of their fourth album, The Bearer of Light (review here), on Salt of the Earth Records, and as the prevailing impression of that record was, “Wow, these songs are cool and this production is raw and live-sounding as hell,” the interest in hearing that material come from a P.A. was high. “Desolate Lands,” “Upon the Altar” and the particularly crushing “Won’t Subside” answered that call, and as this was their second time at Maryland Doom Fest, they seemed at home on the Cafe 611 stage. They’re not a band I’m likely to ever complain about seeing live, and I felt like when they were done I only had a richer understanding of The Bearer of Light, so all the better.

Beelzefuzz

Beelzefuzz (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Man, up yours, Beelzefuzz, for making me feel feelings. As noted above, founding guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt announced the end of the band after a decade together in one form or another, as he, drummer Darin McCloskey and lead guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener will continue in Pale Divine — which I believe leaves bassist Bert Hall as a free agent; Revelation reunion? — and I’m legitimately sorry to see them go. They played their final set to a crowd full of family and friends as well as some people who’d never even heard them before, and that could hardly have been more appropriate. With the progressive edge or Ortt‘s organ/vocal-harmony effects, McCloskey‘s smooth and classy style of drumming, Hall‘s complement thereto, the born-to-do-it soloing of Diener and his splitting the vocal duties with Ortt, they were a band who should have been around longer and who will be talked about in this part of the world for a long time to come. Whatever tumult they’d been through with the name change, lineup change, all of it, didn’t matter while they played. Their last show was about celebration, and from “Hypnotized” and “All the Feeling Returns” to the so-fitting last lead line reaches of “Hard Luck Melody,” they lived up to the legacy of what could and should have been for them all along. Special band. Will be missed.

Foghound

Foghound (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Somewhere in the Big Book of Guaranteed Good Times, there’s a picture of Foghound playing Maryland Doom Fest. I probably didn’t take it, but still. It’s there. Not yet a year removed from their most recent album, Awaken to Destroy (review here), the dual-guitar Baltimorean four-piece came in, kicked ass, set the room on (figurative) fire, then split. It was awesome, they’re awesome, you’re awesome. Awesome. With Adam Heinzmann another year’s worth of locked-in on bass/periodic vocals — he shared a mic with guitarist Dee Settar, while guitarist Bob Sipes and drummer Chuck Dukehart each had their own — and the very-present spirit of bassist Rev. Jim Forrester in the place, they were the heavy rock boot to the ass that you knew was coming but still managed to be jolted by anyhow. They don’t tour, and they could, but neither do they screw around, and though they played here in 2018, between the fact of the new album out and the fact that they’re fucking Foghound and it’s Maryland, so yes, you want them to be there, they were awakened and they destroyed. If you’re at all into heavy rock, I can’t imagine a situation in which you would’ve watched their set and not been a fan by the end of it, whether or not you were before. That’s it. Done.

Apostle of Solitude

Apostle of Solitude (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Indianapolis four-piece Apostle of Solitude released the best doom album of 2018 in the form of From Gold to Ash (review here) on Cruz Del Sur. They played here in 2017, but I was absent that year — can’t remember why, but I’m sure I had a doctor’s note for whatever it was; they also played in 2015 at the first one — so it had apparently been four years since I last saw them live, which for a band as good as they are is egregiously long. They opened the set with “Keeping the Lighthouse” from the new album, the hook of which will likely remain stuck in my head long after this weekend is over, and followed with cuts like “My Heart is Leaving Here” and “Ruination be Thy Name” to only further the impact, drummer Corey Webb earning shouts of “BEAST!” from the side of the stage after the first song with which one could only agree. Webb, bassist Mike Naish, and guitarist/vocalists Chuck Brown and Steve Janiak (the latter also of Devil to Pay, and both now of the semi-reignited The Gates of Slumber) were monstrous. I don’t know what pagan gods were bestowing gifts of riffs upon the masses assembled in front of the stage, but, you know, thanks and all that. At an event like this, I usually have one set where I end up pulling my earplugs out and just kind of giving into the volume and the vibe of the thing. At Maryland Doom Fest 2019, that was Apostle of Solitude, and it’s not a choice I regret in the slightest.

Pentagram

Pentagram (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Is this the beginning of the redemption of Bobby Liebling? I have no idea, but I’d guess probably not. By any measure, we’re talking about someone who has actively or inadvertently squandered just about every visible opportunity and/or second chance he’s worked for or had come his way in his life, and so when it comes to Pentagram‘s future, if you look back over the last 50 years or so, it’s hard to imagine any radical change. Does the fact that the dude assaulted his mom, got called out on tour for sexual harassment, and so on, mean that the band doesn’t deserve to headline at Maryland Doom Fest? It’s certainly debatable. But if the redemption of Bobby Liebling were ever to happen, this would be the place it started, and the room was certainly rooting for him, from the young woman who kissed his hand during “Starlady” early on in the set to the crowd surfing and moshing that took hold later as the house lights came up and they went into “Forever My Queen.” The word is “polarizing,” but as Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” so make of it what you will. The band behind Liebling — bassist Greg Turly, drummer “Minnesota” Pete Campbell (who was announced as the winner of the night’s raffle right before going on stage) and guitarist Matt Goldsborough — were on point, and the response was there as it’s been for the last decade-plus. You kind of have to shrug or throw up your hands. That’s me not taking a side. Pentagram will keep going either way. What else is there?

As I write this, it’s almost 1PM and the last day of the fest starts in a couple hours. Nine more bands on the Cafe 611 stage and I’m not even going to embarrass myself trying to get into Guido’s again. Very rock and roll of me, I know. I’ll get ’em in 2020. Shower first, and then more coffee and all the water. I’d like to sit for a bit and get my head on straight as I was lucky enough to do yesterday, and the energy was so good throughout last night that I want to try to recapture it as much as I am able, particularly after feeling by the end of Friday like I’d been hit by the doomtruck. I’m hardly in peak physical condition — my legs and back are feeling it — but we’ll see how it goes. The mind is willing, the flesh is… increasingly saggy.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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Forming the Void Announced for Red Crust Festival 2020 in the UK

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 7th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

forming the void (Photo by Rachael Aloia)

This was going to happen eventually, but it’s worth marking the fact that Forming the Void‘s first-announced show outside of North America will be held a year from this week at Red Crust Festival 2020 in the UK. I say it’s their first-announced, because I expect they’ll have more dates either before or after it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find them popping up on other fests here and there next Spring. Pure speculation, but still. And hey, while we’re speculating, it seems incredibly reasonable to think that by the time next Spring rolls around, the Louisiana heavy prog rockers will have a new record out to serve as their debut on Ripple Music.

I had the pleasure of seeing the four-piece twice in the last couple months, and my takeaway from that is that they’re ready for this kind of thing. The release of Rift (review here) last year opened many doors — including that of Ripple — for them, and they’ve been quick to take advantage. The task before them now is to make an album that builds on Rift‘s rather significant accomplishments in terms of scope and songwriting. No reason to think they can’t do it, as they’ve been moving forward and figuring out who they are as a band all along. I don’t know if it’ll be out before the end of 2019 — I think it was September they were going to record? — but it’ll be welcome when it shows up, and congrats to the band on continuing to broaden their touring horizons. This is a big one.

The fest announced them thusly:

red crust festival 2020 forming the void

We are pleased to announce that the next Red Crust Festival will be taking place at La Belle Angele in Edinburgh on 8th, 9th,10th of May 2020.

We are able to announce that ‘Forming the Void’ will be one of our headliners. Their recent album ‘Rift’ was hailed worldwide by critics and has performed well in various charts. Hailing from Louisiana, they play a potent blend of heavy progressive rock, stoner & doom.

Check out the single ‘On We Sail’. It’s an anthem!

Get your tickets now at the event page below: https://www.facebook.com/events/289893015226269/
https://www.facebook.com/redcrustfestival/

Forming The Void:
James Marshall – Guitar/Vocals
Shadi Omar Al-Khansa – Guitar
Luke Baker – Bass
Thomas Colley – Drums

https://www.facebook.com/formingthevoid/
https://twitter.com/forming_thevoid
https://www.instagram.com/forming_the_void/
https://formingthevoid.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/theripplemusic/
https://twitter.com/RippleMusic
https://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ripple-music.com/

Forming the Void, “Arrival” official video

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Live Review: Kings Destroy, Gozu, Forming the Void and Clamfight in Brooklyn, 03.02.19

Posted in Reviews on March 5th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Half a decade ago, I tagged along with Kings Destroy on a West Coast tour that took us, among other places, through a snowstorm in Wyoming. It was late at night, and cars were sliding off the road and pulled over with their flashers on, plows nowhere to be seen. A general wreck. I took over driving that night — hi, I’m sober — and we just went to where we were staying very, very slowly. One does not want to flip the Sprinter van with all the gear in it when one is not even in the band.

I thought about that snowstorm at seven in the morning on Saturday to go south from Massachusetts to see Kings Destroy‘s record release show at the Saint Vitus Bar in the Lost City of Brooklyn after seeing them the night before in Boston, with Gozu and Forming the Void, who’d also be playing again, while Philly’s Clamfight stepped into the opening spot. It’s not every band on the planet I’d leave the house for, let alone take six hours to make a four-hour trip. It all worked out, though, and nobody flipped any vehicles. A win, even before the night started.

It was an early show, which is fine by me forever. There was an NYC Beer Week event with metal breweries at the Vitus Bar before the show kicked off, and Alewife Brewing had a special beer for Gozu — a Gozu Gose — and so it was a double release gig, with Kings Destroy marking the arrival this week of their fourth album, Fantasma Nera, and Gozu having a few cans of their own special brew on hand. There was no way it wasn’t going to be a party.

The beer thing was basically irrelevant to me other than the Gozu cans were cool looking, but it made sure the crowd had gotten plenty of “tasting” done by the time Clamfight went on. Here’s how it all went from there:

Clamfight

Clamfight (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Hugs all around. I’ve known Clamfight for well over a decade at this point, and they played three songs at the Saint Vitus Bar, but honestly, apart from being happy to see them and the fact that in the time since I last did — in the same place, no less — they released last year’s III (review here), which was by any measure a huge leap forward in sound and approach, I spent the bulk of their set feeling cripplingly nervous. I had put out on social media a post with their track “Echoes in Stone” that said how I daydreamed about singing the song on stage with them, and they invited me to do it. When I was in a band a decade ago, we used to do shows together a lot and it was how we got to be friends. They invited me to do the song, and, after much hemming and hawing, I actually did it. I sang backups to drummer Andy Martin and was up on the Vitus Bar stage with him, bassist Louis Koble and guitarists Joel “Papa” Harris and guitarist Sean McKee and I did the song. The last time I was on a stage was eight years before, and I thought I’d never do it again, but in the end, the situation felt right and when it was done, I was glad I did it. Sore, and glad. And sore. But also glad. And sweaty. Before I got up, they also killed and the metal-breweries crowd left over from the beer event earlier were right on board with their more aggressive side. It had been too long since I saw them, and I’m glad to know I’ll catch them again at New England Stoner & Doom Fest this Spring.

Forming the Void

Forming the Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It was really, really easy to watch Forming the Void play two nights in a row. They seemed comfortable on a bigger stage, and were able to spread out a bit more in their setup, but the huge tones and progressive melodies came through no less effectively for the larger space they occupied in Brooklyn than they had in Boston. And it’s interesting to see that people are clearly onto them. They brought out a good, growing-band crowd both nights, and what they brought to the bill was to be the one on the lineup that people hadn’t seen yet on the tour. The seeing-them-for-the-first-time band, because of course neither Gozu nor Kings Destroy — nor Clamfight, for that matter — were strangers to the venue, but you could see in the crowd people being engaged by the Louisiana natives, and that initial curiosity turning into fandom in real-time. Touring suits them. They’re building a stage presence and as they become more confident in their approach, that will become all the more a factor, but they’re already able to take a room and bring the people in it onto their side, and that is a massive step. Good band. Good band. Go see Forming the Void. Their next album or two — they work quickly — will tell the tale, but already, good band. They’ll be at Maryland Doom Fest in June, I’m hoping with new material in tow.

Gozu

Gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Appropriately enough, Gozu and Kings Destroy switched up the order from the night before in Boston, giving the New York band the play-last spot in their hometown, but Gozu still tore through Saint Vitus Bar like headliners. This was their last night of the three on the road with Kings Destroy and Forming the Void — Portland, Boston, Brooklyn — and they railed into their set in absolute blowout fashion. If I didn’t know they were playing with a new drummer in Alex Fewell, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, and it was clear they were getting it together as they were going. No flubs that I heard, and frankly, I was paying pretty close attention. If he’s permanent, Fewell (also of thrashers Black Mass) would be the third drummer in Gozu, and though he’s playing established material with parts originally written by someone else — either Mike Hubbard or Barry Spillberg — he brings his own sensibility to it. I was glad to see him a second night with the band, because that came through all the more. He’s not a pure tech drummer, but he’s able to carry the sharp-edged “Nature Boy” without trouble and still swing when called upon to do so. By the time guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney was shaking his hips later into the set in the middle of the stage with guitarist Doug Sherman and bassist Joe Grotto headbanging on either side, Gozu seemed fully locked in and sustainable as they are now. I don’t know how fluid their situation is, but their intent to keep moving forward was plain to see, and it’s worth being thankful for that.

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I was at the record release show at Saint Vitus Bar in 2015 for Kings Destroy‘s self-titled third LP (review here). I got to do a track premiere for that one. This time, I wasn’t cool enough, but as they move toward the release of their fourth album, Fantasma Nera, this week as their offering under the banner of Svart Records, I couldn’t help but think back to that show and the massive difference in sound between that material and the newer stuff. They liken it to grunge, which is fair in a sense, but New York — and really, East Coast — grunge was always a bit meaner, and that holds true for Kings Destroy as well. What they’ve ended up with is a kind of heavy rock that in some ways communes with their hardcore past, but is much more melodically present and more than ever sure of its songwriting approach. I said of the Boston show they were still feeling out how to present the new songs live — once again, they played all Fantasma Nera material except for “Mr. O” from the last album — but being on their home turf definitely helped. This was their 25th show at the Saint Vitus Bar. I haven’t been at every one of those shows, but I’m happy to have seen as many as I have, and I know full well this won’t be the last one I catch. They are the masters of that domain, new songs or old, and owned the show the way you own your living room. I stood in the middle of the crowd — something I rarely do — and however many times I’ve seen them later, still felt lucky to be there.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of yourself and your place. Some people come to underground music with an endgame in mind. They have a goal and are working toward that goal. That’s not always the wrong call, but if you’re looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of underground heavy, you’re doing it wrong. It’s not about the gold, it’s about the rainbow. It’s not what you get from the work, it’s the work itself. The work is the reward. People can support each other and help out and whatever else, but at the end of the night when you’re driving home from the show, if you’re not happy with the work, there’s no point to any of it. Because that gold? It’s bullshit. You’re never going to get it. But rainbows really do exist and they’re fucking awesome. Live for the work or live wrong. Nights like this, they help you align your perspective and inspire you to keep it right.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: Gozu, Kings Destroy, Forming the Void and Test Meat in Boston, 03.01.19

Posted in Reviews on March 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Someday the Middle East will be gone. The real estate is simply too valuable. Walking up to what’s one of Boston’s most celebrated venues, you can see the encroaching condos across the street looming over the restaurant, nightclub and huge Downstairs basement space like skeletal godzillae, hollow inside and just waiting for their alluring names to add to the faux-distinguished aesthetic. They will conquer, maul, consume and dismember ex-culture even as they celebrate the “spirit” of the place and little the street with green straws. This will be the story of Boston until the city drowns.

But while it’s still there, it’s all the more worth appreciating for its inevitably-fleeting nature, so I got off my ass and did that. Gozu headlining the Middle East UpstairsMidEastUp to the locals, which after six-plus years living in the area, I’m still not — as the second of three nights with New York’s Kings Destroy and Louisiana’s Forming the Void, plus Test Meat added as a fourth, Boston-based bookend opener.

The crowd was there early and stayed late and the vibe was a party all the way through. Here’s how it went down:

Test Meat

Test Meat (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Darryl Shepherd is nothing less than an institution. In the pantheon of New England heavy rock and roll, his decades of contributions in bands like Slapshot, Milligram, Roadsaw, Hackman, Blackwolfgoat, etc., are a CV that is a touchstone of the Boston underground. The man, in short, is a treasure, and rather than rest on his considerable laurels, he continues to move forward. Test Meat began as a trio and has pared down to the two-piece of Shepherd on guitar/vocals and Mike Nashawaty (ex-Planetoid) on drums. They played set up on opposite sides of the stage, both toward the front, and with Nashawaty‘s cannon-esque kick drum facing Shepherd head on. Shades of classic grunge were given a noise rock underpinning songs like “Brunt” and “Class,” the purposefully short songs digging intensely into the punk roots of Nirvana with some of Helmet‘s tonal crunch and penchant for starts and stops. Their 2018 7″, Please Hurt, was for sale alongside some winning-the-night stickers with their moniker presented in Testament‘s classic logo — it worked really well — and while those recordings were done as a trio with Aarne Victorine on bass, the inherent rawness of working as a duo suited the songs really well, and as they move forward, I’d have to wonder if they wouldn’t be best served playing off that spirit. Either way, they were a righteously barebones start to the night.

Forming the Void

Forming the Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Big riffs, big melodies, vocal harmonies playing out from guitarists on both sides of the stage while massive roll emanates from the drums and bass between them — Forming the Void are right there. Right on the edge of it. The material is strong, the performance is strong, and up to this point, they’ve built significant momentum in their favor, with both live shows and a steady stream of releases. Running through “Shrine,” “Arcane Mystic” and “On We Sail” from last year’s third album, Rift (review here), the four-piece showed clearly how much atmosphere they bring to their work, so that it’s about more than just tone or groove, and the mood they create feels as much purposeful as it is resonant. I don’t know another way to say it: This is really good band. They are on their way, and if they keep touring and tightening up their approach, watch out. They reportedly have studio time booked for their next album, which even though they’re signed to Ripple at this point and have worked quickly to get three records out in three years, feels fast, but they haven’t failed to progress yet, and their approach is only growing broader each time. This was my second time seeing Forming the Void. If you haven’t yet, that is a thing you should make efforts to rectify as soon as possible. They are right on the verge of becoming something really special, and the crowd at the Middle East knew it.

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What, am I gonna pretend to be impartial about Kings Destroy? Clearly not. Their fourth record, Fantasma Nera, comes out this week on Svart, and if you ever wanted to hear a band pour everything they have into a collection of songs, that’s what it sounds like. I’ll hold over-editorializing that thought until I review the album, but their oh-shit-we-just-hit-another-level feel was evident not only in the fact that they’ve changed their stage setup, but that all but one song — “Mr O.,” from their 2015 self-titled (review here) — were new. The uptempo “Barbarossa,” the title-track and “Seven Billion Drones” were highlights, that latter particularly given a harsher edge live than on the record, but it was fascinating to see Kings Destroy, who for nearly a decade have made on-stage confrontationalism such a huge part of their approach, function in a more restrained and controlled context. In some ways, Fantasma Nera is their most rock-based offering to-date, but it’s also the most undeniably their own, and though they were still getting used to presenting those songs live, watching them play, it was already clear that they’ve only become a richer and more complex band. Ending with the triumphant riff in “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse” didn’t hurt either. Again, I’m not going to feign critical distance from their work. I’m both a fan of the band and I consider them friends, so if you want to take this with that grain of salt, that’s fine. It’d only be your loss to miss them.

Gozu

Gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Gozu have been the best heavy rock band in Boston for a while now, and it suits them. Whether it’s been their time on tour in Europe or playing bigger shows like their run on the Metal Alliance Tour in the States, they’ve of course branched out beyond Beantown’s confines, but when they play in town, they make it easy to root for the hometown squad. They always pull a good crowd, and this show was no exception, and they absolutely delivered. It had been a good night already. Three bands, all killer, each doing their own thing, but Gozu topped it all off beautifully. In impeccable command of the room, well familiar with the place and the stage and the sound and light or lack thereof. All of it. It was a band in their element. It has been too long since I last saw them, but their 2018 LP, Equilibrium (review here), stepped forward willfully from what they accomplished in 2016 with Revival (review here), and catching that material live was a total pleasure. Guitarist Doug Sherman called everyone to the front of the stage, and people came forward, and he, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney, bassist Joe Grotto and new drummer Alex Fewell absolutely made it worth their trip. As midnight crept on and passed, there was no letup as Gozu underlined the absolute force they’ve become over the last decade-plus. They owned that room, and whatever might or might not become of the Middle East with condo-encroachment, on this night, Gozu capped an evening that showed a vitality that endures regardless of market prices.

Hood up, hat on, out the door into the cold. Down some poorly-shoveled sidewalk to the car. Home in an hour or so, no traffic. In bed about 10 minutes later and up four hours after that for a six-hour-in-the-snow drive to New Jersey to see three out of these four bands again in Brooklyn, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 11

Posted in Radio on March 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

Oh, it was a cold and snowy Sunday night, but the rawk was hawt, and so on. Okay, so maybe I’m not much for the introductions, but I dug this episode. I want to screw with what I’ve kind of made the “format” of this show, and starting out with Kings Destroy, Clamfight and Forming the Void in honor of the show I saw on Saturday at the Saint Vitus Bar was fun. So it’s a little more than just be being like, “Duh, I like this record so here’s this song by this band,” though of course that pretty much applies here as well. I don’t know. Just something a little different. Branch out a bit. Try not to set rules for myself.

Speaking of a lack of rules, this one gets a little weird. Look out for Return to Worm Mountain and Hhoogg in the second hour, and then Volcano leading into longer tracks from Sons of Morpheus and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree. That last song from the latter is 17 minutes long, and hell yeah I was going to include it. So good. That record is an unexpected turn from them, but absolutely awesome, so if you know it, all the better, and if not, maybe you’ll dig. Dig dig dig.

New tunes besides from Hexvessel, Snowy Dunes, High Reeper, Yatra and the sadly-defunct Cloud Catcher, and a classic riff-roll from Spirit Caravan round out what I thought was a pretty killer mixtape, so yeah, if you checked it out last night or get to listen to it tomorrow morning, thank you.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.03.19

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera Fantasma Nera*
Clamfight Echoes in Stone III
Forming the Void On We Sail Rift
BREAK
Yatra Smoke is Rising Death Ritual*
Hexvessel Wilderness Spirit All Tree*
Snowy Dunes Let’s Save Dreams Let’s Save Dreams*
High Reeper Bring the Dead Higher Reeper*
Cloud Catcher Beneath the Steel The Whip*
BREAK
Spirit Caravan Cosmic Artifact Jug Fulla Sun
Hhoogg Journey to the Dying Place Earthling, Go Home!*
Return to Worm Mountain Song for the Pig Children Return to Worm Mountain*
Smokey Mirror Sword and Scepter Split w/ Love Gang*
Volcano No Evil Know Demon The Island*
BREAK
Sons of Morpheus Slave (Never Ending Version) The Wooden House Session*
Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree Cinitus Grandmother*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is March 17. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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The Obelisk Presents: Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera Release Tour with Gozu & Forming the Void

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on January 31st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kings destroy

Brooklyn’s Kings Destroy are getting ready once again to fuck with the formula via their fourth long-player, Fantasma Nera, which branches into new levels of progressive songwriting and melody while turning their confrontational aspect inward as much as outward in theme and execution. Like everything they’ve done, it leaves the past in its dust. Set to release March 8 on Svart Records — which is a label of taste broad and reliable enough to suit them — its arrival will be preceded by a run up the Eastern Seaboard in the company of Gozu and Forming the Void, and it’s my sincere pleasure to be among the presenters of the tour.

They’ll be at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 as well this June — along with many, many others — but even for those planning to see them there, this is an early chance to get introduced to the songs and, presumably, pick up a copy of the album before it’s officially out. Preorders are great and available now, but there’s nothing quite like a merch table either.

The shows kick off Feb. 27 in Kingston, New York, with hometown heroes Geezer and head into Canada for a stop on Montreal before swinging through Rochester, Cleveland and Pittsburgh to finish up. I’ll be at the Brooklyn gig that has Clamfight as the much-welcome fourth for the bill, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to be a party. A sweaty, sweaty party.

Poster is by Bill Kole, and you can stream the Fantasma Nera title-track below:

kings destroy tour poster

Fantasma Nera pre-orders are available now via Svartrecords.com/artist/kings-destroy with physical bundles including colored vinyl and other merchandise. Digital pre-orders include an instant download of the title track.

The band has announced an East Coast Tour prior to the week of release as well as a recently announced performance at the Maryland Doom Fest on June 20.

Kings Destroy tour dates:
February 27 Kingston, NY The Anchor w/ Geezer
February 28 Portland, ME Geno’s
March 1 Boston, MA Middle East w/ Test Meat
March 2 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus w/ Clamfight
March 3 Montreal QC TurboHaus
March 4 Rochester, NY Bug Jar
March 5 Cleveland, OH Now That’s Class
March 6 Pittsburgh, PA Howlers w/ Horehound

Kings Destroy is Aaron Bumpus (bass), Stephen Murphy (vocals), Carl Porcaro (guitar), Rob Sefcik (drums) and Chris Skowronski (guitar).

Kings Destroy, “Fantasma Nera”

Kings Destroy on Thee Facebooks

Kings Destroy on Instagram

Kings Destroy website

Kings Destroy on Bandcamp

Svart Records website

Svart Records on Thee Facebooks

Svart Records on Twitter

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The Top 20 of 2018 Year-End Poll — RESULTS!

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

derp

If you’re reading this, congratulations on making it all the way through the existential rollercoaster that was 2018.

I hope you celebrated that year’s end and this year’s beginning in riotous fashion if that’s your thing, and if you’re more the stay-at-home-and-don’t-break-stuff type, I hope that was fun too.

Over the last month, best-of lists have been collected from all around the world and as we move into 2019, it’s time to do the results of the Year-End Poll for 2018.

What a year. As I look back on the lists submitted, of course I can’t help but think how absolutely incredible 2018 was for music. With the world crumbling around, creativity surged, and the quality of output was off the charts. I published my own list last week and was quickly inundated with stuff I forgot or that I missed owing to being robbed earlier this year — I guess I didn’t even realize until the post went up just how much that screwed me — and I’m sure there’s more still out there from what everyone turned in. It’s infinite. It keeps going. Trends change. Sounds change. People change. Creativity flourishes.

But I think if you’re reading this, you know why we’re here. We wound up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 discrete releases submitted. That’s more than five for every day of the year. And they came from 547 people, which is amazing. Accordingly, there should be plenty here to keep you busy for a while.

Not exactly suspenseful as to which was the album of the year, but it’s still interesting to see where stuff landed. Just to remind, there are two lists, one of the raw votes, and one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. Thanks as always to Slevin for the help in setting up the back end functionality and compilation scripts.

Let’s go:

Top 20 of 2018 — Weighted Results

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (1,087 points)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (721)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (478)
4. Earthless, Black Heaven (413)
5. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (408)
6. Windhand, Eternal Return (387)
7. All Them Witches, ATW (373)
8. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (354)
9. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (323)
10. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (315)
11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (285)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (274)
13. Graveyard, Peace (225)
14. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (222)
15. Weedpecker, III (212)
16. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (197)
17. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (189)
18. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (188)
19. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (167)
20. ASG, Survive Sunrise (164)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (150)
Gozu, Equilibrium (148)
Judas Priest, Firepower (148)
Naxatras, III (148)
Forming the Void, Rift (146)

I’m not saying everyone had to love the Sleep record, but there’s no way it wasn’t the biggest underground heavy release of the year. That top spot was established the first day the poll went up and while YOB caught up as both neared 100 votes, there was no doubt how it would ultimately shake out. It was pretty clear early on what people were passionate about, but there are some interesting differences between the raw vote and the weighted results even high on the list, as you’ll see below.

Top 20 of 2018 — Raw Votes

sleep the sciences

1. Sleep, The Sciences (263 votes)
2. YOB, Our Raw Heart (185)
3. High on Fire, Electric Messiah (141)
4. Windhand, Eternal Return (115)
5. Earthless, Black Heaven (109)
6. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain (102)
7. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland (101)
8. All Them Witches, ATW (95)
8. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (95)
9. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (93)
10. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers (77)
10. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II (77)
11. Graveyard, Peace (69)
12. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman (67)
13. Weedpecker, III (63)
14. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker (57)
14. Conan, Existential Void Guardian (57)
15. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown (54)
16. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark (50)
17. ASG, Survive Sunrise (48)
18. Gozu, Equilibrium (46)
19. Forming the Void, Rift (45)
20. Judas Priest, Firepower (43)
20. Khemmis, Bloodletting (43)
20. Mos Generator, Shadowlands (43)
20. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back (43)

Honorable Mention:
Messa, Feast for Water (41)
Domkraft, Flood (40)
Naxatras, III (40)
Thou, Magus (40)

Everything else got fewer than 40 raw votes. Why cap it at 40? I don’t know. Good a place as any. And when a top 20 has 26 releases on it, I don’t imagine there will be too many complaints about not enough stuff being included. One can hope, anyhow. You can see the difference between Sleep and everyone else here as well, a pretty precipitous drop after both them and YOB, and YOB and High on Fire — the top three being well ahead of everyone else in terms of general agreement.

The ‘Respect the Hustle’ Award

Somewhere around the middle of the month, I noticed a massive surge of votes for a band called Entropía and their debut album, Invisible. A bunch of people with lists of 20 just including Entropía. I’ve included them below, you can see them. I didn’t know what was up, whether it was the band spamming the vote or what, so I sent them a message. Turns out they had sent the link to their email list and asked for votes, and that’s how they all got in. Well, okay.

They wound up with well over 750 raw votes (to remind, Sleep got 263), and it didn’t feel representative to have them be album of the year, but hey, I respect the hustle, so they get the award accordingly. Nicely done, folks. I’ve been doing Year-End Polls since like 2010 and that’s never happened before. Their totals were 2,367 points and 777 votes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading. Whether this is the only post you’ve seen this year or you click ‘Like’ on everything that comes across your Facebook feed, your support is tremendously appreciated. This is the only post that will go up today, but we’ll be back to business as usual tomorrow, and in the meantime, you’ll find everybody’s list included after the jump.

All the best for 2019.

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Maryland Doom Fest 2019 Early-Bird Tickets Limited; Day Lineups Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

maryland doom fest 2019 poster square

The actual schedules aren’t out yet for the four days of Maryland Doom Fest 2019, but even the day-splits for the massive lineup are good to know since this will be the first one with two venues and, thus, the first one with schedule conflicts (assuming the rooms run at the same time). That will invariably lead to some difficult choices, but so it goes in the land of doom — aka Frederick, MD. One way or another, the lineup is maddeningly good from its headliners in Pentagram, Conan, Earthride and Mothership right on down through the likes of Seasick Gladiator and Greenbeard, playing earlier in the day. But it’s good to get some basic idea of who will be where, when, because given the swath of bands, it’s going to be one to schedule where your feet are at any moment in order to miss as little as humanly possible.

By the way, how fucking awesome is the idea of Maryland Doom Fest paying homage to the 20th anniversary of the long-running/now-defunct Stoner Hands of Doom festival? That lineup could hardly be more perfect if they got Eternal Elysium over for it as SHoD once did. Especially the top three there. Unstoppable.

Here’s the info. There’s a lot of it:

Early Bird Discount Ends 12/31! THE MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019 – 5th Anniversary – June 20th-23rd with PENTAGRAM, CONAN, EARTHRIDE, MOTHERSHIP, WARHORSE, 40+ More!

The Maryland Doom Fest celebrates its 5th anniversary this upcoming June and has confirmed FIFTY of today’s heaviest bands to grace the stages of two venues in 2019. For the first time in its history, MD Doom Fest brings international artists, the mighty CONAN from the United Kingdom and INTERITUM from Tasmania, with 48 hallowed USA acts coming from coast to coast!

In a dual-ceremonial event, the MD Doom Fest Pre-Party on Thursday, June 20th is a 20th Anniversary celebration of the Stoner Hands of Doom Festival (ShoD), with a spectacular lineup. All bands have performed at fantastic SHoD fests of years past! The Pre-Fest / SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration will be monumental. We invite everyone to become part of the family at The Maryland Doom Fest 2019 events for #4daysofdoom!!

THE MARYLAND DOOM FEST 2019
June 20th – 23rd, 2019 + Frederick, MD

PENTAGRAM + CONAN + EARTHRIDE + MOTHERSHIP

Year Of The Cobra + Lo Pan + Freedom Hawk + Warhorse + Pale Divine + Apostle Of Solitude + Kings Destroy + Solace + Foghound + Beelzefuzz + ZED + Wasted Theory + The Age Of Truth + Atala + Toke + Backwoods Payback + Weed Is Weed + Forming The Void + Sixes + After The Sun + Shadow Witch + Faith In Jane + Clouds Taste Satanic + Pale Grey Lore + Knoxxville + Devil To Pay + Eternal Black + Thonian Horde + Kingsnake + Greenbeard + Interitum + Benthic Realm + Horehound + Funeral Horse + Thousand Vision Mist + Deer Creek + Crooked Hills + Stone Dust Riders + Thunderchief + Wolf Blood + The Druids + Atomic 26 + Dead Sisters + Seasick Gladiator + Electric Age + Temptations Wings

+++ Early Bird Discount Weekend Passes available until December 31st +++

https://www.marylanddoomfest.com/tickets/

MD Doom Fest Pre-Party
SHoD 20th Anniversary Celebration
Thursday, June 20th

+ Cafe 611 +
Earthride
Warhorse
Solace
Wasted Theory
Devil to Pay
Deer Creek
Weed is Weed
Freedom Hawk
After the Sun

DAY ONE
Friday, June 21st

+CAFE 611+
Mothership
Pale Divine
Lo Pan
Year of the Cobra
The Age of Truth
Backwoods Payback
Kingsnake
Interitum
The Druids

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Clouds Taste Satanic
Benthic Realm
Dead Sisters
Funeral Horse

DAY TWO
Saturday, June 22nd

+CAFE 611+
Pentagram
Apostle of Solitude
Foghound
Beelzefuzz
Atala
Sixes
Forming the Void
Knoxxville
Atomic 26
Eternal Black
Greenbeard

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Electric Age
Pale Grey Lore
Thunderchief
Seasick Gladiator
Crooked Hills

DAY THREE
Sunday, June 23rd

+CAFE 611+
Conan
ZED
Kings Destroy
Toke
Thousand Vision Mist
Horehound
Thonian Horde
Shadow Witch
Faith in Jane

+GUIDO’S SPEAKEASY+
Temptations Wings
Wolf Blood
Stone Dust Riders

Early Bird Discount Weekend Passes are available until December 31st, 2018!
(Early Bird Discount is only for Weekend Passes- $74.)

On January 1, 2019, all regular price ticket options will be available.
Weekend Passes $89. Single Night: Fri. $35 / Sat. $40 / Sun. $35
Weekend Pass holders can attend Pre-Fest/SHoD for $15 at the door, all others: $30.

https://www.facebook.com/events/371836710006412/
https://www.facebook.com/MdDoomFest/
https://www.themarylanddoomfest.com/

Apostle of Solitude, “Keeping the Lighthouse” official video

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