DAYS OF THE DOOMED-DAY 2
June 18, The P.L.A.V., Kenosha, WI
By Dr. Abner Mality
Owing to a number of factors (personal poverty being most paramount), I was able to only catch the 2nd day of the inaugural Days of the Doomed festival held in beautiful downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin. Therefore, I missed first day bands like Admiral Browning, Backwoods Payback and, most grievously, The Gates of Slumber. But Day 2 was the longer day with the bigger line-up and by the time this monumental celebration of downtuned riffery was finished, I had absolutely no regrets about my choice.
Days of the Doomed is the creation of one "Mercyful" Mike Smith, who went out of his way to make sure every band and visitor to this fest was treated royally. The consensus of every band was that Mike did an outstanding job and I agree. He managed to enlist most of his family to help, including sisters, father-in-law and long-suffering wife. That gave the fest a real family feel which you sure don't get with most multi-band events. I only hope Mike made enough from this first edition to make it an annual tradition.
Due to construction which made my Mapquest instructions about as useful as tits on a tomcat, I missed quite a bit of opening band Carbellion's set. Now these guys are very popular here in Southern Wisconsin but I always had them pegged for a Nickleback/Creed type of band. WRONG! What I saw of their set was raw, sweaty hard rock. It was really too uptempo to be called "doom", but most of those in attendance can sure appreciate honest rock and Carbellion delivered that pretty well. I will look for more from them!
Funeral doomsters Pallbearer were next to appear and as if to make up for the high energy of Carbellion, these guys were truly the slowest and doomiest band of the day. The clear but mournful tones of singer Brett Campbell gave this ultra-heavy outfit a touch of class and for fans of early My Dying Bride and other such depressing acts, Pallbearer is surely a name to watch. Campbell's performance was one of many tremendous vocal exhibitions we got throughout the day...something which made this festival stand out from many of the others I attend, where harsh bellows and angry grunts predominate. Speaking of which, I really dug the vibe at Days of the Doomed. I didn't have to worry about some goofy mosher slamming me in the back. Headbanging and swaying to the music was more the speed for this crowd.
The doom really hit hard with the next act, the excellent Apostle of Solitude. These dudes delivered a stand-out set that really was hard to pin down stylistically. The Apostles' sound ranged from grinding sludge with a slight Southern flavor to almost classic Candlemass style doom to dragging funeral dirge...all done excellently. They were also quite energetic on stage and the alteration between styles kept your interest up. They also have a very charismatic and melodic frontman to lead the way. The real cherry on the top of Apostle of Solitude's set was a devastating rendition of Celtic Frost's "Procreation of the Wicked", which had all in front headbanging furiously. I now know why these guys have so excited the doom underground.
At the strangely propitious time of 4:20 in the afternoon, veteran doomsters Orodruin took the stage. Bands like this are the backbone of the doom metal scene. They wore their early Sabbath influence on their sleeves and continued to keep the quality music coming. Band leader Mike Puleo conjures a very Iommi-esque tone from his axe and his clean, forlorn vocals add a further touch of sadness. Mike kinda looks like he could be the brother of pro wrestler Brian Kendrick. Just a strange observation from the mind of Dr. Mality. At any rate, Orodruin played crowd-pleasers like "Peasant's Lament", "Melancholia" and even a selection from their split with Reverend Bizarre. It doesn't get much truer than these guys.
One of the best traditional metal albums of the year is "Boldly Stride the Doomed" from Pennsylvania's Argus, who took the stage next and pretty much surprised everybody with one of the most awesome performances of the day. A near-perfect mixture of such classic influences as Candlemass, Iron Maiden, Angelwitch, Omen and more, these guys often played at a tempo too fast to be called doom. But nobody seemed to be disappointed as they cranked tunes like "Fading Silver Light", "Durendal" and "The Damnation of John Faustus". Star of the show was their outstanding vocalist Butch Balich (ex-Penance). Live, this guy is even better than he is on album...virtually flawless, in fact, and he and the rest of the band genuinely enjoyed their set. I later saw Butch in the crowd headbanging to Las Cruces' set. Argus is sure a band to seek out.
The fest had been extremely impressive up to this point, but with Retro Grave's set, the first bump in the road appeared. This is an odd two-man outfit featuring none other than beloved Trouble drummer "Oly" Olsen on drums and vocals, along with a lone guitarist and no bassist. As much respect as I have for Oly, nothing about Retro Grave's set clicked at all. It got off to a very awkward start with Oly having trouble singing and playing drums at the same time. And sorry, having no bass player for a band such as this just does not work. Later in the night, Iron Man's Dee Calhoun said "If you wanna have heavy, you gotta have bass." There was no real bottom end to Retro Grave's performance and visually, the guitarist was as exciting as a file cabinet. Plus, the riffs just seemed too basic and simple for me. Olsen's drumming was strong and his vocals were OK, but this was just not a good set, especially being sandwiched between Argus and Las Cruces' killer jams.
Las Cruces is a name I'd heard for many years in the doom/stoner underground, but somehow I never got around to hearing them. Well, my eyes got opened in a big hurry because these dudes blew the crowd away from the get-go with a performance I can only call fierce. You won't see too many bands with this energy level at a festival dedicated to doom music. Even during the slower songs, these Texans let it all hang out. They played a real mixture of styles from nasty Southern-fried sludge to very slow tank-like dirges, hitting all points in between. Throughout it all, there is just a certain attitude that reeks of beer, dust and diesel...Texas, in other words. This is even more impressive considering that vocal duties are handled by drummer Paul DeLeon. The big man put on a clinic of how to combine energetic, melodic vocals with hard-hitting sticksmanship. Set highlight had to be the song "Behemoth", which had everybody singing along.
Up next were Chicago favorites Earthen Grave, featuring Trouble's Ron Holzner on bass. Starting your show with a cover of Pentagram's "Relentless" is a sure way to win over a seasoned doom crowd. Yet I noticed right away a critical absence from the band...their classically trained violinist Rachel Barton Pine was not playing with them at this show. Whether this is a permanent situation or not, I don't know, but it sure had an affect on Earthen Grave's sound. Rachel's soulful violin was such an integral part of the band's "Dismal Times" album...it really helped to set this band immediately apart. Without Rachel, Earthen Grave is still a powerful doom-tinged metal band, but something is missing. Ron Holzner is one big, intimidating guy on bass...he looks like he could rumble with Brock Lesnar. The band's vocalist Mark Weiner is another big dude, with a big, rich voice to match. I enjoyed Earthen Grave's performance but sincerely hope that Rachel or a suitable replacement is still part of the equation.
If there was one "celebrity" that everybody was looking forward to seeing this weekend, it was Eric Wagner, the legendary former vocalist of Trouble. Mr. Wagner did indeed grace us with his presence and it led to one of the most exciting moments I have seen at a concert. Eric first performed with his new band Blackfinger. He made for quite an ethereal presence, with his sunglasses, mop of hair, all black clothes and very laid back demeanor. During the first couple of Blackfinger tracks, he seemed to be in his own world. As for Blackfinger, they play a combination of basic grooving hard rock and very pronounced psychedelic Middle Eastern touches. The two guitarists looked like they could be in a Creed cover band, but damn, they were really good and played with a lot of finesse. There was a peculiar stand-up bass which added some extra bottom end to the music.
As Blackfinger progressed, Wagner slowly started to come to life, joking with fans and becoming more animated. Then the moment we were all hoping for arrived, as former bandmates Ron Holzner and Oly Olsen hit the stage to reform 3/5 of the renowned trouble. Suddenly the place was alive as the opening riffs of "Come Touch the Sky" hit the P.L.A.V. We knew we were watching a special moment as Eric Wagner suddenly became exactly the same guy we remembered from the 80's and 90's. "Plastic Green Head" was next and got a terrific response. I have to hand it to the Blackfinger guitarists...they played the Trouble material with real feeling and skill. The energy level went up another notch as "At The End of My Daze"...it seemed the crowd did most of the singing on this one, but the band was enjoying the hell out of everything. Then the place really exploded as the ultimate funeral dirge of "The Tempter" rolled out of the speakers. The whole place went crazy, especially during the faster parts, with even Wagner headbanging like mad. He didn't look anything at all like the cool cat that started Blackfinger's set. At the conclusion of the set, Ron, Oly and Eric all posed smiling on the stage and Ron grabbed to the mike to yell "This is only the beginning!". Hmmm, very interesting! One thing's for sure, I can never again take Kory Clarke seriously as the lead singer of Trouble. What a shame that this tremendous moment was witnessed by fifty people tops. I'll have more to say on that in a moment.
Really, the semi-return of Trouble was the undoubted highlight of the weekend, but one of the bands I was really anxious to see had yet to play. D.C.'s finest doom band, Iron Man, featuring the godly guitarist Alfred Morris III, was up next, starting their set with "Choices" and blazing through more thunderous, fuzzy, subsonic anthems like "Run From The Light", "I Have Returned", "The Gods Have Spoken" and more. This is such a great fuckin' band...no man alive can match the incredible fuzzy guitar tone that Al Morris gets from his guitar and his solos are way up in the Iommi class. Now Iron Man actually has a frontman worthy of Morris' guitar wizardry, "Screaming Mad" Dee Calhoun. This son of a bitch can sing as good as anybody I have ever seen live...and that includes Halford, Tate, Dio and more. His scream is just as amazing as Al's guitar work. Plus, gotta mention the furious bass playing of Louis Strachan, who virtually attacks his instrument and is a ton of fun to watch run across stage. I watched this guy in the crowd all day and he's a guy who loves his metal for sure. Iron Man ended their scorching set with "Black Night", which brought a huge response from those few who remained.
My night ended after Iron Man's set. I wanted to stick around and watch the All-Star Sabbath jam with assorted band members covering Sabbath classics, but I was virtually out on my feet and had a long drive home. Sorry I could not make that last performance, but there's no doubt that "Days of the Doomed" delivered a doom metal fan's dream festival. Nothing but kudos to Mercyful Mike and his crew for pulling it all off.
Now I want to talk seriously about the turnout for a moment. I sincerely hope that Mike Smith is able to do a second edition of this festival but I have my doubts. I was at Saturday's edition from quarter to one in the afternoon till about midnight and at no time did the crowd exceed more than a hundred and fifty people. After Iron Man's set, I talked briefly with Pallbearer's Brett Campbell. I mentioned that a guy like Al Morris should be playing in front of 10,000 people, not 30 people at a big bar in Kenosha, WI and Brett agreed. Who wouldn't after this show? And the semi-reformation of Trouble in front of 50 people? Are you shitting me?
Sad fact of the matter is, if you subtract the members of other bands and press personnel from the crowd totals, it is really disturbing the amount of people who showed up. This is not a problem only for Days of the Doomed. A week earlier, I attended a local all-ages metalcore show in Rockford where again much of the crowd were members of other bands and their girlfriends.
In this day and age of increasing poverty and mindless distractions like Facebook and the Internet, I don't know what the solution is. I recall the 1970's when local rock bands would draw hundreds of paying customers and mid-level national acts who draw thousands. The doom music scene is as good now as it has ever been, as far as quality of acts goes. Where, then, is the live support? I know doom is the underground, but even so, there's a limit to how "underground" you can get before the money simply doesn't exist anymore.
Nevertheless, Days of the Doomed was an immensely positive musical experience for everybody who was there and I totally enjoyed the vibe of my first true doom festival. I will certainly return if there's another!
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