DAYS OF THE DOOMED IV, featuring TROUBLE, LAS CRUCES, JEX THOTH, AGE OF TAURUS and many more
June 20-22, The Metal Grill, Cudahy WI
By Dr. Abner Mality
Well, that's a wrap for Days of the Doomed. We covered every edition here at Wormwood and it has been nothing less than an absolute pleasure to see the festival grow to one of the best in the Midwest, if not the entire country. I attended each one, starting at the P.L.A.V. in Kenosha in 2010. That was a modest beginning but Days of the Doomed certainly went out on a huge and celebratory note in 2014 with what was undoubtedly their biggest and best event.
Fans don't know the toll promoting these major events can take. Days of the Doomed was the project of one Mercyful Mike Smith, who made it into a real family affair. His lovely wife Christine was with him every step of the way and was a welcome sight at each DOTD. If I remember right, even his Dad helped out at the first one! But the time comes when difficult choices have to be made. Mike and Christine have young children and also very demanding "real" jobs. In what I'm sure was an agonizing decision, the choice was made to make Days of the Doomed IV the last edition of the fest.
I feel bad for anyone who didn't get to experience the friendly and homely atmosphere at any of the fests, but especially this year. Not only do Mike and Christine treat the bands like family, but the tech crew and the venue staff at the Metal Grill went out of their way to create an easy-going atmosphere. A lot of this is also due to the "doom" fans themselves...let's face it, a doom/stoner metal crowd is nowhere near as aggressive as the latest deathcore or black metal hootenanny. I never had to worry about some ape smashing me in the back during a moshpit or getting kicked in the face by some pit ninja. Also, the band members easily mingled with the fans and each other. Every Days of the Doomed felt like a big cookout and the same faces showed up at the Metal Grill every year.
When Days of the Doomed started in Kenosha, I didn't know which way it was going to go. The bands were outstanding, but seeing Iron Man and The Skull playing to about 30 or 40 people was kind of disheartening. Thankfully, Mercyful Mike stuck with the concept and every year it grew. This year's edition was well attended even for the afternoon bands and by the time the headliners came on at night, the Metal Grill was packed.. This year there was also a real diverse line-up that included the first band from foreign shores, England's Age of Taurus, as well as one of the greatest doom bands of all, Trouble.
OK, I'm gonna use the same format I used during my recent review of the NYDM Spring Bash...capsule reviews of each band I saw. To quote Jackie Gleason, "and AAAWAAAY we go!"
Sad to say, I missed the first proper band Ancient Dreams, but guessing by their name, I'd say they probably had a slight Candlemass influence...
STASIS: Arrived just in time to see this mega-heavy trio play. In many ways, the rawest and most death/doom inclined band of the weekend. Not just showing the typical sludge influences, but flashes of something more akin to bands like Dream Death and Sorrow. Those looking for the "rocking" kind of doom probably didn't think much of it, but for death/doom fanatics, this is a band to keep an eye on!
WASTED THEORY: Speaking of "rocking" doom, Wasted Theory from the doom capital Maryland arrived to give us a good hard spanking. These dudes were really too up-tempo to call true doom, many of the tracks they lit into crackled with energy. Nothing really unique about what they were doing, but they were heavily into it and as a result, so was the crowd. Traces of that good old swampy Southern sound were present as well. Think they were hawking a brand new album at the fest...could be worth a look for those into greasy truck stop metal!
WITCHDEN: If Wasted Theory was dirty, then Witchden was positively filthy! This was Weedeater/Sourvein style doom delivered with a lot of raw energy. The gap-toothed singer was a real character for sure and during certain parts of the set, he would drop to his knees and look at his guitarists with the look of a demonic priest.
They would be a great band to open up for Eyehategod if those scumbags ever came through this area. Very entertaining set of fuzzy, filthy sludge!
BIBLE OF THE DEVIL: When The Mighty Nimbus had to drop off the fest, these Chicago mainstays filled the gap. It's been a few years since I've seen them live and actually quite a while since I've gotten any new material by them. They are an overlooked gem of American metal for sure. But once more, there's no way I would categorize them as doom. They have a great range of influence, from early Iron Maiden to a very obvious Thin Lizzy twin guitar sound to a rawer sound like Motorhead. Their set was extremely energetic...I would say "Ol' Girl" (where the Lizzy influence goes into overdrive), "Still On Top" and the utterly brilliant "The Judas Ships" were the highlights. This last song is amazing...mind-blowing riffs inspired by the NWOBHM! Very glad to see the Bible tonight and hope to be getting a new album by them soon.
APOSTLE OF SOLITUDE: This was one of the best sets of the weekend. These guys are the real deal when it comes to true epic doom and I hope their next album breaks them out at least to the status of a Windhand. Although there were a couple of fast and even blasting moments, the majority of Apostle's music was gloriously morose DOOM (with capital letters). The lead vocals were as clean as a just washed whistle and heartbreakingly beautiful...no death grunts here. Fantastic riffs and melodic solos in every track. I am really, REALLY looking forward to more from Apostle of Solitude!
ORODRUIN: If Days of the Doomed has a "house band", Orodruin would be it. I think they have played three out of four DOTD fests and have delivered a crowd pleasing set each. I'm going to go out on a limb and say their gig this year was their best. A lot of that had to do with the crowd, which was bigger than ever and extremely into the classic Sabbath/Candlemass/Vitus style doom that Orodruin is known for. I've said before, but it bears repeating: guitarist John James Gallo is more fun to watch than just about any other axeman in the scene today. He's all over the place! Not only that, but he was headbanging and enjoying almost every other band during the weekend. That's what you call a FAN! Orodruin once again impressed with the likes of "Shipwrecked" and "Pierced by Cold Winds".
BLACKFINGER: Blackfinger, of course, is the band fronted by the legendary Eric Wagner, formerly of Trouble. They really made their debut at the first Days of the Doomed, but this time were back with what seemed to me to be a lot more confiddent and diverse set. Wagner wasn't as remote as he was at that previous gig and he joked and interacted with the crowd throughout, even going so far as to grab a spliff from a guy and then fall into a coughing fit. Wagner's high and nasal voice is so eerie, it just cannot be duplicated. Much like the very early Ozzy, it is part of doom metal DNA. As for Blackfinger, the material ranged from psychedelic rockers with strong Eastern overtones to more laidback and trippy stuff. It was pretty interesting to hear Eric sing the Trouble classic "At The End of My Daze", especially since his replacement in Trouble, Kyle Thomas, would be singing the same song the next evening. The other guys in Trouble are excellent players. Blackfinger's music might be a little "light" for true doom dogs, but the band got a great response from a densely packed crowd.
LAS CRUCES: These are also veterans of Days of the Doomed. The crowd had thinned out a bit by the time they came on, but not as much as you might have thought. The doom brothers were hanging tough, tonight. What can I say, but another blow away set that featured a great performance by one of the best singing drummers in rock, Paul DeLeon. This guy excels at both vocals and pounding the skins...a very difficult trick to pull off. Don't think these guys play too often outside their own stomping grounds and their releases are infrequent, so they really hit DOTD with everything they've got. The highlight tonight, as before, was "Cocaine Wizard Woman", which is an American doom anthem if ever there was one. Their performance brought an end to a very auspicious first day of the festival.
As per my usual M.O., woke up late the next day and missed the first couple of bands, Flying Medusa and Moon Curse. Moon Curse I knew from the previous years fest...a doomy trio right from Milwaukee with a lot of promise. My apologies to them and Flying Medusa both...
First saw this great Texas band at DOTD 2 and they were impressive then, but man, what strides they have made since that time! It's tough to hold your own with the likes of Orodruin and Apostle of Solitude but these guys really proved they belonged. Their stage presence has improved by leaps and bounds and singer Justin Waggoner is now sporting a very stylish black cowboy hat! Musically, Sanctus Bellum follows in the footsteps of true Texas doom, meaning they sound a lot like Solitude Aeturnus. There's a wonderful combination of melodic doom with classic metal influences like Priest and Maiden and even the occasional burst of thrash. Some amazing riffs lurk within songs like "Shoggoth's Ascent" and "God's Own Warrior" so if you get a chance to see Sanctus Bellum, bite on it without delay. These guys need to be signed!
70's style retro rock kinda wore out its welcome with me a while back, but that's the territory that West Virginia's Brimstone Coven operates in. Their name suggests something more akin to Electric Wizard style sludge, but no, this band specializes in highly accessible 70's hard rock with just a touch of doom. I have to hand it to them, their songs are catchier than the clap and their towering country boy of a frontman had clean vocals so pure they would make you cry. One of the best vocal performances of the weekend and it really helped elevate Brimstone Coven's set above the ordinary. They are supposedly a buzz band but that means sweet F.A. to me. This is something I think even my Mom would have dug and that's not all bad.
This classic hard-rocking band was at DOTD 3 and went down a storm, so it wasn't a big surprise to see them back this year. They are quite the all-star group, lead by veteran guitarist Tony Spillman and featuring the smooth vocals of Lothar Keller and Trouble's Bruce Franklin also on guitar. The band seems to have lost the keyboardist I saw with them last year. You can describe these guys as anything but pure hard rock, with a slight Southern edge and some blues tossed in as well. In the 70's and 80's, this band would have been major news. But in these days when the charts are ruled by CRAP like Li'l Wayne and One Direction, Spillage is swimming against the tide. Here at DOTD, they always find a welcoming crowd. Their cover of Cliff Richards' "Devil Woman" is a ton of fun.
Everytime I go to the Metal Grill, it seems these Indiana doomsters are playing. According to singer Nick Hernandez, their set at the NYDM Spring Bash was substandard. I would disagree, but I do admit, they came across even better tonight. Pummeling true doom is their stock in trade and as always, Nick is a terrific frontman, with great presence and vocal range. The dudes slipped a couple of new ones in the set tonight and apparently a new album is in the works. I won't repeat the same live review I've given them before, but I will say this....if you are looking for classic doom in the best tradition, you won't go wrong with Stone Magnum! Almost as good as Vietnamese pop disco music! (bit of an in-joke there...)
This band got a strong response to the crowd, but to me, it kinda seemed like more "trucker metal" from guys with big beards and ballcaps. Just too many bands in this vein these days...you have to do something really spectacular to separate yourself from the pack. And I just didn't hear it here. A lot of bluesy roots metal that kind of went in one ear and out the other. If that kind of stuff floats your boat, you'll probably dig them but I didn't get too much out of this set.
DEVIL TO PAY
These roughnecks came in from Indiana and played two kinds of music. Their fast Motorhead inspired rockers were killer and had me banging my head big time. Their slower, bluesier stuff, on the other hand, had much the opposite effect on me. There was one really long track in particular, which I didn't catch the name of, that just seemed to go on and on and on.. The strength of Devil to Pay is in rough and ready rockers in the style of Valient Thorr and not the slower stuff. A mixed bag for sure.
Due to some unforeseen circumstance, I was never able to see this band during their previous shows at Days of the Doomed, but I always heard raves about their performance. Tonight I understand why. These guys have a unique take on doom metal that brings several other bands to mind but also has a style all their own. There's some super heavy doom riffing ala Electric Wizard but mixed in with a style I can only call ethereal and dreamy. Maybe a touch of Baroness or Kylesa is in there. The vocalist is amazing....such a clear, pure voice, like the ringing of a bell! Beelzefuzz played complex, doomy tunes that swung from brute force to elegant. Yes, I can see what the "fuzz" is about now! Possibly a future buzz band, right here!
Mystical vixen Jex was always going to be the ringer at this show. She's a pretty polarizing figure in the doom/stoner community and many blame her for initiating the seemingly endless flood of female-fronted occult rock bands saturating the market. To be honest, I find myself in that camp . The music is more hippie psych than metal and that is a very acquired taste. Nonetheless, you gotta keep an open mind.
This lady can SING! What a voice she has...very rich and beguiling and much in the tradition of the classic 60's/70's female rockers like Grace Slick and Coven's Jinx Dawson. Jex and her band dive whole hog into the whole retro-psych scene, with candles on the amps, a guitarist with a frilly shirt and Jex herself wearing high boots and a flowery cape. You can kind of imagine you've gone back in time about 40 years as Ms. Thoth whirls and swirls around the stage. That is the great secret of her appeal.
However, as the set wore on and the scent of patchouli became a tad overwhelming, I began to lose focus. Things began to remind me of a bad date I once had with a girl who talked too much about zodiac signs and spirit totems. Jex Thoth lost me and I stepped outside into a cool June night wrapped in a dense, otherworldly fog. Figures were blurred and all sound seemed muffled and mute. It was a pleasant break from the hot and heavy confines of the Metal Grill. As for Jex Thoth, she sure can sing...but she's still not exactly my type.
AGE OF TAURUS
What a neck-wrecking set of pure British metal these Englishmen put on! One of the most headbanging sets I've witnesses in a long time and these dudes were welcomed as conquering heroes by the crowd, which at this point was at its peak. Glad to say I was right up front as they roared into a selection of stomping cuts from their debut "Tortured Times For Desperate Souls" and some older obscurities. I thought that debut album was good but nothing earth-shattering. But live is where this band comes alive. Songs like "A Rush of Power", "Always In the Eye" and the superb "The Bull and The Bear" carry the spirit of British metal into a new century. This was a special show indeed. There was also a good bit of fun with these fellows, who were very personable and mingled with the crowd all weekend long. Lead singer Toby told us how they suffered through the warmest temperatures any of them had ever experienced in America, but cool, foggy Milwaukee was a bit of a relief, particularly to Scottish bassist Richard. I was totally blown away by the utter metal power of Age of Taurus' set and completely recommend them.
It made perfect sense that the Chicago doom masters would provide the final performance for Days of the Doomed, not just this year but maybe for all time. It was the absolute climax to 4 years of great shows. Many kudos to Mercyful Mike for bringing them to Milwaukee.
They started with their most iconic song, "The Tempter", and already the crowd was batshit. Unlike previous years, the place was full for the final set. This was my first chance to see Kyle Thomas as lead singer of Trouble. and he did a great job. Eric Wagner is not an easy guy to replace and after the joke who was Kyle's predecessor in the band left a bad taste in many people's mouths, Mr. Thomas was the perfect antidote. He can indeed sing all the same notes as Eric but he does bring a different and grittier presence to the show. The early part of the set was full of old favorites like "Assassin", "Until the End of My Daze" (which was an interesting follow-up to Blackfinger's version the night before) and "Psychotic Reaction". Each one got a rapturous response from the faithful. Guitarists Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin were sharp and on point. They also dipped into their new album "Distortion Field", the first with Kyle on vocals, and those songs fit pretty easily next to the old ones. But let's face it, it's hard to beat stuff like "The Fall of Lucifer" and "Pray for the Dead". This whole set was a fitting climax to the whole Days of the Doomed experience.
Speaking of which, before Trouble played, Mike and wife Christine came on stage to address the fans. Emotion was running pretty high for Mike, who said a friend told him when he began the Days of the Doomed that satisfaction would not come from the money he made or the number of people who showed up, but from the lasting memories that were made. Memories from this weekend will last a lifetime.
I have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps Days of the Doomed IV will not be the last. These experiences become addictive after a while. But even if 2014 was the end, everybody can hold their head high and say they provided a top class event for the TRUE doom fans.
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