DAYS OF THE DOOMED III
The Blue Pig, Cudahy, WI
June 21 & 22, 2013
By Dr. Abner Mality
It's the third year for the Days of the Doomed festival in Southern Wisconsin and this fest has really grown in just a short time. This year, the fest managed some sponsorship from Scion/AV and brought in an awesome lineup composed of heavy hitters and up and comers.
The venue was once again the Blue Pig in beautiful downtown Cudahy, WI. When I see the cerulean hues of the Pig and the giant neon BLATZ sign, I get a very comforting feeling and I know good times are ahead. You get greeted at the door right away by promoter Mercyful Mike Smith, lovely wife Christine and are made to feel very welcome. And they do this for EVERYONE, not just aging weirdo journalists like Dr. Abner Mality.
The DOTD experience makes for quite an interesting contrast compared to my last big concert , which was Maryland Deathfest. I love the hugeness and the hustle and bustle of MDF, but it is nowhere near as cozy and intimate as Days of the Doomed. This is by design. I got to talk to cool metalheads and friends at both fests, but here in Wisconsin, I didn't have to put with bullshit at the airport and I got to personally have a beer and yap with band members, journos and fans with zero pressure.
It's a perplexing paradox for Mercyful Mike because everybody who attends the fest just loves the atmosphere, yet really there should be more people there. Seeing the big lineup this year, the best ever put together, I had serious doubts if the Blue Pig would be able to handle everybody. In the end, there was no danger of people getting mashed together, which is very relaxing in comparison with the monstrous crowds of MDF.
Fortune smiled upon me this year and for the first time, I was able to attend both days of the festival. I put some miles on the Mality-mobile but I much, MUCH prefer that to the hassle of flying..
When I got to the Pig, Gravedirt was a couple of songs into their set. These guys play the nasty kind of death-tinged sludge that is hugely popular now, complete with tortured grumbles and growls. They were among the heaviest bands of the entire weekend, but I think the barstools had more energy and charisma. Dudes, you need to occasionally look at the human beings in the crowd instead of your gutiar strings or shoes once in a while. That being said, I enjoyed what I heard of Gravedirt.
Even more of a revelation was Milwaukee's own Moon Curse. This power trio played a complex and epic kind of doom that reminded me a lot of the great Black Pyramid and anybody who knows how much I like Black Pyramid will realize what a compliment that is. I would really like to hear a studio version of these songs because they made a hell of an impression on me. Being the sexist swine that I am, I must make mention of their attractive blond bassplayer, who grooved along sinuously with the music in a way that no guy could ever do, at least without looking stupid. I hope Moon Curse doesn't turn out to be one of those local bands that plays a couple of great shows and then implodes.
Lucertola came all the way from New York and featured veterans of the East Coast thrash scene like Toxik and Prime Evil. Honestly, I could have used some of that energy during their set. They played a kind of hazy, psychedelic doom heavy on the "desert rock" sound. I just could not get into their meandering low key style. To be blunt, I got bored with them and wandered off into a conversation well before the end of the set. The state of musicianship was high, but the songwriting was not catchy.
The pace picked up considerably with the hotly touted Kings Destroy. Even though this is a doom metal festival, that doesn't mean that every band crawls along like a slug. No indeed, quite a few played with intensity and Kings Destroy was one of these. Originality was not their strong suit, as a lot of their tunes had that scuzzy Southern groove to them, but to make up for that, they really jammed hard and got a good response. Some tracks were thunderously heavy while others bordered on Southern rock. An energetic frontman kept things rolling pretty good. We'll be hearing more of Kings Destroy.
If Kings Destroy can be considered up and comers, then I don't how how you would describe Venomous Maximus. This is a band of the future...or should be, in a world where justice prevails. At a show where many of the bands wore their influences on their sleeves, Venomous injected some real originality. They have their own sound, that's for sure, but they back it up with a tremendous live show that shook the rafters of the Blue Pig. Singer/guitarist Gregg Higgins is an exciting presence and has the charisma natural to that rarest of creatures in the 21st century...the bonafide rock star. He's got a wild and emotional style to him that comes out best live. The band themselves seem a bit mispalced at a doom metal festival...they opened up with the sweaty, hammering "Moonchild" and rarely let up from there. They covered the length of their new album "Beg Upon the Light" with songs like "Path of Doom" and "Dream Again". Something really special is happening with this band, Mercyful Mike showed a sharp eye in signing them for DOTD. I managed to snag not only a great interview with Mr. Higgins, but I got some pretty cool prints from the prolific tattoo artist as well as a bottle of "Eyehategod" hot sauce concocted by bass player Trevi Biles. The night was full of "WIN" for me!
While Venomous Maximus are a fresh face, Penance is considered a legendary band in the doom metal scene, having got their start in the notorious Maryland doom explosion of the early 90's. Appearances have been sparse in the last decade, but DOTD managed to snag a set from them. Featuring the extremely strong vocals of Brian Balich, Penance pleased their fans by playing a lot of tunes from their classic albums "Road Less Travelled" and "Parallel Corners", including standards like "Words To Live By" and "Monster I've Become". One highlight was "Cloudless" from the later "Proving Ground" LP...on record, it's very much a grunge song, but here the band transformed it into a much heavier doom classic. Very strong set from the veterans!
On the subject of veterans, nobody has been through more war than IRON MAN! It was my pleasure to see these guys for the first time at the debut Days of the Doomed in 2011 so I was definitely looking forward to seeing them again. Goddamn, how does Al Morris get that guitar tone?! So warm, fat and heavy...when you hear it, it's like being smothered in electric butter! When that tone is backed up by Louis Strachan's equally huge bass and put in the service of the monster doom riffs Iron Man specializes in, you just can't beat it. We also have the awesome vocals of man-mountain Screaming Mad Dee to contend with.
A couple of notes on Iron Man. With their newer material, it is obvious that this band is growing and expanding their sound. Tunes are becoming more complex and even progressive and Al's guitar work is getting more versatile. If he just played those fat fuzz riffs alone, he would still be great, but there's a lot more to him than that and this set demonstrated it. It is crazier than a pitbull on crack that these guys are not signed to some label like Metal Blade or Relapse. Wake the fuck up, labels!
Also, I gotta say, Louis Strachan has to be one of the coolest guys around. He's a ton of fun to watch not only on stage, but just hanging out. It's obvious he's a huge fan of this music, as he could be seen headbanging to many of the other band's sets. Metal scene could really use more dudes like this.
I drove back home from day one through a torrential downpour and a lightning storm so humongous that it sometimes felt like I was driving in daylight. Probably one of the biggest storms I've ever seen.
There was no trace of raging heavens when I woke late the next day. Instead, it was absolutely beautiful out and I couldn't imagine a more pleasant or ideal day. This was the first time I made both days of the Fest, but I did miss the first three bands on Day Two, Whaler, Gorgantherron and Beelzefuzz. My apologies to them.
I was pleased to see a decent crowd at the Blue Pig even in the early afternoon. The first band I really sunk my rotting teeth into on Saturday was a three man outfit from the East Coast called Chowder. Featuring members of Earthride, these guys were one wild trip! Their music featured everything from thick doomy riffs to aggressive almost thrash chunkiness to synth-soaked spaciness. I sensed a lot of old Rush in some of Chowder's music, along with bits of Mastodon and King Crimson and Hawkwind. They were strictly instrumental, but their music was so fascinating that I immediately headed to their merch booth after the set and bought their debut album. I recommend it to any fan of great instrumental rock or progressive doom.
Mr. Tony Spillman is getting to be a busy dude. He's heavily involved with the up and coming band Earthen Grave (who also played later today) and now he's got the band Spillage to rock out with as well. This was the first I had seen or heard of Spillage and again they didn't fit the strict definition of "doom". What they did fit was the definition of ass-kicking classic hard rock. Yup, it's another "retro" band but this one has a lot more authenticity than most. Not only does the band feature Tony, but also Trouble's Bruce Franklin and other seasoned veterans of the Chicago rock scene. They played a smoking set that touched on everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Kiss to Sabbath to old Nugent to Bad Company. Singer Lothat Keller is right out of 70's Rock Star central casting with long hair, silk shirt and shades. Spillage had the presence that separated them from the army of 70's retreads clogging up the scene and I would strongly suggest checking them out live to get a touch of the real deal.
Some of that aura also extended to next act King Giant, who hailed all the way from Virginia. If these guys were any more Southern, they would have been dressed as Confederate shock troops and waving old Dixie. Instead, they had the baseball cap, beard and short hair thing going on. They played music as dusty and greasy as an old Camaro on a dirt track. Lots of bluesy swagger and swampy stomp. They did what they did extremely well, but the Southern sludge sound is one that has never been a biggie with me. Too much Yankee blood, I'm afraid.
I took a brief hiatus to get stuffed at a little Thai place up the road called Thai Flare. Hope these guys get some business, because their Drunken Noodles were outstanding. I was sorry to see that the little greasy spoon Packard Cafe had closed since last year. Oh well...
When I came back, it was just in time to see California's Leather Nun America take the stage. A three man outfit, these dudes played doom as pure as it gets. Not much above a mid-paced chug from these guys. That suited me fine. In fact, they were the first band I had seen on Day Two playing doom and nothing but. They did a killer cover of The Obsessed's "Streetside" which showed exactly where their loyalties lied. I had frankly never heard of these dudes before the show but I will keep an ear out for them now.
Some very familiar faces were up next, but with a twist. I've seen Earthen Grave a number of times in the last few years, including at the very first Days of the Doomed, so their set was no mystery to me. However, this time there was a difference because previously I had never been lucky enough to see their acclaimed and classically trained female violinist Rachel Barton Pine play with them. I remembered seeing Ms. Pine play years ago when I attended Rockford College, playing a mixed set of classical and jazz numbers. Now she was on stage in front of me dressed in a kind of black leather dress with a ton of straps and buckles and sporting an electric violin that looked almost more like a weapon than an instrument. Unfortunately, there were some sound problems in the early part of Earthen Grave's set that prevented her violin work from being clearly heard. Even so, she fit in with the rest of the band, which includes Trouble's Ron Holzner on bass, Tony Spillman on guitar and Jason Muxlow from The Living Fields on second guitar.
Tonight, the band even brought a second young lady to accompany Rachel on violin. The result was quite a wall of sound, with these two gals sawing away furiously on their instruments while the rest of the band headbanged and thrashed away. It was noticeable that Earthen Grave can play fast and aggressive material as well as slow and doomy. Hefty vocalist Mark Weiner was on overdrive as well, unleashing some high pitched screams that just about blew the windows out. It was a massive set from Earthen Grave, almost exhausting to listen to.
Gotta give a shout out to gravel-throated Don Adam from the band En Masse. He is THE great character in the Midwest metal scene. Watching this guy freak out in ecstasy over various band performances is as entertaining as the bands themselves and listening to him growl out wisecracks and insults is a scream. Every scene needs a guy like this. By the way, MOST of the crowd was happy to see the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins during the downtime between sets. GO HAWKS!
The name of Pale Divine often comes up in discussions of underrated doom bands. I am ashamed to say I had no familiarity with their material until tonight. I would absolutely declare them as the revelation of the festival! This band is ASTONISHING! Perfectly played doom metal touching on all aspects from the ultra-heavy to the soulful to the mystic and ethereal. Their songcraft was immaculate and the songs featured not only great riffs and solos but real heartfelt emotion. Greg Diener has a picture perfect voice for this kind of music and can also crank some heavy duty solos as well. It is absolutely NUTS why this band has to suffer in the shadows while CRAP is King! Do your duty and track down their stuff! I know I will!
While Pale Divine was the big surprise of DOTD III, the major reason I was here tonight was to see the return of DREAM DEATH! I don't think any band in history put out a single album that crushed me the way these guys did with their debut "Journey Into Mystery" in 1986. That was one of the cult metal releases of all time. I thought any chance of me seeing them play live was absolutely absurd. Thanks, Mercyful Mike, for making a dream come true. Singer/guitarist Brian Lawrence looks about as metal as the guy who does my taxes, but his genius remains. The set started with "Divine Agony" and touched on such classics as "Back From the Dead", "Black Edifice" and "Bitterness and Hatred". The band has such a unique sound, mixing doom, thrash and an off-kilter, almost jazzy kind of chord progression that they can be mistaken for no one else. They also played some tracks from their new album "Somnium Excessum" and believe me, that album is almost the PERFECT follow-up to "Journey Into Mystery". New cuts like "Feast" and "Them" stood toe-to-toe with the old chestnuts, but if you are talking about Dream Death, there is one song above all that crushes the rest and that is "The Elder Race". When the dudes swung into that unbelievably catchy lick, the whole bar pretty much exploded. This is one of the absolute classics of the entire doom genre.
Now, as much as I enjoyed Dream Death's set, the analytical side of me did detect some rustiness in their playing and some timing issues during the more awkward moments. I could see Lawrence was visibly disturbed a couple of times, but he was playing in front of a crowd of fanatics and friends, so no problem there. I strongly advise all death/doom freaks to grab a copy of "Somnium Excessum" and welcome Dream Death back into the pantheon of great bands.
Speaking of great bands, Mr Victor Griffin is one of the guys who started the entire doom/stoner rock genre with the immortal Pentagram. Tonight he graced the stage of the Blue Pig with his new band In-Graved. I was real impressed with what I saw from Mr. Griffin and In-Graved tonight. The classic rock sound is strong with these guys and a heavy keyboard presence runs neck and neck with Griffin's stunning guitar work. The keyboards worked in such a way that they enhanced the heavy riffing while adding their own melody and atmosphere. This was the way the great rock bands of the past worked. Griffin himself was energetic, focused and absolutely on point. I have to contrast his appearance and demeanor with that of his long-time Pentagram bandmate Bobby Liebeling, who I recently saw perform at Maryland Deathfest. While the years have taken a very obvious toll on Bobby, Victor played and sang like a man 20 years younger than his actual age. I had little familiarity with In-Graved's music, but the soulful heavy rock was a soothing balm to my mind.
That left the mighty Gates of Slumber to put the cap on it all. As unfortunately seems to be the case at my advanced stage of life, the needle empty on my gas tank by this time. I bid adieu after the first couple of thunderous tunes from these Indiana heavvyweights. No need to worry, I feel pretty safe in saying they caved in the skulls of those remaining. You can't get much heavier than these guys. I recall having to bow out during their last headlining DOTD set a couple years back. Someday I shall witness them in all their glory.
No raging storms ripped the skies as I made my way back home. I was left to bask in the glow of a weekend full of fellowship and good music. This is a good tradition to have. I think this was a pretty good year for Days of the Doomed. The word is spreading further about this cozy little fest. I hope future editions will bring more success, yet not forget the warm feeling the show is known for.
See you next year...
CONCERT REVIEWS >