I. A Perilous Introduction
I walked over an hour, at one point risking life and limb, for a sandwich. I could have easily had this sandwich delivered to my door in half the time. I could have quite easily booked a cab or, heck, even an uber. But no. I set off, twice in a direction deemed inappropriate by city planning, on an adventure rewarded with pit beef, ham, and turkey, experiencing first-hand the flippant disregard for pedestrians the country is famed for the world over. My 8th grade geography teacher had once told us how, while traversing Los Angeles on foot, she was quizzed by police as to whether or not she was lost or had broken down somewhere; though I am far from the only pedestrian on this trek – there are dog walkers, joggers, grocery shoppers, and an odd cluster of businessmen – this story, which has always stuck with me, rings like alarm bells in my brain as I wait increasingly impatiently at Crestwood Blvd’s pointless crossings, looking like a lemon as cars relentlessly stop and start providing ample opportunities to cross. But it is at the crossroads with Westview Drive where, after what felt like an eternity, the impatience had taken over and I made the decision to peg it across the unbelievably wide road, noticing before it was too late some hapless thrillseeker putting their foot down on the accelerator barrelling towards the worst tourist in the world. That’ll teach him. Instead he made it with seconds to spare.
Ten minutes later he would be sitting down with the best sandwich he has ever had: the “Habbit” – a trio of the aforementioned beef, ham, and turkey – is juicer and more succulent than the name would have you believe, packing a smokey taste in the entirety of every single bite. The icing on the cake with this sandwich – or the dripping on the meats if you will – is how lightly it goes down while simultaneously filling you up. There was no need to order fries on this order and not necessarily because of this either – they were only so-so. On a trip inundated with smoked meats, BBQ, and fried food I can honestly say I never want to to eat a single fry again. For a month.
Okay, so you may be wondering why, on an article dubbed Four Days of Doom, you are currently reading about, of all things, a sandwich from Chaps Pit Beef. You may be surprised to know that yours truly intended to eat and drink his way around the small town of Frederick, Maryland on his, shall we say, “downtime”, that I had intended to traverse the variety of bars and eateries this wholesome town an hour west of Baltimore has to offer. There was even an itinery mapped out! Alas, priorities changed right at the last moment when, perhaps naively, I made the choice to document the festival through my camera as well as through words; an endeavour which consumed my free time in the same manner I had hoped to consume the copious amount of booze and Q – two thirds of which I am hoping to open this blog up. Neverless this has been an experience I would never trade for anything else in the world, even if my methodologies and living environment left me incapacitated for some time. The riffs, the atmosphere, the love, the feeling of belonging no other festival promises, all of this makes the bed rest and blues worth it!
II. Heavy Metal Is The Law Pt. I: Brothers & Sisters Unite!
Not a soul here needs convincing of the chapter heading above. There are necks in attendance that have beared the brunt of many a sonic onslaught, heads that have been banging since before yours truly was even conceived. The story of heavy metal, in some shape or form, can be seen in the faces of many of those who have passed through the doors of Maryland’s premier family reunion, is whispered in the wind on every out breath, and felt erupting with every holler and cheer rupturing through every lung. So when bands like Hot Ram and Atomic Motel take to the stage, you can bet your bottom dollar the equilibrium between riffs and respect are in near perfect sync. Hot Ram live by the code, their axe-heavy attack cleaves through all who stand between them and certain victory, leaving beautiful corpses strewn all over – and no one here can doubt the conviction emanating from blow upon blow of their honed blades. The Atlanta trio are sharp and forthright as they engulf and electrify those at Olde Mother Brewing with the raw unadulterated heaviness of Conamara Chaos and Trans Am; by the time they finish up with Petra we have become imbued with enough iron and thunder to take on whole armies. Just as Hot Ram levelled us all up, Atomic Motel set our souls free, prying the doors clean off to a world where every citizen on earth unites under the banner of rock’n’roll. By the time Baltimore’s heaviest sons rally through The Ocean’s monstrous gallops into the ever timely Sacrifice, Café 611 has truly woken up as whirlwind-like riffs rush through the room. Theirs is a goosebump-inducing set, a chilling inditement of the state of the world, and yet we stand with our heads held high in defiance of it all. Bowing out with the biggest middle finger to war, Vintage 47 sends chills racing down my spine, and the atmosphere is a tad too intoxicating this early on in the day!
Hanging in the air not unlike the sweetest of leaves brought to life after the end of a hard day’s night, the new vinyl smell is so prominent at Olde Mother Brewing early Saturday evening it ought to be bottled up and shipped off to all fragrance stores across the land. Except it isn’t the smell of vinyl, it is the smell of Indus Valley Kings crusading through Origin, a slab of wax so hot of the press it’s barely allowed to be surrounded by so much booze! So fragrant are the likes of Demon Beast and A Cold Wind they addle the mind into a stupor; a fine outcome considering the damage the Long Island upstarts inflicted upon our bodies with the raging Clown and lead single …And The Dead Shall Rise. It is a gnarly and outrageously deafening experience proving IVK are riff machines here for the long haul. And when you talk about gnarly and deafening experiences it is as much of a crime to not bring up Crow Hunter as it is to not kick those Monday morning blues into submission – for this is precisely what Calvert County’s finest do for fun! A furious display of repressed with boudacious covers of Supernaut and Saturday Night Special thrown in for good measure, Crow Hunter trigger high-magnitude quakes as they turn SOMD – their sole longplayer – into a threatrening full-frontal assault against the evils running rampant today, and there is nothing more honourable than caving in to the relentless bloodbath that is Sound Off, Crow Hunter, and American Pressure; it is like taking a Sludge Hammer to the face without the consequences of broken bones and inevitable reconstructive surgery!
As I make my way back from basking in the glory of Olde Mother Brewing’s Friday headliner Alms (more on them later), I notice how vacant the crossing at North Market and 6th has become: what has usually been a point of networking, a crossroads where adulations and commeraderie reign supreme if you please, has become void of, well, anyone. But the music erupting from Café 611 makes up for the lack of any physical presence – because, dear reader, anybody with a sense of curiosity makes damn sure they do not miss the crown jewel that is Mythosphere, the super group to end all super groups! Let me be honest in my reasoning here: when a group formed by members of Beelzefuzz, Bailjack, Fates Warning, and Pale Divine, you know that what you are about to walk into is something special…and Mythosphere do not disappoint! Packed to the rafters with a veritable wo’s-who of folk, anybody would be remissed in believing these guys are headlining the whole damn thing – and no doubt, after a show-stopping performance such as this, very soon they will be! Exhilarating is such an understatement as the guys ignite souls with new single Kings Call To Arms as well as a whole host of numbers from upcoming record Pathological, and they do so with all the prowess and rapport of a unit well into their tenth year together – believe it or not this is their debut live performance! This is what true brotherhood looks like!
III. Heavy Metal Is The Law Pt. II: Taking Care of Business
Casually dropping the beginning of the article further than planned may not exactly be how most would tell this story but, on a trip which changed as quickly as the rain came and gone the day before the Maryland Doom Fest began, I was never exactly intending a linear narrative – but you have already guessed this. The very notion of constructing a day-by-day report fills me with enough eye-rolls to last a lifetime, not to mention since this is my first actual assignment since my days at Kerrang – and my first overseas – I had hopes for something a little different. Standing front and (near) center for Dust Prophet and 2 Screws Loose I am reminded why some rules need to be busted apart. Dust Prophet do not exactly conform: with a catalogue of sprawling odysseys to their name the New Hampshire trio crush and regenerate in a single breath, offering a hand through the smoke one moment and bludgeoning bodies in the next; at Old Mother Brewing their riffs are heavier than we all deserve, and Otto Kinzel bounds around the stage like a caged animal finally free! The jury is still out on whether or not my ears or my neck have recovered from the ravaging intensity of Hourglass, When The Axe Falls, and Written In Holy Blood, but having been 86’d from reality for just a moment I can testify in my stubbornness for returning! And while Dust Prophet are an explusatory force of breathtaking proportions, DC’s 2 Screws Loose are a grounding testament to laying down your own law; they are the okay sign of rollickin’, fuzzed-out groove worth the cost of the flight alone! More than just a throwback, or a mirror to an increasingly distant past, these guys stomp their way through their new record Screw It, Over! with such distinction and purpose it is easy to forget how new this lineup is, and preventing ourselves from moving along to I’ve Seen And Done It All, Severed, and Born, not to mention a gut-busting rendition of Paranoid, is frankly impossible! A tour with our very own Sound of Origin needs to happen!
If you think these guys mean serious business then you’ve not seen anything yet, for being in the presence of Dead East Garden and Bloodshot for even five minutes is a staggering feat to brag to your buds about! On record Cleveland’s Dead East Garden provide the perfect driving anthems for those long ventures down dusty desert roads far from civilisation; today, these dudes bring the dusty desert roads to Café 611 in all their splendour, pulling zero punches in the process! It’s mean, it’s gritty, and, frankly, badass; having too much fun owning the joint, it is a wonder they’re not (ever so slightly) higher up the billing, for Hey Man is an absolute treat to sing along to, and 1 x 1 packs such a mighty whallop it is a wonder any one is left standing! How anyone is left standing at the end of Bloodshot is anybody’s guess, for the uncompromisng heaviness is enough to knock over fully grown bulls, and their tectonic battery could cave in skulls if said skulls weren’t too busy banging along to every stomping groove. Jared Winegardner’s goliath vocals tower over us not unlike the man himself, exploding over the burly pummelling his bandmates shell out with the precision of a mortar bombardment. Newly signed to Nervous Breakdown Records the gargantuan barrage of Sins of the Father, Faded Natives, and Sucking Chest Wound can soon make a living destroying your homesteads much like they have done tonight! If you ever wanted to know what it is like to get caught in a stampede, just bear the brunt of this killing machine!
I abruptly wrap up my last smoke of the night just as Foghound initiate their annihilation of the last standers here at Café 611. This has been the only real opportunity I have had to share a moment or two with head honcho and Bloodshot poundsman JB Matson, whose tireless love for the scene is the reason we have spent the last four days partying our asses off! We reflect on the glorious weekend and I thank him for his generosity before diving headfirst into the ensuing bedlam inside those doors. They may not be closing the festival, but Foghound know how to bring it in so we can get our fix again for Baltimore’s rock’n’roll heroes throw a shindig like no other; heads are rollin’, folk are dancin’, and the booze is flowin’ as brothers and sisters of the riff submit to the neck-breaking chaos this much-loved band revel in. From the second they begin blitzing through Easy Come Easy Go all through to those last breaths on Keep On Shovellin’ Foghound demonstrate why they are so heavily revered: Chuck Dukehart is a beast behind the kit whilst Dee Settar and Bob Sipes command the troops with such fervorous spirit every soul in front of them would follow them through hell and back; this is easily done when you’ve a blistering roster of stompin’ and envigoratin’ tunes such as Message in the Sky, Filthy, and Rock and Rollin’ to blitz through! And as Settar salutes all the “rockin’ chicks” who have taken the stage before her, we salute and commend in turn before continuing to cheer for a band whose love and respect is simply immeasurable! As always, R.I.P. Jim Forrester.
IV: Finding Love In Outer Space
If there is one thing flowing even freer than the copious volumes of booze in Frederick this weekend it is love so genuine it feels almost alien. The folk here – whether they are meeting for the first time in weeks, months, years, or simply for the very first time – express nothing but affection and admiration for one another; everyone hugs it out either at the bar, in the street, or throughout any one of the staggering sets the festival has to offer. This is my second time at the festival and thus a relative outsider, and yet I am never made to feel as such. From the moment I take a seat at Olde Mother Brewing just as the festivities commence I am treated as part of this family, and a family this most certainly is. This does not just apply to the non-playing participants either: Fox 45, who are christening Café 611 this year, are nothing but smiles as they wreak kaleidoscopic havoc on this family restaurant, their swooning cacophonies imbued with a mischievous playfulness that catches the unexpected by pure surprise. The quartet explode and dazzle on stage with the power of several supernovae as their bombastic psychedelia bewitches the audience – and they are loving every goddamn second of this! As Vicky Tee transforms the stage into her own dreamland, dancing across the apparatus as if it everyone in the whole world is watching, Amanda Rampage triggers one seismic wave after another with a one-two punch of devastating pass power and rapturous vocal expulsions. The rapport here is so captivating, so spellbinding, it is near impossible to leave for any of us to leave.
It is this sisterhood, it is this brotherhood, that Eric Caplan and his brothers in Thunderbird Divine preach: “we are the blackshirted black sheep, and this shit is really shit to us,” proclaims Brother Eric, “we are here because of this, because of the love. I never get love this fucking much…anywhere”; this is a man who lives by his words, a man with a heart as huge as the walls of cosmic sounds he conjures out of nothingness. Within the confines of Café 611 these celestial brethren warp the fabric of the universe, wielding these majestical forces with all the wisdom of those enrobed conjurers of yore, all the while bestowing upon us more love than the outside world will ever show us. After breaking out the sitar for the phenomenal Black Rhino Mantra, Philly’s most boudacious sons alchemise the will of Bootes Void for, well, Bootes Void, a grandiose vortex of kosmiche oblivion as expansive and mysterious as the region of space itself, before resplendently bowing out with the most exultant riffs dwelling inside The Devil’s Hatband. This is an awe-inspiring spectacle all need to witness, one which I am taking to the grave; shortly after I am greeted with the biggest of hugs you could possibly ask for, an event several years in the making, as I clutch to this gentle giant for dear life. I too have never felt love quite like this and even as I am typing I am overhwelmed and overcome with nothing but pure exuberance. I’m not crying, you’re crying…
Luckily for me, there is no time for tears! For whilst Thunderbird Divine may have brought the love and ethereal prowess of the universe onto our doorsteps but Montana’s Wizzerd, by way of face-melting euphoria, sends Maryland Doom Fest into hyperspace faster than anyone can say “dude”! These Elder Druid-lovin’ maniacs are at their frenetic best, blasting through their last set on earth before kicking off their intergalactic tour off which we are promised front row seats; sending necks into full whiplash-mode and gleefully frying every brain in sight, they couldn’t possibly be anymore chuffed than barrelling around Olde Mother Brewing to the tunes of Supernova, King of Esbat, and The Guild in front of us goofy bunch who cannot stop zorpin’ n’ warpin’. As they blast off by way of Into The Void, we are all hurtling through the cosmos drunk on the sheer exhiliration of the experience, precisely where they wanted us all along! It is precisely here where, far away from terra firma and lost among the nebulae, where our long stares into the void are reciprocated, for shrouded by psychedelic visuals those devious cosmonauts in Future Projektor proceed to bombard us voyagers with ferociously hypnotic frequencies and tumultuous vibrations more hallucinatory than any drug on earth. Forged in the birth of unnamed celestial bodies the mind-bending psychosonic shred from this Richmond trio pulsates cryptic messages deep into our subconscious tipping our already molten minds to sudden combustion. There isn’t a soul here who isn’t under their dark metaphysical spell. If this isn’t real, then know Future Projektor have scored the perfect soundtrack for our one-way descent into the void – what a fuckin’ trip!
Lost out here but never alone. We have been drifting for too long to ever call ourselves alone, finding solace in the knowledge we are indeed the blackshirted black sheep and, cruising through this void shoulder to shoulder alongside everyone else Future Projektor thrusted me here with, I know I would never wish to be here with anyone else, that I am zooming through space with the most loving wanderers to ever roam the earth. But at Olde Mother Brewing, towards the tail-end of an already bustling day of the sweetest of riffs, there is a light dawning and it beckons our names one by one. The guiding voice of George Chamberlain ascends through the noise around us followed by the heavenly choir of Ritual Earth‘s transcendental ecstacy, drawing us closer to a nirvana we could only have previously dreamed about. Overwhelming is the sheer majesty of this Philly ensemble’s sonic embrace, so ear-shatteringly heavy and yet so uplifting is this out-of-body experience we all become one; the warmth emanating from the likes of Reprisal, Distress Signal, and the goosebump-inducing Solar Ecstasy is powerful beyond reason and everyone surrounding me is so unbelievably intune with these frequencies it is difficult to acknowledge where the physical realm ends and the spiritual begins. Treating us to new tunes from their upcoming split release, Ritual Earth are a freeing force and a most enlightening presence on an already prodigous weekend. Some music just reaches deep inside and pulls us out from whatever darkness we are engulfed by – Ritual Earth are among the paragon of music’s healing prowess we need as a species right now…
V: Teetering on the Brink of Existence
…and then there are those bands who plunge in and destroy your very existence; possessing your very core and spreading an insidious darkness until not even Kate Bush can bring you back from the brink of nothingness, and imploding until all that is left is a blackened stain on the wall behind where you once stood. As I stand just feet from where GUHTS will plummet Café 611 into perpetual gloom I am begrudgingly unaware of just how terrifying this experience will be; sure, I have been playing Blood Feather – their sole EP – long enough to know just how many dark turns I will face tonight, but I’d be lying if I said I was prepared for how devastatingly soul-shattering this is going to be. Sure enough, as this New York bastion of misery enshroud us in an ominous red haze and vociferously shatter The Mirror into a thousand shards the illusory dreamlike aura they possess on record erupts into a nightmarish exhibition of introspective tragedy and ruinous oblivion so eye-opening we become frozen in time. We are helpless as Amber Burns splinters the morose tranquility invoked by her bandmates with each ear-piercing scream, with each projection of loss, and yet we are completely mesmerised by this performance; this is what it means to be stripped bear of naivety, of innocence, to be cast down into the eternal fires and find hope in suffering.
Want to know what else besides hope through suffering we find down here? Fuzzed-out-of-our-brains riffs, plumes of downtuned incense … and smoking fuckin’ gnomes! You read that right dear reader – smoking gnomes. And though our blazin’ bud may be too incapacitated to roll us whatever he is smoking, his bandmates in Faces of Bayon are more than up to the task of laying waste to our ears and our collective hangovers. A set consisting of two sprawling wildfires of smog and doom – Concilium and So Mote It Be – the Fitchburg goliath speaks in tongues as one monolithic wall of sound slowly caves in to another, each rumble lasting for several lifetimes just as the succeeding one is birthed – crawling and gaining momentum and pulverising everything in its path long before its apex. Invoking wisdom of self-determination with such harrowing finess, Faces of Bayon do more than just obliterate the bastardized dependencies of Abrahamic faiths – they are waking up the neighbours in the next town over! How could this fog get any denser? How can Frederick become even more swallowed up by the unrelenting marches of self-destruction? You present the confines of Café 611 with the decimating horrors unleashed by the Monkhood of Reason of course! More powerful than a certain Frank Darabont movie from 2007, Byrgan unleash a perilous doom so foreboding it ought to be slapped with a warning label; their pyroclastic menace incinerates anything lying in its path as it slowly sweeps not from any fog machine but from each infernal throb of the strings and every head-caving pounding these Maryland natives inflict upon us. No matter how funereal this experience becomes I am surrounded by folks completely enthralled by this rumbling devastation that could so easily engulf us all.
Seething under the fog and brooding with a sonorous intensity that can only ever lead to swallowing us whole, Horehound darken the light that once gave life within Olde Mother Brewing and send us spiralling down a rabbit-hole more frightening than Alice could ever imagine. Pittsburgh’s angriest unleash a tirade of all-consuming rage as they cleave through an abyssal catalogue including Godless, Sloth, and Hiraeth with such sinister ferocity the wanton destruction of our souls is just small change for a band whose grip only gets tighter the more anyone tries to free themselves. Leaving us forever teetering on the brink, dulling our sense of security, and projecting nothing but unease and concern for our own safety, Horehound reveal their cards right at the last moment: having eroded the failsafe of a soft landing, every one of Shy Kennedy’s howls draws us closer to the edge until we finally succumb to the swirling vortex of L’appel Du Vide. This is a such calamitous performance nothing will ever feel the same again – and, like moths to the flame, we’d submit ourselves to them every single time we can! After Horehound obliterate with the darkest set of the weekend one wonders: is there any salvation from this point on? At the end of a run which has come and gone far too quickly, Problem With Dragons do us all a solid and set the time back – several thousand years! Entering the primordial age with nothing but a club in one hand and a skull in the other we bang our heads like cavemen of yore as the Massachussetts clan roll out blood-splattered victory songs in the form of Moon Ritual, Agenda 21, and Live By The Sword – the opener for Accelerationist, a record many millenia in the making – before turning their sights on us In The Name Of His Shadow. This neanderthalic brand of heaviness is fucking mightier than dying in battle, and the resounding impression my fellow festival-goers cheer is just as mighty! Hailing victorious against the foes of, well, any day, Problem With Dragons usher in a close to this stage that has us vying for more!
But the fates have other plans. The dawn of a brighter day is not forecast in these visions, for in the end there can only be darkness, then nothingness. I have been far too shy to introduce myself to Eryka Fir and Steve Anderson this weekend; they have been everywhere I have been, vibing and partying with every single band that has taken to either stage and, much like everyone else here, has welcomed the folk here with open arms. But when this duo take to the stage have no doubts in your mind that they will not demolish literally everything and anything in the vicinity. Oh sure they take pleasure in being up on stage at Café 611, but from those opening moments of The Familiar Coma Hole are hellbent on rattling as many bones and imploding as many skulls as humanly possible. Playing out their eponymous EP in its entirety the Rhode Island drum’n’bass doom-machine rupture the ground beneath us, so glreefully heavy is their ritual that by the time the raging tide of Old Climb blasts through like some unforgiving EF-5 tornado the fabric of the universe is barely intact. There is no denying just how groovy this whole experience is for there isn’t a stationary vessel around me, and yet I cannot help but feel that, without a moment’s notice, the universe itself will collapse. Get yer asses to own of their shows as soon and as often as you possibly can dear reader, there’s nothing quite like these vibrations forcing your entire mind to cave in on itself!
VI: Psychedelic Warfare // Crime of Visual Shock
If you believed this would be the end of the collosal dark encroaching and wreaking all manner of cataclysmic havoc on this small town this weekend then perhaps I can delight you in just how wrong you are for things are about to become bloody violent. Hanging in the air like some tempestuous perfect storm, only the smallest spark could unfurl the gates that keep civility free from our despondency and contempt for the ravishing grimness inflicted upon the world. Akris are that spark; there is something unruly, something anarchic, in witnessing these three West Viriginians become one with their music, allowing it to possess their bodies, and inflict serious damage to our ears; Helena Goldberg, as it happens, is an absolute beast with four strings who becomes so absorbed by the mantis-esque quiver of their brand of rock’n’roll it is uncertain just how human she is on stage. Throughout the intense, gargantuan 20-minute bruiser The Sleeping Village, their metamorphosis from anything resembling humanity is simply breathtaking – seriously I cannot catch my breath watching this! It is a brain-shredding experience that’s going to linger in my brain like something I should probably get checked out. Later in the weekend Gallowglas ratchet up the carnage a thousandfold and send Café 611 down a dangeroud path of no return, their wrath blowing the roof clean off this joint as this mob reduce what little is left to rubble. Ho-ly shit! J William Heitmann is unstoppable in his wreckless disregard for our necks, commanding his Penn State wrecking crew to pull no punches and destroy everything in sight, and raising all hell with pit-inducing hits Imprint, Repeater, and Thousands of Punctures. No pits were generated in the mayhem but you can bet your ass the Monday morning would have blessed many of us with a few broken necks if none are already! The adrenaline pumping, the desire to fuck shit up, and a preeminent chieftan to lead the charge? This is just an average Sunday, right?
How many bands can you name who sacrifice baby dolls on stage and feed its innards to their audience before launching into a cavalcade of carnivalesque chaos? There is so much that needs to be written about Flummox‘s subversive performances, so much needing to be unwrapped, unpackaged, and digested in order to do so would simply spoil the fun. This is more than just a queer shock rock cabaret, more than just a spectacle for our own amusement: the Tennessee powerhouse push boundaries far beyond their breaking point and tonight is no exception as both Alyson Blake Dellinger and Max Mobarry turn Olde Mother Brewing into a jumping battleground; Dellinger, not just content with invading our personal space, ravages the set and relinquishes society’s constraints of what a performance ought to be – as does her entire troupe for that matter. Such a frenetic, hyperactive display has me and my fellow bewildered denizens, who are encroaching dangerously close to the stage, in arms, shouting along to the wildly anthemic Trans Girls Need Guns, and cheering along to the incendiary mania unfurling infront of us. Oh golly it sure is a wild ride but it is more than just that: it is a fucking statement, one gigantic flip of the bird to an increasingly uncaring establishment and barbaric social order; they are unflinching in their assault for our attention and love every second of tearing shit up. One cannot simply categorise or attempt to pin down Flummox‘s music nor their unhinged exhibition of the likes of Black Phillip, Holy Ejaculate, or The Unibirth Suite (III: The Final Shout) – as well as the Judy Garland and Bo Burnham numbers to boot – and nor should I, for the whiplashing and cacaphonic aggression makes Flummox the ultimate enigma, and the fucking world needs this band more than ever.