During the visit to my brother’s at the other side of the ocean, we seized the moment (and our love for metal) to go downtown Boston on June 26th: doom metal vanguard CONAN, psychedelic WITHCKISS and raging CONCLAVE were set to play at the Great Scott, a typical Irish pub with a stage and a bar staked with craft beer taps. The organizer was Grayskull Booking, one of the main agencies for underground and not-so-underground metal events in Massachusetts.
By the MBTA railroads, in front of a main crossroads, a stoner doppelgänger of Blayne Smith welcomes us: the first thing we see is CONAN’s merch stand to which, as a fan and like a raven, I jump into to buy a tee (the Horseback Battle Hammer’s one – the not-musically-best first EP but with a killer cover art). At the bar, my brother and I chit-chat with Alex Fewell, the barman and BLACK MASS’ drummer. With PBRs (the popular Pabst Blue Ribbon lagers) in our hands, we get closer to the stage.
With no time to lose, the Massachussetts-based doom/sludge band CONCLAVE starts with the heavy riff of “War stalks the land”. Jerry Orne (bass and vocals), once smiling at their merch stand, now screams in anger. Jeremy Kibort (guitar and backing vocals) immediately enters with a melodic solo while Chris Giguere supports him with the second 6-strings. At low bpms but with plenty of breaks, pounds Dan Blomquist. Despite that the main vocals are excessively projected, a dark atmosphere engulfs us with the “candlemassian” “Black lines” (from the Sin of the Elders LP, Lost Apparitions Records). The riffage around the diabolic tritone slides in really well and moves the band away from the most primitive sludge elements (see PRIMITIVE MAN as an extreme example) towards a more classic ground. However, it’s the contrast with the Jerry’s voice –unpretentious, crusty and sour– that gives me the goosebumps. “Aethereum”, stemming directly from BLACK SABBATH, reveals the differences in technicality and sound between guitars, Jeremy being superior. Meanwhile, among a somehow scattered audience, a young metalhead with a BATHORY back patch is locked in non-stop headbanging. The short show ends with “Haggard”, a new song that will appear in the new album next year, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you wish to enjoy similar vibes in live shows on Iberian soil, check out KURSK.
Outside the venue, metal is still being served. A cane, topped with chromed skulls, fells on my feet. Taking it back to his owner is a perfect excuse to start a conversation with the local audience. This guy, tattooed up to the face, with a few teeth left, a scarred belly and no hair whatsoever, is celebrating the extirpation of a malignant tumour… against his doctor’s advice.
It’s time to come back, to get a pint of the craft beer Nitro (Left Hand Brewing’s milk stout) and to go into a microgravity orbit with WITCHKISS. For some forgotten reason I scribbled down “dystopian nightmare” under the name of the New York based band. It’s not the title of their single album (The austere curtains of our eyes, independent) nor a band according to Encyclopaedia Metallum. Perhaps it has something to do with the drone and ominous ambience that the power trio slowly builds. The red lights hide the features of Scott Prater (guitars and vocals), Amber Burns (drums and vocals) and Tyler Irish (bass) while “A crippling wind” takes off. Psychedelic doom engulfs the hall and sets up an environment which has nothing to do with the previous concert. Now a pinch of UFOMAMMUT, then a taste of SOMALI YACTH CLUB. A load of pedals gives a plethora of effects while the drums sustain an eternal tempo of about 60-70 bmps, interrupted with long droning pauses. The female voice becomes prominent in “Spirits of the dirt”, giving the perfect intonations for the atmospheric construction. At this moment, an audience that I assume is used to violent mosh pits can relax (except for the BATHORY guy). However, a few times, such moments bring me back memories at the zoo when I saw the lions doing nothing. The transition towards the new song “Burns” is almost imperceptible, and the three-track show feels like an undivided piece. Later on, I would get to know that the bold move to feature Amber’s voice more frequently will be manifested in their next works, which you can follow on Bandcamp.
The aroma of legality infuses the pub’s terrace (the recreational use of cannabis in Massachusetss has been legalized on 2016), but it’s CONAN’s drop F that would suffocate us as in acrid smoke. Now the pub is crowded and it becomes hard to advance to the first rows. The British Jon Davis (guitar and vocals), Chris Fielding (bass) and Johnny King (drums) present their latest LP Existential Void Guardian (Napalm Records), opening with “Prosper on the path”. Adrenaline gets loose from minute four when a number of orcs (read “us”) shriek in choir “living dying nothing” under the characteristic rhythmic frame of the band (shall we say speed doom metal already?). The power-surge continues with a combination of new tracks (“Eye to eye to eye”, “Vexxagon”) with older ones (“Throne of fire”, “Gravity chasm”, “FoeHammer”). At mid show, my long-awaited classic kicks in: “Hawk as weapon”, from their first LP Monnos. With this album, the band reached their unique style in an ecosystem saturated with doom and stoner bands: dynamic riffs, catchy rhythms and courage to increase or decrease their revolutions whenever they want, all this drowned in sludgy heaviness. The show continues with the newly released “Volt thrower”, a faithful heir in music terms (by the way, check out the clip’s visual homage to Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings). Jon’s cutting voice gives no quarter, and Chris accompanies with a second mic while Johnny –their latest incorporation– demonstrates his talent with a complex drum play. Songs from previous albums such as “Total conquest” and “Battle in the swamp” comfortably complete the list. The latter, through one of the most memorable riffs of the swamp party, has enough momentum to catapult the final track “Paincantation”, an ultra-brief death metal styled surprise from the latest LP, which successfully concludes a monolithic concert.
It’s Wednesday, the night ends here. Everyone withdraws, it’s time to get up early and my brother and I get on our bikes (with pedals): we still have 40 minutes ahead to cross the city.
Text and impromptu photography: