Autumn Screams Doom Recap – Sidebar Tavern, Baltimore – October 26 +27

This year’s pre-Halloween weekend marked the beginning of (hopefully) a new Baltimore tradition: the Autumn Screams Doom two-day festival. As coordinator/originator Dan Petruccelli tells it, he hopes ASD will “bring old school doom and new school doom together. There’s so much each one brings.” He noted the periodic fluctuation of the audience’s mean age as newer bands traded stage time with longer-running projects. His intention is to introduce each fan base to the other valid and vibrant art form in the hopes of creating a more multifaceted doom community.
As an inaugural outing, ASD1 was a curious and rather humble beginning. The drive to Baltimore was sunny and riotous with the fall colors that lined the highways; very little of those surroundings screamed much about doom at all. The show itself was plagued by cancellations and tucked into a east Baltimore hardcore hole in the wall called the Sidebar Tavern, and on Saturday night there was a vegan food cart selling chili cheese dogs that included no actual chili, cheese, or anything recognizable as a hot dog. That said, the results were pretty damn tasty and the dude did a booming business. The Sidebar offered a comfortable, supporting-the-scene feel to the proceedings, and the bands were all happily approachable and duly enthused about their part in the weekend. These are their stories.

Few are the bands that can maintain high levels of badassery once the cowbell and tambourine come out, and Foghound are not one of the few. Raucous and stoner-y, their introductory set was the first slip sideways in a weekend that proclaimed doominess but often leaned in other directions. I got a chance to talk to the band members throughout the evening, and I enjoyed their increasing drunkenness as Geoff periodically reintroduced me to Chuck on four separate occasions. Oh, and thanks lots for the Strongbow – a drink I wouldn’t have bought myself but totally dug in the moment.

Washington, DC’s Ilsa played slower and more fucked up than Foghound, but it didn’t feel like doom so much as Why-the-fuck-is-there-an-audience-for-my-metal-disintegration music. Ilsa unequivocally ruled the nine o’clock hour with slicing feedback, wicked layers of distortion and granite-drilling vocals all played at head-grinding volume. I had not listened to Ilsa’s albums before. I assure you that will change.

The women of Brooklyn trio Mortals delivered their punk-shot black maelstrom with brutal earnest, with neither guitarist having near as much fun as drummer Caryn Havlik, whose hair whipped about as wildly as her tireless arms. The denim draped over Inquisition and Midnight t-shirts absolutely set the tone for a rather undoomy but suitably harsh set.

Borracho blazed up from the District to bring the thickening crowd a taste of their psychelicious swamp-sexy blues thud. The buzz word for the next 40 minutes was Groove (and “buzz,” I suppose). After the set, one of the dudes confessed a concern about such a laidback sound following the last couple bands: “You can’t make love to that stuff!” The vox were cool but unnecessary; kickin’ it to that sweet melodic riffitude was all the audience could have wanted.

Massachusetts trio Elder shoved the 70s hard rock influences front and center, with their head-nodding jams and sonorous guitar leads and solos. Their songs connected harder and the guitar work blossomed in prettier patterns that we had heard all evening. While the band was not slated to close out the first of ASD’s two nights, they certainly deserved the spot.

Saturday evening set a far more appropriate scene, with pre-Sandy cloud cover suffocating the sky with such uniform density that the gibbous moon was a muted spectre in all that bleak iron gray. Swamphog led off the evening with some oldster bass riff rock. I’ll let you check out Urban Dictionary for a dicey definition of the band’s moniker, since my own inner censor won’t allow me to type it here. A minor equipment issue shortened their set a bit, but neither the band nor the still-sober attendees seemed to mind.

Wizard Eye’s guitarist Erik exhibited both dreads and hot lickology all the way down to the floor, and the whole stoner sludge routine filled the bar with phantom weed tokes and hints of mellow trips to come. The band proved to be equally adept at throwing open the throttle and raging wicked fast as the set progressed. Erik’s theremin work added a fourth dimension (and a third eye) to the music. At this point in the evening, I worried that I had heard the best the weekend would offer. While I wasn’t entirely wrong, I’m glad I stuck around for more.

As the eighth band of the weekend, Baltimore hometown boys Oak were the first seriously doomy band of the bunch. Lingering, lumbering Richter-ready chords and death-croak vocals tore into the night, rearranging faces and the evening’s expectations. Had the evening continued in such a horrific vein, the Sidebar would have been the epicenter of a new system of caverns bored musically through Baltimore’s underground. To my mild disappointment, it did not.

Appearing after the convincing Oak were recently de-drummed Eerie from New Hampshire. Without a percussionist to anchor the scene, Eerie existed as a Spinal Tap-like line-up of four guitarists, all of them long-locked and goateed and three of them shirtless, keeping moderately successful time with an unhurried drum machine and each other. It was a minor rock ‘n’ roll nightmare that never quite relented until the set was over. Slow, heavy… next.

Throughout the weekend I spotted several Windhand tees, which made me wonder what I was missing. When the band took their places during the back half of Saturday night, I found out. The Richmond, VA quintet laid down that female-fronted mystical occult shit, all thick and burly. Anybody into that scene would have rolled in it; Windhand have serious game, and they go for the throat with every riff attack.

After two nights of loud basement bar entertainment, I wasn’t sure I had the stamina for another pair of bands, but War Injun rolled in at just the right time. They played the show without their vocalist, which they constantly apologized for but needn’t have done so. While repetition and doom are inseparable bedfellows, War Injun shift musical thoughts every few measures to keep their riffs from going stale. They revved up a two-guitar assault like the frowniest biker gang there ever was, with drummer J.B. Matson pounding the kit like it was an ornery Glen Danzig effigy. Their brand of chunky doom was soul-pleasing and neck-fatiguing.

Last up… fucking Revelation, man. The visual presentation merited attention all on its own: bassist Bert Hall, Jr. wielding an instrument designed to actually look like a real axe, and guitarist/vocalist John Brenner wearing a shirt with a picture of a dude playing guitar on it! As the kids would say: “Woah… Inception!” Revelation wrapped the weekend by blurring all the lines we had walked through a dozen sets; everything is both rock groove and doom crawl, nothing is exclusively one or the other… In fact, maybe this is the lesson we were meant to learn. After decades of genre subdivisions and nitpicky differentiation, the piano man was right all along: it’s still rock and roll to us.