Doom? On the Sabbath Day? In Birmingham? Home of the Sabbath? On a Sunday? In Birmingham? Black Sabbath’s Birmingham? On a Sunday? Doom, you say?
I could go on, for but everyone’s sakes I’m going to stop now. Maybe. Anyways, I’m in Birmingham on a sunny Sunday afternoon where word on da street has it that much DOOM is about to occur. Set back in the industrial wastelands of Hockley, The Asylum is a ruddy good backdrop for a day of booze, smoke-machines and more riff-soaked doom than a certain temple in the title of a well-know Indiana Jones movie would dare to promise. Liverpool’s saviours of neanderthalic bombast Conan are in town and what better reason than to stock up the bar, pile the stage high with a shitload of frankly killer, yet relatively unknown bands and pack out the c.200-capacity venue for an afternoon of extreme head-nodding and lager shandies (it is Sunday afterall, did I mention?)
Openers Hagstone are here to have a ton of fun and set about rocking a solid groove to a very sparse crowd. Their doomy concoction of Alice In Chains-meets-Candlemass-meets-Acrimony is confident, self-assured and fucking loud. It’s perhaps a bit too warm for lead guitarist Rob to be sporting a shiny pair of leather trousers but this is doom through and through and there’s some belting riffs in and amongst a flurry of his shredding solos and Gio’s grimacing vocals. With songs about “psycho zombie bikers” and H.P. Lovecraft, this is quite a long way from “cool” summer rock, but there’s a noble swagger in there that brings a smile to the face and a tap to the toe. Their drummer is also a dead ringer for Chritus Linderson, which made me chortle inside merrily.
“I’ve been raped in Birmingham before, it was great… This song is about boners!” And so begins the latest, how shall I put this… “unsettling” performance from Guildford’s own Victorian Whore Dogs; a melting pot of sludge and hardcore not unlike an even more rabid version of Raging Speedhorn. Enormous frontman Danny Page patrols and struts across the stage and the floor alike, barking incomprehensible vocals over some staunch riffs, mammoth drumwork and cut-throat beatdowns. Watching a 200lb man gyrate, posture, stroke audience members and pretend to be a part of the crowd itself carries a certain comedy value and in between the psychotic Mistress by-way-of Nailbomb instrumental din it proves a good tactic to wake up some sleepy Brummies. Very entertaining. Very bonkers. “Hobo chic”? I totally get it…
Witch Charmer are here to bring one thing: classic stoner grooves. Actually two things: classic stoner grooves and thoroughly unintelligible Sunderland accents. Taking prime cuts of Clutch, Red Fang, sHeavy and Witch Mountain, they weave sand dunes of smouldering guitar and chugging bass into promising slabs of balls-out riff rock. Sultry singer Kate McKeown rides this Fender and Gibson-sponsored storm with a confident ease and a sublime talent for soaring, majestic vocals but unfortunately falls rather short in the way of show-womanship, offering only song titles as a way of basic stage banter. Heavy-hitting drummer Dave McQuillan makes up for it though with his gruff, croaking backing vocals and some gigantic tom work. If Purson and Karma to Burn had a one night stand, this is roughly the band you’d get 9 months later. ‘World’s Burning (Inside the Fire)’, in particular, is an absolute triumph of muscle and guile. ‘Gan on man!
Self-proclaimed NWODD (New Wave of Dorset Doom) mob Greenhorn have bought a simply unholy amount of low-end. Their sludgy yet misanthropic bile strikes home resolutely with a now lubricated and intrigued audience as intelligent tribal drum-lines and careering D-tuned chords ring out across the Asylum. With song titles like ‘Standing Laughing Over the Remains of Your Crushed Enemies’ it’s not hard to imagine that these guys reach low, very low into the ether. Yet at the same time the more upbeat ‘Driven’ is a nonetheless welcome one-way drawl through Guttersville, Riff City. “Give us a simile Pete!” I hear you cry. Oh OK, Greenhorn sound like Dopethrone fighting a chip-pan fire with Weedeater and then having a BBQ to celebrate their immensely manly prowess. Crashing out with an incendiary final song with Danny from Victorian Whore Dogs back on death-rattling vocal duties, the crowd greet the ‘Horn with one of the biggest applauses of the day. Impressive shit.
Shrouded in darkness and comprising just two guitarists and a laptop, Khost bring the industrial back to this Brummish land of abandoned factories and broken glass. Godflesh-like is a lazy comparison, but it’s pretty damn accurate as walls of power chords ring out and ethereal vocal structures cloud the room just as the smokescreen clouds the stage. Part menacing, part esoteric, the duo move little and provide no further show or explanation behind their mechanical presence. Its drone Jim, very droney drone indeed.
My Silent Wake certainly ramp up the BPM count next with their more death-metal-centric take on doom. This spirited bunch are progressive in the same way that Nachmystium or Wolves In The Throne Room absorb genre boundaries into one as they adeptly incorporate guest Korg synth atmospherics into their showcase of big fuck-off riffs. Frontman Ian Arkley is an obvious focal point and his crushing yet audible vocals cascade down below the blackness of the giant bass-driven undertones. Rarely reaching out-and-out death metal speeds, there’s a certain choppiness to their riffage which puts them in The Ocean, mid-era Satyricon, Paradise Lost or Insommnium-type territories. Titanic 15-minute closer ‘Hunting Season’ from debut album ‘Shadow Of Sorrow’ is simply incredible and by far the pinnacle of their melodic, powerful performance.
Assembling Jon Davis’ newly enhanced, ear-raping backline is no mean feat, but somehow Conan and Bast manage it together in time for a quick sound-check for the Kingston-based blackened metallers. Lining up a raft of their new material from the staggeringly good ‘Spectres’ record, Bast launch into their set with full force. Frontman Craig Bryant rains forward a maelstrom of bastardised sludge riffs ramped up to a progressive black metal plane. Ably backed by Jon Lee’s ferocious drumwork and Gavin Thomas’ giant bass slices, it’s a wall of well-calculated and pivotal noise that greets the Midlands masses. Bryant’s roars hit the front row like Troy Sanders trying to scream as far as the moon and the Birmingham crowd laps up their ear-splitting craft with hunger and intrigue. One of Bast’s best traits is their ability to move swiftly and stealthily through the gears at the drop of a hat and 30minutes simply evaporate in the hands of their all-encompassing craft.
As if we needed even more amplification on an already crowded stage, Conan set about arranging various cabs, heads, pedals and stacks all over the Doom Shop. After a quick introduction from Fear Me Music’s Chris Fear, the heaviest thing on Merseyside since Stan Collymore plough straight into ‘Crown Of Talons’, the smouldering opener of chop-slapping new album ‘Blood Eagle’. Sounding like a loose jet engine interrupting a wake and killing all the attendees, the Liverpudlians cycle through the decibel count as one long nod ensues for just shy of an hour. Charismatic amp-junkie Jon Davis leads the (none more) power trio through wave after wave of thumping, churning riffage and his ghostly wail punctures this pop fan’s nightmare with tales of wizards, beards, battles and beheadings.
Choosing to play ‘Blood Eagle’ in its entirety from front to back, pausing only for a solemn ‘Hawk As Weapon’ pitstop along the way, is a bold move but entirely sensible when you consider just how fucking colossal the likes of ‘Total Conquest’ and ‘Horns For Teeth’ sound from in front of that ridiculous pile of equipment. The self-destructive mosh-a-long that is ‘Foehammer’ strikes down with its unforgivingly 1-dimensional rhythm and the rapid-fire ‘Gravity Chasm’, which sounds like an oompah band marching straight into Valhalla, is probably the highlight of Conan’s deafening set. Brand new bassist Chris Fielding perhaps doesn’t retain the Viking vocal prowess of his predecessor Phil Coumbe, but his grip on the new material and interplay with drummer Paul O’Neil is solid and chunkier than Ray Winstone in a leotard.
As the applause rains down on the headliners, we must ask: What is best in life? Crushing your enemies? Women lamenting? Driving others before you? Checking that your face is still intact? Yes, correct, good. And so back to our caves in the hills we ride. Caveman Battle Doom ceasefire… for now.
Scribed & Photos by: Pete Green