Have you ever had a sudden moment of clarity when you realise that you’ve finally arrived? I had that pleasant experience in Bournemouth on a Friday night – I’d checked in at the Premier Inn, dropped off my toothbrush and was on the guestlist for an awesome-sounding gig. I’m not meaning to gloat, but seeing as we can’t all be media jetsetters, you’ll have to live the experience vicariously through me.
I’ll skip over my opinion on Bournemouth and Poole Council’s car park ticketing policies (I’ll give you a clue: they’re not positive) and move on to the venue. I’ve never been to the Bear Cave before, but I get the impression that it’s probably quite new. It’s in a cellar accessed through a staircase in the outside bit of space between the main bar and the pavement (basically the smoking area) and it’s pretty cool in a Spartan sort of way. The main space is rectangular with low ceilings, bare brick pillars down each side and the stage and bar at opposite ends. There’s a little area tucked around a corner for the merch stand on one side and booths and the sound desk on the other. The main thing that struck me walking in from an autumnal evening was that it was warm down there. Not unpleasant by any means, but I reckon in summer it could get severely sweaty.
Anyway, as I’d misjudged how far apart everything was, I arrived a little late for the openers The Dukes Of Hades. There’s not a ton of information on the web about them as they’re a brand-new band and this was their first gig, but I can tell you that they’re a two-piece (a drummer and guitarist/vocalist) and are plenty loud. As it was pretty busy and I’m too polite to push past people, I got stuck at the back and couldn’t see much except the guitarist’s baseball cap and occasional flashes of a Gibson headstock.
they hit an irresistible groove and rolled out a satisfyingly choppy riff…
Even without visuals, it all sounded suitably riffy and went down a treat with the punters. I found the guitar quite muddy which didn’t help on the faster numbers, but when the band slowed things down for their closing tune, everything clicked as they hit an irresistible groove and rolled out a satisfyingly choppy riff.
First band down, I went in search of beer. The bar in the venue only had cans so I went up to the main bar to find… that it only had cans. It did have taps installed so I’m guessing that draft beer will be available in the future, but for the evening that put a minor crimp in my plans.
Next up were Hippie Death Cult who’ve come over from Portland, Oregon as part of an extensive European tour. HDC were the main reason that I finally dragged myself to my first gig in nearly three years as I listened to their debut album 111 on repeat for pretty much the whole summer of 2020. Since then, they’ve signed to Heavy Psych Sounds, released another album and an excellent split with High Reeper… And lost their vocalist. For anyone familiar with the band, this was rather troubling as Ben Jackson’s vocals were such a huge part of HDC’s sound. Luckily, it turns out that bassist Laura Phillips has an awesome voice herself and one perfectly suited to the band’s unique mix of doom and psychedelia, so the band are marching on as a trio.
Hippie Death Cult’s set was an intense forty-five minutes of expansive groves and heavy riffing, all delivered with precision and passion. The set list was weighted towards their more recent material, with particular highlights being a scorching run through of Hornet Party and the hypnotic slow burn of Eye In The Sky. I’m not generally one to notice drummers, but Ryan Moore is an absolute machine, delivering a masterclass of dexterous fills, tasteful bursts of double bass drumming and even some tinkly chimes at one point (I was later told that the full kit involves a gong, but that sadly didn’t make it across the pond). Hell, he even played a drum solo that everyone seemed to dig.
an intense forty-five minutes of expansive groves and heavy riffing, all delivered with precision and passion…
The front of the stage was equally tight – guitarist Eric Brnabic cranked out some wonderfully expansive solos, particularly on the set closer Circle Of Days, and Phillips laid down a rock-solid groove throughout. At times her vocals got a bit lost in the mix, but when they cut through, they were spot on. My hastily scribbled notes from the evening said ‘absorbing psych vibes’, which is unusually pithy and accurate for me.
When I decided to go to this gig, it was part of a joint European tour by Hippie Death Cult and High Reeper (see Doom Sessions Vol. 5 for a killer split and some of the best album art in a long while). Sadly, High Reeper had to pull out but, in another case of extreme serendipity, Heavy Psych Sounds has a wide enough reach these days to have a local Dorset band to replace them – Dead Witches!
For those of you need an introduction, Dead Witches are the current band of Mark Greening, drummer for the original and easily best line-up of Electric Wizard. I can’t claim to have followed Dead Witches’ career in great detail, but whenever I’ve listened to them, I’ve always enjoyed it. Perhaps unsurprisingly they plough a similar furrow to EW, with plenty of retro-horror atmospherics and neutron-star heavy fuzz. Tonight is no different really, except that you wouldn’t catch EW playing such a cool venue these days and Soozi is a much more engaging frontperson than Jus ever will be.
retro-horror atmospherics and neutron-star heavy fuzz…
Dead Witches batter their way through forty-five minutes of fuzzy grooves that defy you not to at least nod along, rolling out old favourites Goddess Of The Night, Mind Funeral and Church By The Sea. It’s everything you’d want and expect; pounding, heavy and dark. By the time they close with an epic rendition of Fear The Priest, my neck’s aching and my back’s killing me (I can’t blame the latter on Dead Witches, it’s just been a while since I stood up for so long), but I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
It made a pleasant change not traipsing into London for a gig, so I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see what’s going on in Bournemouth in the future. If you’re based even vaguely nearby, you should too.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc