The Saturday kicks off with some more heaviness for the Malta Doom Metal Festival in Chateau Buskett. The trouble is first getting to the venue, which is partly up to the whims and woes of the Maltese traffic gods. They are not kind and merciful gods. Therefore unfortunately we missed out on local act 12th Ode, who opened up rather early for what probably was a small crowd. Not that much more is added when Void Moon play, a band featuring two members of Fridays Cult Of The Fox and a slightly more pummelling, doomy sound. The Swedes produce a sound in the well-known tradition of Swedish doom with a very present, driving bass sound and a central spot for the theatrics of the vocalist. This is unfortunately presented to a crowd that needs to still wake up.
Stonegriff is not that far removed from the previous act, but plays more into the cliché. Fantasy inspired lyrics are presented by a band that plays a swirling, captivating bit of doom, and a vocalist who sounds like Rob Halford (but with hair on his head) in the form of singer Jacob. The Swedes have released an album this year, which is given ample space to be presented. Arching guitars and high pitched vocals give a big rock ’n’ roll feel to the set, that goes well with the big bass sound of Rex Nibor. The total image is very much the big rock ’n’ roll band, including denim and leather, but isn’t that just what we love about this kind of bands?
By far one of the most interesting sounding bands is the Canadian group Cromlech. Their sound leans much more towards a battle metal band with a high pace, lots of energy and an eclectic sound. Between the crushing sounds of rattling drums and bass, you can hear elements of heavy metal but also, here and there, a bit of folky riffs. The frantic performance by the band is a huge part of what makes them such a great band to watch; energy, vitality and a lot of fun in playing. Add to that technicality and you definitely have a challenging listen with this band. Amidst the traditional doom bands, they manage to stand out today.
Technicality is not for everyone. For those who just want heavy, there is Doomed. The German group really just lays down a thick swamp of sludgy, sticky darkness with tortured guitars, deep guttural vocals and here and there melodic detail. There are no shifts away from that in a long, despair drenched set with a good injection of death metal into their sound. The highly productive band (4 albums in 4 years) play their set with a certain urgency and conviction, that’s been rare these few days and was, without doubt, the most heavy and overwhelming set of the festival.
The sound of the UK’s Alunah appears to fully revolve around vocalist Sophie Day, who stands to attention at the centre of the stage with the microphone. Slow, Sabbath infused doom riffs hang in the air, while the vocalist chants words like mantras with a voice that has some cracks here and there. Even in the banter between songs, the band tries to align itself with the Midlands doom legacy, but it seems to be stuck in finding a proper way to explore their own creativity. The songs stay sort of on the same level, without really deviating from there onward to some newer, more interesting avenues. Combine that with suffering from being the band just before the main act, Alunah probably hasn’t left much impression on Malta today.
In the meantime, there have been some meet and greats with the bands. Particularly the one with Venom Inc. has drawn quite a que of people waiting to get (in some cases) all their records signed. It’s not uncommon to see a fan chase after the members of one of the smaller bands either, which is the beauty of this festival; its dedicated and close-knit fans and organisers, because the line between those is often hard to be drawn.
The curtains are closed and the crowd has gathered in front of those in anticipation of the great beast. Venom Inc. may not be Venom in its original shape, but with 2/3rds of the original line-up, it is probably as close as you’ll get to experience their live show. When the curtains are opened, a long harrowing intro is played but finally the band emerges and kicks off into song. It’s hard to blame anyone for how bad this set sounds. The guitars of Mantas are completely blown away by the heavy distortion in the bass, which is really on the mix. The band itself may not be that good either, but they make up for it in fun, passion and ferocity.
Tony Dolan (aka The Demolition Man) may not have been an original member, but surely was a part of the band in the past and therefor still gives credit to this line-up. His demonic facial expressions and bark are welcome factors to the bands execution. Launching into song after song, with peculiar introductions, the band really gets the crowd going tonight. There is of course a need for the traditional encore, where particularly Mantas takes time to rouse the crowd into even more action and also has a nice speech ready for the fans. The band launches into classics like Black Metal, Countess Bathory and Welcome To Hell which makes the crowd go berserk.
There’s not that much crowd left to play for after that, which is the cross to bear for the Greek band Doomocracy. The Cretans have released their debut in 2014 and are clearly under the impression that people should be aware of it. Epic, clean doom metal is being played by the five, while vocalist Michael Stavrakis lets his vocals soar and reach mountain peaks with their high pitch. The sound is incredibly clean and catchy, making the band easy accessible for the more novice listener, but also slightly unimpressive to the more veteran fans. Regardless of all the musical skill on stage, the band fails to impress much, which is a shame, because the guys clearly know how to make some epic sounds.
Closer for tonight is Arkham Witch, who do a set with some songs from their previous incarnation The Lamp Of Thoth. Inspired by Lovecraftian literature, you’d expect more complexity with these guys, but it’s really more about kicking some fun. While vocalist Simon Iff? may not be that sharp all throughout the set, his passion and rabble rousing skills definitely turn this set into the party MDM needs to close with flying colours. It should also be noted, because the bass player of the band couldn’t be arsed to go to Malta, Jonathan ‘Sealey’ Seale from Iron Void steps in, the guy is obviously having a blast on stage, which is exactly what this band needs. From Iron Maiden like vocal escapades to gang shouts and sea shanties, this band really packs a full metal injection. A great closer for a wonderful festival.
On a final note, Malta Doom Metal Festival has the attraction and potency to become a serious date on the festival calendar. The warm atmosphere and friendly people add to that, but also the fact that everyone is a massive fan, even the people working there. It reminds you of some other fests you love, so maybe book a flight to Malta next year and experience it yourself.
Scribed by: Guido Segers
Photos by: Justina Lukosiute