Named after a god from Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian mythos, the Descendants of Crom festival entered its second year of doom-centric celebration late Friday afternoon to what was initially a sparse crowd in Lawrenceville’s Cattivo. Now a 2-day event, the fest–a joint effort between local label Blackseed Records and website Riff Relevant–was loaded with an array of acts that ultimately belong to the Church of Black Sabbath. Yet, the realms of doom and stoner metal having seen many innovators since the troubles in Birmingham, England took root in 1970, and that was aptly reflected throughout the 9-hour stand.
The Long Hunt from Pittsburgh began the first day with a moody, pensive instrumental set in which chords hung like Halloween decorations littering the yard of a decrepit mansion. A desert rock vibe also crept into their hypnotic set, riffs slow burning as if a psychological thriller were playing out on stage.
Also wordless and hailing from Steeltown were power-trio Solarburn, who added a bit of thrashy, funky heft to their brew a la Mordred while also at times taking us onto desolate, more haunting landscapes, injecting a sort of intellectual anger to their music which does the band’s talking for them. No lyrics needed, Solarburn are a tour de force of stellar, vibrant musicianship.
Yatra, also a 3-piece themselves, recalled mid-years Cathedral and early Paradise Lost with their low, Lee Dorrian growls, Shagrath hisses, and groovy, chunky wooly mammoth stomp. Guitars groaned and reverberated mournfully as precise chords and a Bonham/Jones rhythm section kept their stand somewhat buoyant despite their vague black metal aura of existential menace.
New York’s Eternal Black brought with them a Biohazard-sized chip on their shoulders, their shouting vocals and rumbler riffs dragging doom out of the mausoleum and into the street. Not without their own sense of Las Cruces-style swagger, Eternal Black’s own Gaz Jennings-like axe swings also possessed a sort of melancholic, psychedelic melody that kept them highly engaging and trippy enough to lighten the tone a touch.
Strangely enough, Curse The Son from New Haven almost sounded as if they were a pack of Texan or Louisianan wolves a la Corrosion of Conformity, their chili seasoned with pinches of Eyehategod’s southern sludge twang, sinister ZZ Top anti-boogie, and Crowbar-ish isolation. Notes of Quartz-like sadness could be heard as well, this triumvirate of turbulence pulling inspiration from all the iron and stone realms.
The always entertaining and mischievous Doctor Smoke were more metallic and aggressive than I’ve ever known them to be, their own brand of Iommi worship peppered with speedy, crafty NWOBHM revival flourishes not unlike Bible of the Devil and harmonies that conjured Iron Maiden riffically and Blue Oyster Cult vocally. Arcane yet fun, Doctor Smoke would be legendary if time travel were possible.
Horehound, another hometown favorite, were typically explosive, their personally bashing away wildly one moment, dreadfully trudging the next, and at certain moments, maniacally concussive, lead throat, promoter, label head, and Descendants of Crom founder Shy Kennedy alternately crooning with loss and roaring with rage. One can also detect the blues more easily in Horehound, the grief of a thousand deaths coming out through their woeful and weighty shuffle.
Houston’s Doomstress had more than a bit of soul in their deeply rhythmic, and riff-clever stoner moonshine, frontwoman “Doomstress Alexis” invoking everyone from Sass Jourdan and Geddy Lee to Michelle Nocon and Liz Blackwell, her impeccable vocals, fat string prowess and witchy stage presence leading a gang of errant, wattage-addicted knights to victorious crusade. Quickly, they became the band of the fest to beat, their songsmithing matching their stagework.
Demon Eye were as effervescent and magical as they were when I caught them a few months back in West Virginia. Very adept at keeping the evening’s momentum going, they were of course bit more Purple and Lizzy than Black, their set being a love-in of seventies metal, Budgie and UFO and all manner of pre-NWOBHM revelry and slyness present in spades. Demon Eye are surely reinventing and reinterpreting the past for future generations as well as the cynical old hounds and were an effortless highlight of the day’s proceedings.
Despite their name, Sierra are from Canada and were far more like Wretch than Kyuss, riffs conquering like Angel Witch, or to name a more recent band, Danava. Chords jutted out as if they were castle turrets or spires, plain, hopeless vocals resurrecting Kevin Heybourne or Zeeb Parkes, enigmatic guitars remembering Paul Chain before he lost his way.
Philadelphians Heavy Temple were a percussive clinic, skinswoman Siren Tempesta playing with more feeling and pure skill than any drummer I’ve seen in quite some time, thwacking away as if she were Mike Bordin. Kind of like Solarburn given a voice, Heavy Temple veered betwixt introspection and locomotive violence, these virtuosos performing as if they were all auditioning for the gig of a lifetime.
Portland’s Disenchanter were yet another power trio out to prove their mettle. Rollicking and featuring quite a picker in guitarist/frontwoman Sabine Stangenberg, who crossed the musical DNA of Joe Hasslevander and the late Ronnie Montrose, Disenchanter were simply in love with heavy rock, doing nothing new but exalting the past with verve.
If any band got the crowd moving, it was Howling Giant from
Tennessee. Slamming like pre-hipster Mastodon, Howling Giant summoned the titanic, volcanic, anarchic spirit of grunge when it was young yet also infused in it so much metallic bite, Flying V mage Tom Polzine carving like Rudolf Schenker and Ted Nugent and Randy Rhodes gone Mothership or Saviours. Howling Giant are what The Sword could and should have been live: bombastic beyond belief and stadium proud.
Indiana’s Devil To Pay had a straightforward approach to their performance. Hard-driving, swift, and riff-centric, there were no bells, whistles or frills in their southern, sludgy barbecue sauce. Once again, The Sword were buried in a pit of hot coals. Conviction and confidence.
Ohio’s Lo-Pan had an interesting set up: drummer up front, vocalist in the back. This only added to the quality of Jeff Martin’s pure, echoing, ghostly throat, one that led the band into glorious oblivion. Somewhere in the middle of a clash between Life of Agony and Solitude Aeturnus, Lo-Pan played with a relentlessly haunting and profoundly underground intensity that demonstrated why their cult following and penultimate billing are and were both deserved.
New Englanders Come To Grief finished out the night with a set of punishing blackened death sludge doom in the vein of Dream Death. Former from the ashes of Grief, Come To Grief carried on a fine legacy of tragedy and nihilism and funereal might.
Well after the bewitching hour, Day 1 would draw to a close, and only the weary diehards remained. How much more doom can the faithful withstand? Only tomorrow knows.
Check back to find out about day two and to see a full photo gallery of the event!