I thought I'd be living in Germany when I booked my tickets for Heavy Days In Doom Town 2013, having had the best fest experience of my life at the inaugural 2012 edition. However external forces (psychotic housemates, financial woes) caused me to abandon my life on the continent and come back to the country of my birth.
As a result, my journey to the riff-filled land was a little more convoluted than it should have been. Connecting flights, sleeping overnight in airports, and some 50 hours of waiting around all conspired to dampen my spirits, but as soon as I was walking the streets of Copenhagen again, I felt that familiar pre-show thrill.
The anticipation of the howl of feedback, the buzz of amps, the joy of spending my nights in dark cramped rooms with other people who get the same rush out of riffs that I do.
No matter where circumstances dictate I lay my head and earn my living, this is where I feel at home.
Danish sludge miscreants Bottom Feeder hit the stage looking like they'd rather be hitting the crowd.
Raw, hateful sludge is their bag, and they wield all the appropriate squalls of feedback and gut-wrenching growls. The re-appropriation of the term sludge to mean angry, ugly music no matter where it hails from, as opposed to 'any vaguely heavy band from Georgia' is welcome.
Look out for their debut LP, coming soon from Raw Birth Records.
Next up, giving you a glimpse of just how varied the bands can be that are loosely grouped under the banner of Doom, are Norwegian psych-heads High Priest Of Saturn.
They have an organ player, so I'm instantly curious as to how their set will sound. When Om-tattooed Merethe Heggset straps on her Rickenbacker bass, and the band let rip into their first track, I'm instantly sold. Coming on like a spacier Acid King, they capture everyone in the room with their hypnotic groove.
Check out their debut self-titled album, out now on Svart.
Huata describe their live shows as 'fuzz ritual ceremonies', and that's about as perfect a way of describing their set as I can think of.
Looking like a Candlemass tribute singer in his robes and exploding-couch hair, their frontman has a powerful bellow, with the band creating fuzzed-out dronescapes to back up his chanting. The three or four beers I'd had by this point combine perfectly with the music, and I can't help but sway with the ebb and flow of Huata's warm tones.
A perfect way to end the first night, I leave before Hexvessel, having caught their occult-folk janglings at last year's Roadburn, and really not digging it.
Birmingham's Alunah were a great, soulful start to the day, their blues-y stoner rock going down well with the first D61 beer (of many) of the day. Vocalist Soph Day clearly worships at the altar of Lori S, her soaring voice weaving perfectly with the desert-driving guitar of husband Dave. I think this was the last show of their tour, but don't miss them next time they come around.
Their most recent album White Hoarhound is available through PsycheDOOMelic.
Chile-via-Sweden metallers Procession's set was probably one of the most uptempo shows of the weekend, at least to my ears. They had more trad metal stylings in the vein of Candlemass or Reverend Bizarre, which isn't really my cup of tea, but they played a solid set which I ducked out early of in order to catch Bell Witch.
Bell Witch were probably the most anticipated band of Friday. Almost everyone I saw at the merch tables walked away clutching a vinyl copy of their masterful full-length Longing, and the Dödsmaskinen room was packed, people spilling out the doors with everyone straining to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic dreadlocked duo.
Their brand of mournful, cavernous doom had one American dude I met almost in tears. I guess that's a good recommendation?
Fresh off their tour with Bongripper, this is probably the 4th time I've seen Conan in the past year, and the UK's fastest-rising caveman battle doom band never fail to obliterate. Opening with 'Hawk As Weapon', they quickly show everyone in the room just how damn HEAVY heavy music can get.
They put out a split with Bongripper in honour of their tour together, you should really give it a spin.
Samothrace are heavy in a whole other sense, their sprawling blues-sludge epics instil a melancholy ache in my chest, and it's more than just the many beers in my system that make me get a little choked up.
Opening with 'A Horse Of Our Own' from their rightfully praised 2012 album Reverence To Stone they instantly show why their return to playing live is a very very good thing. 'Awkward Hearts' from their first record Life's Trade is a total revelation, I never thought I'd hear anything from this album live.
Guitarists Spinks and Renata Castagna are capable of wringing sounds from their strings that'll wring your heartstrings, their expansive, intertwining leads compliment six-string bassist Dylan Desmond's playing perfectly.
They close out the set with the other half of their last LP, the beautifully unfurling 'When We Emerged'.
Samothrace are one of those bands that are just meant to be, and I'm so thankful they are.
We need their heavy music for heavy times.
What better way to start your day than with some primo Italian sludge? I guarantee it'll perk you up more than coffee ever could.
Trieste's Grime have some of the most GodHating riffs around, and will make any disciples of distorted misery truly Come To Grief. These guys, along with Bottom Feeder and Meth Drinker, are sludge's next filthy bands to watch.
Their new album Deteriorate is out today, as it turns out, on Forcefield Records.
Lecherous Gaze play some of the most bugged out, proto-punked up rock n' roll I've ever heard.
At one point I thought the whole delightfully scumbaggy crowd was gonna fall to the floor and start doing the fly, while sneering creep frontman Zaryan Zaidi twitched his way through the fastest, wildest set of the whole fest.
Damn good fun, I'm interested to hear if their crazed live energy comes across on their last record On The Skids.
Richmond's Cough were one of the bands I was most excited to see after their cancelled performance at last year's HDDT, and their Ritual Abuse record is one of my favourites of recent years, so my expectations were high.
Unfortunately they chose to eschew playing the best songs from that album in favour of some of their lesser known material, including 'Athame' from their Reflection Of The Negative split with fellow RVA doomsters Windhand. No 'Cripple Wizard' or 'Crooked Spine'? Come on, guys.
But that's my only issue, they still played brilliantly, rumbling the main salen to its core.
Meth Drinker. Holy shit. What can I say that will accurately describe this performance?
This was one of those shows that people will swear they were at for years to come. When I first got into heavy music, it was because of shows like this one; people losing all control of themselves, thrown fists and stage dives, all trying to ensure mutually assured destruction. Meth Drinker will restore your faith in aggressive music, their arms straining with corded muscle as they wring the necks of guitars, lips drawn back and teeth bared in a rictus as they spew bile into the mic.
If you're not listening to this band then what's even the point in having ears? DRINK METH.
Fellow Antipodeans Mournful Congregation were a different affair entirely, their elegant, glacial funeral procession killing all remotely aggressive vibes, resulting in a total comedown in atmosphere. What, you want to push-mosh to funeral doom with a smile on your face? Good luck.
'Suicide Choir' was a personal highlight of their set.
One of the best things about Heavy Days is its ability to lure bands across the sea for their first ever European shows. If in the first year of your fest you manage to get Noothgrush to flatten the room, you're doing it right.
So it was with almost hysterical excitement that I greeted the announcement of Graves At Sea as one of the headliners of HDDT II. I must have grinned in dumbfounded disbelief at those words for an hour when I first got the news, and it wasn't until seeing founding members Nick and Nathan wandering around the Stengade and Ungdomshuset venues that I could actually wrap my head around it.
So when doom's handsomest band took the stage to close out Saturday night, I was front and goddamn centre. Opening with 'Pariah' from their split with Asunder, the swing of THAT opening riff had me just about shaking my vertebrae apart. The track has this shuddering juggernaut of a midsection that sounds like the heaviest thing you've ever heard when it's coming out of a wall of amps instead of record player speakers. The initial rhythm descends and deteriorates into waves of sheer sonic mass.
Considering the impressive stream of booze flowing towards the stage, the band were still playing tight as hell, Nathan never missing a beat in between downing every bottle passed to him.
They debuted a track from a forthcoming split with Sourvein, their first new material in eight years, and it had that perfect mix between groove and abrasiveness that has defined their discography up 'til now. It sounds like they've never been away, and judging by the reaction of a packed main room, everyone is just as glad as I am to have them back.
When they launch into another piece of music I don't recognise, I wonder if we'll get to hear something from their split with Loss that's also due out later this year, but it turns out to just be a new intro to what's probably their best song, and arguably one of the best heavy songs of all time; Red fucking Monarch.
When the intro twists into that opening riff, the whole room loses it. Heads are banged, beer is spilled, stages are dived from... it's one of the best moments of the whole weekend. The guitars ratchet the tension up with each repetition of the riff, the drums build and build but never quite lock in, the whole thing threatening to erupt at any moment. And then it does, and I almost destroy my face against the stage. This is what music is capable of. Sheer fucking bliss.
"Do you guys know a song called 'Praise The Witch'?" asks Nathan, knowing damn well there probably isn't a person in the room who doesn't. The second track of the night from Documents of Grief, another song I never thought I'd have the chance to hear live.
To the band, and those who booked them for the fest, a sincere thank you. You made my year.
By this fourth consecutive day of mind-melting music, I was nearing saturation point.
When Finland's Dark Buddha Rising began their soundcheck, I thought my brain was about to dribble out of my ears, but I toughed it out in order to witness one of those sets that those of a more pretentious persuasion might deem to call a ritual.
The band seemed to be comprised of two very different camps; four droning stoners, and one shirtless maniac with a lump of rotting something on a rope around his neck, a chalice of blood and a noise pedalboard. Bit of a contrast, but it worked, the band pushing out pulsating waves of fuzz and drone while the frontman let forth some terrifying howls, feedback, and generally just made a mess of the stage and himself.
Perfect Sunday afternoon listening.
Long-standing Danish funeral marchers Saturnus are a lot more fun live than their chosen genre may lead you to believe. The band look like they're having a blast playing to a home crowd that obviously loves them, frontman Thomas A.G. Jensen at one point being handed, bizarrely, a multitude of Kinder Eggs by some front row fanatics. It's gotta be pretty hard to growl out paeans to death and loss with a massive grin on your face.
Berlin's Kadavar, all time champions in the World's Tightest Vest competition, were my surprise discovery of the weekend. I don't usually go in for the whole retro rock revival thing, but when a band can make a room full of crusties and doomier-than-thou beard metallers actually dance, you know they justify the hype. High-energy Rock that will make you shake your ass. 'Nuff said.
The fun vibe is quickly harshed when Southampton degenerates Moss take to the stage.
"Heavy Days... Horrible Nights..." intones frontman Olly Pearson before the band starts in on the title cut from their new record Moss' Horrible Night. I haven't spun this latest release yet (out now on vinyl from Rise Above) but judging by the strength of tonight's set, in which almost every track is culled from it, when I get around to hearing it I'm sure it'll end up being one of my favourites this year.
The rapturous reaction that greets the band as they end their set means they basically have no choice but to return and doom us all to the 'Tombs Of The Blind Drugged'.
As almost every band was thrilled to announce, Heavy Days In Doom Town is rapidly becoming one of Europe's best fests, and is an excellent example of when the underground comes together to show that DIY culture is alive and thriving. I'll see you all in Copenhagen for next year's best celebration of all things slow and heavy.
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