The third Templars of Doom festival, back after a three-year break, brought some of the best names in doom metal to the Melody Inn for three days of fuzzed-out distortion. The crowd multiplied rapidly from day to day, making me wonder if metalheads might be capable of some sort of amoeba-like binary fission: Each two newcomers bore a striking resemblance to his long-haired, denim-vested predecessor.
Thursday night kicked off with some talented locals. Opening the entire festival was NecroPharmacon, who performed their stoner-laced hard rock to a decent-sized crowd.
Order of the Black Hand followed; darkly quirky frontman Dru Cadaver says his band played "a decent set even though it was light out." He continued to explain that "[our drummer] Craig was not as drunk as he should have been, but I tried to make up for it. I think it was just too early for Black Hand."
Next up was Bulletwolf, who opened their set in the accustomed fashion by raising their four respective cups of beer and easing into a slow intro that exploded startlingly into set-at-11 loudness. Worm's unmistakable growl, gritty as kitty litter, was a force as tall and burly as his person; he never missed a beat in the vocals as he picked out chunky bass lines that underscored the rollicking, head-nodding guitar riffs.
The single out-of-town group of the night - Rebreather from Youngstown, Ohio - made good use of a screen and projector that told a story of a bunny's death accompanied by dark swirls and falling fetuses. It was a psychedelic nightmare of crawling powerchords, near-constant droning and flailing drumsticks fronted by agonized vocals that had the desperate, wide awake lolling effect of the end of a drug binge.
Some of Indy's early forerunners of fuzz, Devil To Pay, followed Rebreather's edgily punk-influenced metal with a more classic doom sound. The jagged riffs had sharp distortion tempered with intelligent pedal effects and backed by smoothly sliding bass and durable drumbeats occasionally accented with cowbell. Vocals were languidly articulated low rumbles that lent a murky, menacing sense to the general stoned heaviness. This was a contrast to the blazing beats (played by the brilliant and barefoot drummer known as Scoth) and chaotic solos of the closing band - Indianapolis' You Will Die - whose lack of vocals allowed the artistry of the instruments to show through.
Doom-tinged black metal band Coffinworm started off the second night of mayhem with gruff vocalizations and an engine-like evil amalgamation of sound. Argus brought their flawless shredding to the Mel's stage, which was a nice complement to the heavy and hard stoner rock of Backwoods Payback. Zebulon Pike played some precise but down-and-dirty instru-metal that was both heavy and melodic, with solos that impressed without boasting . Their dual-guitar harmonies and slippery time signature changes made sure that vocals were rendered unnecessary.
Cleveland-based act Midnight was a crowd favorite, causing jaded, bearded men to clasp shoulders and headbang, falling over each other with thrilled grins. Their simplistic thrash is made up of lascivious bass lines played by a scarred and tattooed shirtless vocalist, a guitarist who mixes weaving, wailing leads with powerchords and drums that hit hard on snare and hi-hat. These guys were a blast to watch as they cavorted on stage with their black hoods, showing lots of energy as the crowd responded enthusiastically to their singular sound. The hooded ruffians even showed some humor: When the drummer stopped to adjust a tom, the vocalist chastised him with a growly "You don't even use that drum!"
The triumphant hits continued with Lair of the Minotaur, whose aptly-titled 2008 album, War Metal Battle Master
, describes their on-stage energy perfectly. These Chicagoans produced seriously heavy metal laced with doom and gore with lyrics based on mythological tales of violence and destruction. Vocalist Stephen Rathbone is capable of masterfully manipulating his voice and his six strings, bringing terrifying bellows into being with bulging veins.
Local favorites the Gates of Slumber, (featuring Templars founder Jason McCash) concluded the evening of awe-inspiring metal with their straight-up, smart brand of Doom that sounds as classic as Sabbath or Pentagram. Vocalist Karl Simon manufactures beautifully complex solos in between his unmistakable, powerful intonations. Even though the Gates are better known in countries across the Atlantic, they were apparently able to draw a hell of a crowd here in the Midwest who sang along throughout the set, fervently raising the horns in perfect tribute to a band that was the perfect closer for this second day of Doom.