Rob Shaffer of Dark Castle and YOB (all photos by Robert Hanna)
The current revival of psychedelia has spawned its most interesting acts in the metal scene, and even more specifically in doom metal. Bands like Candlemass, St. Vitus, and Pentagram helped cultivate a path to combine heavy music with effect-laden drone and the atmosphere only a set of well-calibrated flanger and wah pedals can create. As Sleep hit the scene and essentially helped forge the “stoner rock/metal” genre, the arena for slow and heavy music expanded widely, as did its fan base. While indie psych revivalists stay closer to their original influences, psychedelic doom carves its own niche and continues to be one of the more innovative platforms for modern metal today. Oregon’s YOB, one of the most well-recognized psychedelic doom groups of late, descended upon Seattle with tour mates Dark Castle to spread their sludgey gospel to an enthusiastic crowd.
Singer Uta Plotkin of Aranya
Easily the stand-out group of the evening was Portland’s Aranya, a tribal four-piece incorporating punk, psychedelic rock, metal, and copious amounts of ’60s riffing in their set. Like some sort of crusty Jefferson Airplane, Aranya journeyed through very complex layers of fuzzy tone and clean channel leads, at some times including jazzy and percussive breakdowns under the crests of singer Uta Plotkin’s wailing vocals. Imagine Grace Slick singing for a DIY punk version of Mahavishnu Orchestra and you’re getting close. Incorporating subtle political/naturalist undertones throughout, the group’s varied tempo style is reminiscent of ’90s Humboldt County experimental violin punks Saké but manages to hold a unique identity — something not easily attained in the metal world. There’s also a visible and audible Native American influence, embodied by the feathered staff Uta Plotkin brandished on stage, occasionally slamming it to the floor.
Bryan Spinks of Samothrace
Next up were Kansas transplants Samothrace, a refreshing anomaly in the doom metal scene. While most doom bands are characterized by punishingly slow and distorted chord progressions, Samothrace’s sound is much more musical, dynamic, and carefully crafted. Firmly rooted in the DIY punk/crust scene, the group includes current and former members of groups such as Oroku, Book of Black Earth, Skarp, Lethe, Black Christmas, and several others. Singer and guitarist Bryan Spinks’s bluesy leads and solos weave in and out of the group’s clean channel rhythms and inflections. In half an hour the band only played two songs, but it didn’t feel like the typical drag of a doom show; their material is engaging enough that you forget you’ve been watching the same song for twenty minutes. Their debut full-length Life’s Trade on 20 Buck Spin received a great deal of acclaim and was even cited on Decibel Magazine’s top 40 album list for 2008. A critical addition to Seattle’s music scene, Samothrace is a force to be reckoned with.
Stevie Floyd of Dark Castle
PDX-via-St. Augustine, FL duo Dark Castle hit the stage and immediately began to floor the crowd with a wall of blackened doom with some particularly inventive tracks off their new full-length, Surrender To All Life Beyond Form. Guitarist and singer Stevie Floyd, flanked by an armada of effects pedals, belted out harrowing and guttural vocals while playing intricate, chorus-laden guitar melodies over Rob Shaffer’s thunderous drums. Dark Castle’s sound is akin to their name; a brooding, towering structure with spiral staircases, enshrouded in darkness and the branches of dead trees. They are a band difficult to pinpoint as their influences include noise, prog, doom — even some traditional Eastern folk. While the majority of doom bands celebrate the fantastically long song, Dark Castle’s songs are more focused, emanating bursts of energy under thick layers of drone. While the new material is more experimental than their debut, Spirited Migration, the group continues to innovate and perplex their fans with remarkably original songwriting.
Mike Scheidt of YOB
Aaron Rieseberg of YOB
The past five years saw a shift in YOB’s sound, migrating from a more conventional, sludgey form of stoner metal into the psychedelic juggernaut they are today. Sharing drummer Rob Shaffer with Dark Castle, the skull-crushing rhythm section of YOB was particularly on fire this evening with the relentless kinetic energy of bassist Aaron Rieseberg (who just appeared in town with his other project Norska). They played some great new material off their upcoming full-length Atma on Profound Lore, set to be released in August. YOB’s songs are impossibly long, but somehow they manage to put enough drive and steam into their performance that time itself becomes irrelevant. Watching them play sends you into a bewitched trance, and you can’t help but bang your head to the crashing waves of tone and cymbals blasting from their towering amps.