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Live Review: Lucifer, Spell, and Sacred Leather at Black Circle Brewing Co.

After moving to Indianapolis, a number of heshers and long-hairs were kind enough to give me tips on assimilating into the Speedway heavy music scene. Among those recommendations, there were numerous emphatic suggestions that I check out Indy’s own Sacred Leather. Already familiar with their Ultimate Force LP, I primed myself for an evening where they would open for Canadian warlocks Spell and riff-overlords Lucifer.

The familiar perfume of a fog machine pumped into the crowd, like chalk dust and stale cotton candy. With fresh smoke clinging to their black cowboy boots, Sacred Leather plugged in with magenta light gleaming off their vests and studded codpieces. If all you knew about the band was that their prominently bearded bassist’s alias is Magnus Ironslut, you probably still know what to expect. We’re talking full-on worship of NWOBHM metal gods, power-thrusting through a retro time-warp. There’s been a trad metal revitalization in the last few years, and it’s all built on sincere adulation of the excess and guitar heroics that preceded heavy metal’s mid-’80s subgenre splinter. While the inspired pseudonyms and song titles certainly wink at the listener, the Sacred Leather’s commitment and craft elevate what could be dismissed as glossy mimicry.

That all starts with frontman Dee Wraithchild setting the tone. With his go-for-broke wails and charisma, it’s mind-blowing that so much natural showmanship was bottled up behind a drum kit for Skeletonwitch and other projects. He trident-stabbed the air with the mic stand and punctuated tempo changes with high kicks, wearing an aesthetically pre-torn cloth that may or may no longer qualify as a shirt. Rolling out a new song called “Wheels at Dusk,” their guitarmonies and adrenaline-soaked Scorpions vibes triumphed over a broken guitar string requiring an early-set delay. After switching guitars, lead shredder JJ Highway dazzled the audience with agile solos during “Master is Calling” and “Prowling Sinner.” Unfortunately, technical issues derailed the set as the band closed with their ambitious 9+ minute “The Lost Destructor / Priest of the Undoer” finale. With feedback stabbing from the amps, it butchered the song’s confident swagger and stomp. Despite the audio snafus, the contact-high from the set’s peaks lingered long after the fog cleared.

Sacred Leather beer pairing: Snake Charmer (Gose with lime and orange from Black Circle Brewing). Along with the potentially phallic beer name, there’s a delicious hint of neon citrus sweat salt.

All photos: Lindley King

With Canadian metal mages Spell up next it was fitting that a movie from fellow Canuck David Cronenberg played on the TV screens across Black Circle. As Jeff Goldblum’s gruesome transformation represented science gone awry in The Fly, Spell brought their six-string magic to the stage. It’s been a few years since they released For None and All, but revisiting the album is well worth the time for anyone charmed by countrymen Cauldron or psych rockers Mirror. Like the title For None and All implies, Spell’s sound feels like it caters to the whims of the artists first and foremost—audience expectations be damned. Their self-described hypnotic heavy metal playfully combines proggy tangents, psych undertones, and galloping rhythms into a sum that’s unpredictable but surprisingly anthemic. The simmering hooks of “Dark Desires” burn so brightly it makes sense guitarist Graham McGee wears his aviator sunglasses indoors. While their music pulls from late-‘70s prog and early-‘80s heaviness for inspiration, they explore those wilds without any stage theatrics. That’s definitely on-brand, considering they opt for analog recording and dismiss “digital trickery.” The result feels organic and honest onstage but can lack fireworks on a bill with high-octane performers. Despite his mild demeanor, it was vocalist/bassist Cam Mayhem who described the evening most succinctly before closing out their set. “It’s the first day of spring, there’s a full moon, and Lucifer is here all the way from Europe,” Mayhem listed. “It’s a good night.”

Spell beer pairing: In the Black (Imperial dark saison from Taxman Brewing Company). A dark cauldron of heady booze and notes of blackberry wine; so much vibrant flavor hidden behind a 10.5% ABV punch.

All photos: Lindley King

When Lucifer released their debut LP, the occult rockers turned heads quickly enough to even appear on the cover of Decibel Magazine. Although Cathedral great Gaz Jennings is no longer in the fold, the project welcomed Entombed/Nihilist legend Nicke Andersson. While his death metal prominence is notable, Andersson’s rock roots reach deep as the founder of The Hellacopters and a touring member of post-reformation MC5. He’s behind the drum kit as Lucifer tours, providing percussive support for the other half of Lucifer’s romantic power couple: German siren Johanna Sadonis. Drinking Francis Ford Coppola’s sauvignon blanc from a can (“Well, whatever, it does the trick,” Sadonis shrugged), her ankh necklace swayed to the greasy groove of personal favorite “Phoenix.” Sadonis’ bewitching voice cut through the constant gust of a rotating fan blowing her golden locks behind her shoulders.

While Lucifer’s first album embraced smoky atmospheres and a sense of candle-lit mystery, last year’s sophomore effort Lucifer II boasted a sleeker production and even more contagious hooks. Whether it’s the sky-flung chorus of “Dreamer” or “Eyes in the Sky” igniting a fuzzed-out romp, Lucifer ditch any proto-doom endeavors on the stage. Instead, they embody free-wheelin’ throwback rock without any Satanic posturing. From bassist Alexander Mayr’s stars ‘n’ stripes sweatband to the fearless mid-riff smirks of guitarist Robin Tidebrink, Lucifer’s lineup projected an effortless sense of cool. The band also rolled out the red carpet for a new song called “Ghosts,” which combined gothic drama with Graveyard’s denim-jacket blues. By the time Lucifer re-emerged for a spirited rendition of “California Son,” my handwriting had deteriorated. After a few beers, my notebook looks like it was commandeered by an inebriated pre-schooler. Sadonis gripped the mic with a lit cigarette during the encore and graciously thanked the humpday audience for being so enthusiastic and engaged. Here’s to hoping another album brings Lucifer back through the Midwest for another full moon rock séance soon.

Lucifer beer pairing: Sabbath (Black Kölsch from Bier Brewery). Dusky and musky, a pitch-black brew that goes down easy.

All photos: Lindley King

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