Night One (5/1/2019): Black Circle Brewing (Indianapolis)
Depending on how far back in the parking lot you have to search for a spot pretty much portends just how insane of a show you’re going to be stepping into whenever you venture to this rising star venue. Located in South Broad Ripple, Black Circle has captured the hearts of the local fringe community and blown everyone away with its dedication to the local craft brewing, food, and arts scene as well as its employees. From drag bingo/trivia/karaoke to bubble machine concerts for the kiddies, this building will hopefully be playing host to events for many years to come. Tonight though, I was here for some old school heavy metal. You can keep your sweeps and you can horde your right-handed tapping because the night was about “Dad Metal” at its finest.
Hometown heroes Sacred Leather had already started their first song of the set when I walked up the familiar ramp and was greeted by SEGA Genesis era Sonic on an old school, flashback-inducing AV cart (as well as some classic pinball machines) before I even set foot in the door. When the lights are down, and the speakers are blasting, the tap room looks like every metalhead’s dream venue. Small yet roomy, microbrews on tap with familiar brands via that cold, sweaty can, no pesky girl/boy lines for the bathrooms (you can pee in either, take your pick!), and a quality sound system you wouldn’t think to find anywhere smaller than the Vogue. All of this adds up to pretty much the perfect vamp for a night of debauchery and metal memories in a crowd that knows how to have a good time without wrecking the place.
But back to the music! If you want to show me a more decked out local band than Sacred Leather, I’ll eat my undies after a full house, punk show at the (historic) Melody Inn. The amount of animal skin on man-flesh under those house lights would have made a vegan cry. The soundtrack to those tears would have been nothing short of ripping, American-tinged NWOBHM. These leather-clad lotharios are evidently comfortable in the spotlight, and their sound is as unapologetic as they are. Screaming vocals, smooth thunder bass lines, tireless drums, ripping guitars, and the stage personas to pull it all off while pulling the audience in. Give them another album or two, and they’ll have their name carved in the memories of the local scene for decades to come.
All photos by Bobby Ellis
I’m not going to lie, when I saw Halcyon Way putting up a banner on a stage as small as Black Circle’s, I started to edge my way to the back. By the second song, I was regretting not keeping my better vantage point. Unlike Sacred Leather, they’re individualistic in their approach to stage personas; each member has their distinct era of metal to represent, it seems, but…when you hear their sound, it all starts to make sense. Skyler Moore fulfills the guttural vocals (and holds down the bass lines like a boss). He sported an undercut and black shirt a la death metal madness events. Max Eve (rocking a mohawk and impressively long goatee that reminded me fondly of the ‘90s) plays the steady rock as clean backing vocals and rhythm guitarist. While Steve Braun (classic metalhead long hair, and staying cool in a black button-down, sleeveless vest) carries it to the endzone with the old school approach to high flying vocals of the classic metal era. From what I’ve heard, the earlier portion of this discography tends to lean towards power metal with the latter end turning a bit more “progressive.” I have to say, the vocal power in this band floored me when it was all said and done. I walked out interested enough to check out their other music, so these guys obviously know what they’re doing.
All photos by Bobby Ellis
Images of Eden are one of those acts that I enjoy much more live. The stage energy alone was enough to make me engage with songs/lyrics that I normally would passively head bop along with while sipping my beer. I love seeing experienced musicians on stage simply because of the sheer amount of FUN they’re having is 100% apparent in their comfort and small stage antics. Their vocalist mentioned brotherhood a good number of times and every bit of stage banter coming out of his mouth was positive and empowering. Being a die-hard Andrew W.K. fan, it was comforting to see the crowd engaging with a completely different narrative than you usually see at metal shows. It might have been the age difference in the musicians as well as the audience, and it might have honestly just been the show, but it felt like more of a comforting return to home than a burn it down house party. A balance must exist within the Force, and this show brought the Zen side of it all in all its bombastic glory. Also, small aside, their bass player TORE. IT. UP. His left hand alone was keeping me from paying attention to much else for a good portion of the set.
All photos by Bobby Ellis
Speaking of experienced musicians, it doesn’t get much more experienced than Metal Church. There is only a tier or two of bands that can boast the career length of this homegrown, quintet of American proto-power-thrashers and their decades of shows is apparent in every stage move. The set moved like butter from song to song, and the Mike Howe cemented why he’s the ultimate frontman of this heavy metal train. Engaging, humble, sincere, and most importantly, still talented as hell! Kurdt Vanderhoof’s facial expressions always make me giggle because I know guitar player face when I see it. Halfway through the set, he apologized for laughing because he felt like they were playing a soundtrack to the horror movie that Black Circle had playing by the pinball machines. Without missing a beat, these musicians have humanized and glorified themselves by simply sharing the night with the audience through their eyes. Even if they didn’t play “Ton of Bricks” like I kept screaming for, I still felt the same energy in “Start the Fire” as I did when I first spun The Dark when I was but a wee lass. Some musicians (looking at you Doyle) could learn from Metal Church’s approach to fans. They offered to sign everything after the show and take selfies until EVERYONE had gotten what they wanted and they damn well stuck to that promise. As I was shuffling out the door, their roadies were waiting by the van to load up again and saying “Thanks for coming to Church! Get home safe!” Just another reminder that tonight was about brotherhood and togetherness as much as getting hammered and banging our heads. Another memorable show was in the books.
All photos by Bobby Ellis
Night Two (5/2/2019): Reggies (Chicago, IL)
Indianapolis seemed to run with the power metal theme while Chicago dug into its own roots and pulled forth a time-honored thrash tradition in the Windy City. Wrath was already setting up for a sound check when I sauntered in, so I decided to look around and see what the place had to offer. Reggies is basically if you took The Emerson’s space (minus the bathrooms thankfully) and mixed it with the Vogue’s stage/lighting/sound system and put a bunch of eclectically badass art on the concrete walls.
Despite Wrath having a decades-long track record, they’re a pretty well-kept secret as far as long-standing metal bands go. Once again, there were mostly older fans standing in the crowd. No young bucks despite Reggie’s being on the Southside and sitting right on State Street. Even with a sea of well-meaning, subjectively mellow fans staring back at them, Gary Golwitzer played frontman extraordinaire and managed to whip up a frenzy with nothing but his crazy eyes, thrash nasty vocals, and band members willing to have a little fun on stage. Fans of old school, triplet-based thrash would have been in heaven as 30 minutes of constant sonic assault felt more like 10 minutes that went by far too quickly. Ending with “Ace of Spades” and absolutely nailing a Lemmy vocal line was perfect ending cigarette burn to the neck breaking intensity they served up with zero remorse. They definitely had me digging into their back catalog a few days after the show. The bass player ripping strings off at the end of their set may or may not have had something to do with that based on player energy alone.
Images of Eden and Metal Church honestly had a better show in Indianapolis than they did in Chicago. The energy was just…different. I know all of their words about togetherness and coming together as a community were just as sincere as the night before, but in a bigger venue, it just seemed…less impactful. The shared experience was less intense and seemed more staged even if the intent was completely genuine. I will say that Stet Howland’s drum solo (a seriously entertaining progression from sticks, to hands, to beer bottles that I was SURE was going to break) got much more feedback, if not exactly louder despite being at least twice to three times as big as Black Circle.
After almost losing my voice to “Start the Fire”…a second time, one of my biggest female idols in metal stepped onto the stage after a VERY specific sound check. Doro might be exacting with her specifications on how she wants her sound set up (I watched her mic tech literally walk off stage take control of the soundboard to get it all correct), but it paid off completely. She kicked off the night with “I Rule the Ruins,” and from there it was pretty much the perfect blend of old school Warlock tunes (mostly off of the Triumph and Agony album, of which I had ZERO complaints about) and her newer offerings. While she’s still kicking out 100% bangers in her classic German style, the older songs still held all the magic for me. “When East Meets West,” “Für Immer,” “Metal Tango,” and “All We Are” were expertly placed to keep the crowd going with singalongs and headbangers alike. Despite screaming “Three Minute Warning” at every song suggestion moment, I didn’t get to hear my absolute favorite Warlock song, and I STILL count this as one of my bucket list bands crossed off the master list. Her voice may have mellowed out from her classic screaming banshee style, but her current vo-kills are still as on point as the day she first put on the leather pants and stunned the world. The three-hour drive there and back was completely worth it to see what might be one of Doro’s final shows in the states.
Forever and always in my heart, I headed home with the voice and image of my strong metal role model to spur me onwards in my own goals. In the end, both nights were about coming together as a community and not just about getting as shit-faced hammered as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rager as much as the next metalhead, but from time to time it’s nice to remember that we can still have a memorable night without feeling like a car wreck the next morning. The one lesson I keep taking away from classic metal shows is to never take yourself seriously but take your music seriously. Hug your friends, let them know they’re loved, and remember that we’re all just outcasts making our way in this crazy world and shows are just like coming home to be with the family who gets us.