Our first dispatch from America's new doom metal Mecca.
All photos by Abigail Cassner
Uusually, Costa Mesa is quiet—our cab driver was an 82-year-old golfer, and cops politely offer directions you didn't even ask for. This weekend, though, the motel down the street from The Observatory belongs to metalheads. There's a necklace made of bones at the bottom of the pool, crushed Tecates in those tiny bins meant for toenail clippings, and Earth said they're having a party in their room. The inaugural edition of Psycho California Fest has come to town, and we're all doomed.
Day one was a solid warm-up for the inevitable reefer madness that'll ensue over the next two days. Familiar riff-lords Eyehategod and Municipal Waste delivered the kind of onslaught you'd expect from two heavy veterans who don't question the polarities between sludge and thrash. Funeral doom wunderkinds Bell Witch (who played lumbering songs off their new album) and rarely-seen Richmond, VA doom crushers Cough (who hypnotized the outdoor stage in an hour-long assault) also stuck out, but I saved my real bloodshot anticipation for Bedemon's first-ever live performance. Sure, their lineup was a far cry from the original—Pentagram's Greg Mayne filled in on bass, and Scott "Wino" Weinrich offered up his pipes in Bobby Liebling's stead—but I still hoped they'd sound the same.
Geof O'Keefe was the only OG Bedemon member present, and while Wino sent out a genuine RIP to the memory of original member Randy Palmer, the late guitarist's absence was undoubtedly felt. The delightful anguish that fans of their lo-fi, debut album, Child of Darkness, treasure was missing entirely, and their rendition of the classic dirge "Drive Me to the Grave" felt rushed. As badass as Wino and his legacy are, he just isn't as troubled and charmingly insecure as young Liebling was in the early 70s, and that self-hating pathos was sorely missed from these songs.
The pinnacle of Friday night's heaviness was the last band of the evening, Chicago's Russian Circles. They lulled every buzzed listener into the crowded room effortlessly, heightening acid trips and inhaling smoke as they played most of their 2006 debut, Enter. They sounded precise, delicate, and most importantly, molasses-thick.
Photographer Abigail Cassner was on hand to document the doom—check out her photos below, and stay tuned for Day 2!