“All the important people are here tonight,” Night Demon frontman Jarvis Leatherby said to the crowd of maybe 50 people gathered at the Cheyenne Saloon on Friday night for Doom in June, the fourth annual doom-metal festival from local promoter Marco Barbieri. The small crowd (which swelled to around 75 later in the evening) might have been nothing compared to the hordes at festivals like Punk Rock Bowling or Life Is Beautiful, but there was no doubt that everyone in the venue was a dedicated metalhead. Barbieri himself has kept the festival going through nothing more than devotion to the music, and the fans who made it out to this year’s edition clearly appreciated his efforts.
Broadly speaking, doom metal is directly descended from early Black Sabbath, with sludgy, slow guitar riffs and lyrics that focus on, well, doom. Seattle trio Wounded Giant embodied that style well, with songs that would have sounded perfectly at home in 1978. The three shirtless dudes (one wearing a patch-covered denim vest) pounded out thick rockers while about seven people stood on the floor in front of the stage, not even enough for a mosh-pit quorum.
Ventura, California’s Night Demon had more of an ’80s vibe, with shorter, punchier songs that recalled the new wave of British heavy metal. They also had an impressive stage presence for such a small-scale event, entering to fog, red lights and a pre-recorded orchestral intro. With his short dark hair and long sideburns, Leatherby looked more rockabilly than metal, but his band delivered on the catchy, tight riffs and the sinister lyrics (“His name is Satan/He rules the underworld”).
Northern California five-piece SpiralArms drew the biggest crowd of the night, with music that tended more toward the stoner-rock end of the doom spectrum (think more ’90s than ’70s). The songs were a bit monotonous, though, and keyboardist Brad Barth was so effectively drowned out that he might as well have stayed home. By the time headliner Big Elf hit the stage just before 11, the crowd had thinned again, but everyone there was one of the important people.