On the Road with Night Demon in the Rust Belt
August 16-18, 2018
With Night Demon’s meteoric rise to prominence in continental Europe, full-fledged US tours have become something of a rarity. (To be fair, the band have been really good about performing select festival dates in the US to maintain a presence for their American friends and fans as much as possible.) Their last American tour was in March/April 2017, supporting Anvil, prior to the release of their Darkness Remains masterpiece. To think back to Night Demon’s last full headlining tour of the States, one must rewind all the way to late spring 2016, when they did their Final Curse tour (which marked guitarist Armand John Anthony’s first touring appearances with the band). So when I heard the news that Night Demon were squeezing in a 19-date US/Canadian headlining tour, sandwiched between two European runs, I was hellbent on attending, even though the tour was not coming anywhere near me. I ended up hopping a plane and catching a string of three shows: Chicago; Hilliard, Ohio; and Detroit. Here’s how it all happened …
Reggies Music Joint
August 16, 2018
For once, I had the luxury of a direct flight from my home in the hinterlands; thus, I clambered off the plane at O’Hare late Thursday morning energized and ready to rock. The band were making the looong drive from Kansas City, where they’d played last night, so I had some time to kill. Fortunately, Chicago is one of my favorite places in the world to kill time, so I knew just what to do. Over the span of four or five hours, I walked all around downtown, Grant Park, Millenium Park, Buckingham Fountain, the Bean, etc., but settled in at a bar with outdoor seating on the Riverwalk. It was a beautiful day in Chicago, so I sat in the shade, sipped various Revolution Brewing concoctions, and watched the water, the skyline and the people. It was glorious. When I finally roused myself for a bit more walking, my ears were assaulted by the unmistakable sound of fighter jet engines, coming in low and fast. (I’m an Air Force brat, so that sound is permanently engrained in my ears and heart, haha.) Was Chicago under attack? No, it was the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s elite demonstration team, performing maneuvers in F-16s flying perilously close to the downtown skyscrapers. It was a thing of beauty to behold, and I grinned like an idiot watching every strafing run and aerobatic maneuver as the jet engines screamed through the air. Ahhh, lovely day in Chicago.
By 5:00 p.m. or so, I meandered down State Street to Reggies, a venue that I have frequented many times for the Ragnarokkr and Legions of Metal festivals. It felt oddly surreal to be at Reggies for a non-festival occasion. Same club, same surroundings, same staff, but a markedly different event. Reggies has two rooms, and Night Demon were booked into the smaller of the two, the “Music Joint,” which probably holds 100-150 people. Curiously, a few weeks ago, Reggies announced that it had unilaterally combined the Night Demon / Blood Star tour with another tour, headlined by Black Tusk, featuring a totally different style of metal. The result was an awkward five-band bill, with Blood Star playing first, Night Demon playing third, and both of them getting relatively short sets before giving way to bands who sound nothing like them. Can’t imagine there was a lot of overlap in the fanbases, but Reggies are no dummies: They managed to get the Music Joint damn near full of people at the peak parts of the night, whereas either tour on its own likely would not have done so.
At 7:00, it was time for my first encounter with Utah’s BLOOD STAR, the Night Demon touring openers. The name may not ring a bell, because Blood Star is a new entity with no recorded output; however, the pedigree should be familiar. The four-piece features guitarist Jamison Palmer (Visigoth) and bassist Noah Hadnutt (who has filled in on multiple Visigoth tours and also plays in a killer band called Sanctifyre). Madi Smith (also known as Mrs. Jamison Palmer) commanded the lead vocals, and drummer extraordinaire Dan Alexander presided over the kit. Great players, great people. But they had a tough assignment tonight. When they launched into their opening number, “The Fear,” Reggies staff had yet to clear away all the tables in front of the stage. Thus, the front rows were empty tables. I found a spot in a corner close to Jamison, but most patrons hovered in the back, at least until the tables were finally removed midway through their set. That said, you’d never have known it by watching the band members onstage. They only had six songs to work with, but they made them count, with an energetic performance that surely won over many new fans. More ‘80s mainstream metal (Dio/Maiden/Priest would be fair points of comparison) than the mighty epic metal clout of Visigoth (although there are a few similarities in Jamison’s playing, of course), Blood Star is an easy band to enjoy. Despite being unfamiliar with the material, I was struck by how strong the five original songs were, all firmly in the traditional metal mold except for the more rockin’, groovy “Stiff Liver” (“a song about drinking” is how Madi introduced it, and it reminded me of early Riot, which is a good thing). Blood Star also included a high-octane cover of Twisted Sister’s classic “Stay Hungry,” that sounded awesome. Nice work, Blood Star. It’s easy to see why Night Demon selected you for this tour. You may be unknown at the moment, but I am certain you won’t be for long. Setlist: The Fear, Stiff Liver, Stay Hungry, Stalking the Beast, Tortured Earth, Fearless Priestess.
At 9:00 p.m., it was NIGHT DEMON’s turn. Although the room had filled up nicely, it was definitely not a headlining set for them. Ten songs. Other than the fog machine, no real stage production, banners, scrims, lighting effects, etc. Just the boys from Ventura bringing it hard, fast and heavy for 45 minutes of pure, unadulterated adrenaline. The nine originals were essentially a best-of from their three releases (4 from Darkness, 3 from Curse, 2 from the EP), and all sounded stellar. With so much rigorous touring under their belts, Night Demon are a well-oiled machine and they just ripped through the set like a ball of relentless, feverish intensity. Late in the set, they realized they had time to add a song, so on the fly they worked in their cover of the Scorpions’ “In Trance,” which was debuted to massive success on Night Demon’s European dates this spring and summer. I heard them play it twice at European festivals in July and I’ve gotta say, it sounded even better tonight. Jarvis’s vocal delivery is perfect now, Armand really captures the feel of the song, and Dusty’s drumming perfectly balances nuance and power. Night Demon have done many outstanding covers in their career thus far (“Axe Crazy,” “Lightning to the Nations,” “Wasted Years,” “Radar Love,” etc. etc.), but “In Trance” just might be my favorite. It’s a guaranteed goosebump moment in the set. And the tune received a great reaction from the Reggies crowd. Another interesting part of this gig was it my first Night Demon show in some time in which I did not play the band’s mascot, Rocky. (Jamison from Blood Star got the honors tonight.) I must say, as much as I love doing the Rocky thing, it felt a little strange, but was good to watch “The Chalice” from the audience’s perspective. The band commented later that was weird for them to see me in the crowd when they were playing that song, haha. Setlist: Welcome to the Night, Full Speed Ahead, Hallowed Ground, Dawn Rider, Howling Man, Black Widow, Screams in the Night, The Chalice, In Trance, Night Demon.
Since there were two more bands yet to play, we had to load out immediately after Night Demon finished. This was a bit of a challenge because the room was crowded and all the gear had to be carried through the narrow space between the bar and the bathrooms, and out the front door. When that task was completed, I assumed merch duties for awhile so that Cara (Night Demon’s merchandiser / lighting tech / one-woman wrecking crew / all-around badass) could catch a black metal band from Poland playing next door. I didn’t know her inventory system or what the prices were, but thanks to some patient customers and a little ingenuity on my part, we got it all figured out and sent everyone home happy. (Special thanks to my friend Phil, who lives in Chicago and whom I know from my day job. Despite – or maybe because of – having a newborn at home and not being a metal guy at all, Phil showed up at the gig to support Night Demon and even bought a t-shirt afterwards. You rock, Phil.) After that, things got a little silly. Reggies kept serving us all until after 1:30 a.m. The alcohol was flowing freely. As some point, a friend bought me a shot of Melort, which is supposedly the traditional “welcome to Chicago” shot. Damn, Chicago, what the hell is wrong with you? That’s the nastiest shot I ever drank in my life, so of course I had to wash it down with multiple beers, haha. Eventually, it was time to hit the road, so we said our good-nights, went outside in the rain, and piled into the van at around 2:00 a.m. for the overnight drive to Ohio.
August 17, 2018
Mother Nature decided to make the drive to Ohio more exciting than usual. There were hours of torrential downpours and some of the most intense lightning flashes I’ve ever seen. Thankfully, the ever-steady Dusty was utterly unflappable behind the wheel, and he kept us moving down the way all night long without incident. That said, I didn’t sleep much with that light show going on. So it was a bit disorienting to stumble out of the van sometime after 9:00 a.m. in a mostly rural residential area of Ohio. We had arrived at the legendary Satan’s Den. “What’s that?” you ask. Let me put it to you this way: When I approached Night Demon about joining them for a few shows on this tour, and floated a few different options, they were emphatic: “You’ve got to come to the Satan’s Den show.” So here I am. Now, Satan’s Den isn’t a night club. It isn’t a music hall. It isn’t any kind of traditional venue at all. It’s a dude’s garage, situated next to a cornfield in what looks to be the middle of nowhere. But it’s not like your garage or my garage. No sir, this is the mother of all garages, combined somehow with the mother of all man caves. At one end is a large stage and fixed drum riser (larger than most club stages I’ve ever seen). There are video games, a Metallica pinball machine, foosball, a pool table. There are numerous neon signs, including a big Yuengling sign. There are refrigerators filled with abundant quantities of beer and soft drinks. There are shelves holding dozens of empty Jack Daniels bottles. One wall includes a jaw-dropping Night Demon shrine/museum (for lack of a better term), with framed vinyl, patches, photos, setlists, drumsticks, picks, and so on. The guy is basically the consummate Night Demon collector/archivist, and I think he owns more ND memorabilia than anyone on the planet, including many “rare items” (inside joke, haha) that cannot be found anywhere else. A large red Satan figure hovers on the center wall, near the ceiling, where the garage addition was built earlier this year. And there is room for as many as 200 spectators. This was no ordinary garage. This is a place where headbangers’ dreams become reality, sort of a heavy metal Brigadoon, if you will. (Does anyone know Brigadoon anymore? You know, the magical Scottish village that arises out the mist for one day every 100 years. Yeah, it’s like that. And like Brigadoon, once you’ve visited Satan’s Den, it’s a place you want to stay for the rest of your life.)
Our host, Steve Yoder, and his family went out of their way to make us all feel welcome and comfortable. If it felt like the lap of luxury to me – and it certainly did – I can only imagine what a much-needed respite from the rigors and hardships of touring life it must have been for the Night Demon and Blood Star clans. Our every need was attended to with perfect, utmost hospitality. There were abundant air mattresses in the basement with plenty of room for us all to crash for a few hours after the harrowing overnight drive. There was coffee and donuts in the morning, followed a few hours later by a barbecue with plenty of delicious food for all. There was a swimming pool and diving board that allowed for a very relaxing session of drinking Yuenglings and lounging in the pool in the afternoon. Man, this was living right. Yoder even printed up custom Satan’s Den merch, in the form of t-shirts (which I will proudly wear) and koozies (which I have already proudly used). Unbelievable.
Of course, there was also a gig that night. Now, you might think that with Satan’s Den being located essentially in the middle of nowhere that attendance would be sparse. Think again. As you may know, Cleveland may be Night Demon’s greatest stronghold in the United States. The love affair between band and city is so strong that ND chose to record their first live album, the newly released Live Darkness (which is mandatory listening for every metalhead worth his or her salt), in Cleveland last December. Now, Cleveland is roughly 140 miles northeast of Hilliard, but dozens of die-hards in Night Demon shirts drove down I-71 on a Friday afternoon to make the pilgrimage to Satan’s Den and support their heroes. That’s really cool by me because I know many fantastic people in Cleveland, and it was a joy to be able to hang out and rock out with so many of them in Hilliard tonight. Also, there were friends of mine from Detroit who made the drive down, and other friends who flew up from Atlanta. The word about Satan’s Den is getting out, and folks came from near and far to be part of the experience. Ultimately, how many people were there? I don’t know, but 150 seems like a reasonable estimate. The Den was well-populated for all the bands tonight.
I missed the first band because of the aforementioned swimming pool diversion; however, I made damn sure to get into the Den in time for Cleveland’s own OLATHIA. The band is led by a powerhouse female lead singer, Chris E., an awesome person who has been my friend for well over a decade now. Somehow, I had never seen Olathia perform live (how did that happen anyway?), so I was determined to take advantage of the opportunity tonight, finding a nice spot right at the front of the stage. With a lethal twin-guitar attack and a sound rooted in traditional metal, but also elements of thrash and modern metal, Olathia put on an extremely convincing show in front of what was obviously a partisan crowd that loves the band and their music. Chris is a captivating and intense frontwoman, and her powerful voice cut through the Den’s din (say that five times fast, haha) effortlessly. I was also very impressed by the players in the band, and I couldn’t believe it when Chris told me later that this lineup of the band is quite new. They play like seasoned vets, and the chemistry is obvious. Here’s hoping this configuration of Olathia remains in place for years to come. In terms of setlist, Olathia played two songs off their well-received Hunters album (“Hellhound” and “Seven Deadly Sins”), as well as several off the forthcoming Snake Charmers. To end things on a high note, Olathia closed out their set with a rousing cover of Maiden’s “The Trooper,” always a crowd-pleaser. It sounded great. During the second verse, Chris spotted me, walked over and gave me the mike to belt out damn near the whole verse, with arms on each other’s shoulders and looking into each other’s eyes. It was quite a moment for me with my dear friend, and one I shan’t forget anytime soon. (The rest of the audience would have much preferred if Chris had sung that verse rather than I, haha. Sorry, y’all. I have no ability, but I have enthusiasm for miles, if that counts for anything.) Chris rules. Olathia rules. Check ‘em out, and keep your eyes peeled for Snake Charmer.
Next up was BLOOD STAR, and wow, what a difference a day makes. As noted, they had tough sledding in Chicago through no fault of their own, but tonight was obviously much more fun for them. They had a full room and a fired-up crowd, and the big smiles onstage told the tale. They were visibly having a blast up there. The audience loved them. For me, it was cool to hear the 5 originals a second time because I realized I now have a favorite song: “Tortured Earth.” No knock on any of their other tunes, but damn, “Tortured Earth” is an absolute hammer of a song. Can’t wait to have a recorded version of this track. It was pretty much the same setlist as Chicago, with the addition of one more cover, “Wild Child” from W.A.S.P. I dearly love that song, and Blood Star absolutely did it justice. I must say, “Stay Hungry” and “Wild Child” are both perfect covers for that band to do, and they knocked them both out of the park. It was also great to have some time to hang out with the band (and their merch person, Jasmine) later that night. Awesome people. As we talked, they revealed that they had a third cover song prepared (Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone”), so I pleaded with them to play it tomorrow night in Detroit. Were my entreaties successful? Read on and all shall be revealed. Setlist: The Fear, Stiff Liver, Stay Hungry, Stalking the Beast, Tortured Earth, Wild Child, Fearless Priestess.
If you’re headlining Satan’s Den, you can’t just go out there and play your regular set. For NIGHT DEMON, tonight marked their third time performing on this hallowed ground, so they were well aware that the Den deserved something more. When they solicited my input, I pushed for “Ancient Evil” (which I always do whenever they ask, because that song rules) and “Satan” (how can you play Satan’s Den and not do this ode to the Master himself?), both of which are rarities in the ND live arsenal. Overall, they put together a 90-minute, 19-song set for tonight that was guaranteed to make everyone happy. By the way, I never cease to be impressed at how Night Demon are able to play basically anything from their catalogue at the drop of a hat, and they play it damn near flawlessly. Do you realize how rare this is? Most bands prepare X number of songs for a tour, and that’s all they know how to play. If you request something else, they can’t do it. Not Night Demon. They know it all, with no need for rehearsals or tuning-room jams or any other b.s. They just come out and nail it. (By the way, they were playing “Run for Your Life” – another live rarity – during sound check tonight and tomorrow night, which I thought was super cool, as well.) The stage had the proper Night Demon look to it: huge Darkness Remains backdrop, Dustin’s Night Demon drum kit, cabinets emblazoned with the ND symbol. Stage looked great. The band played even greater, tearing mercilessly through their set and slaying the entire audience. Did I mention it was hot in the Den? Holy crap, it was hot. I’ve been to sauna-like shows before, but this one may take the cake. I would raise my fist or throw horns or whatever, and could see rivers of sweat pouring down my arm. After the gig, my jeans were soaked all the way through, so much so that I literally had to wring them out. (Gross, right?) Even the contents of my wallet were soaked. Seriously, I had to take the dollar bills out of my wallet the next day to air dry them, hahaha. Yeah, it was hot in there. But there was such a feeling of family, of kindred spirits. Usually, I go to a ND gig and I go upfront and go nuts like I always do, and I look around and see a handful of people doing the same thing. Tonight, *everyone* was. I was locking arms with both friends and total strangers, singing word-for-word together at the top of our lungs. It was a shared, communal experience, borne of our mutual love for this amazing band. I’m not a religious man, but I would imagine the feeling is a bit like, I dunno, a Baptist revival or something. We were all united, we were all one, and Night Demon led us all to the promised land. At the appropriate time, I took a turn onstage as Rocky during “The Chalice,” but with a twist. The titular goblet was filled with straight Jack Daniels. I’ve never done that before, but Satan’s Den seemed the perfect location for such an experiment. I also spoke ahead of time with each person in the front to whom I intended to offer The Chalice, to warn them and make sure none of them would be surprised when the silver vessel reached their lips and burning whiskey entered their throats, haha. It went amazingly well, although there were several reports later that Rocky managed to get more Jack on people’s shirts than in their mouths. Sorry about that. Really can’t see a damn thing in that mask. Another special bonus tonight was hearing Night Demon’s version of Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold,” a song that featured Armand and that frankly he was born to play. Wow! The transition from “Stranglehold” into “Heavy Metal Heat” was also a thing of beauty. Best Night Demon show ever? I don’t know if I can say that. I’ve seen a lot of amazing Night Demon shows. But this one was special, Top 5 material for sure. And it will live in my heart always. Setlist: Welcome to the Night, Full Speed Ahead, Hallowed Ground, Dawn Rider, Howling Man, Maiden Hell, Ancient Evil, Satan, Stranger in the Room, Life on the Run, Black Widow, Save Me Now, Screams in the Night, The Chalice, Flight of the Manticore, In Trance, Stranglehold, Heavy Metal Heat, Night Demon.
The show was over, but the after-party in the Den carried on long into the night. There was another session in the swimming pool to cool off after the gig. There were beers upon beers and fantastic conversations for miles. It was a truly epic night. I convey my honest and sincere gratitude to Steve Yoder, his family, everyone associated with Satan’s Dan, and all the truly awesome people from Ohio and beyond who helped make this such a special night. You made me feel like family. This one’s going to stay with me for a very long time, and I’ve got the Satan’s Den t-shirts and koozies to remind me, even as the Den (like Brigadoon) vanishes in the mists.
August 18, 2018
I awakened on my comfy air mattress in the basement to find an open, nearly full can of PBR by my bedside. “That’s funny,” I thought. “I never drink PBR.” I guess I did last night. It was that kind of night. Didn’t want to waste the beer, and I thought a little hair of the dog might help clear the cobwebs, so I sipped on that PBR all morning. Classy, right? By late morning, I went outside to help with the load-out. It felt strange to see the Den in broad daylight the morning after, but it also reaffirmed that last night was actually real, which is a good thing. Remarkably, the place wasn’t trashed. The concert attendees did not take advantage of Yoder’s hospitality by messing up the place; rather, the Den looked to be in fine shape, which was really heartwarming to see. Anyway, by early afternoon, we were on the road for Detroit. Some of the Hilliard/Cleveland folks were coming along, so Armand drove with them, making for a nice little convoy as we marched down the road.
I had never been to Detroit before. I was stoked. I know, lots of people say Detroit’s a dump, or whatever. But my life changed forever when I was 8 years old and I heard a song called “Detroit Rock City.” Holy crap, Detroit must be the most amazing place on the entire planet if it inspired a song like that. So I was already for the occasion today, with my KISS shirt and everything. When we got to the venue, I went around front and took a selfie with the Token Lounge sign, which I then posted along with some “Detroit Rock City” lyrics. Only later that night my Michigan friends broke the unhappy news to me that I wasn’t actually in Detroit. I was in Westland, which is outside of Detroit. Curses! Foiled again!
I’ve gotta say The Token Lounge is a nice venue. Big stage, nice room, good viewing angles. The walls are covered with signed photos of bands that have played there, and it’s a lot of bigger named bands. This place gets more than just underground tours, it gets fairly mainstream metal tours as well (you know, prominent Nuclear Blast bands and that sort of thing), which was cool to see. I loved the black-and-white checkerboard floor in front of the stage. Honestly, my only beef with the place was that when I went to the bar and tried to order a Michigan beer, they said they didn’t have any. What? How can you not serve any local (or even semi-local) beer? So I went with Fat Tire instead. Whatever …
Another cool feature about tonight was it reminded me what a small, tight-knit community we are. Here I was, in a place where I had never been, far far from home. Yet I probably knew 20 people here tonight. A friend looked at me incredulously as I stopped our conversation repeatedly to give hellos and hugs to so many folks, saying, “Is there anyone here you don’t know?” That’s a really good feeling. I love our heavy metal family, wherever we may be found around the globe. It always makes me so happy to see familiar smiling faces, no matter where I am. You know who you are.
I was warned beforehand that Night Demon has had poor luck with attendance in Detroit, so expectations were fairly low tonight. As it turned out, however, attendance was quite respectable. Lots of people turned out, and they all seemed to be real fans who knew the songs and were into Night Demon. Cool. In terms of the gig itself, Blood Star’s performance was noteworthy tonight because I was so curious as to whether they would play their third cover. They rolled through their regular set (same one they played at the Den last night), then said their goodnights, so I felt bummed that it wasn’t going to happen. Much to my delight, however, Blood Star came back out for an encore which was, you guessed it, their take on Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone.” It was a suitably metaled up version, and Madi sang it great, I thought. Nice. So glad I got to hear this one once on this run. As for Night Demon, they delivered a killer 15-song set that miraculously included two songs I hadn’t heard them do on this run (the always-awesome “Ritual” and the haunting “Darkness Remains”). No “In Trance” tonight, but they did “Stranglehold” again in honor of the Motor City Madman. Great show, great night. Setlist: Welcome to the Night, Full Speed Ahead, Hallowed Ground, Dawn Rider, Howling Man, Black Widow, Ritual, Stranger in the Room, Screams in the Night, The Chalice, Flight of the Manticore, Life on the Run, Darkness Remains, Stranglehold, Night Demon.
At 6:00 a.m. the next morning, I called an Uber and headed to the Detroit Airport. Hah, I actually did make into Detroit on this trip, after all! As I traveled home, my mind was racing with happy memories of so many awesome experiences over the last three days. Huge thanks to Night Demon, Cara, Blood Star, and all of the incredible people I hung out with on this run. Music is life.
~ Report by Kit Ekman ~