If you’re unfamiliar with Jon Rossi, I will introduce you to the formidable Pilgrim. ‘Twas the year of our lord 2012 and the upswing of this mighty wave of Doom Metal we are currently enduring careened. Along with other contemporary mainstays such as Pallbearer, Magic Circle, Windhand, Conan, and Bell Witch, Pilgrim released their debut full-length to the world. (This year also marked the return of Saint Vitus after a 17-year hibernation.) Not that doom wasn’t well documented before—it most certainly was—but 2011/2012 is when it seemed to break outside of the exclusivity of D&D circles and stoner dorks. Now you could read about it in Decibel and on Pitchfork! Though the genre began to saturate, Pilgrim, for me, maintained a position within the cream of the crop. Their brand was traditional and true-to-form, recalling the likes of Reverend Bizarre, Cathedral, Pagan Altar, Pentagram, Witchfinder General, etc., but they weren’t a mere homage, their shit was as real as it gets. Their riffs would rumble the most miserable of souls, blanketing anyone in earshot in unrelenting sorrow. And it was all thanks to Jon. Sure, Pilgrim was a band, but “The Wizard” was the backbone and driving force, writing all of the music and lyrics. I can’t fathom they’ll continue without him. Rossi was a mere 20 years old when Misery Wizard was released on Metal Blade Records. By age 22, he had released the second album II: Void Worship and embarked on a major 31-date U.S. tour with the reunited stoner doom legends Spirit Caravan, featuring one the most legendary guitarists/vocalists in the business, Scott “Wino” Weinrich (Saint Vitus/The Obsessed).
Thankfully, I was able to see that tour when it came through my hometown, and the bands played in a dive with local heavyweights Eagle Twin (Southern Lord Records) and Dwellers (Small Stone Records) to boot. There may have only been a score of us long-hairs that showed, but boy was it a night to remember. It’s been a few years now, but the main takeaways were that 1. Wino whipped out a giant carafe of wine from behind his speaker cabinet during his set, knifed it open and took a couple swigs before passing it around the crowd to everyone’s delight; and 2. the live presence of Jon Rossi and Pilgrim on stage. They had this aura about them—these very young, yet rugged and balding doom geeks commanded immediate respect with their unyielding maturity in sound. The set began with a brief announcement of apology that all band members were suffering from flu-like symptoms and that what may follow may not be their best. But without further delay, contrarily ripped into what could only be described as an absolute stellar performance. The sore rasp in his whispering preface gave no hint at his sure and serene vocalizing to follow—he gave every ounce to our measly turnout, and assuredly made believers out of us all that night. Afterwards we briefly met, I thanked him, not much more unfortunately, but he was humble and genuine. I could tell he would have liked to continue to converse, had his voice not been shot. And after hearing the outcry of personal stories from many of my friends and acquaintances from around the country after his death, I can’t help but feel a bit envious not knowing him more closely. It was obvious what he and his music meant to so many.
If you have any appreciation of doom metal or just heavy music in general, you can appreciate what Pilgrim had to offer. And I mean “heavy” in every sense of the word. Yes, it is generally loud, but it is also heavy, as in, that it bears weight on your being. Even at his young age of 26, Rossi understood and communicated the sound and language of doom unlike many others, and I will forever keep his tunes in my rotation. As it states in the liner notes of Misery Wizard—their music “...is no place for a hobbit.” I implore you to keep his legacy alive and dig into their records. Hail The Pilgrim. Hail The Wizard. May he rest in peace.