Austin just can’t get enough fests. This city just wallows in them. If you happen to dig something, you can pretty much be certain that this city has figured out a way to make a fest out of it. On the metal/punk front, our festing needs took quite a bit of a hit with the demise of Fun Fun Fun Fest/Sound on Sound. Left in its wake to pick up the pieces is Levitation fest, which primarily caters to the more psychedelic and stone aspects of metal, and our focus of today, Austin Terror Fest. Austin Terror Fest feels more like the true heir apparent to FFF/SOS in that it celebrates the underground over the mainstream in metal/punk/hardcore/industrial styles of heavy music. This year’s version saw the fest move into a couple of larger clubs and sported a multitude of groups from around the world including Panopticon, Alcest, Pig Destroyer, Goatwhore, and Bongripper to name a few.
The big draw of this year’s fest for me was the inclusion of Panopticon. Panopticon is essentially a solo black metal/bluegrass project from a man named Austin Lunn. I have been fascinated by the blending of different styles of music by a few other up-and-coming bands (Zeal and Ardor and Huntsmen come to mind) and the mixing of bluegrass/country/protest songs from the early 1900s with black metal done by Panopticon is one of the more unique approaches I’ve come across. The fact that this is ultimately a one man gang results in Panopticon not doing extensive touring and I was stoked that the organizers of Austin Terror Fest were able to secure his presence at the fest.
Saturday’s day acoustic set was opened by Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell performing songs by Townes Van Zandt. Austin Lunn of Panopticon followed with a set of Blaze Foley covers (who it turns out Lunn is a huge fan of) and then ending with a few of the acoustic songs from Panopticon’s latest The Scars of Man Upon the Once Nameless Wilderness.
One personal fanboy story: As stated above, Panopticon was the main draw for me. I’ve been a really big fan of this band and have been hoping to see Lunn perform his songs live for a number of years now. So, in between Cottrell’s and Lunn’s sets on Saturday, Lunn gets on stage and is setting up his gear. I’m typing notes to the punk rock wife on my phone and not really paying attention. I hear, “Hey, dude! Dude on your phone! Hey, phone dude!” I look up and Lunn is talking to me. “Hey, dude, that shirt you’re wearing is fucking amazing.” I’m wearing a Galactic Cowboys shirt from their first album. Lunn proceeds to go on about how they are one of his favorite bands and tells me about seeing them open for King’s X with his dad when he was growing up. He also says that one of his go-to riffs during sound check is If I Were a Killer from the Space in Your Face album and he proceeds to rip right into it. Just a really cool moment and I probably had a big dumb grin on my face. I never would have pegged the mastermind of Panopticon of being a big fan of Galactic Cowboys or that we would bond over that fact, but there you go. I just absolutely love it when you meet an artist that you’ve looked up to for a number of years and they end up just being salt-of-the-earth, nice as hell folks.
On Sunday night’s show, one of the highlights of the fest for me was seeing Denver’s Dreadnought perform for the first time. Dreadnought plays what has to be described as very progressive post-metal with two female vocalists, a guitarist that occasionally breaks out a flute and a drummer who is able to play the drums and the saxophone at the same time. This was simply an intense set by a band with some serious chops and a definite sense of originality.
Unfortunately for those of us who were eagerly awaiting Panopticon’s black metal set, a serious set of thunderstorms rolled through town and put a halt to the proceedings. The band was able to play an abbreviated set once the torrential rain eased. Even with the shortened set, it was amazing to see some of these songs performed live. The set had a perfect naturalistic feel to it with no overhead lighting of the stage. The illumination of the stage was from light situated on the floor of the stage which resulted in the band members being illuminated from below with lots of shadows.
France’s Alcest finished out Sunday night’s show with a nice rendition of their shoegaze/black metal classics. It felt appropriate that Alcest’s more melodic fare would take to the stage right after the massive storms passed. The tempest past; the calm after the storm.
Kudos to the organizers of the fest for assembling a great lineup this year and for keeping things from spinning out of control during the storms on Sunday night. Communication was great during the entire time during the disruptions of the bands’ sets. It really feels like this fest is coming into its own. It will be interesting to see where this thing is for 2020’s version.