Wow. Just wow. What a way to end a long week. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of witnessing a show on the inside stage of Hotel Vegas in Austin, let me explain. It is small. It is dark. It is cramped. It’s a space to see music up close and personal. Spirit Adrift, in my opinion, is one of these young metal bands that is right on the cusp of blowing up good. And to see them in the grimy and no-frills environment of Hotel Vegas on their way up through the trenches was a cool treat to see. I really believe these guys have the chops and the stage presence/charisma to propel this band into the mainstream metal public’s consciousness. It won’t be long before these guys are playing much larger venues. I implore you to seek these guys out when they play your town and especially go pick up their latest, Divided By Darkness.
Death Metal Monday should really be a thing. Nothing like slagging through the first day of the work week and ending it at a sparsely filled metal club while getting bludgeoned by a wall of death metal sounds. Makes the following Tuesday morning alarm an absolute treat.
So, here’s one of these shows where I went primarily to check out the opening band. Chicago’s Warforged is touring off their debut full-length (see review of I: The Voice from June 7). I was so impressed by this quirky album that I decided to spend my Monday evening checking out their live show. And it didn’t disappoint. These guys don’t really look the part of a metal band appearance-wise, but they brought a confident and energetic set of songs from said debut album. These guys have a different spin on your traditional death metal sound and it keeps things interesting. I’m looking forward to see where these guys take it in the future.
This is in stark comparison to headliner Inanimate Existence. IE is among the technical death metal bands with whom I find myself increasingly frustrated. These guys have talent for miles. The technical chops of these guys are completely off the charts. But, it feels as though riffing and especially soloing as fast as humanly possible has become the sole focus here instead of crafty truly memorable songs. Songs just run seamlessly into one another with no real personality or hook to differentiate one from the next. Just stomp on the gas and let this puppy rip. And I guess that’s cool for the first couple of songs, but I just kind of lost focus over the remainder of the set.
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.
From bombastic swells to quiet interludes, MONO’s set last night ran the gamut of post-metal soundscapes. I’m new to MONO only having purchased their latest album, Nowhere Now Here, a couple of months ago. From my limited exposure to their sound and from last night’s extravaganza, I have to put them in the same sort of category as Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, but just way, waaaaaayyyyy heavier. You’ll notice that the video sample of their set below was shot from fairly far back in the crowd. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was way up close for their first two songs and then had to retreat from the absolute sonic assault that issued forth from this fearsome foursome from Japan. Damn, this was the loudest show I can remember in recent memory. My ears are damn near destroyed already from years of doing this shit, but Jesus, I felt downright pain when they started in on the heavy shit. The very definition of a wall of sound.
“My name is Emma and I’d like to share some songs with you.” Opening up the show this evening was Emma Ruth Rundle and her backing band. Rundle has been in a few other projects (Marriages and Red Sparowes) over the years, but seems to be focusing mainly on this cool solo effort of late. Her latest album, Dark Horses, is somewhat following in the early Chelsea Wolfe footsteps in laying out an almost dark and gothic folk style of music. In a way, I could see her solo material fitting right in on a soundtrack of a western movie directed by Jim Jarmusch, if that makes any sense at all.
At any rate, this was a cool and unique double bill. It was cool to see a couple of bands that provide a little something different than what I normally get into.
Emma Ruth Rundle
Seeing Royal Thunder in person is witnessing what it is truly like for a hard working band slogging through the trenches of metal in a bid to get their music out to a wider audience. This was not a glamorous scene. It wasn’t the high gloss of stardom you see out at the 360 Amphitheater or at the Moody Theater. This is done purely for the love of the music and an innate passion to push the vehicle forward regardless of the venue or of the size of the crowd. And I just find seeing bands this talented and underappreciated as Royal Thunder are as an inspiring story. No one is getting rich here. This is a grind. And the most amazing thing is that their station in the world of music could lead them to become jaded assholes. But it doesn’t. These guys sincerely seem appreciative from whatever positive feedback comes from the crowd. I don’t know what the future holds for Royal Thunder, but I hope they get some positive breaks in the future. Because they are simply an amazing band with a sound that is unique in the metal world. It’s world weary rock n’ roll all delivered through the passionate vocals of Mlny Parsonz. I always said that I felt Chris Cornell had the best voice in the metal world. With his passing, I honestly believe that Miss Parsonz has claimed that mantle. Just amazing pipes.
Please go support these guys if they make it through your town. Buy a ticket and spring for an album/tour shirt/sticker if you are able. I can’t implore this enough. These bands are the life-blood of metal. This story deserves a happy ending.
Forgive Me Karma
So, a number of years ago, when the punk rock wife and I first started dating, we would engage in a version of 20 questions in an attempt to get to know each other a little better. One of the questions she asked me on one of our early dates was: what band have you not seen perform live that you really want to see? My answer was twofold: Pain of Salvation and Riverside. Neither band has ever done a ton of touring in the U.S. and neither of them had made their way through Texas as of 2011. Well, lo and behold, I have now knocked both of these bands off of my “to do” list after seeing Pain of Salvation in Houston early in 2018 and now getting to see Riverside play at the really nice intimate outdoor stage of Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill in Dallas.
Sometimes when you wait a really long time to experience something in person the expectations are so large that the actual event can’t help but not live up to those lofty expectations. This was not the case on Wednesday night. Riverside simply obliterated my expectations by giving one of the more memorable live shows I have witnessed in some time. There live performance really solidified Riverside in my mind as one of the true powerhouses of prog metal of the 2000s. They have found that sweet spot in prog where the blending of technical prowess and songwriting go hand in hand to create something sweeping. Take the best aspects of Porcupine Tree, Rush and Pink Floyd and it will give you a sense of what Riverside is up to. This was just a fantastic show and this is definitely a bandwagon that you should jump on if you haven’t already.
In addition to Riverside, a duo of twin brothers named Contrive opened up the show with an impressive display. I had no ideas of who these guys were before I showed up and I’m always kind of skeptical about non-traditional lineups such as this one (one brother on drums, one brother on guitar/vocals), but these guys pounded out some really solid songs and didn’t see to miss the omission of a bass player in their ranks. There is always a new band and always new music to be found.
Oh, and the new bands taking it’s place at the top of the list of bands I still haven’t seen: Cult of Luna and Meshuggah.
Reality Dream I
Second Life Syndrome
Struggle For Survival
So, when you get to the point where you create a fest around yourself, you’ve either had one hell of a long and prosperous career or you’re just an egomaniacal jackass. Or both.
Michael Schenker is one of those guys who I’ve found is usually a bellwether for ferreting out whether someone is a true metalhead or not. If you know who he is, or better yet, you know some of his albums, you’re one of us and you can stay. He’s one of those guitar gods who should be more well known than he is, but for some reason has never reached the mainstream consciousness of, say, a Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Tony Iommi or Slash. Schenker always seemed to hover just under the surface of mainstream fanfare even though he was a leading force of two very influential metal powers: UFO and the Michael Schenker Group.
Saturday night was a celebration of the man’s career. The focus was mainly on songs from his MSG days with a smattering of UFO classics and a few songs he contributed to his brother’s band, Scorpions. Along for the ride were four singers who fronted different eras of MSG: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley and Doogie White. All told, these aging rockers pulled off an impressive set that lasted over two and a half hours. A lovely evening of nostalgia was had by all of the fossils in the crowd and on the stage.
The Desert Song
Tasmania. Virginia. France. Three bands, three countries and all brought together on the same bill in the celebration of metal.
First on the bill was France’s Gorod. France is not one of the European nations known for producing metal bands. Sure, Gojira has shown a light on what the country can bring to the scene, but quantity-wise, France hasn’t produced in the way some of their European neighbors have done. Gorod brings a highly technical death metal that focuses on intricate rhythms and an almost jazz-fusion type sound. Their set was dominated by drummer Karol Diers’ fierce double-bass drum fury. I spent their entire set just being pummeled by the concussive blasts coming from his kit.
Second up was Richmond motherfucking Virginia’s Cannabis Corpse. I’ve kind of been on the fence with these guys up to this point because I’m not a big fan of the joke metal bands, i.e. Mac Sabbath and Galactic Empire. Metal has enough trouble getting respect as a legitimate art form without having these kinds of gimmicky bands out there. I don’t know. Maybe I just need to lighten up. Anyway, these guys are silly, but they did bring some pretty decent live chops. At any rate, you’ve got Cannibal Corpse inspired death metal combined with lyrics celebrating the almighty bud. Extra props for bring out a hype-man dressed in a pot bud costume who proceeded to jump off of the stage and start up a banging circle pit.
Headlining our death metal smorgasbord was Tasmania’s Psycroptic. Another highly technical death metal band that combines it with a bit more groove a-la Lamb of God or Decapitated. Their set was short and sweet, but provided a pretty good mix of older songs and ones of of their latest, As the Kingdom Drowns.
There are times when I go to shows and I start to wonder if I’m getting a little too old for this shit. Sometimes I’m the only haggard dude with grey hair in the pit and I have to wonder what the youngsters slamming into me must think of the feeble idiot in the flip flops. And, then I think about the music I get to see performed live and how much joy I get out of it and I just say, “Fuck it.” I could care less about how out of place I may seem.
And then there was Wednesday night. I have to say that I felt out of place for an entirely different reason. The crowd who came out to see Robin Trower do his thing made me feel downright spry and relevant. Pressed khakis, Life Alert bracelets and portable oxygen tanks were the order of the day for these fogies. No moshpits for this crowd. Shit, the closest thing to a metal tour shirt I saw was a Roger Waters shirt. So, once again, I felt like the oddball in my Nevermore shirt and flip flops. I just can’t win.
Anyway, I’m not sure why there weren’t more old school metalheads in the crowd because Trower is fucking metal. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but the series of albums he and his power trio put out in the 1970s are pure guitar magic. He delivers a relaxed, laid-back version of metal, if you will. His combination of blues with flavorings of Hendrix-inspired psychedelic shadings led to some of the underground gems of the classic era of 1970s rock. This night’s setlist vacilitated between his classic material and some of his newer songs. The newer stuff was fine, but the classic era stuff was just amazing to witness live. At 74, Trower looks frail in person, but that sound! Damn! There are certain notes and passages that he hit and they just crackled with life. It’s always interesting to see how one person can put his or her’s stamp on an instrument and Trower has this ability to hit chords that just cut through the air with an intensity and purposefulness that most guitarists will never reach. I’m really glad I got to finally witness this dude lay down his magic live.
Bridge of Sighs
Well, this was another of those well put together triple bills of different kinds of metal that just meshed really well in execution. The only downside to this show was due to the fact that it was on the outside stage during an unseasonably windy and cold evening in Austin. I was a veritable ice cube by the end of the show. So, I hope you appreciate the effort I put in to bring you this report.
Ever since Yob came out with last year’s Our Raw Heart (#2 slot in the 2018 Best of Metal List), I’ve been itching to see them come through town to perform the new songs live. In addition, due to head honcho Mike Scheidt’s health scare from a few years back, you don’t want to take any Yob show for granted. Thankfully, it seems as though Scheidt is back to full health and he was downright frenetic and ferocious in his performance Saturday night in Austin. This was a spirited set performed by one of doom’s preeminent bands and surprisingly, featured a setlist that only contained one track off of the new album. I’ll be perfectly honest that I was a tad disappointed that the new album wasn’t more prominently featured in the songs presented, but the setlist did contain a wide range of songs from throughout Yob’s career. It really felt as if Scheidt crafted the setlist with the most diehard Yob fan in mind.
Second on the bill for the evening was Canadian sci-fi prog thrash band Voivod. Hard to believe, but Voivod has been toiling away in the metal trenches now for 35+ years and this is the very first time I’ve witnessed their live show. Voivod brings a stage show that is equal parts frenetic thrash, goofy Canadian stage antics and rollicking crowd participation. Frontman Snake Belanger is one of those singers who has so mastered the art of facial expressions that it becomes one of the infectious portions of their show.
Opening the show was post-metal band Amenra from Belgium. This was my first experience with this band, but they come across very much in the Neurosis vein of sludgey post-metal. Their sound alternates between almost spiritual-like atmospheric segments that blend into bombastic pounding sections. Vocalist Colin van Eeckhout provides a plaintive type screeching vocal style that invokes someone in a great deal of emotional pain. Their opening set honestly left me feeling a tad drained. Not in a bad way, but the performance was just very brutal and raw.
Sadly, no video snippets are available from this show. The lighting on the stage was minimal for all three bands and I just wasn’t able to capture any decent footage to share.