By Jay H. Gorania
Friday, March 16
It seems likely only in some perverse, alternate universe that a former member of Today is the Day would be in a band with a member of Fall Out Boy, but it’s true. It’s Milwaukee’s Enabler.
If it wasn’t for the damn crowds and time consuming travel during this year’s SXSW, Hellbound would have caught their entire set. What few songs we did witness, however, were simply incredible. As far as the element of racehorse intensity, they were more impressive than Black Breath, the evening’s headliner.
Enabler pours death ’n roll-era Entombed, and early ’90s Earache, through a filter of d-beat, crust and thrash. Guitarist/singer Jeff Lohrber, who has played drums for Today is the Day and Trap Them, led the pressing charge not with menace, but with catharsis via his throat-y passionate rasps. And yes, their drummer is Andy Hurley from Fall Out Boy (as well as Earth Crisis and The Damned Things), and you wouldn’t know it by his jackhammering, thrashing assault.
The second band: Winnipeg’s KEN mode. The heat was sweat-inducing at Scoot Inn, a cozy yet spacious outdoor venue a little distance from SXSW’s main area, presumably explaining why drummer Shane Matthewson performed wearing only boxer shorts that surely would provide more comfort considering his exercise through their set that merges noise rock with post-hardcore and touches of post metal.
As usual, frontman Jesse Matthewson stared the crowd down while it sounded as though he was doing his best to tear his vocal chords apart. KEN mode isn’t purely a vicious beast, mind you. Their dynamic, extremely varied music visits a variety of tempos and moods. Some of their slower moments are jaw-dropping, moments when the the songwriting speaks volumes, when notes are plucked and toms are scratched at sparse intervals. It isn’t a doom or sludge kind of slow that is simply rendered heavy via amplification and tuning; instead, it’s because of nuance and appropriate timing and placement within songs. Other bands attempting this would sound either pretentious or awkward, but KEN mode plays a delicate game of tightrope walking that builds tension and a massive sound that includes the silence between the notes.
(Aside: For the second year in a row, there was a guy roaming the venue who looks like Gary from Eyehategod. Pretty cool.)
There’s little surprise that Narrows’ brutal and catchy music was well-played, considering they include members of Botch, These Arms Are Snakes and Unbroken, but measured against the evening’s previous two bands, Narrows came across like a mediocre local opener.
Next up was another “featuring members of” band. All Pigs Must Die is an assortment of Bloodhorse, American Nightmare, The Red Chord and The Hope Conspiracy peeps, most notably Converge drummer Ben Koller, whose spazztastic drum battery fueled their fire. Impressive pedigree aside, though, the most confrontational, in-your-face aspect was singer Kevin Baker. He looked like he wanted to beat the crap out of someone, yet he urged the crowd to come closer, thumbing his nose at the karate kicking douche bags who were merely decorative alpha males littering the pit and immediate area in front of the band. If the majority of the evening’s bands had a common thread, it was a metallic hardcore/crustcore spin on Entombed, and All Pigs Must Die kept sewing that flesh with a bloody needle.
The following band, Ringworm, was one of the exceptions. With Keelhaul’s Aaron Dallison slamming the bass, Cleveland’s legendary metallic hardcore act thrashed their way through a set that was infinitely better than their lackluster performance at last year’s SXSW. If you’re looking for anything forward thinking, you will not find it with Ringworm in 2012. They stand by the simple formula that continues to work for them; their energy was volcanic; and frontman Human Furnace spewed lava from his lungs with some of the most intense, forceful vocals yours truly has ever heard live.
Black Breath rounded the evening out with Swedish death via Seattle. Again, like others this evening who are a part of this likable, growing movement in the US, Black Breath propelled Entombed-style death metal with generous portions of d-beat and crust thrown in the mix.
Saturday, March 17
For the majority of the Brooklyn Vegan show at Lovejoy’s, the crowd was so jam-packed that there was a “one-in, one-out” rule, not an ideal situation since the sauna-like conditions only made the unbathed crowd’s disgusting stench so much more unsavory. Metal people are so gross.
We sadly missed the one-off, multi-instrumental performance by Bruce Lamont and Man’s Gin, but we made it in time to sweat through Pallbearer, whose timeless, lurching, melodic doom was as miserable as the way that everyone there smelled. Brett Campbell‘s passionate, drawn-out vocals elevated the impact and power of the melodic riffs that were already hypnotizing people into a sedated state of slow, rhythmic headbanging.
Atlas Moth’s boring post-metal followed, providing a great opportunity to leave the venue for fresh air.
Nachtmystium followed with a set that sadly didn’t include the psychedelic heart of their current recording direction, instead resting on more traditional black metal trappings. While it wasn’t mind-blowing, it was fist-pumping and thoroughly enjoyable for those who find appeal in the rocking aspects of Hellhammer/Frost or Satyricon.
France’s Alcest was the show’s final act, and their folk-inspired, metallic shoegaze was calm and soothing, and entirely inappropriate for a fest-goer who was in the mood to rage at the onset of a Saturday evening.
Bouncing across the highway back to the ghetto area of Club 1808, we found street sections in the immediate area taped off by police who were investigating an early evening shooting that left a man dead. Unfazed, the area’s regulars seemed to be going about their business as usual.
The prog metal/hard rock outfit Family, the first of three Brooklyn bands playing 1808’s outside/“backyard” stage, was meanwhile traveling through some up-beat, complex and well played songs that stood at the crossroads of Mastodon metal, Zeppelin, and Soundgarden. It was nearly radio-friendly, if it wasn’t for the screamed vocals.
Tiger Flowers followed up with one of SXSW’s best shows. With aspects of noise rock, hardcore and noisecore, they kept things interesting with extreme mood swings, musically. One moment they’ll massage you with brooding, atmospheric flourishes, the next they’ll savagely beat you with a raw intensity that is undeniably genuine and ferocious. Their ringleader…well…he’s a piece of work.
After enjoying outdoor tranquility enhanced by a mouthful of shrooms earlier in the day, their singer Jesse was hunting for whiskey an hour prior to their set. That possibly had an impact on his behavior, but maybe not. The man’s highly entertaining banter in between songs was laid back and endearing, but he was somehow creepy enough that some people might think twice about being alone with him in a room. Maybe it was the manner in which he would frequently feign oral sex, or the way he leaped to the stage’s over-head wooden boards to flip himself around like a monkey. It was a beautiful and charming kind of madness. But it wasn’t all showmanship. The man can scream and growl with the best of them.
They were a tough act to follow, however Meek is Murder was up to the task, not with an equally maniacal frontman or any kind of stage antics, but their unique take on spazzcore/grind was intense. Front man Mike Keller, formerly of The Red Chord, revealed fret-board wizardry that built up to frantic points of bludgeoning that never drifted due to drummer Frank pinning everything down, allowing for a consistent, underlying groove.