By Jay H. Gorania
Austin, the state capital of Texas, has made international headlines as of late because of a maniac flying a plane into an IRS building. Thankfully, political statements and action aren’t always literally violent, but at the Texas State Capitol, hot-button issues are pounced upon and political shootouts regularly take place, and the conservatives win virtually every time. Beyond that, surprisingly, the community is essentially a hub of liberalism—a city in which there’s even a movement called “Keep Austin Weird,” whose namesake slogan is plastered across countless t-shirts and bumper stickers.
Outside of the Capitol building, at the right vantage point viewed from downtown, one can literally see the University of Texas, as well as the university’s tower upon which a deranged student was perched when he was responsible for 14 murders in the 1966 tower sniper massacre.
On a less dismal note, one can also see the 6th Street area, one of the most infamous party districts south of the Mason-Dixon Line. It’s also the performance location for much of the musical side of South by Southwest—a massive interactive, film and music conference and festival. Historically, unsigned bands came to get noticed by suit ’n tie record label reps; however as it has evolved, signed underground and mainstream bands have dominated showcases, and schmoozin’ and boozin’ is underway as backroom deals and negotiation unfolds. Hell, it’s gotten to the point that Metallica played last year.
At various points, it’s inevitable that you’ll miss a band that you want to see because while you’re checking out one of your favorite bands, another gem is onstage elsewhere. Or sometimes your late lunch means you inadvertently end up missing Landmine Marathon. Shit!
We did make it back to Emo’s in time to see Torche, though. It was a fan-filled, packed house, and their uniquely poppy, hook-laden doom dirges went over well. The choruses were hummable, the metallic rumbling was powerful. It’s refreshing to see a heavy music frontman regularly smile and appear as though he’s having a good time.
Not long thereafter we took in the Relapse Showcase at Red 7, meaning Landmine Marathon, who played elsewhere, was missed yet again. Doh! But things kicked off violently with the frenetic Mammoth Grinder set (what’s with all the bands with the word “grind” in the moniker? Well, I can think of Magrudergrind, anyway). Though their grinding punk did favorably blend with a classic death metal aesthetic, it wasn’t much by way of originality. With that said, it was satisfying for those who have a need for speed.
Next up was recent Relapse signee Kill The Client. The Dallas/Austin grindcore band tore through the set with aggression in its purest form, blasting fury and politically charged lyrics. This was actually the least impressive I’ve seen them, yet even then, they were easily one of the most impressive heavy bands of SXSW. On record, the lay person would perceive it as senseless noise, but live, for Pantera fans, meatheads and jock types, Kill The Client is the perfect soundtrack for skull crushing.
Needing a break, I chilled out back at the bar (and somehow avoided getting punched out by fellow Hellbound writer Laina Dawes in spite of my incessant politically incorrect, off-color humor), so I’m unable to comment upon Howl’s set. But I was back up front in time for Graves of Valor, unfortunately. They’re competent, but I was surprised to hear such a pejoratively metalcore-sounding death metal band signed to Relapse. The singer’s swirling dreadlocks were the most memorable aspect of their performance, if that tells you anything.
Tombs, on the other hand, are a band to behold. They defy conventional genre tags, Not for the sake of being ridiculously and pointlessly eclectic like Iwrestledabearonce, but they defy conventional genre tags. There are gloomy doom parts that bleed into sludge territory, but it’s almost like they’re an old school hardcore punk band playing contemporary American black metal, the combination of a rugged New York attitude rooted beneath the surface of majestic evil music. Brilliant.
An intermission was needed to wipe blood from the ears, and it came in the form of comedian, avid metalhead Brian Posehn. Keeping in mind that it was a metal show, and wanting to see Voivod himself, Posehn was brief and very to the point, sticking almost entirely to one-liner zingers. And take note, male metalheads, Posehn says it’s not gay if you suck off another male as long as you scream, “SLAYER!!!”
Tragically losing groundbreaking guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour to colon cancer in 2005, this sadly might be one of Voivod‘s final performances. But with founding bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault back in the fold, and new guitarist Daniel Mongrain sufficiently mirroring Piggy’s distinct style, perhaps the band still has a future. At any rate, the rabid crowd indulged in their clear-sounding, punk-influenced thrash that has always been forward thinking. Simply put, they sound like no other.
The stamina of drummer Away is impressive, striking the skins like a highly energetic, ambitious, curious rock drummer more than a conventional thrash drummer. He was the precursor to Brann Dailor and all those who follow the Mastodon time-keeper.
Vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger is equally unique with his nasally melodic vocals and charismatic presence. It appeared as though he was having the time of his life with his constant movement and dancing. I don’t believe he’s that old, but he was acting and dancing like someone’s drunken grandpa at their 70th birthday party.
Voivod played their classics, and they included their most recent material, finishing things off with their remarkable version of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” a song that might as well be their own now. In a charged, emotional moment, with genuine pride and sorrow, Snake prompted the rock show lighter hoisting in honor of Piggy. Without wanting to sound too melodramatic, I feel that my life is more complete now that I’ve seen Voivod.
Early in the afternoon, while doing some writing and preparing for our day in our hotel room, I came across an interesting email from an unfamiliar address:
“I met you here at SXSW last year and you gave me your email, but I lost your number. I was hoping you would come into town this year. I saw you last night, but you were walking with some girl and two other guys and I didn’t want to ruin anything for you. Wanna meet up later? Here’s a pic.”
The pic was entitled “Anal Starfish Tattoo.” It was an image of a starfish tattoo at the center of which was a woman’s…you know. Out of the most pure and wholesome of intentions, I exchanged a few emails and planned to meet the young lady in the hotel lobby. Perhaps she needed help? I needed to find out. But finally, hotel roomie, and metal scribe, Ryan Ogle admitted he sent me the email.
Things didn’t really improve in the evening when a dude in Darkest Hour said he wanted to have sex with me. Sure, it was a drunken, non-serious, comedic gesture, but I prefer getting hit on by women.
At any rate, I headed over to The Ale House to catch Goes Cube. Not having heard them before, Kill The Client’s singer Morgan told me they sound like Yes covering Isis—a non-heavy prog band playing heavy music, in other words. He wasn’t entirely off the mark with his quick, off-hand description, but he was wrong about one thing. They are heavy as hell, but it’s in more of a Jesus Lizard kinda way rather than a Deicide kinda way. There is an interesting mix of Am Rep noise rock, hardcore, hard rock, avant-garde, slight touches of “post metal,” and catchy melodic heavy music in the vein of Torche or Kylesa. The only thing is they are greater than the sum of those parts. Memorable and intense, Goes Cube are a band to watch for.
Heading over to Headhunters, Goatwhore was on deck. Anything but a conventional black metal band, their Louisiana sludge ’n doom roots break the surface, and their thrash element has increased immensely so, especially on their mind-blowing, latest release, Carving Out The Eyes of God.
In recent years, they’ve proven to be one of metal’s most exciting live acts, and this set proved this and then some. As usual, Ben Falgoust led the true metal charge, prompting the crowd to pump fists like it was 1982.
Adding to the badassery of the experience was the fact that Headhunters is the bar at which the one-and-only Billy Milano works. At the onset of Goatwhore’s set, Billy played bouncer, dividing the crowd from the band. Upon noticing the crowd was mature enough to self-regulate itself, he jumped on the bar-top to oversee things like a hawk, having fun with the crowd by periodically shooting it with water (only once he had to manhandle a tough guy douche bag out of the venue).