Jay H. Gorania’s SXSW 2011 – Part 2

By Jay H. Gorania

(If you missed part 1 of this blog, check it out here!)

Friday, March 18

With the lingering bitter taste of the previous evening’s crazy cabbie experience, I had the misfortune of facing yet another douche bag cabbie Friday morning. See, I had made arrangements for a taxi, so it caught me off guard when he arrived and rudely told me to go find another one because he already had a customer. For the fact that said customer was a wheelchair-using elderly man, I had no problem with letting it slide. Fortunately some people in the immediate vicinity allowed me into their downtown-bound cab. For some reason, the elderly man no longer needed the cab I called for, but I don’t understand why the rude cabbie that brushed me off started screaming at me.

“You called for me, and now you’re going with someone else?”

I did my best to stay calm as I entered the other taxi. While we drove off, the rude cabbie continued screaming, and he punched the back of our cab.

Someone may as well have pissed in my corn flakes, but SXSW rolled forward, as I found my way downtown, specifically to Lovejoy’s, a nondescript bar perfectly sized for small to mid-sized shows. One of several Brooklyn Vegan showcases at SXSW, the heavy dial was turned up to 11 considering the bands on tap.

Owen Hart‘s songs were bare-knuckled and intentionally brutish, a potent cup of coffee to start the day. Vocalist Timm Trust had a menacing presence while shredding his vocal cords, strongly contrasting his intelligent, thoughtful commentary between songs. Few could refute the sheer intensity of their set; however it was monotonous and lacking in terms of creativity.

Things improved exponentially when Texas grindcore maniacs Kill the Client charged the stage like a starving pack of wolves. Unlike their entirely out-of-character, lifeless SXSW performance at last year’s SXSW, Kill the Client was locked into their typically relentless, filthy, viscous groove this year at Lovejoy’s. Each member’s performance was formidable, though the virtuosity of drummer Brian Fajardo (Noisear, Gridlink, Enemies of Inertia, Phobia) was clearly salient. The most noticeable member of the bunch, however, was singer Champ Morgan, an angry man who was moving deep into the crowd, jumping on tables and onto the crowd, revealing his passion for Jiu-Jitsu as he slid to the ground and used his legs to sweep down people in the front row like a bowling ball knocking over pins. His politically charged lyrics were channeled through his gut-wrenching growls and screams (augmented by the backing vocals of guitarist Chris Richardson) that he spewed into the mic that he wasn’t so much holding as he was shaking, almost like he was strangling someone. It was easily the most violent, abrasive set of SXSW that I came across.

They were a tough act to follow, but Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada’s KEN Mode made an impression with an entirely different style of heavy music that merges noise rock with hardcore and a nondescript kind of metal, along with dashes of psychedelia and prog thrown in for good measure. That said, it’s difficult to pigeonhole their truly unique style. Wearing a black cowboy hat, guitarist/singer Jesse Matthewson was essentially Steve Austin, Jr., similar was his psychotic screaming and mic swallowing (early Today is the Day was referenced in several ways, in fact).

At one point during the track “Never Was,” taken from their new album Venerable, every warm-blooded male in attendance surely shook at the knees when the lovely bassist/backing vocalist Thérèse Lanz was running her fingers through her hair with eyes closed as she mouthed the words “Religion is a cancer,” prior to Matthewson screaming that mantra that he had been whispering. Thérèse’s own hoarse scream, working hand-in-hand with Matthewson’s, added to the caustic, carefully detailed sonic layers which lacked density in favor of allowing the silence between the notes to speak.

Like a skilled painter or graphics designer, KEN Mode is keenly aware of the value of negative space, knowing when and how to use its metallic tools, knowing when to hold back and allow the music to breathe. When there were moments of simplicity, they oftentimes manipulated the negative space and slowed the tempo down, ultimately creating significant tension. Don’t blame Canada. Thank Canada for KEN Mode.

Taking a break from Lovejoy’s, I raced over to Emo’s Annex for the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival’s showcase to catch the Red Chord. A decent drummer in his own right, Job For a Cowboy’s Jon Rice filled in and held things together pretty well, though he certainly wasn’t as tight as some of the impressive drummers they’ve worked with in the past, and he wasn’t mind-blowing like Kill the Client’s Brian Fajardo. This is but a minuscule issue, however, as the band put on a true performance, in every sense of the word, offering appeal to those as varied as emo kids, hardcore kids and metal fans. The intensity with which they perform their complex and heavy songs, whilst interacting with the crowd and apparently having a jolly time, is something that sets them apart from other heavy bands.

Regarding his banter, Guy Kozowyk entertained with his idiosyncratic delivery of simultaneously high brow and low brow humor, dishing out words of praise that also entailed a mocking subtext. Urging people to get rowdy, the meatheads were worked up, and people who weren’t completely idiotic were able to perceive the irony within his tone and language that were delivered with a professional wrestler’s gravel-gargling voice and OTT mannerisms and showmanship.

For their final song, “Dreaming in Dog Years,” Guy asked if anyone in the crowd wanted to sing for him, the stipulation being that they had to know the entire song, “not just the last part.” Numerous fans figuratively salivated over the opportunity they’ve dreamed of all those times they watched themselves in bathroom mirrors singing into their sisters’ blow dryers (Some were moaning and leaning up on their toes. It was kind of creepy). But no one knew the entire song, so Guy did what he was paid to do, until he walked away from the stage when it was time for the song’s finale. You know, the last part (“It’s not gonna be alright! It’s not gonna be okay!”). Numerous goons were climbing over each other to reach for the mic and/or climb up on stage.

Back at the Brooklyn Vegan show, Singapore’s grindcore crew Wormrot devastated the sweating, packed crowd with a chaotic, ruthless set. It was quick and dirty. While they weren’t necessarily the tightest band you’ll ever see—their drummer seemed like he was a train steamrolling off the tracks—they were deliciously out of control, for those who enjoy noisy music, and thoroughly entertaining.

The set was capped off by 20-year veterans Ringworm, an early player in the modern metallic hardcore movement. Much more metal than hardcore, and built upon a backbone of Slayer-inspired thrash, there were plenty of tried-and-true breakdowns. None of it was new or fresh, but to their credit, they helped carve the sculpture in the first place, and there was some kind of head-nodding, foot-tapping appeal. It was meat and potatoes metallic hardcore, nothing more, nothing less.

On deck was the show every metalhead was talking about: The Metalliance Tour, featuring Saint Vitus, Crowbar, Helmet and more. They were supposedly at full capacity by the time we arrived, and the door people at the Dirty Dog wouldn’t budge. We didn’t get in. Awesome.

It was SXSW in Austin, so hell, we just decided to party. While hanging out on 6th Street, we were encountered by a rapper pushing his product. It’s normal for independent artists to either talk up, give away or sell their music at SXSW, but this chap obviously lacked common sense by trying to interest us in his rap project. Granted, people like all kinds of music nowadays, but did it really make sense for a rapper to approach a group full of dirty long-haired or head-shaven guys wearing metal shirts? I suppose my friend unintentionally baited him by somewhat loudly talking about Watain, the satanic Swedish black metal band. But that’s not what rap dude overheard.
“Wu-Tang? Did somebody say Wu-Tang?”

Watain. Not Wu-Tang. We tried to correct him, but he interrupted us. “If y’all like Wu-Tang, you’re gonna love this!” I have his promo copy somewhere, and I’m sure it’ll make for a great coffee coaster once I find it.

Saturday, March 19

Fortunately there were no more issues with crazy cabbies. Arriving downtown without incident, I strolled into the black metal-lovin’ Profound Lore showcase that couldn’t have taken place at a more aptly named venue: Valhalla. This is where Minnesota’s Wolvhammer (including former Nachtmystium guitarist Jeff Wilson) got down and dirty with their punk ‘n sludged-out take on early black metal. There was an appealing balance between trance-inducing atmospherics as well as their ability to rock out the entire time.

Next up, New York’s Castevet hit the ground running with a mid-paced, melodic black metal display that was meticulously nuanced and structured with effective, evocative transitions. During their extended instrumental runs, a transcendental quality pulled the music into an abstract area that’s difficult to measure with the analytical part of the mind. Then, when Andrew Hock‘s intense, barked vocals kick in, the music is clenched into a fist that’s jabbed into the throat. The progressive inclination this band has coupled with a discernible sound quality makes for an interesting listen that has the potential to appeal to those who may not even know what black metal is.

There were more great acts at the Profound Lore showcase, but Eyehategod was set to play shortly thereafter at Scoot Inn, and it was fairly distant from the centralized hub of activity. Only catching the very end of Naam‘s set, it was clear that there was some Sabbath and early Saint Vitus/Obsessed worship at hand, but a proper, full review wouldn’t be valid based upon my limited experience with a couple of songs.

Hundreds and hundreds of people were there eagerly awaiting Eyehategod, and as soon as it was go time, the not-entirely-sober audience went apeshit. Compared to many sludge or doom bands, Eyehategod has an aggressive edge that’s equally as pronounced as its depressive tendencies whenever it does emerge, not only when they’re spicing things up with their ’80s hardcore punk-charged moments, but even when they’re attempting to slow the rotation of the Earth with their knuckle-dragging, crushing riffs. Mike Williams appeared to be as miserable as Eyehategod fans would hope for him to be, and his vocals were utterly hateful and intense.

Pentagram, then, offered the perfect finale for the legion of metalheads gathered at SXSW. Frontman Bobby Liebling truly looks as creepy and eerie as he sounds. His singing was essentially some kind of twisted rambling or story telling-like session layered atop the well-played, ’70s hard rock-based, prototypical doom metal. They’ve been at it for years, and they still have it. Metal ’til death.

It was a great year for metal and heavy music at SXSW, even though I missed a band or two. Did I mention that I didn’t see Saint Vitus, Crowbar, Slough Feg, Bruce Lamont, Dax Riggs, Trash Talk, Kylesa, Weedeater, Zoroaster, Trap Them, Off!, Hull, Kvelertak, Goes Cube, Novembers Doom, Eagle Twin, Helmet, and Tombs?