Inanimate Existence and Warforged at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX 6/17/2019

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.

Warforged

Warforged

Inanimate Existence

Austin Terror Fest at Barracuda and Empire Control Room & Garage, Austin, TX June 7-9, 2019

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.

Panopticon

Dreadnought

Alcest

MONO and Emma Ruth Rundle at Barracuda, Austin, TX 5/30/2019

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.

MONO

Emma Ruth Rundle

Royal Thunder at The Lost Well, Austin, TX 5/26/2019

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.

April Showers

Forgive Me Karma

Riverside and Contrive at Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill, Dallas, TX 5/22/2019

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

Panic Room

Contrive

Michael Schenker Fest at Empire Garage and Control Room, Austin, TX, 5/18/2019

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

Rock Bottom

Psycroptic, Cannabis Corpse and Gorod at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX, 5/1/2019

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.

Gorod-Wolfsmond

Psycroptic-Cold