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METALSUCKS AT SXSW: ENSLAVED, 1349 — TWICE EACH! PLUS GOAT THE HEAD, AVATAR, SABATON

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[The SXSW madness may be over, but we’ve still got reviews for you from writer Corey Mitchell. His writing makes me feel like I’m swigging back Tecate in the hot Texas sun… almost. – Ed.]

EnslavedENSLAVED / 1349 @ KENNY DORHAM’S BACKYARD – Friday, March 14, 2008 – 6:30 p.m. – 8:45 p.m.

Talk about a bizarre line-up – current electro-pop sensations The Raveonettes opening up for the gods of Norwegian Viking metal, Enslaved, and Norwegian black metallers 1349. The setting was almost as unusual, but also what makes SXSW so unique – it literally was in someone’s backyard. Throw up a stage, a barricade, cook up some BBQ, and offer up free beer and you have yourselves one hell of a party in the unforgiving 90-degree Texas heat.

Kenny Dorham’s backyard is located over on the east side of Austin – you know; the part of town they don’t include in their Chamber of Commerce pamphlets. After not quite sure how to find the “venue,” I spent some time driving around the eastside, which has truly gotten worse in the eleven years since I last lived in Austin. The area where the concert was to take place, however, seems to be a part of a mini-revitalization based around the music scene. Let’s hope this show added to the improvements in the area.

EnslavedENSLAVED
Scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., Enslaved did not hit the stage until nearly 7:00 p.m. The extra wait was well worth it (especially since I missed them the day before due to the inane door policy at Stubbs). Singer/bassist Grutle Kjellson, a very little man with a very large presence, hopped on stage, smiled at the crowd, and announced their first song, “Hollow Inside” from 2001’s Monumension.

From that point on, it was full-throttle intensity from this excellent band. I was way into Arve “Iced Dale” Isdal’s lead guitar licks on songs such as “Our Father Odin” and “The Watcher.” Also, keyboardist Herbrand Larsen sang excellent lead vocals on a couple of songs and headbanged throughout the entire set.

EnslavedThe focal point, of course, was Kjellson. This man is a dynamo. After each song ended he would perform a Nadia Comaneci-esque plant with his arms extended above his head, exhorting the crowd to cheer the band on. He genuinely shared with the audience, “We love Texas. Except it’s fucking hot up here. We’re not used to this heat, you know!”

The band ended their set with a bowel-shaking rendition of “Ruun” which inspired Kjellson to go all “invisible oranges” on us. I especially enjoyed the closer as it reminded me of Bergraven, my favorite black metal band. Enslaved ended their short thirty-minute set and left the crowd screaming for more.

In between sets, it became apparent that Enslaved were this year’s most popular band to namedrop. I overhead a slightly more mature woman tell someone that “she’s been buds with the guys from Enslaved for years.” Of course, if that were true, I have no idea why she was still on the wrong side of the barricade. Maybe because she was eagerly anticipating the arrival of…

13491349
I had spoken with Paula Hogan from 1349’s label Candlelight Records twice over the last two days. She was hoping to coordinate an interview with me and 1349 for MetalSucks. The first time she called, I was standing in line waiting to see Enslaved and Napalm Death at Stubbs on Thursday. She informed me the band was having problems getting into the United States and had been delayed by a day. The following day, she let me know she was haggling with the Austin airport over a missing bag. She sounded stressed out.

Paula needn’t have worried because as soon as 1349 crept upon the stage, it was apparent they were not going to let any minor setbacks affect them. The timing was perfect as the sun had just set and the darkened backyard was lit up only by the green-and-red Xmas light boxes above the band.

Drummer Frost had already taken his place behind the kit, his corpsepaint rapidly melting on his bald head under the intense Texas heat. Guitarist Archaon looked as if he just rose from a dirtnap, but forgot to brush away the literal cobwebs. Bassist Seidemann simply looked angry. Then, the leonine figure of frontman Ravn slinked toward the front of the stage. The crowd roared its approval and the band tore into their set.

By the second song, Ravn had the crowd enthralled when he began a call and response of “I Am…,” Abomination!! “I Am…,” Abomination!! “I Am Abomination.” Ravn worked his way to the front of the stage and I could see his tattered Mayhem t-shirt.

1349Strangely, there was a barricade between the stage and the audience that kept us back about five feet. In between were six Austin police officers to keep the peace. Totally unnecessary, but at least one officer knew better. The lone female cop told us she was a big fan of Slayer and told the other cops that “none of these people are gonna kill ya.”

I’m not so sure about that. The fans that stayed for 1349 were ravenous (no pun intended). The crowd did everything they could to jump over the barrier and get to Archaon, whose matted gray hair was constantly getting tangled up in his guitar strings, but never stopped him from hitting perfect notes.

The crowd’s energy intensified as the band played “Nathicana” and “To Rottendom” from 2005’s Hellfire. Ravn merely tempted the patrons further by kicking over a stage monitor, nearly landing on top of a police officer. He then appeared if he was ready to hock a loogey at another cop. The crowd ate it up and began chanting the band’s name.

As each band member’s corpsepaint continued to melt off their faces, Ravn announced, as if he were bestowing the ultimate favor to his minions, “You get one more.” The crowd screamed, so Ravn asked, “Do you hear it calling?”

HELLFIRE!!

A strong ending to a stellar set. Frost holding down the fort without seeming to move an inch and Ravn scaring the crap out of everyone. It was an incredible show. I can’t wait to see them again. Hell, what am I talking about? I’ll get to see them again in less than three hours.

SABATON/GOAT THE HEAD/AVATAR/1349/ENSLAVED @ RED 7 PATIO – March 14, 2008, 9:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.

Since Enslaved and 1349 ran longer than expected at Frank Dorham’s Backyard, I had to hustle to my car to drive out of East Austin and back downtown to Seventh Street. I raced back to my secret, free parking spot (which I refuse to divulge here), parked the car, and hurried over to the Red 7 back alley entrance. I was excited about seeing the Scandinavian Metal onslaught that was about to invade Austin.

Instead of being able to go straight into the venue, however, I ran into my first obstacle of the festival. Apparently, the SXSW staff had overtaken Red 7 and was bungling things up. Of course, all SXSW showcases allow badge-holders and wristband-wearers first entry into the clubs. Cash-paying patrons, such as me, are relegated to the old “one in, one out” policy, wherein, we are not allowed to pay to enter until another customer leaves the joint. This would have worked fine, seeing as I was the seventh person in the cash line, however, the SXSWers were not deducting the headcount when a badge or wristband holder left the building. So cash-paying customers were only allowed in when another cash-paying customer would leave the building. Morons! The cash-paying customers are the tr00 fans who are going to stay there all night.

About the only good thing that came out of the wait was getting to see Enslaved pull up in a black van and a white sports car to unload their gear.

Unfortunately, none of us paying customers were allowed in as we heard Sabaton on stage. Finally, after talking with one of the genuinely nice Red 7 door guys, who spoke with the SXSW staffer “running” the door, seven of us were able to enter the outdoor tin shed patio area.

Luckily, I was able to get in just as the next band was starting. I was excited to see…

goat the headGOAT THE HEAD

My only exposure to Trondheim, Norway’s Goat the Head came from viewing their video for “Darwinian Minions” online and hearing “Bone Throne” off the Metal Hammer Presents Get in the Ring! compilation disc. Despite my limited exposure, I was thrilled to see these guys. Holy fuck, I was not disappointed!

I was able to make my way to the front of the stage, directly in front of bassist Snorre, and spend the entire set headbanging like it was 1986. Lead grunter Per proudly announced that they were “Goat the Head from Norway” and described their music as “Contemporary primal caveman death metal.” Decked out in floor-length animal skins, slathered in mud, tromping around on their bare feet, and never breaking character, no better description could be given.

goat the headGTH reminded of some of the best thrash sounds of the ‘80s from Exodus to Sodom to Testament to Destruction. Definitely Bay Area Thrash meets Teutonic Metal mixed in a blender with a little 10,000 B.C. for good measure. They ripped through the previously mentioned “Darwinian’s Minions,” “Bone Throne,” and tore up “Beast Man.”

At one point, bassist Snorre jumped into the mosh-pit, bass included, and continued playing the song while engaging in a bit of circle-pit moshing himself. His fellow slammers gladly accepted a headstock to the mouth as they ate up the true-to-life interactive nature of the band.

goat the headSnorre also picked up a beer bottle and started to do a slide bass solo for the crowd. Per gagged on his long, stringy hair like a cat choking on a furball. Guitarist Ketil was fond of turning his back to the crowd and plopping his ass on the face of whoever stood in front of him. Drummer Kenneth sat in the pocket the entire set and never missed a beat despite Snorre and Per treating his kit like an ugly cavewoman in heat.

Hands down, best show of the entire conference! I am now a huge Goat the Head fan and look forward to getting my hands on anything they put out.

I felt sorry for whoever had to follow that round of chaos. Unfortunately, when I saw a couple of pretty boys loading gear on-stage, I began to worry even more. I asked a young concertgoer wearing a Bathory t-shirt named Brad (who recently dropped out of Bible school, BTW) what was up with the next band. He told me they were from Gothenburg, Sweden and they were called…

AvatarAVATAR
Okay, these guys remind me of a heavier version of ‘80s glam/trash rockers Dangerous Toys. Now, this is not a bad thing.

There is the Dangerous Toys that the world thinks they know that showcased tight leather pants, rebel t-shirts, faux-cowboy hats, scarves, whiskey, and chicks. Then, there was the Dangerous Toys that Austinites, like me at the time, were familiar with. The real DT, which featured former tech-Gods Watchtower vocalist, Jason McMaster, and future country and western star, guitarist Kevin Fowler, were a knock-down, rip your heart out, and shit down your ball-sack bluesy, bloody kick ass rock ‘n roll band. Now, just add a little In Flames and At the Gates, stir it in a big ol’ pot of flammable liquid, light it on fire, and you have Avatar.

AvatarI am not a big fan of the Gothenburg sound. I can usually only take it for about twenty minutes before I get bored. Combine that with a bit of cheesiness (ie.- lead singer Johannes Eckerström’s penchant for drinking water from a plastic gas can), lots of perfectly groomed hair, and tons of screaming female fans, my attention started to wander.

It was kind of cool to know that this was Avatar’s first show ever in the United States. In fact, though they are not my particular shot of whiskey, they should be HUGE in this country!! Indeed, Eckerström seemed to fall in love with the Texas town as he shared, “If this is the way y’all are rockin’, I might move to Austin.”

I swear to God, he really said, “y’all.”

1349
I was not sure how much I was going to enjoy seeing a band that I just saw three hours earlier probably plow through their same set, so I decided to purchase a few adult beverages based on the advice of MetalSucks reader vitruvianApe.

I put away my mini-notepad and pen, imbibed, and enjoyed the show. The band seemed even more invigorated than before, mainly due to the fact that the audience was no longer five feet away behind a barricade as they were at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard.

Lead singer Ravn had a penchant for grabbing a fan by the hand and then pulling him or her onstage, only to shove that person right back into the crowd. I vaguely remember him doing it to me and the thought of pulling the old “Here, let me help you up” trick crossed my mind, but I thought better of it. I didn’t want him coming back and impaling me in the skull with his seriously sharp arm-spikes.

The coolest moment for me was when I looked down at my cell phone to check the time. At the stroke of midnight, I was proud to say that I was celebrating my 42nd birthday in my favorite city on the planet, while thrashing around like a maniac to Norwegian black metallers 1349. A beautiful moment.

ENSLAVED

I continued the rest of the evening adhering to vitruvianApe’s advice and kept my notepad stashed away in my jeans pocket. I did, however, spy Enslaved’s set-list on Grutle Kjellson’s floor monitor. This is exactly as I saw it, albeit, slightly tipsy, sunburned, and upside down:
Path
Fusion
Bounden
Jotunblood
As Fire
ISA
Watbec
Ruun
Our Father

As for Enslaved’s nighttime set, it fuckin’ rocked! All I remember is I was positioned directly in front of rhythm guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, and headbanging like a long-haired fifteen-year-old hesher at a Rigor Mortis gig at the old Ritz theater circa 1985 – of course, I am a 42-year-old shortheaded daddy, but what the hell.

About the only other memory I have of Enslaved’s set, other than it was incredible, is Kjellson came across as the ultimate professional, as his bass cord kept malfunctioning and no bass sound could be heard throughout two songs. He continued to play, never missed a lyric, and watched as Bjørnson picked up the low-end slack, all the while having a tech guy messing with his gear. Total pro!

Needless to say, I was wiped out after the nearly 45-minute set and completely satisfied. Scandinavians, you guys are welcome back on these Texas shores any time.

Well, it was time for me to head back to Raydog’s house to get some rest. I still had one last gig to attend the following afternoon – Black Tide, At All Cost, In This Moment, and Jamey Jasta back at the Red 7 patio.

To learn more about best-selling author Corey Mitchell please visit his website http://www.coreymitchell.com;
Discovery Channel “Hollywood on Trial” blog; and In Cold Blog.

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