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SXSW Metal Report

Kip W. and I arrived in Austin, TX the night of Tuesday, March 15th. We’ve never flown in before Wednesday, the official start of the music portion of the festival, but that we felt compelled to be there for all of Wednesday’s day-time activities speaks to the volume of metal at this year’s festival. It was amazing and even overwhelming at times, but too much metal is never a bad problem to have. After a tasty burger at the Jackalope and some delicious but incredibly spicy chicken-wings that would leave our arseholes tingling the following morning, we headed to bed to rest up for the madness to follow. Sleeping is metal. Kip’s righteous snore is definitely not metal, but thank Odin for earplugs.

There was a lot of action on the first day of SXSW: face-punching hardcore via the Brooklyn Vegan day party, a ripping set by recent Ironclad signees Turbid North, and of course the MetalSucks-sponsored Sumerian Records showcase featuring Animals as Leaders, Veil of Maya, The Faceless and more. There was even the somewhat odd but nonetheless fun sight of watching Phil Anselmo play a guitar in his old-school hardcore project Arson Anthem. Deetz and videos after the jump.

While watching aardvark baby-impaling hardcore sets by The Secret and All Pigs Must Die at Brooklyn Vegan’s day party at Emo’s, I got a text from The Destro drummer Jono Garrett that his buddies in Turbid North would be playing at Darwin’s Pub later that afternoon. Since Turbid North’s Orogeny was one of my favorite independent releases of 2010 and since the news of their signing with Ironclad Recording last week delighted us all, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out the Texas-via-Alaska-and-England quintet.

You know that nervous feeling you get when you’re about to see a band for the first time whose album you’ve been really digging? Excited but anxious? That. And you know that feeling of relief you get when said band obliterates you to smithereens? That. Turbid North live were everything I’d hoped they’d be, even more. They were as razor tight as any band I saw all week, matched by a ferocious energy the small stage could barely contain. Turbid North seamlessly mix crushing Pantera-inspired death-grooves with Mastodonian hooks, Down-inspired guitarmonies and stoner jams. It sounds odd, but it works, and when you’re as tight as Turbid North you can pretty much pull anything off. I’m excited for people to learn about Orogeny via its re-release this year on Ironclad.

From there it was off to the enormous temporary stage in the parking lot behind Habana Calle 6 to set up for the Sumerian Showcase. First band up were Ultrageist, an unsigned heavy prog metal outfit from Long Island that we’ve written about before. Ultrageist suffered from an absolutely horrid mix with an over-compressed, distorted bass drum that drowned out everything else other than the vocals, but it was plainly obvious that these dudes can play, are a good band, and that the poor sound had nothing to do with them. Thankfully I’d get to see them again in a better setting the following day; more on that tomorrow.

Up-and-comers Structures followed. When a band comes out and does choreographed dance moves and timed jumps, you know you’re in for a rough show. This band gives credence to the term Sumeriancore… they’re it to a T, the completely generic 2nd generation version with nothing original whatsoever to say musically. Djenty grooves, deathcore breakdowns and the merciless abuse of tri-tones. You’ve heard this band already without even listening to them. And choreographed dance moves… did I mention that? This band is not for me, but the kidz seemed to dig it and moshed up a storm.

Animals as Leaders delivered their standard mind-blowing set that more than made up for Structures’ generic Sumeriancore; AAL are without a doubt one of the best, forward-thinking and genre-bending bands in all of metal. What always impresses me at AAL shows is how the fans cluster up to the front of the stage and just STARE… intently… the entire time. True fans of a true band that won’t jump ship regardless of changing trends (basically the polar opposite of Structures and their fans). If you’ve seen AAL live you know how incredible these guys are to watch, and if not you best do so as soon as possibly. Also of note was Tosin Abasi’s slip-up that kind of announced the band had signed with Sumerian Records after releasing just one record for Prosthetic. Tosin from the stage: “Thanks to Sumerian Records for putting this show on. [pause] We haven’t signed with Sumerian yet. [pause] Undisclosed information. [laughs]” So, expect that news to come down the official pike pretty soon.

Veil of Maya followed with one of the most powerful sets I’ve seen them play. Guitarist Marc Okubo is always a treat to watch; nothing can beat the aerial view of his pedal-tapping routine I had from Irving Plaza’s balcony at Summer Slaughter, but even from afar I love watching him run the show. The band was super-tight, and vocalist Brandon butler had the crowd whipped into a frenzy.

What is there to say about The Faceless that hasn’t already been said? They’re without a doubt one of the best live bands in metal, that rare young band confident enough to play an entire album live on tour and actually pull it off. On this day they were without bassist Jared Lander, who according to guitarist/mastermind Michael Keene had quit the band the day before the tour. But you know what? If I’m being honest I did not even notice the lack of a bassist until Keene announced it. As long as they’re trying to represent their recorded material in the live setting they don’t even need a bassist, because the bass on those records is completely inaudible, and that’s not even necessarily a bad thing. In any case, the remaining members soldiered on and delivered a typically tight and engaging prog-tastic, crystal-clear sounding set.

At this point in the evening I decided to jog over to Emo’s to catch up with MS contributor Corey Mitchell at the Housecore Records showcase, and I got there just in time to catch Arson Athem. Seeing Phil Anselmo rocking a guitar was WEIRD, but he’s a surprisingly good player. I was expecting him to look awkward and fumble around, or at least to keep things simple… but nope, he was all over the fretboard, tight and fast, and even played a few leads. I haven’t really been able to dig Arson Anthem records because the music just ain’t my thing, but the band sounded excellent.

Everything in Austin closes at 2am, which inevitably always results in the streets overflowing with half-drunk partiers standing around trying to figure out what to do next. In this case bed was next for me. In tomorrow’s Day 2 wrap-up: Kvelertak drop jaws at Full Metal Texas and Animals as Leaders side-project T.R.A.M. makes their stunning live debut.


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