July 2, 2012

SOUTHERN LORD DOES AUSTIN

Black Breath
Where: Red 7, Austin, TX
When: June 28, 2012
With: Martyrdod, Burning Love, Enabler, Power Trip, Wild//Tribe

by Andy O'Connor (TX)

The picture above is a Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal distortion pedal, with all the knobs dialed to their respective maximums. It is the pedal that, by imbuing axe-weilders with its buzzsaw grind, launched the careers of Swedish death metal bands such as Entombed and Dismember. Of course, secret weapons don't remain secret for long, and now there's an increasing number of groups aiming to combine the Swedish sound with hardcore. Southern Lord, which up until a couple years ago was primarily a doom and black label, didn't create the trend, but it sure helped foster it. Subsequently, bands that attempt to replicate the HM-2 guitar sound are derisively known as “Southern Lord hardcore.” Truth is, while Southern Lord's hardcore offerings may have peaked in 2010 – seriously, who got Greg Anderson high enough to convince him All Pigs Must Die are worth putting money on? – few of the hardcore bands on the label follow the Left Hand Path.

Yes, there are differences between the bands. And some of them played in Austin quite recently.

Fort Worth's Wild//Tribe opened the show, and while they're not on Southern Lord, Anderson has sung their praises on the label's Twitter account before. The crowd was thin at this point, and one could count the number of people pitting with a lone hand, but none of that fazed Wild//Tribe. Their dual-vocalized crust attack served as an apt warmup, and they've got a flair for 70s rock solos that give their music a distinctive edge over some of their contemporaries. Extra salutations to the band for dropping the dumb Maniac (of Mayhem infamy) face paint. Austin got another taste of the DFW Metroplex with Southern Lord's latest signing, thrashers Power Trip. Chris Ulsh, also of Hatred Surge, Mammoth Grinder, Innumerable Forms, and The Impalers, plays drums for the band, giving them a little more of a hometown feel. They sound like a crossover unit from the 80s, but look like young metal dudes nowadays. A lack of image actually helps them in this case, as it's clear they've put their time into their songs. Power Trip also won best merch of the night with their “We Trippy Mane” shirts being sold, despite their music not being the sort you can pour up a cup to. You say no to thrash, Power Trip cain't (note: yes, it's cain't, not can't. That's how His Trippyness, Juicy J, says it).

Milwaukee's Enabler were the biggest surprise of the night, mainly because I didn't pay them much mind during SXSW. A lot of that was ill-founded bias from my high school days – one of Enabler's key selling point is that their drummer is Andy Hurley of pop-punk superstars Fall Out Boy, and given that some my less musically-savvy (read: they were getting laid and having fun instead of pouring over Pink Floyd liner notes and searching for politically dubious Eastern European black metal bands) peers liked Fall Out Boy, I figured Enabler didn't have much to offer. Was I wrong, or was I dead wrong? That certain mark on Hurley's resume hides the fact that he's a vigorous drummer, and he really got to work himself out playing for Enabler. The rest of the band was solid as hell, infusing a slight psych influence into their hardcore. Psych probably isn't the right term, but there was a hypnotic nature not seen in the other bands that night. I can only hope that bassist Amanda Daniels washed her feet after playing – that stage has seen a lot of metal sweat and crusty crustiness.

Many bills have a weak link somewhere, and this tour's was Burning Love. They sounded like Coalesce lite – funny, because the first time I saw Black Breath was with Coalesce themselves. In other words, herky-jerky noise rock without conviction. Their place on the bill was clear, as another example of a not-Swedish-death-metal-aping band on Southern Lord's roster. Alas, they just didn't bring the goods. A damn shame, as vocalist Chris Colohan is Cursed alumni. If anyone had a right to the HM-2 swag, it would be Sweden's own Martyrdod. It's like the hamburger – the pedal may have been made by a Japanese company, but the Swedes made it into the icon it is today. Martyrdod themselves do not derive a great deal from the Distombed noise, but they are a righteous punk-metal unit on their own terms. Some of them look like they should be in Truckfighters (who, if you're not familiar, are a smoking stoner-metal unit). Fuck all that, they've got the d-beat game on lock. That's not an easy feat, given that d-beat is quite fertile in their home country.

Quite a stacked bill, and we're just now getting to Black Breath? Were they too loud for the crowd after a night of thrash, hardcore, crust, and appearances from famous drummers? If anything, Black Breath really got the night going. Entombed are known for trying to go in a rockier direction and not really succeeding artistically, but Black Breath manage to combine that rock n' roll swagger with the HM-2 tone. Buzzsaws figuratively flied out of the PA with surging volume. One of Wild//Tribe's vocalists flew, or rather bum-rushed and crashed, in the crowd. Neil McAdams' shirt, with faded Oscar the Grouch, said he was “rotten to the core,” and the words flying out of his mouth sure were. There's a devoted contingent who maintain that Black Breath's EP Razor of Oblivion is the best thing they've ever spewed, and they must have all congregated this night, because the title track of that EP, hands down, got the most energetic reaction from the crowd. Highlight for me? Since they didn't play “I Am Beyond,” by all means “Black Sin (Spit on the Cross).” Black Breath have a knack for catchiness, and that track displayed it especially well. After that night, people had some ripping headaches to nurse. Myself included.

One final note: does anyone else find the Power of the Riff lineups to be slightly odd? Hell, if I was Anderson, I'd put Sunn O))), Winter, Power Trip and Repulsion on a fest too. But starting off with a bunch of hardcore and transition into doom – or even worse, Pelican – must lend to a uneasy vibe and a distressing imbalance of energy. If he wants to have Alpha & Omega open for Pentagram, that's his call.

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