Review: War Master, Widower, Turbokrieg, Whore of Bethlehem, VBT, August 8th 2013 @ Infest Austin

Contributed by Jake Holmes
 
 
There are very few things in life that are better than a well-hosted extreme metal show, and the night of Thursday, August 8th proved this to furthest extent possible.  This show, featuring Houston’s War Master as the headliner, showcased a variety of killer bands covering styles of heavy metal from grindcore to death metal to thrash, enhanced by a strong turnout and an enjoyable atmosphere.  As this is my first submission for Southern Decay, I shall provide a brief introduction to myself prior to detailing the events of the show further (you can also skip to my bio at the bottom of the page if you want to get straight to the review).  My name is Jake Holmes, and I have been going to shows in Texas for several years now.  Growing up in a chronically dull North Austin-area suburb, I moved to San Antonio for college and lived there for several years, while still seeing tons of shows in Austin as well as San Antonio (R.I.P. Old Emo’s).  I returned to Austin upon my graduation from university and continue seeing as many shows as I can.  I gravitate towards old-school death, black, thrash, doom, and heavy metal, although there are a few other styles of metal that you’ll see covered in my reviews.  Now that I’ve introduced myself, I’d say it’s time to get on to the actual review of the show.
 
 
 
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The show was hosted by Austin-based promoting group Necrophonic Booking at Infest, a very comfortable and spacey venue that will host Deicide’s upcoming Austin appearance, among other shows.  The sound was consistently good throughout the night, allowing the audience to hear everything from thundering double bass to the highest of guitar notes.  The venue hosts Brutal Tuesdays every Tuesday which features live music and DJs spinning heavy metal music, and judging by the venue at this show, I would certainly recommend returning on a consistent basis.  Extra points go to the house music that was playing in between band’s sets, ranging from Exhorder to Pungent Stench to the first Bathory album, serving as the icing on an already-excellent metal cake.  After taking note of the environment, at roughly the hour of nine, it was time to signal Armageddon with VBT kicking off the chaos.
 
 
 
 
San Antonio’s VBT (short for Vaginal Bear Trap) play a fusion of brutal death metal and grindcore — think Dying Fetus meets Phobia — that combines crunchy guitar chugging with everything from precise d-beats to solo bass slides.  The band has earned a solid reputation through a constant array of shows and recently played the Obscene Extreme festival in Mexico with Napalm Death, Macabre, and many other notable names.  Their most recent full-length, “Just the Tip” (Ossuary Industries, 2012), is highly recommended and additionally serves as an appropriate gateway to introduce the band for listeners who may not be aware of VBT.  The band recently gained drummer Sterling Junkin into their ranks (also of Austin death metallers Id), who has proved to be an excellent fit for the band, as Junkin easily maintains the balance of groove, brutality, and intensity that VBT is known for.  VBT started the night off in the best possible way, with a set that displayed deviant deathgrind that fit the extremity of the other acts on the night’s bill appropriately.  The band included a never-before-played Terrorizer cover, “Corporation Pull-In” along with a number of songs (each introduced as “URGH!”, a long-standing tradition of VBT shows) from “Just the Tip” and the band’s first album “Slow Jams”, showing the band’s evolution yet still keeping a consistency in composition that is often missing from other band’s sophomore albums.  VBT proved to be a great way to kick off the night with their guttural grind, and once the last power chord rung out, it was time for Austin’s own Whore of Bethlehem to take the stage.
 
 
 
Whore of Bethlehem, occasionally abbreviated as “W.O.B.” and likely named after the excellent Archgoat album, continued the metallic destruction at Infest, presenting a mix of black metal riffing and a death metal aesthetic.  The band’s first song, “A Crowning Moment” is a fitting example for the W.O.B. songwriting style, which benefits from strong dynamics and contrasts within the course of a single song.  Dissonant riffs in the style of mid-period Deathspell Omega give way to a bludgeoning death-inspired churn, causing whiplash through blistering counterpoints.  “Castle of Meth” was another highlight, featuring everything from harsh, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”-like tremolo riffing to anthemic, mid-paced chorus sections that provide an overall effect of an archdaemon heralding the downfall of the righteous. The band also played a new song (written by guitarist Phil King) with a devilish stomp to it and a wah-infused guitar solo courtesy of lead guitarist Ryan Sylvie (also of Scattered Remains).  Also of note is the drumming of Rene Martinez (of Scattered Remains, Disfigured, and Flesh Hoarder), which is both precise and technically proficient, and compliments the maniacal presence of the stringed instrumentalists with a solid chemistry.  Whore of Bethlehem’s presence brought a dark cloud (see the cover of “The Return…”) over the evening, and kept the show going at a consistent level of quality that would not dip as the night went on.
 
 
 
 
The first Houston band of the night was Turbokrieg , whose style can be likened to a thrashy form of old-school grindcore where pure speed is the name of the game. I have seen Turbokrieg twice, once in a basement in San Antonio, and the other at Beerland about a year ago, and they have always delivered energetic performances.  Fortunately, Thursday’s performance was no different, and after a soundcheck made interesting by a seemingly-drunken female attendee checking the vocal mic, Turbokrieg bashed out a condensed set of hypergrinding punk metal with an unrelenting intensity.  The band’s set was a no-frills attack on the eardrums in the way that only old-school grind can deliver; an exercise in “frenzied detruncation” through audio violence.  Vocally, Turbokrieg used a consistent bark reminiscent of a slightly more guttural Nicholas Bullen on side A of Napalm Death’s legendary “Scum” album (to provide a well-known example) against a chaotic backdrop of blasting percussion, distorted bass, and crusty guitar riffing with several adrenaline-infused lead parts.   One song was introduced as “a hit song about robots” (a winning combination if there ever was one), and the band finished their set with a spazzed-out version of Metallica’s “Hit The Lights” played at top-speed with an added ferocity.  Turbokrieg’s set went by in a blur, eliminating any unnecessary distractions from the band’s warp-speed violence.  Although the bar had been set high at this point in the night by the three performances of the evening, the remaining two bands would go on to deliver beyond expectation.
 
 
 
Widower are a fairly new entity in the Austin metal scene, having formed in 2011 and since then, they have quickly solidified their presence as an intense live band with captivating performances and memorable musicality.  I have been fortunate enough to catch Widower perform several times, most recently at a house show with Razormaze on July 30th that left the booze-soaked and crust-filled audience flattened.  Widower’s sound could be likened to a melodic form of thrash metal with lead vocal attacks from the three stringed instrumentalists in the band — bassist John Bowley and guitarists Danny Wrath and Jimmy Byam.  This tri-vocal battery is one of Widower’s strongest traits, with screeches interlocking with aggressive rasps to overwhelm the audience — almost as if the multiheaded Cerberus of Greek mythology fronted a thrash metal band instead of guarding the gates of Tartarus.  Although one could say that thrash metal forms the base of Widower’s style, there are also certain sonic similarities with black metal in the form of lightning-fast guitar lines and chord progressions, benefitting from tasteful and intricate guitar solos delivered by Byam.  Widower closed with a raucous performance of “Total Fucking Domination”, the final track from the band’s latest EP, “Goat Throne”.  Acting as the band’s frontman, Byam announced that the band would be going on tour in seven months, and it is safe to say that if they come to your city, you will absolutely be doing yourself a favor by checking out their performance.
 
 
 
After the frantic Widower performance, it was time for the headliners of the night’s festivities to crush, kill, and destroy the supportive audience.  Hailing from Houston, TexasWar Master play a grinding form of old-school death metal worship that, as their name suggests, owes a substantial debt to England’s legendary Bolt Thrower.  The band recently underwent a significant lineup change, with former lead growler Daniel Shaw departing and joining Houston death masters Blaspherian.  His replacement is none other than Rahi Geramifar, who established himself as the vocalist of grindcore act Insect Warfare prior to the band’s demise in 2009.  War Master’s martial and combative approach to death metal results in a perfect band for anyone who detests modern death metal that is neutered by overly-polished production, technicality for the sake of technicality, and a complete lack of any decent songwriting ability.  For example, the ability to perfectly replicate the guitar tone on “Left Hand Path” will not guarantee that you will be able to write a memorable riff, but War Master have the authenticity and spirit to evoke the Elder Gods of extremity while simultaneously composing well-written anthems that will persevere beyond any “retro death metal” trend.  They have nailed the mesmerizing groove that is the essence of Bolt Thrower  — think the sickening stirring of songs like “The IVth Crusade”  and “Tank (Mk. I)” that characterizes the English band’s discography and you have a good idea of War Master’s sound.  Starting with “Bastard Horde” from the band’s newest EP, “Blood Dawn”, War Master played a devastating set that left Infest completely leveled in awe.  During several pulverizing riffs, I was mentally transported back to the life-affirming experience of being in a ninety-minute Bolt Thrower mosh pit when the band played the Chaos in Tejas festival this summer, and the fact that War Master is capable of summoning that type of memory is proof alone that the band is at the top of the death metal mountain.  It was impossible not to bang one’s head through the battlefield-like assault, in accordance with the liner notes for the band’s debut that state “sever the head that does not bang!”  The final two songs of the evening, “Mass Cremation” and the encore, “Immortalized in Sacred Flame” brought the evening to a monumental conclusion, finishing War Master’s set with two songs that codified their powerful performance.
 
 
To say that this show was one of the best (mostly) local shows in recent memory would not be an understatement.  Every single band in their own, unique way brought out savage performances to make that Thursday a night that should have been deemed a mandatory show for the Austin metal scene to attend.  For more information about death, black, thrash, and doom shows in Austin and the surrounding areas, you can check the soon to come calendar section of Southern Decay and stay connected with SDM on Facebook.
 
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Jake Holmes is a Central Texas heavy metal writer who lives by the pen and will (likely) die by the sword.  Originally from a suburban town outside of North Austin, Holmes moved to San Antonio during his college years.  After several years and thousands of miles driven to see shows in San Antonio and Austin, he returned to the Austin area due to his graduation and continued to see as many shows as humanly possible.  His interests include going to shows, blasting Carnivore as loudly as possible on the way to shows, and sleeping upon his return to his home from shows.  His “dislikes” include hearing loss, traffic, and unnecessary bonus tracks on album reissues.
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