REVIEW: Destroyer of Light, Bearded Ox, Beneath Oblivion, Slurr, Curse the Heavens, S.L.U.G. @ Metal and Lace, Austin TX 8/23/13

Contributed by Jake Holmes
This review is dedicated to the memory of Joey LaCaze, drummer of Eyehategod, who passed away on the day that this show took place.  As such, this review is best read with Eyehategod albums playing at full blast in the background (I’d personally recommend “Take as Needed for Pain” and “Dopesick”).

 There is never a weekend that goes by without a killer metal show taking place in Austin, Texas. The subject of this week’s review took place on Friday, this time featuring a cast of low-tuned doombringers that served as a fine example of the versatility of the Austin metal scene. Dubbed “Cthulhu Devours Your Unborn Fest”, the evening brought together acts as varied as the demoniac deities of Lovecraftian lore, and as heavy as the swirling masses of unnameable horrors that populate the Cthulhu Mythos.

The show took place at Metal and Lace, located at 720 Red River Street in Austin.  For those not in the know, Metal and Lace is the relatively-new name of Headhunters, a bar on Red River Street that has served as host to many a metal show in years past.  Yes, it was featured on an episode of “Bar Rescue” (or “Bar Wars”, as my dad calls it).  Yes, I still call it Headhunters, because you can’t teach an old dog (or a young-but-still-jaded-and-cynical dog) new tricks, and also because I don’t have cable.  For the purposes of this review, however, I will break my own tradition and refer to the venue name as “Metal and Lace” so as prevent confusion for anyone interested in attending shows there in the future (and you absolutely should, as there are some killer ones coming up, but there will be more on that later).

Metal and Lace benefits from having two stages for bands to play on — an indoor stage and a patio stage.  The indoor stage is arranged in a manner typical of a bar that doubles as a live music venue, with a cozy platform several inches high off the ground for the band to play on top of, and a bar off to the side for customers to indulge in the usual bar-oriented frivolities (an activity which several show-goers seemed to take great delight in, judging by some of the dancing going on during band’s sets).  The outside patio stage has no raised area for the band, but performing on a floor-level setting with the crowd can be just as effective and provide a memorable experience for the audience. The two-stage layout is especially convenient for changeover times for the performers, as a band can set up, soundcheck, and break their gear down while another band is playing on the second stage, allowing for minimal lulls in the action of the show.  Now that you have a good picture of Metal and Lace, it’s time to get on to the review of the show itself.

The powerful and punctuated S.L.U.G. introduced the night of sludge and doom with a mix of the two styles that was a most appropriate initiation to the detuned, swirling madness that Friday’s show would consist of.  One of the traits of S.L.U.G.’s music that immediately stands out is the dominate-yet-controlled presence of the always-distorted bass guitar, which summoned carefully-selected grooves to compliment the chugging of the guitar parts and solid percussion.  The vocal style of S.L.U.G. was a gruff bark that occasionally ventured into the territory of higher screams, which served S.L.U.G. quite well.  These barks maintained the heavy vibe of the band without crossing into over-the-top intensity that could distract the audience and not fit with the slow riffing.  The guitar parts — played by a new member introduced as Sean — tended to concentrate on a focused riffing style reminiscent of bands like Crowbar,  although there were several unorthodox sections, such as the haunting and effected arpeggios in a song from earlier in the set.  Also worthy of mention was the final song of the set, which showed brief harmonics played against light cymbal-work and the additional growling of the bass guitar.  The sound on the patio from the audience was clear (even when the instruments themselves were heavily distorted) and granted each instrument a presence, which would also be the case of the sound on the inside of the venue as well.  S.L.U.G. showed to be a great warmup for a night filled with headbanging, and when their set concluded, it was time to take a trip inside Metal and Lace to continue the show.

The riffy Curse the Heavens continued the thunder of the night with a more complicated take on heaviness, with several intricately-timed progressions (cranked from an Orange amp that produced a killer tone) and shifting time signatures.  These twists and turns made for music that engages and interests the listener and added a slight progressive touch to Curse the Heavens’ sludgy crunch.  There were several well-executed guitar solos that considerably amped up the energy of Curse the Heavens’ already high-octane music and, beneath these fretboard gymnastics, the basslines intertwined with the tricky percussion in a unified rhythm.  On the subject of that tricky percussion, the drumming of the band should also needs to be mentioned as it was constantly shifting, with everything from creative fills, explosive cymbal work, and punkish snare strikes that added a furious power to Curse the Heavens’ set.  Using a commanding yell as opposed to a guttural growl for a vocal style, the band could be roughly compared to the approach of The Unmothered, another Austin band with a fascinating mindset towards heavy composition.  Curse the Heavens were an excellent contribution to the Metal and Lace bill, and were also responsible for some of the fastest moments of an evening mostly centered on tempos that rarely reached the triple-digits.

The stylistic odd-man-out of the night’s bill, the southern-rocking Slurr briefly lifted the audience from a doomy, sludgy haze and brought soulful solos and a rough style of singing to the patio.  Although I am an extreme metalhead by nature, I can appreciate well-played southern rock and metal (as a native Texan, I was raised on my share of ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd albums), and Slurr’s set was certainly appealing to the part of my brain that recalls putting those classic rock LPs on my turntable as a youth.  The previously-mentioned guitar solos were contributed by both players in the band, trading bluesy pentatonic licks while Slurr’s tight rhythm section maintained the solid groove.  For a more contemporary example, one could compare many parts of Slurr’s style to Clutch, especially the bluesier riffs and catchy leads.  The song “Crystal Rises” was introduced as a song about crystal meth (for those of you keeping score at home, that brings us to two songs about meth in two reviews), and several songs featured start-and-stop guitar parts that allowed the whiskey-soaked vocal melodies to stand out.  If your taste caters to bands like Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Corrosion of Conformity (the Pepper years), Slurr is a band you should check out.  As a side note, the band was kind enough to give me a free CD of their EP and a shot glass (although I don’t personally drink, I have a friend who does and was thankful that I passed the shot glass on to him) when they noticed me standing around, so I would like to use this space to say that I appreciate the gifts.  Another switch from the Metal and Lace patio to the inside stage was in order, and it was time for Beneath Oblivion — who would show themselves to be comparable to a musical steamroller — to begin.

Ohio’s Beneath Oblivion proved to be a favorite of the night, with a monolithic style of sludge metal that utilized the “wall of sound” approach of aggressive sludge bands such as Fistula, with whom they share the same geographical proximity (and whom I would not recommend YouTubing without clarifying “Fistula+band+metal” — trust me).  Another central characteristic of Beneath Oblivion’s set was the various samples the band used, blasted from a laptop against the vortex of crashing guitar chords.  Vocally, piercing shrieks and inhuman grunts flew over the slamming guitar chords and colliding cymbals in a sonic equivalent of winged creatures of aforementioned Lovecraftian nightmares; a cacophony that filled the inside of Metal and Lace with the threat of the very walls collapsing from the audial avalanche.  To top things off, the band used a fog machine, which enhanced the atmosphere in the venue to great effect.  Beneath Oblivion’s style is one that forgoes flashy, melodic riffs, and instead concentrates on summoning monstrously intense guitar drones and drumming that brought the “death-by-volume” style to the next level of intensity.  The role of the bass guitar was to contribute the those stomach-rumbling frequencies that no doom band should be without; a role that fit in quite well with the other instruments in the band, covering the lowest sounds in Beneath Oblivion’s spectrum.  The powerful set was brought to conclusion with “Empire”, an overwhelming dirge that bulldozed the audience, and the impact was easily enough to burst lesser men’s eardrums with sheer density.  Beneath Oblivion was certainly an impressive live act, with a bludgeoning set that did not go unappreciated.  Beneath Oblivion are currently on a tour that concludes on August 29th in Lexington, Kentucky at Al’s Sidecar (which is tomorrow as of the time of this writing), and witnessing this band in the live setting would be highly recommended if you have the opportunity.  If you happen to be reading this after their tour has concluded, you can still listen to Beneath Oblivion through the usual e-channels of Facebook and YouTube, so if the idea of sledgehammer-grade-heavy doom metal appeals to you, you should not waste any time exploring this band’s music.

The unique Bearded Ox continued the show after Beneath Oblivion’s performance, and they were certainly one of the more intriguing acts of the night (especially if you happen to be a bass player, which is true for myself).  I’d witnessed Bearded Ox at Headhunters last summer (pre-“Bar Rescue” transformation) and was impressed by their bare-bones approach to sludge, utilizing only a distorted bass guitar and effective percussion that easily retained my interest.  Without the presence of a six-string electric guitar to provide riffs, solos, and melodies that could worm their way into a fan’s ear, Bearded Ox rely on alternate methods of grabbing the listener, blasting out bass riffs that were conjured through at least two different effect pedals (possibly three — as I was unable to visually confirm if one pedal was exclusively for tuning).  With the band’s creatively-used setup, there are very few comparisons that one could make for Bearded Ox’s music. You could say some songs recall the churning of Ride for Revenge or if one is willing to stretch, a murky, droning version of Greek black metal legends Necromantia (if Necromantia only used one bass guitar and played at 1/4th the tempo of “Black Mirror”).  Despite these rough comparisons, at the end of the day, Bearded Ox is Bearded Ox, and their original approach to sludge definitely deserves attention.  The band kept audience interaction to a minimum, focusing on the synchronized jamming between the two instrumentalists, as if they represented the forces of thunder and Earth themselves colliding in unison.  Also of note was the lighting display on the patio which — provided that the audience member was in the right location — highlighted the reflection of Bearded Ox’s drummer/vocalist against the projection screen placed adjacent to the soundboard.  The captivating set was unlike any other of the night, and when it was over, there was only one more band to bring Friday’s display of doom and gloom to a ripping conclusion.

With vocalist/guitarist Steve Colca (who also runs the informative Austin Heavy Music site and Facebook page) at the helm, Destroyer of Light closed out the night with a forty-minute set of well-composed doom metal that served as a fitting summation for the night’s bill.  The band’s name accurately described their songwriting style, which ran the doom gamut from old-school devotion (i.e. in the style of Pentagram) to crushing stoner riffs right out of the Electric Wizard playbook, with some more upbeat rocking moments to speed things up from time to time.  Amplification feedback inspired by sludge deities Eyehategod (as stated in Destroyer of Light’s band Facebook biography) also proved to be a valuable tool in the band’s arsenal, with blasts of screeching controlled from a pedal to introduce several songs, which set the mood appropriately.  Colca’s varying vocals were also a superb asset to the band’s presentation, ranging in delivery from a bleak wail in the style of St. Vitus’s Scott Wino to a throat-wrenching growl that was used in some of the band’s more intense moments.  Although Destroyer of Light has been around since early 2012, making them a fairly newer group in the Austin scene, they played with a cohesiveness and chemistry that was the mark of a band far ahead of the curve, which is always a refreshing sight to see when at shows.  As the hour of 2:00am approached, Destroyer of Light finished their set with one of their heaviest moments, guaranteeing that they would leave a memorable impression on the attendees of Metal and Lace.  The band will shortly be embarking on the “Doomed to Thrash Tour” with Austin thrashers Widower, who themselves were featured in a review of the August 8th War Master show at Infest.  The tour dates are September 26th through October 21st, with two Austin dates — a kick-off show at Infest Austin on Thursday, September 26th and an end-of-tour bash on Monday, October 21st at The Grand.  It should go without saying that both bands deserve support, so whether you prefer heavy metal played at warp-speed or a slow crawl, you will want to see this tour if it comes to your area.

For those whose tastes cater to “tuned low and played slow”, Friday’s show was an ideal way to spend one’s night.  Thanks again to Metal and Lace (a.k.a. Headhunters) and the people who book shows at the venue for continuing to host all types of metal shows for the city of Austin.  For information and reviews regarding local metal happenings in and around the Austin area, you can keep checking this column on Southern Decay.  See you at the next show!

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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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