Contributed by Jake Holmes
September 28th, 2013 is a day that shall live in infamy for the Texas metal scene, for this was the site of the fourth battle between San Antonio and Houston. No, I’m not referring to the clashing of muskets or street brawls (more on that sort of shenanigan later), but rather to a series of shows thrown by San Antonio promoter Broken Board that places extreme metal bands from both cities in a single venue, to “battle” over an evening. This time, the matchup was formidable with San Antonio’s troops consisting of black/death metallers Hod, the grotesque Ballgag, the dark Absvrdist, and the ripping Headache; on the other hand, Houston’s lineup contained a grinding lineup of circle-pitters P.L.F., the confident Turbokrieg, the stripped-down Mindboil, and black/thrashers Peasant. This, folks, was going to be one for the ages. Houston’s Bolt Thrower-channelers War Master unfortunately had to cancel shortly before the show took place, but the lineup of the 28th proved to be killer regardless.
Going into battle with a sore neck from the Cleric show at the Lost Well the night before (SUPPORT!), I arrived at one of my favorite venues in San Antonio — The Korova. Rather than split up the show between the upstairs venue and the basement, the venue was organized to have about half the bands play on the main stage and half play on the floor, which was a fine arrangement in the end. Most of the bands on the floor stage were grind-oriented, and being eye-level with grind bands always contributes to the atmosphere (even if anyone with a mic stand in front of them runs the risk of getting their teeth knocked in if a pit starts).
The punky Headache were the first band of the night, juxtaposing furiously quick grindcore with droning breaks. A significant highlight of Headache’s lineup came in the form of the drumming; the skin-bashing was very powerful for the entirety of the set, whether the song at the moment called for crawling slow beats or rapid-fire snare attacks — with both styles illustrating captivating contrast. Their guitarist/vocalist used a shouting vocal style that had an air of conviction behind it with backup from the bass guitar, strengthening the power of the stringed section while the drums pounded away. This solid instrumental backbone got a few crowd members thrashing around, a solid signal for what was to come later on in the night. Headache showed to be a fitting beginning to an energy-fueled show, kicking things off in a positive manner. Upon the last hit of the drum, it was time to venture over to the main stage for the first Houston band of the evening to step up to the plate — Peasant.
Peasant had a style that seemed to be rooted in early ’90’s black metal with an added dose of speed metal and a rock and roll attitude for good measure. Vocals were delivered in the form of a subtle rasp that could be compared to The Black Lourde of Crucifixion’s performance on Grand Belial’s Key’s “Mocking the Philanthropist”, while the instrumentalists raucously riffed with power and force. Several sections could be compared to the rocking punch of Midnight while others were more intricate with tricky guitar parts and the occasional solo that utilized both guitar players to the band’s benefit (one of whom, Ben, would play a set with Turbokrieg later on in the night). Peasant were the only band of the evening whose style didn’t have a noticeable connection with grindcore (along with Hod, whom we’ll get to shortly), and while there certainly isn’t anything wrong with a whole show full of the genre, it was a welcome change-of-pace which kept the show rolling smoothly (and bonus points go to playing the main riff of Tormentor’s “Elisabeth Bathory” during the soundcheck — if my ears didn’t deceive me) .
One of the more interesting bands of the night was Absvrdist, who have been rapidly gaining ground as a formidable act in the San Antonio underground with a sinister take on modern grindcore. Especially notable was the blistering tone of the bass guitar, kicking the power of the syncopated grooves (when present) up a considerable notch. The tone brought to mind the clashing of mechanics in a factory (such as the kind that could result in the loss of a limb if one is not careful around them), and combined with the meticulously-precise percussion made the rhythm section a highlight of Absvrdist’s sound. Their animated singer would growl and shriek, and while the vocals were low in the mix, one could tell that he was clearly giving his all into the performance. The single guitar was responsible for dissonant and obscure riffing, taking the band further out of the realm of conventional grindcore and into vexing new territory that was rewarding for the listener. The drumming was some of the most accurate I have ever seen, with Lyle Cooper standing tall as one of the best of his class. As the set came to an end, Absvrdist showed that they are definitely a band worth keeping an eye on. With the Absvrdist performance finished, it was time to move on to the mainstage, with Mindboil ready to attack.
The barebones Mindboil was a guitar/vocals and drums/vocals duo that cranked out a relentless set of hyperfast grindcore with the added bonus of pitchshifted vocals from drummer Frank (formerly of P.L.F., Insect Warfare, and a number of other killer grindcore bands). The vocal effect was not turned off during the set, leading to incomprehensible stage banter during the brief pauses between songs and making intermissions much more interesting. The riffs were cranked out from the electric guitar by Seattle M. (also of Turbokrieg) at such a frantic pace it was as if the band leader was catching up on a procrastinated quota. The face-ripping riffs were many in number and consistent in style, the sonic equivalent of a school of piranha stripping a cow to the bone in seconds. The set, as was the case with many of the grindcore-oriented bands of the night, went by in a flash, with minimal distractions that could prevent the proverbial impact from hitting at maximum force. For the last time of the night, it was time to return to the floor stage for brutal bludgeoning by Ballgag.
The return of San Antonio’s Ballgag also marked the point in the show where things started to get crazy. I’d run out to my car to drop off some merch (courtesy of Tomas of Morbosidad and his wife who had a merch booth set up — hails and thanks!) while Ballgag were setting up and returned a few seconds into their set, where I was greeted by an unexpected amount of bodies crashing up against each other in front of the band. The music of Ballgag was a mix of death metal and grindcore that was straightforward in execution with shrieking vocals to accompany slamming, violent riffs that worked the mosh pit into a frenzy. In a way, it reminded me of the attitude of Austrian favorites Pungent Stench with its twisted sensibility, and made for a very energetic live show. The vocals kept at an impressively high shriek that did not falter as the bodies in the mosh pit came within striking range, and the band kept conducting the violence in a way that made for a hell of a time. Ballgag’s reunion appears to be an ongoing process, with several shows lined up in the San Antonio area, and if the idea of brutal death metal fused with grind that is guaranteed to get a pit going sounds like a good time, you owe it to yourself to check them out. With this deathlyintermission finished, it was time to resume the Houston grind attack that took place on the mainstage, with the ever-entertaining Turbokrieg cranking away.
Turbokrieg is always a blast to see live, with their thrash-influenced style of grind that never gets old. Both members of Mindboil remained onstage (with Seattle switching to bass), prompting vocalist Sleazy T. to introduce a song as a Mindboil cover, in one of his many gems of tongue-in-cheek banter (another example: “Here’s a new song…it’s really good”). Speed is the name of the game with Turbokrieg (they couldn’t exactly play funeral doom with a name like “Turbokrieg”, after all), and they excel at warp-speed tempos without the need to hit the brakes during the set. Guitar work was delivered courtesy of an axeman named Ben (also of Peasant, War Master, Dissent, and Nibiru) which was a constant source of blazing rhythms and occasional solos while the bass and drums held the frantic beat down. As has been the case with every show I’ve seen of theirs to date, Turbokrieg ended with their cover of Metallica’s “Hit the Lights”, played faithfully but at a higher tempo, as one would expect from the whiplash-inducing Turbokrieg.
The battery between bands was reaching its peak once San Antonio’s Hod emerged to decimate the main stage with extreme metal fury. The five warriors of metal delivered a familiar set of black/death anthems that stirred a frantic mosh put for the duration of the performance. Chiefly focusing on post- “Serpent” material (as has been the case for several years), Hod played fan favorites such as “And The Smoke Will Rise”, with vocalist Beer Reebs passing the mic off to shouting audience members. Sometime in the middle of Hod’s set, the battle theme of the show became a bit too literal, as an all-out brawl took place as the mosh pit turned into a clash of chaos. Fortunately everything was ironed out and no one appeared to be seriously hurt, and then it was time to resume headbanging to “Demoralizer” and “In The Den of Wolves” (among others). Hod concluded with the aforementioned “Demoralizer”, leaving a hell of a challenge for the final band on the bill. Thankfully, the final assault came from no scraggly amateurs, but rather Houston’s own barons of blasting, P.L.F.
The ultra-violence of P.L.F. (a.k.a. Pretty Little Flower and Pulverizing Lethal Force) concluded Saturday night’s showdown with a full-on tactical strike of pure grind fury. The band is one of Houston’s most respected grind entities, winning over a legion of fans with their nonstop riffing and circle-pit-inducing beats. Not to disappoint, P.L.F. were at the top of their game on Saturday, with their set standing out as one of the best of the night. Vocalist Dave Callier (also of the excellent deathrashers Oath of Cruelty and the newest incarnation of Morbosidad) led P.L.F. to grindcore dominance at the show, giving the crowd exactly what they wanted — riffs, riffs, and more riffs. The tone of the bass was interesting in that the range of its frequency was geared more towards the high end of the spectrum, with a curious scraping sound to solo sections which benefitted the band’s kick-to-the-teeth approach. In P.L.F.’s world, everything is fast, distorted, and intense, which is exactly what grindcore should be. At one point, Callier stated that the band had not practiced for about four months, which seemed unbelievable as P.L.F. seemed at the top of their game throughout the performance. An encore was provided in the form of an Excruciating Terror cover, bringing the fourth battle of San Antonio against Houston to an explosive conclusion.
So the burning question remains: Who won the battle? San Antonio, or Houston? Given as how I had a blast throughout the entire show (and am also horribly indecisive), I will offer my answer that the (fourth) battle of San Antonio vs. Houston ended in a draw. Thanks to Broken Board, The Korova, and all the bands who played that night! We hope to do battle again very soon. See you there!
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.