Pentagram Headed Up Two Stages Of Hard Rock And Heavy Metal During July 4th
Band Photo: Pentagram (?)
Held at the Mohawk on the historic Red River Street in Austin, Texas, American Icon Records (AIR) produced two stages featuring some of the best hard rock and heavy metal bands not only in Austin, but in the state of Texas. Both nights (I only attended day one) included a headliner that played on the open-air stage. Seminal doom faction, Pentagram headed up Independence Day, while The Sword--a local act with a international following--played day two.
As result of much needed rain (Texas has undergone a six-year draught), summer has stayed relatively cool. A breeze further cooled the night, especially once the sun went down. Air conditioning kept the indoor stage cool, but the first band we caught, Rust, was on fire. I don't recall having seeing them prior to tonight, but I recall their being on the bill with The Sword at a show I covered for MU precisely three years ago. I believe I arrived too late three years ago, but made their set a priority this time. The Austin band plays a style that is hard to pin point. Their Facebook page lists them as doom and sludge, but the band's pace is slightly faster than the average down-tempo artist. Rust played with a lot of feeling and energy. Vocalist, Dustin Bolf screamed and growled words that shimmered through speakers long after his delivery. I stood in front of one-half of their six-string section, Patrick Puente, whose brief bows in front of an Orange speaker produced thin slabs of feedback. This was the perfect kick-off performance.
The venue ran a tight ship, so all the bands started within five minutes of the billed time. This, however, proved impossible to watch a full set and then catch the beginning of the next band on the adjacent stage. We missed maybe five minutes of Ditch Witch. One would think the group is a crossover band judging by their art and love for skating (check out the song "We Sold Our Souls"). The group even sold their own skateboards! Punk definitely seeped into their vocals, but the shredding guitar duo of Nick and Erich was more akin to Judas Priest's K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton. Erich wore black gloves, common attire for a drummer, which was unusual but it made him look like a bad ass along with his cut-off Angel Witch shirt. It's great to see the old wave of British metal sound so new and fresh.
Venomous Maximus had just launched into their single "Moonchild" from their 2012 Napalm release "Beg Upon The Light." Bands don't always choose their best songs for singles, but after hearing the album, this was the song that milled around in my head. Some of their grooves are akin to stoner bands like The Sword, but Greg Higgins' voice is vamperic and mournful. Also, like Ditch Witch before them, there is a NWOBHM feel to their songs, although with thicker textures. The Houston band's energy seemed palpable as evidenced by the small crowd fervently banged their heads and pumped their fists.
After Venomous Maximus' set, I walked away from a Houston band to see another Houston band play outside, War Master. War Master's core members--R.g. War-Minister, vocals, Neal Dossey, guitar--are from Houston, formerly of the grind group, Insect Warfare, but two members--J.T. Smith (The Blood Royale) and Trans Am (Hod) hail from here in Austin. War Master was the fastest, most extreme band on the bill and their performance showed that. Hyper blast beats and a crusty wall of sound caused the first pit of the night to break out. R.g. War-Minister introduced "Lust For Battle," the song the band named their current tour after, by unsheathing a sword and pointing it at the crowd to lead the charge into battle. Fans of Bolt Thrower, Grave and Master take notice.
I missed the next band, White Mystery, to partake in a veggie dog at the trailer across the street. I could hear The Well's dual vocal approach while eating my dinner in my car parked on the next street up from the venue. At first, I thought I heard crowd members, but then realized the secondary voice was from bassist, Lisa Alley. This Austin band was another act I caught three years ago with The Sword. They played tight grooves of the Black Sabbath or Sleep, sometimes playing the dark, open-chord variety, but often playing bluesy and psychedelic. The Well was a tasty appetizer to the night's main course of Pentagram.
Pentagram looked really old, especially Bobby Liebling. It appears as if he is missing quite a few teeth as he kept gumming his mouth. Also, his hair is completely white. It's awesome that he can still get up and rock, though, considering his band is older than me. Wearing a studded leather jacket and tights, Liebling had a genuine look straight from the 80s. His stage act was fun to watch--grabbing Victor Griffin on the leg or pressing his cheek to Griffin's shoulder in an Ozzy fashion during shredding guitar solos. Liebling clutched his waist, stood up straight and assumed a dignified look. Other times, he was lost in the song and conversed with imaginary characters.
Pentagram had an immaculate sound, as did every band on the bill. The sound guy did his job well this night. One song that sounded particularly good was a cover of The Animals "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." The keyboard melody translated well into Griffin's guitar. Outside of "Summertime Blues" By Blue Cheer, I can't think of a better 60s song transformed through heavy tones. Also, the crowd sang the chorus loudly: "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh lord, please don't let me be misunderstood." The band played an hour and a half worth of material, so fans certainly heard their favorite, classic Pentagram tunes. For me that song was "Forever My Queen." There is such a vintage quality that begs to be heard on vinyl. Liebling and his cast look old, but they still have the energy and drive to put on one hell of a rock show!
The Bulemics played inside after Pentagram's set. Playing after the headliner is a tough act to follow but these rockers brought the punk hard, fast and heavy. Here was another band that got the crowd moshing, even if it were only two drunk and sweaty dudes! Sensing the let-down of energy after Pentagram, the band's singer, Gerry Atric, jumped into the crowd and joined the two sweaty dudes pitting. There was a hint of rowdiness pushed further by the singer's participation. Every song was a toxic brew of punk and hardcore. Mr. Atric asked the crowd if they could sing a GG Allin song. Everyone liked GG, but couldn't sing word-for-word his songs. I wasn't familiar with the tune, but whatever song it was, it ripped. I can see why they were named the best punk band in Austin by the Austin Chronicle.
I didn't catch the last band, Lower Class Brats, another punk group because they played at 1:30 and I was tired. Jonathan Galyon and his AIR put on one hell of a show. I didn't need to spend my time starting at fifteen minutes of fireworks this 4th of July when these bands provided all the fireworks I needed.
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