The Goregrowler's Ball 5, Day One
Band Photo: Havok (?)
Texas is a large enough state, the largest of the lower forty-eight, and has so many metal scenes that its promoters have built festivals consisting solely of bands within its large borders. The Goregrowler’s Ball built its foundation on Lone Star groups. The first installment began five years ago, when festival organizer, Aaron Mendiola (read his interview) threw a thirty-band birthday bash in honor of his thirtieth birthday. Devourment headlined, a Texas band, albeit one of international acclaim. Since the first sanguinary celebration in 2007, Mendiola has continually increased the amount of signed bands with strong reputations in the metal underground, culminating with the strongest lineup yet at this year’s festivities.
As many festival promoters before him have done, Mendiola tapped some of the talent from ongoing tours. The Metal Underground-sponsored tour featuring Exhumed, Goatwhore and Havok provided day one’s headliners. Singaporean black metallers, Impiety didn’t have to board a plane for thirty hours (or however long it takes) to arrive in Texas. The festival comprised their San Antonio stop on the tour. Gravehill were part of this tour and were originally scheduled to play the Ball, but cancelled at the beginning of the month. Internal Bleeding, Hirax and Brutal Truth took center stage on Saturday and Suffocation ended the fest in a bone-breaking fashion.
The “A Clockwork Orange” dubbed Korova Club played host to the event. The club’s downtown location provided plenty of cheap parking, but the outdoor stage sparked controversy from townies and tourists alike. As if the festival were an odd, new River Walk attraction, people passing by often stopped and took in the strange noises that emanated from Korova’s parking lot stage. Food and beverages were prohibited from entering or leaving Korova’s gated premises, but allegedly one patron took a beer to the parking lot, which resulted in the club receiving a fine. On the third day, one of the fans alleged that the outdoor stage would be shut down due to excessive profanity. That never happened, but Goatwhore’s 11:30-12:00 outdoor showing went inside. Day two saw the indoor-outdoor shuffle retire at 10 PM and even earlier on the third day.
Two fixtures in the San Antonio death metal scene, Emperial Massacre and Vaginal Bear Trap opened the fest. Led by mosh pit general, “Hellbound” Jeff, Emperial Massacre opened the fest with violent, guttural death metal. Vaginal Bear Trap de-virginized the indoor stage. The three-piece played chunky-groove-heavy rhythms and announced every song title as “errrr.” Uncleansed represented more brutal TXDM. The Houston act featured front man, Shawn Whitaker. Whitaker was a common site during the weekend, playing in three bands. His eyes-rolled-back-in-head and invisible-orange talons were an entertaining visual enhancement to his unearthly low grumbles.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Enabler left a lasting impression on those who witnessed their searing brand of hardcore punk and grind. From chugging riffs to blistering blasts, the group demolished its outdoor audience. Back inside, Nokturnel played a set of menacing death and thrash metal. Ex-Incantation growler, Tom Stevens shrieked fitting notes for the lycanthrope-named band. He played guitar faster than a speeding silver bullet and created epic dynamics through soloing and slow, fist-pumping rhythms. Nokturnel had formerly announced Solstice drummer Alex Marquez behind the drum kit, but were forced to fly in a drummer when Marquez couldn't play the set. The drummer Nokturnel used played exquisitely, pumping his feet in the creation of furious kick beats.
Impiety joined Plutonian Shore under the sign of the black mark as representatives of black metal. Since 1990, Impiety has kept the hell fires burning in the Far East, and their performance reflected their seasoned calling. Decked out in black, leather, bullet belts and face paint, the group blazed through material that went back to their first album “Asateerul Awaleen.” There was no sign of keyboards or Renaissance instruments, just straight forward, blast-your-face-off blackened death metal. The lights from the parking garage in the background lit up each member’s blood-covered face. The musky scent of their blood slightly accosted our nostrils, although it was of a much milder scent than Watain’s stage of horrors.
Havok and Birth AD brought an old school thrash aesthetic to the festival. Led by Jeff Tandy of Averse Sefira fame, Birth AD assaulted the crowd with tongue-twisting vocal rhythms, gang choruses and hardcore-addled speed. Havok has become a familiar sight on the American heavy metal tour circuit, but their energized attack seemed fresh to its outdoor audience. These guys are young, but they have a knack for writing catchy tunes that elicited pitting, fist pumping and head banging. Their audio mêlée left the impression that these guys are surely one of the elite “new school” thrash bands.
Featuring ex-members of Malevolent Creation and Demolition Hammer, Solstice made a rare appearance. The old school Florida death metal group has made many splits and reunions since forming in 1990. I witnessed the last two songs of their set, walking in during a progressive, bass-heavy moment that was an unusual-though-welcomed site for the fest. The group’s farewell consisted of pure Florida Death metal with attention to heart-stopping speed of drummer Alex Marquez.
Goatwhore’s all-star cast of New Orleans musicians marked the highlight of the evening for many in attendance. They surely received the greatest response. The crowd fed off the vigorous stage presence of Leather-gauntleted front man, Benjamin Falgoust. From tortured screams to teeth-gnashing growls, Falgoust narrated the band’s macabre tales. Acid Bath alum, Sammy Duet joined drummer Zack Simmons in blackened death metal rhythms that possessed the crowd to flail hair or bob domes.
Goatwhore came in like a Kansas tornado, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. The crowd dimmed considerably after the NOLA group bid its adieu. Possibly, this was due to their popularity or the fact that Exhumed began around 1 AM. Exhumed didn’t show any signs of tiring, though. Touring in support of their first studio album in seven years, the group treated its onlookers with grisly grindcore. Their punky rhythms fit the mosh-friendly crowd like an Ed Gein skin suit. Most of the band was in tact, but were without drummer extraordinaire, Danny Walker. Mike Hamilton of Deeds of Flesh proved an ideal replacement. Additionally, Bodybag Bob of Gravehill manned the second guitar position. Staying with the group’s blackened humor; they brought out a man in a surgeon’s outfit and a chainsaw. Whether you like Exhumed or not, you have to admit these guys have fun.
Day one of The Goregrowler’s Ball went smoothly. There were no unwelcome surprises. The Goregrowler’s Ball listed the running order of bands on its Web site, which was nice for those who printed out each list, but there were no schedules at the venue except one on the wall in the front of the building. This could have been better planned, but was nothing of grave concern. Check back in with Metal Underground for reports of day two and three.
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