The Goregrowler's Ball 5, Day 3: Suffocation Shines Amidst Band Cancellations and Numerous Mishaps
Death is just the beginning, so says the title of Nuclear Blast’s compilation series. In the case of The Goregrowler’s Ball 5, death was just the beginning on Friday. Once Sunday, the third and final day of the fest arrived, many were feeling death was never ending. After three days of having one’s body blasted by the hardest, fastest and loudest music known to man, a headache or two afflicted more than one of the band members and ticket purchasers. Due to little seating, the vendors claimed most of the seating inside, many found a curb or fence to rest their ailing backs and feet.
Those taking in all three days were not about to give in to their fatigue, though. While just about everyone took occasional retreats to the parking lot to recharge at their cars (and party), most third-day attendees hung in to the very end. These metal warriors conjured the strength to bang bodies (even after massive bruising) one more time during Suffocation’s closing set.
Unfortunately, the number of purchases at the door was significantly less than the first two days. Hirax and Brutal Truth made climatic performances. Even before taking in our first act of the day, The Goregrowler’s Ball lone stoner/doom band, Pill Crusher, we felt something was amiss. According to a post on promoter Aaron Mendiola’s Facebook page, Sunday continued the trend of the previous days with a headcount fewer than 100 paying customers. The number of band members, vendors and sponsors gave the false impression of more money being exchanged. Because of the poor turn out, bands weren’t paid, a custom guitar was taken away from its raffle and raffle ticket holders weren’t refunded their money, and bands cancelled.
After much deliberation, grinders Phobia, Suffocation’s direct support, cancelled. Sunday’s lineup featured fewer big names than the previous days, so losing Phobia really hurt. Many of the bands that performed on Sunday were Texas groups. This didn’t mean bands of lesser quality—some of these groups have a solid following in the global, metal underground, but these groups were a common sight for the locals. Although bands came from California (Gutsaw), Florida (Extremely Rotten) Mexico (Rotteness) and Minnesota (Face of Oblivion), none of these groups possessed the drawing power of a Goatwhore or Hirax. Suffocation was the lone, headline act.
After watching the stoner swagger of Pillcrusher, which featured Hod’s Beer Reebs at the helm, Flesh Hoarder put on a brutal death metal clinic on the outside stage. Guitarist Mike De Leon and drummer Rene Martinez pulled double duty, taking the stage again with Disfigured a couple of hours later. De Leon strapped on his green and black Jackson guitar for a third time when he joined Bloodsoaked for a rare, two-musician set. Martinez’s tight beats and fast feet combined with De Leon’s catchy hooks made for an enjoyable set.
Shawn Whitaker was another familiar face on Korova’s stages. Early in the day, Whitaker filled in vocals for Florida upstarts, Extremely Rotten. Later in the evening, he strapped on his black Jackson guitar (similar body to De Leon’s guitar) and let grotesque imagery flow from his tongue during Viral Load. A performance by Whitaker is also special given his graceful guitar play, ghoulish countenance and knack for strong song writing.
Day three truly lived up to festival’s moniker. This was the day death metal dominated. Comatose Records featured many multiple acts from the brutal, underground roster. Engaged in Mutilating was one such artist. Led by festival promoter, Aaron Mendiola, the group performed a crushing, technical set of Origin-like death metal. Mendiola’s performance satisfied me, even though he said it was not his best due to illness. Minnesota’s Face of Oblivion also represented Comatose. The hateful song themes and spastic rhythms kept ex-Origin vocalist James Lee frantically moving about the stage. Although Eric Baumgaurd possessed mad drumming skills, he made the impression of using electronic components on his drum kit as a crutch.
Featuring acclaimed death metal artist (Suffocation) and Sarcolytic front man, Jon Zig, Images of Violence made an impact as another of Texas’ premiere death metal acts. We missed most of their set, but made it inside to catch a song and a half of blood splattering, spine-severing brutal death metal. Images hasn’t released an album since the 2006 recording, “Degrade the Shapeless,” so hopefully 2012 will bring a new album and more live appearances.
Bloodsoaked made a lasting impression on this scribe during their set at Goregrowler’s Ball 2. This time, lone death dealer Peter Hasslebrack’s planned a one-time, trio performance with drummer Seth Van De Loo of Severe Torture and Mike De Leon of Flesh Hoarder and Disfigured. Van De Loo was in attendance, but he didn’t play the set. Still, Hasslebrack commanded a grand performance, trading off leads with fellow shredder De Leon. The two gelled well; De Leon was the perfect enhancement to Hasslebrack’s gut-piercing-sharp guitar tones.
Rotteness filled in the spot vacated by Phobia. The Mexican death grinding trio played an energetic set, which resulted in many tracer-lined photos. Guitarist Jaleel matched the banging of his head with the force of his riffs. Vocalist, Silas paced the stage like a perturbed, caged tiger. For a band with a miniscule presence compared to Suffocation, they received a tremendous crowd response. Much of the crowd knew of Rotteness’ dilemma—they never received their plane ticket home that was promised by the promoter. Some of the vendors and other promoters, however, stepped up and raised money for the band to get home. That guitar that was never raffled was later raffled at a benefit show, so the band could make their way home.
Suffocation are like gods to the slam-heavy brutality that pervades the Texas underground scene, so the stage crowding during their set came as no surprise. Rumors of the band cancelling their performance made the crowd that much eager to get a good look. Frank Mullin didn’t exude the serial-killer stage presence seen on other stages, but his voice was in top shape. Mike Smith pounded at light speed, while guitarists Terrance Hobbs and Guy Marchais traded off solos with exceptional precision and dexterity. The memorable pace changes, from skull-stomping slam movements to blistering speed, is one of the facets that make this group so great. This performance upheld this (continual) greatness.
Just like the headliners before them, Suffocation received a short set. A proper set time would have been over an hour. These New Yorkers only played forty-five minutes or less. Still, in those forty-five minutes the group churned out some of its best material. The group played early favorites such as “Infecting the Crypts,” “Thrones of Blood” and “Pierced From Within,” while squeezing in new classics such as “Blood Oath” and “Bind Torture Kill.”
The Goregrowler’s Ball 5 featured the same problems all large-scale metal fests experience. The headliners often got shafted with short set times and bands baled. The festival was such a disaster in so many ways for Mendiola that he announced it would be his last. I hope he can work everything out and continue the tradition he has built in the last five years because from a fan’s stand point, the festival was a huge success. Most of the top-tier bands played. Regardless of their ticket-selling status, the festival was loaded with awesome bands. Everybody seemed to have a good time. In the end, though, a show that takes this much planning and funding should be profitable. It’s sad to say, but saying goodbye after Suffocation’s set was most likely a goodbye to this chapter in Texas metal history.
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