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Pallbearer and Pilgrim Best A Stellar Lineup at Pitchfork.com's SXSW Day Party at ND

South By Southwest 2012 maintained its tradition of billing a long list of heavy bands from an assortment of styles. Attendees began pouring in from every corner of the globe on the previous Friday to experience the interactive and film portion of the city-wide festival. Traditionally, at least during the last few years, the music segment starts five days later on Wednesday. Even though I attended a free show at Emo’s East featuring High on Fire, our coverage begins with Wednesday’s usual sonic circus.

Torn between the Thrasher/Converse Death Match Day Party at Scoot Inn and Pitchfork’s Show No Mercy show at ND, I opted for the Pitchfork show. The Thrasher show included legendary hardcore punk acts Fear and Cro-Mags as well as Nachtmystium, but I chose the doomed tones of Rwake, Pallbearer and Pilgrim at the Pitchfork.com show.

While the above bands (minus Rwake) slowly churned out seismic-measured ringing guitar tones, Mutilation Rites appeared in fast forward mode. The New York band offered a surprise brand of raw, true black metal. Technically, they weren’t the only black metal band at the festival. They weren’t even the sole black metal band at this show—Deafheaven shared this distinction. Alcest and Nachtmystium would bring their share of shrieking vocal daggers. However, Mutilation Rites was the only band that didn’t wrap its metallic impetus in swirling ambiance, droning passages or artsy progressions. Nope, these New Yorkers maintained a grim disposition of blasting drums and cold, thin tones sharp enough to slice wrists and throats.

They didn’t sail the Gulf of Mexico on the Mayflower, but Pilgrim’s set was akin to a spiritual journey. The Rhode Island-based power trio harnessed the gargantuan power first tapped by doom figure heads Cathedral, Electric Wizard and Reverend Bizarre. Viscose guitar chords rippled through the airwaves. The colorfully named Krolg Splinterfist, Slayer of Men brought his sticks down on his drums with authority. Keeping with the tradition of modern doom, some of their tracks were on the repetitive side. A single rhythmic pattern could last minutes at a time before changing, which proved difficult for some due to the extensive length of their songs. Pilgrim’s weighty chords, operatic vocals and clobbering drums proved a festival highlight for fans of traditional doom.

Taking their name from a Henry Rollin’s quote, KEN Mode (Kill Everyone Now) brought their metallically charged hardcore to Austin for the second year straight. This time the group looked slightly different. Last year, Thérèse Lanz (Mares of Thrace) handled live bass duties. Andrew LaCour filled in the role this year. Even though the personnel change did little in terms of altering the band’s sound, Lanz’s performance brought something different to the table, which was lost this year. The group’s energy, which followed every sharp twist and turn in their music, was present again this year. The bass ripped through speakers in a thunderous fashion. KEN Mode put on an electrified performance, but their twangy tones and constant changes couldn’t keep my attention.

Deafheaven’s popularity has grown tremendously since last year’s SXSW performance. The San Francisco group creates a type of shoe gazing ambiance that has become a viral trend in today’s black metal scene (as affirmed by Alcest’s performance later in the week). A dictionary depiction of shoe gaze black metal would show Deafheaven. Decked out in glasses, short hair and small-fitting t-shirts, part of the group represented the shoe gaze/alternative side of the band. Singer George Clarke sported a similar haircut, but his demeanor fit the sinister side of black metal. Adorning all black including tall boots, Clarke clutched the mic as if he were dying and it contained some special, life-affirming ingredient. Although he unleashed distant shrieks on the group’s debut full-length “Roads to Judah,” his microphone needed additional volume. Deafheaven’s swirling sound scapes and single-note melodies struck the perfect balance between savage, blasting drums and succession of neon-black tracing guitar notes.

No one can dispute the fact that a variety of sounds echo through Austin’s dimly light halls during March. Even in a niche style of music like metal, SXSW guarantees no confusion from one band to another. Hailing from the Deep South, Savannah, Georgia’s Black Tusk took the show in a completely different direction. Black Tusk lifted the audience’s spirit out of black nether regions cast by Deafheaven, put a beer in their hand and a smile on their face. Bassist Jonathan Athon wore a beard so long it puts Johan Hegg’s (Amon Amarth) to shame (big beards are every where in Austin). He joined in jam sessions with guitarist/vocalist, Andrew Fidler, who often played his guitar over his head. The group’s liveliness and stoner rock style where a good fit for the dirty south.

The Atlas Moth once again shifted the tempo downwards. They were stylistically different from Deafheaven, but they took a similar approach. The Atlas Moth combined sludgy chords with spacey keyboards, resulting in a big, layered sound. Their use of lasers created a kaleidoscope of stars on the crowd, band and on the projector screen to the side of the stage. This made for a psychedelic experience. The Atlas Moth’s performance was one that truly called for a certain mood. Those who wanted anthemic lyrics or blazing fast rhythms probably didn’t pay much attention. Those looking for a fantastic release could have closed their eyes and drifted off into fictional worlds.

Pallbearer took Rwake’s spot as the afternoon’s closer. Rwake cancelled all of their SXSW performances, including the High On Fire show on the previous night. Both Rwake and Pallbearer hail from Arkansas, have shared members and play down tempo, but like Pilgrim, Pallbearer adheres to an earlier form of doom. Singer Brett Campbell’s eerie voice falls somewhere between Wino (Saint Vitus, The Obsessed) and Messiah Marcolin of Candlemass. Their guitar tones rose through the hall like giant pillars of grief. In December, Pallbearer played Austin with Mournful Congregation the day after Rites of Darkness III festival. Both shows were astonishing. As stated above, Pallbearer was a highlight of SXSW 2012 for all fans of traditional (epic) doom metal.

Pitchfork’s decision to use ND validates the city’s plan to move its clubs to the east side. I liked the venue’s balcony and projection screen. The lighting was similar to most of the bars in Austin—barely noticeable. Capturing a dimly lit subject was my only gripe. The bar featured a strong lineup of varying degrees. ND presented a billing of down tempo artists that was unmatched at SXSW 2012.

Rex_84's avatar

An avid metal head for over twenty years, Darren Cowan has written for several metal publications and attended concerts throughout various regions of the U.S.

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