Housecore Horror Film Festival
Review by Jay Gorania
Photos Alyssa Herrman
The second annual Housecore Horror Film Festival, spearheaded by Phil Anselmo and true crime author/heavy metal journalist Corey Mitchell, showcased an impressive line-up of heavy bands, horror movies and documentaries. The 40th Anniversary reunion of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s surviving cast members was but one event worthy of note, nevermind the fact that Danzig, Samhain, Superjoint Ritual, Napalm Death, Eyehategod, Cattle Decapitation and Portal performed.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2014
Hellbound’s eyes and ears were primarily focused on the musical side of things, however, and our starting point was at the “pre-fest” show at 6th Street’s Dirty Dog in downtown Austin, Texas. Australia’s gritty, vicious thrash outfit Hobbs’ Angel of Death may not be the most prolific of bands, but they still find themselves kicking and screaming more than 25 years after their inception. Their unrestrained madness and rage is what thrash is all about, world’s apart from the popular new wave of “party thrash.”
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2014
The festivities picked up again the next afternoon a few miles southward of Thursday evening’s show. Housecore fest once again took place at the complex housing the large venue, Emos, as well as the outdoor Midway stage, a courtyard full of merch booths, and a string of tents showing a variety of documentaries and horror films. Midday the music began outside with Evil United, the speed metal band fronted by the extremely talented Jason McMaster, formerly of Watch Tower and Dangerous Toys.
The thin crowd gradually grew and death metal vets Origin followed up with a clinical display of tech death metal expertise on every front. Jason Keyser is the consummate death metal front man, but his banter was repetitive and annoying. I’m not sure how many variations there could be for “Come on! Let’s get a pit going! Headbangers in the front! Moshers in the middle,” delivered in the obligatory manner with which a local cover band might urge the crowd to tip your bartenders. But he wouldn’t let up, and it never really worked.
Renowned comedian Brian Posehn was up next, and, unlike Keyser, he had an instant ability to “work the crowd.” As odd as it may be for a comedian to follow a brutal death metal band, his outrageous and metal-based material fit hand-in-hand with the audience’s coarse palate.
Posehn shocked show-goers by sharing a story in which he roasted Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor. Apparently he asked if Taylor was the dead one. For those who don’t know, Slipknot bassist Paul Gray died in recent years. The crowd awkwardly moaned. But as Posehn finished his story—by relating that he told Taylor, “It should have been you”—there was a roar of approval. In addition to some Star Wars pride jokes, Posehn began to deliver bits about serial killers. Not every audience would cheer for murderers, but look no further than metalheads to do so when he’d bring up the likes of John Wayne Gacy, a man who raped and killed dozens of men and boys. So, metal crowd, it’s uncouth to joke about a deceased metal musician, but jokes detailing the heinous crimes of homicidal pedophiles are an acceptable form of dark humor? Posehn proved his mastery of understanding the psychological framework of his audience, as well as the fascinating art of manipulating boundaries of one’s norms and standards of acceptability in a group context.
Posehn had the crowd wrapped around his finger, and the stage was set for more death metal. Cattle Decapitation was musically violent, relentless, melodic and chaotic. The beauty of Cattle Decapitation is that they aren’t simply a brutal death metal band; their compositions are meticulously crafted, songs that a fairly broad cross-section of metalheads and other music fans would enjoy. There was plenty of musical fat to chew on with quirky stringed instrument and percussive interplay, and such variety made the bludgeoning portions more significant. Travis Ryan’s vocals were seemingly inhuman at times whether he was growling deep or screeching like a wild banshee.
The event continued inside nearby Emos as the evening progressed. Salt Lake City’s SubRosa delivered a highly emotive set of thick doom with crooning female vocals and prominent electronic violins offering hints of folk and Americana. Sans the prototypical elements of heavy metal music, SubRosa was immensely heavy sonically. Toward set’s end, Rebecca Vernon addressed the crowd with a calm, soft voice. SubRosa let their music do the screaming. She didn’t have to stir up the crowd by asking for a pit in order to prove they’re heavy.
If the preceding act proved the fest was friendly to those pushing the envelope of what it means to be heavy, then counterbalance came with the traditional stylings of Wizards of Gore, who are essentially the classic Texas thrash band Rigor Mortis, minus Mike Scaccia (also of Ministry) who passed away in 2012. Travis Ryan took over the mic at one point and could barely contain his excitement as a fan himself. Vocalist Bruce Corbitt performed again later in the weekend with his hard-hitting thrash act Warbeast.
The darkest musical expression at the inaugural Housecore fest in 2013 came from Mayhem’s Attila Csihar performing the live score of the 1920 German silent horror The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He used a loop machine and effects to enhance his already ominous voice, visually augmented with his dark cloak which emanated smoke machine mist, bursting from his hands and face.
This year’s most notable ominous musical artistry came from down under. Australia’s Portal has quite a reputation. Their music is the sonic equivalent of a Lovecraftian nightmare brought to life. And how can we forget the charming frontman Curator of Time? That’s right. The dude who has worn a friggin’ clock on his head.
Aside from the unique visual aesthetic, Portal stands out where it matters. Their otherworldly dark music is certainly recognizable as metal, however, they eschew some of the more traditional riffs and structures from the likes of, say, Immolation or Dissection. At times chords remain suspended, left hanging with an element of repetition that may bore some listeners while nearly hypnotizing others with a sense of jagged noise. The Curator of Time doesn’t really sing over the entirety of songs: he chimes in to punctuate parts with deep, bellowing.
Some folks behind the scenes referred to him as “GQ of Time” since the vocalist supposedly has a striking, model-like appearance behind his cloak, an interesting anecdote considering that attractive faces are often capitalized as a marketing point, not hidden by clocks and demonic Pope-like headdresses.
David Hall’s unsettling interpretation of their music certainly enhanced their performance, projected behind the band that already has the power of an all-consuming horror movie. Although ’ol Curator had octopus-like tentacles extending from his fingers—pejoratively described by someone as “dangling dildos”—that had a sort of Disney World appeal that would make toddlers giggle.
None other than Canadian legends Voivod capped off Friday night with an impressive set that not surprisingly finds such mass appeal that reaches far enough outside of metal’s sphere to be influential upon the likes of Dave Grohl. Their new bassist Rocky filled in suitably for the recent (second) departure of original member Blacky; Away’s seemingly inhuman stamina and relentless skank beats propelled Voivod throughout; Daniel Mongrain’s guitar work paid homage to the unique dissonance of Piggy’s signature style; and Snake sufficiently revved up the crowd, in spite of, or perhaps partially because of, the way he dances and moves about the stage, much like your awkward uncle who is trying to be cool while bootie-shaking at a wedding.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2014
Saturday’s sun was just as unforgiving as it was the rest of the weekend, and Ringworm sounded like they were trying to tear the universe a new arse with their reliably bombastic metallic hardcore/thrash.
The mere fact that Polish death metal legends Decapitated played was a slow-clap worthy moment: their van wrecked the previous day on route to their New Orleans show, cause for alarm for many considering the band’s tragic 2007 bus crash in Belarus which claimed the life of original drummer Vitek, who was also guitarist Vogg’s brother. Fortunately, there were only minor injuries, and as Vogg told Hellbound, “We had to play. No choice. It’s what we do.”
The rhythm guitar back tracks prominently cut through Decapitated’s set’s thin sound, but no one could accuse them of “faking” anything, since they were Vogg’s tracks, a man who doesn’t get enough credit for his impressive virtuosity.
Looking like they just left their post at Radio Shack, Chicago’s nearly 30-year-old band Macabre followed up with their tried and true thrash-driven death metal, and Corporate Death’s fiendish child-like curiosity in all that’s morbid was evident as he related his experience of taking two hour trips to Milwaukee to attend Jeffrey Dahlmer’s trials.
In spite of the fact that Napalm Death suffered considerable sound problems (the sound people remedied the initial low volume and clarity, and Shane Embury’s bass sound cut out toward set’s end), their music’s inherent power sufficiently made a statement regardless. And in terms of live performance, they didn’t sound or look like they were 40-somethings. They had the energy of bands 20 or even 30 years their junior. Napalm Death is the Energizer Bunny of extreme music. Period.
But if Napalm Death wasn’t enough, yet another one of heavy music’s most important and influential acts took to the inside stage in the evening. It sounded like Neurosis was trying to spur an earthquake with their massive eruption. Their music is fit for trancing-out more than rocking-out along the lines of someone like Judas Priest or Testament. There is a spiritual component to their expression which can’t be denied, translating well in the live environment.
That’s a tough act to follow, but if anyone is able to follow Neurosis, it’s Gwar, certainly not as cerebral, but most definitely ridiculously OTT. If you can see through the gallons of fake blood pouring like rain and past their cavemen-on-steroids imagery, they’re a legitimately good metal band. However since the unfortunate passing of frontman and band leader Oderus Urungus earlier this year, they seem to have lost their focus and punk-like edge somewhat. Vulvatron’s fake blood-spewing breasts apparently captivated many in the crowd, but musically they didn’t have quite the punch they once had.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2014
Gritty crust punk was on deck as the final day began with with Krigblast, including Phobia’s Shane Mclachlan on bass, unleashing a raw, straightforward performance that had Randy Blythe’s attention to the point where he was snapping shots in the photo pit for most of their set. Gasmiasma, featuring Down bassist Patrick Bruders, followed up with a similar approach that was even more belligerent and potent.
There was much fanfare about Pig Destroyer’s set at the inaugural Housecore fest because it marked their debut with a live bassist: John Jarvis, drummer Adam Jarvis’ cousin. During the calm before the storm of last year’s show, the Jarvis cousins looked at each other with smiles stretched across their faces, banging knuckles with a fist pump, before launching into their explosive set.
This year, the Jarvis cousins returned with Fulgora, a catchy, groove-laden band that isn’t afraid of coloring the sonic canvas with everything from the sounds of late ’90s noisecore to pseudo black metal melodies, all while everything was anchored with bass-heavy grindcore.
Detroit’s Child Bite followed, sounding like a post punk band that was actually infected by rabies bites, their singer bringing to mind an image of Jello Biafra rambling his last words before being hauled off to the loony bin. Their maniacal presence and delivery was much more frantic and edgy than what you’ll find from 99 percent of metal bands.
And Housecore continued to mix it up with a diverse lineup that was logically planned out with Corrections House, the “all-star” band including Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, Eyehategod’s Mike Williams, Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont and Sanford Parker. Scott was less than impressed when the sound guy chimed in to let them know they had a few minutes left, angrily laughing and returning to their experimental expression of poetic industrial anger.
Like Superman returning to the telephone booth to change into Clark Kent’s clothing, Scott Kelly quickly made his way to the inside bar where he glued his eyes to a big screen, now wearing his Oakland Raiders hat and stripped of his militant/cult-like Corrections House garb revealing a dorky Hollywood Hogan t-shirt, only to witness his precious Raiders take a licking from the Cleveland Browns. Moans and sighs of disbelief and disgust escaped his chest several times. Later that evening he talked about his son and daughter in the same way you’d hear a story from someone sitting next to you on a bus or in a plane. Crazy metal superheroes are people too, it seems.
Last year at the inaugural installment of the fest, a lanky, spectacled guy approached a friend and me as we were sitting on a back stage area couch. He extended his arms offering two open beer cans. “Don’t worry. No one has sipped from these. We just used them as props for a photo shoot with Phil.” It’s likely that Mr. Anselmo’s fans wouldn’t have been troubled by seeing said promo pic without the beer, but it’s an interesting indicator that the metal world is just as subject to the predictable music business marketing ploys and presentations as what you’d find in the mainstream.
If there was a similar photo shoot this year employing such props, I’m going to venture to guess that Phil drank those beers, and then some, but he was well-composed, incredibly charming and likable onstage, and his vocal delivery was as good as it has ever been. Indeed, the much anticipated Superjoint Ritual reunion was powerful on every front. For legal reasons, Phil apparently called the band Superjoint because of some sort of disagreement with the original line-up; and considering that he expressed sorrow and concern for Hank WIlliams III’s absence, explaining that he had important family matters to tend to, and that drummer Joe Fazzio wasn’t there without any direct explanation given, it’s easy to infer where the discontent may exist.
The inclusion of Canada’s KEN mode was yet another example of Housecore not being a metal fest in the most pure or strict sense, for while there’s an obvious element of metallic hardcore in their diverse, unique style, a rabid form of noise rock is their essence. New bassist Skot Hamilton, also of Sasktatoon’s Adolyne, offered raw, brutish backing vocals that thickened the passionate screams of Jesse Matthewson, who crawled over the barricade to get right into the pit/crowd for their last song, “Never Was,” a finale that drew numerous people to get in Jesse’s face and scream along with him. Festival organizer Corey Mitchell was one of those people.
Corey tragically collapsed outside of his car and died of a heart attack a few hours later during loud-out. “Even before I heard the news, having everyone screaming in my face, Corey included, was pretty much the highlight of the fest for me. Hearing he dropped dead after the fest gutted me. We were catching a connecting flight in Dallas and it felt like someone punched me in the gut and balls at the same time. It left us pretty dumbfounded,” Jesse Matthewson said. “The last interaction I had with Corey was right before he and Phil did the final send off for the festival and we hugged. I’m glad that was how we parted ways.”
Corey ran around all weekend, doing his best to ensure the fest was running as well as possible, but he took a moment to breathe at the side of the stage for Superjoint’s set, nodding his head to each song. He wasn’t just a journalist and festival organizer, he was a fan.
One of the fest’s final bands was Eyehategod, a band still overcoming death’s unforgiving claws themselves. At the 2013 fest, Melvins drummer Dale Crover filled in behind the drum kit for Joey LaCaze, who died just a couple of months before that performance. Aaron Hill has since become their permanent drummer, and their signature southern blues ’n doom paradoxically delighted the crowd with its reliable penchant for misery and emotional torture.
Brains, bodies and, in some cases, livers were battered to the point of exhaustion by the end of the weekend, but there was a final spectacle many were holding their breath for. Danzig was Housecore’s grand finale. His performance at a recent Fun Fun Fun fest in Austin was overshadowed by the fiasco surrounding the actual music, seemingly par for the course for the man who seems to be equally worshiped and reviled. We can assume that the Housecore crew provided him with soup that was hot enough to his liking, as there were no significant delays, and Evil Elvis did what he’s paid for. It’s not the classic line-up, but Danzig’s band—including Prong guitarist Tommy Victor, Type O Negative drummer Johnny Kelly and bassist Steve Zing—is impressive, outshining what he brought to the table, in fact. Some moments were powerful, including Phil Anselmo’s backing vocals on “Mother,” others weren’t so much.
And, of course, Danzig’s precursor, Samhain, shared the stage midway through Danzig’s set, with Zing taking over the drum throne and bassist London May and guitarist Peter Adams, of Baroness, jumping on stage. Their classic songs were performed well, and it was an enjoyable way to wrap up the impressive festival, but Samhain’s set wasn’t exactly the magical experience many had hoped for.