March 31st – June 3rd 2012
Austin’s four day Chaos in Tejas festival in its 8th installment was mostly on the metal heavy side, but also boasted a nice, hearty mix of garage, indie, punk, hardcore, hip hop, and some that simply fit in between. Taking over venues across east and west downtown, the name proved appropriate as clamors of noise spilled out of every corner of the city. By day four, it was a congregation of the unshowered, sweaty, questionable substance covered, slightly deaf, and generally satisfied. All the signs of a great festival experience.
Mark was one of the rarer acts at the fest in regards to sound and genre. A proverbial grab bag of styles: Everything from early rock, psych, garage, punk, doo-wop, and quite a few other slap tags. He brings this slew of varied elements together with his killer voice. All the while being a one-man band. Sitting in a chair with guitar in hand and a bare foot on his kick drum, he created a wild flurry of sound. Near the entrance of the Scoot Inn, a man mumbled something along the lines of “I hate hippies,” and if that was truly the case, he may have wanted to seek some noise elsewhere as Austin’s patchouli-loving community was out in full effect to catch Mark Sultan’s set, along with people from all sides- if more in moderation than the latter.
The line to enter Red 7 for St. Vitus’ set spanned the entire side of the door, reaching the edge of the building. The crowd seemed more sparse than expected upon reaching the outside stage, but the turnout was still sizable, and it was apparent that the patrons present had known exactly what they were coming out for as they head banged to, sang along with, and circle pitted to everything the band had to offer for the night. One young lady even opted to throw her lacy, cream colored bra on stage, prompting the band to smell it and display it upon a microphone. A very touching moment. The lyrics of St. Vitus’ songs, in comparison to their stage act, is a land of rock n’ roll opposites. For example, singing about the plight of trying to sober up while taking shots offered by the crowd quickly after. A great metal act with plenty of feedback to, and from the fans.
The day show at Beerland on Saturday could have very much been nicknamed “Hell.” Ninety five degree weather mixed with a large turnout that had the venue enacting a “one-in, one-out” policy resulted in a sauna-like atmosphere on the inside directly after “escaping” the relentless sun beating down while waiting in line outside. Complaints about sweating to pieces seemed muted after it was noticed that Midnight still took the stage in their signature black hoods despite it all. They too had plenty of complaints about “hell,” but given the circumstances, that’s understandable. Heat provided no excuse against the crowd moshing, and the band placing themselves on the very edge of the stage, constantly extending guitars outward. A similar sauna situation occurred during a night show the band played at Red 7 on Sunday night. Texas heat doesn’t end when the sun goes down; it too is a night owl. With this set, they seemed better acclimated to the festival conditions, more into their set, and appropriately, they played at the stroke of midnight. It was wished from the universe that one- just one- band would set their guitar ablaze this year. It didn’t seem like an unreasonable request given the names present on the schedule. Midnight made that wish come true…sort of. They placed a piece of cloth on the end of a guitar and set it on fire! Close enough. Hoods, fire, and speed metal. Always a great combination.
Toxic played after Midnight’s sets two nights in row. Once in “hell” at Beerland during the day show, and once again on Sunday night at Red 7. There isn’t anything that really stood out to differentiate one set from another, as is usually the case with festivals, but both were pretty seamless. Northern thrash metal could best describe Toxic’s sound along with elements of punk grunge. Lead man Joel Grind’s voice has a razor sharp edge to it and drummer Nick is crazy fast. During both sets there were plenty of fists pumping in the air and chants of “toxic! toxic!” This band provided what always felt like a second wind. Just when you thought you had met your capacity of rocking out in the relentless mix of bodies, sweat, pungent smells, spit, beer, heat, and whatever else got to you at any given moment, it all was slightly forgotten while watching them because slipping, headbanging all the way, into their sound feels far too easy.
If Chaos gave out an award for “band that most impressively makes use of a tiny stage,” it would be a tragedy for Ghoul not to receive the honor. It was known that “giant robots” would be involved prior to their set, but how exactly that was going to occur on the inside stage at Red 7 was ever perplexing. Hailing from the land of Creepsylvania, masked members Cremator, Fermentor, Digestor, and Dissector, weave lyrical tales in a thrash metal styling about themselves and a host of interesting creatures. As they play and throw out peculiar little speeches such as, “America, your empire is crumbing and your women are ugly; it is understandable in times such as these to turn to religion,” odd characters come into the realm of existence via the side stage. There was, indeed, a giant robot with glowing eyes, still unsure about how exactly it managed to fit up there, along with a goblin-like fellow who doused the audience with “blood made from the tears of a thousand failed musicians,” and carried around a bucket of his own felted intestines. It doesn’t seem like felted intestines would be a very popular Etsy item, so this lovely array of costumes and various bloody items must be the custom work of someone very talented. Even with a slew of theatrics, the killer music coming off the stage was still at the center of attention. Ghoul provided fun and a reason to rock out. After all, if you’re already rather sweaty and wearing someone’s beer in your hair, you might as well add fake blood splashed across your face to round things out.
Another one-man band present at Chaos was Mickey Reece (also know as El Paso Hot Button) who opened for A Place to Bury Strangers at 29th St. Ballroom Saturday night. A voice box, a guitar with a slew of pedals, a kick drum, a nice tie, and little more. The music is fierce and fast. Guitar swells galore made for a set that was anything but boring.
Guitar abusers A Place To Bury Strangers had plenty of new to showcase on Saturday at their 29th St. Ballroom set: a fresh drummer, an EP, and an upcoming LP’s worth of new songs to possibly sample. Watching them set up their gear is like watching experiments of mad science. Wires in every direction, glowing heated pedals throwing out nonsense numbers in digital red lines, knobs, lasers, strobes, and of course, the fog machine. It’s no wonder they blew the power before even playing the first chord. The new material has a lot of dark, visceral soundscapes and plays out a bit more meditated than their sheer sound explosions of the past. Maybe they were feeling a bit on the nostalgic side because they chose to end the set with “I Lived My Life to Stand in The Shadow of Your Heart” from Exploding Head into “Ocean” from the self-titled LP as had been done on tours past many times. “Ocean,” particularly, feels almost ritualistic. Watching this band for a handful of years has resulted in a love for that particular song as an outro. Layers of feedback getting completely lost in what feels like quite literally a sea of reverb, static, and fog. Oliver Ackermann on the ground hugging his guitar that should have been dead long ago, but somehow still shows it’s marred face on tour. You- eyes closed- whispering along under your breath, but opening them every now and then to make sure to move just in time for Dion Lunadon’s bass to not suddenly smack you in the face out of the fog- an actual fear, people. There are very few bands where the same sequence of songs, in a very particular manner, illicits a response of welcomeness to hear it just like that over and over again. It’s like an old friend. If the person next to you softly taps you on the shoulder and asks if they should acquire some earplugs to watch A Place To Bury strangers, it’s most likely their first time checking them out. A suggested response is a polite smile and “no.”