(Editor’s Note:) For the second year in a row Ghost Cult is pleased to bring you coverage of the premier doom, sludge, and avant-garde heavy music event on American soil west of the Mississippi river. Thanks to our friends at Violent Resonance, we have full coverage of the fest from the eyes, ears and lenses of these fine purveyors of heaviness. This post focuses on days 2 and 3 of the festival. The final chapter will appear soon, so stay tuned)
The Second Day: One Fest, Two Venues
Downtown Tucson may not be as large and sprawling as similar areas in other cities, but it surely is a bustling place around rush hour at the end of the working week and the beginning of the first full on day of Southwest Terror Fest. Located just a short walk up Congress Street from The District Tavern, the impressive Rialto Theatre, with a capacity of well over one thousand people, is a great venue with a real box office, multiple bars, and a wide stage located beneath a cavernous ceiling in the main part of the building. The marquee on the theatre’s front face was impressive as well, and it could be clearly read from over a hundred yards down the street. Twice as impressive, at least to the gathering masses of black clad fans milling around on the noisy street beneath it, were the names written upon that marquee in large block letters. Goatsnake. Neurosis. Sunn O))). A potent trinity with few equals.
Beneath the projected image of the stark white and black logo of Southwest Terror Fest, an upside down cross imposed over the drawn shape of the state of Arizona, the stage was set for one hell of a night. Kicking in some teeth with their rumbling sludge grooves, Tucson based Godhunter got the show rolling and were followed by Utah’s doom duo, Eagle Twin. Laying down devastating waves of heavy riffs and off kilter song structures, the band simply nailed it with an intense energy one could feel out in the crowd. Even more on top of their live game, instrumental titans Pelican played a simply perfect set of material from across their catalog. Watching them live was much like observing the internal workings of the cogs and gears of a well-oiled machine running at full power. Relentless and heavier than a thousand pounds of uranium, Pelican was a hard act to follow.
Perhaps another band may have balked at being that following act, but Goatsnake, Friday night’s headliner, played a set that turned out to be one of the crowning moments of the entire weekend. The heavy, bluesy rock and metal in combination with the soulful vocals and high energy stage antics of vocalist Pete Stahl really set the place on fire. Pete even jumped into the crowd at one point during the performance and sang along with the crowd. It was a special moment for many people who have been huge fans of the band for years, but had never gotten a chance to see them live on the stage or right there in the crowd with them until that Friday evening.
With the main show of the day at the Rialto Theatre ending high up on the lofty point carved out by Goatsnake’s performance, the crowd began drifting out of the venue with smiles and cheers as they headed down the street to check out the after show at The District. Another diverse lineup awaited their ears, with the doomy jams of Spiritual Shepherd inaugurating night two at the second venue. Destroyer of Light from Austin, TX brought some upbeat, driving stoner influenced rhythms, and Phoenix act Take Over and Destroy sounded like the blackened metal version of a horror film score with some gothic elements thrown into the mix. Closing out the after show, The Atlas Moth broke out the keyboards and lasers as they built up an incredible, cinematic atmosphere of sound that is all their own. A great band with great studio albums, The Atlas Moth is even better live, and seems to be growing more powerful each time they emerge from the creative cocoon of an album cycle.
Friday night could have been a standalone event and it would have been worth the admission price all by itself, but it was just one day out of four. That seemed to be the unspoken, pervasive thought that was gleaming in the eyes of many attendees at the end of the after show. It was only the beginning.
Nght Three: Moving Mountains with Sound That Defies Boundaries
Saturday,: Perhaps the most anticipated night of Southwest Terror Fest began at the Rialto Theatre with impressive performances from Sorxe and Author & Punisher. Sorxe, who hail from Phoenix, AZ, play a style of metal that is hard to classify. The band seems to wander through the grey areas where styles like doom, grunge, and experimental both intersect and diverge. Regardless of labels, the band split the air with a restrained, properly channeled fury that was quite memorable and a good mood setter for the rest of the show. Next up was one of the most unique and utterly fascinating live performances of recent memory, and it was all due to one man who performs under the name Author & Punisher.
Using homemade instruments and other electronic equipment, Author & Punisher resembled a maddened cyborg going off on a deafening, industrial music tirade. Simultaneously using all four limbs to keep the beat, to set off sound chains, or to press buttons, plus performing vocals through a strange voice apparatus cannot be an easy feat by any means, but it was pulled off with flying colors and seemingly in sync with the distorted, mind blowing visuals rolling on the projection screen during the performance. Luckily, the audience was given a few minutes of recovery time after this half hour of delectable but sanity wrenching music. The Body, yet another duo amongst the lineup of the event, stabbed the knife right back into the previously opened wound with their stripped down, extremely raw riffs and terrifying screams. The music was pain itself; translated into notes and chords that made one shudder and enjoy them at the same time, it was indeed a complete musical catharsis.
Where does one begin in describing what it is like to observe Neurosis in a live setting? How do you relate the feeling of a packed crowd waiting for the band to hit the stage? It simply is not an easy task, but most people would probably agree that Neurosis live is simply awe inspiring and beyond the realm of normal live performance standards. Neurosis becomes their music and draws the crowd into the experience with them. The headlining performance on this Saturday night of Southwest Terror Fest was no exception. Opening with ‘A Sun That Never Sets’, Neurosis tore off the roof with their masterful mix of titanic heaviness and beautiful ambiance. Much like watching a mountain collapsing in slow motion, the music is more an observation of the elements themselves in action. The set list was a very nice mix of older and newer material, and Neurosis weaved it all into a triumphant narrative that had the crowd enraptured for its entirety.
At the concert’s end, there were some people who literally had eyes brimming with tears, including a couple of longtime fans that we spoke with who had never had the chance to see their favorite band live before, and a man who drove over a thousand miles to see the band for the first time and it just happened to be on his birthday. It’s quite a thing to see people living a dream they’ve held for a long time with the hope of it becoming a reality.
Now nearly 11 PM, the after show at The District kept the music going strong, albeit with more of a “lets party!” attitude versus the soul searching intensity just concluded by Neurosis up the street at the Rialto Theatre. Windmill of Corpses brought the higher tempos of grind and crust to the shindig, and California’s Secrets of the Sky performed their textured, sludgy doom with confidence and precision. Tucson’s own North fit in perfectly right after Secrets of the Sky, continuing the expansive, melodic jams of alternating turbulence and tranquility. The final band of the evening, Primitive Man, were a different story altogether. Hitting the stage with boundless energy, Primitive Man delivered another of the fest’s highlight moments with a set of pure blackened sludge rage. The crowd, though packed tightly in the venue and tired from a long night of music, found a second wind and The District simply detonated into a sort of controlled riot. As it turns out, Primitive Man couldn’t have had a more apt band name at that late hour on Saturday night. They owned and rushed that little stage and no one could have asked for a better finale to a massive day of music and the final after show of the festival at The District.
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WORDS: RYAN CLARK
PHOTOS: VALERIE LITTLEJOHN