The Druids of Doom Cometh, The Final Night
Sunday, October 19th, 4:00 PM. Sundays have a very distinct feel to them. Many a song and poem have been written about this undefinable quality, and while there are many perspectives on exactly what that might be, there appears to be a thread that strings most of them together. That is, Sundays feel the like the end of something, both literally in terms of it being the last day of the week, but also in a more esoteric way. So when afternoon on the last day of Southwest Terror Fest rolled around, that feeling of ending was very evident. Downtown had a lazy feel to its movement, no one was in much of a hurry. The scene in and around the Rialto Theatre was a bit more upbeat, what with staff and bands loading in gear and attending to all of the other behind the scenes minutiae that make an event such as Terror Fest run.
When the venue opened and the fans gathered for one final stretch of time with the final four bands, the mood was anything but lazy. Tucson hardcore stalwarts Sex Prisoner got a bit of a mosh pit going with their raw and abrasive tunes, and Obliterations took their cue from that beginning by delivering a smashing set of blistering songs made from a coarse blend of Black Flag and Black Sabbath. Well into their ripping set, the vocalist for Obliterations took a moment during one song to remark that “We’re not finishing this song until everyone gets on the fucking stage!” He then proceeded to help drag the front line mosh participants onto the stage until it was crowded to the nines, and then they finished the fucking song, complete with a circle pit swirling all around the stage. This was another one of those highlights from the fest that will be remembered for some time to come. To see a band perform in the midst of such non-choreographed madness with effortless ease is pretty damned neat.
Following the fury of Obliterations, Baptists, hailing from Vancouver, Canada, put the finishing touches of power and speed onto a night already productive of much along those lines. With crusty hardcore and a plethora of D-beats, the band commanded attention throughout their nonstop, pummeling assault. The band as a whole is excellent at what they do, but drummer Nick Yacyshyn is the most absolutely crucial element to their sound. His incredible energy, lightning quick fills, and his fresh take on punk/hardcore drumming is something that needs to be noted for posterity’s sake.
Once Baptists were done playing, things got a little tense and anxious around the venue. Everyone knew what was next. Here it was, finally about to happen…Sunn O))), live and with the full glory of the Omega Quartet. What may not have been apparent to all during the evening could not be overlooked any longer once all of the gear from Baptists was removed from the stage. The gigantic rig of cabs and amps, so crucial to Sunn’s sound, had been an imposing presence on the backline all day and night. After some tantalizing amount of time, the conditions were finally just right for Sunn to do what they do best. As the house lights fell and the fog machines began to fill the entire venue up with copious amounts of the cloyingly sweet stuff, a series of eerie horror movie music kept going on and on while the dense crowd awaited the coming of the drone. It seems as if Sunn O))) were messing around with the crowd and delaying their appearance with a few extra teases. Finally, when the robed ones walked out from stage right and left, shrouded in fog and purplish blue light, it was time to burn.
It is nearly impossible to accurately relay just how monumentally insane the sound of a Sunn performance is to someone who has not heard and felt it. The sheer output of energy from all of their gear floods the senses, shakes the internal organs, rattles the roots of teeth, and even vibrates the marrow within bones. It feels like a rift in reality is going to be torn wide open and a doorway to another dimension opened. As the band is projecting out this incredible mix of tones, they look as if they are invoking the rites of some occult ritual. Between the hooded robes and bladed mirror costumes, the raising of hands and guitars to the sky, or the overly reverent way in which a note is played and sustained, Sunn live is not a concert, but a true exhibition of theatrical performance art. It only grew more grandiose once vocalist Attila Csihar (Mayhem) joined the rest of the band on stage and added the throaty distinction of his voice to the cacophony. Watching the evolution of the set from one point to the next was almost timeless in a sense, as if a bubble of some otherworldly stasis was created around the Rialto Theatre for who knows how long. The set was more of one gigantic piece of music with some obvious composition behind it, but otherwise completely unconventional and unlike anything else on earth. When it finally ended and normal reality came back into focus, the feeling was probably not unlike that of someone who had just been through the experience a tornado or hurricane churning through their life, albeit a very slowly moving one. Completely surreal and unforgettable, the druids of doom that call themselves Sunn met and exceeded all of the hype that had come attached with their name. The records will never sound the same again after seeing them live. One just does not compare to the other.
So, thus Southwest Terror Fest III: The Western Front came to an appropriate end. The entire four days were a joy and the lineup was incredible not just due to the big names, but because it gave the excellent selection of smaller regional bands a chance to show that they too have something to offer and can hold their own alongside the veteran acts on the bill. There were no obvious points of conflict among the crowd, no major technical issues, or any other glaring problems that can make some festivals more of a hassle to deal with than is necessary. The only real gripe was the sound and the cramped conditions over at The District, which were unavoidable realities due to the design limitations of the building, but tolerable enough to be only a minor concern. This year was definitely the best one yet, by far. A huge leap was taken in streamlining the lineup to a “quality over quantity” way of thinking and by securing the historic and professionally run Rialto Theatre as the main venue. So what will they do in October of 2015? You never can tell, but after the success of this year, it seems that the only way to go is bigger, louder, and even more terrifically terrifying.
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WORDS: RYAN CLARK
PHOTOS: VALERIE LITTLEJOHN