Photos: Josh Ford
Every October, as the summer sun finally recedes into its own burning torment, the shadows in Tucson, Arizona come out to play for Southwest Terror Fest. 2015 marks the festival’s fourth iteration, with last year’s third volume containing titanic sets from the likes of Sunn O))), Neurosis and Goatsnake. Spread out over four nights, this year featured a more eclectic roster than 2014’s sludge and doom-favoring sets. This year, while certainly affectionate to the latter styles, also showcased powerviolence courtesy of Dropdead, bleak and nasty hardcore from the likes of Call of the Void and Cult Leader and death metal conjured by bands like Gatecreeper and Landmine Marathon. A showcase for bands in the Southwest, with some regional wild cards thrown in, Southwest Terrorfest delivered four hammering days of being hammered and general merriment amid triumphant sets with each band playing at their literal best.
The festival’s first night, October 15th, took place at 191 Toole, a venue nestled in Tucson’s downtown with its back braced against cacophonous train tracks. Despite the annoying roar of the trains, the two small stages that comprised the backroom of 191 Toole were blaring their own cacophony throughout the night, competing and often overtaking the train’s grumbling. The evening’s entertainment featured Methra, Hanta, Abstracter, Dead to a Dying World, Gale, Heat Dust, In the Company of Serpents and a headlining collaborative set featuring The Body and Thou. The night was heavy (pun intended) on the doom and sludge with Tucson’s own Methra steamrolling over the growing crowd with their tasteful Black Sabbath-worship. New Mexico’s Hanta followed suite with a faster pace than Methra, countering the latter’s sonic girth with grit and plague wind-riding riffs. California’s Abstracter built upon the sturdy pillars set by Methra and Hanta, dousing the night in their bleak, darkly spacious blackened doom. Abstracter‘s climactic fury drenched the very air like a hateful mist, with their humming strings slicing through the crowd.
Whereas the preceding three acts were adept in brutish flourishes, Texas’s Dead to a Dying World brought a unique elegance to the fest. Featuring a sprawling seven-member lineup, Dead to a Dying World was equally a thunderclap and a gentle, springtime rain, with the two pieces coalescing into a rapturous flash flood at their set’s best. In keeping with the megalithic tone of the evening, Arizona’s Gale sand-blasted 191 Toole with their palpable menace, breaking through their set with Crowbar efficiency. In contrast with the majority of the acts, New Orleans’ Heat Dust claimed their pound of flesh with their gloomy post-punk, offering the night a thoughtful reprieve. Touring with The Body and Thou, Heat Dust infused their set with a spacey murk, with their spider-web riffs dancing amid the haunting vocals and racing heartbeat drums. The nervous calm ushered in by Heat Dust was nearly swept away by the enthralling din that Colorado’s In the Company of Serpents set loose upon the crowd. Their set moved at a calamitous pace that belied the near unbearable weight of their songs, their size and scope rivaling the trains that bellowed outside.
The night culminated with a collaborative set with Rhode Islanders-turned-Oregonians The Body and Louisiana’s Thou. The kick-off date for their tour with Heat Dust, their set offered gluttonous helpings from to both bands’ pair of recent collaborations, 2014’s Released from Love and this year’s You, Whom I’ve Always Hated. A personal favorite set of the weekend, these two heathen forces combined into one cohesive whole pummeled the crowd slowly with their mountainous presence. Flanked by their respective drummers, the three-guitar plus one bass onslaught was spearheaded by Thou’s vocalist, Bryan Funck, with The Body’s Chip King frequently interjecting with his signature mournful howl. Louder than loud, their set washed over the crowd in a sonic riptide that would’ve made Sunn O))) blush. Their doom-sludge entranced nearly all near the stage, inducing hypnotic contortions and torpid yet rhythmic headbanging. Most surprising was their inventive, bone-braking and achingly melodic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Break the Chain,” which stirred onlookers into roaring applause by its end. With ears ringing, day one of Southwest Terror Fest ended with a bang, with raucous applause substituting for any sign of a whimper. Following their set at 191 Toole, a disembodied Thou managed to stuff their colossal sound into the tiny Gary’s Place, a shadowy living room-turned-venue tucked in a usually quiet Tucson neighborhood. The secret show served as a throwback to days of yore, as Thou closed out day one with a Nirvana cover set, bedecked in the best flannel and blonde wigs.
To think this was only the beginning…
In the Company of Serpents
Dead to a Dying World
Thou & The Body