Had the preceding nights of Southwest Terror Fest not been so momentous, one could easily have mistaken the third night for the main event. Housed in the spacious Rialto Theater, the sight of last year’s Neurosis and Sunn O))) sets, day three would be the site of Sleep’s house-stealing performance. Granted, I’m not sure how 191 Toole remained standing after The Body & Thou, the Rialto was a wise choice or Sleep, but more on that in a paragraph or two. Boasting sets from five of metal and punk’s finest acts, the night was bustling with all manner of merry unholiness. The beer flowed freely while Amigo the Devil tempered the calm between performances with his heretical, tongue-in-cheek acoustical sets. Occasionally, his merch-housing briefcase would come snapping down on its contents due to a mercantile stumble, adding charm to his already dark, lighthearted image. The Rialto’s bar was complemented by another watering hole adjacent to it, with slightly less expensive beers, allowing plentiful space for between-set exploring and conversing.
While the crowd began small, it filled a quarter or so of the venue’s floor by the time openers, Languish, took the stage. A piece of Arizona pride, featuring members of North, Gatecreeper and Territory, Languish were certainly the evening’s nastiest performance. Their sound manages the task of marrying the calculated heaviness of doom metal with grindcore’s neck-breaking fury and a dash of black metal’s ability to conjure overwhelming bleakness. Having only seen Languish in smaller venues, the Rialto did their set the justice, allowing their monstrous sound to spread its leathery wings and take full, triumphant flight. Like the Nazgul seeking its target, this is band where you don’t want to come between them and their prey. Languish released their debut LP, Extinction, in July, be sure to give it an undivided listen. Goya, also hailing from Arizona, followed with their crushing psychedelia, leveling the crowd with their Black Sabbath-esque brand of doom metal. Their songs moved at a pace just above glacial, but with even more chill, with slow, rhythmic headbangs being the appropriate applause. Goya released their second full-length, Obelisk, in August. Give it, as well, an undivided listen (for best results, smoke a fatty).
Utah’s Cult Leader jolted the mood with their self-described progressive crust. A personal favorite set of the night, Cult Leader went straight for the jugular, only letting go long enough to lap up the blood that streamed from their kills. Following last year’s punishing Nothing For Us Here, this Salt Lake City quartet had just released their debut LP, Lightless Walk (which is perfect by the way), a collection which showed them at their absolute best: a high mark that I was grateful to have seen live. Their energy was electrifying, with each member whipping across the stage, each in their own unique spasm. Of all the bands to have been separated by the obligatory barricade notorious for larger venues, Cult Leader’s passion belonged within reach of and among the crowd. That aside, said passion transcended the barricade and pierced the crowd like a rain of spears thrown in a war with the self. Cult Leader is touring until mid-November, be sure to catch them. Washington’s Brothers of the Sonic Cloth demonstrated with haste their yarn of doomed sludge metal. Easily one of the weekend’s heaviest bands, these sound weavers sowed a sonic tapestry that conveyed the brightest hues and darkest tones. The menacing beauty of their set was an adrenaline boiler, spurring me into the insultingly-sized pit, a rarity since I’m old (not really). Of all the performances that Terror Fest gave us this weekend, this one, for me anyway, was a genuine article of what made me love metal in the first place, what with my neck weary from repeated whiplashings the next morning. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth crowned 2015 with their self-titled debut, which, like their live sets, comes highly recommended. Throughout the night, the Rialto Theater was full to the point of bursting, with the auditorium packed from stage to doors by the time Sleep took their instruments in hand. Their performance was filling and full bodied, proportionate to the hundreds of hungry ears present. Ample was the feast, as their set even poured into the rain-drenched streets of Tucson. Appropriate to the band’s namesake, their set was a sonic hypnosis, with the riffs surging through you like a rushing tide that simultaneously cradled and drowned you. This set fermented into a fine brew as it progressed, shaken and loudly stirred. Sleep’s legendary status was on display all evening (weekend, really), and here they managed to not only meet the hype, but beat the shit out of it, one heavy-handed riff punch at a time.
Southwest Terror Fest serves as an annual reunion with friends and testament to a kinship that few other scenes can boast of. The sheer numbers that turned out, many from other states, and some, if I heard correctly in conversations, from other countries. The dedication towards providing a quality event was evident this night, and all other nights, but this night was special. It wasn’t just the automatic draw of slapping Sleep on a bill, either. These bands are placed with care, not slapped, as the care is clear. The evening’s medley of doom, sludge, crust punk and grindcore showed this is a festival for all those with heavy-hearts and hands to come together for one cause: music and its culture. Terrorfest is a celebration of a culture that which the few are privy to its true understanding. The grasping of that comprehension is what sets Terrorfest, and all involved in its execution, apart from other underground music events.
Thanks for all that (and more).
All photos courtesy of Joshua Ford of Ford Photography.