Austin Terror Fest 2019 Was Dope As Hell
Austin Terror Fest returned for its third, and biggest, edition yet. Here’s what we saw.
The past fourteen years have seen the rise and sudden downfall of two now-legendary annual festivals in Austin, Texas. Between 2006 and 2013, Chaos in Tejas brought this happening little city every great underground punk and metal band from Iron Age to Bolt Thrower. 2006 to 2015 gave residents the yearly joy of Fun Fun Fun Fest. At first an experiment in joining metal and electronic music in one show, Fun Fun Fun Fest expanded into a massive 3-day festival that featured huge hip hop acts, reformed indie rock bands, and legendary metal acts across several stages. Chaos in Tejas organizer Timmy Hefner called it quits after deciding he’d booked every band he wanted to book. Fun Fun Fun Fest was dealt an undignified death via a dozen dumb reasons (including being forced out of town by another, bigger festival). Though the FFFest crew gave it a valiant effort in making something of their out-of-town replacement, Sound on Sound Festival, it kicked the bucket after just two years. That final year of Sound on Sound, 2017, also brought us the genesis of Austin Terror Fest.
With the continued Silicon Valley creepification of Austin, would there ever be another fest that could carry the torch of those two departed titans? I had my doubts. This year’s Austin Terror Fest has put my concerns to bed with a hangover.
Over three days this past weekend, Austin Terror Fest 3 brought together an unholy mess of metal and electronic acts much to the delight of a big Texas crowd. As organizer Dusty Brooks told us, folks travelled from all over the world to see bands like Lightning Bolt, Pig Destroyer, and Panopticon. Excepting a small handful of bad apples booted by security, a good time was had by all.
I arrived Friday afternoon to catch Genocide Pact sweat through a set of tight, breakdown-heavy death metal in the blazing heat. The crowd veered off to one side of the stage to catch a bit of shade while banging their heads. The Sexiest Man in Metal and his similarly handsome band got up next to throw a wrench into the day’s time signatures. My compatriot Leif Bearickson and I did our best to nod our heads in rhythm with Pyrhhon‘s dense, noise-rock-cum-death-metal compositions. All the while, the venue filled up with black leather, spikes, and t-shirts with offensive slogans to close out the matinee show with Goat Whore. Pro-tip from Leif: You can beat the Texas heat by simply drinking a lot of delicious Austin Beer Works cans.
We made our way to the venue across the street to catch the evening’s entertainment. Full of Hell thrilled with frontman Dylan Walker effortlessly shifting his vocals from sewer slam vox to a screeching black metal rasp. Leif reminded me during their set that he also sells insanely good bootleg King of the Hill shirts on his Instagram, which we had both previously purchased. Integrity hit the stage next and kicked off the wildest pit of the weekend. Guitarist Dom Romeo shredded his BC Rich from the top of his monitors while Dwid commanded the crowd with is trademark single-note bark. It was insanely radical. And a big thanks to ATF security for taking notice of the crowd-killing oaf and escorting his butt out with the quickness. Pig Destroyer closed the evening with a masterclass in incredibly fucking tight grindcore. Noiseman Blake Harrison took advantage of his role to climb all over shit, clap his hands, and generally hype up and already hyped to fuck audience. If you missed this show, you done messed up.
Leif Bearickson: Though Austin Terror Fest was absolutely packed to the brim with ridiculous amounts of quality metal content, two of the sets I was most looking forward to weren’t even metal at all. I am of course refer to a pair of Texas singer-songwriter focused cover sets by none other than Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell and Panopticon’s Austin Lunn.
The summer sun bore down on the Austin crowd with nary a cloud in sight as Cottrell took the outdoor stage. It was easy enough to forget the Texas heat though as she threw herself into a set consisting entirely of songs by Townes Van Zandt, including “Flyin’ Shoes” and a low n’ slow rendition of “Waiting ‘Round to Die” that was almost too sorrowful to bear. Lunn himself made an appearance to help with the final two songs, playing resonator guitar for “Rake” and even duetting with Cottrell on “If I Needed You.” If there is one way to show that a group of heavily tattooed, black clad heathens are really just a bunch of softies, it’s that.
Another way is to have Austin Lunn play a set consisting of the work of local legend Blaze Foley. The opener of “Cold, Cold World” got the crowd swaying but it wasn’t long before some were moved to tears by “If I Could Only Fly.” Even Lunn himself admitted he started to choke up as he saw some in the audience begin to weep (personally it was “Picture Cards Can’t Picture You” that almost got me). Lunn himself was every bit as good between the songs as during them. He was affable and loose, offering a sense of levity to an otherwise relatively morose set. At one point he began keeping a tab of all the folks whom he owed a beer, including one audience member who helped him with the final verse of “Picture Cards.”
Lunn’s Panopticon band mates were on off stage all set, sometimes one at a time and others having the full band join in such as for one hell of a bouncing and raucous rendition of “Oval Room.” It was after the full band had assembled for a couple of songs that things took an interesting turn: a surprise mini Panopticon set. Of course this was not the ripping black metal Panopticon, which would have been an odd juxtaposition, but rather the more subdued, folk Panopticon of “Scars of Man…II.” “Not Much Will Change When I’m Gone,” “A Cross Abandoned,” and “Beast Rider” all closed out the set in appropriately stunning and melancholy fashion and to vigorous applause from the crowd. The sun was still up, unrelenting as ever, but in that moment it didn’t matter too much at all.
Joe: We made it to the night show just in time to catch Crowhurst perform a full-band set of his ace I-III material in front of a rapturous crowd. Jay Gambit contorted and crooned in his J.O.B. Squad cut-off, eventually joined by Black Harrison for an additional helping of noise. I tried to catch Richter-approved favorites Street Sects but immediately stumbled into someone in the pitch-black room they performed in. I fumbled back towards the door, tripping on my shoes along the way.
We were blessed to catch the death-defying antics of Texas-based instrumental rock monsters Daikaiju. The band set up in the middle of the audience and barely touched the ground again for the remainder of their set. A guy next to me continually declared, “HOLY SHIT” as he watched the action ramp up. Between crowdsurfing to the bar to take shots mid-performance and lighting a bunch of shit on fire, it’s fair to say that Daikaiju made the biggest impression on the crowd that day.
Thou, the biggest draw of that first year of ATF, was relegated to a matinee show this year, where they unsurprisingly kicked a ton of ass despite it being 10,000 degrees outside. It was a sea of sweaty heads all headbanging at a slow pace as the air filled with from folks awaiting the two -Bong acts of the day, Bongzilla and Bongripper.
Leif Bearickson: On the final day of the fest I chose to check out a band that I believe I had only ever heard one song from: Denver, Colorado’s Dreadnought. I probably should have known better, given Denver’s absolutely ridiculous glut of talented bands across various sub genres, but I am ever the idiot. That last bit certainly never felt more true than it did on Sunday night. I was blown away before the first song, a sprawling number that began with bombast before featuring a few dreamier sections, ended (unfortunately, being new to the band I have no idea what song was what in the setlist).
The band played a mindboggling mix of death, doom, prog, folk and jazz, seamlessly weaving in and out of any and all during songs that easily exceeded the 10-12 minute mark. Vocalist/guitarist/ flute player Kelly Schilling unleashed furious wails that eventual faded into beautiful hymn like cleans, alternated and mirrored with vocalist/keyboard player Lauren Vieria. Perhaps most shockingly, to this viewer anyway, was the skill of drummer and sax player Jordan Clancy, who at one point managed to play both AT THE SAME TIME. 45 minutes later I was completely filled with both awe and regret.
Joe: We laughed. We cried. We ran to escape a massive death storm as it barreled south towards Austin. If you missed Austin Terror Fest 2019 you made a huge mistake. But you can remedy your egregious error by planning on joining me and Leif there next year.