Mantar. Photo by Marius Drews.

By Andy O’Connor

Most of the bands that played the Metal Injection Showcase last night at Dirty Dog play the States on a somewhat regular basis, experts at slinging merch and making the most out of music halls and dingy clubs. On the contrary, some of the most memorable SXSW shows come from bands who are playing Austin, or Texas, or even the States for the first time, thrilled to have a massive first chance.

Thus, Germany’s Mantar were the ones who really brought something special to the showcase. Guitarist/vocalist Hanno Klänhardt was a wild riffing machine, while drummer Erinc Sakarya played the straight man, playing with a thundering efficiency. Mantar’s duo setup allowed for Klänhardt to really move around and get his best rock star poses on, creating a foil for his own darkness.

Even without a bassist, the low end was more than prevalent, and combined with their punk roots, made for something unstoppable. The band had just came off a West Coast tour and Klänhardt had an injured rib from fighting with Sakarya (though Klänhardt said it was friendly sparring), but they still proved themselves to Austin. In fact, their music is more dependent on raw energy than technical skill, so those events actually worked in their favor.

Canadian trio KEN Mode are consistently engaging live, and last night was no exception. They kept the fuss and drama at home and delivered the noise rock goods. It was a straight-ahead set without the usual metal show trappings of “raise your horns!” and all that. They would switch things up by guitarist/vocalist Jesse Matthewson switching out his guitar for another bass, because even noise rock can’t have too much low end. Matthewson would set his bass to the ground and simulate an argument with it, which added to the intensity in a somewhat humorous way.

Full of Hell turned out to be a mess, blasting away with fury but without purpose. They incorporated noise and saxophone into their set, but they came off as kids who just found out about John Zorn. Even stranger is that they just released a record with Merzbow, who invented noise music as we know it.

People found foam pirate swords and were engaging in mock fights in the pit, which was more engaging than Full of Hell’s music. Attendance to Metal Injection was also not strong – while Mantar drew a healthy crowd, things seemed to thin out by Full of Hell’s performance. It wasn’t a packed house like it was when Saint Vitus, Helmet, and Crowbar came through Dirty Dog in 2011.

Metal as a whole has had a decreased presence at SXSW this year – metal seems to be over the festival, and the feeling is mutual on SXSW’s end. Touring bands find the hassle to be less and less worth it, and local bands are preferring to stick together and play unofficial shows away from the Sixth Street madness. Can’t blame them.

Over at Hotel Vegas, New York noise artist Pharmakon, aka Margaret Chardiet, returned to Austin just a month after performing here to bring her terror to SXSW. There seemed to be more curious badgeholders in the crowd than at her last Austin appearance, which was filled to the brim with punks, noiseheads, and other musical explorers. Pharmakon has long crossed over from her limited-tape days, and with her affiliation with Sacred Bones Records, it’s no surprise that folks from different stripes would check her out.

Still, they may have not know what they were getting into. Her music is already heavy enough, with metal percussion looped over sea-sick waves of noise and her pained wails. Hotel Vegas is already uncomfortable when fully packed, even moreso than most venues, and Pharmakon made the room feel even more like a boiler than it already was. Punks like it when she gets into the crowd; this audience was somewhat less receptive, even if they were astonished with the racket she made. Nonetheless, she scared some squares, and in that case, mission accomplished.