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Day 2 of Housecore Horror Fest brings more volume and blood

Sharon Chapman
schapman@statesman.com

A look at Saturday at Housecore Horror Fest from Andy O’Connor:

Housecore Horror Film Festival was still in full force on Saturday, giving metalheads many opportunities to feast on slasher flicks and slashing riffs. Day 2 was even more full of volume and blood than Friday, and you’re probably still nursing that Bloody Mary, so let’s get right into it.

DAYTIME

Housecore is a celebration of gory fantasies and outlandish monsters, in metal and in film. Napalm Death, however, sing about the terrors of the real world. The Birmingham quartet, credited with inventing the grindcore genre with their 1987 debut “Scum,” were the headliners at Saturday’s daytime stage, and their tone was much different than the rest of the bands on the lineup. Barney Greenway, the band’s vocalist, never shied away from an opportunity to rail against religion, sexism, and Monsanto. People cheered, but there was a little hesitation, because … who wants to talk politics at a festival? A band like Napalm Death is needed, no doubt, but are people ready for those subjects when they want to have fun? The band performed two new songs from an upcoming album, but it was still classics like “Suffer the Children” and “Scum” that got people moshing the most. Napalm Death are not entirely humorless — their second to last song was “You Suffer,” a track that barely registers at two seconds. It’s instantly recognizable to Napalm Death fans, and Greenway gave a huge smirk when it was over. Greenway sounded more vicious than ever, and guitarist Mitch Harris was also especially on point, but if there was a weak link with the band, it was drummer Danny Herrera. Maybe it was jet leg, but he couldn’t quite keep up with the rest of the band, which was most evident with their older, more blast-beat heavy material. When your band changed the game on what “fast” means, that’s an issue.

Festivals are fun for attendees, but stressful for the people that actually put them on. Tom Grahsler and Alicia Lozano’s “Welcome To Deathfest,” a documentary about the 2013 edition of Maryland Deathfest, America’s largest metal festival held in Baltimore every Memorial Day weekend, confirmed that reality. That year was a transition year for the festival, largely because longtime venue Sonar changed owners, and almost everything that could go wrong went wrong. Dressing rooms promised weren’t provided, headlining black metal band Venom’s set was cut short because of noise permit confusion, and most controversially, hot dog vendors were at war with each other. Festival organizers Ryan Taylor and Evan Harting don’t hold back when it comes to stress and disappointment. Strangely, the showing was cursed as well, as the projector went out three times. Everyone in the room was patient and remained in good spirits. One incident addressed was when many fans were turned away for having spikes and bullet belts because of a clause in Down’s rider that banned those items. MDF organizers pleaded with Down’s management saying that would be near impossible to enforce, and they eased up, though that message didn’t get down to the security on the ground. This caused a lot of animosity towards Down. Housecore head Phil Anselmo, who was interviewed in the film since Down played MDF that year, was astonished at the incident. It was a sobering look at how festivals are run, but also a film about the diehard metal fans who travel from all over the globe to come to Baltimore and their unwavering dedication. An awesome set of characters was a group of teenagers who traveled from Nova Scotia, spending all their money from measly paychecks just to experience MDF. Say what you will about metal — the passion of its biggest fans is an unstoppable force.

The outside portion of Housecore was in the parking lot of Midway Field House, and with the blazing sun, it felt a little too close to the second stage of Ozzfests pasts. There were still a few highlights. Detroit’s Acid Witch played first at noon (!), and their organ-laden doom metal resonated with the few who were dedicated/insane enough to show up early. The band threw out fake skull rings and plastic rats out, and while it reeked of Halloween shlock, it didn’t deter from the music. Cleveland’s Ringworm brought out thrashy metalcore as audiences were beginning to wake up and shake off those hangovers. Chicago death metal stalwarts Macabre’s obsession with serial killers was tailor made for Housecore. Vocalist Lance “Corporate Death” Lencioni was almost more verbose than Greenway, giving stories behind every song before playing. One notable story was before “Trial,” where he talked about going to the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer — his mom drove — and getting a front row seat. You bet the crowd ate it up.

NIGHTTIME

Portal will probably win for the best band of the weekend, but Oakland’s Neurosis came in at a very close second. Like Portal, they were more of an experience than a band, and they were given an understated introduction (this time from Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe), but they did not need costumes or visuals. They were five dudes putting their whole selves out there, playing as if they were exposing their raw nerves to guitar strings and drums. Their doom carried not just the weight of their amplifiers, but of the world, and it’s rare to see volume and emotion collide like that. Neurosis’ two frontmen, guitarists/vocalists Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly, thrashed the hardest, and both of their hard-living voices shined through. Both of their voices have an outlaw country realness (Kelly has contributed to a Townes Van Zandt tribute record) that, when amplified, almost overwhelms the rest of the band. You get the sense that Neurosis bare themselves so fully because that’s their survival mechanism. At the end, a man who watched them rushed out the crowd yelling “I’ve seen louder, I’ve seen louder.” He might have been trying to be funny, he might have been bluffing to cope, or he might have done both. Honestly, seeing Portal and Neurosis in one weekend might have been too much. How will Sunday keep up?

The band to follow up a performance like Neurosis’ was…GWAR? The band that performs in costumes of sleazy space warriors that “kill” the likes of Justin Bieber and Hillary Clinton and spray their “blood” all over the audience? Like Wizards of Gore and Voivod before them, they were paying tribute to a fallen founder, GWAR’s being David Brockie, who portrayed the crack smoking, foul-mouthed cosmic warlord Oderus Urungus. The story of this show was that Urungus had fallen through a time machine and the band tries to search for him, to no avail. Along the way, they vanquish monsters, but more importantly, find two new vocalists, Blothar and Vulvatron. Metal media were abuzz about Vulvatron when she first performed with GWAR at Chicago’s Riot Fest, suggesting she was ushering in a real sea change in metal’s male-dominated gender politics. That may have been a bit premature — she carries herself with a take-no-prisoners attitude, but she didn’t sing all that much, as most of the vocals were handled by Blothar. If GWAR really wanted to shake things up, she’d be in full command, and she has the potential. As with Napalm Death’s performance, the question remains: Are fans ready for that level of change in their lives? GWAR’s performance overall was a sincere goodbye to Brockie, but following the utter devastation of Neurosis, it didn’t mesh.

Another notable performance came from Author & Punisher, the work of engineer and musician Tristan Shone, who creates his own instruments. Influenced by hardcore techno and the industrial doom of Godflesh, his music was bassy, pulsating, and all around terrifying. Like Portal, many listeners were thrown off at first, but Shone was greeted with rapturous applause when he was finished. Shone has opened for Anselmo’s solo band in the past, and once again, it’s great to see a metal icon still caring about up-and-coming, and challenging, acts.

Let’s bring on Danzig today. Does he still have a thing to say about Fun Fun Fun Fest?