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Portal rules night one at Housecore Horror Fest

Sharon Chapman
schapman@statesman.com

A scene report by Andy O’Connor:

Friday marked the official beginning of the second edition of the Housecore Horror Film Festival, the music and horror movie fest spearheaded by Housecore Records founder and ex-Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo and author Corey Mitchell. While “Horror Film” is in its name, Housecore’s musical offering have remained the key attraction. Last year featured Italian prog rock band Goblin’s first Austin shows, as well as big metal names like GWAR, Repulsion, Eyehategod, Pallbearer, and Anselmo’s own Down. Friday had no shortage of legends, but more importantly, legends in the making.

When Anselmo introduced Australian death metal band Portal onstage, he said to the audience, “I bid you farewell.” It was a comical warning, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone who saw their set, whether they loved it or were put off, was unmoved. They ended up owning the night. With members covered in black and sporting eyeless execution masks, and their singer, known as The Curator, decked in some sort of Chthuluian robe, complete with tentacles for fingers, Portal looked like they were not from this world, much less Australia. Their music backed up their mystique; they played complicated death metal that takes the maniac rhythms of Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth and pushes them further into a cavern of noise. Watching the left hand movements of Horror Illogium, who founded the band along with The Curator, and Aphotic Mote was dizzying. The Curator often stood still, but still commanded an impressive presence with his dismally deep vocals. If you were close enough to make out his face behind the veil, he still felt alien.

Portal did not address the crowd, and they didn’t need to. Visuals were handled by Dave Hall of Handshake Inc., providing a full sensory experience with images of cosmic destruction, biology gone wrong, and desolate windmills. Simply put, it was the best sort of overwhelming. Anselmo has been Portal’s most prominent supporter in recent times, sporting their shirts frequently in appearances, and it’s said he knows all their lyrics, which are even harder to decipher than their riffs. Even with his success, he still champions underground metal bands, which is nothing short of admirable. Anselmo can largely be credited with bringing New Orleans sludge metal bands like Crowbar and Eyehategod to prominence, whose no-bull attitudes mark a stark contrast to Portal’s esoteric nature, but his influence still reigns.

Two bands played in tribute to fallen members. Canadian thrash group Voivod, who closed the night, lost founding member and guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour in 2005 to colon cancer. Piggy’s fusion of his classical background with hardcore recklessness defined Voivod’s sound, and even with the band soldiering on with new guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain, Piggy’s loss still looms large. Coming on quite soon after Portal, Voivod played an energetic set, and the crowd especially reacted to older songs like “Psychic Vacuum” and “Order of the Blackguards.” During their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger yelled “We’ll never forget Piggy!”Their only problem was that, frankly, they had to follow Portal.

Wizards of Gore are a new incarnation of Dallas thrashers Rigor Mortis, paying homage to Mike Scaccia, who died of a heart attack while performing on stage just a few days before Christmas 2012. Scaccia was known for his lightning fast yet intricate playing, which helped him land a gig with industrial metal stars Ministry. Mike Taylor handled Scaccia’s parts with ease, and Bruce Corbitt came off as gracious without losing his vocal power. Travis Ryan from Cattle Decapitation, who played on the outside stage earlier in the day, sang vocals on “Foaming At The Mouth.”

Perhaps the only band not burdened by death Friday night were Salt Lake City’s SubRosa. Dual violins gave their doom metal a chamber influence, which complimented the vocal talents of Rebecca Vernon and Sarah Pendleton. Their music was a calm before the madness of the rest of the night’s bands. Compared to Portal, they were downright serene.