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Austin Terror Fest: Plenty of metal, and a whole lot more

Andy O'Connor Special to the American-Statesman
Panopticon is playing Austin Terror Fest. [Contributed]

If you’ve been over to the Lost Well, whether it’s to catch a metal band or to get away from downtown or East Sixth for happy hour, Dusty Brooks has likely served you a beer or three. You may have seen him grace the stage with his band Thunderkief, and it’s also likely he booked the band you came to see. He’s also the head of Austin Terror Fest, the annual metal festival that will return this weekend to Empire Garage and Control Room. It’s a must-see whether you’re a devotee or a dabbler, one that touches the spectrum of heavy music.

Austin Terror Fest began in 2016 as an offshoot of Southwest Terror Fest, formerly held in Tuscon, Arizona, and is the sister fest to Seattle’s Northwest Terror Fest, which held its 2019 edition last weekend. Dorian Domi, a local promoter and musician, joined Brooks for the second edition last year, and the festival expanded to Barracuda in addition to its former home at the Lost Well.

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Terror Fest never compromises with its lineup, offering a mix of the biggest current names in metal and the freshest up-and-coming acts. Last year’s festival featured Louisiana thrash veterans Exhorder, cybergrind pioneers Agoraphobic Nosebleed, and renowned Oregon doom metal trio Yob, among a legion of heavy hitters. This year goes even harder by bringing more acts from around the world. French shoegaze metal fusion Alcest will headline Sunday night, and Virginia grindcore legends Pig Destroyer are Friday’s main attraction. Other notable acts include Japanese stoner metal serial killer obsessives Church of Misery, Chicago noise-doom group Indian, and not one but two acts with “bong” in their name — Wisconsin’s Bongzilla and Chicago’s Bongripper, the latter making their Austin debut Sunday.

“We make it a point to bring it talent that haven’t played Austin, don’t normally play Austin, or haven’t been here in 20 years,” Brooks said.

Arguably the most anticipated band is Minnesota black metal group Panopticon, who will play their first Texas show as part of the fest. Led by Austin Lunn, they’re well regarded in the metal underground for infusing folk and bluegrass into metal, as well as incorporating more progressive lyrics, but have only played live since 2016, and sparingly at that. Brooks saw them at Northwest Terror Fest last year and knew he needed to book them here.

“Getting to meet Austin and the rest of the band and see how good, genuine people they are, that’s who I like to work with, good, honest, genuine people who enjoy what they do,” Brooks said.

Panopticon mirrors Terror Fest’s bigger aims and progressive attitude.

“Everything about that band is true to them, that’s something we definitely look for in bands,” Domi said.

Terror Fest’s inaugural outing was as an unofficial show during South by Southwest 2017, headlined by Baton Rouge’s Thou, who are returning this year for Sunday’s matinee set. Even though the Lost Well was just far enough away from downtown madness, Brooks soon learned a metal fest during SXSW is not the best idea.

“You don’t ever do a festival within a festival, rule one of booking a festival,” Brooks said. “I was just like ‘Let’s move it to a month where there ain’t (stuff) going on,’ and June, even though it’s warm, is that month.”

Moving Terror Fest to the summer not just made more sense; it also positioned it as a spiritual successor to Chaos in Tejas, the multi-day punk and metal festival that ended in 2013. Though Chaos catered more to punks, when it comes to fast, loud, and heavy, Terror Fest is it for Austin this summer.

“Initially we wanted to fill the shoes to Chaos, (and) it took a few years to get it going, but it’s something I personally wanted to do,” Brooks said.

Domi also emphasized that Terror Fest is a reaction to losing Fun Fun Fun Fest and its short-lived follow-up Sound on Sound, both of which had their fair share of heavy acts.

“We’re really, at this point, the only heavy festival that lasts more than one day,” he said.

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Though there is some overlap between Austin and Northwest Terror Fests, Brooks and Domi make theirs different by including more non-metal acts. Don’t expect them to flood the fest with jangle pop acts, though. Dalek, the New Jersey avant-hip-hop unit that mixed heavy sounds into hip-hop long before Clipping or Death Grips came on, will perform on Saturday. Synth-goth act TR/ST will be a big draw for Saturday too. Providence noise rock duo Lightning Bolt will return to Austin after a breathtaking set at Levitation back in 2015. Two local acts playing, rising shoegaze band Temple of Angels and industrial duo Street Sects, also mix up the bill.

“There’s a lot of overlay with scenes, especially in Austin, there’s a lot of goth fans who are metalheads,” Domi said. “I think it’s the most diverse Terror Fest that’s ever happened, and we pride ourselves on that.”

“In 2018, we didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves as a doom metal festival, and in 2019, we didn’t want to get pigeonholed as a metal festival,” Brooks added. “We want to be an experience, we want people to come here for a weekend and be totally immersed in what’s happening around them.”

Through broadening the festival, Terror Fest brought on two special Austin-centric sets. In addition to Panopticon’s full set on Sunday, they will perform a set of Blaze Foley covers at Saturday’s matinee show. Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell will also perform a Townes Van Zandt cover set at the Saturday matinee. Townes may be the artist that the vast majority of Terror Fest attendees agree on, moreso than any of the metal bands playing. “Waiting Around to Die” is as gloomy as any doom band, is it not?

“With the cover sets, I wanted to be not just Texas, but Austin, and add that level of specialness to the fest,” Brooks said. “I want it to be something people will take home with them, especially to the locals that come who are in touch with what Austin music has been about over the past 40-50 years.”


Austin Terror Fest is Friday through Sunday at Empire Control Room and Barracuda. See full lineup and links for tickets ($25-$150) on the fest's Facebook page.