The Power of the Riff shows have become something I look forward to every year; it is my taste of the festivals I bypass all over the world all summer long. This is much more my speed: an intimate setting filled with bands old and new spanning multiple dark corners of the metal genre.
The audience for these shows are a very tight knit community of people who have seemingly known each other forever. So in a way, these shows are like a reunion…where I am the outsider. I have always been a floater; floating from scene to scene, knowing just enough to fit in for a night to each one of them. Being at things like this often make me wish I was a purist, part of the family…but my inexplicably mixed tastes and role as an observer and not participator has never allowed for this.
I walked into The Echo around 10pm on Friday night, just in time to catch Obliterations. What do you get when you put members of Black Mountain, Saviours, and Pink Mountaintops together? Not what you’d expect at all…in the best way possible. It’s like they took the ingredients of their other bands, but them in a pressure cooker, and then sprinkled trucker speed on top of it. The vocalist lurched menacingly at the crowd, the band producing chaotic, Black Flag-esque rhythmic cacophony. It was the perfect beginning to the weekend.
I’ll never forget the POTR show from a couple years ago, watching Early Graves play with John Strachan for what I’m pretty sure what was the first time after the tragic death of Makh Daniels. It was so intense….I remember Strachan bleeding from the forehead due to some force of the microphone. To say they have mellowed out since that set would be a misnomer; rather, they feel much more integrated. Because of seeing this band through all of their phases of dark history, I will always see EG’s music as some of the darkest, angriest, and desolate I know. They have lived it.
This has been a year where I haven’t been listening to as much metal as I have over the past five or so. A multitude of factors have gone into this…namely…I’m not that pissed off right now. Weird, right? I know, call me a poseur…you’re not the only one to do this over my nearly seven year history, I’m used to it. But there will always be those bands that just came in like an ambulance and carried me to the ER in my time of need, and Black Breath was one of ’em. After wearing out that first album, I remember getting the promo for Sentenced to Life during GRAMMY week early last year, and from that explosive beginning with “Feast of the Damned” I was in love with that album, thrashing around my hotel room in a cocktail dress.
And that’s exactly how their set began here (sans cocktail dress). It was one of those sets where it was the right amount of people, who where the right amount of familiar with the songs, who were the right amount of drunk, and had the right amount of energy. You could just feel that everyone was super into it and having a great time. It was one of those rare shows where I could be seen up front again screeching along with my fist in the air. It felt good. But what was the most awesome part of this set was seeing their former guitarist Zach up front, too. Zach was part of the interview I did with them a few years ago. This was one of those sets where at the end I was so exhausted but realized how much I love shows like this- no other genre can birth shows quite like this- and even though it may not be my whole life right now, I hope it will always be a part of it.
For day 2 of POTR, we were pretty much the first ones in the venue and the last ones to leave. It was a very long day. I looked at the empty venue and couldn’t believe I saw Nine Inch Nails play here once. The entire day was a giant reminder of how much work goes into putting on a show.
Wartorn was the first band of the day I watched. It may have been mid-afternoon, but their crushing set was the work of the witching hour. Their music had a groove to it, and punky vocals were often chased by deep, guttural growls. There was an underlying melancholy to their sound that I connected with.
Mammoth Grinder are one of those bands I’ve just kept missing over the years…which is strange ’cause they’s from my home turf, so it was great to finally catch them. Their hardcore-meets-sludge sound appealed to me, and reminded me a bit of the now defunct other Austin band Iron Age, whom I love(d).
The room swelled for From Ashes Rise, as it was finally evening. The increased tempo of their music served to give me my second wind…maybe third. In the context of the other bands that day, FAR’s music sounded prettier but maintained ferocity. I was lost in deep thought during this set and can barely remember details other than enjoying it; I think my mind might have been erased by erratic lights aimed right at my eyes.
To say there was a lot of anticipation for the Final Conflict set would be a gross understatement. Playing their first set in their home turf in a number of years somewhere in the double digits, you could feel it in the room. This was a set of celebration. This would also be a taste of a scene that I have never really experienced: the political punk that I have read about and seen documentaries on but have never participated in. And then on top of that, I would see a friend in his “natural habitat” for the first time. Starting with a hilarious introduction that my poor Spanglish skills could only partially interpret, the Final Conflict set was unique to the entire weekend. Performing their first record Ashes to Ashes in its entirety, this was a set that I savored on several levels. I watched long time fans sing along as their band was resurrected in front of them.
The Obsessed are the fourth band of Wino’s I have experienced, and it is probably the loudest. When they began, I had to check to make sure my earplugs were in…and they’re just a three piece! The characteristic doomy-ness of Wino’s music was in stark contrast to what came before it, but it was the perfect ending to the weekend. Every last drop of energy was vibrated out of me. I love Wino’s voice, as it pierces the muddiness of his guitar, somehow ending up sounding pure. This is pure American heavy metal. As I watched on, I thought about this whole having taken a step back from metal thing that I’ve done this year. I guess that I feel like I now control my anger and sadness, rather than it controlling me. And that’s a fantastic realization to have.