The din emerging from the White Rabbit just before 10 p.m. blanketed a chunk of North St. Mary’s; it was easily perceptible from the Mix across the street. We’d stopped in at the local hangout for a quick drink-’n’-shot combo before heading to the White Rabbit Metalfest, where nearly 20 of Texas’s top new metal bands would take the stage before night’s end. The Mix and the Rabbit share a unique symbiotic relationship. For years, SA musicians and fans have kick-started their nights at the Mix before heading across the street for shows, dragging the party back after the last set.
Tradition is the backbone of San Antonio’s metal scene, and the White Rabbit is the genre’s true hub. Even as new music venues spring up around the city, many local bands consider it their home — most SA metal acts cut their teeth as kids sweating it out in the back room before they proved their worth and graduated to the main stage. Scenesters like their metal fix cheap and in large doses, and the night’s bill perfectly illustrated the quintessential structure of a San Antonio metal show: 10 or more bands, 10 dollars or less, prime slot is 11 p.m. The Jäger began to course through our bellies as we approached the sizeable, black-T-shirted crowd milling around the courtyard, and the bright-blue strips we were banded with upon entry proclaimed “NO BLOOD.” Reused wristbands, or the evening’s only rule?
Dallas-by-way-of-Alaska thrashers Turbid North were just wrapping up their set, and we settled in for locals Under Nothing. The five-piece busted out of the gate with exemplary stage energy, as the bassist, two guitarists, and frontman formed a headbanging wall on the edge of the stage, outstretched toward the crowd with one foot on the monitors. Guitarists Chris Godfrey and Ben McWilliams traded off squealing solos, and when McWilliams wasn’t bending the strings he was spinning his shoulder-length locks in Cannibal Corpse-like windmill fashion. Drummer J.R. Courchesne flawlessly executed the technical, off-time patterns, complemented by catchy verses and extra-heavy choruses that sucked the audience back into the groove. Under Nothing is well rehearsed and solid, capable of making things look effortless while still expending tons of energy.
Vocalist Kevin Daluz’s last song was just as powerful as his first. The singer flaunts a tone and texture reminiscent of Strapping Young Lad’s Devin Townsend. Daloz skates the fine line between singing and screaming, successfully staying in the key of the song with unrivaled stamina. Under Nothing’s fancore was squeezed up front, but they finally unleashed the beginnings of a mosh pit when Daloz screamed, “Take another shot playing God with a shotgun,” the opening line to their final song, “Buckshot.”
Austin quartet By Any Means Necessary took the stage as direct support for local headliners Brotherhood, and we stood at rapt attention from the opening riff. Simply put, these guys have their shit together. Their fresh faces belie unmistakable experience, and the music is redolent with old-school metal influence — they channel late ’80s-, early ’90s-era thrash, but incorporate newer-school death-metal vocals by frontman Adam Wright, and Pantera-like, half-time breakdowns. Sole guitar player Kevy Rojas fittingly resembles a young Kirk Hammett and he’s a down-picking machine, throwing several shorter solos into each song while maintaining a pristine mid-range guitar tone. Bassist Stephen Fernandez impressively plays with his fingers — most bassists would be sportin’ a pick in this band — and drummer Jake Jarmon stays busy with endless interesting fills amidst the technical verses and choruses.
Headliners and Metalfest organizers Brotherhood took the stage at 12:20 a.m., much later than the traditional headlining slot, but again proved why they’ve set the bar for San Antonio metal. “We took a backseat tonight to show you what Texas has to offer,” said vocalist Rod Nichols, addressing the still-sizeable crowd in a killer old-school Metallica Ride the Lightning hoodie. “Thanks for sticking around for us.” We took Nichols’s advice and focused on the undercard this time, but couldn’t help but appreciate the unbridled fury in Brotherhood’s live show — their sonic attack of blistering riffs and brutal vocals kept the pit spinning until the lights came on.
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Lamb of God’s latest, Wrath (Sony), dropped late last month, almost two and a half years to the day after 2006’s acclaimed effort Sacrament. While Lamb of God’s technical prowess ensures considerable big-league staying power, the band isn’t afraid to flirt with fresh ideas — the result is a record that achieves openness and dynamism without sacrificing the band’s trademark heaviness. Each song is distinct, and it’s notable that a band this heavy isn’t afraid to throw some acoustic riffs into the mix. Singer Randy Blythe experiments with different vocal styles, using his voice more like an instrument, and the songs surface with more melody to hang onto. Hooks break through in “Broken Hands,” a track that mixes wide-open space with half-time power grooves, while “Contractor” is a single that’s practically written for the mosh pit. It’s almost like the band is paying homage to old New York City hardcore principles — on the breakdown, distorted guitars ring out, while the bass guitar foreshadows the half-time punch. While complex patterns and furious, blistering riffs define the album, it’s permeated by an organic, real sound that isn’t as polished and militaristic as earlier Lamb of God, yet isn’t sloppy either. Wrath is a tight, visceral album that packs the punch fans were hyped for, definitely a release worth picking up.