Helstar & Venomous Maximus at Fitzgerald's, 4/12/2014

Photos by Groovehouse
Helstar, Venomous Maximus, Sanctus Bellum, Termination Force
April 12, 2014

The list of local bands that can still fill up Fitzgerald's more than 30 years after jamming out on their first power chord is a short one. On Saturday night, the metallic warriors in Helstar proved they can still pull that trick off with a little help from a few Johnny-come-lately friends.

The old club's crowded upstairs room was in fine spirit all evening, with supporting acts Termination Force, Sanctus Bellum and Venomous Maximus drawing plenty of claps and cheers. But the audience's most unconditional love was reserved for Helstar, the Houston metal institution celebrating the release next week of their tenth studio album, This Wicked Nest.

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H-Town Metal Institution Helstar Feathers Its Wicked Nest

James Rivera, center right, with Helstar
Over the past three decades, countless bands, clubs and backpatches have come and gone in the Houston heavy metal scene. But there has always been Helstar. Thirty years after the release of their Combat Records debut, Burning Star, the city's quintessential power-thrash quintet shreds on, anchored as always by the ageless, histrionic vocals of singer James Rivera.

Though they never quite broke through into the ranks of the immortals, Helstar has nonetheless managed to built a loyal, international fanbase over the years, and they've eschewed any notion of slowing down. Later this month, the band will release their tenth studio album, This Wicked Nest, on AFM Records.

Earlier this week, the group posted audio samples from the new record to YouTube, and it sounds like a ripper. If you want to be among the first to hear it in full, though, you'll have to buy a ticket to Fitzgerald's tomorrow, where Helstar tops a stacked bill also featuring Venomous Maximus, Warbeast, Sanctus Bellum and Termination Force.

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The Rocks Off 200: Mister Insane, Host of The Insane Show

Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.

Images courtesy of Mister Insane
Would you watch a program called The Insane Show? No? Are you nuts?!

Up in Crosby, of all places, is the base of operations of (it's safe to say) the Houston area's online music-oriented TV show that kicks the most ass. Very much backing up the claim "supporting local music worldwide," The Insane Show is a take-no-prisoners repository of videos, live performances and interviews with underground bands that fall along a wide metal/goth/industrial/hard-rock curve.

In other words, if you've ever fallen under the spell of the three Ms (Ministry, Manson, Metallica), you'll probably flip out about The Insane Show. Episodes can stretch past an hour in length, and don't exactly skimp on the T&A. Produced "roughly biweekly," it's like Austin City Limits with a lot more piercings and occasional plugs for midget-wrestling bouts; it's also fucking cool, and unlike anything else we've ever seen around here.

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Metallica's 10 Best Cover Songs

Categories: Metalocalypse

Recently Metallica announced they would be contributing to the new Ronnie James Dio tribute album, This is Your Life, and the results, "Ronnie Rising," are now streaming online. Given most people's personal dissatisfaction with Metallica's sound over the years, it comes as a little bit of a surprise that this cover medley sounds so damn good. Everyone in the band is on point.

It really shouldn't be all that surprising, though, considering Metallica has a long history of being a great cover band. It's been said they're the world's most famous garage band, and they live up to that name with a streak of stellar re-recordings of their favorite songs. Sometimes, it's enough to make you wish they'd just switch to playing covers full-time.

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Five Ways to Make Metallica Good Again

Categories: Metalocalypse

Last week, Metallica debuted a new song live and then posted its demo recording online. The song's called "Lords of Summer," and releasing the demo was a pretty smart move. This way we can actually hear what's going on in it without having to try to make out awful live recordings taken on fans' cell phones.

However, the song itself has some serious issues. The shame here is that it's almost there. This could be an awesome Metallica song; It has all the necessary components. It just needs some fixes before it's ready for prime time, much like their last album, Death Magnetic. If Metallica does these five things, they're well on their way to actually making a great new album.

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The Bizarre, Awful World of Dubstep Metal

I See Stars. Note the guy on the far left who isn't even doing anything.
Recently I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, the guitarist for local metal band Rebuild, and he was complaining about the wave of dubstep that has infiltrated metal. As a genre, metal has historically always adapted to include whatever modern mainstream trends were going on at the time, and metalheads have never, ever been happy with it.

It was only a matter of time before dubstep worked its way into metal and frankly the results have been less than satisfactory. Because I'm a total masochist, I decided I would delve into this burgeoning crossover genre to find the worst of the worst and present them to you today. This is how not to do a dubstep/metal crossover. Take notes, metal bands.

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Omotai at Fitzgerald's, 2/21/14

Photos by Nathan Smith
Omotai, Lions of Tsavo, Baring Teeth, Chipped Teeth
February 21, 2014

Whenever the topic of Houston's heaviest bands comes up, it's tough not to place Omotai somewhere near the very top of that particular pile of bones. For three years now, the trio has offered up the city's most thoughtfully crushing racket with its moonshine blend of post-punk, sludge and grindcore. The volume has only increased in recent months with the addition of a second guitarist, Jamie Ross, making the group's sound all the more hazardous.

The band has a new 12" out, and it's called Fresh Hell -- a title befitting the kind of thing that local extreme-rock fans would hope for from a new Omotai offering. On Friday night, the band brought Austin buds Lions of Tsavo over for a free show to help celebrate the record's release.

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Six Truly Great Death Metal Covers

Photo by Groovehouse
Napalm Death
Death metal has a genre has a history of doing covers songs, but they're mostly all novelty songs. It's become a played-out gimmick to take any pop song, speed it up, play it on highly distorted guitars, and gutturally scream the lyrics. That's been done.

What's less common is a great death metal cover of any given song that isn't just silly. That's harder to find, but it does exist, and there have been some truly awesome ones from some of extreme metal's biggest names.

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What the Hell Is Djent Metal Anyway?

Photo by Groovehouse
Periphery, early founders of djent.
Metal has so many subgenres and classifications it can be impossible to keep up with them all. It's so complicated at times that some bands don't even know what kind of music they play, and some self-described fans of certain subgenres have no idea what they're talking about. Not to mention all the bands who play versions of a certain subgenre but aren't considered "true" bands of that genre; looking at Deafheaven and black metal here.

With that in mind, it's a fool's errand to try to define any subset of metal with any sort of certainty. What do you do with all the bands that incorporate some parts of the genre and not all of them? What do you do with the bandwagoners and trendy bands who just want to get in on what's popular right now? What about crossover bands?

That being said, I'm going to try to elucidate here what's really going on right now. The biggest trend in metal these days is djent, a new-ish form of technical, progressive metal that's really captivating audiences and musicians alike. But what the hell is it anyway?

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Amon Amarth at House of Blues, 1/23/2014

Photos by Jack Gorman
Amon Amarth, Enslaved, Skeletonwitch
House of Blues
January 22, 2014

As Houstonians prepared for another blast of icy weather on Wednesday night, who better to usher in the cold than a bearded Viking horde led by Amon Amarth? Like a gang of beer-swilling Leif Erikssons, the Swedish death-metallers have spent the past 15 years sailing on countless expeditions to the New World, and judging from the size of the crowd that greeted them Wednesday, Houston is on its way to becoming one of the group's favorite North American outposts.

Weeknight be damned, House of Blues was crowded and damp from almost the minute the doors opened on Wednesday. While it certainly didn't hurt that Amon Amarth is touring practically unopposed by big-name metal acts this winter, a lot of the credit for the turnout has to go to the stacked bill somebody put together. The opening act, Ohio's Skeletonwitch, has built a nice local following playing virtually every stage in town over the last three years or so, and fans turned up early so as not to miss them last night.

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