Enabler Turns Way Up at Walters

Photos by Nathan Smith
Tuesday night tinnitus: Enabler's Jeff Lohrber
Enabler, Call of the Void, Blasé, STRESS33
Walters Downtown
February 10, 2015

It's a rather small crowd that turns out to hear extreme sounds at Walters on a Tuesday night in February -- one that typically shows up with callouses on their cochleas. But even the saltier veterans of the hardcore haunt went home with their ears ringing like a tardy bell last night. The tinnitus would come courtesy of the Ohioans in Enabler, purveyors of a bitter fusion of hardcore and metal that somehow manages to sound angrier than either. There was no use wearing earplugs. Things were about to get rather loud.

The first act of the night was the local outfit STRESS33, who raked the early arrivals over the coals with a nasty blend of piercing noise and sloppy power-violence. At stage left, a guy in a colorful mask and shades manipulated some kind of digital controller that produced grating squeals over the band's thoughtfully destroyed guitar crunch. As sheer sonic assault, it was a terrific warmup.

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Billy Hinkle Brings East Side Ethic to Poison Girl Turntables

photo by Matthew Romero
L-R: Robert Mena, Francisco Pulido, Scott Peterson (of Cryptic Slaughter), Billy Hinkle, and Ed Reyes
Pasadena hardcore outfit H.R.A., named after television personality Marvin Zindler's "heavy roach activity" blurb from his famous and often-amusing weekly rundown of local health-inspection violations, makes music to kill cats by, pens theme songs for nightmares, belches anthems for the apocalypse. Fast, furious, industrial-strength, and filled with rage, this is sonic warfare, the stuff they play in the torture cells at CIA black sites.

Unless you're part of the hardcore scene, it's hard to comprehend how deeply embedded hardcore is on the East Side. According to H.R.A. bassist Billy Hinkle, whose first DJ gig ever will be spinning his vinyl at Poison Girl tonight, the manic, abrasive, buzzsaw genre that sprang out of punk is in the water in east Houston. [Disclosure: the author is also DJing at PG this evening -- ed.]

"A lot of bands -- you know, Splatterreah, Bacteria, Social Deceit, Crucifixion -- were based out of the East Side. There's something about the working class and chemical pollution that caters to this music."

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Houston's 10 Most Merciless Mosh Pits of 2014

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Photo by Jack Gorman
New York's Cro-Mags incited one of the best mosh pits in Houston this year.
2014 was another bruising year for punk and metal fans in Houston, and naturally, most of those bruises were self-inflicted. From the southern outpost of Scout Bar to the northerly slope of the Woodlands Pavilion hill, alcohol-fueled crazy persons made a sport out of slamming into one another, turning the city's clubs, dives and amphitheaters into rock and roll proving grounds. In mosh pit after mosh pit, we watched the adrenalized mayhem turn boys into men and girls into badass chicks who are not to be fucked with.

At times, it was beautiful: Only at a rock show can you see a grown man hug the guy who just violently knocked him off his feet. Other times, the moshing got flat-out scary, sending all but the most indestructible mutants scurrying towards the bar. More than once, the action in the pit proved to be more memorable than the music onstage.

While nobody can claim to have caught every mosh pit in Houston this year, we here at Rocks Off are proud to say we braved quite a few of them to bring you those pictures you like so much. And a few of those pits stood out more than others, forcing us to stand back and simply admire our city's lack of sanity. What better evidence of a great show can there be?

So for all the skankers and the skaters, the bros and the bullies, we present to you now our official accounting of the Top 10 mosh pits of 2014:

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D.R.I. Stokes a Thirsty Crowd of Thrash Maniacs

Photos by Nathan Smith
Watch Your Head: Veterans D.R.I. presided over a raucous bill of vintage thrash-punk Friday night.
D.R.I., Owl Witch, Thraxis, Gallion, Legion
Scout Bar
December 5, 2014

While some of Texas' latest and greatest hardcore bands whipped up sweaty mayhem downtown at Fallcore on Friday, a couple of Houston's earliest and most crucial practitioners of the style were proving they can still rip it up with the best of them. D.R.I., those salty, speedy veterans of bygone Houston haunts like the OMNI and the Island, turned Scout Bar into their own personal thrash zone, replete with all of the circle pits, stage dives and domestic beers that that implies.

A small army of local speed freaks were on hand to help pay tribute to the local legends from the long-haired side of the punk/metal divide. Legion, Gallion and Thraxis had heads banging early and often on the evening as the crowd continued to file in off the foggy streets of Clear Lake. Visibility inside Scout Bar wasn't a heck of a lot better, with Owl Witch's powerful smoke machines turning the stage into a smoggy and mysterious realm for their blistering set.

All the smoke and skulls proved a good fit for Owl Witch's classic thrash sound. During a nimble shred solo by guitarist/vocalist Venom on his angular BC Rich, I found myself flattened by some metal maniac up front. Knocked the wind right out of me, and the Newcastle out of my hand. If you're going to thrash with the big boys, folks, remember to keep your head on a swivel.

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Fallcore's Incendiary on the Rise of Suburban Hardcore

Photo courtesy of Incendiary
Brendan Garrone, center, and Incendiary will be making their first Texas appearance on Saturday, headlining Day 2 of Fallcore.
Proper hoodie weather has arrived in Houston at last, and that can mean only one thing -- it's time again for Fallcore. For 14 years running now, the two-day festival has served as the city's most essential hardcore throwdown, showcasing the best (and noisiest) bands from the Texas scene and beyond.

This year's fest promises to be no different, with H-Town veterans like Will to Live and Die Young sharing a stage with young local fixtures such as Back to Back and Black Coffee as well as out-of-town acts that include Dallas' Vulgar Display and San Antonio's SnakeWay. With all the whirling fists and gnarly stage dives they're likely to inspire, the middle of the floor at Walters Downtown -- Houston's hardcore home base -- isn't going to be a particularly safe place to be on Friday and Saturday.

There will be 19 bands in all at Fallcore, with a couple of choice bookings at the top of the bill. Headlining Friday night's action will be Hatebreed's Connecticut homies in Death Threat, who haven't played a show in Texas in six years. That's a pretty long time -- almost as long as the following night's headliner has been a band. Long Island's Incendiary, who will cap off the entire, breakdown-filled weekend on Saturday, will be making their very first appearance in the Lone Star State.

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The Rocking Dead: Six Musical Zombies Who Survived Their Own Deaths

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Photo by Groovehouse
Ozzy Osbourne at the Woodlands, 2013
Rock and roll can be a scary thing, and not just on Halloween. The music industry is populated by more sunken-eyed ghouls than a dozen haunted houses, and most of them will not hesitate to fuck your girlfriend. Some of the best of 'em die way too soon -- and all too often. Others, like Keith Richards or Lemmy, keep coming back for more like a horror-movie slasher, seemingly impervious to decades of drugs, alcohol and STDs. Whatever these people are, they aren't human.

But there's a certain class of rock star that's even more disturbing. These are the men who have stared death in the face and made the Reaper flinch. They've crossed over to the other side, sometimes more than once, and somehow made it back again to tell the eerie tale. They are the guitar-slinging undead: Real-life rock and roll zombies.

How do they do it? Hard drugs and 911, in most cases. The reasons why any of these people remain amongst the living when so many haven't is anybody's guess. But it's hard to escape the notion that somebody, whether in heaven or in hell, is a fan. So gaze upon these living corpses with wonder and awe, but beware! For given a half-melted spoon and a defibrillator paddle, you too could share their fate:

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GWAR at Warehouse Live, 10/26/2014

Photo by Jack Gorman
GWAR, Decapitated, American Sharks
Warehouse Live
October 26, 2014

GWAR is alive and well, folks. That was the most important takeaway from the band's performance at Warehouse Live on Sunday. It was something that didn't seem quite possible when Dave Brockie, the man who fronted the band for 30 years under the foam-rubber guise of Oderus Urungus, passed away in March. He'd been the shock-rock troupe's memorable face, voice and id for so long that it was practically inconceivable that GWAR could exist without him.

But as Oderus was always happy to tell anyone and everyone who'd listen, GWAR is immortal. The scumdogs will always soldier on, and in hindsight, it seems silly to have doubted it. The very respectable Sunday night crowd that filled Warehouse Live showed up curious to see what GWAR would look and sound like post-Oderus, but confident that their favorite costumed freaks would still deliver the goods.

And deliver they did. Sunday night's show was chock full of all of the obscene violence, sexual innuendo and bodily fluids that audiences have learned to expect from GWAR over the decades. The most experienced and devoted fans were easy to pick out. They wore white T-shirts; the better to show off the gory aftermath of blood and bile pouring off the stage. But before they could be soaked, before they could properly pay tribute to the fallen Oderus, they'd have to survive the opening acts.

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GWAR's Vulvatron: "Ebola Is Not Doing as Well as We'd Hoped"

Categories: Mostly Metal

Vulvatron, rear, with GWAR
When Dave Brockie --the human avatar of GWAR's hideous, hilarious front-thing, Oderus Urungus--passed away last year, it was only natural that many fans assumed that it would be curtains for the band. After more than 30 years of blasting worldwide audiences with various bodily fluids, GWAR's face, voice and only constant member was no more. Who on Earth could fill his shoes?

No one, of course. But maybe two! At Brockie's epic Viking funeral earlier this year, GWAR raised eyebrows by debuting a new singer: the fetid Blothar, an ancient Scumdog warrior only recently thawed who belts out the band's heavy-metal ditties wearing the carapace of a spectral moon moose. But in September, they really popped some eyeballs out of skulls with the introduction of a new front woman: the busty, beastly Vulvatron!

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Mötley Crüe at The Woodlands, 10/11/2014

Photos by Violeta Alvarez
Mötley Crüe, Alice Cooper
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
October 11, 2014

Could this really be it? Was Saturday night really, honestly the last time Mötley Crüe will ever darken the door of a Texas venue? Can their claims of calling it quits really be taken seriously? Pretty hard to predict, one way or the other. After more than three decades of shocking behavior, nothing much the Crüe can do would surprise us anymore.

Vince, Nikki, Tommy and Mick swear up and down that "The Last Tour" is just that. But no one in the very large crowd that showed up to see them in The Woodlands on Saturday night seemed to be in a particularly somber mood. It felt hard to believe a band that can still reliably draw tens of thousands every time they step off a plane in this day and age has had enough of the spotlight. Doubly so when their set was preceded by Alice Cooper, the living embodiment of nostalgia-tour immortality.

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8 Metal Bands Made Better by Switching Vocalists

Photo by Groovehouse
With all the drama that surrounds singer/screamer changes, you'd think it's the end of the world and it has never worked for any band. The reactions across the internet any time one vocalist leaves and another joins are always less than enthusiastic, thinking change is bad one hundred percent of the time.

That's not true though, especially in a genre like metal where it has worked to great success so many times for so many different bands in different subgenres. In light of the fact that we're about to hear Suicide Silence's first album with a new vocalist, as well as what As I Lay Dying can do as Wovenwar without the stigma of Tim Lambesis, let's take a look back at some of the most successful metal singer switches of all time.

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