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Housecore Horrorfest 2015 Part 1

Superjoint All photos by Alyssa Herrman & Foto Phortress
Superjoint
All photos by Alyssa Herrman & Foto Phortress

I. The Pre-Show
Let’s get something out of the way real quick: I’m not really a festival guy. Most of my favorite show memories are from dingy over-sold clubs where the crowd and band were one in the performance, and my limited festival experience has generally been the opposite of that. When I think “festival,” the first things that pop in my head are usually lots of security and barricades, taking out a loan for a bottle of water, and pseudo-schizophrenic line ups and set times. Last year’s Hoverfest in Portland was a pleasant exception for me, having a well manicured crew of bands, local food vendors, and an intimate outdoor setting that made it more of a party than a “mandatory fun” event.

With all of that being said, when I heard about this year’s Housecore Horrorfest in San Antonio, Texas, I immediately put any reservations aside and made plans to attend.

Operated/curated by Philip H Anselmo (Pantera/Superjoint/Down/PHA and The Illegals/many more), this third iteration of the fest featured an unstoppable lineup of bands (Suffocation, COC, Superjoint, YOB, EHG, KING DIAMOND!?) and horror films located for the first time along the Riverwalk in San Antonio. Housed by the historic Aztec Theater for the main bands, and the Holiday Inn Riverwalk for the flicks, as well as local club Korova for a revolving array of up and coming metal acts, the event promised one of the biggest bangs for the buck that anyone into this kind of music would drool over.

IIIhhfIII

The Korova hosted the festival pre-show, and the small-ish venue was packed on a warm Thursday evening for the likes of Black Breath and Idolator. Black Breath brought enough ruckus and attitude for everyone, and had the crowd in the palm of their withered hands, setting the pace for the weekend to come. After HHHF co-founder Corey Mitchell passed away at the end of last year’s version of the festival, one would not be faulted for wondering if the whole thing would continue, but judging by the excitement on the faces and in the conversations of all at the Korova, everyone was beyond happy that the decision was made to keep going. The excitement was thick and spirits were high, even among the many who had airport misadventures en route.

Black Breath
Black Breath

II. Friday the 13th
The next day was Friday the 13th, which started off with horror films at the Holiday Inn a couple blocks away. Anselmo hand picked the selections, and there were movies playing back to back beginning around 10 in the morning, continuing on until well after midnight every day. I’m a huge horror fan, but since this review is for a music site, I’ll just give a glimpse of the wave tops as far as the films go and say that all manner and flavor of depraved gore, psychedelic terror, and twisted psychoses were on display in two separate media rooms, with guest appearances and introductions by the filmmakers and Anselmo himself. The two films I watched that day, Diary of a Deadbeat and When Blackbirds Fly, were well done and well attended, though the latter left my head spinning a bit in a good way. Outside the viewing rooms, a meet and greet area was set up for such underground luminaries as tattoo legend Paul Booth and GWAR manager Sleazy P Martini, as well as featured filmmakers. It was a very cool and laid back setting with, again, no attitudes, just fun.

Just before heading to the Aztec for music, word of the shootings at the concert in Paris began to spread. Though people seemed subdued talking about it, the news only momentarily put a damper on the spirit of the evening, and actually appeared to have the reverse desired effect from the losers that perpetrated it. The mood was more of a family atmosphere, as the usual metal camaraderie intensified, as it always does, in response to the pain of the outside world.

People who hadn’t seen each other in years were reuniting with old friends as new ones were being made throughout the theater, and members of many of the performing bands could be seen hugging and chatting with fans, friends, and family alike. A long standing arm wrestling dispute between a jovial mountain of a dude named Hoss and a stocky Southerner with the nickname Tiger was the closest I saw to any conflict outside of the pit all weekend, and that was light-hearted fun. No attitudes, no fights, nothing but people connecting and bonding over the love of metal. I could already tell tonight in particular was going to be something special.

The schedule for the night was anchored by Anselmo’s Housecore Records and affiliated acts like Child Bite, Warbeast, annual house band Eyehategod and Anselmos’ own Superjoint, with touring package Exodus and King Diamond dropping in for the icing on the cake. The Aztec is a fairly intimate place for its size, with a large lobby/lounge area and upper levels filled with merch vendors hawking back patches and VHS gore, as well as a decent sized balcony and a large stage with good lighting. The sound was a bit muddy throughout the weekend, but it was certainly loud enough to make up for it, and overall it was comfortable in general.

Child Bite
Child Bite

My only complaint about the place was the fact that the cheapest beer you could get was a 12-ounce Bud Lite for 10 bucks, which basically meant that broke people like me (and apparently many others) had to either risk a flask through increased security or go out to the corner store next to the venue and grab cans to drink on the sidewalk before returning inside. This in turn attracted city police on bikes, prompting the drinkers to scatter down to the river itself, where it is legal, or so so we were told. Way overpriced beer aside, it made for a good evening regardless, as I found my enthusiasm for my first King Diamond show was matched only by a long haul trucker named Picklehead who was dressed head to toe in King Diamond gear.

Warbeast
Warbeast

The downstairs pit area was large and open, with a clear view of the stage from nearly every spot, except for the immediate entranceways. As I made my way down closer to the stage, I realized I had missed opening act and Housecore signees Child Bite. Judging by the reaction of the small crowd that had gathered so far, they had lived up to their manic, ferocious live reputation, and the stage was being set for Texas thrash stalwarts Warbeast, who tore through a set of old and new songs with more energy than one would expect for a thrash band at 6 in the evening. It was my first time seeing them, and they were well honed and made me want to see them again. So far, so good.

Eyehategod
Eyehategod

After stepping out for another beer (because it’s not an Eyehategod show if you’re completely sober) I returned inside to hear the wonderfully piercing shrieks of feedback that are trademark to EHG. Singer Mike IX Williams swayed and gesticulated wildly with his mic stand while the fearsome guitar duo of Jimmy Bower and Brian Patton beat the crowd over the head with their southern fried Sabbath riffs. Drummer Aaron Hill and bassist Gary Mader are the two newer additions to the band, but they make it look and sound like they’ve been there forever. The crowd ate it up, as they do at every EHG show I’ve been to. If you’ve seen them, you know what you’re going to get, and they bring it every time.

Legendary Bay Area thrash band Exodus was up next, and the crowd started really moving for the first time. The group fires on all cylinders even after numerous lineup changes over the decades, with frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza doing his very best to whip the crowd up. The venue had filled up quite a bit, and I walked through the downstairs and balcony to scope out the best spot for the next two acts. Check out “Strike of the Beast” to get a feel for how they laid it down.

By the time Exodus finished their set, I had grabbed a space in the front of the balcony, and the crowd had most certainly awakened. The stage was set for Anselmo’s on-again-off-again project Superjoint. The band, who dropped the “Ritual” from their name due to legal disputes with former members, recently reformed and did a successful tour with Danzig, and the road time did them well. The atmosphere as Anselmo and his mates took the stage was that of a huge party, due in no small part to the frontman’s innate ability to control a crowd. As they ripped through songs like “Ozena,” “Fuck Your Enemy,” and “The Alchoholik,” the audience surged along with the band, and stage divers soon joined crowd surfers in aerial acrobatics.

Superjoint
Superjoint

To make it even more of a party, the band was joined by comedian and Anselmo affiliate Dave Hill, who briefly relieved Jimmy Bower from double guitar duty for the night to perform admirably well in front of a crowd that was growing increasingly apeshit by the minute. Anselmo kept his trademark stage banter fairly short and let the music do more of the talking than compared to his long rants of yesteryear, although he still got some choice words in, encouraging the ladies in attendance to “get hammered up the hymen.” Towards the end of the set, Anselmo pulled the pit photographers up onstage one by one to snap some shots of the band and audience, solidifying the party vibe that had by now infected everyone in the room. What a show.

I had never seen King Diamond live before. The experience has been described to me over the years, usually breathlessly and with great emotion, as life changing. With that as my guide, I settled in to watch one of the undisputed heavyweight champs of metal play classics from his past, including some Mercyful Fate tunes and the entire Abigail album.

Mighty fuck.

King Diamond
King Diamond

The King and his entourage, including longtime guitarist Andy LaRocque, soon took the stage with “Welcome Home” amid the usual occult stage set and spooky lighting, and the audience went nuts singing along throatily to his Frankie Valli-as-ghoul falsetto. The set continued on into exploring Mercyful Fate classics like “Evil” and “Melissa,” and the frenetic energy from the crowd and performers became almost palpable as they powered through some of metal’s most crucial foundational material and prepared the crowd for the arrival of Abigail.

As the doomy chimes of “Funeral/Arrival” filled the room, the crowd excitement went off the charts. I stopped trying to remember every little moment and just went with it. People who had never seen each other before tonight wrapped their arms around each other while roaring the verses of “A Mansion in Darkness” and “The Family Ghost,” fists pumping and hair flying. As the songs rolled on there was no hint whatsoever of anything from the outside world, and we were all under the spell of the King and his sordid family.

By the time “Omens” and “The Possession” had ended, the show was so on point that I half expected a technical difficulty or something (a meteor, perhaps) to ruin an otherwise flawless performance, but no such gremlins were around tonight, and the band ripped into my two favorite songs by King: “Abigail” and “Black Horsemen.” Watching these two songs performed live instantly made me realize I can’t do them justice with mere words, especially the last minute of “Black Horsemen” with those epic solos, so watch the videos below and listen to the crowd sing along to see what I’m talking about. The first night of HHF ended with the crowd being absolutely devastated. Hail to the King.

—Matt Schmahl

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