The importance of experiencing local metal

December 9, 2013 –

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Fields of Elysium.

Some time ago, Jon Wild relayed a local news write-up about Amarillo-based death metal band Abolishment of Flesh. I am a part of Death Metal Underground, and I live in Amarillo. I’ve gotten to know these folks, and I thought I’d offer a follow up. I can say without reservation that they are as great as the best of people one finds anywhere. Since moving here 14 years ago, I’ve found I had trouble finding a niche. The ostensibly Christian veneer of this region fades rather quickly when it becomes known that one does not practice some variety (or in my case, no variety) of faith. That sense of alienation grows when one prefers Pentagram CDs to Pentacostal services. So outside the people I knew from work, I really didn’t associate much with the local population. As metalhead and loner from way back, this arrangement suited me just fine. Solitude trumps solicitousness any day, and twice on Sunday.

Then, as Brett Stevens reported earlier this year, a long-time dream came true for me. I offered a college course in heavy metal. As a result of this class and the monumentally fantastic people in it, I started to become acquainted with the local metal scene. A couple of my students were in metal bands, and a couple of others were involved in the campus radio metal show, The Rocket. So when a trivia question about death metal arose on The Rocket, I called in and won tickets to the West Texas Death Fest (WTDF). And as the cliché goes, it changed my life.

abolishment_of_flesh
Abolishment of Flesh.

When I walked into the show, I saw ink, piercings, gothic scripts, black t-shirts. I learned rather quickly that the black t-shirts covered hearts of gold. A former student was taking tickets. Two students met me there. The promoters of WTDF, who had offered the trivia question, were waiting for me. They knew who I was, and I was welcomed with a hug. Facebook friendships formed. I learned that they were also a local metal band called Abolishment of Flesh, which is supremely ironic because instead of abolishing flesh, they live to sustain the good fortunes of everyone they know. In any event, I got to know Jess (promoter) and Ramon (guitarist/ vocalist) Cazares over the next few months. I think of them as the hearts of local metal. Hearts, plural. I went to see Abolishment of Flesh and kept tabs on their national Brutal Alliance tour, in which they partnered with New Mexico neighbors Fields of Elysium. Par for the course, the bands shared everything along the way. It was part tour (death metal overground, I like to call it), part family vacation. I also became an avid follower of local metalcore band Sixgun Serenade — the rhythm section of which comprises two former students of mine — who are at work on an album to follow up 2013′s The Avenue of the Giants. I’ve gotten to know their families. In much the same way a “church home” may sustain some people; I found my niche in the local metal community. These are my people.

A few weeks ago, The Rocket again hosted Abolishment of Flesh in the studio as guests to talk about their forthcoming CD Creation to Extinction. On that day, I wore the band’s t-shirt to all my classes and changed my profile picture on Facebook to reflect that. I made my cover picture a picture on the band and me taken after a show. Of course all the people involved altered or posted to their pages. It was an event. Encouraged by this activity, I tossed out the notion of a campus metalfest. People came out of the metalwork. More Facebook friendships were forged, more family adopted (and probably more shows to see, more t-shirts to wear). All for an idea.

I’ll be heading out to see Abolishment of Flesh on December 14 as they inaugurate their new CD (and celebrate drummer Robert Ginn’s birthday, because it’s a family thing). Sixgun Serenade will play a benefit in January. West Texas Death Fest is slated for April. I believe we are fortunate to have a metal venue, numerous metal bands, an annual metal festival, a couple of metal radio shows, and a university metal course. We’re pretty active for being smaller city distant from metropolises and centered in a region that by all accounts is not particularly comfortable with metal.

So, in the end, together, we have the mettle to sustain our metal. We smelt the ore daily through friendship and family. It’s not about death metal. It’s about life metal. It’s about living metal and living, metal.

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Sixgun Serenade (with author Martin Jacobsen).

Abolishment of Flesh:

Fields of Elysium:

Sixgun Serenade:

Sixgun Serenade – Fortunate Vessels

June 6, 2013 –

sixgun_serenade-avenue_of_the_giantsI think the best way to understand the new band from Texas called Sixgun Serenade is that they are a pop band that likes metal riffs. This song features chuggy riffs from speed metal, noodly lead riffs from tek-deth, but otherwise, is pure alternative-rock-tinged pop music which delivers a gratifying melodic hook in a song that knows, like a dancer in the rain, how to pause and when to move. It combines really effective radio pop with some depth, and battering metalcore and metal riffs that keep the pop from swallowing up a realistic sense of how life is struggle.

If you remember the video for “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera, in which the vocalist had a similar hairstyle and tossed the hair in a similar way, and in which the verses were abrasive and the choruses sweetened by melody and soft vocals, the approach here may seem familiar. In fact, you might see it as a nod or tribute to that video, which kicked off the tendency of metal to accept alternative rock sounds and thus make melodic choruses to counterbalance the rage. Here, the battering metalcore/tek-deth aspects of the music are balanced by what would be a highly successful pop band in the chorus.

Obviously, this is not going to be for everyone. Some say metalcore is a contemporary version of glam metal or hard rock, but I think it’s more like a catch-all rock/metal hybrid not unlike Led Zeppelin or Tool. It aims for a rock audience, and hopes to wean them onto metal, or at least metal riffs, and from there to let nature take over. One thing that Sixgun Serenade do well is that they embrace technicality but, unlike many of the truly chaotic core/tek bands, use it wisely. That doesn’t mean selectively exactly, more than they tailor their techniques to the roles in which those techniques complement the song.

Another thing to like about Sixgun Serenade is that they do not indulge in pretense or hide their origins. This is pop music in the best tradition of the MTV era, where each song is designed to be compact, slightly repetitive, hooky and to have some form of song development that parallels what goes on in the video. The result combines silent theatre, language and music and creates a unified entertainment product. Unlike most pop music, however Sixgun Serenade wrap some guitar fireworks and abrupt riffing into their payload.

Sixgun Serenade released their most recent full length album, Avenue of the Giants, on March 26, 2013 via Dark Slate Records. Describing itself as “a passionate five piece American Metalcore band,” Sixgun Serenade comprises Cody Roye- vocals, Justin Werner- guitar, Stephen Loftin- guitar, Cody Blevins-bass guitar, and Justin Hendrix- drums. Currently the band is touring in support of Avenue of the Giants.