There was a time when sludgy, fuzzy metal reigned supreme. It doesn’t seem possible, but it was almost fifteen years ago that we were satiated by the overdriven, detuned glory of pinnacle acts like White Zombie, Pantera and Powerman 5000. All of those acts did something a little different, to be certain, but they all subscribed to one basic core principle; that metal needed to be loud, rhythmic and easily accessible above all other qualities.
Somewhere in the new millennium we lost sight of that splinter genre and its idyllically simple understanding of what metal should be, as technicality from Europe flooded the market and bands carrying that banner faded amidst infighting and differing career paths.
Out of the ashes rises the Texas Hippie Coalition, bringing back into vogue the kind of groovy aggressive metal best reserved for strip clubs and the bourbon-soaked walls of back-alley dive bars. There is a brotherhood between band and fans keeping this kind of metal alive – a tacit understanding that while the style has faltered, it remains furious, dangerous and ready to overwhelm the masses if given the chance.
Greeting the crowd in advance of the red dirt metal to come was Anti-Mortem, a scraggly looking band of hungry upstarts from some roughly unpronounceable town in Oklahoma. Despite their relative inexperience, Anti-Mortem stands tall in front of an unfamiliar crowd and simply wills the assembled mass to be drawn into the performance. There is a blue-collar charm to Anti-Mortem, the kind of relatable working class affect that presents them as a group of just plain regular dudes who happen to believe very strongly in their music.
And so they should. Anti-Mortem exists in that rare and mysteriously underutilized space between the heavy riffs of grunge and the pounding, distorted thud of sludge. Like the great muscle cars of old, Anti-Mortem’s performance is much more about the horsepower and less about the elegance of clean lines. Songs like “Words of Wisdom” are buoyed by a galloping pace and the honest exhortations of the performers on stage. One gets the feeling that Anti-Mortem’s stage act would be much the same whether in front of ten or ten thousand. This feeling persists no matter which of the band’s impressively powerful selections is on display – be it the crushing “Stagnant Water” or the crunch of single “100% Pure American Rage” the band makes the crowd feel the music through sheer force of effort.
Which sets the stage for the Texas Hippie Coalition, the erstwhile disciples of both Waylon Jennings and Pantera. The band blends a unique strain of swagger into their music, coming off as a true Texas metal act with more flair than we’re accustomed to seeing. The image has no tangible impact on the quality of the music, but it does add color and buckets of personality into the stage show.
There’s a sinister, wickedly smiling streak that runs through Texas Hippie Coalition’s stage show, one that clicks into place as the joyously hedonistic sleaze of “8 Seconds” ignites the crowd. Between the living battery that is John Exall on bass and the visceral bellows of Big Dad Ritch, there’s a sort of magnetic attitude to the band’s performance – they may be putting on a gritty metal set, but they’re taking time to enjoy to moment and making sure that the audience does, too. While the band introduced themselves with anthemic tunes like “Hands Up,” it was halfway through the set when the roof really started to come off, as crowd favorite “Turn it Up” rocked the rafters.
THC found themselves fighting off some technical issues, but they soldiered on in professional fashion, continuing to pump out volume for “Don’t Come Lookin’” and “Sex & Drugs & Rock and Roll.” It was hard not to get involved, as the small but dedicated crowd all moved in rhythm with whichever selection as playing currently.
There was a heavy concentration on new material for this tour, which was not lost on the attendees – at least one patron questioned the absence of hits like “Clenched Fist” or “Texas Tags,” which was a fair question. Nonetheless, if every band only gets to write one anthem in their career, THC bagged it early with the stomp-y sing-along “Pissed Off and Mad About It,” which rivalled the best pieces of any band on the evening.
With the promise of a new album to come this year and a second promise to see us all again at Mayhem Fest this summer, the Texas outlaws were gone, leaving a satisfied crowd in their red dirt wake.