The thought came to me as I drove past my office on my way home last night after the Hail!Hornet, Zoroaster and Slow Southern Steel show in Brooklyn that I might as well take the exit and sleep here, since it’d be about six hours before I had to be up and on my way back. That was about 2AM. I’d arrived at Europa roughly five hours earlier, just before the 9PM start of CT from Rwake‘s Southern metal documentary, Slow Southern Steel. Literally just made it, with the kind of timing that, had I actually tried to pull it off, I almost certainly wouldn’t have.
Chairs were set up in rows on the floor of the venue, and there was a screen on the stage. The deal for the night was the movie followed directly by performances from Zoroaster (who were in Brooklyn not two full months ago with Black Cobra and The Body) and the abrasive underground supergroup Hail!Hornet, for whom this would mark their first tour. It was a shitty night, cold and vaguely snowing aside from the general fact of it being Wednesday, so I knew the venue wouldn’t be crowded, and sure enough, when I got there, it wasn’t.
I sat in the middle, toward the back — at one point near the end of the film, CT, who had directed, produced, conceived, narrated, etc., came and sat close by — and it was hard at times to see the screen, but Slow Southern Steel got its point across anyway. Between this, Such Hawks, Such Hounds, the apparently ongoing work of Sam Dunn, the forthcoming Bobby Liebling documentary Last Days Here, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne and Anvil: The Story of Anvil (among others), metal seems to have hit a new age of self-examination, but the Southern underground has been potent enough over the last 20-25 years to more than justify a specific look.
The film is hardly impartial in its regionalism — as CT introduces each chapter, he gradually comes to adopt a “we” tone, more representing the South than looking at it from a would-be outsider’s eye — and somewhat problematic in its treatment of Southern culture as Hank Williams III defends his flying the rebel flag with the familiar “history not racism” argument. Sorry dude, but the history is racism. I’d almost buy it more if the position was, “we’re reclaiming this and making it stand for something else” — the inherent flaws of dominant culture narratives notwithstanding — but saying “I’m not a racist” doesn’t mean you’re not complicit in perpetuating race-based cultural ideologies; most of us are, regardless of our actual race and whether we live in the north or south.
Mike Williams of Eyehategod was a little more articulate on the subject, touching on class and the struggle of the post-Civil War American south, but far more interesting in general was the overarching discussion of religion, growing up Southern Baptist, which everyone from Ben Hogg of Beaten Back to Pure to members of Music Hates You — who were featured prominently alongside Zoroaster and the Atlanta scene as the future of Southern metal — chimed in on, and the stories of how the scene grew out of a collective of individual tastes. Conspicuously absent was Kirk Windstein, but Pepper Keenan, Phil Anselmo and Jimmy Bower were all featured, as well as Phillip and Chuck Schaaf of Deadbird and a wide host of others, talking out their origins — Steve Brooks of Torche/Floor talking about breakdancing to Diary of a Madman was a highlight — and much more.
When I interviewed CT and asked him about the film, he said he wanted to explore what makes Southern metal Southern metal, since he was tired of being asked all the time. Fair enough, but he probably should have actually said that in the movie, which comes off vague in the beginning without that initial statement of direction and seems to wander between exploring specific ideas — religion, race, class, personal histories with music — and the contributions of bands like Eyehategod and Buzzov*en, to whom Erik Larson of The Might Could/Hail!Hornet paid particular homage.
Since Zoroaster and members of Hail!Hornet — Larson, vocalist T-Roy Medlin (also Sourvein and ex-Buzzov*en), bassist “Dixie” Dave Collins (also Weedeater); guitarist Vince Burke didn’t speak, but showed up in live footage of Beaten Back to Pure — were included in the movie to varying degrees, it made sense they’d also be playing the show. For as prominent as they were, I wondered what it was keeping Music Hates You from doing the tour, but since Slow Southern Steel ran feature-length, two bands were plenty to follow it. Zoroaster took the stage following some monitor problems for drummer Dan Scanlan and ripped through a set of their heavy psychedelic noise wash.
It was pretty similar to what they’d played at the Saint Vitus bar the last time through, if not all the same songs, but though the lasers weren’t a surprise this time around, their bringing CT up for a guest vocal spot was. As anyone who’s ever seen Rwake knows, CT can scream like a bastard, and though he seems to have adapted well to the role of filmmaker (when he wasn’t fronting Zoroaster, he was shooting live footage on one of those tiny, futuristic cameras), it was a quick switch to singing alongside Zoroaster guitarist Will Fiore and dreadlocked bassist Mike Morris. The band wasn’t exactly lacking layers in their overwhelmingly distorted morass, but one more never hurts. Their sound might have been more encompassing last time, in the smaller Saint Vitus performance space, where it bounced off the walls and had nowhere to go but inside your newly-fractured skull, but they made the most of it anyhow.
Their having done so makes perfect sense, but showing Slow Southern Steel before the bands played made for kind of a strange vibe afterward. Part of that is probably because we were in New York, which, let’s be frank, is about as far away from the Southern metal underground as you can get and still be in the country, but there was a staid feel in the crowd at the start of Zoroaster‘s set and on from there. I’m not saying both Zoroaster and Hail!Hornet didn’t kick ass or that Slow Southern Steel wasn’t well-realized and fascinating to watch, just that there’s probably a reason the phrase, “Let’s get this party started” isn’t usually followed by, “With this documentary.”
And even if it’s a documentary made about metal by metalheads with that specific passion for metal that headbangers seem to think is reserved solely for themselves — I don’t know how to tell you this, but there are people on this planet who are really, really passionate — scarily passionate — about Taylor Swift. More passionate than you are about Slayer. There are people who care more about their car than you ever will about Black Sabbath. That’s the way the world works. Perhaps more vehement though its followers may be on the average, heavy music does not have the market cornered on passion, however much it seems to enjoy telling itself otherwise.
That’s not specifically a critique on Slow Southern Steel, but in any case, it was Medlin who took it upon himself to get the crowd going before Hail!Hornet started their set. He thanked Zoroaster, calling them “brothers from the A-T-L,” and pumped up the audience that remained — it was on past midnight by then — by asking if we were feeling alright, how we were doing, and so on. We were fine, but certainly much better once Hail!Hornet got going. It seems more and more with shows these days, I drag my feet and hem and haw about actually showing up, and then once I do, there’s a particular “oh yeah, that’s why I’m here” moment. Hearing the fuzz-caked roar of Collins‘ bass alongside the sharper, cuttingly metallic tone of Burke‘s guitar was it. Since they’ve never toured before, it wasn’t such a surprise that the crowd was sparse for Hail!Hornet, but I’d be amazed if more people didn’t show up next time. They fucking killed.
As Larson — whose riffing once helped propel Virginia outfit Alabama Thunderpussy into being one of the best and most characteristically Southern metal bands ever — blasted away on the drums behind them, Burke and Collins alternately thrashed and lumbered, slamming headfirst into massive, schooled breakdowns over which Medlin screamed righteous proclamations, grooving on the songs in a manner more Jay-Z than Pantera, but never losing sight of the dirty South edge he brings to Sourvein‘s stage show. On the whole, they were tighter even than I thought they’d be, and though Collins puked and at one point removed his socks, unleashing a lethal stink as he played barefoot, the songs sounded all the more powerful for the chaos.
I bought a CD copy of their second record, last year’s Disperse the Curse (recorded, mixed and mastered by Burke at his Sniper Studio), and watched as the band unleashed “Suicide Belt” and “Shoot the Pigs,” along with “Devil’s Hound” and others from their 2007 self-titled, finishing with the rawness of “Concussion Conspiracy” from that album and seeming almost to implode at the end, crushed at last under their own tonal weight. Soaked in his own beer, Medlin said goodnight, and the show was over with no more fanfare than that. I walked back to my car and headed home to Jersey.
Maybe it would’ve made more sense to do so, but I didn’t sleep at my office. I kept on the extra 25 minutes home. With Slow Southern Steel‘s focus on the importance of family and talk of how that’s what really matters amidst the mess of the rest, it seemed the only choice to make.
Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.