So I was at this metal bar last weekend. It is so much fun to say things like that. Especially at church. A former student, Sergio, is in a metal band called Sovereign Wrath, and they had a gig last Saturday. After a year or two of promising (and failing) to go see his band, I finally did it. Sadly, there are no pictures of SW, because my camera battery died during the opening act, named (you know it) Hank of the Destruction Moose. Yes, the extra “of” is actually part of the name. Also, I bought a t-shirt. SW was more interesting, musically, however. Of course, they were both… metal. I’m not a huge fan of the modern hardcore metal genre (if that’s even what it’s called), but once again I have found that listening, in person, to commited, passionate, talented people making music is enjoyable no matter the genre.
The bar was a dual-purpose club in Harlingen, TX, named “Rock Stars.” One half was the metal bar, and the other was filled with equally merciless and frightening peppy dance tunes. Strangely, there seemed to be no noticeable music bleed-over between the two halves. And if you could have felt the impact in your chest from the dual kick bass drums, amplified with equipment usually reserved for large stadiums, you would understand why that’s surprising. And that brings me to an important point: Metal types likes their tunes somewhat loud. I wore earplugs, and my head was still buzzing by the end of the night. When the first band (HOTDM) started playing, the beats were seriously making my eyeballs unfocus, slightly. I got used to it. It was a fun sensation. It was also fun to watch, with much lower noise saturation, how the people who were enveloped in the brick outhouse of sound were behaving.
Which brings me to the people, which were the whole reason this was an awesome outing (adventure, adventure… metal bar, adventure…). The people were pretty cool. They look scary, of course (I was a little afraid to photograph any of the seriously scary not-on-stage people), but they all seemed to be either friends, acquaintances, or strangers and nice to each other. Maybe I only saw a small cross-section, but that’s the experience I had. Of course, I also knew Sergio, and he introduced me to a few people. I am left wondering: was the friendliness a metal thing, or a Valley thing? People down here are pretty friendly, and often very tight-knit, socially.
HOTDM was impressive. Their synchronization was tight, the lyrics (unintelligible in all cases) were matched rhythmically, and they really put on a good show. Like SW, their set was sort of a full-frontal, all-out sensory assault on the audience, who ate it up like puppies with their chow. It was a lot of fun to watch the stage performance, which was clearly heavily influenced by themes of aggression and (or so it seemed) laypersons’ views of mental illness. Then, the band would break for a few seconds, and the singer would (often in his scary singing voice, but not always) make the standard chitchat: hello Harlingen. Your town rocks. Man, the mosquitoes are bad down here. HOTDM was from El Paso, btw.
Visually, SW was not as impressive as HOTDM, but that would have been hard. Hank seemed to have some serious work put into their floor show (as it were). SW, however, was every bit as musically tight. Plus, they had a more variegated sound. This was due partly to their occasional forays into non-metallic genres (only briefly, though), partly the Great Wall of Drum Kit (seriously; you just had to see this thing packed onto that stage), and partly to the fact that they had a keyboard player. Yes, keyboards. A skinny kid who looked like he belonged in a Depeche Mode tribute band was playing a double-rack, with riffs that alternated between bouncy power chords that would have been at home on Van Halen’s 1984, and creepy riffs that were much more Trent Reznor. But more the former, interestingly.
Metal seems to have its forms, like any other genre. The singer must sing with a psycho, throat-rending growl/snarl. The guitarists must Get Down into a Stance, and from time to time everyone must seriously bang their heads. Sometimes in unison, which produces a more powerful effect. Fans must mosh (though there was a good deal of checking to see if the guy you just slammed was OK if you hit him too hard… cute). And the F-word is very, very important. If the F-bomb frequency drops below about 8.5 per minute, I suspect your metal cred begins to suffer, no matter how righteously you can dish out the pain.
All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening. The drive over was pleasant, the drive back was lovely, and cruising around the streets of Harlingen looking for the club reminded me of previous weekend-evening excursions to that town, and the way the teens and young adults seem to have evolved loitering into a fine art. Seriously. Almost every block seems to have a group of people, with their cars, parked in a lot of some kind, standing around and talking, drinking, and/or seriously inspecting each other’s subwoofers and cylinder bores (both literally and figuratively, from what I could tell). It was eerie, like a scene from The Outsiders, but also interesting. This Valley is not such a bad place.