(Red River Family Fest II took place in Austin, Texas on September 22-23, 2017. The appearance of Krieg on the line-up took Krieg’s frontman Neill Jameson to the event, and he prepared these thoughts about the fest and the bands he saw. Credit for all the great photos accompanying his article goes to NecroBlanca Photography and Design.)
If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written or spoken to me you probably have the (correct) opinion that I generally don’t enjoy myself often. It might be the few decades of going to shows and fests or talking to people that have jaded me, but I tend to approach playing a fest as more of a job than a joy. But my experience over the weekend at Red River Family Fest II was surprising enough for me that by the end of the first night I was ready to sit down and write about it, and it wasn’t just the alcohol talking.
This is a recap of everything I experienced over my few days in Austin, Texas. I was able to catch at least a song from most every band with a few exceptions and I really enjoyed what I heard, again with a few exceptions.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen people be so aggressive when asking for money on the street but our day in Austin started off with a man who talked a lot of shit to a group of us and then managed to get inside the venue to continue it, like it was a good idea. I figured it was an omen that the weekend was going to be…difficult, but that ended up being the only real bump in the road.
I ended up missing Vacha so my first band of the fest were locals Uruk. A friend of mine suggested I stop smoking and bitching so I could go watch them, for the vocalist alone. He wasn’t wrong. Uruk’s vocalist was a towering man, decked out in full body armor including an intricate helmet and a Ned Stark-sized broadsword. I truly admire the level of aesthetic dedication on display here but that would be the end of my review had their music not been fucking ripping. Culled straight from the mid-’90s I swore I was back in my room getting ready for school while checking out a new demo. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and so is a strong presentation. Uruk absolutely delivered.
I only caught a bit of Haunter’s set but they do their twisted black metal justice in a live setting and made my short list of bands to seek out after the fest. Up next was Zoloa, who were the biggest surprise of the first night for me. Absolutely crushing d-beat from members of the BTC, the kind of unrelenting crust that sits comfortably in my listening rotation. I’d never heard them before this but I’m going to seek out everything I can. Unfortunately I couldn’t watch their entire set because Krieg were next and I had to shovel down enough whiskey to calm my nerves beforehand.
I won’t comment on how we did because that’s fucking asinine but being placed right after Zoloa was perfect since they had the crowd fired up. I haven’t played in Texas since 2001 so it was a really nice experience to finally return and perform for a group of people who seemed appreciative or at least very patient. It was a great reception considering we were replacing a band and probably the bronze medal choice.
I ended up missing a few bands after and only managed to catch a bit of Volahn, who I haven’t seen since they did a house show in Philly a decade ago with Bone Awl. Another band I need to catch up on as I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed them.
Why did I miss the other bands? I’m glad you asked! I was outside smoking and a gentleman was stumbling around the front of the venue and laid down a few feet away from me and started pissing everywhere. As Austin seems to be full of the walking dead I didn’t think much of it but a bit later the ambulance pulled up, poked around with him for a bit, and threw him in a bag. I was told the next morning I’d been smoking next to a corpse.
Right after that David Vincent moseyed on over, in full cowboy regalia, and much like when I see a cat, I knew I needed to go up and bother him. Regardless of how goofy he appears or his new country career he was really fucking cool, especially considering I was not a bit sober, and humored me for a while before going inside to watch some of the bands.
The rest of the night is a bit of a blur now and because of this I can’t remember much about Predatory Light beyond enjoying them. I completely missed Uada, which was unfortunate because I was curious if all the MGLA jokes I’ve read online were the case or if they were stellar live and people were just unable to think of any better gags on them. Arizmenda were loud enough that I was able to listen to them while I was passing out at my merch table.
A gentleman from southern Texas helped me with a pick-me-up and I was able to catch Inquisition, who closed out night one. I’ve seen Inquisition twenty or thirty times in nearly two decades, including touring Europe with them in ’01, so I knew to expect their usual high standard of performing but tonight was something else, something special. Considering it was asshole o’clock Inquisition played like they were the first band of the night: energetic and commanding. It was enough to knock the dust off my collection and make me curious how their newer stuff holds up. A special end to an already great night.
I was somehow hangover free and since I wasn’t playing I was able to relax more and spend more time checking out the bands rather than worrying about performing.
There was a street fair a block over so me and Krieg/Skaphe drummer Jason wandered over to that to kill some time. Ended up at Hoek’s Death Metal Pizza, whose memes I’m sure you’ve seen around from time to time. Metal-themed eateries seem to be popping up everywhere after the success of Kuma’s but this was the first one I actually gave a shit about trying. They did not disappoint but I’m not Anthony Bourdain and I’m sure you don’t fucking care about my culinary adventures but if you’re ever in Austin, definitely give them your business. They also catered the fest and put in a lot of support, plus their pizza is great.
I missed Venereal Baptism but made it in time to watch Austin’s Black Vice do their full set. I’ve been critical of the black metal aesthetic in the past because it has the tendency to look ridiculous or be used to distract from a lack of songwriting ability. Fortunately Black Vice are in that third area where the visuals compliment the live experience and the music, plus a few of you know that anyone who dresses up like a plague doctor has a special place in my heart anyway. Black Vice are another throwback to the ’90s black metal scene, reminding me of Moonblood in places. Another band I’m excited to dig into after the fest.
Sovereign were one of the bands that I just couldn’t really get into. They have a really strong presentation and are obviously passionate about what they do but musically and visually it was too close to Watain territory for me, just not my thing. But if you’re into the later Swedish black metal scene you’ll probably find a lot to enjoy in them.
Maybe I was just cranky but this was the block of bands that impressed me the least. I already had a bias against Tyrannosorceress because I thought the name was indicative of a joke band and outside of early Blood Duster I think humor in metal is atrocious, which probably makes me an asshole. But they’re very obviously serious and dedicated to what they do, which came off like early Emperor (minus the keys) live. The singer kept missing the mic when he was flailing around so the vocals came off as an occasional noise, like gunshots in the distance. Like Sovereign I can’t pinpoint anything negative, just that it wasn’t really my thing.
I missed One Master but made up for the experience with Pan-Amerikan Native Front’s first ever performance. Finally seeing a band utilize a visual perspective from Native American culture was really satisfying. I’m sure I’ve missed other bands do it but considering the wealth of history the natives of this country have to draw from it’s a concept that’s underutilized, especially when you see how many fucking Viking bands exist. PANF were by far my favorite band of the entire fest, sounding like a mixture of Sarcofago and Drudkh. They had some problems with the last song or so but considering the drummer had only rehearsed once with them their recovery was excellent and added to the overall experience. I don’t have enough positive things to say about this band and I think they’re going to end up in the pantheon of USBM greats.
Vukari seemed out of place if I’m being honest. More Isis than black metal, some very dreamy moments but after the aggression of PANF it just didn’t fit, but I’ll definitely give their stuff a chance when I’m more in the mood for what journalists would lazily call “post black metal.”
With a name like Panzergod you’d expect absolute Marduk worship and visually these guys are steeped in black metal tradition: all leather, spikes, and corpse paint. But they’re not all full-speed-ahead aggression but more intricate and interesting. If I had to pick something to compare them to I’d definitely say Svartsyn or earlier Funeral Mist. It’s not reinventing the wheel but that’s not their point. This is old school black metal worship and done in a very satisfying style.
I knew Alex Poole had reservations about doing Skáphe live properly, and one listen to any of this band (or most of his other projects) and you can see why. It’s black metal done in such a deconstructed and dissonant manner that it almost doesn’t resemble music in the traditional sense. But months of very hard work on Poole and the rest of his live lineup’s part were instantly obvious and Skáphe came across in a mysterious and haunting fashion in the performance setting. I’m obviously biased but they were one of my favorites of either night and it’s been a privilege to watch Poole’s constant growth as a musician and creator.
I’d never heard Vanum before and was expecting to pass through the indoor stage when they were playing to go outside and decompress after Skaphe’ but one look while they were setting up and I was stuck in place until they finished. Vanum’s frontman is the most genuinely terrifying human being on stage I’ve ever seen. Not in a costumed spooky fashion but in a very real and unsettling “this guy could and would fuck me up” fashion. Their performance was excruciatingly tight and one of the few where I really tried to pay attention to individual instruments to hear where they were going. Next to PANF this was the biggest highlight of the fest for me and I can see them being a new musical obsession easily. Epic and well thought out black metal with a fucking psychopath leading the charge.
Ævangelist is one of the most dramatic and horrifying live experiences in metal. It’s difficult to describe but their (somewhat) Portalesque death metal is already a challenging listening experience (in a good way) but live it’s a whole other experience. It’s difficult to find another band that puts their existential anguish on display like them. The outdoor stage was the perfect environment for such a suffocating experience.
I was stoked on seeing Yellow Eyes because I’ve managed to miss them every chance I’ve had. It was difficult to stay on my feet as it was nearing the end of two long days but they managed to pull off their captivating black metal beautifully, especially the dueling guitar work, but the most memorable visual of their performance was that Vanum’s singer/bassist is also their drummer and managed to be fucking scarier behind the kit than behind the mic, never breaking eye contact with the audience in one of the most uncomfortable shows I’ve ever seen. This man is a national treasure and I look forward to watching the news that he snapped and killed a dozen people with his bare hands one day.
Crawl ended the fest with one of the most unique performances I’ve ever seen, a true one man band. He was surrounded by drum pads with various samples while wearing a mask I’d never want to see right before sex, ever. Industrial is the right word for his music but not in a “I NEED TO DANCE” manner but in a terrifying mechanical soundscape, true dystopian sonic vision.
I spent most of Sunday in a haze while I waited to fly back to Virginia and truly process the weekend. Unfortunately a gentleman with some sweet tribal tattoos and an ipod loaded with Stone Sour etc, which he rocked out to the entire flight home, had other ideas as he decided to try to fight the TSA and flooded our plane with marshals looking for him until him and his wife bashfully got on the flight twenty minutes later.
To wrap up this entirely too wordy description of the weekend I can only say that the men and women behind Red River Family Records and their yearly fest went above and beyond what I’m used to when it comes to running a tight ship and taking care of the bands. A staggering amount of promoters put on “fests” without any real concept of what a fest is and what it should represent. Their curating of bands was beautifully executed, especially how they made sure to bring in so many bands that had rarely or never performed in the area. They deserve any and every accolade they get for the experience they gave the fans and the bands and I hope this festival continues every year.