Dropped by Robert Miller
Photos by James Dechert
This past weekend 90 Proof Productions and Rise Above Tattoos joined forces to bring the Swamp Abyss Sorcery compilation to reality, so I figured it was I time I dug “A Blaze in the Southern Sky” out of the rubble. Last time, we took a look at a couple black metal bands from here in Orlando and New England to talk about the many and different viewpoints of the polarizing genre. This time, we’re going to step back just a little and take in a broader view of heavy music in Florida at large.
The Swamp Abyss Sorcery compilation album was made by Satanik Recordings and Gainesville’s reckless D-beat thrashers, Hot Graves, and its sole purpose was to spread the word about the “Now Sound ov Florida Heavy.” The description for the compilation is filled with “ov”s and hyperboles about Florida’s heat, nature and wildlife. It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek, to be frank, but that got me thinking: Florida really is perfect for heavy music. What with all of the people dying around us on a daily basis, the overbearing eyes of facist cartoon characters, the dangerous—often poisonous—wildlife, irrationally destructive weather and more, Florida is somewhat of an angst-ridden metalhead itself. When your top news headlines revolve around bank heists made with pitchforks, babies found in gym bags and face-eating zombies, it’s safe to say we have something to yell about. The whole state with its collective 75% humidity and swamp-like landscape is an unsettled jungle. Sure, here in Orlando and other major cities throughout the state, we have something of a “civil” urban sprawl, but when you zoom out and look at the big picture, it’s a contested territory of humans vs. nature, discovery vs. the unknown.
Don’t believe me? Look at what the peninsula has produced! Tampa, in particular, has dealt a heavy hand in death metal with the inception of Hate Eternal and Obituary (Brandon, Fla.). Progressive metal outfit Cynic originally hailed from South Florida, and Orlando itself is home to one of the founding fathers of death metal, Death, as well as metalcore band Trivium. All in all, America can thank our oppressive heat for its aggressive, loud music, and all you non-metal musicians can give us a one-finger salute for all the times you’ve been stuck in your metalhead friends’ cars as they picked out the music for the drive.
And like any proper scene of music, it comes in waves. Maybe I’m bias (I am), but this wave reeks of talent and invention. The mini fest Swamp Abyss Sorcery was held in Downtown Orlando at Backbooth (we’ll get to that later), and it featured some of the fastest—and slowest—deepest and ground-shaking music to come from this state’s current generation. Miami was the first part of the showcase with Shroud Eater, a female-male-female trio of harrowing doom riders. Their music, especially from their ThunderNoise album, bounds along with a sort of reverberating power, and then when the feedback and static shock drones headlong into pounding triplet rhythms, it’s easy to understand why these relative newcomers are a forced to be reckoned with.
Holly Hunt were next—also from Miami—and they’re set was probably one of my personal favorites. Featuring Gavin Perry on guitar and Betty Monteavaro on drums, Holly Hunt is a stripped-down drone metal duo who recently announced that they’re releasing a full-length later this year. Holly Hunt’s fusion of various heavy and droning genres is a mind-bending trip into dizzying ecstasy. At times slow and doom-paced, Holly Hunt has a knack for busting out into uptempo bits of never ending repetition. Like a jam band, but much, much better, Perry and Monteavaro wailed on their respective instruments until headbanging was nothing but the only option. Plus, Monteavaro just seemed so excited to be playing in the first place, which is what I personally think is the real appeal of this band. Nothing about Holly Hunt feels forced. There’s no unnecessary grimaces or announcing song titles with demonic-impersonating voices, no “evil” backdrop or facade whatsoever; there’s only the pure power of the music itself and the obvious enjoyment the duo gets from engulfing themselves in their own sounds. The power of Holly Hunt is in the willingness to let go of what doesn’t really matter.
Flying Snakes came after Holly Hunt, and their gruesome sludge-dwelling affections took me by surprise. I had never previously heard these St. Petersburg crust punks in action, but I was happy with the results. With a throwback grunge mentality and a real knack for unbridled temperament, they reminded me a lot of Black Breath. Their relentless pacing and “no fucking around” demeanor gave the same Occupy-relevant aura that seems to be so popular these past two years. Ripped sleeves and studs on your jacket don’t exactly make you Anti Cimex or Hellbastards by any means, but when you play as fervently as Flying Snakes do, then you’re getting much closer.
Gainesville, famous for The Fest and other punk relations, gave us Hot Graves at the mini fest. Lead by bald Myk Colby, sporting an impressive Amish-styled beard, these guys brought the straightest form of thrash I’ve heard in a while. They also did away with the whole evil mentality in favor for a more non-serious tone. Not only did Graves cover part of a Lil’ Jon song (“Aww Skeet Skeet”), but Colby even had the audience do a “call-and-response” section in their set. You don’t really hear call-and-response from an audience during a metal show, and it was pretty entertaining to watch the whole audience yell at him in return during the chorus. This band was filled with personality . . . oh, and an entirely pink guitar; can’t forget that.
Druid Lord carried themselves onstage with a particularly sinister doom presence. The Orlando band delves into older and classic styles of metal. I’m not going to say that the band doesn’t have fun on stage, but they almost feel like they have an agenda. Whether jokingly or not, Druid Lord’s songs range from “Burn in Pagan Fire” to “Chamber of Ghastly Horrors,” and they were often introduced as if the lead singer Tony Blakk were channeling the Devil himself. I can’t quote the band on the serious or tongue-in-cheek nature of their music without actually asking them myself, but I appreciate when a band tries to create a story for itself, to absorb something more ancient then even they are.
The raw, southern, blues-influenced doom of Jacksonville’s Hollow Leg followed next, and I have hardly anything but regard for the band’s drawn-out, cranium-collapsing weight. Lead singer Scott Angelacos’ otherwordly utterings are simultaneously chilling and emboldening. Can we just talk about that for minute? How Angelacos doesn’t seem to lose an ounce of breath when he’s literally funneling this entire being’s energy into the caterwauls of a demon? And then he does that white-eyed, trance-like daze and I begin to realize, he probably is knocking his own breath out of himself. Bassist Tom Crowther’s chugging death grip, guitarist Brent’s blues riffing exhales and drummer Tim’s steady prowess combine for some of the world’s most monstrous sounds. Hollow Leg could do a cover of Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” and make it sound like the soundtrack to Armageddon.
Atlanta, Georgia’s Demonaut was the sort of “guest” spot for the mini fest that night. They channel an old-school Black Sabbath feel, while proudly carrying a more modern doom aesthetic. Like bottom-feeding suckers, these dirty Georgians kept the Southern heavy where it was meant to be: drop D and 80 bpm.
Fire in the Cave
Orlando’s newcomer desecrators, Fire in the Cave, closed out the set but were sadly shafted by the venue after only a couple songs. Backbooth operates as a regular club at nights. And on that particular Saturday night, midnight meant “Midnight Mass,” the greasy, slimy, sleazy dry-sex club night for cheap college students. So inevitably, the Backbooth owners and operators had to pull the plug. I can’t exactly blame them from a pure business standpoint, though, seeing as how as soon as all the metalheads left, a sea of drunks filed in, bills and credit cards waving in the air for that “sweet” 2-4-$5 PBR deal. But then again, I feel blame may be in order. Backbooth likes to host concerts and live shows, often of a local flavor, but what are you saying to the community and the music scene when a few extra bucks for the night trumps the last band’s full set? I mean, you already had a gad of piss-drunk metalheads in your doors. But that’s the “Backbooth curse,” which is probably why Will’s Pub, Peacock Room, and Mills Ave. et. al will continue to be the better choice.
Still, Fire in the Cave conveyed all of the energy they could in their short set with frontman Joshua Mazorra’s animated glare in full command. Their blackened doom continues to rage on as an ecstatic and timeless noise conundrum. With that, the metalheads left Backbooth, some grumbling, but most happy for what they got. Mini fests are a great idea, and their popularity is only increasing. And if Swamp Abyss Sorcery Fest taught me anything, it’s that the metal scene in Florida is older than most would even know to admit, and it’s here to stay. Just give it a chance to ruin your world.
Check out some more photos from the night below.
^ Kinda how Hollow Leg made me feel
Fire in the Cave:
Tue Oct 16