There may have been quite a few other shows taking place in either San Antonio or Austin on Friday night, but those who found themselves at the White Rabbit were rewarded with one of the best shows of the year in the form of the Rites of Darkness II Festival, which featured scores of superb extreme metal bands without the stench of commercial appeal. As was the case with the San Antonio Heavy Metal Examiner review of the Goregrowler’s Ball, this review will be split up into different parts. The complete set can be found here.
Local brutal death metal act Engaged in Mutilating kicked the night off to a great start. Engaged in Mutilating play a style of metal that’s very influenced by Suffocation, although they are far from mere “Suffoclones”. There are influences from all over the death metal world, which were manifested in everything from the intro to “Defiled Existence”, which sounds quite a bit like Pestilence’s “Chronic Infection” to the Morbid Angel-like minor-key tremolo picking in “Reversion to Perversion”. The sound was especially clear, which allowed the sound of the guitar and bass to cut through the air like a buzz saw, and vocalist Aaron Mendiola was also able to be heard, rendering his guttural grunts all the more effective. There was a minor technical issue during the last song that forced a restart, but this is a minor complaint compared to how good the rest of the set was. Engaged in Mutilating are one of San Antonio’s best brutal death metal bands, and it was good that they got to start the festival off the right way.
Denver’s Speedwolf were the next band on the bill, and their classic thrash sound may have been a step lighter than the other bands on the bill (a fact acknowledged by the band multiple times), but despite this, they still managed to put on one of the night’s most entertaining sets. Their alcohol and amphetamine-fueled speed metal owed a heavy debt to Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All” album, Motorhead, and Venom, the latter of which was paid tribute to in the form of Speedwolf ripping through a frantic cover of the band’s classic, “Witching Hour”. There also seemed to be a more subtler Pentagram influence, particularly in the form of the vocals, which were usually much more melodic than many of the bands on the bill. However, the vocals still possessed a raw edge to them, so don’t get the impression that the band was a commercially driven “melothrash” act. In particular, the lead guitar parts of Kris Wells deserve special mention, as his high-octane leads always proved to be the highlight of whatever song the band was playing. Speedwolf did a great job of keeping the energy high and deserve to be checked out by thrash fans, so if they come to Texas again, be sure to check them out.
Houston’s own Blaspherian followed Speedwolf, and the floor of the White Rabbit found itself packed with audience members hoping to witness the unholy glory that is Blaspherian. Driven by the bowel-shakingly low guitar tone of Wes Weaver – formerly of Imprecation – Blaspherian delivers death metal that is without any sort of watered-down traits. Incantation is a heavy influence (as was the case with many of the bands who played over the weekend) in the Blaspherian sound, and lyrically, Blaspherian focused solely on manners of the occult, which fits perfectly with this style of music. Vocalist Apollyon did not let up in his low growls unless he was directly addressing the crowd, who received Blaspherian very well. The rhythm section also did a great job of holding the beat, whether or not it was a groovy slow section or maddening blast beats. Guitarist Wes Weaver was unending in his supply of dark riffs that it the audience like a sledgehammer of evil, and his commitment to legitimate, un-trendy death metal should be commended. Blaspherian were one of the best bands of the night, and even though there may have bands playing excellent extreme metal from all over the world at Rites of Darkness II, Blaspherian showed them all how true, blasphemous Texas metal is done!
Grave Ritual were the next band on the bill, and almost immediately declared their appreciation for the state of Texas, as well as the promoter of the festival. Their vocalist spoke humorously about how difficult it is to find metal fans in Alabama, and that Texans should be appreciative of their rich metal scene. It certainly gave the Texans a topic to ponder about over the course of Grave Ritual’s set, which specialized in crushingly heavy death metal. The influence of New York atmospheric death metal was heavily present in their music, as well as certain influences from bands like Obituary and Autopsy, and fans of old-school death metal likely found greatness in Grave Ritual’s set. Vocalist/bassist R.E. was a great growler as well as a front man who knew how to address the crowd when it was necessary, and would even utilize a series of droning chants during certain songs, which only added to the darkness of Grave Ritual’s set. Grave Ritual were a great band to watch, and of they make their return to Texas, San Antonio fans should make it their mission to come out and show them some southern hospitality.
For more info: Check out part II of this review here.