A tour of Texas' underground metal scene
From Texas Standard:
It's a remarkably exciting time for heavy music, with bands drawing on death metal, black metal, hardcore punk, noise and more. And Texas is leading the charge.
Andy O'Connor is a freelance music and culture writer who covers the heavier side of things for SPIN in his monthly column “Blast Rites.”
The underground metal and hardcore scene – where the DIY ethos and in-your-face aesthetic of punk meshes with the bludgeoning power of metal – isn’t unique to Texas. But O'Connor argues the ferocity of its bands is.
“People know what's up with Texas,” he told the Standard. “They know how intense it is. They know the quality of our bands and it's being recognized all over the country and the world.”
It’s impossible to survey the current scene without accounting for the influence of two titans of Texas metal: Dallas’ Power Trip and Austin’s Iron Age. Peers and mentors to one another, both bands suffered tremendous losses during the pandemic in 2020: Power Trip frontman Riley Gale died in August, and Iron Age guitarist Wade Allison died in September.
Their deaths haven’t diminished either band’s influence over the state’s current crop of extreme metal bands. Whether it’s the blackened “screamo” sounds of Austin’s Portrayal of Guilt, the old school death metal sounds of Longview’s Tribal Gaze or the crushing hardcore of Lubbock’s Judiciary, Texas metal and hardcore underground is undoubtedly having a moment right now.
"You see people from all walks of life at Texas metal and hardcore shows," O'Connor said. "So there's definitely unity to how people are feeling. And I think that's why it has such a fervent audience.""
Listen to the interview in the audio player above or read the transcript below.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: We should be really crystal clear about this, because, for a lot of listeners, metal is – well, it's Bon Jovi, right? A lot of stuff that MTV used to play. The kind of music that's taking off here in Austin and other parts of the state – it's a lot darker, a lot heavier, right?
Andy O'Connor: Yeah, totally. And it's that merging of metal and the more underground ethos of hardcore. It's like, when those two things come together, truly great, great stuff comes out. I think the Texas scene is really representative of that. And I should say, you see people from all walks of life at Texas metal and hardcore shows. So there's definitely unity to how people are feeling. And I think that's why it has such a fervent audience.
So you're going to be our guide on this tour of the Texas' underground and its metal scene. Let's begin from your home base in Austin. There's a three piece that's been picking up steam called Portrayal of Guilt. They released a couple of albums in 2021, jumping to a bigger indie label. They've got some pretty big ambitions.
Yeah, they have really been putting in a lot of work. Their sound's pretty hard to pin down. There's a lot of black metal, especially in the tempo and the vocals. There's a lot of noise. There's a lot of influence from like '90s, early 2000s post-hardcore, emo. Like, not what you think of as, like, Hot Topic emo, but stuff that was more based around some more post-hardcore origins. They really are making a lot of moves, so they're going to be a group you're going to be hearing a lot more about in the future.
Let's move up the map from Austin to the Metroplex, where there's a quintet making some noise. Tell us about Creeping Death.
Creeping Death! So you might think that they're thrash, because they're named after a Metallica song. But they are one of the leading death metal bands out of Texas right now. Really dark, charging sound, kind of reminiscent of Bolt Thrower, a really influential British death metal group. You've got members from diverse backgrounds. People are really wising up to them. I'm really happy to see that they're getting more attention.
Let's head over to Lubbock. There's a band called Judiciary playing a crushingly heavy brand of hardcore music. Safe to say their roots are more in punk as well as metal?
One thing that you find with Texas bands is that a lot of them were really influenced by New York hardcore. And yeah, Judiciary takes that sound and really runs with it, gives it that extra oomph. And I should also note that Judiciary guitarist Israel Gaza, he also plays in Gatecreeper now, which is a really up-and-coming Arizona death metal band. And I think that's just a testament to how – people know what's up with Texas. They know how intense it is. They know the quality of our bands and it's being recognized all over the country and the world.
I want to talk about Power Trip, who apparently were mentors and almost idols to some of these so-called crossover bands that bridge metal and thrash and hardcore. Their frontman, Riley Gale, passed away back in 2020, right?
Oh yes. Yes. Really huge loss for Texas metal, and I would say Texas music as a whole. Like, I think people should be talking about Power Trip the way they do, like ZZ Top or Willie Nelson or George Strait, like they're that important to me, for sure. And yeah, a lot of Texas bands really looked up to Power Trip, not just because they made amazing music, but their shows were just wild. Big circle pits, people moshing everywhere. But with a big communal sense, too. You know, if someone drops on the floor, they get picked back up. And I should also note that we also did lose another important figure in Texas metal last year – Wade Allison, the guitarist from the band Iron Age. Who, they themselves, were an influence on Power Trip. So Iron Age and Power Trip are still the two biggest guiding lights in Texas metal and hardcore.
Let's move over to to Houston: Skourge, some H-Town lifers. They have a sort of hybrid of metal and hardcore too.
I love Skourge. They are really one of my favorite bands going right now. They take a lot of the mid-paced riffing of Celtic Frost, a really influential metal band from Switzerland in the '80s, and they add a real, sort of tough, streetwise hardcore attitude. That's another group I feel like you're going to hear a lot more about in the future,
Since you're talking a little bit about the future here, there are some newcomers on the scene, but with a very old school sound.
Yes, Tribal Gaze based out of Longview. They do a lot of what Creeping Death does, that very sort of hard-charging sound. There's a little bit more of some progressive, kind of spacey elements in there, too – not a ton, but enough to differentiate themselves. I have some older friends who are from East Texas who talk to me about seeing bands like Brutal Truth and Hatebreed come through Tyler and Longview. You wouldn't think there was any sort of presence for that sort of stuff there, but there clearly is. And kids are, you know, mad at the world and wanting to rage, wherever it is in Texas, there's an outlet for them.
Let's come back to Austin and close out with another band: Glassing. It's a rather different – sort of a sludgy, gloomy brand of hardcore with some black metal influences, but some shoegaze sounds too.
Yeah, yeah. I feel like the Austin bands are like a little bit more experimental than the rest of the state. There's that Austin band Explosions in the Sky – you know, pioneers of post-rock. So you see that in some of the metal bands here. Glassing is just one example of that. They take that sort of softer sound and really ramp up the intensity. There's a lot of real forceful drumming, black metal tremolo riffs in there too. They're exhilarating to listen to and even more exhilarating live, to see.