By the standards of Friday and Saturday, the final night of Housecore Horror Film Festival was underwhelming. But perhaps it was underwhelming by design: Could we have handled another performance as intense as Portal or Neurosis? Sunday was filled with more familiar sights — well, familiar sights for a metalhead.
Danzig closed the evening and the festival itself, and while it wasn’t the Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 disaster, it wasn’t much better. Glenn Danzig’s voice clearly isn’t what it used to be, and when that’s the main selling point of your band, that’s most troubling. The soulfulness of early solo material felt flattened by his aging voice, draining the solemnity of “How the Gods Kill” and the aggressive blues of “Twist of Cain.” Danzig also performed a set with a reunited Samhain, his post-Misfits group that helped shaped the deathrock sound. Those songs felt a little fresher, since he doesn’t perform them as often as his solo hits. This was also true when Danzig last played Austin at Stubb’s in 2013 and brought ex-Misfits guitarist Doyle on stage for a set of Misfits classics. Pete Adams from Baroness playing guitar for Samhain was also much needed fresh blood. For the encore, he brought out Phil Anselmo, the man behind the festival, to help him sing his biggest hit, “Mother.” Anselmo didn’t really do much aside from bark out the chorus, but it made a lot of high school musical fantasies come true. (Read our preview interview with Anselmo.)
Eyehategod, the band who are arguably the originators of New Orleans sludge metal, played before Danzig. They played an emotional set at last year’s Housecore, with the Melvins’ Dale Crover filling in for the fallen Joey LaCaze on drums. This year, the stakes weren’t as high, but it did give some fans a first look at new drummer Aaron Hill. Emo’s made them louder, but they still carried the same Southern swagger. Vocalist Mike Williams’ banter wasn’t as memorable, but everyone has an off night, and his vocal performance didn’t suffer at all. They’ll be back Nov. 19 at the North Door with Today is the Day if you weren’t able to make it to Housecore.
The other hyped performance was the reunion of Anselmo’s post-Pantera hardcore group Superjoint Ritual — well, sort of. It was only billed as “Superjoint,” and while original members Anselmo and guitarists Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod and Kevin Bond were present, bassist Hank Williams III and drummer Joe Fazzio were not involved. Superjoint drew the largest crowd of any of the outdoor bands all weekend, and their pit was unrivaled. Even though the tempos were faster, they can’t escape their Louisiana roots, incorporating a healthy dose of groove. Despite being the big man on campus, this was the only of Anselmo’s bands to perform at the fest — last year featured both Down and his solo group, the Illegals.
Anselmo brought acts this year, Portal, Author and Punisher most notably, that challenged the limits of heavy music, but this strategy somewhat backfired with a lackluster performance from Corrections House. The pedigree is there, with Mike Williams, Neurosis guitarist Scott Kelly, Yakuza vocalist/saxophonist Bruce Lamont, and noted Chicago record producer Sanford Parker. While their sound is all over the place — including doom metal, industrial, spoken word, free jazz and hardcore — they sounded unfocused and almost too loose on Sunday. It wasn’t entirely the band’s fault — it’s hard to sound good on an outdoor stage, and delays forced them to cut their set short. Kelly said they would be back in December for a full set; let’s hope for some more cohesion, too.
What to make of the fest, overall? It was definitely an improvement over last year, especially with the music lineup. Anselmo took a big risk by bringing Portal, an Australian group with a cult fanbase and an intimidating aura, here, and it paid off. The timing is right — metal fans need something to look forward to after putting up with the Austin City Limits Music Festival, but before Fun Fun Fun Fest. Setting it right before Halloween helps keep it distinctive, as it’s easy to get lost in the crowd during a major holiday. Adding discounted tickets for Austin residents was a smart move; affordability was a common complaint about last year’s fest. The film section is still dwarfed by the music, and it’s not entirely unreasonable to think that future iterations of the fest would ditch the movies entirely. Last year featured some ingenious integrations of film and music, with Goblin live scoring Dario Argento’s classic “Suspiria” and Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar providing a creepy voice-only score to the German silent film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” An equivalent of that for this year would have been nice. Then again, Portal was pretty cinematic.