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Thrasher Death March’s absence the past two SXSWs has been the biggest loss for fans of metal and hardcore, as there wasn’t a better day party for them. This was the day party on the pulse, bringing the hottest new talent and the most righteous veterans together, and just far enough from the downtown chaos to make it worthwhile. Its return — at Weather Up, a cocktail bar that doesn’t seem like an obvious choice — heavily makes up for the anemic presence of the official lineup by bringing heat from Texas and all over the nation.
Arizona’s Spirit Adrift made their Texas debut as people were starting to trickle in, and though the crowd was a little sparse at this point, they brought an arena gusto nonetheless. Lead vocalist and guitarist Nate Garrett was sounding fresh with his high vocals — the wear of the fest hasn’t gotten to him yet. Spirit Adrift were especially founding with the Trouble-Metallica fusion of “Curse of Conception,” Garrett’s catchy metal synthesis will get them better fest slots in the future. He was also pulling double duty playing guitar for death metal band Gatecreeper, where his bandmate Chase Mason takes over on vocals. A much larger crowd had came in by then, and when Mason ordered a circle pit for “Desperation,” a track that’s Swedish death metal gone hardcore, he got one. Despite having come through quite a few times in the past couple years, enthusiasm from them or Austin hasn’t waned. (Both groups will also play an unofficial show at Lost Well on Saturday.)
When New Orleans sludge metal pioneers Eyehategod last came through in May, it was a bit of a disaster — vocalist Mike Williams left the stage after three songs because of exhaustion, and fans got up and sang the rest of the set. This time, he looked much healthier and got through a 30-minute set with nary an issue. He authoritatively announced they were playing a four-piece, minus guitarist Brian Patton, and jokingly called themselves “Black Flag,” a quartet that is one of their biggest influences. Not having Patton on board was no problem for guitarist and original member Jimmy Bower, who handled all the sludgy grooves himself with ease. Even with Williams in better standing, it was grim to hear him say “We’re on tour forever, and ever, and ever.” Staying on the road can take its toll, and for a guy like Williams, who’s lived Eyehategod’s lyrical themes of addiction and living on the margins, it can be especially painful.
Texas had an especially strong presence at Thrasher. In between sets on the West Stage, chopped and screwed music played over the PA. Punks and metalheads sure do love their DJ Screw, a contrast to the familiar fast and loud. Army are a new hardcore band from Austin, abundant with youthful energy and rage. It’s a simple name you’ll see on a lot after this week is over. Total Abuse blasted through a set of noisy hardcore, and the claustrophobia they bring surprisingly worked well outdoors. Dallas’ Mothership were a total 180 from both, opting for boogie-heavy stoner metal that careened towards Motorhead speed and scuzz. Thrasher knows how to bring variety in addition to quality, and that’s why its return bodes well for the state of heavy music at SXSW. It may be still close to the edge, but it hasn’t fallen off.