Who knew Houston was Metal Music Central? Pinhed front man and Houston Metal Fest organizer Luis Matos, for one.
"We have a big audience for metal music," he says. "Houston is very well known for hip-hop, of course, with Swishahouse and some big-name rappers here, but there are also a ton of metal bands. They don't promote themselves very well maybe, but the talent is definitely here. That's the whole reason I started Houston Metal Fest."
Matos admits metal music has a bit of an image problem. "A lot of people are just closed-minded. I remember when I first heard metal, I thought it was just noise. Then one day I took the time to actually listen to it; I played the whole CD, not just the first few seconds. And the [musicians] had great guitar technique. I thought, ÔMan, this is awesome.' I think a lot of people do the same thing.
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"Society has basically generalized heavy music with stoners, aggressive people, crazy people, drug addicts and that kind of stuff. But metal has a lot of great talent in it. Some of the guitar players are the best you can find, like the guys from Lamb of God, In Flames, those guys are great technically. And it's not only the guitars, the drummers have got to be the best powerhouse drummers around in order to play metal. They're doing something like 155 beats a minute on the bass drum! You've got to be good to do that."
Matos launched his own band, Pinhed, back in 2001, working as a duo with drummer Jaquim Garcia (yes, a heavy metal duo). The band expanded, went through some roster changes and eventually grew into its current lineup of lead guitarist John Ramos, drummer Andy Ramos (no relation), keyboardist Michael Wooline and bassist Kevin Michaels, with Matos on guitar and vocals. It was his dedication to Pinhed that motivated Matos to begin Houston Metal Fest and its sister event, Texas Metal Fest. "I figure that I'm not going to get anywhere sitting around and waiting for someone to come do something for me. I made the decision a long time ago that this was what I wanted to do: I wanted to be in a band, playing shows and being successful. I knew I had to give it everything I had and not ever give up in order to be able to do that. It's not enough to be a good musician and a good songwriter; I have to be a good businessman as well.
"I've seen a lot of people try to do festivals here, and it's been very disappointing. People call it a festival when there are only ten bands playing and then four of those don't even show up. They don't even promote it; there's no vendors. You get there and there are only 40 or 50 people there. What kind of festival is that? I felt like, as a fan, I wasn't getting my money's worth. And I knew that metal music was losing its audience every time there was an event like that. So I took control of it and said, ÔIf I look at where these people make their mistakes and not make the same ones, maybe I could get a festival to actually work.' And I think I've done that. At the first show we had around 1,400 people. The last show, there were 2,000 people."
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This year's Houston Metal Fest is expected to draw 2,300 fans. A total of 32 bands will perform during the all-day event, including Latin Dynasty, Blood Void, As Long As People Die and Neopocracy, with Pinhed as the headliner.
"This is one of the best local festivals in the city, of whatever kind of music," Matos says proudly. "Anybody that likes metal, there will be a band there for them. I guarantee you they will find a minimum of five or six bands that they really, really like, no matter what kind of metal they're into.
"Usually, if you have a black metal band and you throw it in with a death metal band, it's not good. A lot of times those crowds don't mix. The fans are very, very loyal to their favorite type, and if they're black metal fans, that's all they'll listen to. So if you try to put them together with some n-metal people, you'll have a problem. The cool thing about Metal Fest is that it brings everyone together.
"Actually, they're all stuck there with each other," Matos says with a laugh. "There is no re-entry and it's all indoors. You either leave and then pay again to come back in, or you stay and listen and get along with everyone else."