On warm spring day a few months back, I found myself navigating the wide grid of roads of farmland and homesteads that sit just west of highway 288. I’d been given the opportunity to attend Houston’s metalcore band Blood of an Outlaw’s weekly scheduled practice session, and met the invitation with enthusiasm. If these Outlaw boys sounded anything like they did live, the meandering country drive would be worth it. Soon, among the billowing knee-high fields of salt grass and quiet homesteads of country life, my head filled with the sounds of ear-splitting metal. Drifting from a tiny tool shed tucked behind an unassuming ranch-style home come the distinct sounds of guttural growls, screams, blast-beats and guitar solos.
Welcome to Houston, Texas where Southern boys know how to raise horses, bale hay and write a metal album.
I had been told to look out for Blood of an Outlaw, who turned out to be both skilled musicians and witty jokesters. It was even rumored that Scout Bar's highly esteemed sound engineer Reuben Foster had a demo of theirs preset on his soundboard, a rumor he later verified with vehemence. It’s a telling sign of a band’s musical credibility when even local insiders bestow such favor.
All I knew before I saw them live was talk around the local metal scene was so gushing it flirted with outright jealousy. Stepping inside a rusted carport and traversing various lawn equipment pieces, I happened to find bass player AJ Sandoval. Kind and accommodating, he greeted me with a wide smile and offer of a cold beer.
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Breaking between songs to take a breather, the other members offered their outstretched hands, welcoming me warmly. These are hospitable, down-home boys, Southern gents who play a mean slice of metal. From the outset, they appeared as fresh-faced young men in their twenties, just a handful of years removed from high school and college, yet with abilities far beyond what many young musicians are remotely capable of offering.
In fact, drummer Matt Reed tops out at a spry 30 years young. And while the other members joined in a communal hazing of their eldest member, singer Jay D. Rose made sure to tell me how Reed not only outplayed all others at his audition, but mastered parts they were sure he’d trip up on. Twice. Rose has his own reasons for bragging, yet in true gentlemanly fashion, deflected any opportunity to boast. Whatever swagger this band's talent may have earned them, any boasting won't issue from any of their own lips.
Flashing back to that earlier Scout Bar show, the vocal acrobatics of Rose’s live performance recalled other top-tier metal talent like Tom Barber of Lorna Shore or Whitechapel's Phil Bozeman. Still, while those bands certainly carry a similar style, Blood of an Outlaw has already established a unique take on Southern metalcore.
Pulling up an old milk crate, I focused my attention on the rehearsal. Remembering the tremendous stage presence of Kerry Rice’s incredible guitar-tapping techniques while simultaneously sweeping the crowd with his enormous dreadlocks, I relish to see his process in practice. In other words, "How in the hell does he do that?" Communicating through eye contact and musical clairvoiyancy, Rice and guitarist Curtis Hewitt moved through the songs with uncanny precision and head-nods, a bond rarely seen in bands. When questioned further, both admitted to a friendship that spans both of their lifetimes.
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That bond has now manifested itself in the band's very first album, Southern Hymns. The work leading up to the album's release Saturday night at Scout Bar has been grueling: countless hours in a sweatbox of a rehearsal space spent writing and rewriting songs, perfecting melodies and riffs to create a record that is worthy of the forceful presence they bring to the stage.
Proudly showing me the finished product, Rice noted, “I did the artwork on the back myself.” It’s a perfect symbol of the band's upward trajectory, propelled by friendship, talent and a keen sense of what it means to be Southern and metal.
That long-awaited dream of their inaugural CD release deserves a communal celebration, so Blood of an Outlaw are appropriately headlining Saturday's Blood Fest. Featuring more than 10 local metal acts like Apothica, Erase the Virus, Blood Between Us and a "Halfway to Halloween" costume contest, the evening will be emceed by Punkstar.com host Khris Harding.
Blood of an Outlaw headlines Blood Fest this Saturday at Scout Bar, 18307 Egret Bay Blvd., Clear Lake. Doors open at 5 p.m.