Friday Night: Black Breath, Martyrdöd & More at Walter's

Black Breath, Martyrdöd, Burning Love, Enabler Walter's on Naylor June 29, 2012

All of six months has gone by since Walter's on Washington reopened in its new location on Naylor St., and last week I realized I'd yet to take in a show at the new place. The old joint had a fairly long reign as the top dumpy little outpost for the city's underground metal, punk and hardcore devotees, and I had a lot of memorable times there as a younger dude.

My rotator cuffs are getting a little brittle for windmills at this point, but I was curious to see if the new Walter's still goes as hard as the one I remembered. Friday night seemed like a good opportunity to find out.

Righteous indie-metal label Southern Lord has organized a showcase tour of its current bumper crop of thrashcore acts, headlined by Seattle's Black Breath. All six bands on Friday's bill mash punk, hardcore and thrash together until they're indistinguishable, and I was interested to discover whether the rival clans of scenesters would show up and mesh just as seamlessly.

The new Walter's isn't easy to find if you don't know where you're going, and the road construction in the area took a little longer to work around than I'd planned. I arrived too late to catch Ft. Worth hardcore punks Wild//Tribe, but Dallas' Power Trip was whipping right along at full steam. The dance floor was wide open when I walked in, and it didn't take long to figure out why: fists, elbows and knees flew in every direction as soon as the band lit into a breakdown.

After a kid landed some kind of capoeira cartwheel kick onto my neck, I decided to move out of range. Walter's hasn't changed that much, it seems. Power Trip got a great response from the crowd with their furious stabs of crossover thrashcore, inspiring some vicious slamming from the dedicated 'core bros in attendance.

The next group up was Milwaukee's Enabler. The floor punchers must have come specifically for the early bands, because the crowd thinned out noticeably for these guys. It was their loss: Enabler rewarded the audience members who weren't outside smoking with a bleak and bitter blend of hardcore and metal.

"False Profit" was the set's highlight, a sharp, one-two whip-crack of supersonic hate followed by a pummeling metal riff. Heads banged hard.

"No one is coming back from the dead!" screamed vocalist Jeff Lohrber, and by God I believe he meant it.

Burning Love from Toronto went on next. Of all the bands on the night's bill, they were the most reluctant to thrash. Instead, the group employs a metal-tinged classic hardcore sound that reminded instantly of My War-era Black Flag -- punishing mid-tempo riffs intercut with frenetic guitar solos.

Singer Chris Colohan solidified the Flag comparison in my mind when he disappeared during the middle of one song and reappeared stripped down to a pair of Rollins-esque nylon shorts and a towel. It was pretty hot in there, I guess, but that was odd. Between belting out more lyrics, he redressed on stage.

Things got stranger still when the band asked the crowd for help finding a place to stay. Colohan said that previous experience in Houston had made him a tad picky.

"If anyone doesn't have any swastikas in your house unless they're on a book or something, please let us stay on your floor," he said.

Here's hoping they found somebody that could accommodate that request.

Excitement crackled through the crowd as people filed back in for the next band up. Martyrdöd is a brutal crossover band from Sweden that pairs melodic death metal with excruciatingly fast hardcore beats, and the Southern Lord tour is their first American trek. The buzz on these guys was palpable Friday.

Martyrdöd broke out the first real melodies of the night, which they immediately crushed from memory with jackhammer thrash riffs. Culturally, the band seemed slightly more aligned towards a metal crowd, but the punks in the audience were getting off just as hard to the group's furious shredding.

A wild circle-pit erupted when Martyrdöd's ax wielders tore out some double-time punk upstrokes that almost certainly earned them a few new fans. Speed is speed, it seems.

The sound was death metal with a hardcore attitude, mixing blackened gutter crust with classical flourishes to arrive at a sound that was as speedy and shrill as it was dark and heavy. At times, Martyrdöd's music recalled more recent Napalm Death material, minus the blast beats -- really cool stuff if your eardrums can hang. I plan on checking out more.

Black Breath went on just after midnight. The hirsute group hit a new creative peak with Sentenced to Life, their sophomore full-length released on Southern Lord this year. The album cover looks like a mashup of Metallica's Kill 'Em All and Black Flag's Damaged, which certainly provides a clue as to the group's direction.

I knew Black Breath played hard and I knew they played fast, so I was a little surprised when I saw drummer Jamie Byrum. I'm not gonna call the dude fat or anything, but if he's got a nickname, it probably ain't "Slim." Was this guy going to really use both of those bass drums, or what?

Turns out, Jamie Byrum is a fucking athlete. He was the fastest drummer of the night, and they were all fast. His quick-twitch supremacy cracked the whip unceasingly across Black Breath's neck-snapping riffs. Vocalist Neil McAdams' sopping wet screams seemed at times to wash away all other sounds, leaving me opening my eyes a couple of times and wondering just how long my head had been banging.

The band brought plenty of thunder to match the lightning. The influence of Pantera shone through on a couple of stomping passages, and a little Southern swamp boogie was bookended by '90s Slayer riffs to great effect on one tune. After their serious death-metal fix on Sentenced to Life, there appear to be a number of different directions in which Black Breath might stretch someday soon.

It was all over quickly -- there's not a lot of fat on those tunes -- and the bands and fans mingled and smoked. There were no noise complaints, no taserings and not a douchebag in sight, so chances are that Walter's might be hosting one of more of these acts again real soon. In the meantime, put on your neck brace and check out the rest of Southern Lord's catalogue.

Personal Bias: My neck is still sore.

The Crowd: Studs, bandanas, shorts and black T-shirts. The scenesters did, in fact, mesh.

Overseen Outside the Club: A girl peeing in the bushes next to the loading dock across the street.

Random Notebook Dump: The new Walter's is so out of the way that a marquee might be pointless, but a sign wouldn't be a bad idea.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith