Houston Music

Night Cobra Strikes Fast with In Praise of the Shadow

Houston's newest supergroup, Night Cobra
Houston's newest supergroup, Night Cobra Photo by Violeta Alvarez, courtesy of Christian Larson

Supergroup. It’s a hot potato music term because it’s tossed around loosely and it shifts a band’s focus from making incredible music to juggling high expectations. Christian Larson knows some people might consider his latest project, Night Cobra, a supergroup. But, he said, the reasons the band formed have kept it rooted in firm, fertile soil, which has been critical this year when so many music-related plans are up in the air.

“In the Houston scene, seems like that’s what we’d be,” Larson said of the supergroup notion. “Everybody in the band’s been in something more (known), but mostly it came together just out of friendship, I would say.”

That’s right, friendship, the communal kinship that developed between Night Cobra’s members from years of mutual admiration, respect and long conversations over strong drinks in various Houston area bars. Larson is best known for his work in the acclaimed metal band Venemous Maximus and the black metal act Necrofier. Guitarist Bill Fool hails from Bickley, one of Houston’s best-known punk acts. More recently, he’s helmed the Satanic Overlords of Rock N Roll. That band’s mononymous drummer Cheech followed Larson and Fool into the rehearsal room two years ago to jam. Bassist Trevi Biles, from Venomous Maximus, joined and the supergroup was in formation when Larson “figured out I couldn’t play guitar and sing at the same time, it just wasn’t working for what I wanted to do.” That’s when the band added its final member, guitar phenom Brandon Barger.

Night Cobra released a four-track EP in August titled In Praise of the Shadow. The music’s first physical run sold out swiftly.

“People will pay attention just because certain people are in the band. Like you said, you look at the picture and if you play music in Houston you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve seen all these people, lemme check this out,’” Larson reasoned. “That’s definitely a thing, but you know it’s from paying dues over years and years. A long time ago all of us played in some band where they showed up and everybody was like, ‘Who are these dudes?’”

“These dudes” are established Houston musicians whose first joint effort winningly melds searing metal with  punk rock's grit. The band's individual members are spotlighted on certain songs, real supergroup stuff.

“Everybody in the band is super-talented so we try to showcase what everybody does best. There’s no point in having someone super-talented in the band and then you don’t hear anything from them,” said Larson.

One band member who comes through clearly is Barger. The guitarist cut his teeth with bands like the Wrong Ones and is a member of Killer Hearts. Adding him to the mix allowed Larson to focus on vocals and brought some youthful energy to the collective.

“Brandon’s attitude is great. Brandon’s a little bit younger than everybody in the band. He is the youngest guy in the band. He’s a great dude to hang out with,” Larson said.

“I’ve just been shoving a whole bunch of crazy heavy metal down his throat and he’s just like, ‘Whaaaaat?! This is so great!’” he says, doing a serviceable impersonation of his enthusiastic bandmate. “A lot of the stuff’s been heavy metal but it’s based in rock and roll and punk, it’s in the vein of stuff that he would listen to, it’s just some obscure old heavy metal band he hadn’t really listened to. It’s awesome to watch him kind of discover some of these bands and be real excited about it.”

Like any band, especially new ones with new music, 2020 has been challenging for Night Cobra. The one sure way to get music to the masses is playing live shows. Larson said that’ll happen, but not until the time is right.

“I don’t have a super desire to go play socially-distant shows standing in front of a bunch of people sitting at tables,” he noted. “I mean, that could change in the future depending on how long things last. Not saying I’m not playing a show for something like that, but especially with the kind of music it is, playing shows for people kind of spaced out, I mean, it’s definitely not as fun. And maybe it’ll be needed some time coming up but I don’t feel like it’s needed yet.”

“We were planning to put out these songs in April. We didn’t rush anything because obviously the world – what happened happened. So, we just kind of waited for a minute,” Larson shared. “I was kind of concerned about it just because no live shows, so it’s harder to get to people. But after it came out, I couldn’t have really asked for a better response, even if we could do a show, so I don’t really know how much it actually hindered us besides maybe getting some Texas shows and selling some more merch and people kind of seeing the band live through that.

“I mean, it does suck that we can’t do shows,” he clarified, “but at the same time, instead of us going out and playing a bunch of shows for the EP, it’s made us just concentrate on working on a new record, so the record will be done and be out probably next summer-ish, fall, something like that.”

That turning inward to one another to create something new and special has been the upside to the pandemic’s slowdown on the quick-striking Night Cobra. Maybe the band is a supergroup, but in the end the key to their  success might be less about how other people know the band’s members and more about how the band’s members know and trust each other.

“Brandon and Bill do a lot of the writing and then it’s kind of a collaboration after that for how everything else comes together. They’ll come up with an idea and if everybody’s into it we’ll kind of go from there. A lot of the stuff just came together real fast,” Larson said.

“Basically, we started writing this stuff just so we could write something we really liked and especially that no one in Houston was doing, so it’s good to see other people are into it.”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.