Omotai at Fitzgerald's, 2/21/14

Omotai, Lions of Tsavo, Baring Teeth, Chipped Teeth Fitzgerald's February 21, 2014

Whenever the topic of Houston's heaviest bands comes up, it's tough not to place Omotai somewhere near the very top of that particular pile of bones. For three years now, the trio has offered up the city's most thoughtfully crushing racket with its moonshine blend of post-punk, sludge and grindcore. The volume has only increased in recent months with the addition of a second guitarist, Jamie Ross, making the group's sound all the more hazardous.

The band has a new 12" out, and it's called Fresh Hell -- a title befitting the kind of thing that local extreme-rock fans would hope for from a new Omotai offering. On Friday night, the band brought Austin buds Lions of Tsavo over for a free show to help celebrate the record's release.

Up first, though, was young local hardcore outfit Chipped Teeth, who battered the early birds out of the gate with sludgy riffs in the varicose vein of early Isis. Rather than settling into a deep, stoney groove, however, the four-piece shifted gears dramatically into heavy d-beat passages and then into full-stop thrashcore. It was an intriguing breadth of musical ideas that seemed to only hint at what the band might soon deliver with more performing experience under their belts.

More polished were Dallas death-metallers Baring Teeth, a mathy sort of heavy trio whose custom time signatures made them sound a bit like a pissed-off jazz combo at times. Guitarist Andrew Hawkins growled away in traditional fashion, but in addition to their highly structured death riffs, the band liberally sprinkled pained drone-metal passages into the onslaught. It all added up to a rather cerebral set, lacking the immediacy at times of the other bands on the bill. The crowd had to applaud their ambition, anyway.

Bodies -- particularly heads -- started moving in earnest when Lions of Tsavo took the stage. The downtuned trio's powerful, sludgy grooves proved even thicker than their beards, which didn't seem possible at first blush. The group was a particularly good fit with the headliners, as giant drummer Josh Dawkins's titanic pounding paced the band past the sonic pain threshold on cuts from last year's Traverser. The Lions' melodic riffs, overlaid with both shrieking and singing from guitarist Ryan Chamberlain, belong to the same school of frenetic stomp as Omotai and early Mastodon.

But if Lions of Tsavo were loud (and one does recall that they were), Omotai was simply deafening. If there's a louder band in Houston, I'm not so sure I want to hear them. The annexation of a second guitarist into the group was like adding a new power tool to the demolition crew, and it took no time at all for the band to begin taking the downstairs stage at Fitz apart completely.

Drummer Anthony Vallejo played, as always, at absolute top volume as he traded bellows with guitarist Sam Waters on songs spanning the band's career together. Sadly, their top-of-the-lungs shouting could only barely be heard over the ear-splitting riffs rocketing out of Omotai's towering guitar cabinets, which swallowed bassist Melissa Lonchambon Ryan's vocals whole in a boundless sea of crunch.

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Although their music is peppered with bright indie-rock movements and post-rock probes, it's Omotai's vicious downstroking that continues to evoke the strongest reaction. With Vallejo's bruised and beaten hi hat sandwiched securely between Waters' and Ross' jagged, overdriven guitar lines, the band is capable of both brutal metallic harmonies as well as terrifying squalls of sheer noise that can be genuinely unsettling.

When Omotai finally leveled the place with the wailing melody of "Back Office" from their new LP, I began to consider the possibility that my ears would ring forever, and those fears haven't quite been put to rest yet. If my hearing hasn't been permanently destroyed, however, I'm confident that repeated playbacks of Fresh Hell could finish the job.

With so much molten electricity packed into Omotai's sound, it's a risk I'll take. If I've interpreted their furious screaming correctly, the world is ending anyway.

Personal Bias: Tinnitus survivor.

The Crowd: Content to clap and cheer rather than clothesline one another.

Overheard In the Crowd: "I think they've heard Dream Theater."

Random Notebook Dump: Not a whole lot beats a free show at Fitzgerald's on a Friday night. Don't miss 'em when they come around.


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