If you're a metal band rolling into Houston for the first time, there aren't too many better guys to have backing you up than Phil Anselmo. The ex-Pantera front man is unabashedly worshipped as a metal god throughout Texas, and when he speaks, Houston's heavy music fans listen.
Lately, Anselmo has been spreading the gospel of haarp, the New Orleans sludge-metal quartet whose debut LP, The Filth, was released on his Housecore label in 2010. He's taken a real stake in the band's success -- Anselmo manned the booth on the band's follow-up to be released this year, and now he's taken them out on tour.
The group makes its Houston debut opening up for Anselmo's Down Saturday at Warehouse Live.
It's not hard to figure out what attracted Phil in the first place: haarp (yep, always lowercase) is excruciatingly heavy. Guitarist Grant Tom and bassist Ryan Pomes churn out oppressively thick riffs that ooze from the speakers, and the sounds that vocalist Shaun Emmons rips from his throat sound as if he'd just chugged blackened bongwater. Songs on the album run upwards of nine minutes, giving drummer Keith Sierra plenty of space to swing hammers.
New Orleans boasts a fine tradition of heavy sludge, but the scene vets in haarp didn't adopt the mercilessly slow style until the band was formed in the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As the destruction scattered the city's musicians, haarp emerged from the splinters.
"We were all just mutual friends in the music scene, and we all met each other and all needed to get together and put the band together after the hurricane," Sierra says. "We talked about what direction to go in, because all of our old bands, we'd played a different style of music for many years, you know, whether it was death metal or grindcore or black metal.
"For haarp, we decided to go with something a little more mid-paced and heavy-metal-oriented, instead of doing the extreme speed-style music."
The band found a crucial supporter in Anselmo, who's a bit of an amateur curator of American extreme metal and metal from his hometown of New Orleans, in particular.
"We knew him from seein' him at shows, and he had come to see the band that Shaun and I were in before the hurricane," Sierra says. "After the hurricane, we just got back in touch with him and he asked what we were doing. We told him about haarp, and he asked us to send a copy of the CD."
Today, Anselmo serves as the band's label head, producer and tour mate, giving haarp a close-up look at nearly every facet of the legend's expertise in the music business.