Deth warmed over... When you first listen to Dethkultur BBQ, they don't seem like the sort of friends you'd invite to a family picnic. But if the world were to suffer annihilation any time soon, rest assured this uncompromisingly dire industrial/hip-hop outfit would be a shoo-in to headline the funeral reception. The Houston sextet's menacing vocals (with effects that resemble what the Grim Reaper and Satan might sound like if they were a pair of MCs trading lines in purgatory) combine with barely in-tune heavy-thrash guitars, rigorous, plod-rock rhythms and the occasional rap beat for a hideous aural attack that defies labels. By refusing to succumb to any taming influences, the band has become the local underground scene's foulest basement dwellers -- and, in turn, Houston's realest alternative to the alternative.

For a while there, though, it looked as if the band that couldn't be housebroken had simply been broken. After a half-decade of devastation -- with one rude CD (1995's 667 The Neighbor of the Beast) and a rabid following to show for their efforts -- Dethkultur BBQ dropped out of sight. For more than a year they kept quiet, rearing their horns only for the occasional tribute show.

But now, with fresh material in hand, the group is coming out of hibernation. Their set at last month's Westheimer Street Festival drew throngs of Dethkultur devotees, and on Sunday they'll attempt to provide fans with a full night of debauchery at Instant Karma.

"We needed to reorganize and collect our thoughts," says band founder Mike BBQ of the group's hiatus. "We're definitely more hip-hop than we were before."

Judging him by appearances, BBQ (his mother knows him as Mike Guerrero) hardly seems like a threat. Short, somewhat stocky, with long, dense black hair, he comes off as remarkably placid -- almost meek. But looks can be deceiving -- Pearl, Mississippi's (alleged) devil-worshipping teens all seem pretty harmless, as well -- and when BBQ straps on his guitar, part of him could easily be with those misguided kids, if not in actual deeds, then in spirit. Dethkultur BBQ isn't out to hurt anyone, after all. They're just out to ruffle a few thousand feathers.

A founding guitarist of the brooding Tone Zone Records act Violent Blue, BBQ left that more pop-oriented band in 1991 to start Dethkultur with former Bamboo Crisis guitarist Tommy Jackson (a.k.a. the Reverend Tommy Sin). Apparently, both felt defection from the local Tone Zone empire was required for them to pursue their vision, which, in its original form, involved just the two of them fiddling around with a sample.

"We started out as an electronic band," BBQ recalls. "We'd just push 'play' and both start singing. I guess it was kind of bizarre that two guitarists got together to form a band that had no guitars in it."

But as live gigs became more frequent, the group acquired new members, and BBQ and Sin returned to their instruments. As time went on, some newcomers stayed; others -- for whatever reason -- didn't. Manhole singer Allison Gibson, Dinosaur Salad's Jon Black and the She Demons' Angie and David Seymour all had stints in the band before moving on to other projects. Bassist Rick Saye established himself as a core member of Dethkultur before cutting out soon after recording 667 -- though it wasn't by choice.

"He's been in prison about two and a half years now," says Mike BBQ matter-of-factly. "It was something to do with a girlfriend. A bouncer came at him with a Maglite, and he shot him -- I believe -- six times. It happened at a titty bar, and she was working there, I think. It's a real mess."

And to think I was about to reconsider that whole family picnic thing.

Girl power... Humbled by their two-year run-in with the Nashville image mongers, Sisters Morales seemed grateful to be alive as they took the stage for the first of two October 25 performances at McGonigel's Mucky Duck celebrating the release of their new CD. Sailing through a slickly proportioned selection of Spanish-flavored country-rock tunes from the long-awaited Ain't No Perfect Diamond, the band endured a few small setbacks. Guitarist David Spencer had problems being heard in a mix toned down for the Duck's low-key environs. And while Roberta Morales had to sit down about halfway through the set, she reassured the audience that an MRI done that day had shown no signs of the cancer that had knocked her off her feet for more than a year. Silver linings are always easy to come by when you've been through hell.

Back from the brink... In recent weeks, the Urban Art Bar has shown signs of recovering from its brush with oblivion earlier this year. Pace Concerts has been paying more attention to the club, which has meant more big-name headliners, and Houston's Artist Management Group took over the chores of publicity and local bookings. Meanwhile, the U.A.B.'s interior has emerged from renovations more patron-friendly than ever, with a roomier stage (which has been moved to the opposite wall of the venue, leaving the old platform for soundmen and spectators alike) and fewer obstructions on the floor, so there's even less to deter you from pouncing on your favorite rocker. Indeed, I wouldn't have been surprised if Richard Butler had requested a sling after shaking so many hands at last week's Love Spi Love show -- which was, I might add, a blistering performance.

-- Hobart Rowland

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Hobart Rowland