War Master at Mango's, 8/7/2013

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War Master, Howl, Lord Dying, Warhounds Mango's August 7, 2013

There ain't much street-level activity going on in Houston on a Wednesday night in August. It's too hot, too fetid and just too draining. To get to the real action, you've got to slither through the cracks and the crevices -- underground, where the unremitting darkness keeps things cool.

As luck would have it, it just so happens that War Master, Houston's coolest old-school death-metal band, has a new EP out (on vinyl and cassette) called Blood Dawn. The band has built a loyal local following in the past couple of years, and the cult appears to be spreading. On Wednesday night, War Master celebrated the kickoff of a two-week tour to California and back.

Before conquering the coast, however, the band had to prove its worthiness by leading a bayou assault rounded out by a couple of battle-tested touring acts. After surviving opener Warhounds' furious blasts of aural hatred, a small but dedicated weeknight crowd was treated to the pounding artillery of Portland's Lord Dying, a much buzzed-about group that's out promoting its debut album for Relapse Records, Summon the Faithless.

Pumping out punishing sludge passages punctuated by snatches of heavy grind, Lord Dying displayed a sound and attitude befitting a band on the rise. Singer/guitarist Eric Olsen led a viscerally loud onslaught that recalled the beefy power of High on Fire coupled with the thrashy aggression of early Slayer.

It was heavy, headbanging stuff, and hopefully just a taste of more and longer sets to come from Lord Dying around these parts. I'd like to see them again soon after they've been sharpened by their ambitious touring schedule.

A band that proved mighty sharp indeed was Howl, Lord Dying's tour- and label-mates. The thrashy, hardcore-inflected doom group from Rhode Island(!) displayed some rather filthy dual-guitar harmonies as they pounded away on the venue's small stage.

Crowded out by the band's drumset, vocalist Vincent Hausman stalked the floor in front of the stage, showing off some nifty poses and sweating up a storm as Howl tore into older cuts like "Midnight Eyes" and new tunes like "Of War" from their latest album, Bloodlines.

They sounded best on one of the new ones: "Embrace Your Nerve." It was a languid bit of doom that gave way to majestic, harmonized thrash riffing, drawing cheers. As appreciative as the crowd was of that energetic performance, though, anticipation began to boil over for the headliners as soon as Howl struck their last note.

Out back, more than a couple longhairs hopped the fence to help see War Master off on their twisted summer trek. The tiny club began to fill in earnest as the band's dramatic black banner was unveiled onstage.

Looking calm and ready for a prolonged campaign of carnage, War Master opened up with "Bastard Horde," the first track off of Blood Dawn. Immediately, fans were reassured that the band's Bolt Thrower obsession remains untreated. War Master's hyper-aggressive blend of old-school death and crusty hardcore aims straight for the throat, and their gnarly tunes had heads banging hard right off the bat.

Front man Rahi Geramifar, who has laid down vocals for the likes of Insect Warfare and Hatred Surge over the years, appeared dressed for one of the epic battles detailed in his lyrics, outfitted as he was in camouflage, bullet belt and combat boots. His bowel-shaking guttural vocalizations swirled violently within the band's ear-splitting cyclone of clanging cymbals and distorted fury.

Up against the stage, outrageous blast beats and ripping guitar leads sent hair flying. There was a modicum of moshing going on in the middle of Mango's, but the banging of heads was the order of the day as War Master's unforgiving heaviness slowly ground the crowd down to dust. As they finished us off with "Mass Cremation," no doubt yet remained that this band was supremely ready to go forth and conquer on what seems certain to be the first of many tours to come.

Nice to know there will be someone out there putting the Houston metal scene's most brutal foot forward. Make us proud, gentlemen.

Personal Bias: Short hair.

The Crowd: Diehard.

Overheard In the Crowd: "I bought their cassette and I don't even have a tape player."

Random Notebook Dump: I've been to plenty of metal shows recently, but none made my ears ring like this one. Really incredible volume inside Mango's.


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