Aaron Mendiola—purveyor of the most putrescent music, first began The Goregrowler’s Ball in 2006 to commemorate his birthday, but the festival did not get off the ground until 2007. What started as a mere birthday celebration with local groups turned into a premier showcase for some of the most brutal and grotesque groups in the United States. The first installment of the fest included such vaunted acts in the gore grind/brutal death scene as Bloodsoaked from North Carolina, Forever Underground Recording artist, Putrilage and most of all—Devourment. Anal Cunt, Demiricous, Unmerciful, Sikfuck and Putrid Pile were among the list of headliners in 2008.
The White Rabbit played host to this gathering of the grotesque. The said venue has become the home of extreme metal in south Texas. The festival made use of two stages—a main and side stage. A door around the side of the main stage led to the side stage. Few in attendance had ventured into the side stage area, for it’s normally used as a back-stage refuge for touring bands. The White Rabbit has your typical mid-level metal hall bathroom, out of order toilets filled with piss and garbage. However, an out-door area complete with picnic tables allow attendees to breath fresh air and take a load off (for the other kind of load, see the bathroom across the street). A pizza restaurant quenched the crowd’s appetite after stomach-rousing songs of guts, blood splatter and cannibalistic orgies.
Day one (Thursday) opened in an ominous fashion due to a small crowd. The majority of the crowd consisted of band members. Thursday nights are not usually conducive to pulling in the late-night crowd. A positive, telling aspect of this day, though, was the diversity of acts. Besides the expected gory growls of groups such as Eviscerated, thrash, grind and even a doom metal act took the stage. Most of the atypical acts came via the touring combo of Demiricous, The Gates of Slumber and Strong Intention.
Strong Intension led a speedy attack of old school crossover. The Gates of Slumber rumbled the floor with traditional, Wino-esque doom. Both groups performed much to the dismay of the death-metal-hungry crowd, and pulled a small crowd from the already-decimated pool of attendees. It was a shame, too, because both groups put on a thrilling performance. Metal Blade recording artist, Demiricous gained a much better reception, though. Donning a revamped lineup, these deathy thrashers emitted an energy not lost upon the crowd, provoking the largest pit of the night.
San Antonio’s Flesh Feast gave the fest an early kick-start with their blend of Florida-meets-Stockholm brand of death metal. Legion of Demons was another band from the area that brought a high amount of energy. This group mixed thrash and grind into a dangerous combo. Three-piece Vaginal Bear Trap (great name) played traditional, punk-infused grind without a bassist. Some tracks were of the breakdown, stomp variety. Fest promoter, Mendiola—who plays with Engaged in Mutilating—joined the Trap in a cover of Dying Fetus’s “Kill Your Mother, Rape Your Dog.”
Anal Cunt, A.C. in the censored version, was the night’s main attraction. A.C. has long been a standout group in the grind scene. The group’s albums found a home in the 1990s on grind aficionados, Earache Records. Many of their song titles may seem offensive to those without a black sense of humor. Lead screamer Seth Putnam didn’t announce long-winded titles such as “You Were Too Ugly to Rape, So I Just Beat the Shit Out of You" or “I Just Saw the Gayest Guy on Earth," he tore through about forty songs in about the same amount of time. Nobody was sure what they played because he did not announce any titles and none of the tracks that stand out such as “Staying Alive (Oi Version!) were not played. Putnam was entertaining, though, often freaking out during pig squeals and outrageous screams.
Friday’s show started an hour earlier (5 PM) and on a more promising note. The prospect of no work on the following day and a paycheck undoubtedly summoned a larger crowd. Local group Inquitous oppressed the ears of those in attendance with their brand of massive, mid-paced groove death metal. Torn the Fuck Apart from Kansas City instilled a touch theatrics. Fake heads and severed limbs littered the stage during their onslaught of technical death metal complete with complex stops and starts rhythms, screaming vocals, an energetic front man and horror movie samples. Each member displayed a considerable amount of talent, but the group’s cover of Slayer’s “Spirit in Black” did the original little justice.
Exculerate executed a strong mix of death metal built on speed and droning riffs. The drummer played a basic kit, but made the best of it through speed and dexterity. Deterioration’s drummer pounded away some of the quickest rhythms of the fest. The Minnesota group recounted the devious deeds of serial killers through deep, guttural vocals and gut-squashing romps.
Globally recognized death metal artist, Shawn Whitaker (Viral Load, Insidious Decrepancy) unleashed one of his many abominations—Uncleansed. Whitaker commanded the stage, stalking the crowd like a starving wolf. The group played many tracks from its forthcoming album on Grind Ethic records. The group’s swift variety of death metal came through the speakers crisply.
Like the first day, the second day of the festival saw a diversity of styles. Vesperian Sorrow and Christ Hate played black metal in consecutive sets. The former played the symphonic variety, while Christ Hate played straightforward black metal nodding to Dark Funeral and Marduk. The irony of these back-to-back sets was Christ Hate’s bassist once played for Vesperian Sorrow. This bassist wore a black mask and robe—the same garb he donned while filling in for Demonic Christ and Teratism at the Sacrifice the Nazarene Child Fest 7. Christ Hate lived up to its name, ripping out pages of a bible and going on a ranting breakdown of “I Hate Jesus,” which brought an active crowd response.
Unique Leader recording artist, Unmerciful ended the second day. Unmerciful releases albums through a respected death metal label, but not one that can expose the group like a Metal Blade or Earache. That is a shame because this group could easily dominate the death metal ranks on any label. The drummer and bassist of Christ Hate filled in without any noticeable mistakes. Unmerciful was another swift-footed band, especially the drummer, whose double bass work seemed machine-like. Unmerciful treated the crowd with a wicked new track, “Habitual Slavery.”
HOD represented the sole black metal band on day three. Clad in the traditional black metal wardrobe of black leather and spikes, the Ibex Moon recording artist (Incantation) assaulted the crowd with a dark concoction of black/death metal with a touch of old school trash. Comprised of ex-members of Necrovore and Thornspawn, HOD is a group with deep roots in the Texas metal scene, not to mention their bassist played with GG Allin. Their experience and high-octane performance easily won over the crowd.
On the death metal side, Self Induced Pain played brutal death metal, minus a bassist. One of the guitarists broke a string, which the group took as a cue to launch a worthy cover of Deicide’s “When Satan Rules His World.” This track fit the group’s style well. Lead masochist, Freddie proved the truth in the band’s name, running a pocketknife across his stomach until blood appeared. Self Induced Pain’s equipment problems (including their M.I.A. bassist) were detrimental to their set, but brutality of the band’s music sat well with the crowd.
Cerebral Rot’s abysmal vocal attack and massive cymbal rack on the drum kit provided a talking point for those in attendance. Mendiola’s band, Engaged In Mutilation brought the tools of dismemberment with grizzly growls and face-smashing rhythms. Newly signed to Comatose Records (one of the many bands at the festival on this label), three-piece Disfigured has become a staple in the Texas metal scene, opening for just about every death metal tour that comes through town. The group has also toured the western part of the U.S. and played on the Central Illinois Death Fest. Buzz saw guitars and quick fretwork characterize the band. This show, like every show, was a success for Disfigured. Another staple in the Texas metal scene, Sarcolytic—a band featuring death metal artist John Zig (Suffocation)—always brought the death metal goods, fast and furious.
One of the themes of day three was many of the headliners were made up of a single person. One of these groups was another Shawn Whitaker creation—Insidious Decrepancy. On his own with no help other than a computer program, Whitaker once again commanded the crowd’s attention. This time, in addition to his growling, he also displayed precise guitar playing. Bloodsoaked, another Comatose Music artist, also demonstrated exceptional guitar playing. Peter Hasslebrack produced a memorable mix of speed, doomed rhythms and echoing screams. Sevared Records artist Putrid Pile brought the fest to a close. Many at the festival confessed their eagerness to see Putrid Pile. This one-man killing machine did not disappoint, bringing some of the fest’s best slam riffs and guttural growls.
The second installment of the Goregrowler’s Ball offered exactly what its title suggests. Goregrowler Entertainment introduced San Antonio to some of the most brutal bands throughout the United States. Sales would have increased considerably with a major headliner like Deicide or Cannibal Corpse, but this festival was about the more brutal styles of death metal. Unlike a Jack Koshick production, Goregrowler ran the fest with no major scheduling conflicts. All the bands played the set they were promised. It is quite common for bands to drop off a festival, and two of the headliners, Diabolic and Anal Blast dropped. Still, the majority of the headliners remained. Also, there was a diversity in style, allowing a greater sense of identity for the majority death metal bands.
Those with a hankering for underground extreme metal—end of the spectrum extreme—should take a trip to south Texas to experience the Goregrowler’s Ball next year.