'Loudest bookstore in Texas' tosses local metal to imagination

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'Loudest bookstore in Texas' tosses local metal to imagination

On any given day, first-time visitors to Imagine Books & Records can walk in and view publications ranging from “Curious George” and William Shakespeare to Stephen King and vulgar comics. They can purchase cassettes and vinyl albums of ‘80s hair bands stationed next to Motown and Spanish artists, or Tina Turner breathing the same air as The Misfits.

Thanks to Don Hurd and his son Ezra, patrons can walk out on Friday and Saturday nights with ears ringing from live music that culminates their trip to the self-proclaimed “Loudest Bookstore in Texas.”

A five-band gathering of relatively young metalcore musicians plus instrumental and local trio Dojo were the latest example Friday night. The program, which also featured local acts Send Help, Lonestar Massacre, Ammo For My Arsenal and Kingsville natives Horus Ascending beginning the festivities, was made possible by the Hurds, who are about to celebrate eight years of their store in October.

“Back in the ‘80s, I was involved in the San Antonio metal scene,” Don Hurd, 58, says. “We’d go to venues, and a lot of them closed. Most of them were not friendly. Some were assholes. And I thought, ‘It shouldn’t be like that.’ I wanted a welcoming place.”

Imagine Books & Records, located at 8373 Culebra Road in a strip mall, used to be four doors down. The Hurds moved it to the corner, giving and accepting along the way. “Our capacity used to be 260,” Don says. “Now I don’t know what it is. Maybe 120. But we didn’t have this stage at the other place. We had to give up the wall that everyone signed. But the TV (above the stage) was left by the previous tenant.”

The Hurds take pride in their array of books, cassettes, albums, “45” records and posters - selections that are vast and furious.

“As a bookstore owner, you can’t just suit your own tastes,” Don says. “Dolly’s Mustache was our first show. Then we started to have shows every other weekend. By the end of 2012, we were full in with shows. We’ve had bands from Japan, Australia, Italy — you name it.”

As expected in a bookstore setting, Friday’s crowd was intimate. Most were family members and friends of the bands. In that respect, it wasn’t different from what you find at bars around town. Send Help, for instance, was selling merch outside along with a crockpot of $5 meatball sub sandwiiches.

Don Hurd cited Send Help’s trio of bassist/vocalist Camron Maldonado, lead vocalist/guitarist Joe Vitela and drummer Tyler Rosser as “living up to their name” by frequently helping the family relocate as well as playing live at the store many times. The same could’ve been said for the group’s generosity. As Lonestar Massacre ended its set and prepared to give way to Send Help, Lonestar vocalist Hondo Hernandez Jr. recalled how he recently broke the neck of his first Les Paul guitar. Maldonado draped his arm around Hernandez as Vitela and Rosser presented a guitar case to their touring mate, and an unsuspecting Hernandez proudly opened and held aloft his birthday present in the feel-good moment of the evening (see 55-photo slideshow below).

Dojo played instrumentals in cat-adorned pajamas (ATM Facebook Live footage here). Vitela growled deathcore vocals while wearing a hot-dog get-up (watch) and a pair of masked marauders moshed, wrestled and shook their rears attempting to distract their friends on stage. Lonestar Massacre tore it up in the dark (watch). Ammo For My Arsenal sang deathcore style songs about “Star Wars” (watch). Horus Ascending had its regular drummer play guitar, overcoming the fact its regular guitarist did not want to drive from Kingsville to play in a bookstore (watch). All in a night’s work for the Hurds.

One minute between bands, Ezra would spin Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind on vinyl throughout the store. The next intermission, he opted for what he said was his favorite album of all-time: Jr. Walker & The All-Stars.

Something for everyone. It could be the Hurds’ second slogan.

“Most bookstores only do acoustic shows,” the elder, gray-bearded Hurd says. “But we’re not trying to appeal to seniors.”

There is one senior Don Hurd doesn’t mind catering to, however.

“Please mention my wife,” he says of Irma. “She’s just as much a part of this.”

Imagine Books & Records is the Hurds’ way of giving back to the community they call home. A rare gem born out of the heavy metal capital that has spread its wings to a diversified audience focusing on those that are the future.

“I love this generation,” Don Hurd says. “They have a lot of faults, but I love ‘em. If they mosh and I walk through, they take care of me.”

They’re just returning the favor for what Don, Ezra and Irma Hurd have been doing for them for several years. And, if they have anything to say about it, for a long time to come.

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Military City home of the brave for Flaw's latest release

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Military City home of the brave for Flaw's latest release

Like most bands that endure through personal strife, lineup changes and even years of inactivity before reforming, Flaw is not without its, well, flaws. The ups and downs, however, arguably have made this particular quartet from Louisville, Kentucky, stronger. Which can lead to reaping its own rewards. Last Friday at the Rock Box signified one of those ups the band doesn’t figure to forget anytime soon.

Flaw’s headlining tour ventured to the Alamo City on the night it dropped Vol. 4: Because of the Brave. The group’s follow-up to 2016’s Divided We Fall is actually only its second effort since 2004’s Endangered Species, which came after 2001 non-independent debut Through The Eyes.

Vocalist Christopher Volz remains the backbone of an ever-changing band. And though he was touting the group’s newest piece of work, Volz didn’t exactly forget what San Antonians wanted to hear.

Bands tend to love CD release shows more than their fans because it culminates their latest recording efforts into its first live setting. However, the intelligent artists also know release shows mean fans have zero time to learn new material. Which means old-school is the way to cater to their longtime faithful. So Volz and his mates only unveiled one new track, the closest-they-may-get-to-a-ballad “Conquer This Climb” after the rest of the members jammed out when Tommy Gibbons set aside his bass and did a guitar battle with Rob Buttorff (watch ATM’s Facebook Live footage here). You can also watch ATM footage of debut single “Payback” below, which was planned on being the finale, only to have Volz throw the crowd a curveball by adding “Medicate” to the printed setlist as a special treat (see 60-photo slideshow below).

Sons Of Texas provided direct support and came out with guns blazing for their Lone Star family. Vocalist Mark Morales miraculously didn’t have a coronary given as much energy, headbanging and passionate vocals he exhibited in just the first two songs. Eventually, Morales got up close and personal with the crowd, saw his bandmates break out a “Master of Puppets” riff and segued a segment of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” into another blistering track, debut album opener “Never Bury the Hatchet” (ATM Facebook Live footage here).

It shouldn’t be long before Sons Of Texas provides some new material if it’s going to continue its two-year pattern of releases following 2015 debut Baptized in the Rio Grande and 2017’s Forged By Fortitude, for which the band is still touring.

Guitarist Jes De Hoyos, who spoke with yours truly in 2016 (listen here), and his crew had the distinction of being the first band to ever set foot on stage at the annual River City Rockfest, opening the inaugural festival in 2013 outside the AT&T Center seemingly so long ago, the band was only called Texas then. Two albums and one brand of hot sauce (that admittedly is not so hot) later, Sons Of Texas easily made its mark as the heaviest artist playing on the Rock Box stage while a slew of Texas bands were also playing in the venue’s new Vibes Underground basement.

September Mourning began the national-act trifecta behind the striking white-and-gray hair and wardrobe of vocalist Emily “September” Lazar. Though it’s been a couple of years since the quartet released Volume II, it dropped new single “Unholy” this past Thursday. Lazar shared with ATM during the 2016 Houston Open Air — which eventually canceled the group’s performance due to the threat of bad weather — the impetus behind her transmedia group that tells the story of September, a “human/reaper hybrid with no memory of her past empowered with supernatural gifts (who) is driven to protect humanity from Fate and his Reapers” (watch here).

“Children of Fate,” “Skin and Bones” and “20 Below” (ATM footage below) were some of the Volume II tracks performed. Volume I is an EP influenced by September’s brand of comic books that tell the story of her on-stage character and those of her bandmate “reapers” known as Riven, Wraith and drummer Stitch. Footage of the comic book coming to life accompanied the band on stage with other tracks such as “Glass Animals” (ATM Facebook Live clip here).

Local band Relent was a late announcement to the bill. Catch them in action on “Addicted” here.

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Original local heaviness on display as bands 'Rise' above norm

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Original local heaviness on display as bands 'Rise' above norm

In a city, and scene, often overrun by bands playing the songs of the famous groups they idolized, a trifecta hit Fitzgeralds’ stage Saturday night that dared to be different. Even if the musicians weren’t necessarily trying to do so.

Sure, the occasion may have been meant to celebrate headliner Aeternal Requiem’s release of new album Rise — an effort that came to the Alamo City by way of being recorded in Finland. But in the process, the night proved to be a show that was the exception over the rule around these parts.

Supported by young thrashers Metalriser and X.I.L. (Exile), Aeternal Requiem and Co. provided a rare all-local and all-original-music night of metal.

No supporting of national acts. No cover songs. No tribute acts waxing poetic of hits that wore out radio and MTV long ago (see 43-photo slideshow and ATM’s video footage below).

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Copy acts have their time and place. Look no further than two of the men on stage at Fitzgerald’s. New Metalriser bassist Nick Gamboa manages local Megadeth tribute Rust In Peace. And the brainchild of Aeternal Requiem, singer/guitarist Austin Zettner, has played more than a few riffs in Iron Maiden homage group Seventh Son.

In fact, that might be the reason a fan approached the barrier during a short break in Aeternal Requiem’s live re-enactment of its entire eight-song album and requested “Wasted Years” in broken English. Perhaps he recognized Zettner from his tribute act. Or perhaps the man simply wanted to hear that song. But after Zettner politely bent down and told the man without the aid of a microphone he was only playing original songs on this night, fellow guitarist John Catts bellowed, “We are not a cover band!”

The message was delivered long before that, however. X.I.L.’s quartet of singer/bassist Austin James, guitarist/singer Joseph Aguilar, guitarist Quinten Serna and drummer Jordan Hoffart thrashed about on “Full Throttle Ass Kicking,” “The Witching Hour” and “This Means War,” among others (watch ATM’s Facebook Live footage of the latter here), as they’ve been known to do opening for the likes of Overkill and Metal Church.

While all three bands were slated to play 45 minutes apiece, middle artist Metalriser shortened itself to 26 minutes. Aeternal Requiem drummer David Sanchez Jr. was pulling back-to-back double duty but is still in the process of learning Metalriser’s catalog. So original singer/guitarist Joel Estrada, who like Zettner is the lone remaining member of the group he founded, and his new mates gave it their all on “Demise” (ATM Facebook Live footage here), “Hell’s Gate” (watch below) and a couple other heavy hitters. A longer set figures to be in store Aug. 2 at the Rock Box when Metalriser joins local brethren Nahaya and Buried Alike in supporting national 20-somethings Light This City.

Speaking of Nahaya, that band’s bassist Semir Ozerkan has helped Zettner round out the newer quartet version of Aeternal Requiem that was once a trio. But Ozerkan was MIA at Fitzgerald’s, and fill-in bassist Joe Muniz, as Zettner proudly told the crowd, learned 92 pages of music in 2 1/2 weeks. See them play instrumental “Day of Reckoning” and watch album and show finale “So Far” below.

The tunes of our youth may help pack them into, and drive the businesses of, bars and mid-sized venues around town. But it’s going to be an increase in all-original local packages, with metalheads coming out in a solidified show of support, that’s going to make the scene thrive once more, so long as its citizens harbor hopes of rekindling the Heavy Metal Capital’s heyday in becoming the rule, not the exception, yet again.

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Homegrown legends rekindle spark of scene that used to be

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Homegrown legends rekindle spark of scene that used to be

The Alamo City’s storied heavy metal scene, which once turned local and national bands’ careers on its collective heads resulting in the moniker Heavy Metal Capital, is so rich that rare is the night a bulk of it joins forces under one roof at the same time. But that’s what took place last Saturday when a contingent of San Antonio’s “Homegrown Heavy Metal Legends” descended on Fitzgerald’s for a collection of metal talent, knowledge, stories and history.

Some were on stage for roughly 7 1/2 hours of music, including the 30-year reunion show of Nutron, veteran classic Texas metallers Syrus, 32nd anniversary celebrators Byfist, 40th anniversary mainstays Seance, plus Zero The Hero and Baad Newz. And some of the oft-labeled royalty around these parts were on hand to sign classic autographs of themselves as unveiled in Juan Herrera’s book “As Viewed From the Pit: Photos of the South Texas Metal Scene 1978-89” including Fates Warning and Sebastian Bach drummer Bobby Jarzombek, Watchtower guitarist Ron Jarzombek, Militia vocalist Mike Soliz, Riot V bassist Don Van Stavern and vocalist Buster Grant (see 90-photo slideshow below).

The latest chapter that added to the San Antonio scene’s own voluminous book won’t soon be forgotten. Emilio Ledezma, who these days makes his mark in Ledezma Lethal Legends which will perform at 10 p.m. tonight at Fitzgerald’s, resurrected his former band Nutron with Danny Trejo of Trejo on vocals and the double-neck guitar. They were preceded by Syrus, whose revolving door of singers has currently landed on Alfred Pena. The group formed by guitarists John Castilleja and Al Berlanga unveiled forthcoming track “Last Warrior” (ATM footage below) among its Tales of War classics, although time constraints forced them to cut out a pair of other new tunes (setlist in slideshow).

Byfist, led by original rhythm guitarist Nacho Vara, had a telling set for a couple of reasons. First, it paid homage to another local outfit by playing Juggernaut’s “All Hallows Eve” before vocalist Raul Garcia called up Helstar veteran James Rivera to take his place and join Byfist’s instrumentalists on Helstar’s 1984 track “Burning Star” (ATM Facebook Live footage here).

Then an emotional Vara could barely get through his introduction of “Mary Celeste” given that it was the first song he wrote for Byfist with the late vocalist Vikk Real. Vara at one point turned away from the crowd and walked toward the drum set before he was comforted by bassist Stony Grantham. Vara, who also pulled double duty in Seance — giving him approximately 70 years of music between both artists — then summoned the strength not only to get through the song, but to put his foot down and play the entire tune front and center under the main spotlight, away from his usual dimly lit spot stage left, as Garcia wrapped his arm around him in smile and song. Watch the band culminate its set with “In the End” below.

With longtime local disc jockey Brian Kendall spinning tracks between bands, it was no rest for the weary as far as Vara was concerned as Seance preceded Byfist. “Woman,” “Should’ve Known” and “Heavy Metal” (below) highlighted the band’s set as vocalist Danny Fonseca, founder and lead guitarist Robert Perez, bassist Ruben Hernandez and young pup drummer Octavio de la Pena joined Vara in providing its usual fun and energetic set.

Zero The Hero and local trio Baad Newz got things warmed up prior to the bar filling at its peak. Watch Zero The Hero in action below on “You Bring Hate” and on “Valley of the Bones.”

Another book of the local metal scene could very well begin with what went down at Fitzgerald’s: the drinks were cold, the metal flowed, and the stories and history were told. All in a night’s work when it comes to San Antonio heavy metal. But even this evening was a bit more special than most.

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Static-X & friends' homage behind masked Xer0 rates No. 1 with fans

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Static-X & friends' homage behind masked Xer0 rates No. 1 with fans

The decision for bands to carry on, hang it up or split into various factions after their singer has passed on to the afterlife is a fragile one unique to each artist. Whatever the verdict, it’s often met with scorn, hesitation and critics volunteering their opinions to the nth degree.

There are the bands whose frontmen were so iconic that carrying on would have been sacrilegious. Think Nirvana and Motorhead. There are those who took several years to mourn, decide and eventually return as respectfully as possible such as Alice In Chains. Others enlisted guests vocalists to honor and memorialize their fallen leader such as Dio Disciples singers Tim “Ripper” Owens and Oni Logan, occasionally aided by Mark Boals and Toby Jepson, ensuring that the music of Ronnie James Dio lives on.

The most famous gamble of all also became the most historic, as AC/DC’s replacement of Brian Johnson for the late Bon Scott carried the band into another stratosphere of success it already enjoyed with Scott.

Then there’s the unprecedented method employed by Static-X. Honoring the legacy that ended in 2014 with the death of singer/guitarist Wayne Static, original members Tony Campos (bass), Koichi Fukuda (guitars) and Ken Jay (drums) resurrected the band this year to honor Static and celebrate 20 years of first album Wisconsin Death Trip. The catch is that not only has the touring vocalist remained unidentified, he is wearing a mask of Static’s facial likeness and patented spiked hair.

Static-X’s choice of how to proceed beyond Static has been much-maligned within the metal industry. But not on Sunday, June 23, at the Aztec Theatre. A nearly sold-out theatre jumped, pumped and rocked to the album’s complete performance plus songs from second effort Machine in welcoming the new masked vocalist/guitarist with open arms and loud crowd participation (see 107-photo slideshow and ATM video footage below). As Campos introduced the band, he labeled masked wonder Xer0 as hailing “from parts unknown.” What’s mainly a mystery, however, is whether the persistent rumors that Xer0 is Dope singer Edsel Dope are accurate.

It would make sense. Taking care to cover his likely tattooed arms with full-length sleeves, Xer0 could very well be Edsel Dope for a pair of reasons: both singers have similar tall, lanky frames. And Dope is already one of the four support acts on the bill, carefully placed in the middle of the program perhaps to allow DevilDriver’s 50-minute set after Dope and prior to Static-X ample time for Dope’s namesake to rest between double duty each night. And if those two reasons aren’t convincing enough, Edsel Dope cited multiple tours his band went on with Static-X, and how he considered Wayne Static a close friend, as Dope’s band celebrated 20 years too.

So while Xer0 and the rest of the original Static-X lineup partied like it was 1999 and 2001 to the Aztec’s content, Devildriver also hit hard as only frontman Dez Fafara can. Defending Static-X’s decision, Fafara shared that Back in Black is his favorite album front to back of all-time and that it wouldn’t have been possible if AC/DC had quit after Scott’s death. Fafara, whose band also includes one-time Static-X bassist Diego Ibarra, delivered hard-hitting tracks “I Could Care Less,” “Ruthless,” “Cry for Me Sky,” “Sail” and “Before the Hangman’s Noose” (ATM footage of the latter two below). The frontman then broke out a pair of tracks from his Coal Chamber days with “Loco” and “Fiend” (videos below).

Opening acts Wednesday 13 and Raven Black brought the theatrics to the Aztec in their own way. Wednesday 13 in particular had a variety of costume changes during a 30-minute set that featured “What the Night Brings” and closer “Keep Watching the Skies” (footage below). Watch ATM’s 2017 interview with frontman Joseph Poole and his San Antonio bandmates Roman Surman and Troy Doebbler here.

Static-X announced prior to the tour they’d have a new album this year called Project Regeneration that features the final recordings of Wayne Static. Fans can pre-order the album and get their name in the liner notes here. What’s unclear is whether Xer0 will carry on the legacy, whether he was merely a memorial touring replacement, or whether Static-X will enlist a completely new singer — masked with hair spiked from here to the gone or to be his own persona — to evil disco the group into a new era.

Either way, the band’s decision is sure to create a wave of controversy, bringing its share of critics, supporters and rockers. Which is to say Campos, Fukuda and Jay likely wouldn’t have it any other way.