For all area fans of metal who shudder at the possibility of the Alamo City not being the Heavy Metal Capital it once was, look no further than the third annual Memorial Day Metalfest as the reason that debate exists in the first place.
And look not much beyond your own mirrors.
Because through no fault of the bands that hailed from all around Texas plus San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Arizona, and Kenosha, Wisconsin -- and of course right here in their own backyard -- two days of unsigned heavy talent of various sub-genres went mostly unseen.
A paltry 100-150 people showed up last Saturday and Sunday combined at The Rock Box. Most of those were family members and friends of the artists who had driven hundreds of miles. Some of those rocking out at the barrier were the musicians themselves, taking time to enjoy the groups that came on before and after them. On the contrary, half of the small turnout spent a bulk of their time in the back of the venue checking out their gadgets.
And so it goes in 2018 when it comes to the social media and technological world in which metal is now forced to reside. At least one band had fun with that aspect of the fest (more on that later).
Local patrons don't entirely have the holiday weekend to blame for not making their presence known. At last check, the Comal and Guadalupe rivers weren't going anywhere, so tubing traditions could've taken a backseat for at least one day of the Metalfest. Even for just a couple of hours. Furthermore, the fest's first two years coincided with the city's biggest annual rock extravaganza, the River City Rockfest. But not this year. That has moved to Sept. 22.
You can't blame a lack of promotion. The Memorial Day Metalfest had been announced by FocusStar Media of San Antonio two-plus months prior, even offering free admission for active-duty military members and only a $5 charge for retired veterans on their holiday weekend. Non-military rockers could get a two-day pass for $15.
And you can't point fingers at the venue. The Rock Box's staff and management did what they could to ensure things ran smoothly and that the fest had a home after originally being scheduled for the smaller Fitzgerald's in anticipation of a much larger turnout. This time, it was the fans -- or lack thereof -- that let down all of the above.
Originally scheduled with a roster of 22 bands (11 each day), Stitched Up from Austin got lost finding the venue the first day, and San Antonio's Down Generation dropped out as the 1 a.m. band closing out the weekend. Alamo True Metal was the only photographic presence in the photo pit for 13 of the other 20 artists. In most cases regarding those taking offense to "the fall" of the heavy metal capital, that's 13 bands more than they accounted for in person.
A similar lackadaisical attitude toward concerts was exhibited when the Sons Of Apollo show May 7 was canceled due to low ticket sales but went off without a hitch the following nights in Houston and Dallas. That name may not be familiar to many fans, but that's because Sons Of Apollo is a new supergroup. At least four of its members -- vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal -- should be familiar. Who cares if the show was scheduled for a Monday?
Alas, as with any concert or festival, the Memorial Day Metalfest should've been all about the bands and the music. This wasn't a festival with arena-type names. Rather, these were the bands that put out EPs and albums independently. The ones that sometimes scribble their setlists on a sheet of notebook paper. In other words, the ones with the hunger, passion and drive to busts their asses on stage because they're not only trying to "make it" but because they're always presenting themselves to first-time witnesses of their music no matter how many shows they play in the area.
So here's an alphabetical look at highlights of some of those 13 bands, with a mixed 125-photo slideshow of them below. Click the band's name to see ATM footage of them in action via Facebook Live videos:
The local band appeared left for dead the past three years when singer/guitarist Austin Zettner saw the other members of his trio depart. Bassist Ozzy Alejo continued to play with Zettner for a time in Iron Maiden tribute band Seventh Son only, while drummer Alan Cisneros took his talent to Jessikill. But the fest saw the rebirth of Aeternal Requiem, with Zettner transforming it into a quartet.
Semir Ozerkan, who gained U.S. citizenship recently from Turkey, is now on bass. John Catts has been added on guitar, and David Sanchez Jr. has replaced Cisneros behind the kit. Each of them joined the band this year.
Zettner, who is continually striving to evolve as a vocalist, is a guitarist first and foremost. He honed his skills on the axe in part due to an audition process in Finland with Wintersun, and he offers lessons locally at Alamo Music Center. Debuting a new tune "Rise" with older ones from the 2012 formation of the band such as "Invictus," Zettner meshed splendidly with his new mates as if he'd been on stage with them for much longer than one show.
If you missed their performance, shame on you. But you'll get a chance at a mulligan when Aeternal Requiem opens for Exmortus, Immortal Guardian and Hatchet on Tuesday, July 3, at Come and Take It Live in Austin.
Bringing a hardcore style of metal to The Rock Box (and a Pinky & The Brain love of cartoon T-shirts), vocalist Paul Freedman and his group unveiled new track "Clarion Call" among their older tunes. But as the singer said in the ATM video clip above, if you were seeing the band for the first time, all the tunes were new to you. Not one to shy away from trying to get the most out of the audience, a less-than-satisfied Freedman at one time said, "Come on, guys, I'm up here screaming my fucking ass off" before the "crowd" became louder on the second chance. Look for the band to release a new EP this summer.
Some of the festival's best talent came via groups whose members aren't of legal drinking age. But that didn't stop them from excelling on stage, and these thrashers from Edinburg, Texas, were no exception. They're fronted by bassist and singer Justin Lopez, who admitted to being incredibly tired after a show the previous night in Corpus Christi followed by an 8 a.m. wakeup call, the drive to San Antonio and a mid-afternoon set time at The Rock Box but looked and played no worse for the wear. Of course, when drummer Edward Vera Jr. pronounced himself un-tired and ready to thrash, Lopez gave him a friendly "Fuck you" for his efforts.
Promoter Matt Louderback, who had allotted all festival artists 40 minutes apiece, acknowledged that the band requested to go on a few minutes early because "they "have a lot of music to play." Check out original track "Blightning" in the ATM link above. Archangel A.D. also unveiled their Megadeth influence by impressively performing "Hangar 18" and "Killing is My Business . . . and Business is Good" back-to-back. When a fan got carried away by offering "Mustaine don't play it that good" during the hear-a-pin-drop quiet between songs, a sheepish Lopez replied, "I'm not going to say anything."
Another band of teens looking to defy what society wants teens to do, this hardcore female-fronted group from Phoenix would've woken the neighbors if there were houses next door to the venue instead of trains and a Dance Gavin Dance outdoor gig entertaining hundreds of other teens at the adjacent Alamo City Music Hall. Check out singer Ryann Spaulding, lead guitarist Reilly Mikus, rhythm guitarist Michael Montana and drummer Steven Montana in action at the above link on "Death Has Taken Its Toll."
It's a dirty job to close an all-day festival with a 1 a.m. set time, but somebody's gotta do it. These local rockers, who opened March 8 for Act Of Defiance and March 27 for Udo Dirkschneider on the same stage, did the honors with another 40-minute set. Click the link to watch singer Robb Steele, lead guitarist Scott Soto, rhythm guitarist Roger Resendez, bassist Steve Pena and drummer Ray Milbank in action on "Death of You." The group will play Fitzgerald's Bar this Friday.
Rap metal is a sub-genre that's not for everyone, but at least these guys from Tucson, Arizona, won't remind many of Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park. They have their own style, whether it's coming out blazing or slowing things down with dual vocalists/rappers. Get a taste of their music by clicking the band's name above.
Founded 10 years ago by brothers David Webb (vocals/guitar) and Robert Webb (bass), these Austin metallers cranked out the metal on tunes such as opener "The Vril Society," eponymous "Shadow Spectrum," "Nocturnal Wolfpack" and closer "Perceptual Reality." Click the band's link to watch "Sea of Treachery." David Webb, he of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fisherman's hat and loud Flying-V, was one of the musicians on hand at the barrier supporting the other acts.
Surprisingly the only festival act from just down Interstate-37 in Corpus Christi, these guys sounded as ferocious as singer Joe Wilmot's "Jaws" T-shirt looked. Click the link to watch "There Will Be Blood." They'll be back in town this Saturday, June 9, at Bonds 007 Rock Bar.
Arguably the best band on hand in terms of the combination of musicianship, crowd interaction, quality of songs and heaviness, the San Diego natives displayed great heavy rock with a few melodies and dual guitars. Unveiling several songs from the May 11 release of fifth album 5ive such as "Alternate Breed," "Almost Human" (no, not the KISS classic) and "Absolute," singer Scott Bruce also mixed in the best bantering with those on hand, which included his sister and brother-in-law driving from Corpus Christi. Check out Bruce and cohorts Steve Potts and Louie Borja on guitar, Bobby Fernandez on bass and drummer Steven Elias above on newer non-album track "Every Time I Die." Bruce mixed in some humor, telling fans in the back to move up front with the disclaimer that while his band doesn't bite, Borja threatened to stab him on the bus (yes, he was kidding. We think). Bruce also referred to Borja and Fernandez as "ugly bastards." Symbolic is definitely a band that needs to be brought back to town as an opener for a more-established national act.
The local band that has undergone a variety of changes since its inception in the '80s underwent another prior to its fest performance at midnight. Veteran vocalist Rick Espinoza, last seen a couple years ago with now defunct Devilmaycare, has replaced Geoff Dee on the mic. Acknowledging to the audience after second song "The Hunt" that he was "nervous as shit" and "just trying to get the first one under my belt and move forward," Espinoza passed his test with flying colors. Espinoza has a peculiarly strange presence on stage, often bending down and meandering slowly around his bandmates as if he's disinterested. But as soon as he puts vocal cords to microphone, his high-pitched sounds pierce the air in an effortless way that's not far off from a young Rob Halford. Judge for yourself at the above link on "City of the Sky." Afterwards, guitarist John Castilleja confided in Alamo True Metal of his new singer: "He's a professional." Espinoza will test his nerves with the rest of his new mates next month in Germany when Syrus shares a festival stage with another San Antonian -- bassist Donnie Van Stavern and Riot V -- at the Headbangers Open Air Festival from July 26-28.
Fresh off opening for Soulfly and Nile on the exact same stage just four days earlier, this local quintet was arguably the heaviest band on the bill among the 13 witnessed. Click the link to watch "Feats of Strength" and "Blood Country."
This masked teen quartet fronted by ZekeXIII (Joseph) was hands down the most energetic of the artists ATM saw. Zeke headbanged his way across the platform, jumping up and down as if it was his group from Austin's first show in the Alamo City. Well, that's because it was. It was also the band's first with new drummer Psycho 95, a female behind the mask. Performing tunes such as "Blind," "Daddy Long Legs," "Asylum" and "Crazy," Zeke jumped off the stage and made a few friends while singing the finale. At one point, he saddled up next to a guy touting a shirt of local band Isolaydead (which wasn't on the fest, for the record) who was fiddling on his phone and unaware of the singer's presence for a few seconds. Zeke folded his arms and kept singing as he checked out the guy's phone screen while giving him a funny "OK, cool" thumbs-up.
The Memorial Day Metalfest may not have been an entirely typical representation of the local metal scene as far as the paying customer was concerned. But for one weekend, at a two-day event no less, San Antonio's display of the locals supporting all types of metal, from all around the country, was more fall than rise. Luckily, the bands on stage were just the opposite.