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Heavy Metal

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.

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Return of Sacred Reich hits home for purveyors of S.A. Slayer

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Return of Sacred Reich hits home for purveyors of S.A. Slayer

When the discussion of thrash metal circulates at concerts, your local venue or maybe even around the barbecue pit, the usual suspects come to mind even beyond The BIg 4. Sacred Reich, however, often doesn’t even fall on the radar. Some of that may be due to its inactivity from 2000-06. But considering the band formed in the mid-’80s out of Arizona during arguably the peak of the metal scene, the biggest reason for Sacred Reich’s relative obscurity may remain the biggest mystery as well..

But it’s no time like the present for original vocalist/bassist Phil Rind to round up the gang again. And with a couple of twists. It was all on display last Saturday night at the Rock Box as Sacred Reich reminded an intimate crowd of maybe a couple hundred just how underrated it is. Get a taste by watching ATM’s footage of three songs below.

Even more relevant to many than the band’s return was who was playing the drums. Former S.A. Slayer — and, oh by the way, Machine Head — sticksman Dave McClain enjoyed a homecoming of sorts, returning to Sacred Reich last year for his second stint with the group. San Antonians, of course, remember McClain largely for his involvement with S.A. Slayer, which is widely known for the one “Slayer vs. Slayer” show in history it played on the same bill as The Big 4 version Nov. 30, 1984, at The Villa Fontana. McClain certainly didn’t forget, performing Saturday night in a Slayer — yes, his version — T-shirt. His former bassmate, Donnie Van Stavern of Riot V and S.A. Slayer, was on hand as well.

While McClain returned to Sacred Reich in 2018, rhythm guitarist Joey Radziwill is even newer — and much younger. Sacred Reich’s unique timeline as a band couldn’t have been put in much more perspective than when Rind announced the 22-year-old Radziwill hadn’t been born the last time they made an album — 1996’s Heal. But that’s about to change as Sacred Reich will release Awakening on Aug. 23. They unveiled the title track among other older favorites such as “Surf Nicaragua,” “Free” and “Ignorance” (watch ATM’s Facebook Live footage here; setlist in 45-photo slideshow below).

Sworn Enemy, out of New York, was the only other national act on the bill, and they hit hard. Touring in support of Gamechanger, released six weeks ago, Sworn Enemy can be seen in action here before ending its set with “We Hate” below.

Wulfholt and Beyond Black delivered the goods from a local standpoint. Wulfholt, which competed in March during the regional portion of the 2019 Wacken Metal Battle competition, will return to the Rock Box on Friday, June 21, opening for Nita Strauss and Kore Rozzik (tickets here). In the meantime, watch them perform “Truth Shrouded” here.

Beyond Black certainly didn’t mess around with easing into its set to kickstart the evening. Not when you only have 30 minutes to set the table for the featured acts. As an added bonus for Alamo True Metal, which was privileged to be the only publication on hand covering the show, Beyond Black performed in surprisingly bright lighting, mostly nixing the dreaded red display that virtually all opening acts — and even some recent headliners such as Hatebreed and Godsmack — utilize. Bassist Steve Pena acknowledged the group is working on new material, which they revealed here. You can also watch them close out with “Deviant Saint” below and check out their ReverbNation page here.

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Jake E. Lee leaves significant chunk of career off Red Dragon Cartel's return

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Jake E. Lee leaves significant chunk of career off Red Dragon Cartel's return

Considering he's a famed 62-year-old guitarist who stepped out of the metal scene for more than a dozen years between his time in Badlands and the 2014 self-titled debut of new band Red Dragon Cartel, you couldn't blame fans for salivating at the return to the Alamo City of Jake E. Lee on Friday night. 

Lee, who oh by the way replaced the late Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne's band on iconic releases Bark at the Moon in 1983 and The Ultimate Sin in 1986, co-writing several non-credited songs along the way, is the feature component of Red Dragon Cartel. Along with oft-maligned vocalist Darren James Smith, drummer Phil Varone and the bassist on Lynch Mob's inaugural and best album Wicked Sensation in 1990, Anthony Esposito, Lee's visit had the potential to be shattering in terms of volume and entertainment value. At least on paper. 

But it was another piece of paper where Red Dragon Cartel came up short. The choice of songs. 

Touring in support of sophomore release Patina, a more bluesy record than the first RDC album, Lee understandably set out to promote the latest effort. Unfortunately, he did so at the expense of the majority of his Badlands years, shunning his Osbourne material almost entirely and scaling back on Red Dragon Cartel's heavy debut.

Playing a 13-song set, Lee opted to perform 80 percent of his new album -- eight of its 10 tracks -- out of those 13 offerings. Lee waited too long to throw the audience a Badlands bone, saved his shockingly lone Osbourne offering for a Bark at the Moon 2002 re-issue bonus track that was truly just for the diehards in "Spiders" (ATM footage below), didn't realize that some fans departed following the fourth, fifth and sixth songs after hearing nothing but Red Dragon Cartel material and, in letting only his stellar guitar skills do the talking, said nary a word to the crowd. Other than a pair of male fans jumping up and down repeatedly, the audience spent more time wondering when a recognizable Osbourne or Badlands track was coming and filming with their phones instead of pumping fists or tossing up horns.

That Lee didn’t speak was perfectly fine. His absence from the metal scene rekindled desires to hear him play, not chat. And shred he did. But even that came with a caveat, as the somewhat reclusive axeman spent 99 percent of the 75-minute performance on the left side of the stage. Lee ventured just once to the right half to tell Esposito something before playing in the middle solely on finale "Feeder," one of only two tracks from the self-titled record. Even when Lee kept to his comfortable stage left, he often turned to the side, facing one or two crew members standing there, and the wall, rather than the people who paid to see him amaze them with his skills.

The formation of Red Dragon Cartel got off to an inauspicious start in 2013, and Smith will always be measured against that, as unfair as it may seem as time passes. During Red Dragon Cartel's inaugural concert at the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood, an inebriated Smith jumbled lyrics to Osbourne songs in a less-than-solid performance. After Lee and Smith were said to have ironed out some issues, the guitarist took what many may have seen as a gamble by bringing Smith back for Patina. To his credit, Smith is more than credible on the album and carried it over to the Rock Box, though he admitted when the group finally got around to playing "3-Day Funk" by Badlands: “This song might truly kill me!” (ATM Facebook Live footage here; setlist in 57-photo slideshow below). 

While some may point out Red Dragon Cartel played the Rock Box on Nov. 18, 2014 (with a different bassist and drummer) and offered up some Osbourne tracks that night, the fact remains Lee's career, which also involved playing in Rough Cutt, is mostly known for being one of the madman's guitar sidekicks. Lee also would've been better served by keeping in mind that because of his lengthy sabbatical, Friday's concert was witnessed not only by those who brought his classic records to the meet-and-greet that he graciously autographed, but by many seeing him live for the first time. Even Michael Jordan played meaningless NBA preseason games that took place in cities without professional franchises because he was mindful many at those exhibitions were watching him play for the first, and perhaps only, time in their lives. 

Ironically, Lee’s bassmate on The Ultimate Sin, Phil Soussan, was scheduled to play the same stage three weeks earlier on Valentine's Day with Last In Line only to see that gig canceled, presumably due to low ticket sales. While Lee had no such issues, the approximately 150 fans who showed up, though paltry by "Heavy Metal Capital" standards, deserved to hear a couple of tracks from that classic record. Or at least more than a show dominated by Patina. Playing a set vastly different from his previous visit and dominating it with new material would’ve been fine if that previous visit occurred within the past two years rather than a 4 1/2-year gap.

That said, the only other Badlands offering was arguably the highlight of the night as Smith gutted out "High Wire" for the first of two encores after admitting he was “scared” to attempt the high-pitched sound of the late Ray Gillen (ATM Facebook Live footage here). Badlands' biggest hit "Dreams in the Dark" was performed in 2014 but not on this night. Nor were other favorites “Winter's Call," "Hard Driver" or "Rumblin' Train." It would've been nice to hear the band try.

It also was odd that in a group where a legendary guitarist is the featured member, the only solo belonged to Varone on drums. The fact that tracks from The Ultimate Sin such as the title track, "Killer of Giants," "Secret Loser" or even MTV smash "Shot in the Dark" were ignored and that Lee's mesmerizing ending to "Bark at the Moon" was omitted meant most fans did not get what they expected to see and hear. 

Five or six songs from Patina would have served Lee's purpose of promoting his new album and still satiated the crowd’s appetite. Eight new tunes at the expense of his more well-known eras, however, was like eating the Caesar salad only to find out the restaurant would have to close prior to receiving that fat juicy steak you looked forward to before leaving the house.

Hopefully one of rock and metal’s best guitarists ever will keep that in mind while remembering the Alamo City would love to see him return. With a better choice of his great music expressed for all to experience.

Click the links for ATM Facebook Live footage of local openers Wall Of Soul, Eden Burning and Dallas-based Rendered Heartless, and see them in action in the slideshow below.

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