There are very few legitimate extreme metal festivals in the United States. Typically, fans have to head overseas to events like England's Damnation Festival, Netherland's Eindhoven Metal Meeting, or France's Hellfest to get their fix. However, in the past couple of years, American metal promoters are catching on. Maryland's Death Fest has been shredding the scene for more than a decade, and Phil Anselmo's Housecore Horror Fest in Austin, which is all about underground metal and horror films, will arrive later this month. Now Arizona has entered the fray, hosting the DIY, booked-by-musicians-for-musicians Southwest Terror Fest right in our rattlesnake-filled, heavy metal-loving backyard.
Organized and hosted entirely by Tucson musicians — Godhunter guitarist/vocalist David Rodgers, Great American Tragedy bassist Larry Horvath, and Diseased Reason guitarist Dave Carroll — Southwest Terror Fest 2013: Year of the Snake has a long way to go before it becomes the West's answer to Maryland Death Fest. But after the festival's crushingly successful debut last year, it's clear that this event is bringing a one-of-a-kind, much-needed extreme underground music gathering to the region. It's all-ages and inexpensive — a ticket for the event takes place this weekend at The Rock, costs only $55.
"Metal and hardcore have always been more underground, so it needs more of a push to get that broader appeal," says David Rodgers. "So it was easy for me to direct my passion in that direction. I actually like all kinds of music — I mean, my favorite band is Radiohead — but a lot of music is already popular and doesn't need help. I've lived in Tucson since 2006, and that's where my band Godhunter started. I guess it's a hobby, because you don't make a living off of it, but I love it because I can't think of doing anything better with my time."
The organizing founders/musicians knew from the start that creating a death metal music festival was going to be quite an undertaking.
The idea for an Arizona extreme metal festival was born on a drunken night a few years ago ("as I'm sure many great ideas in history probably come from," says Rodgers, laughing). It was right before Maryland Death Fest, and right after L.A.'s MurderFest ended its run. After a night of beers and throwing around ideas, they woke up the next morning and decided to actually go for it.
The three founders had never been on a festival before — let alone organized one — so they brought on their friend Ryan Avery, who runs Los Angeles DIY metal booking agency Ear/Splitters, to help with the logistics, themes, and schedules of the event.
The debut was a success, so much so that it has expanded to four days this year.
"The bigger this gets, the more of a pain in the ass it is," says Rodgers. "But I love it. I'm so proud to live in a country where I can organize a four-day punk and metal fest with a giant inverted cross on our artwork without being hauled before some religious court and thrown into prison. I mean, that happens to 'metal' people in some parts of the world. So no matter how hard it is, I couldn't be prouder of this project."
The lineup was created from a combination of the organizers mostly going after the bands they wanted to see on the bill, more than bands reaching out to them on their own.
"Every year, we go in with a wish list of bands that we want to play. For instance, when I saw Sacred Reich at Maryland Death Fest this year, I knew I wanted to base one night around them," Rodgers says. "We paired them with an Arizona band like Landmine Marathon. A lot of people love Red Fang and Kylesa, and they are two of our personal favorite bands, so when we had the chance to book them, we ran with it."
More than 60 bands on the bill cover the majority of extreme metal genres — from punk and hardcore to sludge and thrash to grindcore and black — so feel free to pick your poison. The event features even more national headlining acts than last year, including legends like Sacred Reich and Vehemence, along with Kylesa, Red Fang, Demon Lung, Ancestors, Subrosa, Landmine Marathon, Early Graves, Pinkish Black, Anakim, Sovereign, and others, and a long line of newer underground acts.
"This is the first year we're playing Southwest Terror Fest," says Sacred Reich drummer Greg Hall. "I'm excited to see Red Fang play. We played with them in Finland and endured a four-hour van ride to the airport with them. They are fun guys."
"Hopefully, people in Tucson and Phoenix will support the efforts of SWTF," adds Sacred Reich vocalist Phil Rind. "It can bring together a divergent group of bands and expose people to new music. It gives the fans an opportunity to come together and form strong bonds as a community. And it gives bands the chance to meet and network and support one another."
Sponsors came into play in a big way with Southwest Terror Fest. The founders knew that sponsors were the only way to make the event work, so they approached local businesses, like Acid Reflux Records, Sticks 'N Strings Music Center, Moon Smoke Shops, and a couple of national ones, including Lace Pickups, Zombie Effects Lab, and CVLT Nation. The contributions were as welcome as headbangers in a mosh pit — they're helping pay for the band's hotel rooms, the artwork, and advertising. The only donors are the Southwest Terror Fest's organizers themselves.
Another one of the down-to-earth community aspects of heavy metal is that it is the one world where the focus isn't just on what's popular. This isn't just a group of guys bringing all of their friends on board to play.
"I've lost a few friends because some people feel entitled to play this event, just because it's in their home state," says Rodgers. "Yeah, we may have a ton of great bands in Arizona, but I have to spread those out over multiple years. If you can't or won't have the patience to wait, well, don't fucking take it out on me."
Southwest Terror Fest also is following a typical music festival format. Besides the usual merch booths, there will be clothing and accessory vendors, food trucks, and local businesses like Lindy's on 4th and Black Rose Tattooers. And while Southwest Terror Fest is tailored to extreme metal musicians and fans, no one's going to discriminate if you decide you want to show up just to get a taste of the culture and learn about some new bands.
So will Southwest Terror Fest eventually grow to a West Coast Maryland Death Fest?
"All festivals begin with humble origins," says Sacred Reich's Rind. "And some can grow to massive proportions with the support of the fans, strong financial backing from the promoter and sponsors and the right mix of bands."