I love my adjectives, and I’m usually pretty good with them, but I seem to have run out of them when it comes to describing the bone-crushing metal imposed upon the world by Austin’s Southern Front.
A five-piece group featuring a pair of face-melting guitarists — Jon Butler and Jason Bingham — shred and wail over the aggressive and seemingly impossibly fast double-bass work of drummer Payton Holekamp. Bassist Eric Houser is the newest member of the group, having learned a few songs for his audition last year, and then jumping in quickly to help the group record their latest release, 2014’s “Death Throes” — which features eight absolutely brutal tracks.
The group was formed in Austin in 2007 when the guitarists met and began jamming. Vocalist Zak Ward joined shortly thereafter, bringing a sincere and heartfelt approach to writing lyrics that only adds to the raw power of his rough and edgy vocals.
Many would say death metal is just, well… death metal. But, the guys in Southern Front have both recognized a lingering weakness within the genre as well as taken the time to seek out those willing to take risks and find new ways to expand the genre.
“I try not to sit around and listen to too many other bands to get inspiration because sometimes you’ll hear bands on an album and think ‘hey… that’s a ripoff of this other song,’ and sometimes you’ll hear a track and think, ‘ok, that’s like a Pantera song,’ and then get to the next track and think, ‘that’s like a Lamb of God song,’ so it all really ends up sounding like someone else,” Eric explained. “We’re trying to make sure that we’re not like so many bands, even the ones who try to copy themselves, thinking that they’ve had success with something on a couple of records and then they just go and do another one just like it. You can’t be afraid to shake things up.”
“You can’t be afraid of change,” echoed Payton. “My influences date back to punk, stuff like Pennywise. I didn’t listen to metal at all (growing up). All our influences are very different.”
“I’ve pretty much been in the brutal death metal scene,” said Eric. “It wasn’t until I joined this band that I realized how much of the metal scene I was missing because the death metal scene is one of the worst when it comes to having so many bands that sound alike. There just isn’t a lot of innovation. We’d have a festival, like 20 bands all day, and they all just sound the same. It’s all so narrow. But, the really successful death metal — and metal — bands are the ones that are able to branch out and innovate, do something a little different. So we wanted to try to inject some of that into our stuff. Bands like Origin, Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth, those are bands that are big in the scene, but they’re doing things a little differently.”
“There is a lot more that people can do to be different,” Payton added.
“For me, growing up in Hawaii, I had a completely different set of influences,” said Zak. “There was a lot of political stuff that a lot of people don’t really know about, and it’s stuff that is important to me and to people from home.”
For all the effort they make to stand out from a crowded scene, Southern Front still manages to be exactly what dark metal is supposed to be: pure brutal carnage, as demonstrated in their recently released video for the single “Face Down“:
“I have a lot of anger, and singing is really about therapy to me,” Zak said. “I can stand up there and yell and scream, and get it all out. But, the lyrics all mean something to me. A lot of our songs are about the trials and tribulations of life, whether it be about a soldier who has to deal with the aftermath of combat, or about losing someone important to you in life. Or, like the lyrics to ‘Face Down,’ which are about getting revenge on people who have f&cked you over. But everyone can take their own meaning away from the lyrics.”
“The best songs to me, the ones that always spoke to me, are the ones that the lyrics have a special meaning to me… songs that I took some special meaning away,” said Payton.
Writing those songs is a collaborative process for Southern Front. While guitarists Jason and Jon have been playing and writing together so long that as they describe it, they can instinctively figure out a progression that works musically within each song, technology has allowed the band to share work in progress over the Internet, with each member chipping in and offering suggestions.
The group recorded and mixed the release all on on their own, and all locally in Austin. It wasn’t until time for the CD to be mastered that they brought in extra help. And that — as they all described it — was a big moment, as they were able to secure the services of Dave Otero, a legendary producer and engineer who recently recorded, mixed and produced Cephalic Carnage’s “Anomalies” and mixed, mastered and produced Cattle Decapitation’s 2012 release “Monolith of Inhumanity.”
Southern Front has another round of shows lined up, including a Texas Metal Collective show at Austin’s Dirty Dog Bar on Saturday night, March 7, along with Houston’s Carrion Sun and Austin locals Neverbloom, Momentous and headliner Bury the Rod.
Cover photo by Scott W. Coleman