By Mihke Chanay
When it comes to music I like a little diversity. Being a relative newcomer to northwest Arkansas, the only local music I’ve been exposed to are the folksy bluegrass tinged sounds of groups who sometimes seem like they’re trying too hard to be The Avett Brothers or Mumford and Sons.
So when I found out about “The Hills Have Amps” metal compilation record release show at the Smoke ‘n’ Barrel in late January, I was stoked. An entire show featuring bands who played heavy, loud, and hard.
Though I didn’t really have any idea what to expect as far as sound goes, I was anxious to hear some chugging guitars and double bass hits. I was a little worried that the bands might not be heavy enough to play what had been dubbed a metal show.
The cover was $5. But for just an extra $5 you could get the album on vinyl that included an mp3 download. So of course I dropped the extra dough. The artwork is really great and it was created by Preston Graves and Amjad Faur. Faur is also a member of Lightbulb Detective Agency and Dragon Sunday, two bands that appear on the compilation. Though what really makes this record stand out as a package is the splatter art on the vinyl itself. Forget numbering them all like collector’s editions, the artwork makes each copy of this record truly unique.
I ended up sharing a few smokes over the night with a fellow patron of the arts who had found out about the show because of some fliers he had seen. We talked about Fayetteville being a big town with the feeling of a small town. He hadn’t heard any of the bands either. Like me, he had come just to see something different, something heavy.
There were a lot of people already waiting when I arrived, and more showed up before the first band Lightbulb Detective Agency started off the night. The band played experimental math metal somewhat akin to The Fantomas having a late night romp with Stormtroopers of Death. I remember wondering if there really was an audience for this sound in Arkansas.
After the set I looked around and saw that the Dickson St. regulars had pretty much cleared out. I thought to myself, “I guess there is an audience. It’s just not everyone. No problem, that just left the rest of us with more room to enjoy what we had come to hear.”
Up next were Potions, the only band playing that weren’t on the compilation. While more straight forward than Lightbulb Detective Agency they were definitely loud and they definitely rocked.
Closing out the night were Fayetteville’s resident metal kings Vore. Winners of the North Arkansas Music Awards Lifetime Achievement award in 2009, Vore have been on the scene since 1994 and have just recently released their 4th album “Gravehammer.” They were easily the heaviest and most metal of the three bands. Their music consists of massive riffing and a hammering double bass in the vein of the great death metal groups like Morbid Angel. Onstage, propped against an amp is the original canvas art for the cover to “Gravehammer.” Daarken, who has illustrated for Wizards of the Coast, custom-made the sword and sorcery tinged imagery for the band.
The heavier elements, combined with a grooviness and powerful musicianship, combine into one massive package. The trio belted out a few tracks off their new album, along with covers of Sepultura and Motorhead. Massive amounts of head banging and hair flying everywhere permeated the set, and I got the impression that Vore loves what they do and how they do it.
I got a chance to talk to Page Townsley (guitars, vocals) and Remy Cameron (drums) before one of Vore’s practices in their space out on Huntsville Rd.
It was dark when I pulled into the small parking lot of a nondescript two story building.
A small group of people were standing outside an open door. I recognized them from the Hills Have Amps show, and I assumed that they were also there to watch Vore practice. I walked up, introduced myself, and said I was there to talk to “the band”, thinking no other explanation would be needed.
“Which one?” one of them asked.
“Oh they’re on the other side. Follow me, I’ll show you.”
After being led through a security door and walking down a couple of hallways filled with doors that I could only assume were filled with more bands I was shown to the door leading to one of the most hallowed of rooms, a practice space. It was here, in a 10 feet by 10 feet room, that I met Vore.
Vore frontman, Page Townsley has an imposing presence – long hair, goatee, black clothes and boots. I noticed that he had a tattoo of Boba Fett on his left bicep. I asked him about it, and he told me of his plans to get the phrase, “Greedo Shot First,” in the Star Wars’ Aurebesh alphabet tattooed beneath it.
“I wish [George Lucas] would just clean up the prints of the originals and release them instead of changing everything all the time,” Page said about the continued tweaking of the original Star Wars trilogy.
Remy, though dressed in black, didn’t come across like your typical metal musician. As for Star Wars tattoos, he’s got the Imperial Crest on one leg and the Alliance Starbird on the other. He’s also got his daughter’s name in Elvish around his arm. When I asked him what he thinks about the latest re-release he says, “I’m not really planning on going to see [Star Wars Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace 3D].”
While our conversation seemed to naturally veer back towards Star Wars a few times, I did ask about how the scene has changed since they started 18 years ago. Page said, “People are definitely more receptive to us and heavy metal now.
It’s not really hard to book shows and get people to show up. We actually try to only play three or four times a year in Fayetteville. I mean Slayer could be playing shows here all the time and I’d eventually get sick of it. Nobody wants to see the same thing over and over all the time.”
He added, “At the same time metal, by it’s very nature, is and always will be underground. It’s not like we’re some bar band that can just stand in the corner and deliver some sweet background music for people to dance to. People come to our shows because they want to see Vore.”
“Heavy music is alive and well here. Pretty much all the bands in this building are heavy, or at the least have heavy elements,” Remy said. “Filling out the roster for a show right now is really easy. Though there have been times when we couldn’t find anyone to play with. It waxes and wanes.”
Before attending the Hills Have Amps show, I had only been aware of southern metal bands like Pantera, Acid Bath, Morbid Angel, and the whole NOLA scene. I had to ask how Vore had managed to come from Arkansas and still retain their Euro death metal sound. Page said, “Well those are all great bands and Pantera definitely kept metal alive in the nineties. I think we just never had a lot of those typical southern influences. None of us listened to country or bluegrass when we were kids. It was all Slayer and Metallica until we discovered the European metal bands like Venom and Celtic Frost. We always liked that stuff more.”
Remy added, “For us it’s more about telling a story with the music. We talk about the songs
visually, like they’re supposed to be a score to a movie. We listen to a lot of film scores and soundtracks.”
I asked if they’d ever heard Basil Poledouris’ bombastic and awesome music from “Conan the Barbarian,” one of my favorite scores. “That score is amazing!” Page replied. “We were actually trying to use part of the chant from the Children of Doom but we couldn’t get a long enough sample so we just made our own. It’s at the beginning of our song “Doomwhore.”
(Relax kids, the “doomwhore” is just Mt. Everest portrayed as a malevolent and vengeful mountain goddess.)
Onto one of the questions I feel many people will be asking themselves when they google Vore and find this defintion in the urban dictionary, “Short for ‘voraphilia’ or ‘vorarephilia’: a fetish in which one fantasizes about being eaten alive or eating another creature alive.”
“What is with the name?” I asked. “Why Vore?”
“I’m glad you asked that,” answered Page. “When we first started we had to change our name a couple of times due to other bands already using whatever name we had decided on. We needed to come up with a name that no one had and we found the Latin word vorare which means “to devour.” So we shortened it and put that with primalis and we’ve got Primal Vore, “first to devour.” Later we shortened that to just Vore. It was sort of our statement on the human condition, what with people devouring their resources, their environment, and themselves. Years later in the early 2000’s we started hearing about the whole vorarephilia thing. It’s really strange. I don’t get it. But we had the name first so we’re not changing it.”
“Yeah that’s just plain weird. Just to be clear we don’t like the idea of eating people or of being eaten by anyone,” said Remy.
So there you have it folks, there’s no fear of being eaten at a Vore show. They’re metal enough already.