Often hidden in the shadows of every music scene, clandestine among fawned-over stylish and attractive indie rockers, concealed behind the glitzy flex of the hip-hop set, obscured by the wholesome, heartland marketability of singer-songwriters, is invariably a surreptitious underground metal scene. Dirty, loud, unforgiving metal.
Fort Worth is certainly no different. The genre reached its apotheosis nearly three decades ago. In the mid ’90s, thrash and grind bands somehow found their way onto MTV. The sudden spotlight accorded local metal hotspots like Joe’s Garage full to bursting with distorted and detuned guitar-ravenous heshers on any given night, but, discounting a brief ripple of resurgence with the rise of the more accessible versions of doom and stoner metal in the late aughts, the focus has been steadily dissipating in the minds of most music fans.
Despite a total lack of any mainstream attention, thanks to a cadre of rabidly hardcore fans, metal has never really gone away. And likely never will. It exists in the fringes, but it still exists. Long-haired dudes clad in black denim and T-shirts with reticulate and illegible band logos rarely grace the pages of local music coverage. These bands abide a lack of venues catering to their demo and constantly being billed on ill-fitting, mismatched lineups. Yet the scene somehow continues on in out-of-the-way dives or the more hard-bitten clubs around town just the same.
One such group still trying to make its way among the diluted heavy music scene is sludge metal outfit Lotus Sutra. Though originally formed more than 12 years ago, after a long hiatus, the trio is back together and has just released its first EP, Mourning Star.
“Back then, there was this sort of melting pot of metal bands in Fort Worth,” said drummer/singer Dave Cooke about the state of the scene back when they originally formed. “But a lot of those people are gone by the wind or just aren’t here anymore. We kind of feel like the old dinosaurs, like we’re some of the only ones still playing this kind of music.”
After a pause of several years due to typical adult life intervening, Cooke and guitarist Willis Brown and bassist Mike MacWhirtier hooked back up and started playing again two years ago. The resurrection has been part nostalgia trip, part new adventure. Roughly half of the material that appears on Mourning Star dates back to their initial run, which straddled the turn of the previous decade from the aughts to the early teens. The rest has come from the inspiration of making music together again.
“Now we have a little more salt in our dish,” Cooke said.
Though the three of them have a long history of playing together, they’ve had little to officially document their efforts. Mourning Star is Lotus Sutra’s first proper recording.
“This is the [only] record that we’ve made,” Cooke said. “We’ve recorded jam room stuff, but as far as actually doing anything legitimate and putting a quote unquote notarized seal of approval on it, this is it.”
The debut effectively documents Brown’s thick, megafauna-sized riffage and Cooke’s angst-ridden, aggro vocal. The band’s cage-rattling mood evokes all the rankle of Clutch but slowed to a Melvins-esque tempo. Their sound is absent the amphetamine-clipped triplets of thrash and is instead mired in a tar pit of viscous dirge. Lotus Sutra is deliberate and paced, each palm-muted chug like a rage-filled hammer to the chest. It’s just the sort of neck-snapping, fist-pumping catharsis needed in this moment. The provocation in their tone acts as a sort of open pressure valve bleeding off just a bit of the pent-up anxiety most are currently suffering.
The six songs were recorded in just one day by engineer and Deadbot bassist Josh Fagan at his home studio in Denton in the spring. There are a couple of notable locals who cameo on the project. Revered lead-screamer of legendary metal-core pioneers Brutal Juice Craig Welsh adds his signature guttural shout along with Cooke’s on a track. Perhaps Fort Worth’s closest iteration to a living, breathing Charles Bukowski — artist, musician, and poet William Bryan Massey III — provided the EP’s Haitian-style voodoo zombie cover art. The piece was created using the unconventional media of red nail polish, tobacco spittle, and ebony wood epoxy. Lotus Sutra celebrated the release of Mourning Star with a show at Lola’s Saloon last weekend. They were accompanied by Uboat and the aforementioned Massey III.
Though the metal scene is smaller than it was years ago, the trio feels they’re in the exact spot they’re meant to be.
“I think — and why? don’t ask me — but now is the time,” Cooke said. “There’s not a better time than now. I feel like I’ve got my hands on the wheel, and I’m finally heading home. Home is not a place. It’s not a porchlight. It’s in your heart. It’s all I’ve ever been looking for.”