Author's Note: All of the music publications that rejected this piece should be ashamed of themselves.
This heavy metal tale begins with me in the shotgun seat of 2015 Chevy something or another, roaring down the Bayton-East Freeway in Houston, Texas at white knuckle speeds that have me praying to the gods of AAA that the goddamned oh-shit-handle is strong enough to keep me from being catapulted out the passenger side window just in case we happen to go airborne and come crashing down with Duke boy enthusiasm.
In the driver’s seat is guitarist Marzi Montazeri (former Phil Anselmo and the Illegals and Exhorder) and he’s rambling a million miles a minute about his new band Heavy As Texas and their debut album (Crunchy Western Records), while whipping us in an out of traffic as though he has some bizarre, alien ability to see three and four steps ahead of him at all times.
I must admit to almost being as impressed with Marzi’s driving as I am with his ability to, as they say in some parts of Texas, make that guitfiddle sang. But that didn’t stop my from thinking that this assignment, one of which, at the time, still had no definitive publisher, could be my last as we blasted recklessly by rows of soccer moms and commercial machinery on our way to the location of a video shoot for the band’s first single To Keep A Promise.
It crossed my mind that the trick to telling this story was not necessarily in the details, but rather it was more about just getting there in one piece and living long enough to tell it.
But getting there at all was already an issue. In the true spirit of rock n’ roll, we were already late as fuck.
“Do you want to jam out?” Marzi asked me, fumbling around with a CD with one hand while trying to keep us out of an early grave with the other.
“Sure,” I replied. “But make it something good.”
I couldn’t help but think that if we did find ourselves burning up in a fiery auto crash, I didn’t want the last song I heard to be something from the Marshall Tucker discography or even worse some digital regurgitation from the pigs of pop culture consisting of the same five songs in heavy rotation. Fuck all of that. If I was about to become an Irish grease stain along the great American highway, a roadside cross whose last words would inevitably be Ahh, shit, Oh, fuck before the spirit of his brown britches was cast out into the universe and sentenced to the Texas sky for all eternity, then I needed to hear at least one sonic masterpiece birthed over the past four decades of my existence. Otherwise, I would surely redefine the phrase raising hell. Most real music fans would, wouldn’t you agree?
“You ever wonder what the last song you’ll hear will be?” I asked.
Marzi offered no reply.
It wasn’t that he was ignoring me, at least that’s not how I saw it. From where I was sitting, I could tell that there was just too much spinning around inside his head to even bring the simple act of reckless driving down to such a one-dimensional level of consciousness. Hell, he was probably over there in the driver’s seat subconsciously trying to decipher which series of notes leads to enlightenment or some shit. Marzi is that kind of dude.
Although I may have been mentally trying to channel my Last Will and Testament to anyone out there on the frequency of the damned who cared to listen over the rip-roaring road race in route to the video shoot, Marzi remained unaffected by it all and seemingly focused only on cuing up a song for us to die to.
I suspected that he had done this all before, that navigating through the streets of H-town, a place he has called home since he was nine-years-old, was just a live action metaphor for the gnashing teeth journey that brought him to this side of the world in the first place. Or perhaps he was the Grim Reaper. Maybe I wasn’t just sucked into the Lone Star State by way of United Airlines to cover the what’s what of a new band struggling to find a place inside the white noise of our time – editors love that kind of shit -- maybe this all was just a final glimpse of the breaks I had been given throughout the years, yet never truly appreciated, through some alternate dimension that was grinding the edges of hairy hell.
Maybe I wasn’t really in the passenger’s seat of a Chevy at all, and in just a matter of seconds I would wake up in my bed in Southern Indiana reeking of beer sweats and unrecognized guilt. There was also the distinct possibility that I was just higher than an old mountain goat. About an hour before we began rolling down this busy stretch of highway, Marzi and I dabbed out to some high-powered cannabis concentrates and then spent some time shopping at Target for plain black t-shirts.
But that’s another story for another time.
Make no mistake about it, the dope we had consumed, the shit they claim has some medicinal function, was wreaking havoc on our ability to conduct ourselves with any level of professionalism – it sure as shit was on my end. A traditional journalist, one with more common sense than credentials, would have used the car ride as an opportunity to ask questions like “Who are your influences?” “How would you describe your music?” and other flaccid, but painfully typical inquiries used to collect backstory during these kinds of artist shakedowns.
Instead, I was too busy inside of my own head trying to formulate a scheme for spilling this rock n’ roll narrative that went beyond the missionary position journalism that has become popular today. That brand of storytelling wasn’t going to be good enough for this guy, uh-uh, no fucking way. Any scribbling to come out of these fat fucking fingers of mine (they’re not really fat, the pot was just making them feel that way) was to be about gut-punching experiences, conflict and good times -- that’s how I wanted it to go down at least. Yet there were no guarantees that anything bold or even interesting enough to accomplish this objective was brewing on the horizon. As far as I could tell, the entire trip might be a bust and I would be left with nothing at all to write about – no basic interviews, no colorful insights into the music or the recording process, not so much as a stupid selfie with the band to fall back on. #royallyscrewed. By all accounts, I was bleeding profusely in shark infested waters without so much as a goddamned set of floaties to give me a fighting chance at survival.
But the day was just getting started, so there was still plenty of time to bank all of that bullshit swill that bands like to feed members of the music press if nothing else more substantial presented itself. I was willing to wait it out. You just never know when a pack of strippers with runny noses might show up with a fistful of cocaine and daddy issues and set off a series of events that takes the story to a whole other level. After all, it is these types of sporadic occurrences that built the foundation of music journalism in the first place. Not that I would know.
I still had a solid ten or twelve hours before I could even think about moseying back to the Royal Sonesta Houston to start typing out a piece about the band Heavy As Texas. My only hope was that whatever story I came back with would be packed with enough journalistic girth to be given a wet spot in the pages of a legendary music magazine.
All of this commotion was rattling around in my head, mind you,when a song came lunging out of the car speakers after me. At first I thought it was the seven trumpets of Revelation, but then…
“This first song is the one we’re doing the video for,” Marzi said, whipping the car into the left lane, then the right one, then the left and right again, all while responding to a series of text messages. I was just about to ask if he needed an extra set of thumbs, but decided to keep listening to the song instead.
To Keep A Promise begins with something that Marzi would later refer to as his rooster cal l– a guitar trick that actually does sound like a goddamned barnyard animal once the connection is made. It is pure Texas metal, commercial in a sense that it has mainstream radio appeal, but it does it without coming across like the distortion-infused mohawk brand of post-Poison glam, gallop noise that has been inspired by the Hot Topic generation.
Not that the ghosts of Texas-music-past would ever allow a band like that to emerge without being gunned down like the wild-fucking west or, at the very least, drowned in a vat of whiskey pukes.
Not a goddamned chance!
“Perhaps this is what it would sound like if Pantera and Drowning Pool had fucked,” I thought to myself.
Heavy As Texas is an obvious nod to the long forgotten days of guitar heroes – a time when guys like Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and Jake E. Lee were crushing the dreams of other six string enthusiasts two-to three minutes at a time. These were dark days for music in general, as raging-raggers in high heels like Tipper Gore and her legion of pissed-off parentals went on a fully-erect tirade trying to convince the United States government that the heavy metal genre was nothing more than Devil worshiping fiends feeding subliminal messages to the children. It was a battle that stood to soil the First Amendment and censor the future of music – regardless of what genre. Worse than that, I would learn, many years later, that most of the evil overtones portrayed by some of my favorite childhood bands, like Ozzy and Dio, were all for the sake of theatre. That’s the real obscenity.
But you know what they say: Everyone’s a Satanist until a Satanist walks into the room.
“This song means a lot to me, man,” Marzi said, going on to explain how the tune originated.
“It’s about a promise I made to myself when I was younger,” he continued. “I don’t know that I really had to make this promise because it was embedded in me, that I was going to keep integrity, first and foremost, above all things, and I would represent everything I did with love. I would give everything that I had, with zero ego, to the songs. I was going to become a servant to music. So, it’s really about me keeping a promise to myself at a young age not to ever fall from the truth, and I’ve kept that promise and I’ve sacrificed a lot to do it,” he added.”
Man, This Has Been A Long Time Coming
Come to find out, Heavy As Texas has been a long time coming. The band was conceptualized after Marzi got what he calls a “silent boot” from the band Superjoint Ritual – now simply Superjoint -- fronted by former Pantera vocalist Philip H. Anselmo. This was back before the band released its 2002 self-entitled record "Use Once And Destroy."
After spending three years helping to build that project up, Marzi says he found himself back Houston where he perused some solo endeavors, recorded some demos and formed what was to be the first inception of Heavy As Texas -- a three-piece with Marzi on both guitar and vocals.
But there were some issues with this arrangement.
Marzi admits that he couldn’t achieve some of the things he wanted to do vocally while at the same time performing the caliber of music that was coming out of him. It was apparent early on that a lead vocalist would be necessary for the band to move forward. Of course, finding one was no easy task. Years were spent trying to track down a suitable talent. But that search would end in 2009 with former Alabama Thunderpussy vocalist Kyle Thomas.
It was only after Thomas, who also lends his pipes to Exhorder and doom legends Trouble, officially signed on to do the project that the band was branded Heavy As Texas.
The name comes from a lyric that Marzi wrote when he first set out to on his own: “When you’relow and you needed slow, just you remember we’re heavy as Texas.”
As with anything in life, timing is crucial.
The band was forced to sit on the backburner for a few years after Marzi got the call from Phil Anselmo in 2010 to play guitar his solo effort The Illegals. The band went on to release its debut record "Walk Through Exists Only" in 2013 and toured quite extensively across the United States and Europe over the next couple of years in support of it.
But the situation ended in yet another silent boot.
To hear Marzi tell it, he learned that the band was going through a reformation, of sorts, through a social media post. The outcome was a kick in the teeth. It’s a sore subject for Marzi, that is apparent, especially considering that his dismissal from Anselmo’s Superjoint project went down very much in the same way. But sometimes when things ends, there is a new opportunity waiting to take its place. Marzi realized his departure from the Illegals was just a sign that the time had finally come to put his energy into his music.
But it wasn’t until Heavy As Texas played its first live show in 2016 that Marzi realized just how special the band was going to be. Without any rehearsals or much more than a couple of phone conversations to make sure every member was available to hop onstage together, the band accepted an opening slot with Anthrax and Death Angel in Shreveport, Louisiana.
It was to be a trial by fire.
Up until that point, Heavy As Texas hadn’t even played with Thomas in so much as a living room jam session before agreeing to the gig.
But the outcome of taking such a bold risk, Marzi says, gave him a new lease on the band’s potential.
“When I got onstage with Kyle and heard him sing those songs for the first time, I wasn’t scared or anxious, I was happy,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was one of the best nights ever.”
It must have been a good show.
Not only did Thomas end up becoming an integral part of Heavy As Texas -- an equal partner -- it was through his recommendation that Marzi landed the gig with Exhorder last year and went on tour for the first time since his departure from the Illegals.
When it comes to playing in bands with Kyle Thomas, Marzi can’t seem to get enough. The more the better.
“He is an unbelievablytalented musician – he’s and incredible bass player, killer guitarist, plays drums, plays horns, harmonica, and he’s a classically trained vocalist that has so much passion and heart in what he does,” Marzi explained. “On top of all that, he’s nicest guy you’ll ever meet. That LSD, what they call the Leader Singer’s Disease, that bus missed this guy.”
But joining up with Exhorder meant that Heavy As Texas would, once again, have to be put on the back burner. The two bands are now part of do or die juggling act for Marzi, who says he’ll be playing hundreds of shows over the next couple of years or so. Not a light schedule by any standard.
The Video Shoot: To Keep A Promise
When we finally arrived on location -- about an hour later than scheduled -- I must admit to being somewhat thrown off by the apocalyptic nature of the chosen scene. All that Marzi had told me was that it was the video was going down at a place called the Silo, which was supposedly a venue where other bands, like heavy metal alum Testament, shot some of their stuff back in the day. I don’t know why, but this led me to believe that we were going to be spending the next couple of days in a functional venue, one where all of the creature comforts of journalism, like indoor plumbing and bar service, would be at our beckon call at all times.
Sheeiiit! I’ve never been more wrong in my life.
The Silo was perhaps in its finest moment in history, a place where hundreds of blue collar workers used to slave away for a weekly paycheck. It is now a dilapidated warehouse on the outskirts of downtown Houston that, as best as I can tell, has played host to countless drug-fueled raves and perhaps even giving its fair share of star-crossed teenagers a staph infection.
No shit, the facility, if it even deserves to be given that title these days, is an obvious hotbed for bacterial orgies and other despicable scientific anomalies for which their true horror could only be realized underneath a microscope. The space is accented handsomely by abandoned cars, tin can dinosaurs and gangland graffiti.
It’s Mad Max with a sense of humor.
I was standing on the sidelines of this madness waiting to be viciously attacked by junkyard dogs when I heard Marzi compare the space to Pompeii – the Roman city devastated by Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. It felt, to me, more like the city’s autistic cousin, Poopie, just a shade or two darker than an act of God, if that’s even a thing. It was a redneck arena that probably should have been put out of its misery a long time ago.
To top it off, the Silo was apparently not the safest part of Houston to loiter around in after a certain hour of night.
Shortly after our arrival, I overheard the owner tell Marzi that it would be for the best if the crew was packed up and the fuck out of dodge by 9pm or else there was a chance we’d have to contend with street heathens.
“It’s just not safe out here long after dark,” the man said.
I assumed he was talking about increased gang activity. Maybe it was the weed talking, but I imagined such an encounter might look like a scene straight out of the 1979 film "The Warriors," complete with weird looking bastards with beady eyes and leather vests, waving switchblades around and screaming out the top of their lungs, “Marzi, Come out and Playayyy!”
Still, in spite of the potential for a rumble, the Silo was not a bad place to shoot a heavy metal video. I would have almost been totally forgiving of health and safety implications had there been a vendor selling beer anywhere in the facility.
“I’ve got to start asking more questions before I sign on to cover these types of things,” I thought to myself.
Inside the concrete cesspool where we would be spending the majority our time over the next two days, director Mark Borchardt ( subject of the 1999 documentary American Movie and also the writer and director of cult-horror short Coven) was on set formulating a plan of attack. There was a lot of talk between him, Marzi and representatives of Crunchy Western Records over logistics, namely capturing the perfect hair lighting and what time the female actors were supposed to arrive.
Borchardt, a bit of an eccentric but a real focused pro, was noticably stressed about getting the cameras rolling before the sunlight dropped behind the warehouse walls and out of view. Otherwise, the appropriate lighting would not be attainable and the day would be a bust. It was a solid concern considering that the entire production was already way behind schedule.
From where I was standing, I could tell there was a part of Borchardt that wanted to jump up and down tell everyone to get their fucking shit together, but, for whatever reason, he decided instead to internalize his panic and motor on. Serenity now! It has been my experience that a certain level of hysteria is a hot commodity in these types of creative situations. If you’re not freaking out at little, then what the fuck are you even doing here? Borchardt certainly had that going for him. He, for better or worse, obsessed over every possible detail, even going as far as to ask me if I could help predict the position of the sun over the course of the next few hours.
“Man, I can try” I told him, “but I didn’t pay that close of attention in science class.”
Aside from a select few, nobody really seemed to understand that I was a just a journalist there to do a story and not some union lackey hired to load amplifiers and serve as the location’s acting meteorologist. In retrospect, I suppose I should have worn a laminate to prevent any confusion.
“I’m Fucking Press, Goddamnit: Don’t ask me to lift anything, predict the weather, run errands or engage in mindless conversation. Just let me sit over here quietly and observe this spectacle so that I can take you all to the slaughter… Or not. Oh, yeah, and bring me a beer when you get a minute!”
I thought about this every time someone lugging heavy equipment around started maddogging me like "why in the fuck is this guy just sitting around while the rest of us do all of the work?"
Hey, you chose your instrument, pal!
But it was getting Heavy As Texas in a position to start filming that would prove the biggest undertaking of the day. Never mind what musicians say about not giving a shit what people think of them. Tell those bastards that they’re about to be in a music video or pose for press photos and all of a sudden their attention to fashion ranks up there with some sex starved housewife getting gussied up for a night on the town. It’s difficult to watch – almost as much as the "Some Kind Of Monster" documentary where Metallica pays some asshole therapist $40,000 a month to keep them from self-destructing into ruins. But then again, bands are a progressive disease. I’m almost positive that the majority of Metallica’s problems began with someone asking, “Hey, James does this black t-shirt make me look fat?”
Vocalist Kyle Thomas was perhaps the least concerned out of all of Heavy As Texas about fine tuning his rock garb prior to Borchardt’s first call for Action! He was too busy getting pumped up for the shoot to worry about his threads. He’s been around the block a time or two. While Borchardt and crew were busy staging musical gear and running camera tests, Kyle was listening to a playlist from his phone, which, as far as I could tell, contained everything from early Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy right down to Michael Jackson.
“People think I’m kidding when I say I love Michael Jackson,” he told me later in the day. “But I really do.”
Once the band was in place to start taping, the shoot was mostly hurry up and wait, which is typically in the art of filmmaking. There were lots a live, lip synching action, where each member of the band got their chance to squeeze in their best showboat stage moves in hopes that they’ll look like real badasses in the final edit.
Just look mean and act tough, you know?
Although fun, I thought about how worthless it was for me to be on the set for so long, considering that I was just watching the same scene go down time and time again. There was a moment when my mind started playing tricks on me, perhaps due to my Irish blood being in direct sunlight for more than 20 minutes at a time, and the lyric to keep a promise started to sound a whole hell of a lot like “I’m Kyle Thomas.” That’s when I knew I needed a break.
“These bastards are starting to get to me,” I thought.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before a crew member showed up with a few cases of beer and a platter of sandwiches – two things that typically make hanging around an all-day production a little more tolerable. I took full advantage.
The shoot soon transitioned into a social hour for the inner circle of the Houston metal scene.
At one point, Marzi stepped up to provide the comic relief from the frustrations reverberating around the set – and there were a few. One of my favorites was a spirited diatribe about how the word Feedbackin – a verb used to describe that annoying, ear-piercing raucous coming out of a loud-ass amp – is not one that is commonly used, or really ever even heard of, in other parts of the country.
“That’s some redneck shit,” he explained. “I always thought that everyone knew what feedbackin was, but they don’t know what it is in New York and places like that. I’ve tried to tell them, but they always look at me like I’m crazy.”
Several more holy-shit-filled anecdotes came spewing out of Marzi’s mouth throughout the course of the day, some of which might even cause some hurt feelings or a defamation lawsuit or two if they were ever printed. So for the sake of keeping the peace, those are coming with me to the grave.
The shoot was harder on some than others.
Thomas, looking as though he had just had his ass handed to him by a well-hung buffalo, seemed to take a beating. He told me that it was actually more difficult to play a part in a video than it is to perform a live show. The difference he attributes to the need to put all of one’s energy into a single performance rather than spread it out throughout the course of a 90-minute set. There is also something to be said about the adrenaline that comes from playing in front of a large audience, he told me, that is lacking when it comes to lip-synching a song for the 20th time in front of a camera and crew.
Thomas, rather than go full on Milli Vanilli, was actually screaming the words to the song while the cameras were rolling -- because, you know, that’s the only way to make the veins pop out of your head. He elaborated on this ethos by comparing the psychology of the process to how football teams, at both the college and professional level, pipe in crowd noise during practice.
“You just perform differently when you’re able to feed off the energy around you,” Thomas said.
Once the production wrapped for the night, way past the 9pm curfew, Thomas and I got a car service back to the hotel before the street heathens emerged and challenged us to a knife fight.
“If someone shows up looking for a fight, we’re screwed,” I told him. “I couldn’t beat my meat right now.”
Although I didn’t do much on set, it had been a long time since put in coal miner hours. I couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of there.
Admittedly, the ride back to civilization was far more relaxing than the full throttle death coaster I had endured hours earlier.
Thomas and I spent the rest of the evening in the hotel bar, licking our wounds with beer-soaked tongues in preparation for another grueling day ahead. Other members of the Heavy As Texas crew would join us soon after. But no Marzi. Although he was supposed to make an appearance, he was forced to contend with more pressing matters. It seems a more hellish driver than even he crashed into the rear end of his girlfriend’s parked car at some point in the day and that, of course, made for its own fine mess.
I didn’t realize it then, but the time spent in the blazing down the highway with Marzi, regardless of how treacherous it was in the moment, would end up being one of the most memorable encounters of my time in Houston. It would also be the last time the two of us got to hang out one-on-one to shoot the shit about music, life and the pursuit of all things to come.
What a bummer.
But there is talk about me rejoining the band on the road when it embarks on its first tour later this year. If it happens, though, someone else is driving, goddamnit!
Heavy As Texas will release its debut, self-entitled album in April 2019. The video for To Keep A Promise is available here.
Mike Adams is a contributing writer for Forbes, Cannabis Now and BroBible. His work has also appeared in High Times and Playboy’s Smoking Jacket. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.