James Marshall is trying to make sense of what happened last weekend.
“It’s been insane,” the guitarist/singer of Forming the Void says. “It was just a surreal experience.”
In Sin City, the heavy metal band performed to hundreds as part of Psycho Las Vegas, a.k.a. America’s rock ‘n’ roll Bacchanal. That four-day music festival featured metal legends like Danzig, High on Fire, Boris, CKY, Dimmu Borgir and Big Business. On Saturday, the Lafayette rockers performed on the same stage as bands like Primitive Man and Mutoid Man. After the concert, Marshall got to hang out with some of his heroes, including guitarist Sacha Dunable of the progressive metal band Intronaut.
“My favorite guitar player tells me, ‘Awesome set. It sounded just like the album,’” Marshall says. “It was absolutely one of the biggest shows we have ever played.”
Hot off the Las Vegas high, Forming the Void will release on Friday its fourth full-length album, Rift. Already, vinyl copies have sold out on the group’s Bandcamp page. Ahead of the release, national outlets like Metal Injection, Classic Rock Magazine, Decibel Magazine and Metal Hammer have featured some of the band’s latest tracks.
Friday is a bit of a homecoming, too, as the band will perform at The Freetown Boom Boom Room, 300 McKinley St., with Howling Giant and Ole English. Doors open at 8 p.m. The show starts at 9 p.m. Cover is $5.
No matter the stats, the hustle, or the popularity, Forming the Void has built around its five-year-run, the hometown shows don’t pull the same response the band finds around the rest of the globe.
“We don’t have a huge following for rock around here,” Marshall says. “We’ve got supportive people around here, definitely, but it’s an enigma.”
Marshall isn’t being negative. He has called Lafayette home for the past decade. He grew up in Berwick before moving to Houston, then returning to Cajun country for college.
“I’m a fan, first and foremost,” he says. “When I first came to Lafayette, the rock scene was solid. We had bands like Bearfighter and venues like the Renaissance Nightclub. The rock scene was there. The roots scene is always crushing it. We have nothing but respect for those musicians, but it’s about what people want to hear. To each their own.”
While Cajun and zydeco music will always draw crowds, Forming the Void’s national success makes rock fans like Seth Thomas optimistic about the genre’s return to south Louisiana. Thomas is the host of “The Local Stew,” a local/regional rock segment that airs Sundays on Lafayette’s Classic Rock 105.1 FM. He has also produced concerts and promoted bands through his Louisiana Loud company for the past 15 years, an anniversary Thomas and friends celebrated last weekend at The Wurst Biergarten.
When he first started Louisiana Loud, he threw a local rock showcase in Parc International with national headliners performing alongside regional rock bands. The goals were simple — expose local talent, give the money to charity and rock out.
“We had 12 bands on stage in the middle of August. We raised money for a local charity. We had more than 150 people show up,” Thomas says. “We accomplished what we wanted to do. I was hooked.”
Rock music phasing in and out of Lafayette is something Thomas knows all too well. He remembers when venues like Grant Street Dancehall booked bands like Korn, when Kid Rock came to town before “Devil Without a Cause” sold 11 million copies, when bands like Incubus, Sevendust and Snot were playing on “the strip” or on Main Street.
Tastes changed. Venues closed. Emo bands came and went. Seeing a rock concert in Acadiana was difficult for a few years. Right as Forming the Void started to perform live around 2013, venue options were few and far between.
“Early on, we came to the realization that we had to get out of town,” Marshall says. “We started going to Texas a lot pretty early.”
Slowly but surely, Forming the Void toured and traded shows with out-of-towners. Nowadays, the number of rock shows has increased, as have the crowds, Marshall says. Thomas even thinks that heyday of louder bands consistently performing in town might finally come back.
“It so refreshing to see Forming the Void carve that path out and make Lafayette known,” Thomas says. “A lot of bands are now finding out that Lafayette has a good rock scene, and those bands are coming to play shows here.”
The touring has no doubt helped Forming the Void, but the band is four younger dudes playing an old style of rock ‘n’ roll. Critics tag it with adjectives like “doom metal,” “sludge” and “stoner rock.” However the music is described, it would fit comfortably against rock bands like Mastodon, Torche, or even early Soundgarden.
Rift is drenched in walls of guitar growls. While the pace trudges into 10-minute territory on songs like “Shrine,” the band grooves on tracks like “On We Sail” and “Extinction Event.” Guitarist Shadi Omar Al-Khansa makes his guitar sound like reverb-drenched organs on one song and distortion-laden sitars the next. It was recorded at University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Blue Room Studio with Chris Munson.
“We were going for simple, heavy and slow,” Marshall says. “We knew some stuff would be a little faster, but really we wanted to go more psychedelic on this album.”
It's the music that makes Thomas bang his head and throw up devil horns.
“Forming the Void harkens back to that whole doom and sludge genre that Louisiana has a stamp on,” Thomas says. “They have taken those sounds and extrapolated them into the stoner rock territory. Whatever you want to call it, they’re the frontrunners. They are at the forefront, making cool things happen for us.
“There are so many talented artists here that are under the undercurrent. It’s hard for those artists to get through to even an upper echelon in the regional market. Now, bands are breaking out, playing in other markets besides Louisiana and Texas.”
Those who are aware of regional music know that what Forming the Void is doing is worth any and all attention. Take Ryan DeJean as an example. DeJean has made his passion of highlighting bands he loves into a curated concert series. His Sickbay shows have featured groups in genres from indie rock to free jazz, from singer-songwriters to a couple dudes with keyboards. To date, DeJean has booked Forming the Void on multiple showcase because he also believes that what the band is doing is a “huge deal.”
“Locally, there is such limited venue support for the music they are making, but they are still doing well here,” DeJean says. “They are wide-releasing music and touring steadily across the country. They are getting serious, and seriously solid press. They are an incredible band live, and hugely engaging, even for folks who would not normally being into that sound.”
Like other breakout bands from Lafayette, Forming the Void is at a point where the music is no longer a do-it-yourself venture. Even while each member has a full-time job, the band is now equipped with a press team, record labels to help distribute records nationally and overseas, and a wide swath of bands they consider friends from around the country.
Marshall calls the current activity the roots-spreading phase, but hometown shows like this weekend’s will become rarer in the future.
“We will keep playing Lafayette for a little while longer, but we will have to stop playing as much here at some point,” Marshall says. “We want to help out touring bands, help build the scene and get those bands good footing in Lafayette. But it’s going to come to a point where we’ll knock it down to playing here a couple times of year.”
By then, maybe local crowds will finally embrace the return of the rock. And if they do, they’ll probably see Thomas in the crowd, telling a story about the first time he saw Forming the Void in some dimly lit venue. Maybe he’ll tell those concertgoers like he tells me over the phone.
“Bands like Forming the Void … they just got in a vehicle and went out there,” Thomas says. “The music they release is so good. Yeah, they made money, and that’s great, but more to the point, they were just going on runs, getting their name out.”