It was on a Saturday in Deep Ellum, and the night seemed unnaturally dark. Outside, the first breezes of fall chilled the air, but inside Reno's Chop Shop the air was humid and thick, like a warm locker room. As the bar buzzed with the aimless movement of incoming patrons, three men could be seen on stage fiddling with instruments. A bassist, cloaked in a mop of hair, fine-tuned a snake pit of electrical wires, while a bristly, muscle-bound drummer sat stoic, oddly motionless. A third man stood right of them, amassing a tower of electronic gadgets -- block atop block of knobs, tape reels and knotted audio equipment. Within moments, the room went still and the band started to play.
The set began with a playful slowness, loud but bearable. It was like the purr of an industrial mill working up to full operation -- a giant stirring, soon to awaken. Then what happened was not unlike the sensation of having one's ears pop mid-flight. The opening segue had now completely erupted, giving way to a swarming, immense cacophony that shook drinks on tables. As the three men on stage rained blows upon their instruments, numerous faces in the audience contorted into pained shapes. Many soon left, clutching their belongings like peasants fleeing an invasion. Those who remained shuffled in their seats, futilely searching for a measure of comfort that, in the wake of all this noise, was no longer possible to attain. The brutality onstage, the flickering lights, the audience reactions, the whole tableau was like a scene straight from a WWII psychiatric experiment: How much noise can humans take?
The band delivering this punishment was Terminator 2, a Denton-based trio who describe their music as "the sound of the human machine shutting down forever." Consisting of David Saylor on bass, Rob Buttrum on electronics and Ben Scott on drums, T2 play music with sounds familiar to the metal genre, but they make something different and unique. The group originally began as a two-piece, with multi-instrumentalist Saylor on bass and friend and coworker Scott on drums. After roughly a year of jamming and a dozen or more shows, the duo began searching for ways to expand their sound. As fate would have it, Saylor previously played in a noise-rock outfit called Geistheistler that once held a gig at notorious DIY noise venue House of Tinnitus -- a venue that sound artist Buttrum managed out of his Denton home. Buttrum, who's a mainstay of the Denton noise and experimental music scenes, recalls the early days of T2. "They tried a few guitar players but [it] did not really complete the sound they were looking for," he says. "So, David thought maybe something abstract would be best, so they called me up, asked me to jam ... and the rest is history."
After the piercing immediacy of their sound, the first thing that catches your attention about Terminator 2 is their name. With a title like Terminator 2, there are sure to be suspicions about the group's sincerity, but they're anything but a shtick band -- "We aren't a gimmick," Saylor says. But anyone who's heard the group knows this already. They're chaotic, visceral, aggressive and spellbinding. That's not to say that having the best/worst band name in North Texas hasn't led to some funny situations. "Lots of people from Indonesia think we're the movie," Saylor says . Buttrum adds, "A few people that ordered the tape really thought they were getting the movie."
Through a synthesis of extemporized composition and hive-mind brainstorming, the group has teased out a sound all its own. "David normally comes up with a bass line, shows it to us, Ben adds a beat, then I just fuck it up," Buttrum says. "I think our format and instrumentation separates us a lot from other bands. We are a metal band, but it's experimental. It's heavy, but not with guitars. The whole bass/drums/electronics [instrumentation] is not necessarily a new thing, but I feel we're doing it in a way no one else is." One listen and it's hard to disagree. There's a left-field bent running through all their songs. T2's brand of metal is considerably more abstract than the norm. While structures exist vaguely in the realm of melody, Terminator 2's sonic makeup is mostly just noise and lots of it. Call it doom metal or sludge metal, it doesn't really matter, but it does genuinely feel like something new under the sun. Rob Buttrum's on-the-spot knob twiddling and hallucinatory tape manipulation play a big part in this forward-looking innovation. Like Brian Eno to Roxy Music, Buttrum plays mad-scientist with the band's sound, supplying textures and effects that add considerable depth to T2's aesthetic. When paired with Saylor's searing bass and Scott's pounding drums, the product is dense and oozy, alien yet graspable, immediate yet hypnotic.
The effect of their long, spacious tracks in a live environment is even more stirring and transportive. "I think our live shows really set us apart from other bands because of the volume and intensity and the amount of low end we push," Buttrum says. While their recorded material -- available on cassette through Dallas label Handmade Birds -- is masterfully executed in its own right, there's no doubt that Terminator 2's wall-of-sound is at its most intoxicating live. Their sets are one extended, lurching perma-build gradient, marked by a disorienting momentum that, in the moment, appears to grow indefinitely. So fierce and caustic are Terminator 2 live that the shows are damn near therapeutic, on par with the best spa day you've never had. It's an odd thing, but after witnessing one of their performances you feel cleansed, refreshed, made anew. The volume swallows you up, forces a blankness upon your mind and eats a hole through the malaise of your everyday plainness. It's smelling salts for the soul. "It's cathartic," Buttrum says. That's true for the people playing it and for those who can withstand the bombardment.
On that Saturday in Deep Ellum, Terminator 2 lost half their audience to shock and awe. But now they've refilled the space two-fold. It's standing room only, and the stage is lined with listeners, most of whom are in other area bands. Good word travels fast. Even some of the causalities from the first stirrings of the set have returned, eager to take a few more lumps. T2 respond with a frenzied swell, half-destroying their instruments. The show has reached its sweaty, weighty midsection. The suddenly rapt crowd is adrift in the ebb and flow of T2's anti-beauty, and the experience is so alarmingly exhilarating it has an out-of-body quality to it. There's gorgeousness to this nightmare, an attraction all the more appealing for its bluntness. When T2 finish, every fan, their nerves stretched, looks frazzled but satisfied.
Terminator 2 have been the recipient of accolades outside North Texas as well as within it. Praises have come from some of the most reputable corners of the music world. Online music magazine Tiny Mix Tapes said of T2 in a review of their self-titled release in April, "Deep and disconcerting, dark and disorderly, deathly and demented, dour and dim, damned and dismembered, destructive and dogged in their pursuit of doom holiness, Terminator 2 take on intriguing shapes when they're at their best." Famed metal magazine Decibel described that same release as a "slab of uber-brutal, raw-as-fuck experimental noise metal from the true (and truly bizarre) power trio Terminator 2 ... it is nuts."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
With the right people starting to take notice, T2 are taking some time away from the stage to focus on the future. "We plan on taking a hiatus to write together by recording our jams and picking them apart," Saylor says.
"We did record new material this past Easter, and are sitting on those recordings at the moment," Buttrum says. "We might, instead of doing another full-length, do a few splits with other bands ... we have not quite decided yet." Either way, there's new music coming from one of the most exciting bands in the area. Brace yourself.