Tour de Austin Venues: The Coral Snake
I went to a doom metal show and loved it
Howdy, and welcome to Good And Good For You, a newsletter about music and feelings. This year, I have a goal to focus more on local Austin/Texas music in my writing. Part of that goal is that I am intentionally spending more time at a variety of Austin music venues and doing a little series about them. This installment is about The Coral Snake, on East Cesar Chavez.
I went to my first doom metal show a few weeks ago.
I am not typically a metalhead. However, my brother’s longtime best friend, Will, is. In fact, he’s been writing and playing brutal tunes with his bandmates in their project Umman Manda for many years now. My brother Alex was, by nature of the art form’s volume levels, privy to their early writing and practice sessions back when he was Will’s roommate.
Ever since I moved back to my hometown in late 2022, integrating with my siblings’ lives has been a top priority for me, and in doing so I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some of their friends better, including Will. So, I’d been meaning to go to one of his shows for a while. Plus, I’ve been wanting to meander off my beaten path when it comes to live music—what better way than supporting a pal, hanging out with my brother, and visiting a place I haven’t been before?
I walk into Coral Snake and immediately spot Alex—we’re two of a handful of patrons this Wednesday night. We get to work on some pale ales while Umman Manda sound check. The band doesn’t seem to mind that there’s not a huge crowd; and yet, Will beams enthusiastically when he sees us. From what Alex has told me, he’s in it 1000% for the love of the craft—no real marketing plan, no aspirations of fame and fortune. Just heavy music and good vibes.
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Coral Snake is on a pretty chill stretch of East Cesar Chavez, with a few other low-key-seeming bars around, and the hustle and bustle of East Sixth a few minutes’ walk north. The venue is a simple layout, but not uninviting: dim, red ambient light at the room’s edges, with a stage setup at the back of a square-ish room. It used to be called Longplay: Will jokes (apropos of nothing) that he can sense ghouls in the walls—the spectre of Longplay!
The band takes the stage, and Alex and I dutifully put in our earplugs. This is the first time I’ve ever actually used earplugs at a show (I know, I know), but Alex does it every time. He’s a sound engineer, and his ears are his biggest asset. I’m a dumbass, and my ears are terrible because of how many loud, unmitigated concerts I’ve been to.
The first thing I notice when Umman Manda start playing is that there are two bass players, a drummer, and no guitarist. Oh yeah, that’s what Alex told me about their band, right. The second thing I notice is that Will is playing a fretless bass. I respect the fuck out of anyone who plays a fretless string instrument—that’s an extra dimension of skill.
Burly and bearded, Will is wearing dark navy work coveralls with a Texas flag patch on the tricep, his titanium-hued wedding ring gleaming in the low red light. His wife Annika is at home; I can’t remember why my brother said she couldn’t come to this particular show. We all went to private Christian high school together, but you perhaps wouldn’t know it based on our appearances, and that’s probably intentional on all of our parts.
Umman Manda’s melodies are repetitive and primal - I start to feel a little entranced. Hearing the same note over and over again that many times taps into a deep part of me. Melodic repetition lets you play around with tempo, I realize—they change the tempo at least three times in every song. All three of them trade off vocals, and it’s not as much guttural screaming as I expected, although there is some. Mostly, the singing, or yelling, feels like a backdrop to the crashing, methodical drums and incisive bass solo trade-offs.
I elbow Alex and nod with a chuckle to Will’s weathered brown Merrell clogs. “He’s had those Merrells as long as I’ve known him,” Alex shouts into my ear. So, like, at least 15 years. This is also apparently the first time Alex has seen Will play a show with shoes on.
After the set, Will thanks us profusely for coming out. As a cheerful foil to the ruthless shredding we all just experienced, the mood is jolly. In between pouring our pints, the bartender dips into our conversation. We are talking about bodies of water in the Austin area. “A river otter fell out of a tree in Wimberley when I was there the other day,” Bob the bartender seems excited to tell us. “They’re coming back!” Alex and I are astonished that there are, or have ever been, otters in Texas, all the more so that they’re apparently making a triumphant return. How fun, to learn something totally new about the biome we grew up in. And isn’t that the thing I love about Austin, anyway: after all this time, this city still finds ways to reward curiosity.
Check out Coral Snake’s Instagram for upcoming shows. I also (since beginning writing this) have been to one of their Monday karaoke nights and highly recommend it.