Thrill 'Em All

In local metal, the old school was the only school.

Few contemporary genres of music can claim the fan-base loyalty that heavy metal has retained since its inception in the late '60s and early '70s. There aren't a lot of casual metal fans out there, and if you get spiked by this harder grade of rock at a young age, chances are good you'll be an addict for life. Perennial popularity aside, 2008 was an exceptionally fruitful year for metal. National acts like Torche, Mastodon, and Isis won legions of new fans, as did The Sword, who snagged the indisputably career-propelling opening slot on Metallica's most recent world tour. Several impressively researched documentaries on the genre hit theaters and shelves (most notable of the bunch being Get Thrashed: The Story of Thrash Metal), and after months of running exhaustive metal-related programming, VH1 realized they had a big enough audience to create That Metal Show, a weekly television talk show on the subject. Even the hipster-centric, metacritic-driven 33 1/3 book series released a volume examining Slayer's 1986 opus, Reign in Blood. The Northwest has always been a fertile spot for metal bands and their fans, so it's no surprise that 2008's metal resurgence was broadly felt here as well. However, what was especially refreshing was the number of high-quality acts that disavowed the weak and trite trappings of the nu-metal genre (Cookie Monster vocals and one-dimensional arrangements) that have given metal a bad rap for far too long. Local acts like Bacchus, Akimbo, Mos Generator, Zero Down, Lozen, Midnight Idols, Plaster, The Valley, and Helms Alee returned the focus toward the new wave of British heavy-metal bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and the elephantine weight of classic stoner rock and punk acts such as Kyuss and the Melvins, while still injecting enough independent and progressive spirit to avoid being one-note revivalists. "Yeah, there's definitely been a resurgence in the '70s and '80s styles with bands like Mos Generator and the Valkyries," agrees Bacchus bassist Sean McCoy, who also owns RxEvolution Records, a local metal label that regularly puts out compilations featuring bands like the Valley and Lozen. "To me, it's real music...mainstream 'rock' seems so generic, no real jamming like the classic [acts] used to. People want to play and hear something that's challenging. I've been asking for years: Whatever happened to killer bands like Zeppelin and Sabbath? I was stoked to hear bands like Mos Generator that are able to pull it off and also add their own flavor." Rob Daily, owner of Seattle-based Flotation Records, home to Bacchus and their like-minded peers in Mos Generator, is quick to point out the importance of bands that not only expand on the groundwork laid before them, but synthesize a range of influences into their own sound. "Bacchus has taken music into their ears like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Captain Beyond, Hüsker Dü, the entire Amphetamine Reptile catalog, Kyuss, Melvins, Unsane, a bit of Olympia Pop from K records, and some early Sub Pop bands," says Daily. "They take the old roots and replanted them in their own garden." That garden has a great many fans helping with cultivation: Despite the struggling economy, clubs like El Corazon, the Comet, King Cobra, and Tacoma's Hell's Kitchen are seeing substantial audiences line up for live shows by popular bands like Helms Alee and Akimbo, who rock hard but have an informed, articulate sense of melody and dynamics. "I think it should be a little scary; it should come with an edge and an attitude," says Midnight Idols guitarist Russ Stefanovich when describing this increasingly prevalent sound. "A really overdriven guitar...and you have to have a shrieking, howling vocalist, but someone with control. You start [playing this sort of music] and realize that it's a blast, but then you see that there's an audience—there's people showing up here for this to see the old-school stuff," he enthuses. "There's nothing wrong with it—let your freak flag fly." Akimbo guitarist Aaron Walters leans more stridently toward the stoner-rock end of the spectrum and shares Stefanovich's enthusiasm, but hopes to see things expand even further in 2009. "Things were good for us this year, definitely, but the music scene is in a state of interplanetary flux. White belts went out of fashion and everyone started wearing ones with bullets on them," he quips. "Everybody's starting to realize that sweaty dudes with sideburns are the coolest ones out there." "I do think that there is a nice underground movement of heavy, loud, soul-pounding, ear-crushing rock going around town for anyone to see on any night of the week here in Seattle," continues Daily. "If it is good, it will bubble to the surface and take over." rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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