Rocket Queen: Fierce as Pierce

Local metal's patron saint throws a free summer party full of darkness.

I've theorized before that my first exposure to drone metal came from accidentally listening to a 45 of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" at the inappropriate speed of 33 rpm. It's safe to say that my first exposure to the sound that would come to be known as doom metal came from hearing the song "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath rolling out from under my first boyfriend's brother's bedroom door, but having no idea he was playing the British band's self-titled debut. I was terrified.

While commonplace now, it was the first time I had heard a thunderstorm effect, and I initially thought it had just started raining when the song began. The slow, dark clang of the bells that signals the record's commencement was just confusing at this point, but when Tony Iommi's tritone guitar line kicked in, I knew the unholy racket was emanating from a pair of towering Pioneer speakers, and that my beloved's elder brother wasn't conducting a séance.

Or was he? Ozzy Osbourne's agonizing cries of "Oh no, God, please help me!" didn't really assuage my horror too much, and by the time the song galloped toward its closing breakdown and Osbourne observed that "Satan was coming 'round the bend," I had serious concerns. Granted, I was 12, but that song sounds unsettling to this day.

Of course, I was as intrigued as I was uneasy, and subsequently begged the brother to play the song whenever I came over. It was 1982, and across the country and around the globe, a zillion other budding metalheads were being similarly seduced. Doom metal was born, and bands like Saint Vitus and Pentagram began to forge the subgenre's sound. With its hallmarks, tempos so slow they're practically petrified and guitars tuned so low they threaten to liquefy internal organs, doom is metal at its thickest and heaviest.

Several years after my formative encounter with Sabbath, a young Seattle music fan named Nickle Pierce was getting a similar education via the sludgy majesty of the Melvins. "A lot of what the Melvins did was in direct reaction to the hardcore stuff," Pierce says. "Back then speed ruled, and they just slowed everything down, which is what I've always loved."

Pierce soon graduated from fan to participant, cutting his teeth as a promoter by throwing shows featuring punk and metal bands with plenty of doom overtones, including Subvert and Christ on a Crutch. When Left Bank Books would put on their anti-authoritarian summer concerts, Pierce booked bands and emceed. In the '90s, he moved to Berkeley, Calif., where he put on shows at the legendary 924 Gilman Street. After bearing witness to Green Day and Rancid's mainstream breakthroughs, he returned to Seattle in 1997 and continued to put on underground events.

"Mostly we would do all-ages shows that skirted the teen-dance laws [in place at the time]," recalls Pierce. "Very DIY, but very fun, andI consider a positivelearning experience. I feel it was a very innovative time for bands, and was glad to be a part of it."

Two decades later, Pierce is a family man and founder of studsandspikes.com, a webstore that sells all manner of metal accessories to a rapidly growing customer base in search of vegetarian-friendly bullet belts and custom-designed cuffs and collars. While he started by catering to underground musicians who wanted to ornament their own jackets and belts, his shop now includes the likes of Lady GaGa's designers, Levis and Steve Madden. But Pierce's interest in doom metal has never waned, and this weekend, he hosts The First Annual Doom Fest at Magnuson Park. From noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Aug., 1, eight bands will bring the gloom to the gloaming, as local artists like Brothers of the Sonic Cloth (5 p.m.) and Witchburn (7 p.m) share the stage with bands from the UK, including Crowned by Fire (6 p.m.) and Fuck Knuckles (4 p.m.). The perpetually thriving Oregon doom scene is also well represented via H.C. Minds (2:55 p.m.) and Doomsower (noon). All that heaviness will be punctuated with a performance by the J9 belly dance troupe, fronted by Pierce's wife, Janine Fierce, and freak-show artist Noel Austin, who will engage in metal-appropriate activities between sets, including face-spearing and dozing on a bed of nails.

The event is free, a labor of love funded almost entirely by Pierce. "I feel a certain lack of summer events thatrepresent some of these creative and extreme styles in music and I know others do too," he explains."Often I feel myself looking at a long list of bands playing in summer festivals, and wishing that there were something a bit more. As the business I own becomes more successful, fronting the money to do an event like this is less burdensome. My interest in extreme elements in music, like punk and metal, has only grown, so why not?"

rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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