The State of Metal in the Puget Sound

Four metal musicians chime in on the scene

By Matt Sader on August 7, 2014

OK, word association: What are the first images and sounds that come to your mind when you hear the word "metal" in reference, of course, to music. Give yourself a little time.  OK, now let's do it again with the term "Puget Sound metal."  I'd be willing to bet dollars to donuts that the two brought up different mind candy. As the title of this article suggests, we are here to discuss the state of Puget Sound metal.  With bands such as Sandrider, Ancient Warlocks, He Whose Ox Is Gored, Black Breath and Theories all getting some attention from outside our area, and many more doing quite well up and down the West Coast - and Friday and Saturday nights in the Puget Sound - I would say it is in good health.

But I don't know if metal is the proper term any more. I mean, it is a gigantic banner with a ton of sub genres and styles, which can make it diluted and confusing and a place for the music nerds to discuss statistics. So I set upon my task to evaluate the state of metal in the Puget Sound. Do I know it all? HELL no.  Am I a metal fan with enough experience in the local area to write this? I think so, as are hundreds of others. As we all must do when reading anything of a musical nature, take the following with a grain or thousand of salt.

History proves the Puget Sound to be a stronghold for music of a more "heavy" nature.  And isn't that, at its core, the pure nature of metal?  To be heavier than other genres - hence the official name of HEAVY metal?  Local bands such as The Sonics and the Wailers (yeah, yeah you've heard this before) were doing things others were a bit timid to try far before anyone thought of being so D&D as to use the term "heavy metal." Moving forward to Jimi Hendrix, Steve Miller and Heart, our area kept a name for itself through the '70s. Hell, we even had the first-ever winner of MTV's Basement Tapes with hair metal pioneers Rail. And Mother Love Bone obviously turned into something special. It seems, however, that the mainstream, nationally recognized form of music called "metal" dies off there, but NOT for the ever-so-picky and discerning music fan.

Let's call a spade a spade, people. What I will refer to from here on out as "traditional metal," that is, the metal you thought of in part one of our word association game, does not do well here on a local level. It has its place, and it definitely is an influence to pretty much every band in the area that plays "Puget Sound metal," which I simply describe as "metal with a twist."

The grunge explosion put our version of metal on the worldwide map for sure, but everyone knows that grunge was pretty much punkers who got too high or tired to play fast all the time. Or, in the Melvins case, just plain rebelled against what people were doing and wanted to do the exact opposite.  That they're my friends is punk by attitude, not by fashion. Punk took off here, and to be honest, it does not get the respect it deserves in the annals of punk history. What we all know as the Puget Sound heavy music scene would not exist were it not for bands such as The Accused, Subvert, Diddly Squat and more bringing bands such as Black Flag, Bad Brains and Minor Threat to our little towns.

The punk influence made us not want to do the norm. The bands doing things differently - and getting recognition for it - made us think outside that box for sure.  We all know that grunge pretty much David and Goliathed traditional metal, and it was forced to change. Now we have bands in the national spotlight, such as Godsmack, Disturbed and others, doing what seems to be a hybrid of hair metal and grunge and receiving mainstream radio airplay as "metal" bands. That scene exists here, albeit in a small role, and it definitely is not what people in this area, and many more outside of it, would call Puget Sound metal. That stuff seems to be held to the Sunday through Thursday slots on booking calendars of the bigger local live music venues. Or you could find "that place" that caters to the genre, and most of its weekend nights are going to the cover bands. 

In our little pocket of the musical world, we remain steadfast in making our metal different, hard to label and categorize ... with a twist.  The mainstream music fan in the Puget Sound is more attracted to the things that will make others think they are "in" and "cool," and they spend a lot of time doing things non-musical or only going to the "big shows." They never waste much time with a local band that isn't rich and famous.  There is no status to it, you know?

So knowing damn well that the musicians making "Puget Sound metal" have a love and respect for traditional metal, or at least its pre-grunge forefathers, I set out to get some input from notable local musicians flying the metal banner in one way or another. Don Stewart of Tacos!; Andrew Chapman of Princess; booking agent extraordinaire and head of Ladies Choice Productions Sir Adam Noble Bass; and Austin Iverson of Tacoma band Tummler and Solomon had something to say.

WEEKLY VOLCANO: Why do you think "traditional" metal does not do well here?

DON STEWART: I'm not sure there is a "traditional" metal scene any more. Heavier music has splintered apart so much that I'm sure that has something to do with it. Lots of small pockets of fans will not gel.

ANDREW CHAPMAN: I think metal was doing pretty well about two years ago; it seemed unstoppable. Now, however, it's nearly impossible to find a weekend heavy show, let alone get booked on any of the bigger heavy bills. I think the fact that most of the Seattle venues are now consolidating under the same ownership or closing isn't helping. The 2bit closing, the Funhouse already gone; things are looking bleak in Seattle at least. Also, asshole security guards can fuck right off.

SIR ADAM NOBLE BASS: Haven't put much thought into it, really. I was raised (by wolves) pre-Internet, in the small city of Anacortes, without a "cool older brother"-type character force feeding me KISS and all that shit. I discovered thrash metal and N.W.A. when I was handed down a beer-puke-scented tape case that was confiscated from a party thrown by my parents' tenant's child while he was out of town. It still didn't command my attention as much as my Weird Al collection, but I did get really in "grunge music" in the first half of the '90s. Eventually I discovered TOOL, Melvins and EYEHATEGOD, and the rest is history. And if "traditional" metal is what is represented in Decline of Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, then I don't want it to do well.

>>> Don Stewart of Tacos! / photo courtesy of Facebook

VOLCANO: What do you like about "traditional" metal?

AUSTIN IVERSON: I like everything that's not really being done a whole lot anymore, or if it is, it's not as good as it used to be. That's why when I hear a band doing it right, it gets me stoked! Young or old, if they got the sound, be it trash, heavy riffs, dueling guitars or whatever that captures that feel, it's cool with me.

NOBLE BASS: It's fun, I suppose. I do love me some Manowar and Iron Maiden, at this point (he laughs).

STEWART: I grew up with what I consider traditional metal, Slayer, Metallica (old), Exodus, Venom, etc. I still like that, but don't think there will ever be one kind of metal again.

VOLCANO: How strong do you think the "overall" metal scene is here?

CHAPMAN: I think that heavy music in this town rules. So many great bands, especially those associated with the Black Lodge, and the DIY venues all over.

IVERSON: It could be stronger I think. Depends on who's playing, I guess. People need to expand their tastes and try something new in this town. I remember going to see Lesbian and Vhöl play at the Java Jive and five people showed up. It was a killer show too! I guess it's hit or miss.

NOBLE BASS: As strong as it could be with our busted economy. But that could go for any type of music. Personally, I think the music itself is stronger than EVER, but with the advent of the Web 2.0 and the Pitchfork generation, the "scene" is weaker than ever.

>>> Andrew Chapman of Princess / photo courtesy of Facebook

VOLCANO: What is the most "metal" thing about the Puget Sound music scene?

STEWART: The birthplace of the Melvins. (Author's note: this was my personal favorite answer given out of all of them.)

CHAPMAN: I think the most metal thing in the Northwest metal scene is the big hugs everybody gives after a rad show. That sisterhood/brotherhood is amazing.

IVERSON: Not giving a fuck and having fun!

NOBLE BASS: Studio Seven and El Corazon, believe it or not! They are the ONLY ones offering touring packages good money. Until we start to really support the music we love, like we used to, get used to most of the better tours (and thereby highest profile local support available) being confined to these places with their unfair stigmas. It's a lose-lose situation if you love metal but are picky about how far you'll go to show it.

>>> Sir Adam Noble Bass / photo courtesy of Facebook

VOLCANO: Last but not least: give your overall opinion of what you think of Puget Sound metal, the scene, the music being made and how it stands up ... yada yada.

STEWART: There are a lot of good heavy bands in the Pacific Northwest. I prefer to label them that way than to use metal as a classifier. With that said, there are some really good bands that I would say are more metal than others, and there's always room for improvement.

CHAPMAN: I wish there were more slots for opening bands to play the bigger venues, like The Showbox or Neumos. There is a glass ceiling that most bands will never get through to reach that wider audience. One of the best things about this area are folks like Jolene, Kevin at KISW and Hannah at KEXP. Their support of local heavy music is amazing, and they kick a ton of ass. The Josephine and the Black Lodge kick ass.

IVERSON: I think it could be more metal, really. Most of the popular bands out these days are a hybrid of all sorts of sounds, which is killer, but it would be cool to see some shitty white high-top wearing rockers who look like they were hanging out at the 7-11 down the street all day or just stepped out of A Rivers Edge blasting on stage getting a circle pit going (he laughs). But that's already happened, and now we are on a new journey in the sound of metal in this area. I think it's good. I'd like to see more thrash bands, though. We have so many killer bands in the area, so I'm stoked! It's a great scene to be a part of still.

NOBLE BASS:  Obviously we need more clubs and more money to spend. Maybe a political revolution and slaughter of the richest two percent would help.

Now that is effing metal. 

Well, there you have it. The State of Metal in Puget Sound seems to be strong, defiant and constantly changing as ever.  It is the basis of our local independent music scene but has been expanded upon and made our own. Get out there and see it, feel it and be part of it. We have something special here that does not exist in many places. The closing of clubs for our local bands is very much a concern. If this continues, we lose in too many ways to count. Show your love for music in more than your clothing. Get out there and see some shows.

Matt Sader is the singer/bassist in Tacoma sludge-metal band Argonaut.