A Crash Course in Classic Pacific Northwest Metal with James Beach

The author James Beach (left)

The golden age of classic heavy metal in the Pacific Northwest is about to get its long-overdue revival thanks in part to Author James Beach, his upcoming book Rusted Metal, and the upcoming Northwest Metal Fest.

With its craggy shores, deep forests, sky-piercing mountains and days of endless rain, the stretch of America encompassing Oregon, Washington and parts of Idaho ( not to mention British Columbia) cries out for the morbid, sweeping and indomitable sound of heavy metal. Even so, this part of the world is more often remembered for the sound of Grunge and more recently so-called Cascadian black metal than for its contributions to metal’s mid-and-early 80s Renaissance without which those later genres would not exist. Even the most well-versed metal historians may run short of early names from this region after listing obvious heavy hitters such as Queensryche and Metal Church.

Enter Beach. A veteran of the scene, he’s dedicated much of his adulthood to the preservation of this region’s early metal history. His upcoming book, Rusted Metal, will be a hefty compendium of early PNW metal acts, many of whom dissolved after a demo or single record. As part of Northwest Metalworx, he’s reissued obscure classics by such acts in order to keep them in circulation. This year, as one of the creative minds behind the revived Northwest Metal Fest, he will present two days of reunited PNW favorites including Q5, The Accused and Coven (the thrash band not the occult psych rock band) and new bands revitalizing the pre-extreme style such as Substratum and Skelator.

Beach gave Decibel a crash course in Pacific Northwest metal history. That conversation is lightly edited below. Northwest Metalfest will be held On March 9 and 10, 2018 at El Corazon in Seattle, WA. Tickets are available here.

I guess a good place to begin is: What in-general about the history of the Pacific Northwest’s heavy metal scene do people from outside of the region misunderstand the most?

That’s an interesting question, Joseph. I think a lot of the misunderstanding is because a lot of the general public is only aware of the bigger NW Heavy Metal and Hard Rock acts such as Queensryche, Heart, Metal Church, Sanctuary, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana, etc. etc. that got on major labels and in most cases toured a lot over the years and had radio play and hits. And that is mainly because of what the media shared with the public and recognized and how it was perceived. And also how much exposure a band got certainly contributed to that. If you were on a major, you got much bigger exposure then if you were on an indie label, or self-released especially. So they don’t realize how big the metal and hard rock scene really has been over the years here, and how important it has been for influence overall.

One important thing towards public perception is that when so-called “Grunge” hit big there were a number of books that came out, and while some of those books are good, they tend to tell a story arc of how early NW garage punk like the Sonics, etc. spawned punk, which later fused with early metal/hard rock and created grunge. Sure. I think that all definitely happened to some degree and understandable to not include the kitchen sink, but bands and info that drives the focus of the book. But they skip over a lot of the heavy metal scene in the whole NW, only touching on the eastside metal scene and a bit of the thrash metal wave. And mostly focus on Seattle and skip over other NW states that had bands that contributed to both local and national metal scenes). They tend to focus more on the crossover thrash aspect while ignoring most of the huge metal scene that not only thrived in Washington, but also Oregon and Vancouver BC and Idaho (to some much smaller degree, but still there). I think because of the Sub Pop history view, many bands are hugely overlooked for their influence and contribution. For one example, TKO was a huge influence on many local musicians: Mike McCready (Pearl Jam, Shadow), Tommy McMillan (War Babies, Slaughterhaus 5), Glen Logan (Overlord, Bible Stud, Palooka), Kendall Bechtel (Fifth Angel) and the list goes on and on. Pretty much every major label band out of Seattle at least has members that would say they were influenced by those guys. Their street punk vibe and image fused with hard rock really started that crossover that came even stronger with bands like Overlord, Shadow, and The Trids shortly thereafter, and later bands like Green River and so on. The immortal Wild Dogs, from Portland, is another example of fusing punk with metal pretty early on. Matt McCourt, the singer, came from the punk scene and brought a crazy, out of control aspect to their band and a sense of “one of us” that made you feel part of it. Culprit brought that hardcore vibe to their music as well and also helped spawn some of that early crossover hardcore and thrash music. And Ten Minute Warning as well, which was an early Grunge band that would be a transition for Blaine Cook from the Fartz to joining the Accused and bring his metal/punk and horror vibe to that hugely influential band.

Another important thing is how much everybody knows everybody in the NW band scene. The “Loser”-slash-Sub Pop “us against them” punk kind of mentality that is prevalent in the Grunge history books, isn’t necessarily that true. Most everybody likes each other and probably has played with somebody from just about every band, or at least there is only a couple degrees of separation. There really always has been a close-knit community and still is. As Randy Gane of Myth and Geoff Tate’s Operation Mindcrime said to me in our interview “you don’t want to piss anybody off too much as you may well be playing in a band with them next week.” He’s probably not too far off there.

Regardless, to make a long answer longer, that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do this book. To help bring attention to many bands and people involved in the scene who I feel have been overlooked. That was influential and made contributions that are important. And FYI, I like a lot of the music deemed as “Grunge” too. And much of it does figure into my book as some of that is definitely pretty heavy and crossover thrash is an important part of the metal scene for sure. I didn’t want to leave anybody out that qualified. That’s why the book is so huge!

How was it you became this scene’s chief documentarian?

Well, I don’t know if I am the scene’s chief documentarian honestly, but as far as this book nobody else was doing it so why not me? I kept waiting for Jeff Gilbert (Rocket writer, Brain Pain radio show and concert promoter, NW metal record label owner, etc. etc.) to do it or Brett Miller (concert promoter, Lipstick bassist, NW historian) or Adem Tepedelen (Decibel and Rock writer, New Rage record label, musician, zine publisher, etc.) or somebody like that to take the ball and run with it. But nobody ever did. I figured what the hell. Some of the people involved in the scene did say they thought about doing a book like this but didn’t do it. All were happy to join me in being involved with interviews, connections, contributions and their blessing. That’s been the greatest thing about this book project: the love and support and encouragement towards making this book be as thorough as it can be. And we were all there. It’s not some New York writer who interviewed a bunch of people and then tried to put something together like they’ve done. We lived through it.

My background is I was born and raised in Portland Oregon and my family came from Seattle. I published and edited a horror fiction and media magazine called Dark Discoveries magazine for almost ten years. I started it on my kitchen table in Milwaukie, Oregon and by the time I sold it we had it distributed worldwide and featured a number of big names like Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Bruce Campbell, H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, William F. Nolan, Jack Ketchum, Adrienne King, etc. etc. I also published some books and have worked on book projects with Clive Barker, Mick Garris, Nolan, Richard Laymon, etc. for other publishers.

My other love is music and I have been a music collector and fan since I was very young. I saw many local concerts over the years, both national and local acts, know or met a number of local musicians, and kept a lot of the memorabilia. I had dabbled in some articles on music and also did a couple special horror in rock-slash-rock in horror type things. The NW metal book seemed like a good larger project to take on and one with a need for it. That’s always my thing with creating projects and events.

When I decided to take on this NW Metal book project, I called up my good friend Brian Naron and asked him to help. Brian is a lifelong Tacoma native who I met in 1990 at a Portland record collector’s swap meet and we bonded over our love of hard rock and metal. Brian turned me onto a number of cool NW bands over the years and is a huge collector of music memorabilia. We both knew a lot about local bands in general and felt we could give it a solid go. Brian owned a record store in Tacoma for a while and also hosted a record swap there. He is also is friends with a lot of local scenesters, including people like James Tolin – who is pretty much a NW archivist who knows everybody and was at every cool local show in Seattle just about from the late 70s on (James also managed his friends band Overlord) – and Bret Hartman (another NW scenester and archivist who did one of the early NW metal zines, Denim & Leather, managed bands and booked shows and later became an LA A&R rep for Columbia and MCA). Those guys were all instrumental in opening the doors to interviewing many people and acceptance for us and this book project. Once we got the book started it just took off and steamrolled. Which led to our forming a retro NW only metal and hard rock record label, NW Metalworx Music, as well. A third label partner and book co-contributor, Jim Sutton, a Spokane/Seattle guy joined us a couple months after we started it and has been an integral part of our team as a label partner and main book contributor. James Tolin also ending up contributing so much help to our label and the book that we call him our “fourth man” and gave him a co-credit on the book. It’s a great team for sure. Even though I am the main writer of the NW Metal book, Rusted Metal, the other three guys have all contributed a lot to it.

NW Metalworx Vol 1
compilation album

People are probably well-aware of the region’s most well-known acts – Queensryche, Metal Church, Alice in Chains if you count them (I do) – but what acts that are not so internationally remembered would you like to bring a light to?

I mentioned a few in my first answer certainly. There are around 500 band bios in my book spanning from 1970 – 1995 so I won’t name everybody of course. There were a lot of great bands over the years that never quite made it to the superstar level, but to varying degrees have achieved recognition worldwide due to records with indies and some even co-distribution/release with major labels. Some just had demo tapes that circulated around and maybe a compilation slot, but still managed to achieve notoriety on some level. Even if they are known maybe a bit more in the collector’s circles. But a lot of times that fan base over the years has led to reunions for bands to headline festivals and so on. I think some of the more well-known bands that you didn’t mention would be: The Accused, Bitter End, Crisis Party, Cruella, Culprit, Fifth Angel, Forced Entry, Glacier, Heir Apparent, Mace, Mistrust, My Sister’s Machine, Overlord, Q5, Rail, Sanctuary, SGM, Spazztic Blurr, TKO, Wehrmacht and Wild Dogs. Those guys all had records on indie labels and/or major labels with decent to pretty good distribution. Bubbling under would be Arachnid, Crysys, Dead Conspiracy, Harder! Faster!, Haven, Kidskin, Lipstick, Max Planck, Myth, Open Fire, Outrage, Pirate, Ransom, Ray Gunn, Rottweiller, SATO, Upper Echelon and many others who had self-released albums or popular demo tapes and compilation appearances that made a little bit of a name for them but they just missed getting signed often times. Then you have bands that formed in Portland that moved down to LA like Black N’ Blue and Malice and got signed to majors and had success. Many other bands tried that tactic but didn’t pull it off living down there for a while. Then you also had NW musicians like Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue), Steve Lynch (Autograph), Steve Isham (Autograph), Paul Hanson (Brooklyn Brats, Vanilla Fudge, Andy Taylor band) and Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver) who went there and had success. All of those bands and musicians just scratch the surface too.

Whizkey Stick

There are many others that are pretty obscure like Astoria Oregon’s Deep Purple-influenced 70’s band Whizkey Stik. They had a couple comp tracks, had big management and label interest from Geffen and failed the tryout and split up. They recorded a bunch of original music in their garage studio and it’s amazing. We liked it so much we released an album from them of the music and it’s been very well received. The guys even reformed to play in Seattle opening for Corky Laing of Mountain and also a homecoming gig in Astoria. And they’ll be joining the bill at our NW Metalfest in March in Seattle. That’s been part of the fun in this journey really. Finding these great bands to shed attention on that just missed breaking out. The talent was there, just didn’t have the luck or timing. And the NW has never been LA or New York for breaking bands. The industry just wasn’t really here. Even when the Grunge thing hit big, it was only a few bands that got signed and had success when the big labels came and cherry-picked, and then it went back to business as usual for people. The scene maybe has a bit more of a spotlight on it now then it did in the 70s and 80s, but people still overlook a lot of it I think as they just don’t know what’s going on here all of the time. And they miss a lot of great bands that way.

You mentioned Northwest Metal Fest. What’s the background behind that event? It’s not the first incarnation of the event, but it is the first in a very long time.

The original NW Metalfests were held back in the early 1980s in Seattle. Brett Miller put on the first two in the late summer of 1981 and 1982, respectively, at Lake Hills/Crossroads Roller Rink. Then he gave his blessing for Jeff Gilbert to use the NW Metalfest name for his first compilation album and release concert at the Moore Theater in May of 1984. Those are all three landmark shows. The first featured TKO, Open Fire, Perrenial, and others. Geoff Tate sang with both his future Queensryche bandmates in the Mob and his own band, Babylon. Myth, who he would also front for a while before joining Queensryche full time was in both of the first two Metalfests (the second one with Tate fronting the band by then). Wild Dogs made their NW debut in the second Metalfest, along with TKO headlining again, Culprit, Overlord, Realms—with Paul Davidson who would go on to front Heir Apparent—and Kidskin. The third Metalfest for Gilbert’s album release would feature Metal Church in their Seattle debut, Mace, Overlord, Sato with Mike Starr who would later play bass in Alice In Chains, Open Fire, Koda Khan, Rottweiller, Bondage Boys (which was Faster Pussycat singer Taime Downe’s first band – another Seattle defect to LA) and Brett Miller’s own band Lipstick. There were also three Headbanger’s Balls held in 1982 at Lake Hills (with Culprit, Myth and the Wild Dogs), and then at the Moore Theater in 1983 (with Culprit, Overlord, and Shadow) and 1984 (with TKO, Metal Church and Shadow). Miller put on the first one and then Craig Cooke, who is also a very important figure back in the 70s and 80s for the metal scene, hosted and promoted the other two balls.

Vintage NW Metalfest Flyer

So fast forward to now and in working on this history book, and doing our retro NW metal record label, we wanted to also help promote and put on some concerts to showcase the bands, both on our label, and also other cool ones that are featured in the book. We had attempted to get some showcases off the ground last year in Portland and Seattle with Heir Apparent, Whizkey Stik, Taist of Iron and possibly even Q5 on the bill but they fell through. We were new to the booking scene and it’s a tough game. Clubs in both towns like Studio Seven, Hawthorne, etc. were down for it, we just couldn’t make it work with a back to back weekend. And we really wanted and needed both cities to make it work for flying out the new signer for Heir Apparent and the other associated costs. So as time went along we ended up getting the Whizkey Stik guys on a couple bills in Seattle and Astoria and got our foot in the door with being involved with promoting. That led to Amy and Max from the Seattle band Substratum (who was on the Astoria bill with Whizkey Stik) and our friend Michael Podrybau (who has had a reissue of his band Glacier’s Ep from 1985 and some concerts around that recently in Chicago and Germany) joining together with NW Metalworx Music to put on this NW Metalfest in Seattle in March. Brett Miller actually copyrighted the “NW Metalfest” name and had offered that I could use it if I ended up putting on something in that vein. So I took him up on it!

We wanted to combine the old with the new in this festival to touch on all points. Have some of the bands on our NW Metalworx label on the bill, some bands that have reunited from the 70s and 80s that are in my book and also to feature great newer and younger bands like Substratum, Time Rift, Skeletor, etc. who are influenced by the older bands and are carrying the torch. I think we’ve succeeded in that this first time out.

This year’s NW Metal Fest headliners are the thrash band Coven — not to be confused with the primordial proto-metal band — and Q5. You’ve mentioned Q5 before. What in particular is special and memorable about these acts?

The Q5 guys are great and we wanted them on the bill from the start. They reunited a few years ago with three of the original members and the blessing of the other two original guys for festivals and shows in Europe and shows in the US. They play a bunch of the stuff from their two 80s classics and also released a new record. They kick ass live and have a prominent place in my history book with interviews with four of the five members (two of the members were also in TKO). Coven is actually replacing Heir Apparent as the Friday headliner as they sadly had to cancel due to the drummer having a back injury. We’re hoping they will be able to headline it next year instead. We’ve got a bunch of other great bands on the bill too with the Cruella guys reuniting and coming up from Portland to play and showcase our reissue of their debut album from 1987. Matt McCourt and the Wild Dogs are making a return to Seattle to join us and also playing some Dr. Mastermind and Mayhem music as well in their set. The Palooka guys are awesome and a great pedigree of Seattle hard rock and metal guys from the bands Overlord, Lipstick, Slaughterhaus 5, Debutant, Ruff Justice, Confused?!, Bible Stud and others. They will be doing some mini-reunions with members of Overlord and Lipstick (with mini-sets of songs from those two bands as well as a Palooka set for their new album). We’re pretty excited about that. Taist of Iron, a female fronted band from Tacoma in the vein of Hellion and DC LaCroix, will be joining us and they are great. They reunited a few years ago with the original singer and bassist and a couple new guys and have a reissue of their album and a new one coming out soon too. Blaine and the Accused boys will also be joining us to headline the Funhouse stage Saturday night. And of course, Mike P’s reunited Glacier will be joining us as well. The original Glacier bassist Tim Proctor and Ransom singer Rex McNew (who sang on one song on the Glacier EP) are both coming up from Portland to join them for a couple songs as well. And then we’ve got all the newer bands like the aforementioned three as well as Gatekeeper from Vancouver BC, Perseverance from Portland and Riot City — also from BC I believe.

Needless to say, It’s going to be a great show celebrating NW Metal. And we plan to launch my book Rusted Metal there too.

You’ve had some luck getting these acts to reform, but are there any currently inactive bands you’d really like to see reunited in the future?

There are other bands that people would love to see get together again — Culprit is one that definitely comes to mind — but it may not happen due to various factors of age, health, etc. etc. We’re happy to see many of them giving it one more shot now that there is a lot of nostalgia for that time period of my youth.

Ideally, who would you love to see headline the event in the future?

Well as I said, we’d love to have Heir Apparent do it next year if they can. Especially since we had planned to have them on the bill this time. Metal Church and Sanctuary would be a couple other bands a bit bigger that we’d gladly welcome to the bill. Queensryche as well. TKO we had looked at as a possibility to have this year, and they were very interested, but it didn’t work out unfortunately as they were doing the Chicago Legions Of Metal fest and they wanted an exclusive with them. The way it goes with some of this sort of thing. But we’d love to have them headline in 2019.

The nice thing about the NW scene is there is a lot of great hard rock and heavy metal bands, both new and old. There’s so many that we might never run out of bands to book. Especially with so many doing reunions in recent years. Some of the bigger bands were just a bit out of our price range and budget for the first year, but certainly, we can explore that for future Metalfests. Our goal is to make this an annual event, not have it be a “One and done.”

Last question. Your book is a total encyclopedia, a really hefty desk reference. Even so, is there anything you had to remove for space that you wish you could have included?

Well we’re still in the editing phase now so there may be more that needs to be trimmed, but it will mainly just be chopping down/tightening up interviews, fixing grammatical errors, misspellings, etc., etc. – rather than excising whole sections or anything like that. I mean I’d love to include every bit of the interviews, but some of them are pretty long and not necessary to keep every bit of them. That said, the nice thing is we are publishing the book ourselves. So we don’t really have to cut anything we don’t want to. The book will still be huge regardless. But I did change the book’s focus along the way from more of a traditional history book with a narrative, to an “A To Z” type guide. It was too redundant with the same info, etc. hitting in multiple sections so I restructured it completely. Now I think it flows much better and is more of an encyclopedia. Which I like.