By Jason Myers (Icarus Witch):
This proud blue-collar town nestled between three rivers in the green rolling hills of western PA is frequently ranked as one of America’s most livable cities by many national publications. Here are ten regional destinations that make the Steel City even more livable for metalheads and should be on the must-visit list of any traveling heshers passing through our rust-belt ‘burgh.
10. PPG Paints Arena – I’ve now served three tours of duty in the City of Champions and been a Steelers fan since the days of the Steel Curtain, so this isn’t to take anything away from the sports organization with the most Lombardi trophies in the league. But what’s more metal: tight ends in spandex performing Dancing-with-the-Stars-esque choreographed end zone celebrations while Styx’s “Renegade” plays in the background or six-and-a-half foot bearded Scandinavians and Russians slashing each other with blades on sticks and punching one another in the face until blood and teeth pour onto the ice while “Ride The Lightning” blasts through the arena PA? Yes, hockey is the most metal sport and this town loves its hockey. Also, the Pittsburgh Penguins have five Stanley Cups, two of which were won in the past two years and those are made of, you guessed it, metal. So, while the PPG Arena will never have the same dingy, smoky raucous vibe as the old Igloo (RIP Pittsburgh Civic Arena home to hundreds of classic metal concerts), It’s still one of the premier venues in the nation to enjoy high-speed professional hockey and the occasional Metallica concert.
9. Hocus Pocus – For some of us, the occult is as integral a part of our metal culture as, say, getting a new tattoo. Fortunately for the witchy yinzers there’s a place that caters to both of those needs. Tucked away on a side street in the city’s Oakland neighborhood, Hocus Pocus has been the serving PA occultists for twenty years, usually with some Viking or goth metal playing over the store’s sound system. While the tri-state area boasts some of the finest tattoo shops in the nation — like Hot Rod Tattooing and Old Soul Tattoo — a decade ago, Hocus Pocus owner Kali Vee added the 13 Needles Tattoo Studio to the upper floor making her pagan location a one-stop shop for your ink and spell supplies.
8. Pinball PA – With over 420 old-school arcade games and pinball machines all set to “free play” your admission ticket might as well be for a time machine. Those old enough to remember the golden age of arcades will be instantly transported the daze of killing hours in the mall or at the 7-11 with rolls of quarters saved throughout the week. You’ll find nearly every game you can remember and many you never knew existed. From Satan’s Hollow, Omega Race, Tempest and Journey to those killer pinball machines decked out with warriors and demons. As if there weren’t metal enough, the motif of the arcade includes vintage posters from the likes of Motley Crue, KIX, Cinderella and Dokken. Hell, Steeler’s Ron Keel even performed at Pinball PA’s opening. But you should expect nothing less from an arcade / museum that’s owned by The Classic Metal Show’s Chris Akin.
7. Lawrenceville – On any given night it’s a safe bet you’ll find something metal going on in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville section and adjacent neighborhoods. Crusty mainstay dives like Howlers and Gooski’s frequently host the finest regional and touring metal bands and the newer two story / double-stage showcase room Cattivo has already earned doom cred as home to underground festivals like Descendants of Crom. Combine this with an assortment of record stores, boutique restaurants, coffee shops, breweries and watering holes all within a very walkable distance and you’ve got yourself Western PA’s answer to Brooklyn, albeit on a smaller scale with a more musician-friendly cost of living.
6. School of Rock – While the Jack Black movie and the Broadway play of the same name may not be the most metal productions that come to mind, Pittsburgh’s School of Rock is a kickass factory cranking out young future metal stars of stage and studio. Our guitarist Quinn Lukas is one of the main instructors and I’ve personally witnessed his junior high-aged students dominating a stage with pitch-perfect renditions of Sabbath’s “Headless Cross” and “Disturbing the Priest.” There are some wickedly skilled prodigies in this program and, unlike most kids their age, they’re being raised on a healthy diet of classic heavy metal.
5. Black Forge Coffee – If you’re the type of caffeine junkie who likes your latte served in the skulls of your enemies, while being serenaded by live metal bands, Black Forge is the place for you. To give you an idea of how beloved this joint has become, this year alone Pittsburgh City Paper readers nominated Black Forge Coffee House for best coffeehouse, best gallery for local artists, best local music venue, best place to see a local band and best open mic night. To further prove their metal and community spirit, Black Forge is lending their dark roasting expertise to a very metal craft beer collaboration with Spoonwood Brewing and Icarus Witch for a coffee stout called “Bitter End” that aims to help Steel Town metalheads drown their sorrows over the bleak winter months that lie ahead. Coffee, beer and metal, the unholy trinity.
4. Eide’s Entertainment – Once staffed by members of iconic underground ‘80s bands like Eviction, Dream Death, Necropolis, Bird of Prey and Angus Scrimm, Eide’s has been selling and promoting metal in Pittsburgh two months longer than I’ve been alive. Founded in 1972 and still owned and operated by Greg Eide, this legendary 4-floor store in the Strip District continues to stock the town’s most diverse metal and comic collection thanks to long-time music buyer, Jim Semonik. Former Eide’s employees have even spun off to launch their own record stores like the late Brave New World (home of Icarus Witch’s first show) and Get Hip Records (home of our latest show).
3. Evans City Cemetery / Monroeville Mall – Horror movies have spawned so many heavy metal songs and albums over the years and zombies, in particular, play a major role in Pittsburgh’s entertainment history. This is primarily due to the efforts of former Pittsburgh filmmaker, the late, great George Romero (and his protege, Tom Savini). With two of the all-time most iconic zombie movies ever being filmed in the Pittsburgh region — “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” — it’s no shock that horror buffs from around the globe make pilgrimages to Western PA to spend a few moments at the undead meccas: Evans City Cemetery (ground zero for NotLD’s zombie explosion) and Monroeville Mall (home of those fun flesh-eating scenes in DotD). While Monroeville’s shopping structure may feel like a “dead mall” for other reasons these days, it still hosts zombie events and Evan’s city is home to The Living Dead Museum.
2. Onion Maiden – Want to nosh before you mosh? What if I told you that you can sit in a comfortable, black-walled environment listening to vintage Rainbow and Mercyful Fate while savoring a gourmet vegan meal consisting of a “Kale ‘Em All” salad, “Aqua Poutine Hunger Force” side dish and a “Manowar” veggie wiener with cashew cheese? Onion Maiden in Pittsburgh’s upcoming Allentown neighborhood offers all of that metallic bliss and more. You say there’s a slight wait for a table? No worries, the adjoining storefront hosts Skull Records, a killer little record store specializing in, wait for it… classic heavy metal vinyl.
1. Iron & Steel Mills – I’ve always felt that Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a lot like Birmingham, England, the factory town famous for forging the careers of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and, hence, heavy metal. For many, the mere mention of Pittsburgh invokes images of molten iron flowing as massive smoke stacks belched soot into the skies above riverside mills during the Industrial Revolution. While the air has [mostly] cleared as Pittsburgh transformed into a center for health care, higher education and robotics, manufacturing is still big business, US Steel is still headquartered here, and the industry still employs thousands regionally. But if you really want to get a feel for the epic power this metal biz once wielded, take a tour of the Carrie Blast Furnaces. Built in 1906 and dormant since 1979 this site once produced over 1,000 tons of iron a day. As the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area site explains, “Now these 92-foot-tall structures stand as sentinels to Pittsburgh’s steel heritage.” It doesn’t get more metal than that.
** Icarus Witch’s new album, Goodbye Cruel World, is out now via Cleopatra Records. CDs, t-shirts, and shot glasses are available HERE through BigCartel.