Dark Ages – “Medieval Sorcery” (1987)

darkagesmedievalI like the obscure stuff, especially when I can track down someone who was part of it and ask them some questions for the blog.  So when I found this late-1980s private press metal album from Seattle band Dark Ages I figured I had some good blog fodder.  But I was stymied by the use of pseudonyms, lack of memory, and likely one death.  At some point too-common names led me to either dead ends or so many possible hits that I all I’m left with is four songs on black wax.  I hope no one asks me to turn in my copy of The Hardy Boys’ Detective Handbook.

Medieval Sorcery isn’t typical metal.  The female-fronted Dark Ages do something a bit rawer and a bit less refined than often found in uber-intricate and/or uber-fast late 80s metal, bringing a touch of riot-grrrl-like sensibility paired with some sort of Dark-Ages-esque heavy folk influences.  “Auric Slumbers / Ophelia” opens grunge-like before bursting into a thrash pace overlaid with vocals of fluctuating speed, the whole thing a disorienting array of sonic elements and shredding riffs.  It may be the song that best defines the four-track record.

It’s too bad this is all we got from Dark ages, and that I couldn’t track down vocalist Erin Jean.  If I ever do find her though, you’ll hear about it right here on Life in the Vinyl Lane.

Who Killed Society – “Before Everything Got Broken” (1981 / 2018) and Circle Seven – “Suburban Hope” (1983)

I don’t go to record shows often.  I spent a lot of time “on the other side of the table” at sports memorabilia shows over the years selling stuff, and that gives you a certain insulation from the crowds and the inevitable frustration of waiting around to try to get into the box that someone else is flipping through.  But a few weeks back, against my better judgement, I went to one in Seattle.  While waiting around for yet another person to finish flipping through a bin I decided to kill time looking at stuff in a box on the floor next to the table, and that’s where I came across Circle Seven’s Suburban Hope.  I’d never heard of them before, but it turns out they were from Seattle (in fact two of the three members are from Montana but had recently moved to Seattle…) so for a fiver I figured why not.

I was pleasantly surprised when I put Suburban Hope on the turntable, so much so that I wanted to find out more about the band.  Fortunately guitarist/singer Randy Pepprock has a pretty unique (and rock related) name that made him fairly easy to track down, and he graciously agreed to do an email interview.  He also sent along an article about his punk band Who Killed Society (WKS) and the early scene in, of all places, Missoula, Montana.  I encourage you to check it out HERE, as I can’t add anything to this well-researched piece.  It was Jeff Ament’s connection with Missoula that eventually allowed for the release of WKS’ Before Everything Got Broken 37 years after it was recorded (by none other than a young Steve Albini), an album that contributed songs to Circle Seven’s first (and only) record.

Randy, WKS broke up in 1981.  What prompted you to move to Seattle after that happened?

We used to drive over to Seattle from Montana for punk shows, so when it was time to leave Montana it was a natural choice. I had a friend (Lya) that lived there that got me a job at a restaurant & put me up for a week or so to get me started. Later on I extended the same favor to Jeff Ament & Sergio Avenia from Deranged Diction, who were also from Missoula.

How did you connect with Sabina Miller and Danielle Elliott to form Circle Seven?

Sabina was the bass player for WKS, and my girlfriend at the time. I think we meet Danielle through an ad in The Rocket.  (♠)

Four of the six tracks on “Suburban Hope” also appeared on the at-that-time un-released 1981 WKS album.  They definitely changed character – not only are they longer, but sonically there’s an overall post-punk feel to all the Circle Seven songs and the vocals are very prominently featured.  You indicated in a previous interview that you weren’t thrilled with the sound of Suburban Hope.  What are your recollections of the recording sessions, and what do you think you should have done differently?

I take full responsibility for how the Circle Seven EP ended up sounding I should have been more assertive & spoken up at the time. WKS was an abrasive, post-punkish band with short, minimalist songs & I think Circle Seven was an extension of that. Very spartan. A friend of Danielle’s, Mark from 3 Swimmers, helped us engineer the EP & he was just coming from an entirely different space. I had this guitar that sounded like a dump truck crashing & when we first started recording he’s like, “Oh my god, that guitar sounds like shit.” So we cleaned everything up and took all of the rust & piss out of it. Prettier, but not nearly as authentic IMO. You know, we were a young band in a nice studio for the first time & perhaps intimidated by the whole process. Whatever, that’s on no one but me.

What was your perception of the Seattle music scene during that period? How did Circle Seven fit (or not fit) into it?

Loved it. I saw so many great bands then. I think at that time everyone just did whatever the hell they wanted because NO ONE thought that it mattered or thought it would ever lead to anything. Later, when I moved to Hollywood, I became aware that everyone was thinking, in the back of their minds, that “Hey, we could get a record deal & become rock stars.” No one thought that in Seattle in the early 80’s. We left right before that happened. Bad timing I guess. 🙂 Not sure we really fit in. I think we kind of fell in-between the cracks and were kind of hard to classify. Not a hardcore or punk band. Not too arty or intellectual (too many rough edges). It was OK, we did our thing anyway.

What are you listening to these days?

I don’t follow most new bands, there’s too much out there. I was listening to Patti Smith the other day, Motorhead, the Velvet Underground. Lucinda Williams. I like Elle King. Always a Stooges fan. In fact, a year or so ago I was playing “Funhouse” in the car & giving my 17 year old daughter a music history lesson about the band & why they were so important. A few months later we were at the theater watching the most recent King Kong & “Down in the street” comes on and I leaned over to tell her, “Hey, it’s the Stooges!” & she looks at me like, “Shut up dad, I know.”

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Once I learned that many of Suburban Hope‘s songs were originally recorded by WKS, I decided to pick up a copy of Before Everything Got Broken to do a little side-by-side comparison and see how they changed over the course of just a few years.  It turns out the answer is quite a bit, actually.

Who Killed Society – Before Everything Got Broken (1981 / 2018)

Originally recorded in 1981 with none other than a young Steve Albini at the studio controls Before Everything Got Broken didn’t see the light of day until 2018 when it came into the orbit of former Montana punk scene musician and current Pearl Jam member Jeff Ament, who helped get it dusted off and released, including selling it via the PJ website.  At seven songs and 13 minutes, it’s very punk rock.

wks

After opening with the instrumental “Distant” we’re introduced to “Cover Up”, a decidedly post-punk jam full of raw gloominess and alienation, the guitars coming at you like rusty razorblades and the vocals speaking to the kind of societal rejection that only the young can truly express unironically.  “Say One Thing” is more of a standard rock song, though one with some definite new wave elements.  The A side closes out with “Don’t You Dare”, it’s rapid-fire drumming giving the tune a jungle beat, the guitars again slicing through the low end with complete and utter disregard.

The flip side opens with “Suburban Hope”, what would later become the title track of Circle Seven’s album of the same name a few years later.  This version is stripped down and back to that post-punk vibe, the military-march-like snare rolls at odds with the anti-society message of the vocals.  “Just Turned 20” is the first 100% punk song on Before Everything Got Broken, a blistering fast proto-hardcore number that’s over almost before it starts.  “Brave New World” takes us back in a post-punk direction and is my favorite track on the album, the incessant beat creating a sense of angst and pressure that mirrors the stress of day-to-day life.

The sound quality of Before Everything Got Broken is excellent.  There were a few spots where it felt like the master might have had a blemish, but it doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the album.  If you’re interested, it’s available on the Pearl Jam website HERE.

Circle Seven – Suburban Hope (2013)

Four of Suburban Hope‘s six songs originally appeared on Before Everything Got Broken, rounded out with two new tracks.  It opens with the title track, one of the four Before Everything Got Broken tunes on the record.  This new incarnation brings a much more new wave sound to the music while also moving the vocals to the forefront, placing the lyrics and message into the prominent position.

circleseven

Down to the office,
Smile at the boss,
Never realizing just how much you have lost.

It’s a longer and more fully realized song than the original, though at the expense of a certain honest rawness.  It’s a style that carries through all of Suburban Hope‘s compositions – pre-synthesizer new wave, sonically well-balanced and with emphasis on the vocals.  Something in it speaks to me in a way that resonates, perhaps because it forces me to look at my own middle class suburban life.  I know Randy isn’t a huge fan of how it sounds… but I really enjoy it.

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Big thanks to Randy for answering some questions and a shout-out to Jeff Ament (as if he needs one from me…) for contributing to Before Everything Got Broken‘s release.  I wonder how many other solid albums are out there on tape just waiting for someone to dust them off and put them out.  I prefer not to think about how many were destroyed or simply thrown away.

(♠)  The Rocket was THE Seattle alternative music scene bible back in the 1980s and into the 90s.  Originally monthly, later biweekly, the free paper eventually grew its circulation to 50,000 copies per issue.  I used to pick it up a whatever record store I happened to be in at the time.

Green River – “Live At The Tropicana” (2019)

Lots of people hate on Record Store Day.  I sort of get it given all the re-releases of stuff that frankly didn’t need a 57th version entry into Discogs.  Many see it purely as a money grab.  To be fair, record labels and stores aren’t non-profits, and I for one like having some local record stores, so if this gets some extra people through the doors and helps them keep the lights on, great.  RSD also has had the positive effect of shaking loose some recordings that otherwise might not have seen the light of day.  A case in point is Seattle’s ground-zero-grunge-rockers Green River, the band that spawned Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam.  For RSD in 2016 we were treated to 1984 Demos and this year a recently unearthed live show from 1984, Live At The Tropicana.  I doubt anyone would have bothered with these if it wasn’t for RSD.

greenrivertropicana

Live At The Tropicana was one of my top two or three “wants” for RSD 2019, but unfortunately I struck out locally.  This isn’t a surprise since I live in Seattle and, well, it’s Green River.  I waited a few weeks for the post-RSD nonsense to die down (copies were selling for $60-65 on eBay on RSD) and scored myself an unopened copy for $30, just a bit more than the retail price.  And you know, it’s a damn good record.  The sound quality is surprisingly good for what was basically a punk show in 1984.  The only downside is that it’s so early that it lacks some of the band’s best material, which hadn’t been written yet.  I’m a bit surprised some of the stage banter was left in, like probably two minutes of Mark Arm asking if anyone had any duct tap (though I enjoyed the part where he said their next number was a dance song, so put on your leg warmers), but whatever – it’s still a fun listening experience and a chance to hear a young band coming into its own.

Chong The Nomad / Stas Thee Boss – “Love Memo / S’WOMEN” (2018)

chongstasMy recent review of the Seattle hip hop compilation Solar Power was the catalyst for me connecting with Gary from the label Crane City Music.  We traded a few emails and I ended up buying a few of Crane City’s recent releases, including this 2018 split featuring Chong The Nomad and Stas Thee Boss.  I love supporting the small indie labels, even more so when they’re here in Seattle and focused on local artists.

Chong The Nomad’s Love Memo is pure dreamy electro-flow, smooth deep beats layered with synths and electronics like a thick, intricate tapestry.  This isn’t traditional hip hop – simply put there’s no rapping happening here, the only words being comprised of the subtle vocal samples and the occasional verse that’s almost subliminally hidden in the mix.  There’s an acid house vibe at play, but the pace stays way slower in an R&B kind of way, or even borrowing from gospel like on “Enchant Me”.  It’s great chill out music that covers you like your favorite blanket, familiar and soft and comforting.  You can give Love Memo a listen on Soundcloud HERE.

Stas Thee Boss brings a more experimental approach to her music, though her vocal presence is definitely more pronounced – these aren’t electro-tracks with minimal vocals and samples, instead delivering a prominent message.  Her flow is outside of any typical hip hop cadence taking on a more conversational and conspiratorial character.  Musically there are noticeable jazz and Caribbean influences supported by a framework of electronics and samples.  This is an album that rewards a more active style of listening.  You can listen to S’WOMEN on Soundcloud HERE.

I love the stuff that Crane City Music puts out, and I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for future releases.

“N.W. Metalworx Vol. 2 – Lake Hills Revisited” Compilation (2019)

N.W. Metalworx is doing god’s work in keeping the history of northwest metal alive by reissuing lost classics by hard rock and metal bands that, while popular locally, never quite made it to the big time.  I can’t wait for their forthcoming book Rusted Metal: A Guide To Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Music in the Pacific Northwest (1970 – 1995) for even more NW metal goodness.  I’ve picked up few of their releases and follow them on Facebook, so it wasn’t a surprise to learn that they were putting out a new NW metal compilation.  What was surprising, however, was the connection to Lake Hills.

Lake.  Hills.

My parents moved quite a bit while I was in grade school, and that included three different periods of living in Issaquah, which during the 1970s and early 1980s was a one-traffic-light kind of small town on the other side of the lake from Seattle.  And we didn’t even live in Issaquah proper, but instead on what was known as “The Plateau”, which is now the city of Sammamish and full of ridiculously expensive houses.  We sometimes went to Lake Sammamish State Park in the summer, the same park where Ted Bundy picked up some of his early victims.  There’s something about the northwest that seems to breed serial killers.  Maybe it’s the dark, rainy, gloomy winters.  I don’t know.  But I digress.  What does any of this have to do with the Lake Hills neighborhood of the city of Bellevue?  Well, I went to grade school in Lake Hills.

I spent a fair amount of time in Lake Hills, both at school and sleepovers with friends who lived there.  We’d walk to the K-Mart, play video games at the pizza place, shoot BB guns in the woods, and sometimes make it over to Crossroads Mall, alongside of which was the Lake Hills Roller Rink, a combo roller skating rink/music venue that hosted a ton of hard rock shows.  We were too young at that point to be interested in the rocking happening there.  Did I ever go roller skating at the rink, though?  I feel like I probably did… but honestly can’t remember.  And I never did see a show there.  But the idea of an album that orbits around local bands that played in Lake Hills still feels awfully close to home.

Will you know any of these bands if you’re not from the Northwest?  Maybe TKO and Rail… but after that I’m not sure.  Hell, most of them I didn’t discover until the last few years, bands like Q5 and Wild Dogs who have made appearances on the blog.  I know of some of the others, mostly due to the good works of the guys at N.W. Metalworx and the 1984 Northwest Metalfest compilation that includes four of the bands on Lake Hills Revisited.  Regardless of whether or not you’ve heard of any of these guys, if you’re into the early 80s style of hard rock/metal you’re going to find things you like here with ten bands and a combination of live and studio tracks.

lakehillsrevisited

N.W. Metalworx Vol. 2 – Lake Hills Revisited opens with the painfully overlooked Q5 doing a live in-studio performance (from KZOK) of “Missing In Action”.  It’s the perfect way to kick things off, with one of the region’s best bands doing one of their best songs.  I’m also partial to the other side A live track, Overlord’s “Had Enough”, which while slightly flat in terms of recording quality is another burner.  The flip side opens with the one number actually recorded live at the Lake Hills Roller Rink, Rail’s “Gangbusters” from 1979, and it’s one of the best sounding songs on the record – it’s almost hard to believe it was live given how tight the band sounds.  “Dehumanize Me” by Bondage boys is the most intriguing tune, one leaning towards a more morose style of heavy, a little post-punk but also a bit of slower metal.

In addition to the kick-ass music, N.W. Metalworx provides some solid liner notes both by the label team and from Craig Cooke who used to book bands at the venue.  You can also learn a bit more about the Lake Hills Roller Rink HERE in an article written by Howard Monta, who’s family operated it for decades.  It includes a list of band who played there over the years, and some of them will be familiar to you if you’re a rock fan – Heart, Iron Maiden (!), The Lovin’ Spoonful, Moby Grape, the Sonics… a fair amount of talent made the trek across the lake to little ol’ Lake Hills.

There are three versions of N.W. Metalworx Vol. 2 – Lake Hills Revisited available – CD, black vinyl in an edition of 400, and splatter vinyl in a hand-numbered edition of 100.  All of them are still available through the label’s website HERE, so check ’em out.  I splurged on the splatter vinyl and it both looks and plays great.  In fact I’ve been impressed with everything N.W. Metalworx has put out – they make sure the product is always high quality.