“Another Pyrrhic Victory” Compilation

Sub Pop certainly signed more bands and survived the demise of grunge to emerge a pretty powerful label, but for my money Seattle’s C/Z Records put out the best cops from the grunge era, period.  Their first ever release, way back in 1986, was called Deep Six and included the likes of Green River, The Melvins, and Soundgarden, they got Nirvana for their 1989 Teriyaki Asthma 7″ comp, and put out regular releases by bands like Skin Yard, Coffin Break, and 7 Year Bitch.  That, my friends, is quality.

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I recently came across a vinyl copy of their 1989 Seattle comp Another Pyrrhic Victory, and as soon as I saw that Malfunkshun was included there was no question that I was buying it.  The front cover says it all – “The Only Compilation Of Dead Seattle God Bands.”  And these are the bands that died two years before Nevermind came out, put grunge on the map, and pissed off one of my friends for kicking off flannel and hiking boots as a fashion trend among the girls at his midwest high school.  Trust me, he’s still mad about it to this day.  But he can’t blame the bands on Another Pyrrhic Victory, because they were all long gone by time grunge took over music.

Some call me Georgie-boy,
Some call me Landru…
— “My Only Fan” by Malfunkshun

So opens the first track on Another Pyrrhic Victory, the trashy “My Only Fan” by Malfunkshun, led by bassist and vocalist Landru, aka Andy Wood the future frontman of a little sleaze band called Mother Love Bone.  You can hear a bit of that future in “My Only Fan,” though Wood’s vocals advanced by leaps and bounds by time Mother Love Bone’s first EP came out in 1989.  Green River follows that fancy guitar, high pitched rocker the way that only they could, by slowing it down, way down, with plodding weight and Mark Arm’s moaned vocals on “Bazaar,” a song I’ve never heard before.  In fact I’m almost positive I’ve never heard any song on this comp before.

Things get really interesting for me with the next two bands on side A, 64 Spiders and My Eye, neither of which I’d heard of before.  64 Spiders keeps it slow and heavy for the first minute or so of “Bulemic Saturday” before the song kicks into high gear… and then slows it down again, all part of an up-and-down pattern.  Their second song, “They Ain’t,” immediately follows the first, a raspy, angry, driving number that reminds me a bit of early Tad (which is ironic, because Tad is a member of one of the bands on this comp… but it’s not 64 Spiders!).  My Eye closes out the side with another slower track, and the lead singer sounds like he’s channeling his inner tormented Alice Cooper.  This one kicks into gear for a bit as well and is a decent rocker.

H-Hour (featuring one Mr. Tad Doyle on drums) opens up side B with the most interesting song on the comp, the 10+ minute “Medley,” which sounds like a more rock version of The Cure.  And I mean that in the best way possible, because I think it’s killer.  Musically the band is tight as a drum, keeping a steady driving pace for vocalist Johnny Clint, whose voice is what drives this to the top of my list.  They contribute a track to another C/Z comp called Secretions, and I may have to try to track it down just to hear more H-Hour.

Next up is Landru’s second appearance with Malfunkshun’s “Shotgun Wedding,” a much less sleazy song than their first track, but still a bit of dirty little rocker.  My Eye then steps forward with another decent number before we get to the pièce de ridiculousness, Green River’s irreverent version of the Christmas song “Away In a Manger,” which is preposterously awesome.  Words can’t do it justice.  They don’t change the lyrics or anything – it’s all in the presentation and attitude and impertinence.  My favorite part is the one that sounds like an old-timey country song…. which is immediately followed by some Jimi Hendrix style guitar work.  If you’re easily offended by the idea of someone mocking this religious Christmas song, I’d suggest you skip this one.

Another Pyrrhic Victory might be the best early grunge comp out there, every bit as strong as Deep Six, so if you find it, buy it.

SEMINARS – “Dreamcrusher” 10″

I’m a sucker for the 10″ format.  This is a well established fact.  Probably because it’s a bit different from the standard 12″ and it has more music that the little 7″, which I feel like I have to constantly monitor.  I’m also a sucker for supporting the local scene, so the new SEMINARS album Dreamcrusher was the trifecta – I got a 10″ record, from a local Seattle-based punk band, and I bought it at Seattle’s own indie record store heaven, Easy Street.

The punk rock three piece that is SEMINARS came together in 2012 and put out a couple of self released, electronic only (as near as I can tell) EPs prior to Dreamcrusher.  The new album, however, saw them put together their first physical media release, a limited edition (of 300 per their Bandcamp site, but not noted on the jacket) eight song 10″ on Coke bottle clear wax that came out in January, 2015.

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This was my first exposure to SEMINARS.  The Stranger described the new album as “a rugged slab of articulate punk,” and I think they got it more or less right.  To my ears they have a bit of that second generation punk sound, along the lines of the bands that emerged from punk’s first implosion in the late 1970s, but before hardcore hit the scene.  It’s rock ‘n’ roll style punk rock, more about attitude and message than speed and anger.  James Burns’ vocals are clean and up front in the mix – the message is an important component of the songs; it’s not just about making noise.  SEMINARS gives us songs about alienation (“Kitty Please”), the Cold War (“Comm House”), and the challenges of coming of age (“Bottle Episode”) and working for the man (“Workin’ for Rickey”).  There’s also a bit of local flavor here with references to Bellevue (in “Bottle Episode”) as well as the notorious “Seattle Freeze” that many people say makes it difficult to make new friends and build relationships in the city (“Kitty Please”).

Stylistically SEMINARS mix it up enough to keep it fresh.  There are some straight-forward rockers (“Ashcan Copy”), some Clash-influenced old school punk songs (“Comm House” and “Dreamcrusher”), and even a little slow and heavy (“Diet Coke & Aspirin”).  But for my money the winner here is “Workin’ for Ricky,” a more wild and disorganized musical ride through the workplace and the seemingly disposable way that employees are sometimes treated (When there’s no one left to layoff and no one left to blame / New recruits will surely share your vision).  Musically it has a more European punk flavor to me, reminding me more than a little of some of the stuff coming out of Iceland, like perhaps a less hardcore Reykjavik! song.  The chord changes come at you quick, making it feel like the song itself is almost pogoing.  You can’t not bob your head and start moving around while it’s playing.  Honorable mention to “Pardon Our Progress” for having an infectiously catchy lyrical mantra that has burned a hole into my brain and won’t leave (Simplicity we wish to restore / From Philadelphia to Baltimore).

You can check out Dreamcrusher in its entirety on the SEMINARS Bandcamp page HERE.  They’re only asking $5 for the digital download, and it looks like you can still order the vinyl as well for $12.  Both, frankly, are bargains.  I’m going to need to start following these guys on Facebook so I can catch up with one of their live shows at some point.  Go check ’em out.

The Sonics – “This Is the Sonics”

A band called The Sonics from right down the highway in Tacoma, Washington just put out a new LP called This Is the Sonics.  This is important because (1) they’re awesome and (2) they put out their first garage/psych rock record 50 years ago.

Fifty.  Five-oh.  Let that roll around in your head for a minute.

There’s a very good chance that you were not born when The Sonics put out their first record.  I know.  I wasn’t.

The Sonics are still well known in these parts, since they’ve influenced practically every Seattle-area rocker since releasing their first single in 1964, “The Witch” b/w “Psycho.”  They were raw and edgy, both musically and lyrically, in an era of sugary pop.  They did a pretty wicked version of “Louie Louie.” They burned hot and by 1967 it was basically over with the guys scattering to the rock ‘n’ roll winds.  But the demand was there, so they reformed in 2007 and have been playing various festivals and shows here and there, often with guest members.  The current five-piece includes three of the original members, so this isn’t simply one guy carrying on the name to a brand new ensemble; it’s the real deal.  These guys have been rocking for half a century, and it shows.

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This Is the Sonics could just as easily be from 1965 as 2015.  There aren’t a bunch of new touches or fancy techniques here.  This is garage rock, the way it’s meant to be played.  Gritty, with yelling and organs and saxophones and songs about bad women and bad break-ups.  Sonically it’s like taking Little Richard, Elvis, an aggressive Paul McCartney, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jack White, putting them in a blender filled with whiskey and broken glass, then pouring the whole thing out onto an old microphone.

Let’s just say if I need to call ya,
I dial
666.
— “I Got Your Number”

The Sonics were very much proto-punk and they still are today, keeping nine of This Is the Sonics’ dozen tracks at under three minutes.  They get in, tear it up, and get out.  The second half of the record has what the strongest material in “I Got Your Number” and “Livin’ In Chaos,” a pair of burners, one more heavy blues rock, the other a raspy screamed attack on the world.

Kudos to The Sonics for going old school and both recording this in mono and releasing it on vinyl.  As an added bonus, the vinyl comes with a CD copy of the entire album.  I picked up my copy for a paltry $18 – a pretty solid bargain in these days of $25-30+ new releases.  The Sonics still sound edgy and aggressive, and This Is the Sonics is guaranteed to get your foot pushing a bit harder on the accelerator, so driver beware.  Or better yet, roll down the windows, get out on the highway, turn it up, and just drive man.

Mind Vice – “Consumer Nation / The Profit” Single

Mind Vice have been rocking Seattle since 2011, and on January 30 they’re going to release their new two-song single (alas, not in vinyl this time around…) and perform a live show over at the High Dive in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.  I’ve been to the High Dive before – they serve margaritas with so much lime in them that you won’t have to worry about catching scurvy for the next month, and enough a kick to ensure a groggy head the following morning.  In other words, they’re fantastic.  So that’s two great reasons to get yourself over to the High Dive next Friday night – margaritas and Mind Vice.

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“Consumer Nation” is that quasi-rarity in the rock world, a song that lets the bass get funky!  Ian Sides takes full advantage to get down with his inner funk-master through the first half of the track, though he makes room for guitarist Michael Knapp to get in there and shred a few times as well.  The pair sort of switch roles on “The Profit,” with the guitar coming to the forefront and drummer Miles Hubbard getting a chance to drop the hammer on the skins with some brisk, sharp beats.  It’s is a more straight forward hard rocker, and I like it.  A lot.

Let’s not forget the man with the voice.  Walter O’Toole doesn’t try to do the raspy, shouting rock singer schtick.  Because he doesn’t have to.  Because the dude has a legit voice, clean and with good range.  Even on the more rocking approach to “The Profit” he keeps it in control and within his pitch, which is probably a bit “higher” than normal for this kind of thing.  But it works if you do it right, and O’Toole does.  He reminds me more than a bit of Foreigner’s Lou Gramm, a guy I always thought had a great set of pipes.

So get on out there and support the local boys and the local watering hole!  If “Consumer Nation / The Profit” is any indication, they’ll be playing a hell of a set.

Skelator – “King of Fear”

Last night I went to the Steel Panther show at Seattle’s Showbox Sodo.  My buddy Brent is a big fan and took the train up from Portland because he wanted to see them again, so a few of us headed over to pre-funk at Pyramid Brewing and then made our way through the rain to the show.  I’d heard a lot about Steel Panther so I figured I was in for a good time.  But I didn’t know anything at all about the opening band, Seattle’s own Skelator (for the record, after a cursory glance at the merch table I thought the band’s name was “Melator”… and amazingly that did not strike me as odd!).  Would they be an “act” like Steel Panther, or something different?

I did not get what I bargained for.

In fact, Skelator reminded me of what I love about heavy metal.

I’ve been on a bit of a music odyssey over the last few years, one that has seen me dip my toe fairly deeply but far from all the way into the punk pool, but also with some branching out into jazz, dub, and EDM.  I credit Iceland Airwaves for much of this, as it has exposed to lots of different bands that I would have never normally take the time to see.  But here’s the thing.  It all really started for me with heavy metal.

I came of age in the early 1980s, at the time when new wave was reaching it’s over-produced zenith, Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, MTV played videos 24/7, and the Walkman made us all start buying tapes.  The very first music I bought was some of the more popular stuff – The Eurythmics, Thomas Dolby, The Fixx, Prince… and I still love that music.  But the part the mall record store that I kept going back to was the metal section, with it’s amazing cover artwork and band names, like a sinister succubus calling me.  And I started buying.  Van Halen.  Def Leppard.  Mötley Crüe.  Quiet Riot.  Ratt.  Yeah, I know, today many people would disparagingly refer to this as “hair metal” or “butt rock.”  Well, I don’t care.  Call it whatever you want.  It’s awesome to me.

Which brings us to Skelator.  As soon as Jason Conde-Houston started singing I went right into the way-back machine, carried there by his voice that channeled the demon spawn musical love-child of Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson.  He hit the high notes like a motherfucker while the band summoned the long-dead spirits of the NWOBHM with it’s two guitar attack.  It wasn’t thrash or speed or death.  It was classic heavy metal.  Soaring heavy metal.  Intricate guitar work.  Songs about swords and witches and steel and honor and, of course, songs about metal itself.  Some might view it as cliche, “oh, this is just a band doing a thing where they act like an 80s metal band,” but Skelator is genuine.  These guys love metal.  They love a lot of the same kinds of metal that I, along with an entire generation of males born between roughly 1968 and 1975, cut our teeth on, the same dudes and chicks who were in the crowd to see Steel Panther last night.  And they moshed, and they yelled, and they threw their horns up in the air.

It was a heavy metal re-awakening for me.

I don’t know why I let metal fall by the wayside.  Maybe I needed to expand my horizons.  Maybe I bought into all the haters who hated on that era and style of metal.  But Skelator reminded me of what it was like when it was new to me.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my used record buying takes a hard turn towards leather and Flying V guitars.

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I found myself a bit short of cash last night, so I only picked up Skelator’s latest release King of Fear, which I believe came out in November 2014.  Frankly, after listening to it a couple of times today, I may need to go track down some of their earlier releases too.  I’m particularly intrigued by Agents of Power, with it’s dozen song epic storyline that is an homage to Michael Moorcook’s Elric character, and I’ve seen some of their early work described as more similar to thrash and even some influences by the  black metal of Venom.  All of which sounds pretty great, and kind of makes me wish I’d borrowed $40 from Brent and just bought one of everything they had on offer at the merch table.  But that’s for another day.  Because today is all about King of Fear.

King of Fear opens with the title track, and while it’s a nice piece of work the album really kicks into gear with the second track, “Stronger Than Steel.”  I don’t want to start playing the comparison game here, because that’s not fair to Skelator.  But this has the driving elements of Judas Priest, but with the guitar intricacies reminiscent of Randy Rhoads.

Ride like the wind,
Truth on my side,

Righteous my blade,
Blood on my mind.
— “Stronger Than Steel”

Conde-Houston’s vocals are indisputably the defining element of Skelator’s sound, and they did a good job on the recording in putting him up front in the mix so you can hear the words.  That’s not to say there isn’t room for the rest of the guys – after all, this is classic heavy metal.  That means plenty of solos and musical interludes where the rest of the band can strut their stuff.

There’s a turning point smack dab in the middle of King of Fear with the opening salvo of “Raging Demon.”  This is a song that shreds.  It kicks the album up a couple of notches, with some super-fast guitars and machine gun drums, plus some deeper vocals that make this into a much heavier song than anything on the first four tracks (“I will devour your soul!”).  From there the second half of the album gets after it, as if the first four songs were building up to what was to come.  “Curse of the Black Hand” continues with the faster pace set by “Raging Demon,” and here even the solos get less fancy and more powerful.  “Test the Metal” is an homage to the genre and the guitar work almost obligates you to head-bang (alas, it’s not quite the same without my long hair of days past…).  That three song run of tracks 5, 6, and 7 is the high point of the album for me.

If you’re a fan of the more epic and heroic styles of metal, do yourself a favor and check out Skelator’s King of Fear.  There are various spots online where you can listen to it, and I’d recommend checking out “Stronger Than Steel” and “Raging Demon;” if you’re down with those, you’re going to like the rest.