Book Review – “Rusted Metal – A Guide to Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Music in the Pacific Northwest (1970 – 1995)”

How long have I been waiting for Rusted Metal to come out? I pre-ordered a copy as soon as I learned about it, and that was close to two years ago. But truth be told I’ve been waiting for a book like Rusted Metal for my entire life. If something like it had existed back when I was a teenager I probably would have spent even more time in my room than I already did, reading, re-reading, and digesting it, only stepping out into the daylight to foray out to used record stores in search of Iron Cross demo tapes.

In the 1980s it was the norm as a teen to define yourself by some kind of label. Jock. Prep. Stoner. Skater. If you were unfortunate you had such a label forced upon you against your will, like Dweeb or Nerd back when Nerd was not a badge of honor. I strove to apply one of these labels to myself back in those days. Rocker.

I wasn’t a rocker though. Not really. Yes, I loved the music – hard rock and heavy metal were the soundtrack to my high school years in the second half of the 80s, with grunge sneaking its way into the mix as Sub Pop 7″ singles started popping up at places like Bellevue’s Cellophane Square Records. And sure, I had a leather jacket, though one with faux sheepskin lining, which hardly screamed rock let alone metal. I had the mullet, but hadn’t truly embraced the full-on rocker long hair look. The bottom line is I aspired to be a rocker, but I wasn’t one.

So what does all this have to do with Rusted Metal? Well, this was the scene I wanted to be part of, and indeed some of the music I listened to is here. And I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like Soundgarden or Mudhoney or Nirvana, though certainly they’re included. I’m talking about bands like Fifth Angel and TKO and Wild Dogs. Bands like Wehrmacht, who were often blasting out of my buddy’s brother’s bedroom window when I pulled up, a speaker perched on the sill and pointing out at the neighborhood and blasting “Suck My Dick”.

James Beach and friends have created the ultimate Northwest rock and metal guide with Rusted Metal, the definitive textbook on those genres in the region, a 902-page slab that’s as heavy as the music it covers. The interviews alone would make the book worth the price, somewhere around a hundred of them spread throughout the tome. Musicians, promoters, studio engineers and producers all share their stories and memories, both of the music and about the characters who were part of the scene (“This is the guy who went to prison for putting a bomb in his girlfriend’s mailbox.”). And have no fear, friends, this isn’t just text. We’re treated to hundreds of photos, flyers, album covers, and other visual treats to help tell the stories.

The cornerstone of Rusted Metal is the section devoted to bands and musicians, over 600 pages of entries in an encyclopedia-like format providing basic info like location, years active, and members, followed by as much narrative as the guys could uncover. For a band like Portland’s High Flight the bio may only run a few sentence, but Beach still manages to connect its members to at least four other bands while also touching on their management and the venues they played. Well-known local acts like the previously mentioned Wehrmacht, on the other hand, earn a page or more, often with an accompanying interview such as the eight-pager with frontman Tito Matos, who later went on to become a very successful club DJ (a fact I definitely did not know).

The final third of the book is broken down into sections devoted to concert dates, venues, record labels, studios, and of course a discography, which given the obscurity of many of these bands is probably the most comprehensive you’ll find anywhere, particularly when it comes to documenting demos. You’ll also find some of the guys’ own releases listed, because they’re partners in the NW Metalworx Music label that has been re-release some NW classics from bands like TKO, Heir Apparent, and Whiskey Stik, as well as a couple of great comps, most notably NW Metalworx Volume 2: Lake Hills Revisited. I’ve actually run into them a few times set up at record shows where they not only sell NW Metalworx releases but also tons of great NW classics. It’s an all-encompassing passion for this crew.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of Rusted Metal on my iPad and can’t wait for the print version to finally arrive in my mailbox in a few weeks. James and the guys did a terrific job on what is obviously a labor of love, and I applaud them for it because I know how taxing and all-consuming projects like this are. Rusted Metal will hold a place of honor on any music fan’s bookshelf, and I know I’ll be referencing it constantly. You can order your copy direct from NW Metalworx HERE, with a format and price for every music fan from the $9.95 e-book to the $34.95 trade paperback to the $125 limited edition and signed hardcover edition, so get your copy today.

Led Zeppelin – “Seattle Graffiti” Box Set (2012)

There are a number of terms used to describe releases such as Seattle Graffiti, often interchangeably. That being said, I think the tag of “unofficial” is probably the most accurate. “Bootleg” is generally reserved for an illegally made copy of an official release, whereas what we have here is a live recording that was never released by the band or the label. Maybe it’s just semantics. But either way, Seattle Graffiti is not part of the Led Zeppelin canon.

I was originally drawn to Seattle Graffiti for two pretty obvious reasons – I’m a big fan of Led Zeppelin, and I’ve spent most of my life in the Seattle area. I was too young to have seen the Mothership play here (or anywhere else for that matter) live, being not even 10 years old when the band broke up; I’m part of that very next generation of Zep fans, the first group who “discovered” them after they disbanded. Fortunately for me, though, there are a number of Zeppelin recordings from live shows in Seattle, and Seattle Graffiti may be the best of the bunch.

Before we get into the music, let’s talk about the physical object itself. The outer package is a sturdy and well-deigned box, just the right size to hold everything without bursting at the seems or having too much dead space inside. Apparently released in 2012, this version (there are any number of unofficial releases containing some or all of this show) is a limited edition of 500, each copy individually numbered on a sticker affixed to the box top and underneath the shrink – so you won’t lose your numbered sticker when you take the plastic off. Inside you get the complete show, all three hours and six minutes, on both CD and vinyl. The three CDs are in individual plastic sleeves attached to the inside of the box top, which has the benefit of keeping them from loosely moving around inside, but the downside, at least for my copy, is the adhesive used is tacky around the edges and some of it got on the insert. As for the insert itself, it’s fine but seems like a bit of an afterthought – a 12″ by 12″ fold-over, the front and back are basically the same as the front and back design of the box, while the inside is a collage of photos. Decent, but not really adding much. The vinyl is pressed on five records, each in a nice plastic-lined paper sleeve. The one copy of the box set I’ve seen inside had four records on blue vinyl with the fifth on white. I have no idea if that’s normal or if there are other color combinations.

While that’s great and all, what about the music? Well, as I mentioned, you’ve got just over three hours of live Zep at arguably their peak – Plant references their just-released double album Physical Graffiti a few times, an album that was arguably their catalog’s watershed. Of the band’s six albums up to this point, only Led Zeppelin III is not represented with at least one song on Seattle Graffiti, the other five all fairly evenly represented. Most of the classics are here – “Dazed And Confused”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “Kashmir”, “Stairway To Heaven”… from my personal perspective the most obscure track and the only one I couldn’t immediately call to mind simply by the title is “Sick Again”. As for the quality, well, it’s pretty damn good. Overall the sound is clean, though there are a few passages that get a bit warbly, suggesting the master tape itself may be slightly damaged. But even that doesn’t detract much from your enjoyment, because unlike so many unofficial live releases it doesn’t sound muffled or obscured with too much crowd noise. I’m not a connoisseur of these kinds of live recordings, but it’s probably the best one I’ve ever heard.

As an unofficial release, my understanding is that it’s legality sort of depends on where in the world you are – I believe in the EU these kinds of things are allowed so long as royalties are paid, but I certainly could be wrong. In the last couple of years Discogs has blocked the sale of unofficial releases like Seattle Graffiti, but you’ll still see it from time to time on other sites like eBay. At the time I wrote this, there was an open copy for sale there for $169, which may seem steep but is not bad considering it’s five records plus the whole thing on CD as well.

Overall this is probably only going to appeal to the Zeppelin die-hard, though if you’re only going to dip your toes into the gray parts of the live catalog this is probably the high point given the sound quality.

Young Executives – “Honey, I’m Home!” (1982)

Young Executives, both with their band name and the title of their four-song EP Honey, I’m Home, captured the suburbian homogeneity that was (and to some extent still is…) Bellevue, Washington in the early 1980s. On the other shore of Lake Washington, across from its big sister Seattle, Bellevue managed to fully capture the dullness of non-urban residential enclaves. It had a notable mall (two if you count the older Crossroads) where is where we usually wanted to be taken by our parents. It also had the roller rink that was home to a lot of live shows by local rock and metal bands, kids looking for ways to alleviate the boredom of living on “the Eastside”. I never actually lived in Bellevue, though I did go to high school there for three years, right across the street from the mall, a school comprised of a hodge-podge of buildings, none of which were in great shape and which was eventually torn down and replaced with a nice park, which was a win all the way around. If I ever get lung disease, it will be from the three years I spent in those ancient buildings with their crumbling ceilings.

Honey, I’m Home opens with the ska-meets-Elvis-Costello-ish “Original Sin”, an upbeat jam expressing the desire to break free from what is expected, to do what you want to do. That’s followed by the early-new-wavish “Ice Age”, a fairly sharp change in direction – clearly Young Executives aren’t going to be boxed in by a specific genre or style. The B side opener “Body Waves” stays on the new wave side of the spectrum, flirting with post-punk, particularly in the chorus. The closer, “She Don’t Want It”, brings a different vocal cadence, a sort of staccato as the lyrics “She don’t want it” are repeated over and over.

This is one of the better early-to-mid 1980s Seattle-area private press records I’ve heard.

Pearl Jam – “Ten” (1991 / 2017)

This probably seems like a weird thing to write about. I’m clearly not going to move forward the discourse on Ten, or Pearl Jam’s place in music and society, or what former basketball player Mookie Blaylock feels about the whole thing. But then again, this blog is as much about me as it is about music, and I have an odd relationship with PJ in that:

  • I was in high school and living in the Seattle area when grunge was bubbling under, and in college in Seattle proper when Nevermind and Ten were released
  • I’m definitely into grunge (though personally I’ve never thought of Pearl Jam as a grunge band)
  • I have two close friends who are massive Pearl Jam superfans, at least one of which has traveled to multiple foreign countries specifically to see PJ shows
  • I am, generally speaking, ambivalent about Pearl Jam’s music

The last bullet is the key here. People are often very surprised by this, and I in turn am surprised by their surprise. Clearly I am perceived as the kind of person who should love PJ. And I think they’re fine. They have some songs I like, I’ve certainly heard them often enough on the radio, and I’ve seen at least one PJ documentary, and enjoyed it. But I’m fairly confident the only Pearl Jam album I’ve ever owned is Ten, which I bought on CD when it first came out primarily because I couldn’t get enough of the song “Alive”, a song I still think is their best. Some people are confused by my general lack of enthusiasm for the band. Often they’ll dismiss me with a, “well, you have to see them live”, much like Springsteen fans do. Or they think I’m simply being contrarian as an affectation, which I hope isn’t the case because I’m way to old to be behaving like that. A small minority seem almost offended, and a few think this completely discredits any thoughts, opinions, or tastes I may have when it comes to music. I have come to accept this, even if I don’t entirely understand it – nor, to be fair, do I entirely understand why I’m not into Pearl Jam… but why do we feel the way we feel about specific art or artists?

Ten is probably the only Pearl Jam album I’ve listened to start-to-finish, and the last time I did so was probably in 1991, maybe 1992. So since we’re all stuck at home in double-secret-quaranteen and I have a week off from work, I figured why not order a few things for curbside pickup from Easy Street Records and help my local shop out. And one of the things I decided to order, at the last minute, was Ten, since I have no idea what happened to that CD.

I do have one piece of major praise for Ten – I think the lyrics of “Alive” leading up to the first chorus are among the most perfectly written and expressed that I’ve ever heard.

Son, she said
Have I got a little story for you
What you thought was your daddy
Was nothin’ but a…

While you were sittin’
Home alone at age thirteen
Your real daddy was dyin’
Sorry you didn’t see him
But I’m glad we talked

This is the part of the song that is primarily autobiographical, prior to the narrative taking a very troubling turn in the song’s second half as part of the narrative arc of the “Alive” / “Once” / “Footsteps” trilogy, one of incest, murder, and execution. It’s the mother’s sheer casualness and emotional detachment that Vedder captures perfectly. Have I got a little story for you… it’s not bad enough that she belittles what she’s about to tell him by calling it a story, but even more by describing it as just a “little” story. What you thought was your daddy, was nothin’ but a… but a what, this man who I thought was my father… a what? Sorry you didn’t see him, but I’m glad we talked… Yeah, sorry I intentionally never let you know who your dad was, but he’s dead now, so, yeah, good talk. See ya. Even the very first time I heard this song it struck me – a young man being told in an offhand way by his own mother that the man he thought was his father wasn’t, and that his real father died. You can feel her callousness and his pain in the words and Vedder’s voice.

Sitting down and listening to Ten today is odd. It’s a seminal rock album, one almost 30 years old, and I know all the hit songs that still get radio airplay today – “Even Flow”, “Jeremy”, and to a lesser extent “Alive”, which seems to be having a resurgence on local Seattle-area rock radio right now. What I didn’t realize is how many of the PJ songs I know are actually on this record and not their later ones, most notably “Black” and “Why Go” (and I’d forgotten what a great song “Black” is). In fact, Ten‘s A side is truly great, the only song I don’t particularly care for being “Jeremy”, which is clearly a me thing since it was arguably the highest charting single from the album.

Do I have a new-found appreciation for PJ after listening to Ten again? Yeah, I do. I’m not sure if that will translate into me working my way through their catalog, but I’ll almost certainly come back to Ten and spin it, at least the A side. But who knows. Maybe this old dog still has a new trick or two to learn.

2016 Tad Re-Releases – “God’s Balls” (1989) and “Salt Lick” (1990)

There was a time in my life, right around 1989-90, that if you asked me my favorite Seattle-area band I’d have said Tad. Timing-wise this is hard to wrap my mind around, since God’s Balls came out the same year I graduated from high school and I feel like this was during my pre-college years… but obviously that wasn’t the case. I was still hanging with my high school crew during my first few years of college, though, snowboarding and skating, so it probably all just blends together as if my senior year was actually three years long.

My self-professed love of Tad was, I think in hindsight, two-fold. First, the music is pretty fantastic. Early Tad was something that I don’t know that anyone else was doing. It wasn’t like anything I’d heard before, and quite frankly since. Loud, abrasive, aggressive, and vocally strange, with just enough structure to call them songs. If songs are like boxers who train fastidiously, sparring and working on well-laid-out combinations, Tad is the dude behind the Circle K at 2AM who will fight anyone and doesn’t even remotely care if he wins or loses. Both the boxer and the Circle K guy can be called fighters, but one is very different from the other. The other reason for my Tad-love, if I’m being perfectly honest, was probably rooted a bit in being contrarian in that sort of late-teenage way. Grunge wasn’t widely popular yet, and even within grunge circles I didn’t hear as many people talking about Tad as there were about Nirvana or Mudhoney or Soundgarden or Green River or The Fluid, so Tad sort of became one of my self-defining “things”. Saying “I’m into Tad” would generally get you a head nod from the kind of people I wanted to get head nods from at that time in my life, from members of the tribe to which I aligned myself. I used to have a Tad sticker on my car, and one day as I walked back to it in the university parking lot I saw someone had left a note on my windshield. “Crap,” I thought, “someone must have hit my car.” Nope. The note was a concisely written three words. “TAD IS RAD”. The tribe had spoken.

When I got back into vinyl I made a sort of rule that I wouldn’t buy records of albums I already had on CD, and since I had the God’s Balls / Salt Lick CD I never bothered with picking up these two. I was tempted when Sub Pop re-released them in 2016, but held firm. At least I did until last weekend. With coronavirus lock-down making it impossible to go record shopping at the local stores, the stores have turned to mail order and pick-up as options. Easy Street Records in Seattle, however, took it one step further, offering delivery. And when they announced they were going to be doing a drop off in the town adjacent to mine I decided to place an order, both to help them out and because I’m jonesing for records. I need to chase that vinyl dragon. And two of the records I decided to buy were the re-mastered re-releases of God’s Balls and Salt Lick. As you can see below Easy Street is also down with Tad, having a Tad sticker right on their van (and for people seeing this years down the road, the mask I’m wearing is due to the coronavirus recommendations not because I robbed the van… these are some seriously strange times).

God’s Balls (1989 / 2016)

They came on down for no reason,
Just for fun, lust for blood.

God’s Balls opens with what I think is Tad’s best song, “Behemoth”, a song about getting the hell beat out of you for no reason. OK, I guess the reason is just for fun, lust for blood… but that’s not a good reason. The music is as brutal as the lyrics, a sonic beating about the head that leaves you staggering and wondering why… why is this happening to me?

You will fall down, Behemoth,
Mother fucker,
You will fall down!

Grunge production guru Jack Endino did both the original God’s Balls sessions and the 2016 re-masters. My buddy Travis told me that the re-release sounded great, but I sort of shrugged my shoulders. How much production are you going to do to Tad, after all? Turns out a shit-ton – this thing is hot as hell, the vocals emerging from behind the chainsaw-like wall of fuzz and distortion that defined Tad’s sound. You can feel the pain and surprise and his voice on “Behemoth”. Tad’s voice leaps from the songs, moving out into space in front of your speakers and giving the whole thing a three dimensional feel. Honestly, it’s like listening to a different album than the one I remember. The metallic clanging that opens (and continues throughout) “Cyanide Bath” and the Sabbath-esque riffs… the weird bullhorn-like vocal parts of “Sex God Missy”… the whole thing is tremendous.

Was God’s Balls this good when I heard it when it first came out? I don’t know. But I’m falling in love with it all over again. It feels more sonically cohesive as well, not as all-over-the-place as I remembered.

Salt Lick (1990 / 2016)

While God’s Balls has my favorite Tad song on it, I prefer Salt Lick top-to-bottom. The three-song A side of “Axe To Grind”, “High On The Hog”, and “Wood Goblins” is Tad at their very best. Right form the opening Sheee’ssss allllrrriigghhhttt… of “Axe To Grind” you know you’re getting hit with a buzzsaw, the guitars unrelenting, the drums snapping at your heals like a hungry croc. And the all-consuming vocal assault that is the chorus of “Wood Goblins” is like having your head swallowed whole by an actual woodland monster, something green and nasty and uncaring. The B side is no slouch either, the quiet intro to “Glue Machine” (Talkin’ shit all day… talkin’ shit all night...) exploding outward into the song proper like a crate of TNT.

Endino also handled the re-mastering of Salt Lick, though this time he wasn’t revisiting his original work but instead the production of the also-legindary Steve Albini. This one doesn’t sound as strikingly different from the original than did God’s Balls, but that could just be ear fatigue on my part. Regardless, this still sounds great.