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.

In the Company of Serpents – “Lux” (2020)

Lux is the fourth full-length album by Denver’s doom metal In the Company of Serpents. Weighty and forlorn, it’s a sonic Sisyphusian struggle, its crushing mass threatening to crush you if you lose focus for even a second. And when you do finally make your way to the top, there are moments of speed when the music careens back downhill as it does during the closing minute of “The Fool’s Journey”. But have no fear, it’s not all oppressive weight. At times the forlornness takes on a more simmering quality, the slower and quieter “The Chasm at the Mouth of It All” maintaining an even keel until the anger and frustration begins to build near then end before finally breaking on the wave of acceptance and, dare I say, resignation to fate.

Like all of the ITCOS catalog, Lux is self-released. It’s available for download as well as on CD and vinyl on their Bandcamp page HERE, along with their other releases and some merch. Fortunately for me a friend pre-ordered the deluxe edition vinyl for me which included a signed and numbered block print by member Grant Netzorg plus a patch and even a medallion.

Max Lynx – “Take One” (1983)

I picked this album out of the Miscellaneous M section at Quimper Sounds Records because of the cover, which is both simple and cool while screaming 80s metal. I wasn’t able to find out much about these guys online, both due to their obscurity and, oddly enough, because apparently there’s a Canadian lynx named Max Lynx that has an online presence, and this actual lynx has a much larger profile than this 1980s era band out of California. I found a couple of mentions indicating that members of Max Lynx later joined Attak and Subliminal Criminal, but that’s about it.

Max Lynx’s sound is more on the hard rock side of metal – it doesn’t feel like what was emerging as the sleaze and hair scene and it’s way to slow to align with thrash. There might be elements of NWOBHM here, but what I’m really feeling is like a harder and faster version of Deep Purple and Ted Nugent (especially the guitars on “Running With The Wild”). Vocalist Jerry Lee Cross certainly throws out the metal high notes from time to time, but mostly it’s rock ‘n’ roll with the occasional guitar flourish. The standard lyrical themes are here as well – the power of rock (“Metal Never Dies”), war (“War of the Morning”), and how cool it is to be a musician (“Glory Seekers”), plus we also get an element of fantasy in “Dragons and Warriors”, though in this case the dragon is a metaphor for rocking (It starts with guitar in hand / And in back is a thunder man / Dragon’s a metal warrior). There’s also a tribute to guitarist Randy Rhoads, who died in 1982, called “Rainbow Rider”.

Overall Take One is a decent record, though my ears didn’t pick up on any standout tracks. “War of the Morning” is probably Max Lynx at their hardest, and it’s a pretty solid jam.

Lair Of The Minotaur – “War Metal Battle Master” (2008)

Let’s get a few things out of the way up front.

  • This is a band named after a mythological beast that is half man, half bull
  • The album’s title is very clear what it’s about – War Metal Battle Master
  • If that wasn’t clear enough, song titles include “Horde of Undead Vengeance”, “Slaughter the Bestial Legion”, and “Doomtrooper”
  • The uncensored music video of the title track includes warrior combat, severed heads with blood gushing out of the necks, and some scantily clad vampirish women gnawing on severed limbs

I think that more or less sets the stage.

Hailing from Chicago, Lair of the Minotaur play a style of metal somewhere in the part of the Venn diagram that links thrash, death, and doom, that sliver of blood-dripping blackness inhabited by the kinds of B movies you couldn’t get enough of as a young person, the ones in which the plot was just a vehicle to take you from one fight scene to the next. War Metal Battle Master is fast. War Metal Battle Master is intense. War Metal Battle Master will stave your skull in with a mace and eat your heart to gain your powers. War Metal Battle Master will not be denied – it will get its pound of flesh.

The riffs on this record are killer, direct and harsh, the transitions coming at you from hard angles with a complete and utter lack of subtlety. The vocals vary between the growling to the percussive, veering from death to doom to black metal and back again. And make no mistake, there are some black metal elements here as well, particularly on “Black Viper Barbarian Clan” with it’s blast beats and flesh-tearing vocals.

Body Count – “Carnivore” (2020)

It seems fitting that a new Body Count album dropped in early 2020 given what a hot mess this year has been so far. COVID lockdowns, massive unemployment, over 100,000 dead in the US from the disease, and high-profile police killings followed by weeks of protests and riots. Frankly this is the perfect time for Ice-T and Body Count to arrive with Carnivore.

How many more innocent people and kids
Gotta get killed by these police, man
And then it’s always the victim’s fault
This is some fuckin’ bullshit

— “Point the Finger”

Lyrically Carnivore is similar to much of Ice-T’s hip hop output, filled with stories of crime, violence, and police brutality, with a thick layer of profanity spread over it like a glaze – the defiant rage is palpable, the only breather in the form of an “Ace of Spades” cover. Sonically it slips away from the thrash for which Body Count is primarily known, moving in more of a groove (or, dare I say it, “nu”) metal direction. Call it what you want – but whatever you call it, it’s heavy, and Ice-T’s seeming ability to vary his vocal style at will, sometimes mid-verse, allows every song to have its own unique flavor. Ice also does metal versions of two of his own classics, “Colors” and “6 In Tha Morning”, half-sung-half-rapped vocals driven on by metal rhythms and shredding guitars. The originals are in-your-face rage-fests that rail against, well, just about everyone. If you was starvin’, I wouldn’t fix you a hot bowl of shit. Even the ethereal contributions of Evanescence’s Amy Lee can’t take much of the edge off of tracks like “When I’m Gone”, instead sounding like a voice from beyond the grave and introducing a layer of melancholia to a rare introspective moment.

Overall I enjoyed Carnivore. My one criticism is that I’d like to hear more original stuff on here – with two self-covers and one originally by Motörhead we’re left with only eight originals. But that shouldn’t deter you if you’re a fan of Ice-T, because Carnivore delivers.