“Northwest Metalfest” Compilation

Sometimes you have that itch that only heavy metal can scratch.

I woke up with such an itch this morning (at least lets hope it was heavy metal withdrawal that was causing it…), and fortunately the cure was sitting on my record shelf – the vinyl copy of Northwest Metalfest that I bought at Hi-Voltage Records in Tacoma yesterday. I “came of age” musically right around when this album came out in 1984 and spent hours sitting in my room, listening to my hand-me-down stereo (record player, cassette, and 8-track all in one!), reading Hit Parader,  and watching MTV. And I loved metal. Primarily the subgenre now referred to as hair metal, glam metal, or, most derisively, butt rock. Ratt, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Scorpions, Whitesnake… Insult it all you want. I don’t care. I just want flying-V guitars, leather, and long hair.

My family moved to the Seattle area for good in 1984, and I can remember there being a big metal scene on the Eastside (across Lake Washington from Seattle), with a lot of activity in Bellevue where I went to school. Alas, I never got to catch any of these shows – I lived in the sticks and was just a bit too young. But I still rocked out to a lot of metal in my room, at least until a thing called grunge started to come along and caught my attention.

But I digress. In doing just a little research about this record I actually came across a pretty good blog post HERE that talks about it, including a a blow-by-blow of the tracks. Metal Church is by far the best known band on the album, but in all honesty they don’t even come close to having the best song (IMO). In fact I was pleasantly surprised by just how damn good these bands sound. Yes, most of it is very dated. But the production and musicianship is solid, and while you can hear influences in the sounds of many of the bands (Koda Khan = Judas Priest, Lipstick = Mötley Crüe, etc.), there is still plenty of variety here, at least to the ears of a metal fan (I’m sure to a non metal fan it “all sounds the same”… which is fine if by “same” you mean “awesome”).

A few observations:

  • Lipstick’s “Daily Grind” opens Northwest Metalfest, and it’s probably my favorite song as well, pulling together all the classic elements of glam metal, right down to the enormous hair.
  • Koda Khan’s “Fantasy & Science Fiction” has an obviously lame name, but they have the rawest, most stripped-down sound and I think that gives them an edge over a lot of their competitors.
  • Mike Winston of Rottweiller is definitely the 80s guitar god champion on the comp, channeling his inner Yngwie Malmsteen on the aptly named “Intense As Hell,” a song that starts super slow before erupting liquid heavy metal.
  • Of all the bands, Bondage Boys probably show the biggest disconnect between their look and sound, with their glamish appearance but heavy, deep vocals that include some near growling.

As far as I can tell all these bands with the exception of Metal Church quickly faded into heavy metal obscurity, though a few individuals went on to greater glory. The late Mike Starr took his bass from SATO and hooked up with a group called Alice in Chains, and Taime Downe (credited as “Vaun Hammer”) graduated from singing with the Bondage Boys to form Faster Pussycat. Metal Church, of course, ranks right up there with Queensrÿche in terms of famous Seattle metal bands, and they’re still going strong with the release of Generation Nothing just last year. I’m glad that Northwest Metalfest exists to capture a moment in time in Seattle’s mid 1980s metal scene, because there was certainly a lot of talent in the area, and while the city soon became known for a completely different genre, it could have just as easily been the next heavy metal Mecca.