I got more out of that year since I had a working knowledge of the foundation of most modern metal acts, and it is a genre I keep returning to a full year and a half after "quitting" my little personal experiment. The reason for that is because I live in a town that is experiencing a full-blown metal renaissance. You may read about the wispy folk bands in NY Times and Newsweek, but in the trenches, people are banging their heads.
As I got deeper into it, I did see that this movement was growing stronger throughout the U.S. Ryan Adams was touting his black metal bona fides. Mastodon got major league airtime on late night talk shows. And in the metal magazines, blogs, and Twitter feeds, people were talking warmly about Portland's wellspring of talent.
This led me, as it often does, to pitch a trend piece out to a few publications, including Rupert Murdoch's baby The Daily. Shockingly, they accepted my idea and I set to work. I talked with members of several metal bands, big and small - Red Fang, YOB, Mongoloid Village, Nether Regions, and Gaytheist, among them, two bookers that have been instrumental in keep the scene thriving (Carly Henry and Nathan Carson), Brandon Stosuy who writes about metal for Pitchfork, and the heads of a couple of metal record labels that relocated their offices to Portland (Relapse and Seventh Rule).
And as what happens with these sorts of things, I turned in the article and nothing has happened with it. The editor there spoke to me a while ago about it not being a timely piece so it could go up whenever. But to date, it hasn't seen the light of day at all.
That is until now...
Submitted for your approval is the draft of the Portland metal scene article I submitted a few months ago. I hope you enjoy it.
As if to prove correct the writers who have dubbed their hometown the "hotbed of all things hipster," promoters in Portland, Oregon pulled out all the stops for New Year's Eve, calling on some of Stumptown's heaviest musical hitters—Talkdemonic, Nurses, Laura Veirs—to bring 2011 to a close.
Yet for all the indie rock options at hand, the prevailing choice was the triple bill of heavy metal bands at the newly renovated Star Theater in downtown Portland.
And it wasn't just the metal lifers having their copious hair blown back by the meaty, hard-charging attack of Red Fang, Lord Dying's blacker than black murk, and the punk-infused fury of Rabbits. Young women in tiny party dresses clutched tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand while throwing up devil horns with the other, and clean cut floppy haired men clamored towards the stage shouting along with every gruffly shouted lyric.
Shows like this New Year's Eve event are quickly becoming the norm in Portland, where a metal and heavy rock scene that has been kicking up sparks for the past few years is finally starting to catch fire.
"It has happened organically and it's happened fast," said Nathan Carson, a booking agent and promoter for metal acts and drummer for the doom band Witch Mountain. "Even five years ago, I would have told you that Portland doesn't have a lot of metal bands, but they have a lot of metal fans."
The scales finally seem to be in balance now with the musical landscape studded with some impressive heavy rock talent. And news of this sonic renaissance is starting to spread beyond Portland's borders.
Red Fang was featured prominently on NPR's music blog in early 2011 (they hosted a pre-release stream of the band's second album Murder The Mountains) and were invited on the road with Grammy-nominated titans Mastodon.
As well, the challenging and sludgy trio YOB, currently on tour as the handpicked opener for enigmatic space metal outfit Tool, was recently anointed as "one of the best bands in North America" by New York Times writer Ben Ratliff.
The wellspring has also attracted the attention of record labels like Relapse and Seventh Rule, both of which have moved their operations to Portland and have begun to snap up the best of the city's current rock crop, such as Rabbits and Wizard Rifle.
Another benefit for the bands is that music fans in the city that weren't already listening are also starting to wake up to the rumbling happening beneath their feet.
"We're starting to attract people that aren't stereotypical metal fans," said Joe Wickstrom, bassist and vocalist for Nether Regions, one of Portland's thrashier rock groups. "You won't see a bunch of people in bullet belts or dressed in all black. And I love that."
Of course, like any style of music, heavy rock didn't just appear out of nowhere in Portland. The city has a long history of iconic forebears like '70s proto-punkers The Wipers and garage mavens Dead Moon. And most of the folks playing in the much-talked-about bands of today are all nearly or well past 40 years of age.
But even as recently as the early part of the '00s, concerts featuring local bands were attended by only a handful of diehards. "It would be me and the same other 12 guys," said Wickstrom. "Heavy music has always had a pretty strong underground here, but it seems stronger now than I've ever seen it."
So, why is it catching on now?
"To a degree, it has to do with the Portlandia phenomenon," said Carson, referring to the popular IFC comedy series that celebrates and mocks Portland in equal measure. "There are so many more young people moving here that are interested in alternative cultures and are now willing to embrace the fact that there's artful metal out there and that it's important, viable music. I think it has to do with women embracing metal and participating in it a lot more. And I think it also helps that national media is taking metal more seriously."
Carson points to the likes of NPR and influential music blogs Stereogum and Pitchfork, the latter of which has run Show No Mercy, Brandon Stosuy's monthly column focusing on the fringes of metal, since 2006. But publications as august as The New Yorker have also been willing to take up column inches discussing the furious black metal outfits Wolves In The Throne Room and Liturgy.
Like so many other Portland musicians, the heavy rockers are also quick to point to the uniqueness of the Northwest that, according to YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, "is conducive to creativity without the weird jaded quality you get in Hollywood or Nashville or Austin. There you get a lot of 'been there, heard it' attitude. There's still an unjaded quality in Portland that allows for a lot more heart to be in the music."
Or to put it more bluntly, as Wickstrom did: "Bands here just don't give a f**k. That's the most beautiful thing about the Portland music scene, it's very uncompromising. It's very much a DIY type of thing to begin with. Then when people start paying attention and start giving you money to do what you want do, even better."