Metal has waged an uphill battle in Portland. For a long time, the city's indie-centricity kept heavier genres shoved away in the deepest, darkest corners of the local music scene. Things are different today. Relapse Records has an office in town. Sizzle Pie names pizzas after Motörhead and Slayer albums. Red Fang is poised to chart with its next album. We even have regional festivals celebrating the metallic arts, including the Northwestern Black Circle Festival, now in its fifth year. Metal is hip—which means it's the perfect time to do an autopsy on Portland's extreme past. Here, we turn over the stones beneath which lurk the bands that helped clear a path through the city's overgrowth of cardigans and folk music, blasting out a niche that's allowed this current crop of brutalists to thrive.
[DEATH METAL] Only a handful of American death-metal acts had a recording out before Dead Conspiracy's first 1987 demo; in fact, Trey Azagthoth sent a fan letter and ordered a copy when Morbid Angel was in its infancy. Bulldozing its peers with unprecedented tempos, Dead Conspiracy was drawing big crowds by the end of the '80s. In a strange sign of the times, the group began incorporating elements of funk, including a horn section, and were courted by a major label. Ultimately, the band moved to San Francisco before imploding in 1991. Last year, the group re-formed with a new drummer and vocalist.
[BLACK METAL] Inspired in equal parts by the imagery of Canada's Blasphemy and the unapologetic outrageousness of G.G. Allin, Thy Infernal arrived in the late '90s wearing corpse paint and spitting purple Kool-Aid into the audience. That's just the beginning: The group also brought pig heads to Satyricon, desecrated graves and garnered blessings from the Church of Satan. The band openly courted controversy, performing alongside notorious Scandinavians Mayhem and alleged white supremacists Blood Axis, but its shows, both in and out of Portland, remain the stuff of legend.
[METALCORE] Like many genres, metalcore has become watered down, but once upon a time, bands like Gun Pro pushed boundaries. (Full disclosure: My brother, Merlin Carson, was the band's guitarist.) Formed in Corvallis in 1995, the band found support in Portland's local hardcore and powerviolence scenes. Several recording sessions at Smegma Studios were never issued, which is a shame, because the music—with its mythological lyrics and bizarre time changes—was highly original.
Fall of the Bastards
[CRUST] At the turn of the millennium, metal was becoming less of a dirty word in Portland. It was around this time that Fall of the Bastards arrived, blending black metal, folk and crust into a seamless whole. Anchored by Eli Bloch's furious and technical drumming, the group featured a dual-guitar onslaught from Donald Stanley and Kody Keyworth and a singer, Jason Voorhees (not his real name), who wore his hair in dreadlocks and had a face full of piercings. The band splintered into different factions following a farewell show at Satyricon in 2008.
[GORE METAL] One of the more successful death-metal bands to emerge from Portland, Engorged once recorded an entire concept album about Cobra, the G.I. Joe villain. Later, the group opted for more gratuitously gory lyrics. Throughout the years, a cadre of axe-wielding madmen filed through its ranks. Tendrils of association connect Engorged to highly regarded local obscurities like Wraithen, Frightmare and Lord Gore, while one of the masterminds behind the G.I. Joe era, Rosy Cross, was famously fired from the group, and went on to be famously fired from Danava.
SEE IT: The Northwestern Black Circle Festival is at Branx, 320 SE 2nd Ave., on Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 8-11. 5 pm. $14 advance, $16 day of show per day, $56 weekend pass. All ages. Also see listing, this page.