Once the capital of cardigans and the bastion of birth-control glasses, Portland is now a metal mecca. Last year was the biggest yet for loud and heavy local exports: Gateway metal band Red Fang had its latest album, Whales and Leeches, debut at No. 66 on the Billboard charts. To put that in perspective, Black 'N Blue's debut peaked at No. 129 in 1984.
This is new ground for Portland. This town now boasts heavy-metal pizza, heavy-metal bowling and heavy-metal burlesque. Relapse Records, perhaps the most successful independent metal label in the U.S., keeps an office here. Hipsters wear shirts with indecipherable metal fonts advertising Stumptown coffee and skateboards. Bands like Sons of Huns seem poised to break nationally at any moment. The members of Lord Dying quit their day jobs to tour nonstop. Portland has finally embraced heavy music en masse, and the stage is set for another massive year.
One of the most overlooked groups in town is the progressive black-metal quartet Burials, which features members of Humors and Hang the Old Year. Its blend of brutality and sophistication is practically unmatched in Portland, welding the artfulness of Enslaved to the complexity of Converge while maintaining a hardcore underground ethic. Burials' latest album, The Tide, arrives in 2014, with a West Coast tour planned for late spring and early summer.
Punk-metal trio Honduran, meanwhile, plans to hit the East Coast and Europe this year. Honduran's alleyway Slayer worship delivers grinding ferocity and plenty of riffs. Its full-length, Street Eagles, was released on the local label Eolian, which has quite an agenda itself. Its 2014 release slate includes albums from sludgy Bay Area transplants Prizehog, bass-drum duo Towers and retooled doom-metal legend Graves at Sea.
Andrea Vidal fronts Holy Grove, a heavy blues-metal purveyor, which just recorded its debut at Type Foundry studio with self-described "engine-ear" Billy Anderson. Dynamic, swinging and sultry, Vidal and Portland's other metal sirens are poised to break on the international scene. Satyress, which self-released its witchy debut, Dark Fortunes, in November, composes classic doom with plenty of hooks and occult themes. Disenchanter, a trio mining the minimalist turf of Saint Vitus and Electric Wizard, features guitarist-frontwoman Sabine Stangenberg, who is distilling the riff styles of Dave Chandler and Liz Buckingham.
With far less femininity and many more beards comes Zirakzigil. The trio of cousins writes epic progressive-sludge fantasy music, inspired by the writings of Tolkien. Its debut EP, Battle of the Peak, was lauded on metal blogs for its epic sensibility and Super Nintendo-style packaging. While that recording was made live in a garage, expectations are high for a true studio follow-up this year and many more powerful live performances.
Younger still is the next wave of thrash bands. Groups like Maniak and Nekro Drunkz maintain the tempo, vitality and "fuck you, Mom" attitude of '80s speed metal. And then there is Mursa, a hard-working local sludge-doom trio with members who graduated from the School of Rock but are not yet finished with high school. The future of Portland metal looks dark indeed.
This is the third in a series of features on local artists to watch in 2014.