Arts & Entertainment

The history of Tacoma’s metal scene: The ’90s

The ‘90s yielded a time of rebellion against the already established. The local metal scene yearned for something new from decades before. The ‘80s gave us the birth of heavy metal. Hair and glam bands were on the rise. At the turn of the decade, these styles of music had burnt themselves out in the underground and the only ‘80s heavy metal bands that were left were bands signed to major labels. Local heavy metal took a huge nosedive and would not be seen again for some time.

That is when grunge hit Washington like a steam engine and no one had saw it coming. Grunge had an “I don’t give a shit” kind of attitude and took no time to put on eyeliner or tease its hair. There is another genre that shared the same mindset as grunge and still ruled the underground scene. Fast and loud, hardcore punk was truly the evolutionary stepping-stone for what local metal would become today. It gave birth to metal genres such as hardcore, a sub-genre of punk fused with elements of metal.

Hardcore in the Tacoma scene became a culture that would carry itself for decades to come. Bands like Harkonen and Botch helped define hardcore as a genre in the Tacoma underground. These bands are what inspired the sound of later hardcore metal bands all around the nation.

Local club promoter and booking agent Lonnie Reed said, “Botch is the unspoken Nirvana of Tacoma. These guys are the most underrated band of the last two decades. Norma Jean stole their sound from Botch. The Chariot stole their sound from Botch. Car Bombs stole their sound from Botch. It’s debatable that Dillinger Escape Plan stole their sound from Botch. You can’t find a band that predates that band.”

The ‘90s was still a hard time for metal or hardcore music because there were no established venues or formal places to play shows yet. The only places to play were bars and they did not allow circle pits, hardcore dancing, or mosh pits. House shows, rented out halls and gymnasiums were the spots people went to go to these hardcore shows. Tacoma was not as nice as it is today. The streets were paved with gang violence and clashing egos from different hardcore punks and hardcore kids.

Bass player for the band Harkonen and roadie for the band Botch, Ben Verellen explained, “The scene is not as structured as it is today. They used to have these things called unity fests and they would have them at a teen center somewhere. It would have ska bands, hardcore punk bands, and these straight up heavy metal bands and it would just be a bunch of underground music. There always so many people, so everybody was kind of stuck with each other. Which was really cool sometimes, but also I remember things being a lot scarier back then. There would always be some crazy fight or some skinheads would show up.”

Hardcore music would be here to stay in the Tacoma metal scene. You can still go out to shows and see bands that were influenced by Harkonen and Botch. Hardcore bands of today have modified their sound from bands of the ‘90s and continue to push for a fresh sound to this day.