Record Store Day and the rise of doom metal
After being battered by everything from chain stores to Napster to BitTorrent, a group of independent record store owners and clerks gathered in 2007 to craft a counterstrike. The plan: to showcase the quality of analog music, and the thrill of collecting physical albums. The result: Record Store Day.
Held on the third Saturday of every April, it’s a day when independent and major labels alike combine forces to release exclusive, new and reissued—often limited—LPs, seven-inch singles and CDs.
This year’s releases range from albums by Public Enemy, Doc Watson and the Grateful Dead to Nirvana’s “Pennyroyal Tea” single (which was briefly released in 1994, but recalled after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, most likely because the B-side was called “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die.”
The plan seems to be working. Vinyl sales are actually up since 2007, hitting a 10-year high last year. While Billboard reports rapidly declining CD sales, and the first major hit to digital sales since the iTunes Store launched in 2003, vinyl has jumped from roughly 1 million in sales in 2007 to 6 million in 2013, with an increase of 32 percent between 2012 and 2013 alone. According to Billboard, 65 percent of vinyl purchases came from independent stores.
Some indie record stores feature live music along with the RSD specialty items, and this Saturday, Streetlight Records will team up with Bane Shows to host two hours of metal provided by two of the hardest-working, DIY bands around; Michigan’s three-piece grindcore outfit Cloud Rat, and Louisiana’s leaders in doom, Thou.
While hardly mainstream, doom metal has a unique link to the Bay Area. With its crushing rhythm, droning riffs, and glazed-over stoner appeal, it’s risen to become the most popular subgenre of the local metal scene.
“Doom is metal with the most emphasis on heaviness,” explains Kyle Kessler, guitarist for local “blackened doom” outfit, Folivore. “It’s really an overarching of underground music … bands like Thou are doom because they have the slow, crushing tempo, yet they also cover Minor Threat.”
While Doom traces its origins back to the late 1970s and early ’80s—with bands like Pentagram, Candlemass, Saint Vitus and revered originators Black Sabbath—its modern history in the Bay Area leads back to a couple of bands, all with shared musicians and one common thread, Matt Pike.
“I’ve never considered myself ‘doom metal,’” Pike tells GT with a chuckle. “But I guess I fall in the category of pushing things that way.”
While attending high school in San Jose, Pike joined Al Cisneros, John Yates and Chris Hakius in forming the short-lived sludge outfit Asbestosdeath.
“At the time, we were really into what was happening around us in the Bay Area—the Melvins, Neurosis, that sort of thing,” remembers Pike. “Plus the classic stuff, like Sabbath.”
In the early ’90s, after two EPs, the band broke up, leading Cisneros, Hakius and Pike to form the power trio Sleep. By building upon drawn-out, Tony-Iommi-style riffs with a heavy, droning rhythm section, Sleep defined the modern doom sound. Their first two releases made a buzz in the underground, but it was 1992’s Holy Mountain that earned them a place in the metal archives, and the attention of London Records, who signed them for a third album.
Dopesmoker would be the band’s opus and legendary last recording; in 1995, they blew all of their advance on weed and new equipment (in that order) to record one hour-long song that the label refused to release, further building its cult status. Appropriately, it’s about a space-age, wandering stoner, featuring the opening lyrics “dropped out of life with bong in hand.”
After the band broke up, Pike formed his current project, High on Fire. His work with both bands (Sleep reunited in 2009, and is currently working on a new album) paved the way for doom groups like Thou, who after nearly a decade, are finally gaining media attention themselves. Last month, NPR streamed Thou’s latest, Heathen, for an episode of First Listen.
“I wouldn’t say the scene has changed, but I’ve seen people appreciate it more,” Pike explains. “They never really took a bong hit and opened their eyes to where that sound comes from. The patience of waiting for a note, for a long time, is part of the music. It’s really hard to make metal a work of art. It requires a lot of patience and deep thinking. So when you hear something that has ‘it,’ there’s a lot going on. It’s more than just getting around and smoking pot with your buddies.”
Cloud Rat and Thou will perform Saturday, April 19, at 3 p.m. at Streetlight Records, 939 Pacific Ave. in Santa Cruz. Free, 888-648-9201.