Bang Your Head 

An overdue appreciation of Missoula's unsung metal scene

In the early 1980s, a band called Prophecy would lug its gear onto the large corner stage at the Tijuana Cantina, plug into amps and play something no other band in Missoula was tapping into at the time: metal. The Tijuana Cantina, which stood across the street from the Top Hat on Front Street and had a Mexican restaurant above it, usually hosted pop cover bands. But on the nights that Prophecy took the stage, it was a different story. The band brought in its own big light setup, robust sound system and a riser to elevate the drum kit, and then delivered an assault of metal covers from bands like Kiss. Unlike most other local acts at the time, Prophecy also played a slew of originals like "Night of the Executioner" and "Killin' Machine."

click to enlarge Matthew Bile plays lead guitar for local dark metal band Walking Corpse Syndrome.
  • Matthew Bile plays lead guitar for local dark metal band Walking Corpse Syndrome.

"We were the bad boys," says Prophecy guitarist/singer Doug Koester. "We were rough around the edges. We were partying all night and livin' it up in the bars. And when we put on a show, we put on a show like we were playing to 20,000 people."

In those days, you couldn't walk into a Missoula bar or club and not hear a predictable string of radio pop blasting from the speakers. When live acts did play, they mostly covered Top 40 songs, too, from the Eurythemics' "Here Comes the Rain Again" to Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon." Prophecy stood out in a sea of jelly bracelets and Members Only jackets.

Nationally, metal was going through a metamorphosis. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath had started it in the 1970s with blues stewed in heavy riffs. Bands like Judas Priest took the blues influences out, and the British Wave Metal bands like Mö¬®torhead injected punk rock. Metallica made the speedy solos of thrash popular. But during Prophecy's heyday on the local scene, glam metal was on the rise.

"The big hair thing was going on in L.A. and bands were starting to get signed," says Koester. "It was the beginning of Mö¬®tley Crüe and Ratt, so those were some of the bands we enjoyed."

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At the same time, Koester remembers Missoula getting its first introduction to punk. Jeff Ament, who would later become the bassist for Pearl Jam, had just started hardcore punk trio Deranged Diction. The band's musical style may have differed from Prophecy's, but the two had one thing in common.

"Because they and us both hated all the Top 40 stuff, we got along," says Koester. "The punkers would come listen to us and we'd listen to the punkers. And we'd all trash the Top 40 bands when they were around."

For the time being, punk and metal appeared to be on equal footing. Both relatively new and definitely extreme, they shared the characteristics of outsiders: defiant, anti-establishment and loud. But the side-by-side status didn't last long.

Prophecy toured constantly around the northwest—in a camouflage school bus, no less—playing five or six times a week in clubs and bars. They didn't have day jobs. What little they did earn was enough for a group of rebellious 20-somethings to live off of.

"That's all we did. It wasn't much money," says Koester, "but at that time it was enough. And we were the heaviest thing playing the clubs. We put on a big show. We were going to be rock stars."

In 1987, MTV launched "Headbangers Ball," a video and interview show focused exclusively on metal. By the time it was canceled in 1995 (it reappeared sporadically in various low-grade, late-night versions on MTV2 thereafter), metal had been surpassed by various other genres. Grunge mania was in full swing. Locally, punk had found a foothold in downtown venues like Trendz and, eventually, Jay's Upstairs. Prophecy was long gone.

But metal never died. Over the past few decades, while other types of music found widespread popularity among local audiences, metal—whether by nature or nurture—has stayed underground and insular. Call it the redheaded stepchild of the music scene. Call the bands and their diehard fans fringe dwellers. But the truth is, there are a lot of metal bands keeping the scene alive, playing in and around Missoula, who deserve to be heard. We think it's time for an introduction.

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