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FADE TO BLACK
The two drummers from Walking Corpse Syndrome (WCS) sit side-by-side pounding their bass drumheads, which are decorated with twin ghoulish faces. Songs like "Rotting Silence" and "Path of the Righteous and the Wicked" weave creepy organ melodies with muddy bass lines and growling, nearly indiscernible vocals. The musicians wear black clothing decorated with chains and hooks and other industrial accessories. It's a gothic style that has sometimes garnered the band snide remarks about being sponsored by the gothic chain store Hot Topic. (The exception to WCS's style is bassist/electric violinist Bill Sludge, who takes rebellion a step further by wearing slacks, a button-up shirt and preppy sweater.)
Guitarist Matthew Bile shrugs off the Hot Topic teasing. In fact, he makes a lot of his own clothes, including a shirt full of lights. It's just one part of the band's overall do-it-yourself ethic.
"If [the outfits] look as good as something professional," he says, "I'll take it as a compliment."
Bile grew up in Billings' DIY punk scene in Billings before immersing himself in local metal. He played in bands at Jay's before forming WCS in 2007. And, like other metal bands, he coveted a chance to play The Other Side with its big stage (perfect for two drummers), its professional PA system and built-in metal crowd. But, he says, the band's main interest has always been producing all-ages shows.
Bile is straight edge (though not preachy about it), meaning he chooses not to partake in any drugs or alcohol. Though the rest of the band doesn't hold that same philosophy, they all adhere to the idea that kids need a drug-and-alcohol-free place to hear live music. Even when The Other Side was hopping with shows, Bile booked WCS at the Union Hall and at out-of-town rental spaces in Deer Lodge and Kalispell, where all-ages listeners could attend. (They also used to rent Higgins Hall at The Boys & Girls Club of Missoula until the venue started requiring a no swearing contract; Bile says the band couldn't comply.)
"If you can't find somebody who will take you under their wing, you gotta do it yourself," says Bile, who often works the door for his own shows. "We put down our money, we do our advertising for it, we go out, we beat the streets, hand out fliers and we try to get as many people as possible."
The band's homegrown approach almost always means it doesn't make much money, if it even breaks even. Booking bars has become more difficult due to cheaper options like DJs and karaoke. Another problem, he says, is that even when they do book a gig, there are a lot more types of entertainment to choose from these days.
"We have trouble getting people to log off 'World of Warcraft' to come see live music," Bile says. "It's not all gumdrops and lollypops like some people think it is. We really have to work hard. And we're not the only band doing it."
WCS recently recorded its sophomore album, Narcissist, at local studio Buzz Records. It's an amalgam of death and groove metal, though the band prefers the term dark metal to describe the overall sound spawned by a patchwork of influences. Bile's proud of the album—he calls it the band's baby—but cautions against fans expecting the studio effort to replace WCS's live shows.
"Things can go wrong and things do go wrong live, and there's more energy," he says. "And sometimes it's being pressed butt to nut with somebody else sweating your balls off, but you're letting go and having fun. It's never how it sounds on the album—sometimes it's better and sometimes it's worse, but god dammit you gotta take that chance."