The Wolf's Den in Polson seems an unlikely place to host a metal show. A small hole-in-the-wall bar that can maybe fit 100 people, it has a few tables, a dance floor and, on a recent Saturday afternoon, a jukebox playing Def Leppard's "Love Bites." The members of Walking Corpse Syndrome, one of Missoula's longest tenured metal bands, gather around a pool table, burning the afternoon hours prior to showtime. The stage is tiny, especially for a six-member band that includes two full drum kits.
Small venues are a challenge Walking Corpse Syndrome faces often as it racks up the miles between small Montana cities, playing wherever it can.
"Trying to be a metal band from Montana is fucking hard," says guitarist Matthew Bile as the band members convene around a tall table. "But we're doing something that few other Missoula area metal bands have done, and that's finding regional success while staying a Missoula metal band."
In the coming weeks, Walking Corpse Syndrome will play other small Montana venues, Seattle, Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Salt Lake City. The tour and the band's newfound resolve mark a return to form after a precarious couple of years.
Bile and drummer Shawn "Nocktis" Frazer founded Walking Corpse Syndrome in 2006. Bile says shortly after the release of its 2010 album, Narcissist, lineup problems, mounting debt and the pressures of jobs and family hastened the decision to put the band on a break.
"All of a sudden I lost my job, the recession has hit, people aren't coming to shows, people aren't buying merch," Bile says. "People in the band are having kids and we aren't making money, and we're like, is this even worth it now?"
During the downtime, Bile took a gig as the touring guitarist for Hemlock, an established metal band from Las Vegas. The six-month break provided the motivation to get Walking Corpse Syndrome rolling again. Two new members, guitarist Ryan Kromdar and singer Leif Wintterowd, joined Bile, brothers Shawn and Greg Frazer on drums, and longtime bassist/violinist William "Sludge" Saylor, to begin work on a new album.
When a plan to use Kickstarter to raise $10,000 to record the new album didn't work outit stalled out around $6,000Walking Corpse Syndrome reached out to its fanbase to offer free T-shirts, copies of the CD, whatever it took to get fans to contribute to the process to make it happen. The members call their efforts the "Corpsestarter" campaign. Ultimately, they were able to raise enough money to devote 10 days in the studio to record Alive in Desolation, which will be released April 5.
Yet the CD, for all the effort to bring it to life, is just one small part of the band's overall plan for success. With the disc priced at just $5, and the tracks available for free download, they won't get rich selling records. For the musicians, it's all about building a fanbase. To that end, the band pays Facebook to generate ads for promotions. Its page has over 3,300 likes, and Bile estimates 300 to 400 people actually interact with them via the social media site. Besides Facebook and the band's website, with links to ReverbNation, YouTube and Twitter, Walking Corpse Syndrome retains a mailing list of fans they reach out to regularly.
"Basically, if someone wants to know about our band," Bile says, "we will contact them however they want to be contacted when a show or something is happening. We'll email, Facebook, mail you a flyer, whatever. We will fucking call you on the phone if that is how you want us to contact you!"
They're all but giving away the music in order to recruit more people to the cause, until, hopefully, they don't have to keep day jobs because of the demand for Walking Corpse Syndrome shows and merchandise.
"Do you know of a metal band, or rock band, from Montana to make it big?" Bile asks. "They usually have to move to Seattle or Portland or someplace else."
What does "making it big" actually mean these days? After all, plenty of bands that grace the covers of national magazines and tour the world are essentially penniless, or close to it, and end up hocking gear to survive when not touring. A recent cover story for New York magazine talked about indie stalwarts Grizzly Bear, and the members' struggles to pay for rent and health insurance.
When reminded of the travails of other, more recognized bands, the members of Walking Corpse Syndrome look at each other and shrug, unperturbed. "At least they're self-sufficient when they're on the road," says Greg "Mr. Grimm" Frazer. "They're doing it for their living."
Bile agrees. "I would consider that making it big," he says. "We don't want to be Metallica. We just want to play shows every night."
The bigger, the better.
Walking Corpse Syndrome, Universal Choke Sign and Mahamawaldi play the Palace Fri., April 5, at 9 PM. Free.