Lead by Sandrider and Good to Die Records, a new metal scene booms in Seattle.

It’s a Wednesday night in Ballard, and the back room of Hattie’s Hat looks like a casting call for a Black Sabbath biopic. The long-locked members of Swedish psych-metal band Graveyard and their San Diego-based tourmates Radio Moscow drink beers and devour platters of chicken fried chicken while female admirers buzz around them, clad in tight denim bellbottoms and pursing glossy lips.

At the center of this ensemble is a spontaneous gathering of the Seattle metal scene, including Adam Noble Bass, owner of Ladies’ Choice Presents, the promotion company that puts on several metal shows around the city each month, and Andrew Chapman, frontman for bands Princess and the Keeper, who launched the Your Village Sucks Festival in 2011. Clutching a tallboy PBR is Nik Christofferson, founder of the website and promotion company Seattle Rock Guy and owner of Good to Die Records, the region’s fastest-growing metal label. Since launching the label last June, Christofferson has put out three impressive debuts by Monogamy Party, Brokaw and Sandrider, the thunderous trio opening at the Tractor tonight.

The members of Sandrider amble in after their sound check, a somewhat tension-filled event thanks to the tongue-lashing they received from the Tractor soundman for playing too loud. Sandrider are unquestionably a high-volume band, oriented around guitarist Jon Weisnewski’s hairpin turns and anchored by the bowel-bursting rhythm section of bassist Jesse Roberts and drummer Nat Damm. The Tractor isn’t used to hosting sold-out, decibelpushing metal shows. The fact that it is demonstrates that Seattle’s metal scene is thriving.

Seattle has always been a rock town, albeit one with an identity crisis. The early ’80s mirrored the synthetic trappings of the LA hair metal scene, with bands like Queensrÿche, Rail and the earliest incarnation of Alice in Chains. The punk influence that informed early Soundgarden and the Accused eventually gave way to Grunge Proper, and continues to rumble beneath bands that place an emphasis on craft and pay homage to Olympia’s heavier,
angular icons like Karp and Unwound.

In addition to Christofferson’s growing roster (he recently signed Absolute Monarchs and Dogshredder), bands like Helms Alee, Narrows, Black Breath and Smooth Sailing lead a pack of hard, heavy and borderline brainy bands that play with creative time signatures, cliché-free lyrics and boundary-pushing arrangements—all rendered at an artful, eardrum-bleeding level.

“I don’t know if I’d call it ‘thinking man’s metal,’ but the quality is higher,” says Smooth Sailing guitarist Timmy Keener, who has joined the group at Hattie’s. “I think with Good to Die, people know we have something serious now, and that work has to be smart to be recognized.”

Andrew Chapman chimes in: “There’s a level of proficiency that’s mandatory now. People are taking the genre seriously, from lighting to poster art.” He means Sandrider drummer Nat Damm’s show flyers and Smooth Sailing’s seizure-inducing visual show. “I think a lot of older bands are drawing on what some of the younger bands are doing.” Case in point: Sandrider’s debut sat gathering dust for nearly three years before Christofferson’s solicitation motivated the band into action.

“I started Good to Die for a number of reasons, but mostly because there was no prominent Seattle based label putting out records by noisy and heavy rock bands,” Christofferson says. “It’s a void that needed to be filled in this town, and the time was right for someone to take the plunge.”

Above: Sandrider drummer Nat Damm performs at the Tractor Tavern. Photo by Nate Watters.