From the Archives: Our very own Asa Thomas Metcalfe shares a female-fronted band from Tacoma called Denial of Life's visit to a hallowed DIY underground venue - and Donal Lakatua captured the moment. Originally published in Sex & Glue Zine from Hartford, CT.
New bands are finding new fans in Montana as they navigate their way around COVID
restrictions in big cities. Missoula, Montana isn’t top billing for most musicians. It’s a small college city in the southwestern corner of a massive state. It has a historic association with cowboy films and country music. Bands traveling west of Minnesota already have their eyes set on Seattle, and so they cross the great western plains and sometimes take a chance on a date in Spokane, but they rarely think to look at the small cities of Big Sky Country.
Despite the boot-scoot connotations, Missoula can be punk. Now that bands and managers are looking for desperate locations to fill gaps caused by lockdowns and larger cities that have been slow to reopen, these small forgotten destinations are seeing a new kindling of interest.
“Personally I didn’t know what to expect from Missoula,” said Logan Miller, who plays guitar for the Tacoma, WA based thrash band, Denial of Life.
The global pandemic of 2020 canceled a lot of tours. Bands like Denial of Life were left holding the bag after spending months planning multi-state adventures which were suddenly hindered by restrictions placed on public gatherings.
“Our tour got canceled like two days before we were going to leave. We would’ve gotten
fucked,” said Nick Cody, the band’s drummer. For Denial of Life, and many other bands the
abrupt shift of momentum forced them to re-evaluate plans and instead focus on writing new music.
“We had so much time to write and we kind of found a groove.” The band released a new single in February of 2021 and has new material in the works for a future release.
Although the band is two years old there is a noticeable maturing of sound between their 2019 album and the new songs. “That earlier recording was sort of being labeled as a crossover, which is sort of what we were going for,” said Cody.
The band all agree that their initial inspiration was to make a band “like Sacrilege”, a riff-heavy English metal band from the late 80s. But Denial of Life gutted most of the Iron Maiden-esque speed riffs and replaced them with a steadier thrash progression.
The megaphone blast vocals of Brenna Gowin give the band a unique edge. Not only as a
female-fronted hardcore band, which is no longer a novelty in the genre, but also with a sober clarity which is still a rarity.
Gowin’s vocals are strong and stoic, but never give way to the oft-characteristic growl of metal. Her cadence is a forward pressing homage to Riley Gale of Power Trip, but with occasional demure tenderness between the lines.
DOL writes their songs collectively, each member brings something to the table and the rest of the band builds off of the idea. Gowin serves as the main lyricist but is quick to credit the others.
“I have this problem where I just write phrases instead of actual lyrics. But then they help me connect the dots,” Gowin said.
As COVID numbers went down the band finally felt just safe enough to schedule some shows. “We felt like we could do a short little run. It feels really sketchy to book, I don’t know,” said Miller, “It’s very hesitant.”
Following an invitation on the band’s Instagram they set Missoula as their final destination of a one-week tour. The show was hosted by Dead Eye Productions and held in the collective’s
unassuming living room space near the downtown area.
The house is kitty-cornered in an inauspicious space between a copse of trees and a new set of condos. The windows were blocked with padded plywood fixtures, something the house members constructed years ago and reuse for each event. The house’s side yard is littered with chairs and leather-clad bodies steaming in the cold rain.
The door is manned by a resident of the house who trades a star-shaped stamp for a $5 cover. Denial of Life plays last, after a short litany of local bands and one other Washington-based group, Trash Casket from Spokane. The bands are set up in a corner of the room under a pastel-yellow glass-fronted bookcase attached to the wall. A deep green glow emits from a string of Christmas lights strung along the drum rug and over the speakers.
“At first I hated it, honestly,” said Spencer Russo, the band's drummer. “I wasn’t upset with
Missoula, it was just late and everybody was leaving.” But Russo came around when he tapped his snare for soundcheck and the crowd returned from their 16-ounce cans of Hamm’s and their Marlboro Reds.
During an earlier set by Missoula-based black metal band, Iron Cemetery, the mosh pit
breached the implied “stage” area and cut off the guitarist so by the time Denial of Life starts there is a wall of large-figured audience members in the front of the crowd shielding the artists and equipment. Beyond that wall, a chaotic rush of bodies stomp and bounce on the hardwood floor.
They play a high-energy 30-minute set. Miller and Gowin hang around a couch in the back of the room for a while selling t-shirts and vinyl records. Feeling the energy settle in the room. Lights come up and the sound guy dismantles his gear.
“The audience was super receptive of me,” said Gowin. Pockets of fans wait politely for their chance to buy a shirt and talk to the band members.“This was our first show out of Washington,” said Gowin. “The energy from the crowd was really great.”
This lowly residential living room isn’t the strangest venue the band has played on the tour. Just two nights prior, they played in the basement of a scrap-filled garage/plane hangar in Yakima, WA. But the Yakima show and the Missoula show have a common atmosphere. “I feel like bands don’t come to places like that a lot, so when they do it’s fun,” said Miller.
Asa Thomas Metcalfe