If you followed local punk in the '90s, chances are you remember Swelter. The band formed in Puyallup in 1989, as Swelter Cacklebush, eventually shortened its name and went on to become one of South Sound's most popular alt-rock acts.
The group disbanded 15 years ago, but its imprint is still quite visible on the local hard rock scene: Mahnhammer, the F---|ing Eagles, CFA, Argonaut and Mico de Noche are among popular bands that can trace their lineage directly back to Swelter.
“Mahnhammer is pretty darn close to what Swelter was towards the end – just kind of brutal,” recalled Micah Hembree, lead screamer for both groups. Laughing, he added, “The only difference now is that we know how to play our instruments.”
Swelter's refined musicianship will be on display, at eardrum-shredding decibels, during a Nov. 22 reunion show at Tacoma's New Frontier Lounge. “We're not planning on doing anything else after this,” Hembree said. “This is a one-time deal. You've gotta be there, or it's done forever.”
Swelter Cacklebush started with four friends from South Hill: Hembree, drummer Stuart Linkert, guitarist Jason Harsin and bassist Chad Baker. Hembree described the band's original sound as being closer to power-pop; but the aesthetic veered in a more foreboding direction after Harsin left the band and guitarists Jason Deitrich and Dave Takata joined up.
“We would set up house parties, play in barns and do all this great stuff,” Hembree said. “And we just started getting heavier and heavier and heavier. At the time, we were too metal for the punk-rock kids and too punk-rock for the metal kids. It was an oddity, because people still liked us.”
Swelter's sound is captured on two albums: a self-titled debut disc that was initially released in 1996 by local punk imprint, Big Enormous Records, and an unnamed sophomore album that almost didn't see the light of day. Relationships soured before the second disc could be released, but both albums live on thanks to Bandcamp. You can find them at tacoma-swelter.bandcamp.com.
“It was the beginning of the end,” Hembree said, recalling recording sessions for the second album.
“Just like with any marriage it's bound to happen. You get in a fight, and sometimes it's done. We had been friends since high school, and we had spent enough time together at that moment in time.”
But old wounds healed over the years, and the notion that Swelter needed to play a reunion show became something of a running joke. Then a friend of the band, promoter Brian Skiffington, finally talked them into the New Frontier gig.
“It's a true test of age and humility,” Hembree said. “I didn't think some of these people could be in the same room together any more.”
Providing support for Swelter on Friday night will be Bali Girls and Negative Press. Music starts after 9 p.m., and the cover charge is $5; (253) 572-4020 or visit www.thenewfrontierlounge.com for further details.