Bitter Roots

Hillyard’s metal marauders have a new record in the works

Spokane’s Hillyard neighborhood looks slightly post-apocalyptic in places — vacant buildings, yards littered with broken-down cars, stray dogs roaming the streets.

It is no surprise that Rutah, Spokane’s preeminent death metal ensemble, makes this its home base: the band’s last full-length album was titled Welcome to the End of Days, their lyrical content touching on the doom of human civilization.

But the neighborhood has its drawbacks: Bandmates Erik Loss and Shawn Striebel recently laid a dragnet across a swath of Hillyard in search of the band’s stolen equipment.

“Some meth-head heard us practicing and apparently decided to rip us off,” Loss says. “So we put the word out that all of our equipment got stolen, and lucky for us we got a tip about where it might be.”

The pair followed up the tip and scoured the neighborhood themselves for several hours, finally spotting a truck with a tarp only half-concealing their pilfered belongings.

“We called the cops and then waited for another two hours for them to show up,” Striebel says. “The whole time we’re worried that someone is going to drive off with our stuff. The crazy thing was that after searching for hours the truck was in the back yard of the house next-door to where we had parked.”

It’s not the first time the band members put themselves out on a limb. For the past 10 years, Rutah’s music — which has a lot in common with old-school death metal bands like Morbid Angel and Suffocation — has occupied the fringe of Spokane’s metal scene. Their sound is defined by grinding guitars, furious blast-beat drumming, guttural, demonic vocals and lyrics that deal with carnage, disease, brutality and other un-pleasantries.

According to Loss — Rutah’s 32-year-old lead singer and one of its three guitarists (the band does not include a bass player) — “rutah” is a derivation of a Latin word meaning “bitterness.” For the band, most of that bitterness is aimed at the mainstream establishment, with Christianity and organized religion being the principal targets of criticism.

“We’re not just anti-Christian, we’re more anti-religion in general,” Loss says. “The world is full of war and discontent, and it’s religion that’s driving people crazy. Since we live in a mainly Christian society, Christianity is obviously often the focus. 2.6 h “My parents didn’t push me into any religion,” he says. “They were rebellious biker types and they programmed into me at an early age to be rebellious.”

Shawn Striebel, 38, another of Rutah’s guitarists, agrees with Loss, though he comes from a different background.

“It was the opposite for me,” Striebel says. “I was pushed into Christianity. I had to go to Sunday school every week, but I think it was more a way for my mom to get me out of the house.” Rutah’s outspoken criticisms of religion have occasionally drawn the ire of Spokane’s faith community.

“We’ve got a bunch of nasty e-mails,” Loss says. “And some promoters and clubs around town don’t want to work with us and accuse us of being devil worshippers.

“We were playing at a club once, and after the show this guy came up to us and asked if we sacrificed babies,” he continues. “I looked at him and said, ‘Yes, absolutely, all the time,’ and he got this horrified look on his face. He actually believed it. I had to assure him I was just joking around.”

Despite their long tenure, Rutah has only released two full-length albums: Hate from Days Long Past in 2005 and Welcome to the End of Days in 2007. They recently completed work on a brand new full-length, A Place of Outer Darkness, and also have an album’s worth of unreleased material that they plan to unleash in the not-too-distant future.

“A Place of Outer Darkness is the most professional recording we’ve ever done,” Striebel says. “It sounds awesome.”

Loss says the groundwork is already being laid for a U.S. tour next year to support the release of the album. They’ve been independent since their inception, touring, recording and printing albums on their own dime.

That’s not to say that the band doesn’t want a label to help pay the bills, though.

“Where we’re at right now, it’s great to just be able to get our music out there,” says Loss. “We still want to get to a point where we can be a working band. We don’t need much, but it would help to have a tour budget and not have to worry about putting gas in the truck.

“I’d take minimum wage if it meant I could play music for a living.”

Rutah plays their first show in three months with Dripping Orifice and Age of Nefilim at the Cretin Hop on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 7 pm. Tickets: $5. Call: 327-7195.