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Sharp Darts: Metal Shop 

Seventh Rule releases punishing music in beautiful packages.

Living in close proximity to Wicker Park, I've come to recognize the progression that stably employed couples in their early 30s follow upon settling down. They replace their couch from the Salvation Army with one from CB2. They take up jogging. They get a dog. They talk about having a baby. But so far as I know, Scott and Cara Flaster are the only such pair to start a record label specializing in high quality, lovingly packaged, and brutally punishing underground metal.

The two met in 2001. Scott had moved to Chicago from Lansing, Michigan, a few months before, after splitting with his band, Small Brown Bike, which had gained a respectable fan base for its melodic flavor of hardcore. (He and I met in the late 90s after our bands formed a mutual appreciation society and played a bunch of shows together.) Cara, who'd moved here from Columbus three years prior, was a regular at the Fireside Bowl, where Scott had started working after performing there repeatedly over the years. They were married in 2004, and both ended up in "real" jobs—he's an IT manager, she's the interim executive director for Archeworks, a school that trains students to do design projects for nonprofits.

They came up with the idea of Seventh Rule Recordings in 2003, while they were still just dating. "We basically went to a bar downtown and drank a couple martinis and decided that we needed to start this label," Cara explains.

"I think I was drinking whiskey," Scott interjects.

"The way I remember it," Cara continues, "we both felt helpless about not being able to help so many bands that we knew that were amazing."

Inspired by forward-thinking metal labels like LA's Hydra Head and Philly-based Relapse Records, and armed with a bit of music-biz knowledge—Scott from his experience with Small Brown Bike, Cara from a stint doing label publicity—they approached the Chicago hardcore/metal act Sweet Cobra about releasing their next album. "We knew that we had to put out Sweet Cobra," Cara says. "We just didn't want to let anyone else do it."

The band went for it, and later that year the Flasters signed another local outfit, Raise the Red Lantern. In mid-December 2003 Seventh Rule had a release party at the Fireside for albums by both bands.

Since then Seventh Rule has become something of a sanctuary for Chicago bands whose music falls outside the sometimes rigid genre boundaries of mainstream metal, from Indian's thunderous psychedelic doom to Plague Bringer's industrial-tinged, drum machine-powered grind. But the Flasters always intended to reach beyond city limits. Scott courted the Seattle metallic hardcore band Akimbo after seeing them play for "like 25 people" at the Fireside, and their 2004 album City of the Stars was another early Seventh Rule release. (The group's later signing to Neurosis's label Neurot is a testament to the tastes of the Flasters.)

The latest batch of releases on Seventh Rule offers further proof that the label's more than just a local phenomenon. On their new album Invisible City, Wetnurse, a rare example of a real metal band from Manhattan, juxtaposes succinct hardcore-inspired attacks with sprawling psychedelic collages; track times range from 2:28 (the crunchy, melodic "Your Last Flower") to 11:43 ("Slow Your Spell, Miss Hell," which spans a range of tones from pastoral to apocalyptic and a dozen sub-genres of heavy music). The record has earned Wetnurse raves from both the dedicated metalheads at Decibel and the self-conscious hipsters at Vice.

Intimacy, the latest blast from Tampa-based Light Yourself on Fire, lays the shrieking anarchy of vocalist Matt Coplon's former band Reversal of Man—Flaster's onetime labelmates on Florida hardcore label No Idea—atop a chugging, intimidating riff-heavy foundation, alternately recalling heavyweights like Slayer, the Dillinger Escape Plan, and Eyehategod. Sonically it's all knives out, but open the CD booklet and you'll find lyrics full of dense lingual knots like "I feel the pain of loss / but I still absorb myself into the root phrase of 'to be' / love in death" accompanied by notes that reference Camus, Sartre, and Hurricane Katrina.

That CD booklet, by the way, is extremely cool looking, in keeping with Seventh Rule standards. The artwork, by a Brooklyn- based designer known as Steak Mtn. (responsible for, among other things, most of Against Me!'s design work for the past couple years), is a psychedelic CMYK explosion under strong black sans-serif lettering. "We just don't believe in just putting out shit like let's get it done as fast as we can," Cara explains. "That's so gross. I don't care if we put out ten records—they gotta look good."

Those who pick up early editions of Seventh Rule vinyl will find that the dedication to aesthetics goes deeper than the cover. A 200-copy edition of Intimacy, for instance, is being pressed on white vinyl splattered, spin art-style, with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to match the cover. Eighty-four copies—the "nuclear" edition of the record—comes on black vinyl bisected by a vivid band of yellow.

Scott admits that special limited edition releases help pressure hardcore record collectors to buy—and buy early—but he and Cara are also motivated by their own geeky allegiance to vinyl.

"You buy your record player once," he explains. "You don't have to buy a new record player every year, versus, like, a new MP3 player. You set up your stereo and it's always there. I guess we're just old fashioned like that. And stubborn."

While the label is still small-time compared to its models, it's found a fan base far broader than the couple expected when they started it over drinks.

"We get letters from prison a lot," Cara says. "Which makes me feel very... "

"Metal," Scott finishes.v

Care to comment? Find this column at chicagoreader.com. And for more on music, see our blogs Crickets and Post No Bills.

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