You may not know this, but Tampa holds the unofficial title of "death metal capital of the world." In the late '80s and early '90s, Tampa acts such as Morbid Angel, Obituary, Atheist and Deicide dominated the extreme metal scene, and legendary bands from around the world, such as Sepultura and Napalm Death, recorded landmark albums at Temple Terrace's Morrisound Recording Studios.
For live music, there was the Brass Mug.
If you've gone to a metal show at some point over the last 30 years, there's a good chance it was at the Brass Mug, which up until earlier this year had been located in the same Fletcher Avenue strip mall since 1982. For music a little — okay, maybe a lot — left of mainstream, the Brass Mug is unquestionably an institution, both locally as well as worldwide.
The thing is, death metal, punk, grindcore — the kind of stuff you're most likely to hear blasting from the stage at the Mug — has never been much about traditional aesthetics. The old location was known for its beer-soaked, sticky carpets, decades of cigarette smoke encrusted in the ceiling tiles, and bathrooms that looked like a scene from Silent Hill. The Brass Mug never has had looks going for it.
Although I'll greatly miss the squalor of the old place, I was looking forward to seeing what a new Brass Mug would look like. Impressively, the new Mug — just a mile or two from the old one, on Florida Avenue — is just as divey and rough-looking as it ever was, although the walls now boast a natural wood finish instead of the black paint from before, and the area in front of the stage is tiled instead of carpeted. It's bigger, too — the stage is at least twice as large as before and an elevated seating area along the back wall provides more room to congregate, should you wish to take a rest from headbanging in front of the stage.
Whatever it lacked in looks, the Brass Mug always was known for heaving great sound, with thunderous, double-bass-drumming pounding your chest cavity while ear-splitting guitars shredded alongside. The new Mug is a much larger and less straightforward space, making dialing in the acoustics a bit of an adventure at the start. Owner Heather Mullis hopes to install a new sound system in the coming months, but for now, it sounds just fine.
The new location has already been going strong in the concert department, with legendary punk and hardcore acts such as D.R.I., The Vibrators, and Reagan Youth passing through over the course of the last six months, as well as Dwarves this past week. Two weeks ago, the Mug even hosted an unlikely benefit concert called — no joke — Metal Meowlisha, which featured nearly a dozen bands and a meet-and-greet with members of big-name Florida-affiliated metal acts such as Obituary, Death, and Cannibal Corpse. The cause? To raise money to help homeless, abused and neglected cats in Tampa Bay.
Although the Brass Mug is primarily a concert venue, you can stop by the bar to enjoy a cold beer or cocktail; or perhaps growl along to your favorite tune on Tuesday night's Karaoke Brutale, which features $3 well drinks; or simply bang your head on Thursdays during Metal Night (didn't see that coming), when certain wells and draft beers are as low as $1. For the rest of the nights, there's always darts to throw, pool to shoot and a jukebox to feed dollars into.
It'll take time to see if the new Brass Mug will retain its reputation as the place to go for live metal, punk, and other extreme music, but with a few great upcoming shows and a city long known for its support of these genres, the outlook is pretty good.