March 21st, 1986, C/Z Records released the legendary Deep Six compilation album, featuring the early recordings of a handful of bands that would later become key figures in the grunge and alternative rock explosion of the early ’90s.

Deep Six introduced the world to the scene in its infancy. In 1986, the Melvins, Soundgarden, Skin Yard, Green River, Malfunkshun, and U-Men began brainstorming ways to save the masses from Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. Thankfully, C/Z Records were on hand to release their efforts.

Compiled by Seattle locals Chris Hanzsek and Tina Casale of CZ Records to showcase what was happening in the Seattle rock community, They drew on the talents of six like-minded bands. “I really liked Green River,” says Casale. “They had great energy and played some really cool original songs.” Green River would help the fledgling label assemble the rest of the compilation.

“Tina and I took direct input from Jeff Ament and Mark Arm,” recalls Hanzsek. “I’d previously worked with Green River on their 1984 demo and debut EP Come On Down in 1985. I was also in the habit of printing band stickers and that sort of thing. The conversations with the Green River guys went something like, ‘OK! We’re starting a label. Let’s do a comp to expose it to the world! Who do you guys think should be on it?'”

Hanzsek and Casale met with each band individually to discuss the project. In addition to Green River and Soundgarden, they talked to Malfunkshun, the Melvins, Skin Yard and the U-Men. All six bands would agree to record for the album.

Green River had released their debut EP, Come On Down, several months before Deep Six. Here, they offer the bluesy punk chug of “10,000 Things.” Mark Arm’s unique Iggy-esque drawl is caustic, untamed and utterly addictive. “Your Own Best Friend” opens with moody arpeggios before picking up pace into a galloping ripper.

By 1986, The Melvins were considered one of Seattle’s top underground bands. On Deep Six, they dole out slabs of molton, sludgy riffs, twisted arrangments and menacing musicality. “Scared” features some batshit vocals from King Buzzo. “Blessing the Operation” is a forty-five-second fearsome thrash metal, punk grind-fest with thunderous drums from Dale Crover. The bouncing groove of “Grinding Process” is filled with bad intentions while “She Waits” is a full frontal hardcore assault which, at forty-one seconds, makes sure it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Soundgarden provided the songs “Heretic”, “All Your Lies”, and “Tears To Forget”. Having formed only a year before, they were already showing signs of the transcendental brilliance they became known for, particularly on “Heritic”, with its mathematical time signatures and gorgeous atmospherics. Cornell trades brutal throat-shredding howls with helium shrieks.

The Soundgarden on Deep Six was a pre-Matt Cameron version of the band and featured Scott Sundquist on drums. At this stage, Matt was a member of Skin Yard, so he still appears on the album, but with Skin Yard, not Soundgarden.

Soundgarden re-recorded “Tears to Forget” for their 1987 EP Screaming Life, while “All Your Lies” was updated for their 1988 debut album Ultramega OK. But the nascent versions appearing on the Deep Six compilation do not suffer when held up against their (slightly) more polished reworkings. The feral immediacy is thrilling—even this early version of the band sounds like nothing else on earth.

Andrew Wood’s Malfunkshun offers two tracks: “With Yo’ Heart (Not Yo’ Hands)”, a doomy-sludge groover, and the savage punk rock ripper, with thrash metal undertones “Stars-N-You.” Andrew would later form Mother Love Bone with Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard of Green River. On first listen, fans of his Mother Love Bone output may be surprised by the savage aggression of the Malfunkshun tracks on Deep Six. The band quickly reveals itself as a genius blend of Avant-garde noise-rock, glam pomp and hardcore punk with blistering, infectious energy.

Skin Yard’s guitarist, Jack Endino, would go on to record and produce many of the most legendary Seattle bands, helping to document and establish Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Nirvana’s sound. His band, Skin Yard, provided two belters. The first, “Throb,” opens with an ominous two-note bass vamp from Daniel House and some sinister guitar atmospherics from Endino before Matt Cameron leads the band into a throbbing grind. Cameron’s drums are instantly recognisable and jaw-droppingly powerful.

“The Birds” features frontman Ben McMillan’s saxophone playing. The song reeks of pulp-fiction noir. Ben McMillian’s voice sounds utterly different from the belting husk we would later know in Skin Yard and Gruntruck. Instead, he adopts a rich, deep, partially spoken, impeccably enunciated baritone.

Seattle legends The U-Men close out the album with “They” and a bloodthirsty scream from frontman John Bigley, who whips the band into a guttural psychobilly barnburner. The U-Men’s angular muscle is corralled into a Cramps-style romp that perfectly concludes this essential compilation.

“I am surprised when someone contacts us and wants to know about the record, and it keeps happening,” says Casale years later. “I got 20 minutes of fame from Deep Six, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
The truth is, Deep Six is a staggering listen packed to the seams with originality, ideas, energy, talent, and charisma; it’s an astonishing collection of music that proves that these bands and musicians were on an utterly singular path.

“I saw the Deep Six album in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the Seattle section, so you know it made an impact,” says Casale. As documents go, this is ground zero..!