For every Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam in Seattle's booming '90s rock scene, there was a Love Battery, Jessamine, and Hovercraft—the latter three groups being exemplars of adventurous music who deserved more mindshare during that era of music-biz frenzy for our city, but for various reasons did not receive it.

And beneath even Love Battery et al.'s modest notoriety existed several worthy rock bands from the first half of the '90s who quickly faded into deep obscurity soon after they called it a career. One such unit is Stymie, a grunge outfit who released a handful of hard-hitting singles on guitarists' Jeff Kleinsmith and Adem Tepedelen's New Rage Records and then dissolved, to little fanfare.

But 2023 has seen Stymie's previously unreleased album, Toil & Folly, surface on streaming services and Bandcamp through the revived New Rage imprint, which originally existed from 1990 to 1995. (Toil & Folly receives a vinyl release—in a limited edition of 500 copies—on December 15.) One listen to the LP's 13 songs and you'll wonder why Stymie didn't rise higher in the Pacific Northwest musical ecosphere. 

With additional input from Patrick Barber (bass, vocals), Shane Bastian (vocals), James Halada (drums), and Brian Taylor (bass, guitar), Stymie produced a muscular strain of rock that also boasted melodies of bruised beauty. They claim that their influences were Black Sabbath, Black Flag, and Black Francis, but I also hear some early Afghan Whigs and pre-major-label Soul Asylum in these burly, swerving songs, which were recorded and mixed by Phil Ek (Unwound, Truly, Built to Spill, etc.). You can imagine mosh pits from 30 years ago forming in your mind as you listen to them.

Here's the thing: New Rage returns to business at a time when indie labels are not exactly booming. But the impetus to get this dormant Stymie material was too strong to let it molder on hard drives. While the label's bosses aren't keen to start issuing a load of new material, they have noticed that there's no shortage of interest in rock's rich past.

"We've discovered people in their 20s who have an interest in the music being made in the Northwest in the '80s and the '90s," Tepedelen says in a Zoom interview in which Kleinsmith also participated from his home in Darrington; Tepedelen currently dwells in Victoria, BC, where he writes for Decibel magazine and authors books, including a co-write with Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner for the latter's memoir, Mud Ride.

"We wanted to put out the Stymie record," Tepedelen continues. "That was a leftover regret that we never got to 30 years ago. We fully intended to release it when we still had the label going, because we literally put aside an album's worth of material we recorded and said, 'Okay, this is going to be the Stymie album.'  

"At the same time we thought, let's start digitizing and make the back catalog available so people can hear these lost Unearth singles and some of the other cool releases: Fireclown, Daddy Hate Box. And also it gives us the opportunity to sell some of the leftover vinyl. Vinyl's again become a hot commodity, and we have some 7-inches and 12-inches sitting around that we'd like to turn people onto." 

New Rage's principals haven't decided yet if they're going to all in on reissuing physical product of their catalog, although the band Unearth did a session at Electric Eel after the label put out their CD, Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt, that produced four or five songs, which could see release on vinyl.

"Maybe we could be that label that does this for other cool releases from that era," Tepedelen says. "I feel like there was a lot of good material that's just gone. It kind of reminds me of The Rocket in a way. The Rocket went out of business in 2000 and it's as though it never existed. [Note: There is an Instagram account—@therocket90s—that revives some of the PNW music mag's content, though Tepedelen's point still stands.] Even though there's decades of this amazing journalism that's been put out. There's a lot of music that was put out on indie labels during that period that was good. It would be nice if people had access to it. We haven't gotten that far, I guess."

Which unjustifiably obscure local bands from the '90s would New Rage consider reissuing? They're being cagey about it, but Tepedelen claims that there were a lot really good singles from the '90s that deserve resuscitating. "I was going through my big box of singles the other day and just as a for instance, the first Gnome single [13 Family] is really good. This band was originally called Earwig, I believe, and they were gonna record for Sub Pop. Sub Pop actually paid for the demo. Then Sub Pop decided not to put it out for some reason. So, Gnome put it out on an indie label [Blossom Records]. This is so great. How is somebody gonna hear this anymore? That's an example of the kind of thing that would be cool to reissue.

"Sleep Capsule, whom we worked with, also put out some really interesting singles. They put out one on a German label and one out of Corvallis. These things are hard to find, but they're really good records. Great examples of Seattle music from that era. That's the kind of thing I'd be interested in doing—but I'm not saying we are doing it."

Kleinsmith cites Bone Cellar as "another great band that didn't get their due."

There was no dramatic reason for Stymie's self-titled album to not get released in the '90s—the band simply petered out. "We took it seriously, but [the band] was a hobby," Kleinsmith says. "We were all trying to get our careers started. I was just about to be art director at Sub Pop, I was art director at The Rocket. Our heads were in different places. I wasn't trying to be a rock star. We only practiced once or twice a week. It was just fun to get together. I think we just lost steam."

"And money," Tepedelen adds. "We made our best recording in May of '94. We had a lot of hope for it. The songs were really good and the recording was very good. We circulated it to some degree. But it didn't really register. Not a lot of people were coming to our shows. So, where do you go at a certain point? By the fall of that year, we just ran out of gas and broke up.

"Unfortunately, at that point we had amassed all this material that we still liked, but maybe not everyone else liked or were indifferent to it. There was that and then New Rage ran out of money, because the Unearth CD did not sell well. That was the last big thing we did. The band broke up and didn't promote it at all. No one else was enthusiastic about putting it out."

Not even Sub Pop, for whom Kleinsmith was freelancing at the time. Both men note that Sub Pop's sound was moving away from grunge to lighter shades of rock, including bands such as the Spinanes, Pond, Hazel, and Red Red Meat. 

What are the main differences Tepedelen and Kleinsmith see between Seattle's music scene now and that of the '90s? Do they think Stymie have a better chance of getting more traction now than they did back then? Without hesitation, Tepedelen says, "Uh, no. There's always going to be a certain amount of nostalgia and we're not fooling anyone into thinking that this is going to blow up. I do like the fact that we're representing this era that people still feel fondly about. 

"I was at a Mudhoney show [in November] in Seattle, and you see a lot of the same people that we used to see at shows who were either in bands or were just going to the shows. There's some nostalgia there, obviously. We'd be happy if we're embraced for representing that era of music well. 

"The Seattle music scene is very vibrant. It's very different, the clubs are different. Younger people are different in the way that they consume music and whom they go see. There's a great metal scene in Seattle. There's all this cool music being made. I feel like we're part of the history and if people want to go back and hear what it sounded like in the early '90s...

"There's a quote we use on our hype sticker—'Stymie were obscured by the giants of the era.' But it was not just us. It was us and a lot of other bands that I think were really good. By the time we came around, the big focus was on the four bands that were selling millions of records. So we were existing in our own smaller, lower-tiered thing at the time. We were operating in their shadows. 

"It was cool on the one hand: when New Rage put out records, we could sell a thousand records right out the gate to distributors because we were selling Seattle bands. All over the world... people in Europe would buy hundreds of these things. There were plenty of benefits for us as a label. But there were also things that prevented a lot of bands from getting their due, because so much of the focus was on those very popular bands."

These Stymie members don't feel like they got shafted back then for being an overlooked band amid the feeding frenzy that was happening in Seattle in the first half of the '90s. "With the amount of effort that we put into it and what we did is what we got back," Kleinsmith says. "The way I approached it was, I was doing this cool, fun thing with my best friends in the world and that was gratifying. Anything we did beyond that was gravy.

"I don't know if we tried that hard to get signed or get on Sub Pop. We did the things that were available to us—not unlike what we're doing now. But the landscape is so different. We're on Spotify now. We're on Bandcamp. But we have the same attitude we had back then. 'Hey, this is fun!' 

"I just looked and we have 694 monthly listeners on Spotify. Wow, cool! It was 400 a couple of days ago! That could sum up the Stymie attitude."

Despite all this renewed activity, a Stymie reunion is very unlikely. Kleinsmith says, "I'm not sure I remember all of the songs. We've been listening to it so much as we put it out and I'm like, 'What did I do there?' The first couple of weeks would be just learning the songs. It would be a fun thing to do... once. But it would be a lot of hard work."

Tepedelen confesses, "I literally haven't picked up an electric guitar in a meaningful way in decades. I'd have to have someone teach me these songs again. It's pathetic."