Blood Circus: The Grunge forefathers nobody wanted

Sometimes, lost in between the pages of history books, our forefathers wade in obscurity. Like sleeping
giants, they lumber on in silence while the histories they authored ignore their creators. Blood Circus is grunge’s sleeping giant.

Born and raised in the same city that not only spawned a subculture, Blood Circus sowed the seeds of legends. They formed in Seattle during the great flannel explosion of the late 80s, where the ferocious foursome gained notoriety when Sub Pop released their debut single “Six Foot Under” and “Two Way Street,” one of the then-fledgling label’s first records ever pressed.

Blood Circus was initially poised for certain stardom. Nirvana and Mudhoney first honed their multi-million dollar riffs while opening for them at Seattle’s Vogue Cafe in 1988. Sub Pop then released the first (and last) Blood Circus record entitled “Primal Rock Therapy,” which propelled them to embark on their first (and last) tour.

Critical reception of “Primal Rock Therapy” was at once unanimous and deeply divided. Everyone agreed that they were bad, but only some celebrated them for the same reason. Fueled by negative press and personal tensions, Blood Circus fled from the spotlight in 1989, months before Nirvana was thrust to the forefront of the American music scene.

Blood Circus’s complete commercial failure remains confusing. “Primal Rock Therapy” was a proto-grunge template, its tracks fueled by low, growling bass lines, working-class alienation, and grueling riffs—all traits that propelled grunge bands into subculture legends.

Rolling Stone perfectly captured the essence of Blood Circus’ struggle in their 1993 review of the Nirvana compilation “Incesticide”: “‘Incesticide’ and Blood Circus’s “Primal Rock Therapy” freeze fragments of a creative process that four years later miraculously caught the world’s fancy. One band made it, one didn’t, but the roles could as easily have been reversed.”

Perhaps the most voracious criticism comes from the band themselves. On their own webpage they proudly declare themselves, “the worst selling (and possibly the worst ever) band in Sub Pop’s stable.” Now that’s the kind of brutal self-deprecation grunge heroes are made out of.

Even though history robbed Blood Circus of well-deserved success, they have become cemented into grunge lore as the definitive test of any fan’s devotion to the genre. In the liner notes to “Primal Rock Therapy,” Sub Pop co-founder Johnathan Poneman declared, “There are a bunch of you who have scored your Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Nirvana records and think you have the grunge creed covered. No chance. ‘Primal Rock Therapy’ is the acid test.”

Now the sun has fallen on grunge as its heroes have succumbed to speedballs, sweaty beer guts, and the realization that self-deprecation can be co-opted by younger, hipper bands. Yet in the darkness, Blood Circus endures, honoring their legacy as the last survivors of a breed that was meant to die.