I’ve never really understood metal. Personally, I feel that musical tales of fogged-out dragon lairs and fetal hellfire baths should be reserved for one place and one place only: Scandinavia.
Most of D.C. is pretty much with me on this. “There are a lot of metal fans in the area, but I don’t know if there was a time when there was a thriving scene,” says Ryan Hill, owner of Annandale metal and industrial niche shop Strangeland Records, one of the D.C. area’s rare hubs of metal activity. Dan Boyd, a Strangeland employee since 2006 who plays bass for Fairfax metal band the Seventh Gate, agrees. “To be completely honest, the metal scene in D.C. just isn’t that great,” he admits.
The District’s modest metal scene, at least, hasn’t been strong enough to keep the 1200-square-foot Strangeland afloat. Earlier this month, Hill announced that the shop will soon descend to the underworld of D.C.’s fallen brick-and-mortar record shops in a flurry of maxed credit lines and six figures of debt. The outfit will close its doors on March 17, the second anniversary of its grand opening. “Three months from now, Strangeland will be a memory and a loan payment on a monthly basis,” says Hill.
With Strangeland’s close, the store’s collection of metal bands like Witchfynde, Pungent Stench, Nunslaughter, and Rotting Christ—along with local acts like Admiral Browning and Age of Ruin—will be hard to come by in the District. “Ninety-seven percent of the stuff on our shelves is stuff you won’t find anywhere else,” Hill insists. I decided to take this last-ditch opportunity to listen to some metal before it’s gone. Starting Feb. 1, Strangeland’s collection will be priced to move.
Army of Lost Souls, Trollrock
Sticker Price: $16.99
On Shelf Since: August 2007
Sampled Track: No. 3, “Demon Killa”
Me: When I arrive in the shop, Boyd informs me that I’m too late to find his new personal favorite, Italian pornocore provocateurs Funeral Rape—“I bought up all of the Funeral Rape,” he admits—so I pluck this one out of the racks on the strength of its cover. The art delivers: A wizard conjures a ring of fire as a skeleton army marches into a wicked lightning storm. As a final touch, two glowing green eyes peek from the depths of a cave. But the lyrics—“Can’t get the voices out of my head/Can’t get the voices out of my head/And I need/Demon Killa”—fail to produce the portended doom, and the singer’s old-school Axl Rose delivery is precious. More rock than troll.
Metalhead: “Really cheesy power metal,” says Hill. “Power metal and thrash have more fun. They’re not about being evil or anything like that. They’re about going to a concert and fucking rocking out. You’ll have a lot of ballads, and you’ll have a lot of fantastical imagery like dragons and shit like that. I don’t really listen to it.”
Collection, clotted Symmetric Sexual Organ
Sticker Price: $8.99
On Shelf Since: November 2007
Sampled Track: No. 5, “Alkanoid”
Me: Has me at “Clotted.” Track 5 kicks off with an awkward DJ endorsement: “Listen to this if you dare,” he says, “Those of you who think you know what grind really is.” Grind, apparently, is a tight 30 seconds of straightforward guttural throat action. According to the liner notes, all vocals and guitars are recorded by a guy by the name of Sumi Hendrix. The dude wails like a demon birthed from Hades. I almost buy this.
Metalhead: Clotted Symmetric Sexual Organ, or CSSO, is “your typical Japanese grindcore,” says Boyd. Hill’s never even heard them before. “This is one that I actually got from one of our consigners,” he says. “I couldn’t even get this through one of my distributors. You will not find this anywhere.”
Thunderdome, Pink Cream 69
Sticker Price: $12.99
On Shelf Since: January 2007
Sampled Track: No. 2, “Thunderdome”
Me: I pick up Pink Cream 69 for the name, which doesn’t sound very metal—just vaguely sickening. Unlike a lot of its death metal cousins, Pink Cream 69 forgoes feudal sensibilities for a more futuristic tack. This album, their ninth, appears to have been crafted entirely around the 1985 Mel Gibson-Tina Turner vehicle Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Choice lyric: “In the Thunderdome/You’ve got a right to win or lose/In the Thunderdome/You’ve got a choice but you can’t choose.” The big disappointment here is that these guys sound pretty much like human beings. Includes a straight cover of the Knack’s My Sharona.
Metalhead: “This is another one that you definitely won’t find on the shelves, period,” says Hill. “These guys fit more into the obscure hair metal category; believe it or not, there is still some underground hair metal. I don’t know how they’ve kept that going.” Hill admits he doesn’t know the story behind the German five-piece’s name. “I don’t get it,” says Hill. “But whatever.”
Aria Des Vampor, Cuntworm
Sticker Price: $12.99
On Shelf Since: March 2007
Sampled Track: No. VII—Cuntworm uses Roman numerals—“Tasting the Blood, Tasting the Spirit”
Me: Despite a name that screams Take a listen! this one’s been on the rack for a while. The song employs some sick synth action, but the murky lyrics—I can only make out “I still dream of you/In my mind”—are awfully soft. I did not expect this mushy bullshit from a band called Cuntworm.
Metalhead: “There are some bands that I’ll bring in particularly for the crassness of their name,” says Hill. “There’s a brand of metal called goregrind; this is an offshoot, which is called pornogrind. Pornogrind is essentially the same, but instead of being over-the-top gory, it’s over-the-top sex. The album covers alone would keep them out of most stores.” Adds Boyd, “You can’t just go into Wal-Mart and get a Cuntworm album.”
Grand Declaration of War, Mayhem
Sticker Price: $18.99
On Shelf Since: October 2007
Sampled Track: No. 3, “A Time to Die”
Me: Before I listen, Boyd unravels the band’s lore: In 1991, lead singer Dead shot himself in the head in the pursuit of suicide-aftermath album art (check out dead Dead on the cover of 1994’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas). Then, guitarist Euronymous reportedly stewed and ate Dead’s brain while drummer Hellhammer forged a necklace from his bones. Jealous that Euronymous was more evil than he, bassist Count Grishnackh (self-named after an Orc chieftain), stabbed Euronymous two dozen times, finally through the skull. None of these people are featured on this album, which Boyd dismisses as “not the true Mayhem.” Whoever this Mayhem is, they sound like Voldemort backed by a zombie guitar army: fucking sweet.
Metalhead: “This band is a hard-core, fucked-up band,” says Hill. “There’s something going on in Norway that I will never fucking understand.”
Ride the Lightning, Metallica
Sticker Price: $19.99
On Shelf Since: September 2007
Sampled Track: No. 8, “The Call of Ktulu”
Me: I get about a quarter of the way through this 8:53 instrumental from 1984 before zoning out. I have to admit that I like Metallica by Metallica, released seven years later, better.
Metalhead: “I’ve only sold a handful of Metallica albums. The problem with mainstream stuff is that it’s hideously priced. The fact that Metallica sits on our shelves at 20 bucks is a joke,” says Hill. “The thing that pisses me off about them is that they’re the most vocal band against downloading, but they’ve done nothing to lower the price of their records. You’d think they would extend a fucking olive branch to their fans,” he says. “You’re probably better off buying this from Target.”
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