Ozzy can’t complete a sentence, Axl has spent a decade on an album he can’t finish, Motley Crue is ready for Star Plaza, and Metallica put out a record with a symphony orchestra. Metal is still alive, though. It’s just living in places many don’t notice–like Nightfall Records, an efficiency-sized death metal shop in Mayfair.
This is the place to find imports and rarities like Vaginal Vempire, by porno-grindcore specialists Anal Blast. Or Dark Funeral’s Vobiscum Satanas. You can also pick up the T-shirt for Regurgitation’s Tales of Necrophilia: a flayed man buggering a freshly beheaded woman.
You probably couldn’t wear it to work, though, unless you were Thomas Belau, who moved from Minneapolis to open Nightfall four years ago, settling at Lawrence and Pulaski after being turned down by “dozens and dozens” of landlords.
“Everybody was rejecting us,” says the ponytailed, 37-year-old Belau, dressed in black from his socks to his Morbid Angel sweatshirt. “It’s a metal store, mostly death metal or black metal, and it has a label of being satanic. I don’t know why. Most of it’s not. Most of it’s more political.”
Metal survives because it’s a sound track for the clawing disaffection of young men too callow to satisfy their drives for sex and power: grinding, whipsaw guitars tuned to sepulchral chords, bass lines punching harder than fists, singers growling like steel-trapped bears, drumbeats exploding 200 times a minute. The lyrics are about abortion, not birth; rape, not love; damnation, not salvation. The satanism and “war against Christianity” slogans are a way of lashing out at those who’ve achieved contentment.
“Aggression,” says Belau. “That would be the one word to sum it up. Death metal is good for [people] that have no outlet in life. Like a kid in the suburbs who’s isolated and his father is abusive. Would you want that kid to snap one day and stab his parents? No. Death metal helps him deal with the angst. It’s a release.”
Belau grew up in a fatherless home with overbearing older brothers, and his youth was full of anger. He vented it by boxing, slam dancing (“a legal way for me to hit people”), and listening to death metal. Most fans “are younger kids, within the 15 to 25 age group. Once you get past 25 and into your 30s, you get less bitter. I can say that from experience.”
He outgrew his bitterness, but the music stayed in his blood. He can still put on a CD by Morbid Angel–his favorite–and gush that “they’re, in a word, fucked-up. Their chord progressions are not right. They’re morbid. They’re sick. They’re brutal.” And he can enthuse about the brilliance of a song by the Norwegian Viking metal band Solefald that begins “Your mother’s a goal, she cries for every ball.” (Scandinavia, the source of the Norse mythology that provides so much of black metal’s imagery, has produced a legion of bands celebrating their pagan heritage.)
Belau describes Nightfall’s customers as “very picky metalheads.” Aleksandar Trifunovich, a young man with a shaved head and a black leather jacket, comes in carrying a sheet of paper listing black and death metal rarities. To his delight, he finds CDs by Septic Flesh and Impaled Nazarene. Trifunovich, a student at Columbia College, is trying to form a club to celebrate what he thinks is today’s most innovative music.
“If you ask me, there are only two music forms where you’re hearing something new,” he says. “Electronic and dance, and death and black metal. A lot of these bands, they really don’t make much money. It’s the whole idea of making music for the pleasure of it. A friend of mine hung out with the singer from Enslaved when they came to Chicago. He’s going back to Norway and working in, like, a fish-processing factory.”
Like punk, underground metal insists there’s little difference between bands and fans. Often, they’re the same. Belau wants his customers to know he’s a metalhead, not a corporate manager. Nightfall makes it a duty to promote the Illinois death metal scene, carrying The Age of Clitoral Decay by Decatur-based Lividity (this week’s leaders in the ever-escalating competition to be metal’s shockingest rockers), who record on United Guttural, a label run by Waukegan’s Rich Lipscomb.
“He sells a shitload of our stuff,” says Lipscomb, who is also the lead singer for Fleshgrind, a band that will be appearing at the Midwest Showcase of Sickness, February 23 at Rube’s in Harvey. “Thomas supports the scene real good. He’s a big metal fan. I see him at all the shows.”
Nightfall occupies the narrowest of niches, literally and figuratively, but it’s not likely to go out of business.
“It’s an amazing thing about metal,” says Belau. “It won’t go away, no matter how bad the critics bash it, crash it, burn it. The fan base will always be there.”
Nightfall Records is located at 4039 W. Lawrence. The store is open year-round from 1 to 10 Monday through Saturday and 1 to 7 on Sunday, except during the Milwaukee Metalfest (July 26 and 27), when it’s closed. Call 773-725-3530.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Nathan Mandell.