Defying Death

What's a death-metal mogul to do when the world becomes as macabre as his music?

Poor Jizzy Pearl. On November 17, the night he played the Rock Nightclub in Maplewood with Eighties hairball icons Ratt, the L.A. vocalist must have surveyed his competition and rolled his eyes round and round. What's an overfellated heavy metal veteran to think of a pop sky now darkened by the antisocial likes of thug-rappers D-12 (at the Quest) or depressed nü metalheads Disturbed (at the Xcel Energy Center)? What happened to the salad days of meatheads? Who harshed the buzz?

Angst is back. And everything, as they say, has changed.

Not death metal, though. The night that Ratt and Disturbed duke it out, a dozen or so "dark," "extreme," or "black" metal bands take turns pummeling a crowd of a few hundred enthusiasts at the Lab in St. Paul. To these ears, locals such as Demonicon, Malignant, Coherent Liquid Form, Ossuary Insane, Anal Blast, and others are recognizable mainly for three comic common denominators: menacing names, disorienting double-kick-drum speed, and vocals that sound like Cookie Monster being drowned in hamburger grease. Yet the subgenre's formal conservatism fits the mood: Where nü metal is about anxiety, death metal is about certainty. ("Taxes metal" would do if the term had more ring to it.)

The end is coming, these incomprehensible growlers seem to say, so we might as well laugh in its face. The music makes mortality a cartoon, just as it does female sexuality, the horror of violence, or anything else more powerful than a speeding guitar. Death metal is pro wrestling or gonzo porn ten years ago, its underground popularity just as phenomenal. And just as baffling to the self-styled hipoisie.

I'll admit I never saw any shows at the Inferno on 27th Avenue near East Lake Street, so named because its tiny, 2,000-square-foot space could hold up to 250 people (as it did for the Polish death-metal band Vader one night), all simmering at 120 degrees in the wintertime. And among the Inferno bands, only innovative guitar noisesmiths Martyr A.D., who inspire what looks like kickboxing in their pit, have caught my ear since the hole in the wall closed in July.

Still, if I would not stop for death metal, death metal gladly stopped for me: On the night that the aforementioned ten-hour Metal Massacre took place at the Lab, former Inferno proprietor Don Decker agreed to duck out for a brief interview upstairs in his cavernous practice space. A black-bearded, short-haired mountain of tattoos and pale bulk, Decker unlocked a door that led into a large, lived-in studio. One wall was graced with a painted upside-down crucifix. Another was scrawled with a devil's star and the words Anal Blast, the name of the band he founded six years ago in Des Moines with future members of Slipknot.

Everyone knows Decker in local metal circles: He booked the show below us, bounces at the Lab, runs the label Nightfall/Terrorizer Records, and opened a Nightfall CD store across the street from the Inferno (the store closed temporarily this summer, however, and he's currently scouting for a new location). He started a sister store in Chicago, and has organized underground hard rock festivals across the country, booking death metal since 1987 for Milwaukee's annual two-day Metalfest, which draws up to 6,000 fans a year.

In 1994, Decker was trying to establish a tour stop for underground metal in Des Moines when the engine in his car blew out. He decided to stay for a while, forming Anal Blast as a side project with Slipknot's future rhythm section, bassist Paul Grey and drummer Joey Jordison. Decker still "sings" for Anal Blast, and the year-old line-up sounds tight as a noose. But the vocalist, who turned 33 on September 11 ("Happy fucking birthday," he says), has no illusions about his shock-rock finding a Slipknot-sized audience.

"Let's say that this isn't just a genre of music to you, this is a way of life," he muses, petting the lilac Siamese he calls Spook Terrorizer. "This is the posters on your bedroom wall, this is the art that you paint when you're intoxicated, this is the shit that you permanently mark on your arm for the rest of your life. For us that are in this extreme stuff, if you serve more than three or four years doing this, it's not just a passing phase or trend. You become part of that thing."

The thing his revitalized grindcore band is part of seems to be occasionally violent, always anatomically reductionist fantasies about women's bodily functions--a shtick that would be as transgressive as a good poop joke in a nonsexist metalverse. In our dimension, however, I have qualms about Decker's live performance credo that "you just throw a chick at it, and you've doubled your interest." Tonight he'll employ an "onstage female entertainment coordinator" to violate herself before an 18-plus audience, a stunt Anal Blast has pulled off many times in the past. (A complaint posted on his Web page reads: "One thing [the new site] could use...is more pics of local metal sluts naked doing sick stuff.")

Decker's thoughts about music and sex probably took shape when he was four years old. He says a hippie handed him a copy of Deep Purple's double-live album Made in Japan to get rid of him while he and Mom got busy. "Hell fuckin' yeah I've got issues," the frontman says. "But I love women. I try to hang as close as possible to as many as I can."

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