A heavy metal snob separates the shredders from the posers

When you download a song from iTunes, your computer doesn't cough and remark rudely, “Um, yeah, you're downloading that Arcade Fire song now? Everyone else is already totally sick of it.” When you fill your iPod with Justin Timberlake tracks, the earbuds don't whisper, “And you told that dude last night that you're a punk?” In this digital age, we purchase much of our music in isolation. That means we miss out on an important rite of passage: interfacing with the curmudgeonly clerk.

The outright snobs can stick it, but I have much affection for opinionated shopkeepers, even if they can come across as the record-store version of Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. I've gotten great tips from them; you know you can trust them, because they also make no bones about saying something sucks ass. Plus their obsessive relationship to music often comes with a self-effacing sense of humor, so you don't feel as retarded when they rip into your new favorite band.

Stone Clement is a relic from the olden days of record shopping. After playing in various metal bands throughout the years, including Passive Aggressive (he's also Gene Simmons in KISS cover band Destroyer), and running the Shaxul Records Web site and label, he opened a metal record store April 1. The shop, also called Shaxul Records, is directly across the street from Amoeba Music on Haight Street. A character like Clement would get lost amongst all those Amoeba aisles, but he reigns at Shaxul from behind the register, where he recently told a friend of mine looking for local metal band Saviours, “We don't carry that. They're not metal. If you're gonna be metal, I have to know where you stand with Satan.”

I spent a couple of hours at Shaxul Records on a recent Wednesday with the 33-year-old, mustachioed Frank Zappa look-alike. We were tucked into his closet-sized space, surrounded by T-shirts, vinyl, and CDs for bands like Exodus and Angel Corpse, a KISS DVD on the screen, and a glass case holding Metal Mania magazine by the door. I asked Clement, who also DJs on KUSF's Rampage Radio show, about his definition of metal — Satanic and otherwise.

“That's my asshole funny way of saying some bands flirt with metal, but they're not going all the way,” he says. “They're not kissing the ass of the goat, if you will. I think some bands express a sense of shame about being associated with metal but then accept it when it helps them. I'm not accusing Saviours of that, but personally I don't call them a metal band, and therefore I don't carry them.”

Clement says all metal arguments eventually end with Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Metallica, and Iron Maiden. To like metal is to respect them all. “You can't accept Sabbath without all the other sides and influences,” he says. “That's not fully understanding what they do. You can't just smoke pot and think you know everything about heavy metal, because you don't. You're just a stoner; that's it.” Clement won't be hitting the Iron Maiden show this week, though. He refuses to “battle 500 hipsters to get a seat in front of them when I've been into Maiden since I was a kid. I had their patches on my bag in high school when no one else liked metal and I got made fun of for it. When some hipster who has a dot-com job can get a better seat then me because he knows someone who works at the arena, I don't support that idea.”

With that clarification made, Clement is game to play a round of jukebox jury: we stack his CD player with a handful of recent releases so the metal proprietor can offer his opinion on the songs, some of which he's hearing for the first time. “I don't want to insult people for not understanding what I call metal,” he adds first. “I'm not about saying 'fuck you' to people. I'm just about promoting what I think is cool — with conviction.”

Testament, The Formation of Damnation

“I'm a big Alex Skolnick fan, being a guitarist. He dictates if I listen to a Testament album or not. He's real big on the jazz thing; that's why he left the band originally. His work is brilliant, but as a really opinionated asshole, I feel like it could have been better. But it's a very solid album and it's the best album they put out since The Ritual. It's better than the last Metallica record, that's for sure; Metallica is incapable of putting out another good album.”

In Flames, Sense of Purpose

“In Flames is a band that's always been overrated. They're one of those bands like Dimmu Borgir that everyone knows about, but those same people don't know about all those other bands that influenced them. [Listens to opening riff] I already don't like it. When In Flames came out, they were copying the popular Swedish sound at the time. Now this new album sounds like the last Dissection album, even down to using less reverb on the guitars. This sounds mainstream. It sounds un-evil, un-satanic, un-angry.”

Burning Witch, Crippled Lucifer (reissue)

“My old band played with these guys at the Covered Wagon a long time ago. I know this album and I really like it. Southern Lord has been reissuing a lot of stuff, both stoner and black metal, so Burning Witch is a perfect band because they were mixing black metal imagery and atmosphere with really slow, heavy doom stuff. … There are a lot of shit talkers surrounding that black doom scene, but this is one band that was really good.”

Amebix, No Sanctuary (reissue)

“Amebix is one of those bands that, when it comes down to it, I'm just not punk enough for it. They're the pillar of crusty punk. They had that really apocalyptic crusty thing before anyone else, but it lacks a steady beat. I'm a rock 'n' roller at heart and I need that steady beat. The drummer, he plays horribly on this album. He has no sense of rhythm.”

Firewind, The Premonition

“The problem with these bands is that they're just a dime a dozen. If you look here, this Fredrik Nordstrom is the same guy who produced Arch Enemy and Dimmu Borgir. It's cookie cutter power metal. The production turns me off right off the bat. Everything is so precise, there's no individual character to it. They know how to play, I'll give them that. But a lot of people know how to play. Yngwie Malmsteen was playing better than this in 1982. And it all comes down to the singer, because the singer is the only thing that's going to make them different. This guy sounds bored. Sorry, Firewind. But I would see these guys live because I'm always up for seeing a shredfest.”

The Sword, Gods of the Earth

“I can't say this sucks, even though I want to [laughs]. The people who talk about this band make me think it's going to be something that sucks. It reminds me of Bible of the Devil, which is a band I like. It's a little in that un-satanic category, but they are singing about sacred fire and there's a sword on the cover so I can't criticize that. There's a retro quality, their tones are really good. It sounds like there's a hipster or two in the band. The singer has an effect on his voice that gives me a retro impression. The flaw here — and the hipster element, and they go hand in hand — is there's a really annoying retro hipster following. Basically, I'm liking what I'm hearing, but the cliquesters ruin a band like this. They make it lame by going, 'Yeah, the Sword's cool,' and they don't know anything about any other band, but they're so metal because they know about the Sword. I didn't want to like [Gods of the Earth], but I kind of do.”

The Black Tide, Light from Above

“Well, they're very handsome, aren't they? Right off the bat they strike me as industry puppets, but I'll listen to it. … This is pop rock. The singer sounds like the guy in Disturbed. This is a band with a lot of really good qualities but they choose to be compete sellouts and be pop. It's sad because they know how to play.”

The Gates of Slumber, Conqueror

“I found this album pretty interesting. It's a combination of St. Vitus and Iron Maiden. And this is the kind of band I usually hate because they sound so generic, but somehow they manage to be unique and retro in a way that I like. I would recommend checking this one out.”

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