Temple of Doom
Everyone needs a strong remedy for teen angst. Maybe it’s drugs or yelling at your parents in your spare time. For me, growing up in Honolulu, it was music: really, really aggressive music loud enough to drown out my raging confusion and redirect the hormones screaming through my fragile fifteen-year-old body. Back then, I salivated over Sabbath, Maiden, Priest, and Metallica. Later, heavier, darker stuff invaded. Stumbling upon interesting music in Hawaii is as difficult as surfing waves on the backs of dolphins, so I fell down the black hole thanks to that soulless conduit Napster. But here in San Francisco, kids have it better. Record stores abound, populated by human encyclopedias ready to bestow gems of knowledge upon all who wander through.
Shaxul Records on Haight Street is an example of one of those shops. I’d been inside the small store a couple of times before; once to pick up a copy of Saint Vitus’ Mournful Cries and a few other times to ogle the vintage posters on the walls. I’d kept to myself, thinking the guy working inside, Stone Clement, could never take a blonde, tattoo-less girl seriously in a conversation about metal. But I’d always wanted to talk to the man because he’s so obviously the soul of the operation.
Finally, curiosity got the better of me and I went into Shaxul with the sole purpose of getting to know how this ballsy little place stands strong as the city’s first and only metal-dedicated record store.
It turns out that Stone is one of the friendliest record store staffers I’ve ever come across. (You know how they can be, after all.) Like me, he also found salvation in metal as a teenager, and now he knows more about the genre than I ever could. He was born and raised in the city, yet stumbled upon his musical calling almost by accident. “One day I was really upset and I knocked on my older brother’s door and said ‘Give me the most heavy, crazy, brutal, evil, insane thing you have.’ He gave me Testament’s first album The Legacy. I decided I had to have the most extreme music possible at all times. It was born out of teenage anger and depression.” Stone’s obsession eventually led this former Trader Joe’s employee, to start Shaxul (pronounced “shagg-zool” and culled from H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon), which stands in vehement opposition to all the tie-dyed, hippy-dippy storefronts crowding the Haight’s tourist-clogged sidewalks. Before opening the brick and mortar incarnation that he runs almost single-handedly, Stone sold records from home, but he’d had his eye on Shaxul’s current spot (it used to be a trance record store) for a while.
It may be tiny – and locked in a permanent staring contest with Amoeba across the street – but Shaxul’s presence is hard to ignore. I heard the blast beats and screeching guitar solos 15 feet before I even reached the door. Stone’s always there at his computer, silently lording over his finely curated collection of vinyl (new, used, and rare), cassettes, CDs, VHS tapes and DVDs, T-shirts (I recently scored a perfectly broken-in Iron Maiden shirt for $10 that would’ve run me $50 on good old eBay), and killer metal memorabilia ranging from patches to books to vintage candid photographs of Dave Mustaine-era Metallica to live bootlegs you won’t find anywhere else in the Bay Area. The dark walls come alive like the giant metal shrine I wish existed in my own apartment. It’s plastered with vintage posters of all the greats (the pimply-faced Metallica dudes before bassist Cliff Burton bit the dust, Bolt Thrower, Exodus, Sodom, Dio, Anthrax), flyers for shows I would’ve given my right arm to see, a few old metal zines, and other relics gathered from a life spent deeply embedded in the local metal scene.
“I believe in destiny,” Stone declares unironically. “I thought in my mind one day about this store. In my head I went, ‘that would be a really cool spot. I’d love to have it.’ And then it happened.”
My jaw almost hits the floor when he wistfully drops the d-word. Unexpected life philosophies aside – and the fact that he loves John Coltrane and Sinatra just as much as Morbid Angel – Stone looks and sounds exactly as you’d hope. He’s tall and broad-shouldered, built like he’s spent a lifetime hauling equipment and loading tour vans for the bands he talks about like a scholar. His voice is loud and gruff – he’s a vocalist and guitarist for local thrashing death metal stalwarts Passive Aggressive – which means I don’t have to strain to hear him speak over the blaring music serenading us inside the shop. And he’s just a bit jaded, having spent so long championing a genre of music doomed to remain on the fringes of society until time runs out – but that only makes his cynical opinions more fascinating to me.
When I ask him what he thinks the next step is in the evolution of metal, Stone responds, catching me totally off guard: “There isn’t one. It’s done. It died. Black metal was the last movement in heavy metal. So many people are trying too hard to reinvent the wheel.”
Because he is an underground musician himself, I knew I could get some intel on Bay Area metal bands toiling just below the radar. He rattles off his favorites, like Oakland’s Forsaker, Black Fucking Cancer, Scarred from San Luis Obispo, and Silent Sinner from San Jose saying, “As long as they’re trying to write stuff from an honest perspective, I’ll always listen to it.”
Hanging out in the store feels like I’m witnessing a bizarre social experiment. People stick their heads in the door, ask if the store’s open, to which Stone replies, “Yeah, that’s why the sign says open.” They step inside with quizzical looks on their faces, flip through a few records before leaving with their eyes absolutely spinning in their heads like they just saw, heard, and felt things they couldn’t understand. At one point, a dude with a high-pitched voice bravely stomps in and demands to know if Stone carries Kalmah T-shirts, totally pretending he knows what he’s talking about. He promptly stomps back out when Stone replies, “No, but I can order one for you.” I guess I’m not the only one who feels intimidated by Stone. Of course, he also has his devoted regulars (including members from local bands such as California Love and Acid King), and someday hopes to open a metal bar where he can put on shows. “Metal is still strange to a lot of people,” he shrugs. “It’s up to them if they want to support it. I sure would have loved a place like this as a teenager.”
I would’ve killed to have a place like Shaxul to go to as a teenager. Every once in a while, I see kids walk through the door and find myself wishing I was one of them. Who knows how different my life would be if I’d heard the metal’s siren song assaulting me through the crack in the door of a place like Shaxul Records?
If you’re hungry for music that’s not the same old same old, walk straight past all the smoke shops and vintage stores and step into Shaxul Records – you’ll hear it before you see it, so it’s hard to miss. The store is open every day except Monday, but if you want some killer metal intel, talk to owner Stone Clement, who’s in there Wednesday through Saturday. Pick up a record, cassette, or CD, go home and turn the volume up as far as it will go.