Music News

Retail in Blood

Gerardo Montenegro, who owns a strip mall mom-and-pop death metal shop called Metal Devastation here in Phoenix, says his goal is to approach underground perfection. The storefront sign promises, after all, that his shop specializes in "only real death/black metal" and "extreme and obscure musical art."

In other words, if it roars, rumbles like an avalanche, lovingly embraces the evil afterlife and wears tight leather pants with spiked chaps, Metal Devastation is the place to find it. Or if the new records by either Rotting Christ or Torsofuck have eluded you thus far, Gerardo's the man to see.

Montenegro, though, doesn't think he's fulfilled his extreme black metal longings quite yet. For proof, he'll point to the hangers on his front room's prominent tee shirt racks. Half of the hangers are black. The other half are white. That's an annoyance when you sell gargoyle statues and various Faces of Death snuff films on DVD and decorate the ceiling with severed plastic heads and limbs.

"The white hangers . . . they have to go, man," says the laid-back but highly opinionated Montenegro. He definitely embraces the music's rebellious symbolism, from the scruffy facial hair on his chin to the store logo featuring a goat-horn-wearing dude with a melting face he drew himself.

Montenegro, who is 30, has been building his vision of dark, pile-driving music retail for five years. The store sits where the gay and lesbian bookstore Obelisk once resided, in the corner of a strip mall on Camelback Road just west of Central Avenue. Along with his wife and children, Montenegro has built a loyal customer base that likes to swap notes with him about how "brutal" their favorite bands are (as in, "Dude, that's really brutal shit right there . . . "). He's also opened up the store to fledgling local metal bands for regular shows and helped promote those bands at other venues. In April, he'll throw his store's fourth annual metal festival at the Old Brickhouse Grill in downtown Phoenix, with 17 bands playing over two days.

Not a small feat for a former gourmet chef who started this odyssey as a frustrated death-metal enthusiast at record-swap meets in the late '90s, selling most of his personal collection of 300 to 400 CDs. Eventually, Montenegro opened a tiny first store on Thomas Road. He's since moved twice, taking residence at the current location -- the largest to date -- early last year.

"I'd try Zia or Tower Records, and they never had underground stuff," he says. "The only good place you could find it was in the pawnshops."

That was before Montenegro got pissed enough to start ordering as many obscure metal records as he could through the record labels directly and open for business. Initially, he hoped to concentrate solely on Mexican metal, but that quickly proved to be too narrow a niche. Even after he chose to sell all types of non-commercial metal, he still needed to compromise -- his buy-sell-trade counter accepted everything for higher-than-usual trade prices. That explains why, several years later, titles like Recovering the Satellites from wuss-rock kings Counting Crows and late-'90s one-hit wonder Chumbawamba's Tubthumper linger in the far reaches of the store's used-CD shelves.

Those may as well be museum pieces these days. When a young man tried to sell him a Limp Bizkit CD last week, Montenegro wasn't hearing it. He's looking for discs by Iced Earth and Kreator.

"I try to be different than the other people," Montenegro says. "I don't like to be commercial, you know what I mean? If I want something, I want something no one else has."

There's just no room in a place like this for "that horrible band Metallica," to use Montenegro's term. Or for burgeoning favorites like Cradle of Filth, who, according to the discerning owner, made two great records before they sold out.

"I can spot a poseur right away," Montenegro says, turning his ire toward straggling customers. "If they're wearing a Venom tee shirt, I ask them if they know the singer's name. And they don't even know."

However, Montenegro, in spite of his extreme taste in music, makes it clear he's trying to run a family-friendly business. The back room, which houses most of the CDs for sale, is off limits to minors. Montenegro makes sure to share the cover art to Waco Jesus' Filth -- what's the word fecalphilia mean again? -- and the ban seems reasonable. Even serial killers in prison probably don't want to see that shit.

The store's live shows are also oddly inclusive of the family. It isn't unusual to see moms with toddlers hanging out by the display cases full of spiked boots as the metal bands bellow through their angry thoughts on hell. At the store's last multiband show, held appropriately enough on Friday the 13th, Montenegro ran between a group of teenagers several times to break up their flailing attempts at mosh pits during a set by the band What Dark Creates. He's got a store to run, can't jeopardize its merchandise or reputation.

And so Montenegro, it seems, would rather fight the battle against the conservative mainstream quietly -- well, as quietly as a guy who blasts snarling death metal all day can, anyway. He says he's motivated by a disdain for religion.

"I hate Christians. I don't really like those people, man," he says with a giggle.

Apparently, Christians don't like Metal Devastation, either. Montenegro says he'll often find fliers with slogans like "Jesus is coming" taped in between his store window's promo posters. Montenegro claims one zealot took his disgust further, and he points to a grapefruit-size hole and cracks in the front window's lower left corner as evidence -- although he's not completely certain who made the after-hours assault.

But such affronts are a minor blip -- so far -- in Montenegro's efforts to spread black-metal love through the Valley. The fans are out there, and they're responding. Jeremy Hoffman, bassist for frequent Metal Devastation performer Andalusha, says Montenegro's black-metal efforts have propelled several Valley bands from the garage into larger venues like the Mason Jar. If someone doesn't like it, Hoffman says, they don't have to come.

"It's underground," Hoffman says of the music. "You choose to listen to it or you choose not to listen to it."

E-mail [email protected], or call 602-407-1715.

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Christopher O'Connor