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Tempe's Asylum Records Is a Heavy Metal Sanctuary

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There's been a lot in the news lately about vinyl records. Vinyl sales hit a 10-year high in Britain, and people are preparing for record store day, a mere month away. This past week on Up on the Sun columnist Steve Wiley presented five reasons CDs are better than vinyl, as well as seven reasons why vinyl is better than CDs. And he wasn't kidding when he says he's good at riling up some Mumfords.

No matter how impartial people feel about vinyl -- it's dated, expensive, overrated -- there's no denying that it's one of those gorgeous weapons of nostalgia. It calls to kicking back on your bedroom floor, surrounded by floating music, whiskey and burning candles. The artwork, that delicious crackle, the creative depth of two sides -- for me, all genres sound better on vinyl, but that especially goes for heavy metal. If you've never listened to Black Sabbath, AC/DC or Pantera on vinyl, you are missing out.

In light of that, I want to show some love to my favorite record shop in town. So metalheads: Meet Asylum Records.

It welcomes you with open arms. Raised devil horns, concert ticket sales, full whiskey bottles, and even a metal-minded cat are just par for the course here.

When I first stumbled upon the Tempe record store, I was in heavy metal heaven. In fact, the first thing I said to the owner when I walked in was that any metalhead would feel right at home.

Since it's located right next to Club Red on University Drive, you've probably seen it if you've attended even a handful of metal shows this year. Paintings of flaming vinyl records and skulls adorn the front windows, and the wall visible through the front is floor-to-ceiling records.

Owner Scott Robenalt and his wife April opened Asylum in February with a grand opening party in July. Every single thing in the store is from Robenalt's personal collection, from the thousands of heavy metal 12-inch LPs, EPs, and picture discs, as well other media such as CD, DVD, and VHS. Every square inch of available wall space is covered in autographed posters, backstage passes, photos, and such novelties as full-sized cardboard KISS members, while the cases display hundreds of used guitar picks, stickers, heavy metal action figures, swords, knives, and other collectibles.

But it doesn't stop there. The goal is to keep the music alive, and Asylum does it well. It's literally a memorabilia rock and roll shop, where you can buy the rarest heavy metal goods and music. Fans and bands alike hang out there, so it's also not uncommon to get a glimpse of your favorite musician that may be playing next door at Club Red or down the road at Marquee Theatre.

Max Cavalera from Soufly, DP from the Phunk Junkeez, and Danny Marianino from North Side Kings have all hung out there several times, and that's not just because Asylum is used to film a lot of Mesa-based Heavy Metal Television's veejay segments.

"This is one of the last real record stores. I don't want it to turn into a generic toy store, like with a lot of the stuff Zia carries," says Scott. "I want to stay away from knickknacks and toys and candy. If there's a toy in my store it's going to be rock 'n' roll related."

When you hear the stories of Scott and April, it's easy to see how the record store is so perfectly tailored to the industry and those who love it. Scott has spent decades working in the metal industry as a professional, friend, and musician. When we first talked, he showed me shoeboxes full of photos of music, concerts, and debauchery. As I squinted at a few of him on tour with Metallica, I realized that the baby-faced, gangly, mullet-bearing kid I was staring at was James Hetfield.

Two years after Scott and April met, the duo got married at Club Red in a little rock 'n' roll wedding.

"A KISS tribute band called Psyko Circus played," laughs Scott, "and at end of the night, they smashed up the guitar and gave it to us as a present."

I must say, the only record store that I've been more impressed with was Amoeba Records in San Francisco. It's not because Asylum is huge or fancy or historical, though it is the latter -- every square inch of wall space is adorned with a chunk of heavy metal history. Real history. There's a drumhead utilized and signed by Rainbow's Bobby Rondinelli on one side, and another drumhead painted specifically for Scotty by Wes Borland from Limp Bizkit on another.

"Every year, we go to NAMM and have a ton of musicians sign posters," says Scott, "so that's a lot of the stuff that's on the walls. So everything that's on that store is all real memorabilia, stuff bands actually signed that I got myself, that I acquired myself. It's all guaranteed one million percent real."

My favorite spot is a cozy back corner settled in front of a cushy bold couch at what I call "The Pantera Table." Typical.

"A friend of mine years back built that table for me for a Slipknot guitar, but I put a Dime guitar in there with a photo of me and Dime and Vinnie about a year before he was shot and killed," says Scott. "I knew Dimebag really well; we spent a lot of time together. So it's like a tribute memorial to Dimebag in the table."

Asylum Records is made for metal fans, but they carry all genres -- the word on the street is also that they have the best DJ vinyl selection in town -- and Robenalt admits that they cater to the customers where they can. "We have four flat screens on different walls where we play old concert footage. But if someone comes in and likes jazz, I'll play jazz for them while they are here."

The resident cat Hopper came along when he was a tiny baby. He goes home with Scott and April every night, and comes to work with them every morning.

"He runs up to everyone who walks in the front door, and has pictures with tons of rock stars," says Scott. "His very first picture as with Stephen Pearcy from Ratt. Every rock star that comes in wants a picture with Hopper."

So I challenge you to check it out, too, whether it's to buy some records, show tickets (they sell for 13th Floor Entertainment, Mosh Pit Army and Club Red) and memorabilia, or to catch a glimpse of some metal-minded musicians or animals. An added bonus is that whenever there's a metal show at Club Red, Asylum stays open.

"The only way record stores survive nowadays is through the customers who come in and keep coming back. We don't want to be a record store that dies out because people are going to download everything nowadays and they aren't paying attention to where music originally came from, like on records."

Well said -- but then, no one knows better than metalheads about the importance of keeping a dying breed strong.

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