Ten years ago, when we finally ran the skinheads off the hardcore shows, they got their Swastika panties in a wad and burned Vinnie’s Tavern down. Well, someone did, and they took the credit. With Vinnie’s gone, there died Chattanooga’s last paying punk-friendly venue. Also the only job I ever enjoyed. Even though I was a shit bartender, Big Shank, the owner, let me book shows and run sound.
To compensate for the loss of our show space, the Chattanooga DIY scene united and shoveled a basement out underneath Big Shank’s house. To avoid noise complaints, we decided we’d use a literal hole in the ground. We christened it “Antarctica.” The goddamn house might collapse at any moment, but we keep it aloft with heavy metal.
Like every show at Antarctica, tonight begins with a short set from Seven Trumpets, Mike Pack’s one-man band. We all climb into the basement, switch on the electric lanterns, and watch Mike drop trou. He jams his trumpet to his butthole and blasts ass. That’s Seven Trumpets. Every time. We cheer and jeer him out of the basement as he climbs topside. It’s like our “Pledge of Allegiance.”
tonight, we’ve got a black metal band from Stockholm headlining, Herrens Ackord. We’ve hosted one hell of a summer international. Last week, a band from Rome, La Quiete, came through, and we bought them a bunch of Papa John’s pizza, built it up like it was the best Italian place in town. They pretended to like it. Those kids were absolute sweethearts. I loved those guys. I bought their shirt. Because that’s what you do when you love someone.
The opening bands drag on, play past midnight, and then, at almost one, it’s finally time for Herrens Ackord. They’ve stayed up by their van all night like big shots–not mingling, I mean. When they unload their shit, unsurprisingly it’s fancy gear: big Marshall Stack amps, which are real bastards to lower down into Antarctica.
Big Shank and I help. I’m Big Shank’s lieutenant. They call me “Slick.” That’s because of the scars from where I ran back into the fire to rescue the Vinnie’s Tavern P.A. So, I remain the sound guy. We talk to the leader of Herrens Ackord–I’m guessing he’s the singer– who introduces himself as Vlad (no shit) and says, “Get? Get?” We don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about, but Big Shank, who’s eight feet tall and looks like dude from The Goonies–the big, goonie-looking one–gets Vadim, this Ukranian kid who speaks Russian and German and some other shit, to come over and expedite the whole conversation.
Turns out that it’s “goat” Vlad’s saying. He wants a goat.
“This place is a goddamn goat graveyard,” Big Shank says. And that’s the truth. There was a big wave of black metal in the early aughts, and we had to put the foot down on sacrifices for fear of getting shut down. The neighbor’s caught on and threatened to call the cops. I’m vegan now, so I look back in chagrin.
Vadim communicates to the Swedes that the space is silly with goat bones, which seems to make Vlad happy.
With all Herrens Ackord’s shit crammed down in the basement, we can only fit about twenty punks, and it’s hotter than fishing Baylor Lake on a cloudless August afternoon. Folks are going to pass out.
When they start playing, that’s when I notice Vlad’s hands. He plays one of those dumbass double-neck guitars, so it’s impossible not to. It’s a silver Gibson SG with a golden pickguard. Vlad’s got, like, thirteen fingers between his two hands. I’m not speaking figuratively here. Although, one thing about this band is they’ve got dynamics. I’ve got a thing about black metal–not my particular goblet of mead or blood or whatever. But, Herrens Ackord have a flair for the dramatic, they’re not just a monotonous screech screech over ruhga ruhga.
It’s the fifth song when it happens. The band’s slowed down, they’re letting a chord ring out for at least thirty seconds, and this purplish portal opens above them in the air. From within the thing, looking down on us is this… I’d guess you’d have to call it an eye, and it seems pissed, like someone you suddenly woke up. Watch a YouTube video of a fourth dimensional object sometime: then you might have an idea of what I’m looking at. Only, this thing’s in the fifth or sixth dimension–there’s planes on planes within planes within planes, layers within layers like a transparent Russian nesting doll, alive and fluxing. It makes me queasy. Its pupil–or the golden point at what I’d call the center–gazes around until it hones in on me. Just for a second, it sees me, and–whoosh–I’m rushing back into that fire, but this time I’ve had the sense to cover up with a wet blanket, and the flames aren’t–whoosh–I’m back in the basement and I look down and, God-almighty, the scars on my arms are gone! I clutch my scalp and the hair’s grown back, too. Most of it, anyway. I watch a long, sinewy arm, scaled gold, silver, and encrusted in emeralds and rubies, snaking out of the portal. It grabs hold of the second neck of Vlad’s guitar in its long fingered hand. The two of them, Vlad and the Portal Thing, shred together. The strings on the guitar turn red hot, the necks begin smoking and–whoosh–I feel my arms stretched out taut over my head and my feet yanked downward. My back is against a wood board and I’m being stretched apart. It’s hot, so hot–whoosh–I’m back in the basement. People are climbing out of Antarctica. Some are screaming. Others stand agape. Vlad’s eyes–which turns out are glass–shatter and spray the people in front with glitter–whoosh–I’m you when you noticed “tonight” wasn’t capitalized at the start of the fourth paragraph way up there–whoosh–back in the basement, the song ends, and the arm whips into the portal. The portal snaps shut. The band raise their guitars and nod to hoots and applause from the remaining crowd. Except for Big Shank, who leans down to my ear and whispers, “Fucking gimmick.”
Herrens Achord gets pissed when we present them their twenty dollars, the cover money left after splitting it all up with the other bands. Then, suddenly, they speak perfect English and insist they told us they had a $500 guarantee. Big Shank says they can stick that straight up their magic portal. They drive off to sleep in a Marriott or some shit. You have to deal with such assholes in the DIY scene. We’re left watching the van drive away and I try to tell Big Shank about the–whoosh–I’m God, and he’s sitting in a cool, dark room typing excitedly at a computer. He’s just learned that someone wants to buy this whole crazy story off Him and he needs to tell a bunch of other people that they can’t have it–whoosh–Now I’m standing in Big Shank’s driveway, wondering who’s sober enough to drive me home and what I’m going to do with all these fucking meatballs and lingonberries I bought to surprise Herrens Fucking Ackord. I spent forty dollars at Whole Foods. Son of a bitch.