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Going Down-Market: Satan Rules the Night at Jaxx
After two decades of existing mostly in the underground -- primarily through low-fi recordings surreptitiously sent around and the rare live show -- extreme metal is having a heyday. Trendy music blogs, movie soundtracks and huge rock festivals like Ozzfest have started featuring the offshoot genres. The Cartoon Network in 2006 started a show about a fictional death-metal band called Dethklok; a real album called "The Dethalbum," released by creators of the show, last fall debuted at No. 21 on the Billboard 200.
And Jaxx, a longtime classic rock and country club tucked between an Afghan kebab house and a Pakistani grocery, has improbably emerged as one of the East Coast hubs for extreme metal, one of the only places where you can see bands like Dark Funeral and the Greek black-metal band Rotting Christ, which played there last month. People trek to the suburban parking lot from all over the country, and Jaxx's Web site gets 8,500 hits a day, mostly from overseas.
"It's so strange, to be there in this strip mall; it's surreal," Albert Mudrian, editor of the new extreme metal magazine Decibel, said of Jaxx. "I've seen Napalm Death there twice."
All this isn't entirely great news for Bittinger, who calls music -- mostly extreme metal -- "my life." He listens to dark, ambient music during his entire two-hour commute to and from Alexandria, all through the workday and on weekends at the home he shares with his girlfriend and two cats.
Black metal was meant to be private, he says, for people who get it. Who understand the imagery of knights on the mount, who want to lose themselves in blasting melodies that are the musical equivalent of a scary, gray winter sky. Who know the difference between fantasy and irony.
"Now it's quote-unquote cult," spits Bittinger. "MySpace ruined black metal, that's my thought. Now you've got idiots who sit there on their computers downloading nonstop. Now everyone has access to the music, and it wasn't meant for everyone."
Jay Nedry, Jaxx's owner, certainly isn't in mourning. The flashy 57-year-old drummer for the longtime local Southern-rock band the Roadducks is an unlikely patron of extreme metal. Tanned, lean and coiffed, Nedry zooms around the club in his denim jacket and jeans, looking like a dandyish magician who stumbled into a metal convention. By the way, he hates this music.
"It's like nothing good ever happened in the world, right?" he said in a raspy chortle, eyeballing the Dark Funeral fans.
Nedry's relationship with metal is pragmatic. He started out in the early '90s hoping to compete with places like the Birchmere and host the kind of music he likes. But as a small club in a strip mall, it was impossible to compete. And he began agreeing with his daughter, who told him fans like him are getting old.
"She said, 'You better start booking stuff you don't like.' "
That's when he began to drag himself and Jaxx out of financial holes by stumbling across and embracing an underserved niche: heavy metal. At first that meant '80s hair bands, but in recent years it's also meant the extreme groups, which are particularly popular with teenage fans.
While mainstream metal has a solid fan base, Nedry knows the offshoots are small and too disturbing to ever be huge. "But the niche is very enthusiastic, and I'm the one everyone knows will have them."