Dedicated to Mary Brady (1952 – 2022)
This month in our featured store section, Graham Jones talks to James Brady about his new store, Dark Earth.
What’s your background and why did you open Dark Earth?
My background is in the arts and cultural sector. At the end of March this year (2022) I left my ‘day job’ working in art book publishing, marketing and distribution. I’d done it for 15 years and prior to that I worked in museums, galleries and (accidentally) in bookshops. From the mid-2000s, I also led a parallel life as an environmental artist and freelance curator.
Since the early 90s, I’ve been a die-hard fan of heavy metal. For me, metal has always been the sum of its parts, transcending the actual music. It’s the aesthetics, the art and ‘culture’ that unite us in many ways. Somehow making this thing I love into an actual career of sorts was the stuff of dreams, to be honest (I know it’s a cliché, but true). Then, about a year ago, I had a vision (arguably a reckless, crazy one), which was to open a specialist heavy metal record shop.
Although, not just that, because this place had to be a ‘cultural space’ that celebrated the various aspects of metal. It would encompass visual art and literature too. There are only two proper heavy metal specialist shops in the country that I knew of, but the thing I imagined creating was even more rare and unique. It would have records and books, of course, yet crucially an art gallery should form a large part of its identity. Hopefully without sounding too pretentious, I wanted people who made a pilgrimage to Dark Earth to feel like they’d had a memorable artistic experience.
In the spring I’d had enough. I desperately needed to do something different in my life. I longed for… a new job? A new purpose? Was this a midlife crisis? Well, maybe it was. Then circumstances arose where I was blessed and humbled to be in a position of financial support for this mad venture from my close family. It was a risk, of course. But life’s too short, right?
Tell us about Dark Earth
The dystopian name Dark Earth has its roots in my concern with the environment and climate chaos (integral to the impulse in my artistic practice). By nature, I’m usually a ‘glass half full’ kind of guy. However, I really don’t hold much hope for the future of our species given the dire planetary situation we’re in. These really are the ‘dark times’ and we must now come to terms with our fate.
Dark Earth is a very rare beast. We are unique in the UK. It’s the art aspect to the vision that mainly sets us apart. The objective is to celebrate the diversity of metal and diversity in metal. I’m not just talking about the insane amount of sub-genres that have evolved out of the primordial metallic soup, but also the cultural and geographical spread of metal around the world; the sophisticated visual art forms which are synonymous with the music; and those who are underrepresented and deserve more recognition, such as women and the BAME and LGBTQI+ communities. Heavy Metal has a rainbow!
I’d like to think that within our range of records there’s something for everybody. If you want classic ‘roots’ then we have Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple, through to the mainstream big boys like Iron Maiden and Metallica. However, we pride ourselves on stocking international underground metal. So, if your preference is for nasty death metal like Organectomy (New Zealand); evil black metal such as Mutiilation (France); boisterous metalcore like Bloodywood (India); or crushing doom like the all-women band Konvent (Denmark) – then we’ve got it. One thing that sometimes surprises people is that we’re also a purveyor of music that doesn’t demand head banging (but is integral to the DNA of this broad culture). Good examples of this are the drone dark ambient master Lustmord, and even the rituals of indigenous Northern European dark roots bands such as Wardruna and Heilung.
I love books and coming from a background in bookselling and publishing it was important to me from the outset that Dark Earth would sell printed matter too. Currently we have a decent range of heavy metal history, theory and philosophy, black/death metal zines, album cover art and photography books. Yet, aside from these obvious categories, on our shelves is a nice selection of publications across fields such as the esoteric and occult, paganism, witchcraft, the gothic, mythology, tattoo art, horror and poetry. Of course, all these are vital sources of cultural inspiration and have strong resonances deep within heavy metal.
Now, back to the art element of Dark Earth. Of course, the artwork for album covers is always the most recognisable aspect to heavy metal (aside from the actual music). Show me a metal fan who has never bought an album purely based on the artwork (without hearing it). I’d argue that’s a pretty rare person! In 1991 I bought Morbid Angel’s classic, Blessed Are The Sick just because I was fascinated by the cover art (more about that album later). Dark Earth is currently hosting the very first ever solo exhibition of Eliran Kantor’s artwork. He tells a story of buying Iron Maiden’s iconic Killers album (before even hearing it) just because he loved Derek Riggs’ infamous ‘Eddie’ image. Eliran has become one of metal’s most internationally sought-after album cover artists. He’s created incredible art for many notable bands such as Testament, Helloween and My Dying Bride, all of which are on major record labels (Century Media, Nuclear Blast, Peaceville, etc.).
Tell us about your first day
Our first day would officially be the opening launch party. What a totally crackers 24 hours that was! Over 70 hungry metal maniacs turned-up to Dark Earth on the summer solstice. Once our guests started to arrive the beer was flowing and the place was buzzing! If I’m honest, I wasn’t totally prepared for how incredibly busy it would be. At one point people were literally queuing down the stairs from the gallery to buy records, books, and Eliran’s signed art prints. I was struggling to keep track of what was going on!
The party was attended by a lovely mix of metal revellers (musicians, promoters, artists, record labels, journalists) and members of a few bands, notably Dawn Ray’d, Unfathomable Ruination, Evile, and My Dying Bride. Bloodstock TV also turned up! One of the highlights of the evening for me personally was meeting Aaron Stainthorpe, the singer for My Dying Bride. I hope he won’t mind me sharing this… Obviously in his position as the front man of an iconic doom metal band he has a moody and austere creative persona to maintain. However, in person I found him quite the antithesis of this – his warmth and conviviality was infectious. Aaron was also wearing one of the loudest and most outrageous flowery shirts I’ve ever seen!
What are your two most influential albums?
I recollect that my earliest “Wow! What was that?!” moment, was watching the video to Iron Maiden’s song, Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter on Top of The Pops. That would’ve probably been in the winter of 1990 and I reckon it was right then that I had truly discovered heavy metal. It was like a portal opening. The experience set something profound and addictive in motion for this teenage lad – I suddenly needed more! Not long after that Maiden released their Fear of the Dark album, which I bought on CD and played constantly. It certainly isn’t their best album, yet it’s very close to my heart because it sewed the seed of my enduring love for metal.
The other significant album in my very early heavy metal education is Blessed Are The Sick by Morbid Angel (on Earache Records – a great metal label distributed by Proper). I suppose it’s the first ‘extreme’ music I encountered. It’s now considered a classic piece of American death metal. Back then it was the scariest and most evil thing I’d ever heard!
Which records are your most looking forward to distributed by Proper?
When I discovered that Proper is the official distributor for Peaceville records, it felt like I’d struck gold. Peaceville is iconic in the realms of heavy metal with so many incredible bands under its dark wings.
This autumn, Peaceville have just released new albums from two very influential bands of the old guard – both pioneers in their own extreme sub-genres: the Norwegian black metal Darkthrone’s Astral Fortress, and American death metal Autopsy’s Morbidity Triumphant.
It’s always exciting to see what Fenriz and Nocturno Culto (of Darkthrone) come up with next because they always bring their encyclopaedic knowledge of metal into each album. Autopsy have not released a full studio album in nearly 8 years, so there’s a huge amount of anticipation for their new opus. Hopefully it will be satisfyingly ferocious as usual! Needless to say we’re very much looking forward to spinning the wax of these two new releases.
Vinyl, CDs, books, art, merch
Tues: 11am – 5pm
Wed: 11am – 5pm
Thurs: 12 – 6pm
Fri: 11am – 5pm
Sat: 12am – 5pm
16 Seaview Road