It's quitting time at an undisclosed location on the edge of the Mendenhall Valley, and the sun is collapsing, dissolving, dead. The air is cold and filled with smoke. Winter is near, and with it a sense of foreboding, darkness and gloom.
In the distance, there's a scraping. Quiet at first, like talons, pawing against steel. But then a din. And shortly, tumult.
It's Monday night, and the beast has risen. Old Goat, Juneau's lone fully functioning black-metal band, has begun band rehearsal.
This is the sound of death, the likely score for the march of a skeleton army. But amid the evil, and the crushing volume, there are themes of heroism, tales of Norwegian folklore and stories of the occult.
"We're not Venom. We're not Metallica. It's weird metal. It's a theatrical production," said singer and co-founder Jacob Higgins. "We're not just a band that plays noise. When we do a show, it's all one big production. It's a mini-opera in a way. And that goes back to classic metal of people like King Diamond and Kiss."
Since 2001, Halloweens in Juneau have meant a rare appearance by Old Goat. The band plays a handful of shows at other times during the year, but normally reserves its most mammoth productions for late October.
Old Goat will headline an all-ages punk show at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29, at the VFW Hall. The show was originally scheduled at the Elks' Lodge but has switched venues due to the death of a long-time Elks member. What Remains, the Shoe Whores and Gomorrah, a new high school black-metal band, are also scheduled to play.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29.
Where: VFW Hall.
Also playing: What Remains, the Shoe Whores and Gomorrah
The band also has a double-DVD of live material coming out on Pagan Flames Production, an affiliation of blackmetaldvds.com. The first disc includes the band's August show at McPhetres Hall, its first show with new guitarist Duane Weedman. The second disc is a chronology of the band's three years as a trio - Higgins, bassist Marcus Beckmann and drummer Joe Hosey.
"We work on the shows year-round," Higgins said. "A fair amount of time goes into the samples and background to set the ambiance for the music. There's a fair amount of time that's spent on lighting and making sure we're representing the themes of the music. There's the props: the masks, the scarecrows, the helmets, the stuff for the walls. Our music isn't just droning and grinding. We don't turn on the lights and pummel them with this heavy thunderous music."
"We don't want to be one of those tired, boring, over-heard bands that gets ground into dirt," Beckmann said. "We want to be fresh every time we play a show.
Old Goat began in concept in 2001 while Higgins and Beckmann listened to King Diamond. But the group can trace its true origins back to the mid-1990s.
Beckmann has lived in town for about 13 years. Weedman grew up in Haines. Higgins and Hosey were born and raised in Juneau. All four were in some way influenced by Juneau's metal heyday of the late 1980s, when bands such as Karcass were putting up demon-filled pen-and-ink fliers and playing all-ages shows.
Higgins and Hosey started hanging out in 1993 at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Back in Juneau, they formed a rough bluegrass band with Beckmann on banjo. That went on for a couple of years, until they met Weedman. His father and uncle were drummers, but he was interested in learning electric guitar.
"We all ended up with good equipment, so we figured we'd just start playing Slayer," Hosey said. "That was the best thing going on at the time. It was music that we were listening to and we enjoyed, so I think it was good to start with. It was a lot of long opuses, and we all grew up listening to Iron Maiden and Zeppelin."
The band, unnamed and instrumental, covered Slayer's first two albums, "Show No Mercy" and "Haunting the Chapel." It lasted for three years out of a Valley storage unit and played just one show. Higgins joined on vocals for a 1999 appearance at the Alaskan.
After that the band dissolved. Weedman moved to Santa Cruz to study law and business. Hosey moved to Kansas to take care of his son. Higgins and Beckmann were left in Juneau.
"We talked about this imaginary band called Old Goat and what it would sound like, and we listened to things like King Diamond and Celtic Frost and Usurper," Higgins said.
They began experimenting with different ways of playing the dark, atmospheric songs, based on Norwegian folklore and early-'80s Bay Area thrash metal, that Higgins had put down on four-track cassette. They sang through vacuum tubes and tried playing in the woods.
Shortly thereafter, the late Bill Kozlowski, frontman of local band Peabody's Monster, called Higgins for a favor. Peabody's was preparing for a Halloween 2001 show at the Alaskan and wanted Higgins to decorate. He agreed, on the condition that Old Goat could open.
Those first two shows, on a Friday and Saturday night, were an experiment. They played along to a four-track, on which they had recorded drums, keyboards and a few samples. Beckmann played bass. Higgins filtered his vocals through an elaborate series of processors to compensate for the lack of a guitar.
"I thought we'd have tomatoes thrown at us, but it was overwhelmingly positive," Higgins said. "The first night we played, we went in half costumes. The second night, I had the corpse paint on and I was spitting blood and all that."
Old Goat followed up with their first album, released with help from Alex Romero of Rock Alaska Records.
Still in Kansas, Hosey heard about what Higgins and Beckmann were doing. Shortly thereafter, he moved back to Juneau and joined the band on drums.
"That pushed our sound into a heavier, more consolidated direction," Higgins said. "We stopped being quite so experimental and honed in on a metal sound."
Higgins became "Stagnator."
"It has a nice ring to it, and it has a bit of the comic book sound to it," he said. "When something is stagnating, it's rotting, nonmoving, yet it's growing something. Old Goat has grown out of being stagnant and staying in the same place, but growing ideas on top of each other. My creative artistic life has been like mold. I don't spend my time and money trying to travel the world. I spend it in one place trying to get through from day to day. I'm always working on another project."
Beckmann, on bass, turned into "The Doldrum."
"It's about being in a rut, and Juneau is that in some ways," Beckmann said. "It's just about decrepitude and sloth and atrophy. It's supposed to be the winter doldrums, where you're stuck and you're depressed. I thought it fit the plodding bass. Some people say we're sludge metal."
Hosey, on drums, took the name "Digum Dagum."
"My son, Frankie, when he first started to talk, he used to sit in his car seat and say, 'Digum digum digum,'" Hosey said. "That's fine with me. I've always kind of felt that I need to keep some distance from diving headlong into being super-evil and embracing the nastiness of Old Goat that's there."
The new Old Goat played two more Halloween shows and a handful of shows throughout the summer of 2002 and 2003. They released "Chapel of Gore," "Into the Valley of Horns" and "Tales of the Marauder." This April, they opened up the Friday night dance at the Armory during the Alaska Folk Festival. In June, they played as part of an incongruous Concert in the Park show with J. Althea and the Graceland Girls.
Weedman moved back to Juneau in 2003 and joined the band on guitar this summer. He has yet to give himself a pseudonym. They've played one show, at McPhetres Hall, with the new lineup.
"Basically Marcus and I will take a song that he wrote originally and turn it into a guitar and bass song," Weedman said.
"It's just another way to get bigger and grow and be louder and have somebody to play with instead of shouldering it all myself," Beckmann said.
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.
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