CROSS THE BLACK PORTAL INTO THE CRYPT OF THE WIZARD RECORD SHOP
If the sound of steel and thunder makes your heart sing, if you were born too late clad in denim and leather, if you’re a child of the night living in a Heavy Metal daze, then Crypt of the Wizard Records may be the place for you. This black record shop in the heart of East London was the dream of two metalheads, Marcus Mustafa and Charlie Wooley, who decided to open the crypt to create a reference point for all the metal people in the city and beyond.
When and why did you decide to open the Crypt of the Wizard?
Marcus: We opened the Crypt of the Wizard in March 2017, which is about 18 months ago now. Charlie and I met many years before that at the festival in Sweden called Muskelrock. And we had been talking about it for some time. At that time I wanted to do a new challenge for my life, and Charlie kind of said, “Whatever you find out, I’ll work with you.” Then we jokingly said give me a thousand bands, and I’ll open a record shop. And then he did. And we took it jokingly aside from that and then looked at whether we could do it or not. In a nutshell, that’s kind of how it came about. But it was a long time coming, of debating various things that we could do to do something that supported us and our own closest friends and family that was not part of something bigger and corporate.
Charlie: I mean that’s pretty much it. The reason why we opened was that there had been a real evidential absence of metal rock shops in the UK. When I was a teenager, a lot of London’s rock & roll and metal history was still very apparent. There were pubs from all the way into the suburbs of the east, out into the south and west that supported the metal and rock scene; there were record shops; there were whole fucking streets and markets that sold bootleg metal t-shirts. And, bit by bit, the clubs and the bars closed down, the shops went and the last dedicated metal record shop in London closed down 20 years ago. It was called Shades – a legendary shop. It seemed like it was just a position waiting to be filled. So we thought, without doing any fucking market research, that there should be a big enough metal scene left in London to support our shop. Having been in the scene for long enough, I felt that was true. So we just took a jump and did it. We just felt we needed to do something like Marcus says, but I also felt like the scene needed something to support it.
What was your favorite metal shop here in London?
Marcus: There wasn’t any, really.
Charlie: Like I said, the last one closed down 20 years ago. Shades was an exceptionally strange and interesting record shop that was completely run like a fucking social club. From all the anecdotal evidence, it was more of a drinking bend than it was a record shop, but everyone did signings there, from Metallica to whatever speed thrash band was around at that time. And anyone who came to London passed through it. So we are definitely living in the shade of Shades somewhat because that was megalithically important in the history of London. I think the reality of that shop was that it was fairly badly run and quite fun.
Marcus: Sign of the times, you know?
Charlie: Metal bars, places for me like The Ruskin Arms was really important in each time where I made a new stir to play gigs. Goth pubs like The Intrepid Fox that have gone, all sort of places. London is a graveyard.
Do you really think so?
Charlie: Yeah, it’s a 2000-year-old city. There are more dead people here than live people. The history of London runs long and deep and when I give tours of London to tourists visiting I always point to things that used to be there, not things that are there now. And that always pisses me off. So one of the reasons for building this shop was to point at something that’s here.
How is the metal scene here in London?
Marcus: I think the metal scene is all right in London. There are a few gig venues in central Camden, so you could pretty much see a band every day if you’d like to. Looking at new bands coming up, I think there are loads of bands coming out and bubbling. So the scene seems to be healthy. I think the problem, if there is a problem, seems to be middle-ground, above 200 people in the venues. It’s always tricky to find those bits. You have big venues, and you have small venues; you have nothing in between. And I guess a pure metal bar, in Camden, Black Heart is a good pub, but there is no… Well, there is kind of one dedicated metal bar in Soho, CroBar. But that’s kind of that. So maybe there’s a lack of bars in East London, which is something that we’ve been looking at. It’s something we would need to do to kind of even out the scene.
What are your favorite bands from London or England that we need to pay more attention to right now?
Charlie: Two bands spring directly to mind, both of which we’ve released records for on our record label. So we’re slightly partial to these two bands. A London sludge band called Ghold, who make experimental sludge music in the vein of Melvins or Harvey Milk, but find themselves in London sort of pushed into the hard, kind of nose scene. But really, they would fit very comfortably on any kind of stoner or sludge or metal bill too. They are just an incredibly creative band, always pushing boundaries, always trying to change the way they work, never sitting comfortably. I love them.
Another band is Dungeon. They’re a speed metal band, playing metal the right way, the old way. They’re all core members of the London scene, they’ve all been pillars of the scene for so long. I think at one point every single member of the band worked in a London metal bar, pretty much. So you could do a pub-crawl and go and say hello to all of them. They’re really essential.
Marcus: We get sent demos from bands regularly. There are loads in the demo stage; kind of only recording at the moment. There’s an Edinburgh band called Hellripper that I really like. They’re kind of a new band that no one has really heard of. They should get a bit more attention.
Charlie: There’s another band called Beserk. They’ve only got a demo out, and we’re working with them hopefully in the future. They are really exemplary of a sort of turn that’s happening in the London hardcore scene, which is really busy right now. The London punk hardcore scene is really busy. And a few of those bands are sort of turning towards black metal. And Beserk are really exemplary of that: all hardcore kids playing fucking really, really grimy black metal. It’s really nice. And you know, bands like Amulet that play traditional new-wave of British heavy metal style because one, they’re a really good band and, two, because Marek Steven, who is at the heart of that band, is probably the best promoter in London, putting on some of the best gigs under the name of Live Evil. And really, the metal scene would be a pretty poor place without him.
Do you also do concerts inside the Crypt?
Marcus: Yeah, we had a few record listenings and signings, and we had two concerts, really. We had an acoustic set from Grave Pleasures. And then Josh Landau from The Shrine was in doing a solo on his guitar. That was electric, and it was cool.
Charlie: It’s a little tight.
How was it? Was it fun?
Charlie: It was good.
Marcus: Yeah, it was fun. We soundproofed the shop so we could play music as loudly we could possibly want. So that’s all right. There are a few more things planned, but they are loose and keep moving. But there will be a proper gig here one day.
What does someone expect when they cross the door of The Crypt?
Marcus: The intention is, consciously or not, to shake hands with the hoof of Satan when you walk in. Then you are kind of hit by the warm lights of the candles and the wry smile from Charlie if he’s behind the counter and some loud, good fucking music and five shades of black (if you can find them there is a prize), and lots of records and cassettes, t-shirts and vibe and smells and people. That’s what you can expect.
Do you already have three favorite records of 2018?
Charlie:Oh! That’s a really good question. I’m going to consult the oracle; look at my listening list at the moment. Yeah, some fucking great albums already this year and three is almost impossible. I could almost do 30.
It’s going to be a great year. I mean, literally, just off the top of my head, the things that I’ve been listening to the most this week are the Kwade Droes, which is out from Ván Records. It’s the side project of the drummer from Urfaust. It’s fucking weird. The seven-inch they put out last year was great, and this album is just a really killer follow up.
More weirdo black metal: The Moenen of Xezbeth record that just came out on Nuclear War Now, which is I think a side project by the guy of Perverted Ceremony, actually. I’ve just been listening to those two records over and over again. They’re both really weird and good.
Man, I don’t just want to say black metal records, but… The new Cosmic Church record is phenomenal as well. I think it’s a real return to form. The first Cosmic Church record was incredible. But really, that doesn’t even begin to touch the sides really. A whole fucking much has come out this year.
What do you think about the latest Graveyard?
Marcus: I think I love Graveyard. I love Graveyard. I think they’re sort of back to some kind of form on their last record. But I would like to see them go even wider, back to where they came from. That would be amazing.
It’s not one of my favorites…
Marcus: No, the first three albums are hard to beat with Graveyard. I think they kind of…
Charlie: They painted themselves into a corner really.
Marcus: A little bit.
Charlie: It really just sounds like they want to do two things really well, which is rely almost entirely on the vocals and the guitar and write these quite beautiful songs, which they’re really quite capable of doing. The album before last proved that. But then they also want to do this hardcore rocking, and it seems like there’s a split personality. At moments on both of those records they achieved really high highs, but they just somehow don’t seem to fit together the way the used to. I’d like Witchcraft to do another fucking album.
Marcus: That would be amazing. I mean, they played Vegas just now. I don’t know if Charlie is as convinced, but I think Yob’s latest album is amazing. It’s kind of heavy as fuck. Really, really good record.
I’m going to see them at Desertfest Belgium in October…
Marcus: That will be awesome, actually. It’s a great, great record.
Charlie: Meh. I just think it starts off so well and then it doesn’t know what to do with itself straightway. But hold on, I got a list that I wrote. Someone asked me this the other day, and I wrote a fucking list. Records of the year so far: Bell Witch is doing really, really well. In terms of just selling it in the shop, it’s been crazy. You love the new Judas Priest.
Marcus: Yeah, I actually think it sounds fresh. The guitar is just on it. He sings really well again.
Charlie: I really like this record by a band called Manacle, from Canada. It’s just perfectly pitched. Really great tribe heavy metal. And the guy, Inti, whose band it is, has a shop in Canada called Stained Class records, which opened about the same time that we did. It’s a specialty heavy metal record shop, so we kind of feel like cousins. I was so impressed with that record. I really love it.
Shit, my lists are so black-metal heavy because I feel like it’s just been a creative time. The Spite record that just came out. I know that CVLT Nation has talked about that before. Void did a demo that’s really great. There’s so much good black metal coming out. I feel like there’s always good death metal, but it’s not really my favorite thing. I hate to say it because as soon as I say it, I’ll be proved wrong, but it seems that the thrash scene that was so exciting a few years ago is kind of quieting down a bit. And the doom scene is just so much the same. It just seems to lack any progression at the moment. The last few years have been very stilted, I felt. So I feel like some of the weirdest most creative shit is coming out of the black metal scene. And that’s something I never would have imagined back in the 90s.
Marcus: Yeah, what about Spectral Voice this year.
Charlie: That was last year.
Marcus: That was a great record.
Charlie: Yeah, that doom scene, all the death metal coming out of Dark Descent Records is just incredible.
In your opinion, what are the fundamentals records that a collector should have?
Marcus: That is a long list. They got to have some Black Sabbath in there, some Mayhem. You must have some Judas Priest. You can’t go without Venom.
Charlie: Fundamentals, I mean, fuck, that’s wild. You got to have some Abba, right?
Marcus: You got to have some Abba?
Charlie: Yeah, you got to understand outside of metal to understand true metal properly. Fundamental records for me: Black Metal by Venom is one of my favorite records ever. I think the three classic Motörhead records are really essential with the classic lineup. You can’t really go wrong with those. They’re sort of needed all the time.
Marcus: The last Thin Lizzy, Thunder and Lightening, you can’t go without that either. It’s an amazing last record for them.
Charlie: In Trance by Scorpions. That gets a lot of plays in here. Yeah, I’m trying to think of records that we just always have on, that we just always go back to. You know, the first couple of Maiden records. Maybe the first 10 Maiden records. That’s the thing: you can’t deny the classics. They’re classics for a reason. And there are hundreds of bands that have got one good album. There are very few bands that have got more than three good records.
Marcus: Well, I think Electric Wizard must be mentioned. They have a whole catalogue of great records. So that should definitely be in there.
Charlie: In terms of classic records that we sell every day, Witchfinder General, Bathory, Venom, Electric Wizards, fuck, Burzum… we sell a lot of Burzum still.
Charlie: Yeah, it’s a curious one. It surprises me. I wonder how many people actually listen to it more than once. But a lot of Darkthrone. You know, those classic records are almost like the backbone of the shop. And they afford us the capacity to sell a lot of weirder shit in smaller quantities.
And talking about The Crypt, is it hard to run a heavy metal shop in London?
Marcus: I don’t know if it’s particularly hard to run it in London. We’ve been really lucky because people have been really supportive and friendly and we were needed, it felt like. And we kind of vibe on that. I can’t say that it’s been super hard. I mean, the hard bit is to get your head around that you kind of need to think about your own finances in a different way. So this is about doing something for the music you love and the scene you want to do, and then you break even and you’re good on that. And that’s what you need to do. As a capitalist vendor, you shouldn’t do it. It’s an emotional exploration into the world of yourself.
Charlie: I think it would be harder to do it anywhere else other than London or England, to be honest. I know some specialist record shops that have tried to open elsewhere and have struggled. And that’s not to undermine the scenes. You’re just lucky in London, because of the same reason why every band comes to London: because there are just so many fucking people, there’s money floating around, there are tourists everywhere. Half of our customers come from outside London to visit us from all over the world. I think it would be really tough to do it elsewhere for a lot of factors. And that’s a shame. Places like this shouldn’t have to be able to justify themselves financially. They’re vital to communities. Record shops should be subsidized. You shouldn’t have to compete against high-street chains and all that bullshit. But that is the world in which we live, so you got to grind it out and make it work. We both love it. We work really hard to make it work. And we come up with millions of good ideas and connections to make that happen. I think as long as the energy is there, it’s not hard. It’s fucking great.
Marcus: The connections are important because that’s where it is. It’s about doing other things than just selling records. Playing, collaborating with other kinds of vendors or something. That’s what it’s all about. And that’s where the good stuff happens.
Have you ever played in a band? Or do you play?
Marcus: Yeah, I grew up in bands. But I haven’t played actively for years and years.
Charlie: Except for your current band..
Marcus: We have a live karaoke band that we’re trying to put together with a bunch of London musicians and me: Venom and Leather. It’s the world’s best live karaoke band, heavy-metal karaoke. So the band plays, the audience picks the song, and they sing it. That’s how it works.
Charlie: They’ve only played one, so far.
Marcus: Well it sold out.
Charlie: But they’re booked for Halloween, a wedding, a festival next summer. I’m the manager. The host. That’s our shop band. Venom and Leather
What do you think about the metal scene nowadays? Not just in London, but worldwide.
Charlie: I think it’s extremely healthy. I think there is so much music now that people are kind of spoiled. There are records coming out every single day of the week. It’s almost an impossible task to stay on top of. I think too much of the metal scene sits at home on keyboards looking at screens. But that’s true of the population of the world in general. So I think, sometimes, for example in a city like London, where incredible bands come and only 200 people turn out for the show, it’s somewhat embarrassing. You want the band to be loved, and unfortunately, they’re met with a sort of mediocre response. I’m sure that’s true of a lot of other big cities. But I think in general, it’s a scene that will always repeat itself and produce new members. Subcultural productions and scenes are inherently revolutionary, and therefore they happen at the fringes. There are conflicting positions on politics and how one lives one’s life and on what music you should be listening to and every element of it. But I don’t think those things threaten to destroy it. I think they are the kind of furnace that keeps it burning and moving. Someone asked me when the best year in metal was and it’s fucking 2018. And you got to think that. And that’s how we keep going and keep producing ourselves and being interesting.
Marcus: But if you travel and you go to gigs and festivals, it is quite the happy, beer-drinking culture. There is camaraderie between them. When you go away, you meet people, and you’re smiling because, in the end, they’re sort of the same gang. I think in some countries it’s so scattered, they live in really smaller communities. And it’s hard to get together in one big place. That’s where a keyboard comes in I guess. It gives a little bit of communication between them. But it also pulls people out from engaging.
Charlie: We would like to mention our record label because it’s a really intrinsic part of what we’re doing at the moment with the shop. And we’re working with a lot of US bands. It’s a nightmare because they all start texting and e-mailing me at about 5 p.m. when I’m just sort of gearing down for the day, and they’re all waking up. But that’s one way of making the shop work really well for, by selling our own records. It spreads our name and activity to a huge community. We get to work with bands that we love; we get to release albums that we love. And it just adds another dimension to the shop. We’ve got another album coming out by an American band called Night Terror this year, a Canadian black metal project called Sado-Magical Seducer. And we just started working with a band from Portland called Grave Dust, who are really excellent as well. So we’ve got loads of records coming out this year, and we’re really excited to share those with everyone. Hopefully, we’ll get to share some of those with the CVLT Nation audience.