A mini-barn isn't normally the birthplace for heavy metal.
It is for Apostle of Solitude.
The doom metal quartet practices in one behind singer/guitarist Chuck Brown's parents' house, on a double lot within a blue-collar neighborhood on the Westside of Indianapolis. A pin holding two dogs - one a Rottweiler - is behind it.
The band practices on Sunday afternoons. Even though they've stuffed the barn's walls with insulation, their chasmal brand of blues-burning heaviness is still quite audible on the outside. Apostle of Solitude has an agreement with neighbors to only practice during the day. It seems to work, maybe because the area is also under the flight pattern for jets landing at Indianapolis International Airport.
It's a gray January day when the four members - Brown, bassist Brent McClellan, guitarist Justin Avery and drummer Corey Webb - convene on the practice space. Though the temperature is unseasonably mild, it's dropping. A couple space heaters have been put in service, supplementing the body heat of band members standing nearly elbow to elbow.
"You should be in here when it's 90 degrees out," McClellan says. "After a while there's a haze."
These wouldn't be hardships for teenagers creating their first band, dying to find any place to play. But they're not teenagers. They range in age from late 20s to mid 40s. They all have families and full-time jobs. It must be that teen spirit that keeps them doing this.
All of them were metalheads during that period of life; they made the transition from popular bands like Kiss and Judas Priest to the seminal Black Sabbath.
Brown was 18 when he moved beyond Sabbath after hearing The Church Within
by proto doom metal band The Obsessed while working at a record store.
"It was so different from everything else that was coming out at the time," he says. "Then it was either death metal or alternative. It made me feel like I was listening to a band that would go where Sabbath would've went: to the point, real themes, no gimmicks. It was some dude playing in his garage who grew up listening to classic bands."
After that Brown started immersing himself in other artists that would help define the stoner sound, bands like Saint Vitus and Pentagram. He still loves other genres like death metal, thrash and prog rock.
"But whenever I want to sit by myself and just nod my head, stuff like Sabbath is exactly what I want to put in," Brown says. A cutout poster of Tony Iommi in a corner of the barn, near where Brown stands in rehearsals, seems to affirm that.
Brown found kindred spirits in Karl Simon and Jason McCash. Together they formed a band called The Keep, with Brown playing drums. He kept the group going when Simon and McCash left, switching to guitar and adding a drummer and bass player. The Gates of Slumber was born when Brown reconnected with them.
But he had written more songs than he could play in a band with two other prolific writers. That's when Brown and McClellan, who work together, started talking about their mutual metal affliction. Like many, McClellan was stuck on Sabbath. Brown started introducing him to more obscure fare.
Three of the Apostles have the beards to match their hirsute sound. Webb wears a metal-looking black leather jacket with the band patches sown on. McClellan, with his military haircut and rather advanced age (46), could be said to be the one who's most out of place. He always wanted to be in a band. McClellan would talk about it with friends, but no one was ever serious until Brown.
"I thought, well, I'm not getting any younger," McClellan says. "If I'm going to do it, I better do it now. I've met a lot of guys my age who say, 'Oh yeah, I played in a band when I was younger.' Well, I wish I would've had that experience. They'll say they grew out of it. I guess I'm not growing up."
Brown already had the name Apostle of Solitude in mind for an ensemble. It stems from his feeling of always being alone when it came to his music - of lineups that would inevitably crumble around him. But he didn't want an in-your-face moniker like Cannibal Corpse either.
"I wanted something that sounded serious, but not something so blatant," Brown says.
In 2004, Brown and McClellan found Webb on a heavy metal-based Web site, then recruited Paul Miller to be the second guitarist. When Miller left, Webb found Avery online, He asked him if he was into doom metal. I don't know, Avery replied. Do The Melvins count? Webb thought that was close enough. Avery completed the lineup three weeks before Apostle of Solitude recorded a demo.
But it's Sincerest Misery
, their debut full-length released in fall 2008 and recorded in summer 2008 in Nashville, Ind., that is the best example yet of the band's primal power. In June, Apostle of Solitude spent a week at Russian Recording Studios in Brown County. Owned by the son of Russian immigrants, it was a house that was converted into a studio - the perfect setting to capture the group's sound. They recorded in a big, open room. Mics were placed in every corner. The floors were wood, with no carpet or other soft padding to dampen the sonics. It's evident on Sincerest Misery
. Webb's hits reverberate like cannon fire.
"I was really happy with the drum sound," he says.
Capturing such reverberation isn't difficult, Brown adds.
"Just put them in a big room," he says. "They sound like big, loud drums. It's not rocket science."
But finding an audience can sometimes be. That hasn't been the case for Apostle of Solitude. They had no record deal when they made plans to record Sincerest Misery
. Then the owner of Eyes Like Snow, a division of Northern Silence Productions in Germany, found them online at hellridemusic.com. He eventually released the album.
"Our plans were already to do that and make it happen on our own," Webb says. "It wouldn't have been as cool, obviously, if they hadn't picked us up. We were going to put it out ourselves. The guy from the label e-mailed us and asked which label we were working with. We talked about it and responded by saying, 'You.'"
Diehard packages for diehard fans
Besides the CD format, Eyes Like Snow issued a limited double LP gatefold pressing of Sincerest Misery
. There was even a diehard pack featuring both formats and extras like a T-shirt and patch. All have sold well for a label with limited resources and a musical style generally embraced by only the most ardent fans. Even the local shows Apostle of Solitude have been playing recently have been nicely attended. Not always a given in a sports-crazed city that keeps country music on top of the Arbitron ratings.
"The diehard fans are receptive to bands that mean what they do," Brown says. "They're aware of whether you're a poseur or not."
It's that mentality that's earned the band a devoted following. But not enough to cause delusions of grandeur within any of them.
"It's a small scene that digs this kind of shit," Brown says. "I think we all realize we'll never be able to make a living off of it, quit our jobs. But what's cool about it is it's a tight knit scene where you get to play with other bands that you think are great. Nobody's untouchable. It's not like rock stardom with big egos."
"It's just a lot of damn fun," he says. "It's bands you can sit down and have a beer with, and you discover they're just like you. This is something I can be a part of. It's not so big that you're just another number."
Given the kind of music they play, and the fact that most of their songs are longer than seven minutes, the members of Apostle of Solitude don't expect to be played on the radio. But that's not the point. Playing an offshoot of the entombing, old-school sound they grew up on, for a small but devoted fan base, is.
"The people who dig this shit aren't the flighty kind that hear one song on the radio and buy your record for that," Brown says. "They love your band and they love every song."
"You don't get a lot of casual listeners," Webb says.
Besides, they say, why be part of the larger music scene that's become so glutted as to be impersonal?
"[This is] not as detached from everyday life as some of the bigger bands get," Avery says.
One day, a European tour
Still, it can be difficult for Apostle of Solitude to justify what they do to outsiders. To this point any money made from shows and merchandise sales goes into a band fund to pay for needs like gas and recording fees. Even after more than four years, an album and tours as far east as New York, Apostle of Solitude is a break-even venture.
"That's what gets me the most: People who say, 'I heard you play in a band. How much money do you make doing that?'" McClellan says. "I tell them not much of anything. Then they're like, 'Well why do you bother doing it then?' Some people go fishing, some people go bowling, some people go hunting. We do this because it's fun."
Even with their practical expectations, Brown vows that Apostle of Solitude will one day tour in Europe, just not at any cost. He traveled with the Gates of Slumber there once, and it's a continent much more embracing of metal than North America.
"They treat bands different over there," Brown says. "Even if you're playing clubs, they feed you and there's guarantees. It's taken more seriously. Over here it's more, you'll get what you get."
"If we tour Europe and break even, it's still a free vacation," Avery says.
Until then it's long weekends of shows and ear-bleeding rehearsals in a mini-barn. But that's the crux of Apostle of Solitude: It's a band that's more concerned about having fun than taking themselves too seriously. One time Brown's wife was taking group photos of them. She crouched down to shoot up at them, trying to make them look scary and dangerous. Problem was, one of them had forgotten to zip up his fly.
"Damn," Brown says, remembering it with a laugh. "There goes the metal image."