Meet Vancouver’s Dark Lord of Karaoke
When he stands at a microphone, Arcanabyss Brooks is beyond mortal. His fans even chant his name.
Arcanabyss Brooks at 'sanctum of palatable pastries,' Tim Hortons. Photo by the author
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Arcanabyss Brooks’ black-leather trench coat pools on the floor around the chair he’s sitting on. The criss-crossing of metal chains at his waist hang over the edge of the seat, studded armbands glint under the soft recessed-lights of 12 Kings pub. Well over six-feet and clad in all black garb with only his face visible from under his hood, Arcanabyss sticks out like a pallid, vampiric thumb in a room that looks like the results you’d get from Google Image searching the keywords ”sports,” ”bar,” ”bro,” and ”testosterone.” But only the uninitiated would think he didn’t belong here.
At 12 Kings, Arcanabyss is king one-through-twelve. Especially on Saturdays because today is the Lord’s day. And what the uninitiated don’t realize as his statuesque form rises and makes its way to the microphone, where a DJ has queued up Judas Priest’s “Victim of Changes,” its lyrics about to scroll down the large flat screen mounted on the wall behind them, is that Arcanabyss Brooks is the dark lord of Vancouver karaoke.
“Knightly obeisances, sire,” Arcanabyss says as a big mitt emerges from his trench coat and envelopes my own. Around us is chaos. The Tim Hortons he’s chosen to meet at, somewhere in the heart of Richmond, British Columbia, is teeming with cooing, crying babies, gossiping elderly folks, and kids glued to their cell phones. It is a surprisingly raucous scene. One that I didn’t expect from how Arcanabyss pitched it to me while setting up our interview:
“I concurrence chummy confabulation at sanctum of palatable pastries, Tim Hortons, afternoontide of 4 PM? It stands coterminous to conveyance structurum ‘Richmond Brighouse’ station.”
The first time I spoke with Arcanabyss, after having a few too many ciders while at 12 Kings karaoke some months previous, I had no idea what he was saying. He speaks in his own dialect, one that seems to be a combination of Old English and fantasy tongue. Or as he describes it on his Facebook page, he is a “grammarian fluent in anachronistic elocution because I bestow ardent logolatry for words.”
That logolatry is hard to decode at first. The regality of his speech creates an image of things that don’t always fit with our current timeline––this Tim Hortons feeling more like a New York City bus depot than a “sanctum of palatable pastries.” But once you sit in front of him for a few minutes and see the words leave his sharp, slender face, it’s easier to understand, and it even becomes jarring when he occasionally has to break out of his “anachronistic elocution” to communicate certain things, such as his order:
“Umm, I’ll just have an Iced Cap. Thanks.”
However, when he sings, it doesn’t feel like a departure from his chosen speech styling. Even when Rob Halford’s deftly poetic lyrics like “You ‘bin fooling’ with some hot guy” come barreling out of Arcanabyss’ mouth, it feels on brand. He has an ability to hit notes on an operatic range that is compelling in a way that is hard to explain. His singing is a skill that was self-taught, or as his business card––which he gave to me on my cider-y first encounter with him––states, he is a “self-mastered counter tenor/male” in the genre of heavy metal/power metal.
After finishing his first song of the evening, the crowd at 12 Kings erupts. There is even a short-lived chant of his name. Here at karaoke night, Arcanabyss is beyond mortal. There are people here just to see him sing. And when the DJ announces that tonight is, in fact, his 27 birthday, a second, louder round of cheers and hoots roll through the bar. Back at his table, which is full of 20-30 friends and family (or as he puts it: “effervescent comradeships/sectators of mine,”) he has trouble connecting with all of the awaiting high fives.
Next up to the mic is Arcanabyss’ mom, who dedicates Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” to her son. It is strange and touching. Her guttural, Hetfield flourishes surprisingly affecting.
Hush little baby, don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beasts under your bed
In your closet, in your head…
“Love ya, sweetie,” she says into the mic as the final guitar riff fades. His mother was responsible for bringing Arcanabyss to his first karaoke night, seven years ago, at some nondescript joint in Surrey. This eventually snowballed into his passion, one that started with him singing along to classic songs in Disney “paragons” like Aladdin and The Lion King, before eventually meandering into bands like Scorpion, then Bowie, until heavy metal became his foundation.
He refers to singing karaoke as an “unveiling.” While he does literally pull his hood from his face before each performance, he is referring to a deeper personal reveal. On stage, he gets to be himself for everyone to see––and they very much want to be a witness. This is something that he was never afforded earlier in life. He adopted his style of speech and dress at eight years old, and for the simple transgression of just being himself, he suffered serious bullying in school. To be able to draw crowds like this on a weekly basis, to have an entire bar wish you a happy birthday––it must feel like validation. A victory of sorts.
Karaoke has also given Arcanabyss a community. Beyond his fans, he’s cultivated friendships, that include Cowboy Dan, a slight, middle-aged crooner in a Stetson who has become a brother to him. They have a “domicile allegiance” out in Richmond and they drive Dan’s “shimmerous steed” out to various karaoke nights in the Lower Mainland on the regular.
It seems as if Arcanabyss just manifested this all for himself. He is unabashedly who he wants to be and then a world suited to his ideals formed around him. The scene in 12 Kings full of similar magical conjurings. Cowboy Dan leads the entire bar in a rendition of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers. Each person singing along as if it was themselves genuinely declaring their love and the lengths they’d go to fulfill it. A barrel of a man screams Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” into the microphone, spittle getting caught in his chest-length beard, in what surprisingly becomes one of the most entertaining performances of the night. Then a young woman waits for the lyrics to Jay-Z and Kanye’s “N****s in Paris” to appear on screen, which they never do. As the song starts, she implores the DJ to find a version of the song with lyrics, but all he does is look at her and mouth “that shit cray.” She stutters and it appears as though she’s about to crumble until something sparks, and as if possessed, the words start flowing out of her. The crowd cheers and dances––until she, a white woman, raps the N-word and the collective whiteness of the bar cringes and shrinks back to their seats.
And maybe that’s the general power/danger of karaoke. Over the course of a song, it allows you to become someone you want to be. To tell stories you wish were yours––which is not always a good thing. But for Arcanabyss, the magic of karaoke is merely an extension of his own story. An outlet for his ability and the persona he’s built around it. When I ask him about his name, he gives me an equation:
Arcane = Mystery
Abyss = Eternal Blackness
Arcane + Abyss = Arcanabyss
He is the mystery of eternal blackness. A chosen moniker that is in part a tribute to how he believes the world has misinterpreted him, and partly in spite of it. He could never imagine conforming, speaking in the stunted “platitudes” of the “ultra-modernists” who text around us in the Tim Hortons. He speaks with a “resplendent flow” inspired by HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. His pop-idol is Cthulhu. Arcanabyss is the figurehead of his own cult at 12 Kings.
From across the table, Arcanabyss’ mother pushes a gift into his hands.
“We got you something. Open it.”
He does, in silence.
“It’s a wind chime.” she explains. “You can put it up somewhere around your place, by a window or something, and it’ll make noise.”
“Did you see what is says on it? ‘Be the Change.’”
This moment, overheard by a friend before I arrived on Arcanabyss’ birthday night, is fitting, if not paradoxically apt. Like most people, I first found out about the Dark Lord of Vancouver Karaoke second-hand. At first, just small details from a friend, describing the sight, the atmosphere he creates, eventually followed by an Instagram video shared with glee. Then I saw him in person and was taken aback by the man’s passion for his craft. His full-throated, self-mastered, counter-tenor commitment. Now, I regularly go to karaoke night with my friends, something I never did before, and we have a great goddamn time. That’s because of Arcanabyss, and I’m sure it’s something he’s inspired many, many others to do.
He has been the change, by simply not changing for others at all.
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