THE VOID is a column that aims to explore, expose, and champion the finest in heavy metal. Following the template of the old Norwegian webzines that devotees would host on Geocities decades ago, this monthly feature will include interviews, opinions, reviews, and occasional live coverage in the hopes of providing a snapshot of metal culture and extreme music in general.
One of my fondest concert memories is the time I was in the front row for Goatwhore. Ever the wimpy kid afraid of getting crushed by the massive leathered-out dudes who preside over the pit, I had never been in the front row for a metal show before (there was this one time I pseudo moshed at a Rage Against the Machine cover band concert, but that doesn’t count). Also, I had just turned 21 and had never drank at a metal show before. That night would be different. That night I would raise the horns with my fellow pit dwellers. That night would change my whole perception of live music.
So, I drank some beer and watched the opening band from afar. Decent but kinda slow. Not Goatwhore. I knew those NOLA evildoers would bring the thrash. Even then I was on the fence. I looked up front and saw a dude with a Bathory jacket that looked like he’d worn it every day since ’84; next to him was a guy wearing actual spikes and a bullet belt. Was I metal enough to be in their presence? Was I worthy? The opening blasts of “Apocalyptic Havoc” answered that question for me as I became compelled through a Stag-induced fervor to shove my way up front. And there I remained, headbanging alongside trve metal warriors with Ben Falgoust’s sweat raining down on us as he spun his hair round and round. Afterward the Bathory guy raised the horns in approval and turned to me: “That was fucking badass.” I nodded. Fucking badass, indeed.
As an audience member, you can only get out of the metal show what you put into it. Think of it as an escape. Live music engages the listener on an introspective, emotional level, and while metal does that, too, it also brings a visceral physicality and sense of danger that’s vacant from most modern rock ‘n’ roll. So let loose and enjoy yourself. Of course, shitty shows happen and not every metal band has the showmanship of Goatwhore. But with this list of metal show survival tips, you’ll be primed for maximum entertainment. Some of this applies to live music in general.
Get a DD, get drunk
Everybody else is doing it. No, seriously, they are. That’s what happens at metal shows. People drink and smoke stuff in the parking lot. You don’t have to smoke stuff in the parking lot (unless you’re seeing High on Fire), but there’s something about beer that goes well with blazing solos and chugging riffs and images of death, blood, and decay. Metal is not for the faint of heart or liver.
Beat the bathroom conundrum
To go off that last one, nothing ruins the concert experience faster than a bloated bladder. Take a leak whenever you get the chance. A few factors come into play here: Bathroom lines can be stupid long — especially between sets — or totally inaccessible if you’re in the middle of a massive audience at a stadium show or festival. It sucks to think about, but it’s wise to be weary of how much liquid is in your system and how that affects your pee reflex. Guys get off easier here; you can find a secluded alcove outside the venue and release there instead of standing in a line that may or may not be filled with people waiting to ingest drugs on the shitter. If you’re holding in a No. 2, godspeed my friend.
I am often amazed at the volume levels metal bands achieve, but even more amazing are the people standing there without earplugs. We’re talking volumes that are physically painful to the exposed human ear canal. “Turn it up to 11” is a sardonic jab at this ear-bleeding practice, but it’s mostly an accurate stereotype. Even in tiny clubs, a lot of metal bands still opt for stadium volumes, and if you’re not prepared (I recommend the non-muffling sonics of the Etymotic ER20s), your ears will be ringing for days, weeks, or even months. In my interview with Pallbearer bassist Joseph D. Rowland on the next page, he champions the loud-but-not-too-loud approach and explains how lowering the volume can actually improve the sonic clarity for audience and band. Based on my concert experiences, however, Pallbearer are in the minority regarding loudness. Still, the wall of Marshall stacks does look pretty cool.
Fuck stage diving
Unless it’s 1986 and Cro-Mags is playing CBGB, get your ass off the stage. Nobody wants to catch you — nor do they know how to catch you, apparently. A guy died in Switzerland and another at a Miss May I show only months apart this year from stage dives gone awry. That said, if you’re in the front row and somebody is attempting a stage dive, give ’em a boost so they don’t land on their neck and get hurt. Even if you hate people jumping on you, it’s better than somebody dying.
This is a tough subject, because the mosh is a total display of boneheaded masculine aggression and inane on a practical level. But a good mosh is so much fun when it’s not taken overboard. “Slam-dance” is a more civilized term, defining the feisty-yet-controlled moshes — people bumping and shimming into one another — that burn off the calories and only leave you with a bruise or two. When people start beating the shit out of each other, that’s when things get stupid. One of my friends tells a horror story of Ozzfest 2007 (the year it was free) and how these two brutes were swinging their arms around and sending people out of the pit on stretchers. And the event staff, if there even was one, just let them do that all night, bloodying all these people. Unless you’re feeling brave, these are the moshes one should avoid.
Bring cash for merch
This comes down to your personal budget, but metal merch tables are the best merch tables, and you’ll probably see something you’ll regret not buying later. I always bring $20 cash just in case there’s a cool-looking exclusive tour shirt for sale, because I know if I don’t buy one then, I’ll likely never see that specific shirt again. Some bands take cards and/or have the little PayPal swiper thing, but most are cash only.
Show up early, support local metal
This is important, especially if you live in a small town with infrequent metal shows. In those instances, local metal bands might not get too many bookings, and your attendance and financial support (they’ll get a cut of the door cover) goes a long way in keeping the local metal contingent, however tight-knit, afloat. By nature, playing metal is an expensive hobby, and it all comes out of pocket for unsigned, non-touring local acts.
Tell your friends, carpool to out-of-town gigs
Another big one for the small-town metalheads who don’t get enough action close to home. Trips to big city shows are more feasible when you aren’t dropping $50-$100 on gas on top of ticket prices and food. Grab some friends and make a day of it. You get to go to way more shows and make friends with like-minded people.
If you want to talk to a band about their equipment, don’t
In no other genre is gear nerdery more pervasive. We can all swoon over Boss HM-2s or whether or not those frets are scalloped, but the last thing a musician wants to think about at a show is this shit. This Portlandia sketch with St. Vincent sums it up.
Lastly, don’t be an asshole
I remember this guy in front of me at an Enslaved concert that kept mocking the band during their set, making like sarcastic “Ugggghhh” noises between songs and yelling stuff like “You suck, go back to Norway.” I’ve noticed this a few times at metal shows — audience members who violently react to something they don’t like — more so than at the average rock show. Not sure why. If you don’t like a band’s music, go drink at the bar or leave.
Click ahead for my interview with Pallbearer’s Joseph D. Rowland, in which we discuss the band’s forthcoming sophomore album. Also, I review Boris’s new record, Noise, and offer up my top metal releases of 2014 so far.
Photos: Goatwhore (Jennifer Russo); Deathhammer drinking (Jon Hadusek); Quorthon selling merch (via Black Death Nostalgia).