I believe in anger and rage. I believe in the healing power of absolute release.
For years, I have made a ritual of attending the heaviest of heavy metal shows. I find the brutal assault of down-tuned, distorted guitars and thundering double bass drums hypnotizing. The guttural, hate-filled vocals of bands like Lamb of God, Behemoth and Devildriver re-emphasize the passion in the music. I revel in the aggression of the mosh pit, or ‘slam-dancing’ as it was called in the 1980s.
In August of 2003, I was in Phoenix, Arizona to see some of my favorite bands, Arch Enemy, Hatebreed, and Slayer. More than ten-thousand people were packed into the Mesa Amphitheater by the time the sun was setting. Slayer, the headlining band, was soon to take the stage. Most of the audience was drenched in sweat and dehydrated from a hundred-degree day full of alcohol consumption.
This audience was composed of young and old, male and female. There were husbands and wives, parents and children, and scores of young men, most without shirts on. The latter was the group that my friends and I belonged to.
Through much discomfort, the fans managed to pack the floor of the amphitheater like sardines. I was smashed between two people far larger than myself, and to my dismay both had long, sweat-soaked hair that I knew I would eventually be tasting. The lights on the stage went out, leaving only a solid black curtain between the audience and the band they were there to see. As the electricity in the air rose, chants of “ Slaaayer, Slaaayer,” began to rise up from the crowd. The chant consumed the audience. The thousands of people on the floor moved as one, almost as if they were a single living thing, pulsing and swaying back and forth in anticipation, their anger rising.
In one single instant, the curtain in front of the stage dropped, and we were all hit in the face with a brick of heavy music. The lights were blinding and the music almost deafening. Giant holes opened in the audience as mosh pits formed, usually the result of one large person shoving a few smaller people out of his or her way. Some of the smaller audience members began to crowd surf, lying on their backs while being carried above the audience by the other members. I was kicked in the eyebrow by a crowd surfer. As I felt the painful spot to make sure my eyebrow rings were still in place, I could feel blood trickle down my cheek.
Amid the violence, the audience members in the front, smashed against the barricade, concentrated only on Slayer. Many sang the lyrics to the band’s opening song ‘Disciple.’ During the chorus, most of Mesa must have heard the lyrics “God hates us all,” as it was screamed by thousands of fans.
And so this continued for more than an hour. People came and went from the pits, resting as needed to get another beer or shot of Jagermeister, the preferred drink of metal fans. Some fans were carried out by EMTs depending on their level of intoxication or injury. The aggression of the band was relentless, fueled by the audience, and the audience was in turn driven by the band.
When it was all over, after the final note of the song “Angel of Death” was played, the band left the stage, and the lights came back on. All of the fans who had just been pummeling each other moments earlier shook hands and gave congratulations on particularly impressive hits. Only smiles could be seen and a sense of relief was everywhere. Relief from the music, from the other fans and from life itself.
I attend shows like this to get away from reality and to entrench myself in the passion of the anger. I believe in the healing power of anger and release because I have seen the result in the faces of thousands of fans at countless shows I’ve attended.
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