[Inspired by the metal gig etiquette faux pas that lead to an international scandal involving Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe being charged with manslaughter in Prague, Soul Cycle‘s Chris Catharsis tells us why we as a musical subculture need to get over the whole moshpit thing. Check out his thoughts below and chime in in the comments section. – JR]
Whenever my wife and I go to a metal show, we do whatever we can to avoid standing, sitting, drinking, or even so much as loitering near “the pit.” We’ll even shell out a few extra dollars for second floor or preferred seating to get as far the fuck away as possible. There are a lot of different explanations for why we make this conscious decision in advance. Obviously, the view and sound quality are vastly improved by putting some distance between us and the stage. There are the occasional bonus perks of private bar and food services, comfy stools to prop up next to, and private rest rooms devoid of any lines whatsoever (the ultimate convenience).
But most importantly, there is no pit.
A couple years ago, my wife and I went to a Sevendust show at The Masquerade in Atlanta. Sevendust was her favorite band at the time, so of course she wanted to get as close to the stage as possible. We settled in about three rows of ex-Marines back with a great close-up view of the action — until the pit opened up. I tried to tell my wife what to expect, but even she was taken aback by the rampant uninhibited and misdirected violence circling the middle of the club floor. She had a whole new perspective on her fellow Sevendust fans; this amounted to all sorts of physical appearance insults mixed with intermittent jabs at those who thought Clint Lowery was just a replacement for recently departed fill-in journeyman Sonny Mayo. We left with bruises, which I found pretty funny considering we didn’t exactly bear witness to Nergal ripping a Bible. This was JUST Sevendust, for god’s sake.
A few months later, Mark Hawkins (lead guitarist of Soul Cycle) and I decided to meet for the very first time at — of all places — a Cannibal Corpse show in Jax Beach. In a way, Sevendust’s jump-da-fuck-up stylings had subconsciously prepared my wife for her first extreme metal show. We had general admission tickets yet again, but this time we knew it had to be different. I introduced her to all the cornerstones of the Corpse discography on the ride down, simultaneously conditioning her mind and body for both the aural brutality she would ultimately endure and reassuring her of the injury-free existence with which we hoped to lead our lives after the show.
To my surprise, my wife really enjoyed Cannibal Corpse. Was it the fact that we spent the entire evening watching from the second floor balcony, sequestering ourselves to safety in a room full of raging hormones and flailing fists? Was it the seemingly endless supply of Natural Light tall boys to which we were privvy? Probably the latter, but the former certainly made a big difference in the experience.
That, ladies and gents, brings me to the point of this exhausting blog post: it’s time for the metal community as a whole to graduate from high school and leave the mosh pit behind once and for all.
As I type these words, Randy Blythe, lead singer of Lamb of God, is sitting in a Czech hellhole prison cell because two years ago a pit member got sloshed, jumped up on stage and was thrown to the floor by security, supposedly causing bleeding in the brain that allegedly killed him a month later. Forget about the stage dive and stick with me here. Without delving into that story for the millionth time on the Internet, let’s just consider one thing: the environment of a metal show is a potentially fatal environment. Inherently? Perhaps. Absolutely? No. Let’s temper that statement.
Concerts themselves are dangerous places. Hundreds and often thousands of people are casually squished together into a giant fire hazard so that they can risk hearing impairment in front of colossal loudspeakers; in this manner, a Cannibal Corpse show is no different from a Katy Perry show. What separates the two is the atmosphere. At a Katy Perry show, there are lots of happy people, Pepsi, and boobs; at a Cannibal Corpse show, there are lots of angry people enjoying themselves, beer, and little to no boobs. Both atmospheres are manufactured, but unless you’re making untoward advances at women, chances are you’re far more likely to get punched in the face at a death metal concert than you are at a pop show. Why does this extra degree of danger exist?
Because of the god damned pit.
Have we not worn out this tired aesthetic of metal nostalgia yet? The mosh pit really mattered twenty-five to thirty years ago; it was as much a cultural statement as Pete Townshend demolishing The Who‘s instruments at the end of a show. How many bands do you see trashing their equipment on stage these days? None, and for good reason. Kurt Cobain trashed Nirvana‘s set not because he wanted to emulate the rockstars who came before him, but because he wanted to parody the normality of such an act in popular rock canon; when he died, he took all of its authenticity with him. Conversely, how many “OPEN THIS PIT UP” memes have you seen in the last few months? Exactly my point.
If we openly joke about the mosh pit and it’s predictability in metal and even hard rock now, much like a laugh track that serves no purpose other than to exist within the bounds of a sitcom, then why do we do it? Simply because we can?
Metal isn’t an underground movement anymore; no one has anything left to fight for, especially when moshing occurs at Nickelback concerts. Maybe it’s the fact that, outside of Sunn O))) rituals, most metal concerts are high energy, physically demanding workouts on the part of the musicians, and those musicians need positive feedback from the crowd to validate what they’re doing onstage. Hell, even Lamb of God was cited for popularizing the “Wall of Death” pit manuever during the “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” (whatever THAT was). I get it. We all want validation. Being able to command hundreds or thousands of human beings to willfully crash into each other at high velocity must feel like the sweetest validation in the world. And to be fair, the pit represents a sort of catharsis for its participants — validation in and of itself that you and all those involved may be swinging at different demons in your lives, but you’re all fucking swinging together. Hard.
But just because you CAN do something, that doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it.
So as Randy Blythe sits in a foreign prison, remembering the events of the evening for which we has arrested, we stand at a crossroad of opinion: do we just accept that metal shows are inherently dangerous and embrace the potential for bodily harm and even death, or do we all collectively realize that we can do away with the pit, stage diving, and other acts of dumbassery and still have a great time? If you’re a musician, are you comfortable enough with everyone banging their heads in rhythm and raising beers in your general direction, or do you have to get all Max Cavalera and demand that the crowd “fock sheet op”, “go focking nots”, and the like to feel as if you’re doing your job? At the end of the day, it’s a maturity check, in my opinion.
Many of you will call me a pussy for staying out of the pit, but that’s fine; in a few years, your doctor might be calling you brain damaged because you roided out at a Sevendust show. Or, god forbid, you might just be dumb enough, drunk enough, or a combination of the two to rush the stage at a Lamb of God concert and have security drop you on your head. Your parents might press charges against the singer of your favorite band merely to assign significance to the grief and agony they’ve experienced from losing their son or daughter in such an insignificant manner. Your favorite singer might be imprisoned because you thought you were invincible.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to capture the whole thing on tape from my ideal vantage point on the second floor, save the footage for two years, and then ship it to your favorite singer’s defense team if and when he’s imprisoned in Eastern Europe, guaranteeing his release and freedom to return to these United States of America.
You’re welcome, I guess.