Gods of metal

If you're a fan of heavy metal music, you've probably heard of the American band Lamb of God, who were in the country last week playing gigs in most major cities.

Lead singer Randy Blythe made mainstream headlines in June last year when he was arrested in the Czech Republic and charged with the manslaughter of 19-year-old fan Daniel Nosek.

Nosek died of injuries the court later ruled were the result of him being pushed from the stage by Blythe and a security guard at a 2010 concert at Prague's Abaton club.

Blythe was acquitted, a Prague court ruling in March this year he was not criminally liable for Nosek's death. That decision was later upheld on appeal.

Blythe is widely considered to be an articulate, intelligent man who found himself in a situation common when fans invade the stage at smaller venues.

It's fair to say heavy metal musicians have been a bit jumpy since Pantera's founding guitarist Dimebag Darrell was shot dead by a fan onstage during a show with his new band, Damageplan, in Ohio back in 2004.

It's also fair to say, no matter how casual and warranted Blythe's action was, his trial and the words "heavy metal singer" and "dead fan" in the same sentence perpetuate an impression in non-fans' minds the subculture is shrouded in violence.

In a pleasing counterpoint to this caricature, a friend of mine attended Lamb of God's gig at the University of New South Wales' Roundhouse last month and reported he was once again struck by how polite, collegiate and non-violent the crowd of mainly young men was.

Some people may find this observation difficult to resolve with what seems like the ritualised brutality of slam-dancing, mosh and circle pits (language warning on that link) and phenomena like the Wall of Death.

At the Sydney gig, fans did the traditional Wall of Death to the song Black Label and I strongly encourage you to watch this clip through until the 30-second mark when the wall forms. It's spectacular and made me shout in surprise when I first saw it.

Now, you'd think this sort of thing would only encourage violence, but I know from my own experience, it's more likely to dissipate it in keyed-up and drunk young men.

The thing that struck me about the two clips I've linked to above is that the crowd acts like pretty much any other large herd of animal - it's almost like watching migrating bison or spooked gazelles.

A certain type of young man (and woman) likes a bit of rough-housing and well-supervised concerts like this strike me as a perfectly acceptable way to burn a bit of energy and remind yourself you're mortal.

If you've ever been to a heavy metal gig, you'd know there's a real camaraderie amongst fans, and after they've spent two hours slamming into each other, the usual result is dripping sweat, back slaps and massive smiles.

My mate made the observation that if you set up supervised mosh-pits in the more violent parts of our capital cities, you'd probably halve street crime and assaults.

After he was acquitted earlier this year, Randy Blythe took to his Tumblr account to appeal to fans to play safe at his gigs, writing: 

"If you are a fan and are going to a Lamb of God show or ANY SHOW where there will be moshing, crowd surfing, etc., know that what you are doing carries a risk. Use your brain - if it is too rough for you, get out before you get hurt.

"If you are moshing and someone falls down, PICK THEM UP. We have stopped shows before because people have been getting hurt, and we will do it again. This is our community, and we should take care of each other.

"A show is a place we are supposed to be together, having a good time, supporting one another. The real world will beat you down enough - we don’t need to get stomped on at a show. Give each other a hand."

The Lamb of God has spoken.

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