(We welcome NCS reader Mike Yost with his first guest post for our site, prompted by his experience at the recent Denver stop of the Opeth–Mastodon tour. This post also appears as of today on Mike’s own blog, which you can find here.)
Mastodon finishes shredding the frenzied crowd. The drummer tosses his sticks into the throng. The lights go up.
It’s between sets, so I sit with my back against a metal barrier that separates me from the larger crowd below. I shove in a pair of earbuds, turning up “Black Rose Immortal.” A twenty-minute Opeth piece of metal magnificence and mayhem that chokes out the white noise of conversations around me.
There’s something about heavy metal that’s primal. Cathartic. A juxtaposition of raw, exposed animosity eviscerated and dismembered by beauty herself, left on the dusty ground in a pool of blood to die—with a smile.
The lights drop, and I jump to my feet. I yank out the earbuds. The crowd stirs. The only illumination comes from the Fillmore Theater chandeliers hanging from the ceiling—glowing purple. Movement on the stage. The crowd starts yelling in anticipation. I join in. Blue lights grow bright to illuminate that signature O. Mikael Akerfeldt walks onto the stage. Metal ensues.
Opeth starts with their progressive rock from Heritage, Akerfeldt singing God is Dead!—the chorus from “The Devil’s Orchard.” Between songs, Akerfeldt comments that he loves Denver because the thin air makes him feel drunk without having a single beer. Someone from the crowd yells, play some fucking metal! “Patience,” Akerfeldt replies. “Or I’ll play the song ‘Patience.’”
Soon we are all rewarded for our patience, and the intro to “Demon of the Fall” begins. Angry growling death metal ensues.
Slamming my head forward with everyone else, punching the air above me with the traditional devil horns, I realize there’s another important characteristic to metal—solidarity.
Metal is about getting lost in the futile anger, disappointment, and frustration of life, drowning out your problems for three hours. Finding absolution, and knowing it’s only temporary. Then slamming your head even harder, growling with everyone around you to each line of the song as your throat blisters and you start to gargle on your own blood.
Young or old. Bald or hair hanging below your ass. Straight or gay. During a metal concert, these trite distinctions just don’t matter.
Outside of a concert, when people find out I’m gay, they usually respond with, “you don’t act like it.”
Which is true: I don’t watch musicals. I loathe the music of Lady Gaga. I was dragged into a Banana Republic once. I wanted to light the entire building on fire.
I do own about a hundred band t-shirts—from Dead Can Dance to Agalloch to Velvet Acid Christ to Opeth. I drive a Dodge Ram (the lesbo-mobile, it’s been fondly called). I’m not offended (nor do I care) when someone around me uses the word gay to describe something stupid. And I fucking love metal.
Most of the music I hear in gay bars and on the radio lacks depth. Feels synthesized and forced. The songs have shitty lyrics. In a word—kitsch.
Nietzsche wrote that art made for the masses is valueless. Conversely, he added, music made for the sake of making music “at every moment make[s] life worth living at all, and prompt[s] the desire to live in order to experience the next moment.”
The concert ends with “The Grand Conjuration.” Opeth takes a few bows before leaving the stage. My shirt is plastered to my back with sweat. A woman I’ve never met before smiles, “that was fucking awesome!” Adrenaline still saturating my veins, I can barely stand still as I wait in line to buy (yet another) t-shirt. A guy in his fifties with a big, gray bushy beard and a tie-dye t-shirt stands next to me. Words like concert, kick-ass, epic. intense, and fucking are being thrown around—though not in that order.
And this moment is about sharing the experience of being pummeled by head-stomping riffs, double bass fills, and Akerfeldt’s demon-like growls. It’s about no one giving a shit I’m gay.
The sidewalk carries me away. Denver’s Fillmore Theater is swallowed up behind me. The traffic on Colfax Avenue saturates my senses.
I stick the earbuds back in. Take my time as I walk back to my truck, finishing “Black Rose Immortal.” Those pesky problems I forgot about are still lurking at the periphery, waiting patiently to rise blindingly with the sun.
But the rest of the night belongs to the fans. This moment belongs to metal.