Bang Your Fucking Head


On May 24, 2010, a nineteen-year-old metal head named Daniel Nosek suffered a fatal head injury at a Lamb of God show in Prague. Daniel started vomiting immediately after the show, complaining of an intense headache. His friends rushed him to a hospital, where he underwent emergency brain surgery. Daniel slipped into a coma and died two weeks later.

Lamb of God plays a raucous mix of hyper-fast thrash and mind-numbingly technical breakdowns. I began listening to them in high school. I’m from a dead end boomtown in Wyoming, and, like a lot of kids there, I grew up with a chip on my shoulder. As I drove to school and walked through the halls, anger pulsed through my veins. I had hair that hung past my shoulder blades, and my favorite bands were Pantera, Slayer, old Metallica, and Black Sabbath. Each band reminded me that there were other people in the world as angry as me, that metal was a way to channel this anger into something productive.

Lamb of God is both more extreme and technical than these bands. I still remember the first time I heard them — in a DC Shoes commercial. Danny Way launches sixteen-foot airs on his skateboard to the violent sounds of “Pariah,” a song on New American Gospel. Mark Morton and Willie Adler play nasty gallops on their guitars, propelled by Chris Adler’s balls-out double bass drumming. Fuck, I thought, who is this band? I became an instant Lamb of God fan, soon buying their entire discography.

Two years later, I watched the band pummel a crowd with their relentless aural attack at Ozzfest in Denver. I was about to turn nineteen. Lamb of God played around four in the afternoon. Most people in the crowd, including myself, were exhausted. Dirty and sweaty, we’d spent the past six hours watching other metal bands. But, as soon as Lamb of God started playing songs from As the Palaces Burn, New American Gospel, and their upcoming album, Ashes of the Wake, a bolt of electricity shot through the crowd, making us all go ape shit. The guitarists and bassist swung their long hair in manic circles as Randy Blythe ran around the stage, looking and sounding like a meth-fueled demon. He had black hair, long in front and short in back — a devil lock hanging in his eyes.

About halfway through the set, Blythe said, “Alright motherfuckers, we’re gonna do the wall of death.” He told the crowd to split, half to the left and half to the right, creating a large space in front of the stage. “On the count of four,” he said, his leg propped on a monitor, “I want to see you fuckers go at each other like this is Braveheart or some shit.”

The rest of the band began playing “Black Label,” one of my favorite Lamb of God songs. I didn’t think twice about whether or not I should become part of the wall of death. With my best friend, Steve, I lined up on the left side, staring into a sea of black t-shirts and sweat-drenched faces. Blythe counted to four as his band mates launched into a mean-ass groove. Along with our legion of metal heads, Steve and I charged. The crowd coalesced, forming a chaotic whirlpool of bodies.


No one knows for sure how Daniel Nosek hit his head at the Lamb of God concert in Prague, but it’s likely that it happened when he was crowd surfing. Two years after Daniel died, Randy Blythe was charged with manslaughter in the Czech Republic. Several fans said that he’d pushed Daniel off stage, causing him to hit his head. But Blythe was exonerated after a different fan came forward, revealing that he was the metal head who’d gotten pushed off stage.

Don Argott recently released As the Palaces Burn, a documentary that depicts the Blythe trial. Throughout the film, Randy and the other members of Lamb of God repeatedly say how sorry they are about Daniel’s death, and they’re not putting on an act. Their music and shows are violent, but they genuinely love their fans. At one point, Blythe talks about going to hardcore and metal shows as a teenager, saying, “That could’ve been me.” I’ve never crowd surfed before, but I thought the same thing when I found out about Daniel’s death.

I can’t find much information about Daniel, aside from the fact that he was a nineteen-year-old kid who fucking loved metal. He also played guitar in a band. In one picture I found, Daniel sits in front of his amp, wielding his black guitar like a knight holding his sword. His long brown hair is parted down the middle. He has a peach-fuzz mustache, and he’s wearing a black t-shirt and baggy jeans — my uniform when I was nineteen.

I wish there was a recording of Daniel’s band. If I had to guess, I’d say they wanted to get back to the classics, channeling Iron Maiden, old Metallica, and Slayer. You can’t call yourself a metal head without knowing and loving these bands. In another picture, Daniel wears a black Maiden shirt, and I bet he loved their duel-harmony guitar work.

When I was a teenager, one of the only things I knew for sure was that I wanted to play drums in a metal band. The metal world had always been there for me. Living under the same roof with my drug-addicted father and trying to deal with life in a shitty small town, metal concerts enabled me to unleash my frustration in a communal way. I wanted nothing more than to be onstage, watching metal heads lovingly bludgeon each other — propelled by sounds that originated in my brain.

Daniel had no traces of drugs or alcohol in his system when he died. Unlike a lot of metal heads, I didn’t get stoned or drunk when I was a teenager, finding a different way to disconnect my frontal lobes — headbanging like there was no tomorrow.

The day after Steve and I went to Ozzfest in Denver, we drove nine hours to Salt Lake to see Superjoint Ritual again, another band that played Ozzfest. Phil Anselmo, the singer of Pantera, had started Superjoint a few years earlier. Next to Sabbath, Pantera was my favorite band, but they’d already broken up by the time I became a rabid fan of theirs. I worshipped Phil, so, to me, seeing Superjoint Ritual was the next best thing to seeing Pantera.

Driving to Salt Lake, I could barely move my neck. In addition to Lamb of God and Superjoint, Judas Priest, Unearth, Shadows Fall, and Black Sabbath all played Ozzfest. During each band’s set, I helicopter headbanged, swirling my hair like a medieval mace. A family member or teacher had once told me that, every time you headbang, you kill brain cells. I didn’t know if this was true, but I didn’t care if it was. Even though a burning sting constricted my neck muscles as we drove through Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, I knew that I was going to let loose during Superjoint’s set.

The crowd was relatively mellow while the other bands played. But, as soon as Superjoint started playing one of their sludge-punk jams, we became a seething mass. Bodies slammed into me from every direction, and I headbanged wildly. This was the gnarliest pit I’d ever been in, but I wasn’t scared, even though huge dudes surrounded me, crushing my scrawny body. Superjoint’s chaotic, crossover-punk made us revert to our lizard brains — a mental space that we inhabited collectively.

Driving back to Wyoming that night, the warm pain in my neck made me feel nauseous. I could barely move my head to the side for the next two weeks because my neck was so sore. I woke up every day in pain, which made me think about Ozzfest and the Superjoint Ritual show in Salt Lake.


One of the first documented instances of crowd surfing is when Iggy Pop leapt into an ocean of screaming fans at the 1970 Summer Pop Festival in Cincinnati. As the Stooges played high-energy proto-punk, people in the crowd lost their shit. Feeding on this energy, Iggy jumped from the stage and into the crowd. In a famous photo from the concert, Stooges fans hold him up as he stands upright. He’s not wearing a shirt, and sweat glistens on his back as he points at someone in the crowd. Trying to imagine how he feels, I can’t think of a better phrase than the Stooges’ album Raw Power.

Crowd surfing didn’t become widespread until people began moshing in the early 80s. Dance is shaped by music. When pissed off kids started playing their instruments as fast as they could, deliberately moving away from the calculated musicianship of classic rock and topping off this aural chaos with manic shouts, it didn’t make people want to slow dance. Hardcore is visceral, stirring your insides into a stew of furious anxiety. Listening to Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Minor Threat, kids surrendered their bodies to the aggressive sounds, colliding into each other throughout shows. Originally, this was called mashing, or mashing it up. In 1982, DC hardcore heroes Scream released the song, “Total Mash,” a two-minute burst of pure energy that made hardcore kids go crazy. When H.R., the legendary singer of Bad Brains, would tell fans to mash at his shows, many of them thought he was saying ‘mosh’ because of his accent. Soon, everyone began calling this violent form of dance moshing — a word that solidified itself in the hardcore and metal lexicon when Anthrax released “Caught in a Mosh” in 1987. As moshing became more popular, so did crowd surfing. The swamp of interwoven bodies that constitutes a mosh pit is a perfect landing pad for someone jumping off the stage.

When moshing and crowd surfing seeped into the mainstream, a lot of people criticized these practices. Parents didn’t want their kids to mosh or crowd surf, and musicians didn’t want fans to get hurt at their shows. I avoid moshing these days, and I’ve never crowd surfed, but I can’t deny that I still love to see these things — as long as the band’s sound warrants the rituals. In 1996, Billy Corgan famously spoke out against moshing at Smashing Pumpkins concerts, saying that it was “an inappropriate setting.” I agree. Compared to the threatening frenzy of hardcore and metal, Smashing Pumpkins sounds like Yanni. A more accurate form of dance to their music would be waving your arms in the air like a tripped-out hippy. I’ve seen plenty of inappropriate mosh pits, mostly while watching mellow bands that only have tinges of punk or metal in their sound. But, as I watched Converge, Slayer, Eyehategod, Trash Talk, Coalesce, Lamb of God, Superjoint Ritual, Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire, and countless other aggressive acts, I couldn’t imagine people dancing in any other way.

There’s been more than a few times when I’ve caught a stray elbow to the chest, or gotten smashed by a massive body as I stood to the side of the pit, just trying to watch a band. In its worst forms, moshing becomes an act of machismo, a way for muscle-bound dudes to prove their strength and puff out their chests. But moshing also has more pure manifestations, times when a band’s violent sounds replace the electrical signals of the brain, directing your movements.

Although I’ve never done it before, I’m sure crowd surfing would be amazing. If it works, you get to ride a wave of arms, shoulders, and heads, a wave formed by the gravitational pull of a band’s music. If it doesn’t, you might end up jumping from the stage and landing directly on the floor. For people who decide to crowd surf, though, the possibility of riding that wave — the energy that begins in musicians’ brains and culminates in the pit — overshadows the threat of getting hurt.


In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud discusses the idea of a death drive, or death instinct, saying, “the task of which is to lead organic life back to the inanimate state.” According to Freud, there’s a constant “opposition between…the death instincts and the…life instincts” in the core of the human mind. Our life instincts make us seek out stability — a roof over our heads, a steady income, and a faithful partner. But the death drive makes us want to sky dive, skate vert ramps, crowd surf, and mosh. The death drive leads us to test limits, to remind ourselves that we can always choose to die.

Aside from metal and punk, which have become hybridized to the point of inseparability, I can’t think of another style of music that’s so intimately connected to the death drive. Look at metal pioneers Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Slayer. All of these bands’ early material is aggressive, technically masterful, and obsessed with death. In the title track of Black Sabbath, Ozzy yells, “Figure in black/ that points at me.” In “Battery,” the opening song on Master of Puppets, James Hetfield shouts about a seething aggression that he can’t escape, screaming, “Battery is found in me.” In “Raining Blood,” Slayer creates an onslaught of terrifying thrash that’s designed to send listeners into a fight-or-flight response as Tom Araya shouts about an apocalypse in which blood rains “from a lacerated sky.” This style of music has always been a way to explore the death drive, to delve into the primordial space where we make the most important decision — to live or die.

When you dive into this space, you know you might not make it out again. But there’s a ledge within this space, a windowsill where you can teeter on the brink of existence and non-existence. Standing on this ledge will infuse your veins with an electricity that’s more powerful than any drug.

Moshing and crowd surfing are ways for people to touch that ledge, to see how far they can push free will by countering their most basic survival instincts. In part, these acts are the results of reverting back to “an inanimate state” that can’t be consciously controlled. But deciding to attend infamously violent concerts reminds us that we can always choose to destroy ourselves.

Five years before Daniel died, a twenty-six-year-old metal head ruptured his liver at a Hatebreed show in Germany. He died the same night. The guy had taken part in the wall of death — the extreme form of moshing that I was part of at Ozzfest in 2004, just one year before this German metal head would pass away.

When Steve and I ran toward a wall of other Lamb of God fans, the last thing on my mind was that I might die, but I knew that I was probably going to get hurt. It’s terrifying to look back and think that I could’ve died in that pit, but this wasn’t the first time I’d taken a life-threatening risk. As a teenager, I was obsessed with freestyle BMX for a lot of the same reasons I loved metal shows. It was an activity that could easily destroy me, which only made it more appealing. Even if I knew that someone would die after getting crushed in a wall of death, I think I still would’ve charged into the tidal wave of metal heads at Ozzfest.


I’m twenty-nine, and I’ve been playing in metal bands, on and off, for the past nine years. I sometimes get sick of this world, of playing to audiences that mostly consist of angry white dudes. At the same time, I always find myself coming back to metal. Playing aggressive music sends jolts of nervous energy through my body. I’ve played in bluegrass, country, and indy bands, but, even though it’s fucked up to feel this way, the safe vibe at these concerts is boring to me. I want to play shows where unpredictability looms like smog.

Right now, I’m playing drums in a doom band. Two of our main influences are Eyehategod and Down — New Orleans bands that destroy fans’ eardrums with copious amplification. We recently played a show in Porterville, California, a small Central Valley town nestled against the mountains. Here, agricultural pollution hangs in the air like Don DeLillo’s “airborne toxic event.” It was only our second show, but several metal heads came out to the Driftwood Tavern, a bar covered in wood paneling and adorned with dated beer posters and defunct neon signs. Choppers and large work trucks filled the parking lot.

Twenty seconds into our third song, two metal heads swung each other around, losing balance and hurling themselves directly into our guitarist, Jared. They plowed him over, knocking down his half-stack and one of my cymbals. For a few seconds, everyone in the crowd hushed. Jared got up, holding his guitar like he was about to smash it into one of the guys’ heads. But the metal dudes immediately apologized, helping Jared pick up his rig. He was pissed, so I said, “It happened because they were into it,” which settled him down. After knocking Jared and his amp over, one of the guys told us that we sound like Down — possibly the best compliment we’ve gotten.

We finished our set, jamming our remaining songs with an energy and tightness I hope we find again. The two guys headbanged throughout the rest of the show, the aggression in their movements directly reflecting our music. We’re playing Porterville again in a few weeks, and everyone in the band is excited. Some crazy shit might happen, or it might just be another show.


J.J. Anselmi’s first book, Heavy: a Memoir of Wyoming, BMX, Drugs, and Heavy Fucking Music, is forthcoming from Rare Bird in late 2015. You can check out more of his writing here: http://jjanselmi.com/


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