Stranger In A Strange Land: A Female Opera Singer’s First Death Metal Concert

By Elaine Reese

Let me preface this by saying that I am NOT a fan of death metal. I like music that I can sing to,  relate to and, more importantly, music that has lyrics that I can understand. For a bit of context, I am a classically trained vocalist who’s been in a choir for the majority of my life – we’re talking 26 of my 34 years. I’ve sung in hundreds of musicals, operas, and symphonies, so naturally I’m more critical of vocals than I am any other instrument. 

If you were to peruse my Amazon Music playlist, you would frequently see artists like Debussy, Bach, Nada Surf, Mumford & Sons, Bob Dylan, Notorious BIG, Cardi B, Taylor Swift, Tame Impala, and so on. To say that my musical tastes are eclectic would be an understatement. Because of my wide range of musical interests, my husband thought it would be fun to take me to my first death metal concert. It was December 2012, and we were living in El Paso, TX. The concert: The Blood of Power Tour featuring Dying Fetus and Cattle Decapitation

I wasn’t super thrilled (due to the band names alone), but I tried to keep an open mind and even picked out what I thought would be the perfect outfit for a metal concert – black jeans, black t-shirt, black boots and a black leather jacket

Cut to the evening of the show. I refused to listen to any of the music beforehand because I didn’t want to form any opinions until I saw the bands live. Before the concert, and to balance out the insanity to follow, my husband and I decided on an elegant pre-show dinner. We ended up at Sunny’s Sushi, and had a couple of delicious rolls each. I wanted to be a little more relaxed before the show, so in addition to the meal, I had two tall glasses of Sapporo. 

Sunny’s Sushi: the BEST in all of El Paso.

From dinner, we headed straight to The House of Rock, which was less than a mile away. While waiting in line outside the venue, we ran into one of my husband’s coworkers who was REALLY excited about the show. He was on crutches with a giant cast on his leg, and kept ranting about how he was “so ready to mosh”, while I sat back silently and questioned whether that was a wise decision.

We missed the first two bands and arrived while Cattle Decapitation was setting up. After getting ID’d, we went straight to the bar and grabbed a couple of cocktails. We took a few sips of our drinks, and were fortunate enough to find a high top table near enough to the stage to get a full view of the show, but far enough that we didn’t retain any injuries from the mosh pit. Even as the mobs of metal fans filled in, we still had a clear view of center stage. Then, Cattle Decapitation went on, my first thought was “What the hell did I get myself into?”. 

Cattle Decapitation (circa 2012): L to R: Josh Elmore, Derek Engemann, Dave McGraw, Travis Ryan

Their music was much more aggressive than anything I typically listened to, but I was only about 30 seconds into the first song and thought maybe I’d learn to enjoy it.

About one and a half songs into the set Cattle Decapitation’s vocalist (Travis Ryan), began spitting GIGANTIC loogies six feet into the air, and proceeded to catch them in his mouth. 

Travis Ryan

I thought I was going to be ill

Immediately, I began gagging and dry heaving. But, to prevent the nearby bouncer from thinking I was too drunk and kick us out, I raced to the bathroom to calm down. I popped some gum into my mouth, splashed some cold water on my face, and gave myself a little pep talk before going back to the table. 

Before I could leave the bathroom, I felt two arms wrap around me, followed by a girl’s voice telling me how great I looked. At first, I thought she was a friend of mine from work, and pulled away only to discover that I’ve never seen this girl in my life. She introduced herself as Athena (which may be one of the most metal names ever) and promptly grabbed my phone to put her number in it. That’s when I realized that girls who listen to metal are much friendlier than any other girls that I’ve encountered in a public bathroom. We exchanged names and numbers, and walked out of the bathroom, arms-linked. 

Athena: Greek goddess and avid death metal fan.

I took my seat back at the table, and my husband asked, “Who was that girl from the bathroom? A friend from work?” Casually, I responded, “No, I just met her in the bathroom.” He looked absolutely shocked, mainly because he knows how much of an introvert I am. I typically don’t like anyone in my personal space, especially strangers, so that was one of the last things that he expected to happen. 

I headed to the bar for a drink refill, and glanced towards the stage only to catch more of Travis Ryan’s phlegm acrobatics. This continued to prove that he may be one of the most disgusting humans that I’ve ever witnessed live. To prevent further nausea, I chose to stare down at my drink or at the ever growing mosh pit until Cattle Decapitation was finished performing, because I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the loogie catching anymore.

As Cattle Decapitation finished up their set, the set crews worked diligently, and Dying Fetus went on in a manner of minutes. 

Dying Fetus. L to R: John Gallagher, Trey Williams, Sean Beasely

Though metal is not my preferred style of music, I was amazed at what each band member could do with their instruments. I was particularly drawn to Dying Fetus’s drummer (Trey Williams), because I couldn’t figure out how he could play so fast and so clean at the same time. The mosh pit grew even larger with Dying Fetus on stage. Off on the sidelines, I watched my husband’s friend throw his crutches to the ground, go diving headlong into the mosh pit, and maniacally thrash around.

After Dying Fetus ended their set, my husband and I headed towards the stage to chat with the band. As Trey Williams tore down his drum kit, my husband approached him and jokingly said “You cut all your hair off. Are you selling out or something?” If looks could kill, that would have been my last night with my husband. Trey Williams looked PISSED

Trey Williams: still metal as fuck with a crew cut.

My husband began laughing and let him know it was just a stupid joke, and that he loved the band and thought they sounded awesome. 

I told Trey that I also enjoyed their set, and my husband let him know this was my first death metal show. Trey said, “Well, what do you normally listen to?” I responded, “Lately, it’s been Mumford & Sons. I’m obsessed with them!”

Trey’s response was completely unexpected. His eyes lit up, and he exclaimed “I love those guys! They have some angry music!” I’d never thought of Mumford & Sons as angry music, but that comment got me thinking about their lyrical themes, and Trey was completely right.

Mumford & His Adult Sons

It’s been almost eight years since The Blood of Power Tour, and I’ve managed to only go to three other metal shows (two Cannibal Corpse, one Meshuggah). Though I still don’t listen to metal when I have the choice, I do have a lot more respect for metal musicians than I did prior to my first show. The technical skills required to play as clear and fast as they do is a feat in itself, and I know it’s something that I’d never be able to do.

Buy Cattle Decapitation’s latest album Death Atlas here

Buy Dying Fetus’ Wrong One To Fuck With here

Published by Iron Veins

A fan of metal.

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