It’s common knowledge that all metal-oriented vocalists are in a secret competition with each other to claim the ultimate title: Moses Of The Mosh. Only he or she who, with a finely honed craft, has mastered the parting of the human sea can stand among the ranks of the great. But it’s like fight club. They don’t talk about it, and you better believe they won’t share their secrets. Until now.
I’ve watched on the outskirts of this phenomenon long enough to know most of the clichés. My challenge to vocalists invoking the great mosh spirit: Shock us all with a new way to do it that includes none of these.
1. DIRECTIONAL COMMANDS
“I want to see everyone in the front, in the back, to the east, to the west, on this side of the room, on that side of the room, over there, south, west, right, left, here, there, get up, get down—MOVE!”
“FUCK SHIT THE FUCK UP, FUCKING MOVE, FUCKERS!” Obviously, this makes your audience think: “Wow. I use those words when I’m angry. I should probably be angry right now. And not just irritated, but enraged and willing to smash myself as hard as I can into this guy over here I don’t know.” These are all very psycho-manipulative tactics, folks. Learn to recognize them.
Specify the shape you want the crowd to separate to create. This shape is most frequently the common“circle, but I have heard more specific and mathematically correct vocalists refer to it as an oval. Still waiting for the instance of: “I want you to make a diamond shape, like the tattoo beside my eye! Diamond shape! Go!”
4. APPEALS TO MASCULINITY
I once heard a frontman spout this exact quote: “Where’s all my big dudes at? Start swinging!” I then proceeded to double over laughing and tweet about it as I watched snarl-faced chest-puffers strut in angry little circles while flexing their biceps, contemplating their own size and how they could best utilize it to crush one another.
5. MUSICAL CUES
You can save yourself a step by inserting mosh commands into your music. These can be a blatantly screamed “Get up!” or “Go!” but you can be more subversive about it. A certain type of music listener has been conditioned to react to breakdowns—for instance—with intense violence and movement. Also, fast guitar and and a prolongued, high-register “Yaaaaaaahh!” works pretty well.
6. FALSE REASSURANCE
“If someone falls, you pick them up!” Setting ground rules and enforcing “mosh etiquette” make people feel like they’re in a controlled environment and safe as they continuously compromise the structure of their nasal cavity.
For the truly skilled vocalist who is fond of orating directions, mosh can become an artform of sorts—or something more like line-dancing that hurts. The wall of death, the crawl of death, games of bloody bodyslam chicken—I’ve seen each of these initiated, and I’ve seen all of them result in injury.
8. CALLS FOR HOMICIDE
Even if you may feel like killing someone, you can’t actually do that if you value the time you spend free of handcuffs and prospect of lethal injection, but at a metal show, you can definitely pretend. When the singer says, “I want to see mosh casualties” or “Kill one another,” you can fantasize all you want that the unsuspecting person you’re charging into is actually your intolerable boss who will die on impact.
A frontperson using this tactic will say little about their actual music between songs, because they are very busy informing you that you’re not moving enough or that the previous night’s crowd was crazier, or—if they’re particularly abusive—calling you “lazy fucks.” This can backfire in self-fulfilling prophecy if a crowd is under-confident.
Someone who uses the disappointment tactic is likely to also employ threats resulting from their state of mind. It’s a matter of differing levels of arrogance: Vocalists who threaten the still-standing audience members are the more entitled of the two and feel they have something valuable they can take away from you, like their presence on a stage or your favorite song, and they’ll be sure you know that, and until you start jumping or attempting to crack someone’s skull you ain’t getting shit from these types.
“I want to see you create a hole in the floor of this room.” Okay, okay, but that doesn’t sound very structurally safe and will probably cost a lot to repair…
When you introduce quiet in a loud environment, it shocks the system of the room. People get nervous and antsy. Their muscles begin twitching and their natural reflex to the reintroduction of noise becomes swinging their arms in a windmill fashion.
“Circles! Circles! Circles! Circles!” (Spoken at first in an ever-intensifying crescendo toward a totally out of control and indecipherable shrieks until the crowd before you looks like a people-blender.)