“My neck hurts.”
Ah, the ubiquitious Sunday cry of the metalhead. It’s Tuesday in New Zealand, and my neck’s only just stopped aching from Saturday night’s headbanging session. And, as I sit at my desk rubbing it frantically, I get to thinking about this remarkable part of our metal kvlture: the headbang.
The word “headbanger” originated on Led Zepp’s 1969 US tour, where fans in the front row banged their heads against the stage in time to the music. It appears the word first came into use in heavy metal circles through Motorhead, with their common epithet “motorheadbanger”.
Headbanging is integral to the heavy metal lifestyle. Even if you yourself are not a banger, you’ve been to those local shows where the crowd forms a semi-circle around the stage while the chosen few stand in the middle and shake their wild tresses. You’ve been whipped in the face by an overenthusiastic windmiller. You’ve sat in your room at home and nodded along.
Headbanging feels good. It feels right. It’s a primal display of masculine prowess, a subconscious preening of the metal feathers. It’s a tribal ritual, a dance of our collective unconscious, the will of the barbaric music we submit ourselves to. Headbanging is a heck of a lot of fun.
Steff’s Tips for Successful Headbanging.
- Cultivate a Headbanger’s Hairdo
There be two hairstyles prodominent among metalheads: long, luxurious locks, and bald, shaven hair. One is essential for headbanging. The other looks like a boiled egg bobbing in a sea of frothing black water.
Some seasoned headbangers postulate that long hair acts as a counterweight, releasing some of the strain of headbanging. I doubt the validity of the statement but nevertheless support the cause of long hair. Long hair ist kreig.
Practise Safe Headbanging techniques
Research unequivocally shows headbanging can cause whiplash, mild to moderate brain damage, and even strokes. But we’re metalheads. We spit in the face of research. We pinch the cheeks of science. We tickle the underskirts of calculated risk.
After all, the two cited cases of headbanging injuries were not, in fact, from metal bands. Craig Jones of Slipknot got whiplash from headbanging. Terry Balsamo – guitarist from Evanscence – gave himself a stroke from his onstage moshing. Many argue this is the wrath of the metal gods, smiting those nu-metal and uninspired goth-rock bands who dare describe themselves as metal. True metalheads obviously have nothing to fear.
Nevertheless, your neck hurts like buggery after a good banging. You can minimize potential harm by moving your body, instead of just your neck. By placing your legs far apart (for stability) and moving your upper torso in a scooping motion, you get your hair flying without actually moving your neck. Since you tense your neck muscles when you do this, your neck will still hurt the next day, but it’s much less dangerous.
You could also try slowing your rate of banging, or only banging during certain parts of the song. I only generally bang during the chorus or main riff, when the banging is greatest. The rest of the time I like to pull my hair out of my mouth and watch the band.
If you headbang by leaning over, be careful when you stand up again – you can lose your balance easily, especially if you’ve been drinking.
Watch out for loose nails, overhanging beams, and musical equipment. Our friend Johnowar headbanged on stage under a low ceiling and spent most of the next song trying to untangle his hair from an exposed nail. Another friend headbanged into a pillar.
Remember, every time you bang your head, you risk losing brain cells. Precious brain cells. So don’t headbang to just anything. That band needs to earn your brain cells.
Before you start a good bang, survey your surroundings. Take note of the position of speaker stacks, folkbacks, sharp corners, and spike-clad moshers. These are headbanging dangers. If you headbang into a foldback, you’ll get a lump. If you headbang into someone’s spiked gauntlet, it bloody hurts. If your chosen spot overflows with headbanging obstacles, either move, or tone down your banging to avoid injury.
Cultivate a Headbanging Style
Every headbanger has a unique style. I tend to use my whole body, keeping my neck relatively straight. I stare at the stage through my hair as I throw my torso around, and yell the words along with the band. I then switch to windmilling during the riffs.
Here are a few headbanging moves to try:
The Nod: move your neck slowly back, then thrust your head quickly forward. The rest of your body remains rigid. The more hair you flick forward, the better. You’re saying “I agree this is pretty metal.”
The Shake: instead of nodding, pull your hair in front of your face and shake your head from side to side. A sort of “cousin-it” method of headbanging that aims for maximum impact with minimum effort. You say “No, I will never stop listening to tr00 metal, such as this”.
The Hold-On: Grab a speaker stack or foldback and clutch it for dead life while you shake your head like a mad-thing. This keeps your position firmly at the front of the pit and keeps you steady.
Side-to-Side: slam your body to the left and nod your head, then slam your body to the right and nod your head. Some metallers like the bouncing movement of this. The Side-to-Side works best if you have a wide space between.
The Folk Bang: a headbang reserved only for folk metal. Folk bangers move their arms in a jaunty motion, as if they’re swinging tankards of ale at an Irish folk-dancing night. They jump from side to side as they whip their heads, sometimes linking arms with fellow folk bangers. In a tr00 folk metal pit, beer flies from tankards and drinking horns and coats the folkbangers in a sticky, delicious goo.
The We’re-All-Friends-Here: Link arms over the shoulders of fellow metallers, bend at the waist and shake your heads.
The Swing: another favorite of mine. Swing your whole body from side to side like you’re part of a broadway dance troupe. Swing your head too – either the same or opposite way. This makes girls look great while giving a good flying hair effect.
Windmill: One of the most dangerous and trickiest headbanging moves to pull off. As the name suggests, the Windmill involves spinning your head in a full circle so your hair fans out like a windmill and whips your surrounding headbangers, who will fall down and worship your awesome. Windmills are only effective for extremely long or incredibly thick hair.
Before attempting to headbang, warm up your neck muscles by moving your head slowly from side to side, front to back. Roll your neck on your shoulders. Warming up before a good ole’ bang can reduce the pain in the morning.
Consider Fellow Headbangers
Watch where you bang, step, and throw your body. Be aware that even if you enjoy slam-moshing and circle pits, others might not. Especially when they’re in the middle of a good headbang and are caught unawares.
Windmilling too near others can result in cat-o-nine-tails-style wounds. While spilling blood for metal might be your idea of a good time, others may disagree. Windmill at your peril.
Watch out for us fragile girls! We’re generally not built like brick shithouses, and if you knock us we can go flying over foldbacks and can knee guitarists in the groin (true story). Be courteous, gents – we want to share the floor with you \m/
Liquid in your drinking horn will splash around while headbanging. Empty it first, either into your mouth or over someone else’s head.
If a headbanger falls down, help him (or her) up again.
At the end of a show, give your fellow bangers a pat on the back or a couple of goats \m/ for their good work.
I open the floor to you, my readers. Do you have any stories from the concert front lines? What’s your favorite head-banging technique? Is there any I’ve missed out? What’s the worst injury you are a friend sustained from headbanging?
Bang the head that will not bang \m/