Destroyer 666 Live at St. Vitus
“BLACK METAL CONTROVERSY!” I read while packing up camera gear on July 12. Next come the links with headlines accusing Destroyer 666 front man, K.K. Warslut, of being a racist volatile drunk, with various outlets reporting he had recently taunted and threatened to fight crowd members at Denmark’s Metal Magic Festival and others citing his Wolfsangel tattoos and involvement with the band The Raven’s Wing as evidence of his interest in white supremacy.
“Oh that’s just fanfuckingtastic,” I think, reflecting on America’s current issues with racial tensions and rampant gun violence, “I hope there’s good security tonight.”
Mutilation Rites is wrapping up their set when I arrive at Saint Vitus. The Brooklyn-based band plays fast, hard, and well to a sizable crowd. They pack off the stage and I make my way to the front, scoping out potential allies and protectors. There is no proper photo pit at Vitus and things can get hectic; usually when I shoot there I am able to recruit one of the bigger, more convivial concertgoers to keep my back but this crowd feels unapproachable. I exchange pleasantries with one lively, intoxicated man who talks tattoos with me and immediately adds me on Facebook. He’s very friendly but doesn’t seem likely to be of much help. I’m on my own for this one.
Ares Kingdom is in a great mood. Lead guitarist Chuck Keller banters and laughs with audience members while he’s setting up and keeps things light throughout their heavy set. They open with “The Unburiable Dead” and then launch straight into “Failsafe”, a favorite from their 2006 album Return To Dust. They tear through their allotted time, treating us to favorites like “Beasts That Perish”, “Fear Itself” and “Demoralize” before finishing with “Abandon in Place”.
Between sets the friendly drunk re-approaches me. We geek out over Ares Kingdom’s killer set for a couple minutes and then he delivers “I just wanted to say you have very pretty eyes.” I laugh and thank him with distant politeness, thinking “goddammit please I am just not in the mood for this tonight. Just let me bang my head and do my job.” I bartend for part of my living and, well-meaning or otherwise, I’ve had it up to the eyebrows with being hit on by drunk people this week.
The mood shifts as Destroyer 666 takes the stage. Warslut, the man of the hour, commands his followers to take inventory in the wake of his recent public relation nightmare. “I don’t need another shit storm. What do we have here tonight?” he asks, “No pussies, right?” “NO PUSSIES!” comes the rabid reply. “No faggots?” He continues. “NO FAGGOTS!” “No fuckin’ Internet warriors?” The crowd bellows their assurances, thoroughly wound up. Warslut nods approvingly. Someone from the audience on the other side of the stage yells something to the effect of “we need more white women in here!” and Warslut laughingly says “That’s the attitude we need tonight.” He lords over us minions, sizing us up, references the “good-looking chink” who happens to be standing next to me in the front row, and launches into “Wildfire”, the title track of their recently-released (and excellent) fifth album.
Warslut’s persona is what Red Pill Reddit readers yearn to be; the ‘gives no fucks Alpha male’ all women supposedly want to have sex with when they’re ovulating. It’s an alluring rock star fantasy, all whiskey and cocaine and reverent metal groupies (which is not to suggest that Warslut drinks whiskey, snorts lines or gets laid for being in Destroyer 666, rather those are the images such posturing connotes after years of Penelope Spheeris documentaries and ghostwritten rock bios permeating pop culture).
The band is musically solid, their aesthetic is traditionally metal and photogenic. They are loud as fuck and it is awesome. Warslut wields and weaponizes his overabundance of testosterone proficiently and while it makes for a great stage show, it also makes for unpredictable audience behavior.
I begin to lose my footing as the crowd rages around me. I’m wedged between a big, thick-necked white guy and the same asian person Warlsut slurred earlier, who is aggressively shoving me backward. I use my shoulder to try regaining my position between them and catch the little guy’s eye; he glares at me briefly then tosses his elbow into my temple. I’ve been in a lot of rough pits and taken a lot of blows to the head, but at this one I fall back, stunned by the level of sheer hostility and the force of the blow and instinctively raise my camera with the metal tripod mount facing outward. I’m fully intent on escalating the violence but get distracted by a pair of arms sliding around my waist. The friendly drunk leans in to yell “I’ll stabilize you!” I am less-than-comfortable with the amount of physical contact from my new buddy, but really have no choice; I’m getting tossed all over the place and can’t get a decent shot to save my life. I need the assistance. I grit my teeth, lean backward into him and start to spray-and-pray. Half a song later there is a hand on my butt. I throw an elbow into friendly drunk's chest and the hand returns to my waist. I continue shooting.
The hand makes its way back down to my posterior and I feel the camera’s battery grip come loose. The stupid thing has been malfunctioning since Maryland Deathfest and when it comes loose, the battery disconnects and I have to use both hands to hold it in place to keep the camera on. I curse and look around, thinking “I’m in a nearly airtight room with a bunch of sweaty, aggressive, drunk strangers, many or at least some of whom likely have extremely questionable views about women and minorities, and almost all of whom are significantly larger than I am. I’m in pain and being groped and I’m not getting any of the shots I need.” The facts of the situation reveal themselves to me with such sudden bleakness that I can no longer feel the music. “I need a break before I get in a fistfight.” At the next lull I wriggle free of my “helper” and slide through the crowd, back to the bar. “Sons of Perdition” pounds in the background as I step out into the breeze on Manhattan Avenue and I can’t help but laugh at the synchronicity of my exit song. “I've gotta have another crack at those guys,” I say aloud to myself, “but it’s gotta be somewhere with a photo pit.”