Now I have you with me, under my power. Our love grows stronger now with every hour. Look into my eyes, you’ll see who I am. My name is Lucifer, please take my hand. – Black Sabbath
Yesterday eve, a hoard of leather-jacket-clad girls with flowing manes and practiced scowl-pouts made their way to their assigned seats at Saint Vitus. The mood was heavy, everyone seemed to know that they faced the potential for both complete humiliation and romantic glory at the very first Speed Metal Dating. I was among the 74 people who showed up, a sacrificial lamb for stunt journalism.
What happened? Lemmy tell you…
Having been born under the grimacing emoji star rather than the kissy face one, I’m one of those awkward individuals who doesn’t have a scientific understanding of flirtation or a natural-looking flip of the hair. So I was fearfully gripping my beer as I navigated the treacherous terrain of friendly nods, sideways glances, and full-body scans, a spectrum of unwanted eyeballing I received from both male match-ups and the lady competition. Even then, I didn’t fully grasp what would happen next in that blackened room, cast in dramatic shades of violet and magenta.
Dave Hill, the creator of the event along with Trish Nelson, was setting up from behind a podium, fog swirling slowly around him, shooting furtive glances at the lecherous throng below. I looked down at my buzzing phone. “The girl sitting next to me is cute– should I kill her?” read a text from my friend Alex. I typed back: “You did bring poison, right?”
Maybe it was the black-metal atmosphere or the Satanic vibes, but as I made my way to a tall bar table next to the stage, isolated from all the other women below, I was considering lighting myself on fire.
My friend Tom, already three whiskey-sodas deep when it was time to take our seats, was nervous for a completely different set of reasons. “I have a really bad feeling I’m going to bump into someone I’ve had sex with,” he flinched. I couldn’t blame him. Immediately after walking into the bar he’d recognized a girl he went to high school with and managed to have an awkward run-in with a friend-of-a-friend. Tom to attractive young woman: “You don’t remember me? I’m Ava’s friend!” Hair flip– “Hmm, well I’m not anymore.” Cue Tom slithering away.
While the women were essentially sitting ducks in their assigned seats, the men had to figure out how to move through the impossibly narrow row of suitors in chronological order. Trish looked out over the crowd and explained how everything was gonna go down: Each “date” would last for about five minutes, we’d know time was up when either one long song or two shorter ditties came to an end and Dave muttered something into the mic. Duh, I thought.
But as things got underway, I found that I was actually sorta enthralled, at times enough to lose track of the clock. Despite the notorious nicheness of the metal community, I was blown away by the diverse backgrounds of people represented (save for the unusual number of men who worked in advertising)– 100 percent metal hipster this crowd was not. My first encounter was with a polite young guy from Staten Island who seemed to have his impressive lines rehearsed, so much so that if I interrupted him he looked a little frustrated that I’d broken up his soliloquy. Action movies were his thing. “I’m not into the sappy stuff,” he explained. As were comics. “But I don’t like the shallow stuff.” Gotcha. He’d recently started a band, and according to his account, each of the members had an unshakable resume (a one-time Guns N Roses guitarist was reportedly among them). He’d had many metal bands in the past, but this one was different. “I’m taking a big risk here,” he said. “But I think we’re gonna be big.” I wished him luck.
While getting dressed for this thing earlier, I’d started quizzing myself on the finer point of my own metal experience– my favorite doom metal bands, the Black Sabbath song closest to my heart, my mixed feelings about Thurston Moore’s dismissal of black metal as well as his own foray into the genre (“Black Metal is music made by pussies of the lowest order, and we felt it was necessary to investigate this aberrant anti-music behavior,” Moore said in a press release to promote a new album by his band, Twilight.) I wasn’t picturing a bunch of pussies lining up at Speed Metal Dating, however, but a bunch of dudes with encyclopedic knowledge of everything from Red versus Anarchic Black Metal to efforts in Drone-Metal crossover, wearing jean vests speckled with patches referencing obscure bands that I couldn’t even pretend to know about if I tried, since they would inevitably be scrawled with illegible, spidery metal fonts. My knowledge is far from even nerdish, so I couldn’t let some ignorant slip reveal me for the nonpartisan metal listener that I am. Before I realized how stupid this all was, and that I should probably consider just being myself, I landed on a quick one-liner I could use to silence the haters. “I’m a passive metal listener,” I would say. It was the slightly less lame, rough equivalent of, “I like all kinds of music, except country.”
Despite my careful approach to seeming cool, I was occasionally found out. There was the guy who, when I goofily asked if he was a “hardcore metal fan,” responded, “Well, if you’re asking if I’m a fan of hardcore metal, then no.” And there was the fellow who, after we agreed that Pallbearer was pretty sick, cracked a smile with a slight eye-roll when I explained that I “just wasn’t that into the sub-genre thing.” Sigh.
But at an almost equal rate, I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth of what self-identified metal heads defined as “metal.” I encountered one guy who was into “metal, classic rock, and showtunes,” strictly. And I did feel a flash of record-store-clerk superiority when one dude, with gelled-up spiky black hair, a broad smile, and large, glittery white teeth, thrust his wrist into my face to show off a fuzzy black sweat-band. It read “System of a Down,” no irony intended. “I love Stone Sour too,” he revealed. Was this bold? Or simply shameless? It was hard to tell. I found out that he lives in Bushwick, a neighborhood that he knows as Roberta’s and sub-part Mexican food. “I’ve only been here three weeks,” he said proudly. New York was OK, so far, he reasoned, but he did miss his Southern California tacos. “I came here for New Year’s and decided I loved it! This is New York,” he gestured toward the crowd of people. “Where else would you find something like this?” True.
I encountered a few overly confident individuals who were keen on visibly flexing their veiny muscles and listing off hobbies that involved things like “working out.” Right. One such man had lengthy, wispy hair that seemed to flutter in the breeze of a non-existent fan. He reminded me of a cross between a young Sylvester Stallone and Sean Penn from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Ignoring the fact that it was maybe 40 degrees outside, he was making the rounds with a cut-off band t-shirt from which protruded his mammoth arms. He made a point of placing them on the table and gesturing, occasionally tapping at my wrists when he was afraid I’d miss an important detail.
“I have to be up at 5:30 am,” he hinted, but said he was still down to party. I let out a forced chuckle, and probably some spittle. “Let me give you a hug,” he said, as we departed ways. After my strained conversation with another one of these ended, the guy chuckled awkwardly, “I wouldn’t be surprised if all the girls hate men now.” You have no idea, buddy.
But no, actually most of my “dates” did nothing to inflame any latent feelings of misandry. I met one guy from Ukraine who was genuinely interested in speaking Russian with me even though I told him my skills were embarrassingly low, and later on my friend Alex informed me that she’d dragged one promising suitor out onto the sidewalk to smoke. They shared headphones and listened to a Sleep track before she informed him that things were getting “too weird” and literally ran home. “I hauled ass out of there,” she admitted.
That’s not to say I didn’t spark some of my own awkward encounters. One dude and I seemed to be hitting it off until we both realized that we were from the same town in Michigan. “I was really hoping I wouldn’t bump into somebody from Grand Rapids,” he said, his smile twisting into a pained frown. I couldn’t have agreed more.
Early on, I started to sense that my jaw was swelling from so much yammering, and whatever was coming out of my mouth was either stupid, or as indiscernible as a bleating sheep-woman. When the next bachelor– a grey-top with what I remember as a polo shirt and jeans, sans any sign of traditional metal paraphernalia, and no actual beard but plenty of ear hair to compensate – squirmed into the seat opposite me, I blurted out, “Where are you from?” not taking into consideration how that might come across.
I really only meant to ask what neighborhood he lived in (the East Village, it turns out). “Actually, I was born and raised in the United States,” he said gruffly. Great. Now, not only was I awkward, but I was a racist, xenophobe Donald Trump supporter and pro-fracking activist with hooves for feet. I felt only a little better when I realized later on that this guy was not the most stable. Most obviously, he had a penchant for tugging at his ear beards, which seemed to serve as something of a security blanket in times of frustration or anxiety. And for a few moments, he seemed to interpret my squirming as a mating call.
Speaking of which, we all know that, really, when it comes down to it, love knows no age (as long as you’re not dating some teen-tween, you sicko). And, for one fleeting moment, I felt I’d met my one true love, a Scottish man with a large white beard and flop of matching hair, who dated himself at approximately 60 years old when he recalled having seen Black Sabbath play during their 1975 Sabotage tour. I had a difficult time discerning what he was actually doing here, but he did say that he had 15 hours left before his flight took off back for Scotland, and that one of his favorite pastimes in life was “getting people riled up.”
In other words, he was Speed Metal Dating’s unofficial master of trolling ceremonies. “I asked one woman if she had any pets, and she told me she had a dog and a cat,” he recalled. “I asked her, ‘Alright if I have a threesome with them?'” Apparently her response was something in the way of, “Fuck off.” Be still, my heart.
Thankfully, things started to wrap up soon after I encountered the inevitable guy who was speaking in such an abstract way that I couldn’t understand a word leaving his mouth. It was like jazz, really. “What?!” I kept leaning in closer to no avail before I resorted to smiling and nodding. I looked back to find that even Dave Hill seemed to have reached a point of exasperation. His expression had turned into that of a brow-beaten puppy dog, as if he was thinking, “Where’s all the romance?!” After being force-fed something like 20 or so dates, it was time to either drink up or go home.
In the end, I’d gathered a few platonic numbers, and after splitting Vitus to knock back a falafel sandwich with Tom, I realized I’d swept in a few good stories too. Most of Tom’s own encounters had been “innocuous” at best (and turns out that girl from high school was an entirely different person altogether, which they’d had a good lol about), but he did admit to having a small crush on “the girl with the eyebrows.” Ah yes, that girl with the eye brows. “I tried to get her number, but she had about ten guys hounding her so I left,” he said. I made a note to self: must have boldly painted eyebrows in order to win Speed Metal Dating. But as usual, it seems, we– me, my eyebrows, and Tom – were just the unlucky ones.
“I’ve produced a lot of shows in my time, but I have NEVER done an event like this before,” Trish explained later in an email. “Dave and I felt like we were doing the Lord’s work. And people actually made connections and hooked up! I’ve gotten a couple messages of thanks today! So freaking wild!” Cheers to the happy couples, may Satan’s love bring you blessings and head-banging pleasures for years to come.