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Inside the Mosh Pit at the Summer’s Biggest Touring Metal Fest

“Every time I’m in the pit, I get to release every last bit of stress,” says fan at California stop of Slayer-headlined trek

“How many times in your life do you just get to scream as loud as you want and nobody gives a shit?” asks singer Chad Gray of the heavy-metal supergroup Hellyeah. “That’s a beautiful thing. . . . I need it as bad as they do, and I know they need it,” he adds, speaking of the fans.

Gray spoke to Rolling Stone backstage at this summer’s Rockstar Mayhem Festival, headlined by thrash originals Slayer. Others performers include fellow metal veteran King Diamond and the newer acts the Devil Wears Prada and Whitechapel. Rolling Stone sent its cameras into the mosh pits of the festival’s earliest California dates to take the temperature of the metal masses.

Fans described their earliest experiences with headbanging, including one young woman who claims she became a fan before birth when her father blasted Metallica via headphones into her mother’s womb. Other fans described the thrill and catharsis of the mosh pit: “Every time I’m in the pit, I pretty much get to release every last bit of stress, depression that has built up over years,” one headbanger told us. “That’s why I enjoy going in, expressing my pent-up anger.”

For the most part, there’s brotherly and sisterly love in the pit, but not everyone is happy with the rise of another brand of self-expression called “hardcore dancing,” where fans swing their arms wildly like propeller blades and kick in the air kung fu-style: “That is not fucking cool, bro!”

At the end of each night, as Slayer takes the stage, all the metal tribes come together. “They really truly love the band. It comes from a good place,” says Slayer guitarist Gary Holt. “It’s awesome to behold when you see it live. You hit that one show where they’re really just going for it. It’s fucking awesome.”

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