He did it. He killed my fucking ear. Right there where I was hiding in the garage. The house belonged to the neighbor who was never home, the ghost neighbor who nevertheless paid his taxes and kept the lights on.

The execution of my ear happened around Halloween time. I remember seeing the orange and red leaves all across Avalon, the road that my family (soon to dissolve in bitter recriminations) shared with a handful of Anglos and Dagos. Most were Catholic, but a few Protestants were mixed in for diversity’s sake. The one great unifier in this little village was that everyone’s dad worked a shit job, while every mother either stayed home or was some kind of clerk in a beige-colored office.

This is what Fairmont, West Virginia looked like to me, circa 1994. 1994: the year my left ear suffered a direct hit from one of my friend’s cap guns. The shot ended our game of tag.

In the grand scheme of things, the loss of my left ear has been no big deal. I’m not totally deaf, just a little. However, the killing of my ear does resonate within my life’s tale for two reasons: one, it’s one of the few solid memories I have as a happy youth in a house with a mother and father, and two, it set the stage for future carelessness in regards to aural matters.

The latter development was worsened by my introduction to punk rock and heavy metal in the year of the divorce. The first bands were Green Day, Rancid, and others that straddled the line between looking hard enough to please the purists and being catch-y enough for the radio rock crowd.

The Virgil to my Dante was a short, shrunken Italian kid with a troublesome brother. The older brother’s name remains a mystery, but the guy didn’t need a name. His reputation sufficed. He was the “bad kid,” the kid that threw eggs and toilet paper at houses, the kid that skateboarded, the kid that spray-painted high schools, the kid that wore black more than any other color.

The older brother’s bad name spoiled the rest of his family. They became the outcasts. Not helping their cause was the fact that their single-story house was away from Avalon and down some short dead-end road. I don’t think they had neighbors; nobody wanted to be around them in case whatever they had was contagious.

It was in the backroom, which was beyond the old white rotary phone, that I first heard the loud, abrasive music that would alter my life. The older brother came inside halfway through the first turn of Dookie. I’m pretty sure he poked his head in at us, smirked, and then lit up a joint in his room.

That was my initiation ceremony. After that came the trips to the local comic book store with the Batman decal from the 80’s on the front door. It was always dark in there. The workers were always somewhere lurking around in their black T-shirts and greasy ponytails. My companion and I never asked them to help us find issues of Wolverine or Spawn. They wouldn’t have helped us if we had.

There was a record store down there somewhere, too. Our favorite album covers were the ones either with a lot of gore or a pair of naked tits.

I would not visit that part of town again until well after I lost my left ear. When I did, it was September 11th and I had a doctor’s appointment. My grandparents chatted with the doc as he sliced open my big toe in order to remove an ingrown toenail that had gotten dangerously infected. The anesthesia was local, so I got to lay back and watch my blood mix with pus and dead skin. I got to see the yellowed nail rise from the wound like a malformed child. I then got to go home and watch that plane crash into the smoking tower again and again.

Like everybody else, I’ve been through changes. I’ve seen people die, get married, and move to Pittsburgh. I’ve seen people come out as gay and get exposed as pedophiles. I’ve been to New England and Olde England, and I have been through college and Navy boot camp. There have been few constants through the decades except for heavy metal.

When it rains, I listen to metal. When it snows, I listen to metal (specifically black metal). When it’s sunny outside and I have cans of beer, I listen to metal (thrash in that instance). When I’m at the gym, busy writing more doggerel, or just plain awake, I’m listening to metal.

I do this despite my distaste for most metalheads. The typical headbanger is a vulgarian who farts too much, eats too much pizza, drinks too much beer, and who works some minimum wage job. On the whole, metalheads are smarter than every other fanbase, but their hygiene ranks down there with the diseased and the French.

All of this is bad, but it is not as bad as the safe rebellion that metalheads proudly practice. Wearing black, mocking the Pope, and joking about burning churches is the metal version of white male jokes at comedy clubs. It’s a fundamentally warm and cozy way to be edgy. With metal, it is especially galling because the message does not match the music. Heavy metal is barbaric, bombastic, and oozes masculine energy. Yet most metal musicians and their fans, even the ones that call themselves “elitist,” are either doughy and basic lib types or individualists whose brand of individualism is celebrated by technocratic elite because it is nothing but atomizing consumption wrapped in skulls and demon faces.

I came to this realization back in 2013. I probably suspected the truth long before that, but I had to immerse myself in the stew in order to really “get it.” That year found me a post-post-graduate stuck in the People’s Republic of Burlington, Vermont. There were few friends and almost no girls, but there was tons of beer and time to kill.

If there’s one good thing about Bernie Sanders Town, it’s that it’s right on the border with Quebec. That means that most bands hit Burlington either on their way to a Canadian tour or on their way to start an American tour. For a lot of metal bands, Burlington was the first sizable town in the Northeast where they could play and get paid.

I threw money at those metal bands. I threw most of my lucre at big name acts that played medium-sized venues in South Burlington (I use to joke that South Burlington was where America began because that’s where you could find a McDonald’s and a mall). I saw The Sword, Clutch, Deafheaven, Sabaton, Terror, Every Time I Die, Gorguts, and a bunch of bands I cannot remember any more. I saw even more local yokels who played in a half-bar that was apparently where Phish got their start. During one of these shows, I almost lost my right ear because I spent the whole night right next to the bass amp. The date I went on a night later felt like living in a silent movie. The only sound that accompanied her moving lips was an endless ringing rather than a spidery organ.

The point of this story (if there is one) is that I saw Napalm Death at the right time. The band is as obnoxious as you can get. They played somewhere between 15 and 20 songs in forty minutes. All the songs sounded the same: a swarm of dissonance that was punctuated by guttural growls.

That’s the sonic side to Napalm Death, Britain’s greatest grindcore band. The other side of the band is their preach-y leftism. The band has long cultivated an image of anarcho-communism, veganism, pacifism, and strident anti-capitalism. Napalm Death is the type of band that screams about “the man” and corporations. You know the type. They probably go to bed at night thinking about how brave they are for staying off major labels and writing 59-second songs about Monsanto and Republicans.

Well, on the night I saw Napalm Death, they had a chance to be actually brave for once. Earlier that day, a British Tommy named Lee Rigby had gotten decapitated on some unimportant street in London. His killers, a pair of Islamists from the Nigerian community, made no attempt to hide the literal blood on their hands. They walked up to pedestrians with cell phone cameras and bragged about their jihad. The pedestrians jeered at them, but tellingly did not beat the shit out of them or, dare I say it, kill them. Eye for an eye and all that.

During a brief and fleeting lull in the unrelenting show, when the guitarist, Mitch Harris, tuned his beat-up Gibson Les Paul, somebody in the crowd shouted at lead singer Barney Greenway. I never saw the guy’s face, but his voice was unmistakably Northern New England. The man stopped Greenway from introducing the next song.

“Tell the people about what happened in London. Educate them!”

Barney looked lost.

“If I knew what you were talking about, I’d say something.”

“Tell the people!”

I was surprised that the crowd didn’t boo the disembodied voice. There was no shout of “Shut up!” or any kind of half-assed chant for the band. I had once been a witness at an ad hoc anti-abortion rally in Morgantown, and the degenerate students decided to drown out the speakers by breaking into a football chant. That’s what I was expecting when the murder of Lee Rigby was brought up.

Nothing happened. The crowd clearly didn’t know what the hell the guy was talking about. Barney, however, clearly knew. His eyes gave him away. I saw the Englishman’s eyes become furtive and suspiciously scared of looking directly into the crowd. Barney protested one more time that the man’s question baffled him, then the band went back into their set. The mosh pit reformed. Everyone forgot.

Everyone except for me. I saw a single voice in the crowd expose the cowardice of a supposedly “non-conformist” band. The funny thing was that the guy was almost certainly not a devout Christian. No deus vult type would be at a Napalm Death show in Burlington, Vermont. The dude was probably one of those atheists who see all religions as inherently bad. He just wanted Barney to go on a rant about how God doesn’t exist and how religious people are all bigoted and vile. Barney disappointed him because he felt a hint of cold Damascus steel nearing his pasty neck. His plea of ignorance was all about protection—protecting himself and his ideology.

I still listen to Napalm Death. Their music is still perfect for throwing weight around and grunting like an ape. However, they and all the other metal bands on my playlist are no different from Taylor Swift, Jay-Z, or Miley. They’re true believers in what Norm Macdonald once called “commie gobbledygook.” They just happen to look scary.