In Dave Benser's room, there are: three baseball trophies, two wisdom teeth, a shelf full of children's books, including "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" and "Little Black," a school pin honoring him as student of the month, a fluffy white stuffed bear given to him by a girl, a Math 2 drill with the lyrics to a new song on the back, a piece of glass from his foot that he keeps to remind his mother to be more careful in the kitchen, an iron cross ring, a letter from Ronald Reagan thanking him for his best wishes on the occasion of the attempted assassination, and 60 fliers from his favorite groups -- Anvil Bitch, Die Kreuzen, Watchtower, Texas Metal Massacre, Cro-Mags, Tension, Agnostic Front, Cryptic Slaughter, Deathrash, Suicidal Tendencies, and his own band, VSD, short for Violent Speed Death.

"I'm still a reasonable American," he says. "I'm just more aggressive now."

Dave Benser is a metalhead. A headbanger. He lives to thrash. He is 17. He says the future is now.

He is the founder and leader, the shaker and mover, of VSD, which used to be short for Violent Sex Devils. But, he says, that raised too many questions. "Violent Speed Death describes it better," he says. "It's a dead end."

He sits on his bed in Joppatowne, Md., considering his commitment to the music and waiting for Ed, the drummer, to call. It is Wednesday. They used to practice on Wednesdays at Bunky's house, which is about half a mile from the site of the Amtrak crash, until his father sold it. Bunky says he could hear the metal thunder over the sound of his modified Ibanez DT250 guitar. Shane, the lead guitarist, who studies Paganini, and Jack, the bass player, who is more hard-core than rivethead, wait in the kitchen. For Benser and Ed. "I can fake normalcy," Benser says. "Ed can't. Ed's weird."

Benser's mother, Evelyn, a bemused former English teacher, ventures into the sanctuary. "You know what VSD really stands for?" she says. "Very Sweet Dave."

"Out! Out!" he says.

His blond hair reaches the red suspenders that hold up his jeans. These are not just any jeans. These are four-year-old jeans, stitched and patched and bleached and battle-scarred. They are a cultural artifact. They are a work in progress.

"When I was in first grade, I started listening to Kiss," he says, explaining how he came to be wearing a Misfits T-shirt that says "Die, Die, My Darling." "After Kiss, I listened to Zeppelin, Sabbath and more Kiss. I guess that lasted up until about sixth grade. Then I got into Priest and AC/DC, and then I guess that went as far as eighth grade. In ninth grade, I began to feel the urge for heaviness.

"Then Metallica crept out of the dark depths of wherever they came from. I saw them in a little itsy-bitsy tiny nightclub once."

He sighs. "James. James. James is God.James Hetfield. I was close. I was there. I could touch James."

His voice dissolves in reverence for the guitarist.

"I wish James Hetfield would go to the barber and get a terrific-looking preppy haircut," Evelyn Benser says.

Ten years ago, her son had one of those. They keep the picture in the living room. He is silhouetted against an American flag. One wonders where he will be 10 years from now.

His eyes scan the heavens. "Standing by James," he says.


He shakes his head no. "Where James is now. With God."

"Oh, David," his mother sighs.

The Concert Chaos An avalanche of bodies careens down the aisles of the Warner Theatre at the sight of Tommy Araya's sweaty torso. Smoke envelops the proscenium. A thousand postpubescent males rise as one. "Slayer! Slayer!" Louder. Faster. Harder. "Slayer! Slayer!"

"Where are all the shining faces?" Araya growls with a polished sneer. "At the White House over there, the lady says you are all sinners! So what if we're captivated by sin?"

Like necrophilia, invoked in "Necrophobic," one of the songs on Slayer's album "Reign in Blood." "The best part is when the maggots are crawling into your flesh," Araya says, by way of an introduction.

Already, they are standing on the arms of their chairs, shaking their fists, their hair, their brains, singing into the void. And they all know the words, which is astonishing because none can be heard. The decibels creep up your legs and vibrate your lungs until the beat of the bass meets the beat of your heart and you can't tell anymore which is which.

Metal obliterates everything -- including the obvious. It's a dare to the sensibilities, pushing back the limits of the parental envelope at 173,000 watts. It is the aural incarnation of adolescence. It is aural sex.

Adults look back with fondness. Teen-agers know better. They know that adolescence can be ugly.

And metal is ugly. It sounds ugly. It looks ugly. It thinks ugly. And it elevates the hormonal horror of youth to an art form, or at least an ethos.

So they come from Jersey and Joppatowne and Reston -- or Deadston, as they prefer to call it -- studded with snakes and skulls and spikes. They come in leather and denim and spandex, the ethos proudly emblazoned on their chests: "Killing Is My Business and Business Is Good," "Adolf Hitler, European Tour, 1939-40."

Some people, parents mostly, take all this seriously. It's obscene. It's corrupt. It's excessive, they say. Of course it is. That's the whole point.

They come to revel in the excess. To flaunt it. To possess it. There's Patrick Gilmore, up in the balcony. The only metal on his person is in his mouth, but the music is in his soul. He memorizes the words, looks up the ones he doesn't know and envies the guys in the pit. Greg Rabinowitz is in Row 12, Seat F, wearing his white bucks and his argyle socks and hoping to be accepted. He is the president of his college dorm and his friends call him "Rabbi." "Jews are into heavy metal," he says. "But don't tell my mom."

Tim Barry is in the lobby letting his hair down -- three nights a week he has to wear it up in a hairnet while he works as a cook at Fritzbe's. James Absher, a black rattlehead among a deluge of white rattleheads, is there to exorcise his demons. "I'm sort of satanic myself," he says, all bravado. "It's like a party. There's like a whole bunch of cool people in Hell. You get to Heaven and there's no cool people there, just nuns and stuff."

There aren't many girls, either. Stacy Allen's friends bailed out and she doesn't ride the Metro alone, so she's stuck at home. Alison Petty is with Dave Benser. He dressed her for the concert -- took her to the mall, bought her black spandex pants and a leopard tank top. She added the pack of Marlboros in the waistband and then watched him head for the pit in front of the stage, where he is now, moshing and slamming and diving.

Slayer segues into "Chemical Warfare." The tempo is up, if that's possible. Bodies soar through the air, leaving vapor trails of sweat. The spotlights illuminate their spikes. In the distance and the din, a boy is clambering onto the stage. Benser has triumphed again.

Outside, a mother waits anxiously for her sons. She has heard reports about children being thrown off the stage. She is concerned. "These kids are preoccupied with death," she says. "The bands articulate their unconscious fears. The nation needs to ask why our youth is preoccupied with death."

Patrick Gilmore's father stands nearby, a paper under his arm and a smile at the corners of his mouth. The last time he bought a family car he deliberately chose one without a tape deck so he wouldn't have to listen to his son's music. "I went once," he says. "What's that group from England? I can't remember their name. They're not popular anymore. I told him I would take him but I wouldn't go inside. I think some kids use it as a form of rebellion. But Patrick actually likes it. If he likes it, he likes it."

According to a spokesman for the Warner Theatre, the first row of seats was destroyed during the Slayer and Overkill concert. Management said those bands will never play there again.

Ready to Rock The setting sun glints off the Chesapeake outside Bunky's garage. Inside, the band waits for Ed to set up his drums. A sign over the door says: "Hazardous Waste Area Keep Out." Among the clutter of wires and amps are a hose and a wheelbarrow and a kerosene can and a plastic skull called Melissa. "We got the name from Mercyful Fate," Benser says. "They had a Melissa."

Flypaper, bearing the remains of last summer's victims, dangles from the ceiling. A handwritten list of VSD's set hangs from a pillar in the center of the room: "Girl Troubles," "My Life Ain't Worth Living," "Lubrication," "Mental Breakdown," "Kill Your Kids," "That Scarey Song" (which used to be called "Deviltry"), "School," "Phantasmagoria" and "Life of Scum." "Life of Scum" is their crowd-pleaser -- it is also scrawled in red spray paint across one wall.

The air is filled with the squeal of feedback and the rattle of snares. Nonetheless, Bunky is in a contemplative mood.

"What does it do for me?" he says rhetorically, tugging at his Phillies cap. "Well, it keeps me off the streets. It's like a hobby. It's like an attitude."

"It's more than that to me," Benser says. "It's a way of life."

"It's do what you want," says Jack, the bass player. "Make your own standards."

Benser nods.

"Blatant individualism," Jack says.

"I'm addicted," Benser replies.

"It's the politics of youth," Jack continues. "Big political events for kids are all the hassles you get in school and going out with girls and dealing with your parents and peer pressures."

"And MTV pressure," Bunky says.

"It's the voice of the youth," says Benser. "It's not all that positive, the things we say. We see things the way they are ... The world is going to hell."

"I hated being 15 and 16," says Jack, who is 17. "It was sissified. Like 'Sesame Street.' "

"It was hard to fit in," says Ed, stuffing a sweat shirt in the bottom of the bass drum. "You had no idea what you wanted to be, but you wanted to be something."

He flexes his foot against the pedal of the bass and nods. He is ready to rock.

In the Beginning, Hendrix Metallurgy: In the beginning there was Jimi Hendrix, who begat feedback as expression and who played his guitar very, very fast and then died. His spirit lived on in the form of MC5 and Steppenwolf -- whose "Born to Be Wild" was a song of "heavy metal thunder" -- and in the form of Led Zeppelin, which begat volume, and Black Sabbath, which begat all those satanic references. In time came AC/DC, which begat headbanging, and Van Halen, which begat teen-age boys across the land with two-handed hammer-on and pull-off techniques Hendrix never dreamed of.

Now it gets complicated. Benser explains. "There is hard-core, which is a general term, and metal, another general term, and then we have all those little stupid subtitles -- death metal, black metal, speed metal {which is also thrash} and Christian metal, which is not popular. There is metal core, which is pretty much what we are, the stuff that crossed over. Metal core is what metal people consider metal and what hard-core consider hard-core.

"Black metal is the Satan stuff, silly Devil music. Death metal is pretty close to black metal but more doomy and less satanistic, the darkness-evil side but not necessarily the Devil himself. Hard-core is punk ... There's a fine line between hard-core and metal. A lot of bands cross over. A lot of people do, too."

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, there are no reliable figures on metal sales in the United States. "It's rock 'n' roll," says spokeswoman Trish Heimers. "Who's to say? What your mother calls heavy metal, you might call rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n' roll is 43 percent of all record sales. My guess is heavy metal is a very small percentage -- maybe 5 percent of all teen-agers in the United States are heavy metal fans."

Michael Wilder, editor of Rip magazine, says his sales have doubled since the first issue in October, which sold 60,000. A recent reader survey reported that two thirds are "into pure headbanging heavy metal," he says. "The average age is 16 to 18. They are 75 percent male. And they don't read books. They come from large, middle-class families ...

"There's more metal in the suburban areas. With urban strife there's more frustration, and they go for more aggressive rock 'n' roll. Punk has a little more angst than heavy metal, which is a celebration of life -- sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. It's merely a pose to oppose their parents. Parents don't have a sense of humor."

He is bemused by the contradictions. Kids who look like Visigoths but say "Excuse me." Bands that sing about the macabre and live at home with their mothers. Aubrey Bradley, former lead guitarist for Korupt, a sometime Baltimore band, says, "I'm a Baptist. I go to church every Sunday." Where he's looking forward to getting married. "In a white tux, totally," he says.

Sean McAuliffe, the lead singer of Forcer, works as a legal technician at the Department of Justice. "I voted for Reagan," he says. "He's the first president to stand up for what he believes in."

Which, he says, is what all these kids are trying to do. "It gives you a sense of power. When you're into it, you feel stronger than you really are. They can be wimpy, scared of some guy in class, but when they have their music they can be stronger than that kid in school. These people are trying to hang on to something."

Don't Take It Seriously Patrick Gilmore sits on his bed in Crofton, Md., looking his age -- 14 years old. The torn ticket from the Slayer concert is pinned to the wall above his pillow. The wallpaper has an American eagle motif. On his dresser are lace doilies and hockey trophies. In his closet are two broadcloth shirts and six metal T-shirts, which his mother hand washes to preserve the ghoulish designs.

Exodus is his favorite group, but he's also serious about Slayer, which at the moment is blaring out of the family boogie box. "Necrophobic." Again.

He looked it up in the dictionary but, he says, "they didn't have it. Do you know what it means?"

An explanation is offered.

"Aw, I knew that," Patrick says.

He says he likes the words, though he isn't really sure what they're about. "It's not really about anything," he says. "Death and killing and blood. Some of the songs my sister listens to don't make sense either. Like 'Yellow Submarine.'

"I don't take it seriously. They just go with the music. I couldn't listen to heavy metal if they sang about love. The music's too hard for love."

In school, he read John Hersey's "Hiroshima." He had never heard about the bombing before. He says he thinks about death sometimes. "Like where I'll go and all. What'll happen. You think about what would happen to your parents. They'd have a nervous breakdown. There was a kid who killed himself up at the church. He shot himself. They got on his case about drugs. He called his girlfriend. She had just broken up with him. Everyone went to his wake."

He is a ninth-grader at Crofton Junior High and, by his reckoning, the only metalhead in the school. "It feels different," he says.

The other kids listen to Bon Jovi -- glam rock. He rolls his eyes. "I tease them about it," he says. "This kid has a metal shirt but he's never even heard of them before. I've got one friend who tries to copy me. Some friends think I'm cool. Other people think I'm weird. Teachers look at you funny."

But they look at you -- which, of course, is the point. Standing out. Being different.

"When I fall asleep sometimes, I fantasize about being on stage as a drummer. I did a poem on it. It was the first composition of the year. I got an A. It was called 'I Am.' "

'Our Share of Stupid Titles' Bunky's amp shorts out as Benser lurches into "Kill Your Kids." In the electronic void, the lyrics are actually discernible. "Kill your kids, kill 'em all. Go trigger happy. Watch 'em fall."

"See," Benser says, "I told you we had our share of stupid titles."

"Got to have a sense of humor," says Ed.

"It's not serious," Benser says. "You get up there and start screaming stupid stuff. Most of that is just heat-of-the-moment-type stuff. Take Metallica. They write intelligent stuff, just about life. You don't see them do Devil stuff. Some people write just stupid stuff. We have our fair share of both. Some of our more intelligent songs, I'd like people to listen to. 'Life of Scum,' for instance, our end song. I don't ever want people to know the words to that."

Metalheaddresses Stacy Allen, 20, sits on her bed in Alexandria, getting ready for Ratt and Poison at Capital Centre. It takes 2 1/2 hours to get dressed for a concert, what with her face and her hair and her nails. "I could be ready in an hour if I had to," she says. "But I don't like to rush."

She is meticulous about her appearance. She has several outfits to choose from. There's the one she wore to Stryper: blue satin shirt, white miniskirt with a long white overblouse, blue lace stockings and gloves (with the fingertips cut off), blue nail polish, white boots, and blue glitter in her hair.

Which is not her most outrageous ensemble. That is a hip-hugger miniskirt over a hot pink spandex bathing suit, with a long pink floral jacket. "It's a killer outfit," she says. "But I only wear it in summer because there isn't really a whole lot to it."

For Ratt, she has chosen a black hip-hugger (showing her belly button), black spike heels, a black tux jacket and a black navy chief's hat.

She doesn't dress this way all the time. "I do it because I like to freak people out," she says. "It gives you a sense of power, guys dropping to their knees saying, 'I don't believe this.' I wouldn't go to McDonald's like this."

By day she is unemployed. By night she is a metalhead. At concerts she is noticeable no matter what she wears, simply because she is a girl. Girls are into glam. Girls are not into metal. "It's too aggressive," she says. "Most women are afraid to be aggressive. It's like you see these wild-looking people and it's like your worst nightmare come to life. It scares them. It takes a special kind of woman to be into heavy metal. You have to like rude, raw things, 'cause that's what metal is. It's rebellion. Like James Dean. Only amplified."

Sometimes when she's down, she'll slap a tape in the box and blitz her cares away. So what if she can't find an apartment? So what if her mom wants her to get a real job? It's just her and the music. "It kind of creates a wall, maybe, around you," she says. "... It's better than drugs and alcohol, and I don't have a hangover in the morning."

Sometimes at concerts, she'll use a pad and pen to communicate with her friends. It's crazy. But it's safe inside the roar.

"Some bands are so good they'll just tear you apart," she says. "I'm not saying every band is good enough to do this. But my favorites, they can obliterate me. I feel like there's nothing left anywhere after I've been there. It's like am I there or am I in Ohio? It's awesome. Anything that can blow you from D.C. to Ohio is pretty powerful."

Time Out "I like Elton John, by the way, pre-1975," Benser says. "This stuff will fry your brains after a while. I need to relax sometimes."

'A Pretty Good Kid' Tim Barry sits on his bed in Reston, Va., listening to Slayer with his friend Chris, which is what he likes to do after school. At 16, he says he's into death, mayhem and destruction. Three or four nights a week he works saute' at Fritzbe's. His father says he's "a pretty good kid."

Tim says, "At first they thought it was just a phase. They didn't care about the music. When I went out and bought a leather jacket, it was like, 'Wow.' Then I got the denim and the Venom patch and they said, 'It's just a phase.' It's been three years since then. I think they more or less accept it."

His hair, a challenge, is long and brown and kinky. "They'd rather have it like this than sticking up green," he says. "If they threaten me, I'll just shave it into a Mohawk."

Which is the point. Reaction can be hard to come by. One time, he says, he was briefly stopped by some cops just because of the way he looked. He liked that. He likes making adults confront their preconceptions.

"I like the way the teachers react," he says. "When I walk in, it's like, 'Oh, no, Tim's here' ... Then they start talking to you. And the teacher goes, 'Wow, what a great kid.' The same thing happened to the hippies in the '60s. You've got to look at the inside ...

"What we're trying to do is overdo it. It's like fans and bands are saying, 'Let's see how far we can push everything.'


"For the hell of it," Chris says. " 'Cause there's nothing better to do."

" 'Cause everything else has been done," Tim says.

Driving Home the Spikes "I'd come home {from concerts} with holes from other people's spikes," Benser says. "I'd have these little pinpricks. So I stopped wearing them. Then everyone stopped wearing them. You'll see a spike now and then."

The Preppy Jewish Metalhead Greg Rabinowitz, 19, sits under his loft bed at American University in the neon glare of a Budweiser sign. His pants are lime green. His socks are argyle. His penny loafers are disintegrating. His face is sad.

"I'm scorned by my peers in metal," he says.

Evidence of his credentials litter the room: 70 records, 110 tapes, a list of the top 10 metal albums of '86 that he put together over a semester break. For his acting class, he did an interpretation of Metallica's "Master of Puppets," which he describes as an antidrug anthem. "I know more about metal than three quarters of the people at those concerts," he says. "My belief is that a lot of these people are more into the image of metal than the music itself."

He calls them poseurs.

"They call me an enigma," he says. "I'm a preppy metalhead who happens to be Jewish."

And he expects to run for the Senate from New Jersey in 2008. That's one reason he keeps his hair short. "Hair means nothing to me, mainly because I'm losing it," he says.

Being a shorthair at metal concerts has been an education. "Last summer I went to see Ronnie James Dio in Philadelphia," he says. "I was there in lime and lavender madras Bermuda shorts. I'm walking along and they're handing out these pamphlets about music censorship and a protest in D.C. They handed them to my friends, who look like basic metalheads. But they refused to give me one. Someone said, 'It doesn't look like he needs it.' How can they be so stereotyping?

"At Possessed, I was right on the stage, thrashing out, and literally people pushed me away. They didn't feel I had a right to be in the top spot. I was shunned, like an ugly duckling. I was still a duck but they made me swim in back."

He is beginning to feel disillusioned. Of all people, metalheads should know better than to judge by looks. But teen-agers are driven by two vital and sometimes contrary impulses: the need to separate themselves from everyone else and the need to be accepted.

"It bothers me that I'm not accepted by the metal crowd," Greg says. "I go all out. I was on the seats of the Warner. I came back with the worst case of rattlehead I've ever had. It was like a headache but worse. It feels like your brain shifted a little bit. But it feels good."

Mosh, Slam and Dive To mosh: a verb meaning to fling every limb as far from the torso as possible while maintaining as little equilibrium as possible.

Benser on moshing: "Normally we have a pit. In the pit, you mosh. It's an aggressive-type dance. The object is to be as off balance as you can. The one who is most off balance is the best. You kick your feet and kick your legs and move your arms all about and shake your whole body. You can usually mosh during the slower songs, and you slam during the fast parts. A slam is just complete chaos."

To slam: a verb meaning to ricochet bodily off anyone, everyone. A full-contact, interactive ritual essential to heaviness.

Benser on slamming: "The first time you see someone slam, you look and say, 'Oh, that's stupid.' But the first time you actually do it ... I remember the first time I actually moshed. That was in 1985 at Nuclear Assault and Overkill. The crowd was going crazy and I got involved. It just kind of happened. It was kinda like a whirlpool and I got sucked in. I've been moshing ever since. It's a way of life, I guess. I do it all the time. It lets you get the aggression out. It makes you sweat a lot. It's really a good time. It may not sound like it's all that fun. Banging bodies. Football is not as aggressive. This is full contact. You're constantly in motion and constantly touching another person. With football you're not in on every play. It's an incredible rush. You're always looking over your shoulder to make sure they don't dive on your head. There's a real feeling of brotherhood down there in the pit. If someone falls, they pick you back up. Most of the time people catch you. Now and then you go somewhere and people are real amateurs. They don't know what's going on. They see someone flying through the air and they move."

To dive: a verb meaning to fly, preferably from a stage.

Benser on diving: "We must be airborne. Oh, the feeling of a dive. That's one of the best feelings in the world, 'cause you have to trust people underneath of you to catch you. If they don't, you get little black elbows like I have now."

The Honor Role Dave Benser's mom sits in her kitchen in Joppatowne, Md. "Can he mosh?" she says. "He taught me how to do it."

Outrage does not come easily to her or her husband. "Yes, well, I'd prefer a preppy, but ..." he says.

Not that she doesn't worry. "I worry about the reputation of the people in the music industry, the drugs," she says. "I worry that he'll come in contact with people who are doing things I know he doesn't do.

"I worry about him coming home battered and bloody. I thought he had been in a brawl {at the Slayer show}. I said, 'What happened?' He said, 'I was just moshing.' So I cleaned him up and sent him to bed. His face was all battered. Shane went to Possessed. He did a stage dive and sprained his neck. I worry about that.

"I've said, 'Don't. You'll get hurt.' He said, 'There's a technique, and you have to trust people.' "

She shrugs.

"I guess it's better than going out and killing each other. He does not look the way he really is. You look at this boy and you say, 'Yuck.' But he's intelligent. He made first-semester honor roll." He made last-semester honor roll, too, and graduated last week.

"What I have learned being around David and VSD is not to stereotype so much. I always thought kids who look like David were awful. Yet every one is a nice boy. He's 17. He's got a dream. If he doesn't pursue a dream now, whenever in the world will he do it?

She has met parents who feel differently. But she has also met parents like nancy Grasfield and Ann Groves, who not only accompained their sons to a Megadeth concert but wore black and chains in order to fit in. "They need to be outrageous," says Grasfield. "Better with words and music than with behavior."

"Our kids grew up listening to heavy rock n' roll," Groves says. "It serves me right."

A while ago, Evelyn Benser worked tht door at VSD's performance at the Bel Air Teen Center. It was the first time she heard him play. She counldn't see much, but she couldn't help but hear. She though they sounded just as good as the other two groups on the bill-and they were bigger names.

She is impressed by her son;s initiative. He books VSD's dates and arranges the fees. He calls his company Violent Stage Dive Productions. She thinks he'll end up in music-in production or management perhaps. He thinks he'll end up in college, but not next year.

"I think they're into it because it's different." she says. "When you're a teen-ager you want to be different from the adults. I've heard him say, 'It's good to be scummy."

The Last Word

Dave Benser sits on his bed in Joppatown, Md. "It helps to be scummy," he says. "They take you serious."