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Sweating for Satan in a Heavy Metal Spin Class

Pedal to the metal.
July 29, 2014, 2:49pm

The allure of moving to New York City is the promise of endless possibility. Some see that in terms of career—global dominance of foreign markets while perched atop a leather-backed throne of finance, a solo-show at a Chelsea gallery, fame, music blogging. Others are fascinated by the pure amount of stuff out there in this fabled concrete jungle, where Madison Avenue, world-class museums, and subterranean all-night fetish dungeons coexist within a few square miles of concrete. The sheer concentration of people and the conflux of creativity leads to a lot of only-in-New-York type stuff. Among that stuff, there is now a heavy metal spin class.

Pedal To The Metal, Pedaldoom, Death Pedal, Death Cycle. I’ll stop, but like a black metal tasting menu this past winter, I approached a heavy metal spin class with some skepticism. I’d never been to a spin class, but I had formed an idea of what they are—some impossibly wiry, bubbly spandexed warrior barking commands on a headset from the front of a pack of people who had drunk deep of the Lululemon Kool-Aid, a hellish scene set to a nightmarish soundtrack of remixed Nikki Minaj. This, class leader Halston Bruce promised, would not be the case. Halston has curly, fiery red hair, a good number of tattoos, and is a metalhead since way back. She laments that too often spin classes are set to the tunes of Lady Gaga, Brittany Spears, and their ilk. As Halston told me, “It is so incredibly disappointing to take a class with an amazing instructor and find that their music taste doesn’t stray from top 40.” Halston had promised a playlist that included Death, Iron Maiden, Bolt Thrower, Neurosis, Carcass, Slayer, and more—so she knew what she was doing. Her poster for the class, which was called “Full Metal Cycling,” bore a pentagram and the words “Sweat for your dark lord.” Alright.

To probably no one’s surprise, the class was held in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at SYNCstudio, a small cycling and yoga studio off Bedford on South 2nd where Halston teaches. For those wondering, metal yoga is already a thing. The class was, appropriately, in a basement and a respectable size—about 15 or so people had turned up, a number of them in band shirts. Represented were Death, Slayer (Halston), and more ballpark get-ups like Mötley Crüe. The lights were low and red as I strapped into my loaner cycling shoes, a Velcro pair that clicks into the pedals of the stationary bike, locking you in so you don’t go flying off by accident, carried away by momentum and wobbly legs. The bikes were aligned in two rows facing a wall of mirrors, with Halston in the middle of the front row from where she would direct her reign of terror. When she asked how many were first timers, a little less than half the class raised hands.

It started out relatively easy, and so did the music, with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Not very metal, as even the title points out, but a way to ease into things. Now, Halston had promised me that it would be “brutal,” and having recently purchased a regular, moving bike and riding it over bridges a few times, I feared the worst. The entire class, except for a few breaks, was going to be out of the seat, eliminating any possibility of a sit and spin joke, and many times Halston yelled, “Pump your ass up!” which is a terrifying proposition in any context. As we pedaled, she would instruct us to turn a little knob on the bike, which could be called the breaking wheel, that increased resistance to the pedals. If you turn the thing all the way to the right, you’ll eventually come to a full stop—you’ll just stand on the pedals. So, the potential for things to get really ugly was there.

While we warmed up, I realized what I was in for. It was hard as hell. The whole idea is to pedal in time with the music, which, Halston notes, is generally fast with metal but allows for some variation between subgenres. It took a minute to get the feel for the bike, particularly the standing part, and before long, Halston had everyone thrusting forward, backwards, sideways, you name it, adding the need for some coordination while making the base act of peddling that much harder. Depending on your attitudes towards group activities, a bit of a sore spot for a lot of metal fans and myself, a bunch of people pedaling in time to heavy metal looks pretty ridiculous or cool. The guys in front of me, one of whom was wearing a Death shirt, were faring pretty well, but the real pros were up in the front of the class near Halston, flanking her like some sort of metal spin chicks gang you’d imagine from The Warriors except that they weren’t wearing metal shirts. Anyway, it wasn’t long before my legs began to burn. With each successive turn of the tension wheel, it became clear that this was going to be rough. By the time we took a quick break to drink some water and take a seat for a second (still pedaling), I was drenched in sweat.

Iron Maiden is always welcome, and after “Run to the Hills,” Halston shouted, “We just ran to the hill, now we have to climb it!” Shit, crap, etc. Next up was Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” which made for an arduous, hellish one-two trudge. Halston, meanwhile, was up there yelling encouragement and demanding more and more turns on the breaking wheel, to the point where peddling became an almost zen-like act, a channeling of all energy into a singular purpose of pushing forward.

It was about then, perhaps, that I should have realized that a spin class is not very unlike life itself. It starts off easy, gets excruciatingly hard quicker than expected, then is subsequently punctuated by periods of intense duress and underappreciated relative calm without ever fully escaping the sense of dread that you might again encounter tortuous passage. Then it’s all over, but not without a cool-down and a good stretch.

The playlist sped up from there, with Slayer’s “South of Heaven” next. Reign in Blood is Halston’s favorite album, and choosing a track for the class wasn’t easy, she said. While I don’t think the musclebound men of Manowar, next on the playlist, do spin class, I bet they’d be really good at it, with their great quads and everything. We worked through a highlight of the class with Bolt Thrower-Carcass-Neurosis, and by the time we got to the thoughtful malaise of Neurosis’s “Belief,” the class generally had a hang for the whole spinning thing, with beginners displaying better coordination and keeping time pretty well. At some point, Halston turned the lights off and walked around the room to light votive candles placed throughout the room. Then it was all over, and, because I didn’t know how to unclip my shoes from the pedals, I took off my Velcro shoes, leaving them attached to the pedals (I wasn’t the only one unable to perform this basic, toddler-level task), to join in for a stretch that almost instantly gave me a Charlie horse.

Is metal cycling a thing? It’s not so easy to scoff at something that kicks your ass thoroughly after about seven minutes. As I walked past Halston and said my goodbyes, she said to me, “I sweat all my make up off, it looks like corpse paint.” She wants to make the class a regular event and is hosting the next one on Sunday, August 17, which will be themed Metallica vs. Slayer.

Playlist
Led Zeppelin - "Rock and Roll"
Black Sabbath - "Paranoid"
Judas Priest - "Breaking the Law"
Iron Maiden - "Run to the Hills"
Metalica - "For Whom the Bell Tolls"
Slayer - "South of Heaven"
Manowar - "Kings of Metal"
Bolt Thrower - "Cenotaph"
Carcass - "Black Star"
Neurosis - "Belief"
Dimmu Borgir - "Puritania"
Death - "Voice of the Soul"
Blind Guardian - "In a Gadda da Vida"
Eyes Like Cyanide - "Hate"

Wyatt Marshall is on Twitter, tweeting inspirational fitness quotes - @blackbeardislnd

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