At first glance, the hairless, dime-size patch on the back left of Dryden Mitchell's head looks like a souvenir from a childhood accident. But there's an identical patch, perfectly aligned with the first, on the back right of his head. And two duplicate scars on Mitchell's forehead.
Today, the frontal scars are harder to detect than usual, since a makeup artist has spent the better part of an hour covering them. Alien Ant Farm are shooting the video for ''Glow,'' the second single from their new album ''truANT.'' As Mitchell, 27, croons into the lens of a panning camera, it's hard to imagine that only a year ago his head was secured in a halo brace, with four screws burrowed into his skull to prevent movement and potential paralysis. But even before last spring's deadly bus crash, Alien Ant Farm's story seemed dramatic enough to fuel a new Fox special, ''Musicians Gone Wild.''
The four members of AAF spent their teens doing time in countless bands in and around Riverside, about 50 miles east of L.A. When they came together in 1996, Mitchell was fronting a folk outfit called Dragonfly, while bassist Tye Zamora, 26, and drummer Mike Cosgrove, 27, played in a Primus cover band. ''Out of all the bands we all played with, we were the serious ones,'' says Zamora. Northern California rockers Papa Roach, with whom Alien Ant Farm had been swapping gigs for years, helped them score a deal with DreamWorks. Although AAF prided themselves on a diverse blend of metal, funk, and prog-rock, the label tossed them in the lucrative ''nu-metal'' bin and aimed to score with a crunching, aggro take on Michael Jackson's spats-and-gats gangster fantasia ''Smooth Criminal,'' one of the smirky covers the band had played at live gigs for years. The song, from their debut, ''ANThology,'' became a smash and, to the growing exasperation of the band, its career-defining calling card.
''We wanted to sell a lot of records. The plan was to be rock stars,'' says Zamora. ''But there's always a compromise because this is a product. It's packaged and sold in little Zip-loc bags, like Tide with Bleach.... Bottom line: Michael Jackson couldn't take 'Smooth Criminal' to No. 1. We did.''