We have been putting people’s stories of how metal has helped them with wellbeing onto our site now for a couple of years. But now we are able to share our first proper video story with you! We spoke with Richy, friend of HMT and personal trainer. He talks to us about his experiences of living with ADHD here:
Today is halloween (or as we prefer to say goth Christmas or gothmas). As your gift from us we present you with this fabulous novelty playlist of all things devil/satan and Halloween related, you are welcome 😈
As usual there are a few disclaimers – it’s fairly flexible theme and genre wise for a start, based on you lot suggesting things. Obviously there are some dark and disturbing topics, very much NSFW etc. It’s designed to be a bit of fun and not a reflection or criticism of anyone’s beliefs, we are always happy to discuss themes for playlists and this one was much requested.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I only share my personal experiences and observations working with some of my voice students. I also do not generalise all metal vocalists as having identified ‘mental health problems’, here are just a few experiences as well as small fraction of my personal story, what directly correlates with benefits of metal singing/ screaming and mental well-being.
The idea that screaming may be a cathartic and therapeutic experience has been around since the late 60’s when psychotherapist A Janov proposed the benefits of ‘primal scream therapy’. This approach has not been without controversy, but has the central idea that the release of intense emotions (often related to childhood trauma by Janov’s model) via screaming or other non-censored expression helps with processing difficult feelings. Research into emotional processing in listeners of heavy metal shows that this can be helpful for the processing of anger, but what about the therapeutics of being a metal vocalist? We couldn’t find much by direct research on this, though came across a cool little study that showed that aspects of metal vocals are correlated to recognised vocalisation patterns in emotional expressions like anger and sadness (references below). Yet many metal vocalists, even the ones that are just practicing at home (I was going to say ‘bedroom screamers’ but realised that might not be what I meant!), say that it could be something very therapeutic indeed. Here Mara Lisenko, metal vocalist and vocal coach, reflects on her experiences and those of her students:
Anger is an emotion that’s not very much welcomed in today’s society. Everyone has to smile, everyone has to be “ok” and do “well”, it almost feels like we’re forced to be happy. But in a healthy emotional system, there has to be a balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. So how do we deal with negative emotions, especially if they are very intense and burying them only leads to self-destructive patterns and long lasting resentment? Well, there are few options, some people backlash that anger onto other people or themselves (not suggested) thus continuing the pain, some people find other more constructive and safer ways of letting go by boxing, playing tennis, beating up pillows.. and doing metal vocals! Sometimes I see a shy, tiny teenage girl who comes to my lessons just to quietly whisper “I want to learn growling”. Oh my.. And then I realize that there is soooo much work to do, and not so much technically as psychologically. A reoccurring theme that I notice is that students sometimes are not so much interested in singing or screaming itself, they just want to release their voices, and usually I already know what’s behind that- they might have a hard time saying “No”, they cannot draw healthy boundaries, to stand up for themselves, be straight and honest in their opinions and feelings, they might even feel like their opinions don’t matter at all. So they silence themselves, to the point it starts to burn them from inside and they need an outlet for that. And they might choose metal screaming, I mean you cannot do it silently, you HAVE to let it out- it’s also a matter of technical safety for the voice. So a lot of times I see how voice training changes not only their voices but also their lives, because they feel “allowed” to get more vocal to express their emotions more freely. I teach not only how to train the voice but also work with the thoughts and beliefs, because where your mind goes, the voice follows. Sometimes students freak out that by the tone of their voice I can tell EXACTLY what they are thinking!
Singing and screaming absolutely is not only technical but mental! Often people who choose such an extreme form of vocalisation as screaming have a lot of intense, unprocessed feelings, that otherwise they don’t feel safe to express. It can range from a loss of a loved one, to an unhealed childhood trauma, or depression episodes or resentment etc. When students start lessons one of the first questions I ask is- why do you want to scream? I believe that screaming has to be justified. I mean we don’t go around and scream what a beautiful day it is, screaming is usually associated with anger, pain, very heightened emotions, protest, rebellion, there has to be some ‘emotional friction’, otherwise it is just a pure noise. I honestly have no interest in teaching someone to scream simply because they think it’s “cool”. Because I myself also scream with a purpose. When I fell into a severe depression many years ago, the lyrics and the way I sang back then was not enough to express what I was going through. There was a lot of “ugliness” in my mind that needed a release. So I went for metal, because it welcomes all the darkness and ugliness and it’s a place where it is ok to express that negativity. Actually, it’s more than that- it’s where you turn that negativity into something creative, into an art. What an amazing safe and meaningful outlet. I love a phrase my teacher Melissa Cross once said: “Don’t scream if you have nothing to scream about” and I totally agree. On the contrary, if you have something to scream about, it will be such a great therapy for you, it’s amazing how many famous metal vocalists admit that screaming is their form of therapy, including singers like Max Cavalera (ex-Sepultura, Soulfly) and Jonathan Davis (Korn), just to name a few. So you need a vocal technique for sure, it is a ‘safety net’ to express your emotions, otherwise you will destroy your voice. As the name “extreme vocals” imply- it is a high risk activity but with the techniques and training, this outlet of intense emotions can be so rewarding. For some people, screaming is an ugly sound, for some it’s beautiful, but for some- it’s meaningful. I cannot count the times when someone has said that my screaming and my lyrics have helped them to release and process their intense feelings. I think it’s one of the best compliments I can ever have as a vocalist. The amazing thing is when you are free to express yourself emotionally, other people feel safer to do the same thing too. It’s amazing how both the vocalist and listener can benefit from these extreme vocal sounds that some consider “just a pure noise.”
Janov, A. (1970). The primal scream: Primal therapy: The cure for neurosis.
Sharman, L., & Dingle, G. A. (2015). Extreme metal music and anger processing. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 9, 272.
Thank you to all of you who came to our first webinar
As part of the webinar and general celebrations we spent some time reflecting on the past year and also thinking about what we want to do next for year 3. We have come a long way in the last year, with the introduction of ‘merch’, development of playlists, and lots of work for the metal university being particular highlights! We have been pleased to get some cool feedback, but we also want to continue to progress into year 3. Here is what we came up with in terms of ideas for next year:
We hope to have a presence at some events and festivals next year and to be able to offer some well-being activities as part of this. We have a team of enthusiastic metalheads who can’t wait to get out there and meet you! We will have some ‘merch’ and things at these events as well, as merch was definitely a success of year 2 (re-stocking soon!).
Many conferences and events were cancelled in 2020 but we should be able to present a poster to the BAMT conference 2021, and out first book chapter (about awesome metalcore) should be published in October as well. We have lots of plans for writing more stuff for the metal university and maybe dipping our toes into some research as well.
We want to continue to support people using the online formats, so will continue with interactive things for social media. This will include a playlist amnesty, maybe more webinar type events and continued development of the metal health moshpit forum
We intend to develop some well-being resources around metal and mental health, for the website and at events, focused on the lived experience of metalheads.
It’s hard to believe that Heavy Metal Therapy is now 2 years old, things have changed a lot since we set up a little Facebook group for a few friends who thought metal music could be therapeutic. To mark the occasion this year we asked you lot to submit videos, quotes and stories about why metal is so important to you, and we summarised it in the little video below:
In the end we had so many profound and personal stories that we couldn’t include them all! However, one person submitted this slightly longer account which we think sums things up pretty well:
“Burn it down, burn it all down. I don’t give a fuck. Burn it all down, burn it to the ground. Feed the flames, go insane and burn it all down, burn it all down” Gasoline, I Prevail
As someone who has struggled with depression, suicidal ideation, and lack of anger control; metal has been my saving grace. I’m only 16 now, and started listening to metal from age 13-14, started off with Metallica and ACDC and now I listen to just about the entire spectrum of rock and metal. Now I can’t imagine my life without it. It helps me deal with those emotions in a positive way as well as makes me feel less alone or hopeless. I don’t know what I’d do without metal music. I often try to find songs with lyrics describing my situation or what I’m feeling, and let me tell you there is nothing more liberating than screaming “fuck what they say, fuck everything” (Gasoline, I Prevail) at the top of your lungs with music blasting out in the background after finding out something related to past trauma and abuse. Metal music is the one thing that can hold me together, no matter the situation causing me to feel like I’m falling apart again. My parents have put me in therapy and on medications but none of that has helped me deal with the monsters in my head and in my life. Metal has been there and its always been very consistent, and I hope it stays that way because I can’t imagine life without it, let alone a healthy, mentally stable life. Metal music is imperative for my mental wellbeing and is one of few things that keep me going in my day to day life..
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this (and everything on the site really!). Hope to see you later for our webinar.
You know what people love? Security, routine and a sense of identity. We won’t admit it, we like to think we are creatures of adaptability, but change the layout in a supermarket and we lose our fucking minds. And you know that’s a rough thing because the one consistent in life is change.
We are actually okay with change as long as it’s a gradual thing, but accelerated change really throws us. It doesn’t have to be bad either. The process of adapting to a promotion can be just as traumatic as losing a job. When change happens, it shifts us from a secure and confident state to a yearning for what we had. It makes us critical, defensive and often in a state of denial. It makes us resistant to any further change (which is very counterproductive) and for some of us it makes us want to numb the sensation.
Sitting with the experience, accepting change and being curious are an amazing way to get to the other side. Learn new things, especially about yourself. Be humble in how you approach things and fearlessly connect with people like your life depended on it (it may well do).
If you are living with a mental health difficulties it changes you in ways that are hard to describe to those who haven’t. You go through a process of healing from the initial symptoms but there is the fallout to deal with. I have lost multiple jobs and relationships due to how I and others have managed my episodes. That’s entire identities, pieces of me, gone. Following these social changes is the big churn of where you stand in life. How you and loved ones deal with it is just as essential as the treatment for the actual symptoms.
The good news is if you have been in that position you know that life goes on and there are always good times coming. Some changes have been useful and I would make a strong argument for mental health symptoms being a clumsy attempt for your mind to make things better. My PTSD and depression forced me leave jobs that not only did I hate, they were killing me through stress. I have tried things and had experiences I never would have had before. If this happens to you often you know that sometimes it’s best to just go with it. The more you lose identities the better at it you get at making new ones. Some of us chronic sufferers who are always starting over would probably make great secret agents.
This is why people who have been through mental health problems often make great mental health workers. We have seen the other side of it, it gets better if you can hold on a little longer. We get you man.
So where the fuck does metal lie in this?
I have said this before but I haven’t had many constants in my life. Friends and even family have walked on and off the stage and like many people there is no job for life, no house for life and no guarantees. Every so often it feels like I restart my life. I have some amazing family. I have wonderful friends, mostly beautiful batshit metalheads (big love you magnificent bastards) but we are two points of the compass away from each other and I rarely physically see them, especially post Covid.
Metal and our culture are constant. It’s a reverberating throbbing riff through my, and my friends’ lives. Any city I moved to I have instantly sought connection with the local metal culture and never been left without company. It’s like a religion I can find a congregation of in most towns and feel supported by brutally honest, loud and caring people.
At the time of writing there is a global pandemic. We are all going through changes and there is a phenomenal amount of uncertainty. I find I’m trying to hold on to constants and metal is very much one. Gigs, bars/clubs and festivals are off. I have started a nightly ritual I have with my daughter where that we listen to metal together while we eat. We even have a dance and a mini circle pit in the confines of my single bedroom flat and you know what… it’s fucking awesome.
It’s a long way from the hard press of bodies, the loudness and the thrill of seeing bands live. A million miles away from laughing with mates in a rock bar. It is, however, tying me over and a reminder that even as things change I have some constants.
Look after yourselves and the guy/gal next to you. We will get through this.
**Change (in the house of flies) obviously belongs to the fab Deftones, we own nor claim any rights to it
Next week we will be speaking at MHBlogAwards 2020. Get an insight to the sessions by watching the speakers video (link below).
What do you need to know before the day: – Tickets to the zoom hosted event are £2.95 (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/86239920925) – Event programme can be found here (https://www.mhblogawards.com/programme) – Awards voting will happen on the day, & is only available to event attendees (Polling link will be sent in the zoom chat) – Email sent to attendees with additional information and zoom link one week prior to the event. – End event announcement
One of the reasons heavy metal therapy exists is that metal music tends to have more depictions of mental health and extreme states then many other music genres. There’s some evidence that mental health is described differently in metal as well, so possibly ‘re-framed’ as a more positive thing or even celebrated (and if you want a nerd off about if that’s a good or bad thing you should look at the work of Kyle Messick, see the metal university for more details).
This most recent request was for a playlist of songs that reference and possibly reframe ideas of ‘madness’, ‘insanity’, ‘psychosis’ and such, including references to stigma. As always we take requests as ultimately the playlists are built by and belong to you all. This one didn’t turn out quite as I expected, I had imagined mainly overt references to mental health would feature. There’s some of that, but we also got stuff that is more nuanced and complex, with lots of different interpretations of the ‘brief’. This reminds me of how amazing you lot are, as its a very interesting set of songs – quite a grunge vibe in this one. As with many of our playlists, there are some references to extreme states, self-harm and suicidal thoughts so please take care of yourselves around if this is something you feel okay with engaging with.
We will be thinking and writing more about how metal culture describes mental health so watch this space.
The YouTube link for the event we did for hearing voices network is now here! We talk about metal and voices, and reflect on how music of all kinds is related to voice hearing (e.g. As coping, references to voices in lyrics etc). Played a few awesome tunes from Our Hollow Our Home, Motionless in White and Suicidal Tendencies, plus some cool non metal songs.
The hearing voices movement is very important to us as HMT was partly influenced by them and we greatly admire them as an organisation. Thrilled to be part of this event hosted by metal fan Rai Waddingham who is completely inspiring and it’s worth checking her stuff out.
Robin who joined us as a guest also previously made this cool documentary about his experiences with voices, the music is composed by him and has a metal and industrial feel.
For more resources about voice hearing (including a bit about HMT) check out understanding voices, covid 19 web resource on managing voices, and voice collective. We also like this short documentary about ‘the psychosis’ again with a rock themed soundtrack:
We have a few voices related things on here as well including Richard’s story and of course the voices playlist! Soon we will be featured in a book about voices where we have a chapter about the awesome joy of metalcore!!
We love doing events and things to do with voices and voice dialogue, see heavymetaltherapy.co.uk/homegrownhmt for more 😊
We know there are so many things being put out there at the moment about surviving the pandemic (mentally and physically) and the impact of us being in lockdown. So, we won’t bombard you with stuff, this is just a little summary of a few things we’ve done and some helpful links. We will leave this with you in case it is useful. I’m sure that listening to metal is getting lots of us through this time, as it has lots of other times as well 🤘🏻
If you want to interact more with people in the metal community about mental health stuff please check out our metal health moshpit on Facebook
We also produced some playlists together over the lockdown period about quarantine, and to cheer us up a bit, one on completely ridiculous metal songs – see heavymetaltherapy.co.uk/playlists
We have been involved in a couple of podcast and vidoes as well. Some are not related to the lockdown particularly but this video is:
Finally, we know there are lots of links out there of other support things but we thought this one might be particularly interesting for our roadies with lots of resources: