Please consider joining our new Facebook group if you fancy some metalhead mental health chat 😊
As requested by you lot, we are starting to put a few videos on YouTube, including this short one about what heavy metal therapy is. Please consider subscribing to our channel as we will add more soon 😊
Very pleased that our friends at Psychreg published one of our guest blogs about the therapeutic benefits of heavy metal. Check it out below:
Of course more heavy metal nerdism is available at our metal university –
We’ve put these together to help explain who we are and what we are about.
1. We all have struggles
We work on the basis that mental health difficulties exist on a continuuum. So everybody has some struggles in life, ranging from the day to day, up to the more extreme. We don’t think there’s necessarily a clear line where you would say that something has become ‘abnormal’ and we probably all move up and down that continuum all the time. We have people who follow hmt who have used services extensively and others who never have and wouldn’t want to. We don’t think that we are a replacement for services, but an addition and/or a forum for any metalhead who has ever struggled with being distressed.
2. Sharing our stories is powerful
We believe that by sharing our stories of how heavy metal music has helped us to manage difficult times we can inspire and help others. The process of sharing and giving that information to others can also be therapeutic in itself. You can read some of our stories at heavymetaltherapy.co.uk/stories
3. We are all equal partners
There are some people who follow and contribute to heavy metal therapy who have professional training, or even are ‘experts’ in heavy metal or mental health. There are some people who contribute who have a lot of lived experience to reflect on. We are all equal in the process and have influence on the project (no one tells anyone else what to do). HMT isn’t professional advice or actual therapy, it’s about sharing resources and experiences. Here’s a blog we wrote about Co production and HMT.
4. Metal helps us process feelings
We consider research about heavy metal music and how engaging with metal might be helpful. We are also aware of the previous damaging stereotypes that came with being a metalhead in the past and the assumption that it was bad for you or even that you were a bad person for liking it. We are particularly interested in the research and theories that suggest that metal can help people to process feelings and engage with challenging parts of themselves in healthy ways. Many people in the community will say how metal saved them, keeps them sane or helped them through a very difficult time.
You can read more about metal research at heavymetaltherapy.co.uk/metal-university
5. All ways of explaining mental health count equally
Some people describe their struggles as being part of a biological illness, some say it is a consequence of life events or wider societal issues, some people may have a spiritual explanation of what’s going on for them. We don’t hold any of these ideas as more or less valid, they all count and we tolerate different perspectives. You may notice that we tend not to use a lot of diagnostic labels and such on here (partly because of point 1) but if you have a diagnosis and find this a helpful way to understand things then we won’t stop you saying it on here! If you are against diagnosis that’s also cool with us. Same goes for perspectives on meds, use of services and what helps you/others. What’s not cool is slagging each other off about different views, that stuff will get moderated.
6. It’s not about money
We are not a business, we’re not even a charity, we don’t formally endorse or support particular charities financially. No one gets paid for running or being involved in HMT. If we ‘make’ any money it goes back into the coffers for awareness raising stuff. If you buy owt off us you are just covering our costs, spreading the word, and looking exceptionally cool by repping our stuff. Some of us have related jobs that are generous enough to support/tolerate our activities but we basically do it for the love of metal. If you want to help that’s cool, but there’s no money. We have some complicated thoughts about mainstream mental health campaigns, one day we might write something about that…..
7. We don’t chase celebrities
Have 100k followers on insta cos you’re in a band and wanna rep us? Cool, thanks, we appreciate it.
Have 3 friends on Facebook and never leave your room and wanna rep us? Cool, thanks, we appreciate it.
Seriously tho, we recognise that most bands and musicians are brands, that promotion of their stuff is important to them, it adds a sometimes uncomfortable spin on things for us. We don’t want to compromise any of our values to get someone famous to support us (that’s not the same as if they choose to, as we said, we appreciate it). But… HMT was not formed for or by celebrities, we are by ‘ordinary’ metalheads for all metalheads.
8. No trolling bands/genres
Look, we all know that person who only listens to progressive depressive grindcore or whatever. A lot of metal forums seem to consist of people trolling each other about ‘real metal’. We like to cater to most tastes, we even adopt a degree of genre flexibility on the playlists and stuff we share. If someone shares something that they like, and it’s personal to them, they put themselves out there (and as you might imagine we are all about respecting vulnerability). Therefore we will not tolerate anyone being mean about their choices and we do moderate that stuff quite strictly. If you want to see more features about stuff you like, more extreme metal for example, share it with us, we will put it out there.
9. We go tats out, always
Most metalheads will be familiar with the idea of being judged on their appearance. It’s a bit complicated this, because lots of us also feel that looking a particular way is a core part of our ‘metal identity’. Tattoos are often part of this, (see this part of our website for more) as are band shirts/battle vests/long hair. We get invited to speak and stuff sometimes, or represent HMT from an academic or professional standpoint, but we think it’s important to be genuine in our metal identities as well. So we go tats out, doesn’t matter where or what we are doing, because that’s who we are.
10. Always double knot in a mosh pit.
Finally, we ask you to take care of yourselves and each other out there – in the mosh pit, and also more generally. So as far as HMT is concerned please heed the trigger warnings, remember it’s sweary and contains dark themes and please be supportive of each other. We are not a substitute for services/actual therapy and are not crisis support, we might be able to point you to such places but it’s up to you guys to take responsibility for if you take that up. We moderate things accordingly if needed…..
See this blog about having a great time in a mosh pit, which is also where we nicked that phrase from 🤘🏻
Some people will tell you that having a new born child is a great time, 100% wonderful and that you are lucky.
That’s… that’s not the whole truth.
When you have a child you lose time, sleep and routine. Even the most fearless person is now terrified for the future and there is a surprising amount of competitive judgement. The things you used to do are not beyond you but there are restrictions. Depression, anxiety, suicide and even homicide are a higher risk within the first few years of parenting. With a child you hit the ground running. Nothing fully prepares you because every child is different. When that baby takes its first breath you are no longer who you were, you are someone else.
Okay quick disclaimer that the point of this little rant isn’t to put people off having children. It’s to highlight that having children changes and challenges you in ways you are rarely told about. It’s not all bad, quite the contrary. Parents get to see a factory fresh human being experience everything for the first time. You become a teacher, a nurse a butler an expert crisis manager and an entertainer. It’s awesome because you learn things and do things you have never considered before. Its stressful because to be all these things you need to shift your own identity and you run the risk of losing it completely.
The normal reaction to a sudden loss of identity and feeling vulnerable is to attempt to return to a previous self. This clumsy attempt never ends well and can be disruptive to growth. Brene Brown calls this the birthplace of creativity but acknowledges that it’s a time that we feel our most vulnerable. What is accepted as best practice is to sit with the experience of loss and change. Grieve but plan ahead. Adapt and survive. This is difficult to do and takes time. We often “relapse” and attempt to revisit who we were, and that’s okay so long as we eventually advance to a new self. In this metalhead’s opinion you need multiple identities to be a parent and you need to keep shifting between these identities for your own wellbeing.
“I watched a change in you. Its like you never had wings. And you feel so alive”
-Deftones. Change in the House of Flies.
I have had a chaotic life with few actual constants and have had to be so many different people to survive. Metal has woven thread-like through each and every one of my identities for as long as I can remember. Ben the child had AC/DC blasting on his drive to school. Angry Ben the teenager had Slipknot getting him through his A-Levels. Ben the student howled along to Korn at the Kambar in Cambridge and Ben the psych nurse was still writing care plans in his head while watching Rage Against the Machine at Download. As long as I have it I can endure change. Almost like a faith.
Ben the father needed metal. It was something familiar. Something that in the past had been a constant. When my daughter was born I made a conscious effort to hold on to it and incorporate it into my parenting style.
It started prenatal. I played metal to my daughter when she was in the womb. Worked too, Devin Townsend’s March of the Poozers could put her to sleep when she was new born. As she was mobile we had dance time and for that we would spin around the room to System, Machinehead and Foo Fighters. I play metal in the car instead of lame ass nursery rhymes about the plague or kings eating pie. I also sing to her my own acapella versions of Nirvana and System of a Down. It’s rare that I get to gig’s but when I do they are more exiting. I’m even planning to take her to the surprisingly child friendly Bloodstock next year.
Total side-track but; AC/DC is really easy for kids to get into. Lyrically the composition of AC/DC songs are similar to nursery rhymes and the song title repeated is often the chorus.
I also infuse in my daughter the values that I find in metal. She is told she is pretty, but more importantly she is told that being strong, kind, brave and picking herself and others up is important. I let her cry, scream and feel angry but then reflect on why and vocalise what upsets her because that’s what metal lets me do.
Metal has been a familiar thing to help me transition to new identities. Metal has been inspiration and a medium for my child’s development.
Metal is awesome.
Ben Ryan BSc Mental Health Studies, ex nurse RMN and changer of nappies.
We did this little slide show video thing summarising just some of what happened in 2019, we know it’s a bit cheesy but we were feeling smug and proud of ourselves so….
This was really only a fraction of what we did in the end. This time last year we had 300 followers on social media which we thought was pretty good, but things grew beyond what we could have imagined and now:
– we think nearly 6000 people follow us in total across all our social media
– we published journal articles, posters, presented at conferences, did workshops, did blogs, wrote book chapters, had representations at festivals and showcased peoples art, poetry and writing.
– we created extensive playlists available on a range of apps, all informed by you guys
– most importantly, we saw the community develop and watched you lot start to support each other without much help from us.
So obviously we aren’t stopping now! We’ve got lots of exciting ideas planned, some building on what we’ve already started, some covering new ground, but all based on your feedback. This should include research activities and events, engaging more with media, continued spreading of the word and…. T-shirts!
Finally, we do have an enormous thank you list as you might expect:
Head roadies – Angela and Anthony
Contributors to the sites – Ben, Melissa and the Iron Giant, Maarten, Timbo, Randall, Hannah, Kostas, Danny, Dance Mary
Organisations – Sophie Lancaster, Chill Welfare, GetPsyched, PPN North West (BPS), ISPS, PSYPAG, Hallam Uni, Metal Insider, Metal Music Studies Journal (especially Karl), the Polyphony, Redemption Festival, Download Festival, Safe Space (Dani off of Bury Tomorrow), Nick at Signhouse UK
By Ben Ryan, staff journalist for HMT and Metalhead Mental Health Practitioner
I went to my first gig for years recently, to see Killswitch Engage who were supported by Tenside and Revocation and it helped remember what I loved about the metal scene.
I was going to go on about the Biopsychosocial model (commonly used in mental health settings) and how it looks as how strong we are in our physical selves, in our internal selves and in our social selves. Then I would reflect on my experiences in a structured way. But then I got really exited and just decided to have a rant how much fun I had!
As always my analysis will be more of a formal mildly biographical rant.
So first is the volume, it hits you right in the chest and triggers a rush of endorphins with a dash of adrenalin and a touch of panic. Not nasty hormone stink panic, nononono, no. A nice lovely shaky energy. A ‘ooohh what’s gonna happen next?’ panic. What was especially strange was Revocation who, after about ten mins, I could no longer hear. Their intense sound sort of blurred into a loud silence that I found really relaxing and kind of zen. When Killswitch came on I was in constant motion.
Then you have the gestalt mentality of organised chaotic expression. That wild build up of promised danger that erupts in the most consensual of violence; the mosh pit. Mosh pits are something that my logical sensible brain dislikes. They are sweaty, messy and I have had some less than amusing injuries (I break easy, be gentle). In the middle of a crowd however it’s something that takes you over. It’s something primal and freeing and it makes me laugh a scary laugh that I only otherwise make when I feel like a hunter or a warrior. Any gig I have been to allows me to tap into something ferocious wild and young inside. I feel spiritual, invincible and unstoppable.
And then finally there’s the people around you and the unspoken and spoken connections you make. I went with friends but we lost each other about two songs in. I then proceeded to jump around with a hundred strangers, one of which finally found my shoe gave me a hug and loudly told me I’m old enough to know “YOU ALWAYS DOUBLE KNOT IN A MOSHPIT!”. I was soaked in the DNA of a hundred sweaty people as we stood stand by stand screaming lyrics we all loved.
Ah so yeah I guess that is what happened to strengthen my wellbeing a biologically psychologically and socially.
I went home with ringing in my ears and a smile on my face, saying hey to other gig goers on the way out and trying to remember where my shirt went.
‘Doesn’t it make you feel better?’ Why Angry Music Feels Good…
by Hannah Cahill
Angry music is not new. People have always been angry and written music to suit their mood – music is a universal language which can often express the inexpressable.
I am a classical musician and teacher and I love angry music. My favourite musicians of all time are Beethoven and NIN’s Trent Reznor, two surprisingly similar men. Beethoven was the first angry music I connected with and the reason that I went on to study music. He was the rock star of his day – women fainted at his gigs as he played the piano wildly with his long black hair falling over his eyes. His music was shocking and new. Comparing Beethoven to most of his predecessors is like comparing Nine Inch Nails to Take That. He was also the first ‘artist’ as we think of them – he was not employed by a church or court like most composers, he did his own thing. He was an isolated, misunderstood, sometimes depressed man who, at one point, was very likely suicidal at the thought of losing his hearing forever. You can read Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament HERE if you are interested.
So many people find angry or aggressive music comforting because they connect with the lyrics, and the feeling of catharsis that screaming them out can give, but the music itself is speaking to us too. I find a lot of metal music to be rhythmically far more innovative and interesting than most other modern genres – something especially important when much of the music has a lack of distinctive melody.
Here are some thoughts on a few angry songs I love and why I think they feel good. I find it interesting that a lot of the reasons that music like Slipknot and Nine Inch Nails seem to speak to me on a deeper level are rooted much more in classical music than in pop music – frequently changing dynamics (volume) for example, is a huge part of the classical music world but really not that common in pop music.
- Nine Inch Nails & Changing Metre
The vast majority of pop and rock music picks a nice regular time signature like 4/4 (4 beats in every bar) and sticks to it for the duration of the song. This allows people to dance to it, and it feels comfortable. It also makes the song more easily memorable and therefore usually more sellable.
Metal and some Rock music is known for its love of 7/4 and 7/8 (which means they have 7 beats in the bar) – time signatures which we call ‘irregular’ because they don’t fall into the comfortable zone of having 2, 3 or 4 beats in the bar like most music does. This can give the music a stilted, unsettled feel. Some songs which use these time signatures (for some or all of the song) are Spiders by Slipknot, Money by Pink Floyd, Outshined by Soundgarden and 2+2=5 by Radiohead.
Irregular time signatures don’t necessarily feel good by themselves, but they can enhance the overall nervous mood in a song like Spiders, which in turn can make the song speak to us on a more visceral level. When it does feel good though, is when you have an irregularly timed song which breaks into regular time, like having a regular chorus after an irregular verse.
NIN’s Somewhat Damaged from The Fragile is a really interesting song. When it starts you think it’s in a totally different time than it is (it sounds like 6/8). Then the drums kick in and you realise it’s actually 9/4, kind of. The 9th beat is at the end of every ‘normal’ 8 beat sentence, like he just leaves each line lying there a little bit longer than its supposed to be, just hanging there. The 4 note motif from the beginning is still there underneath sort of fitting in. The whole effect is really unsettling.
Before the final section, the drums disappear for a while, leaving you feeling rhythmically lost. When they return, he finally allows you into everyone’s comfort zone of 4/4. You feel safe, everything is where it should be… but then it builds to the most amazing, angry, cathartic ending, with him screaming ‘fell apart, where the f**k were you?’ before releasing you into the floaty calm sounds of the intro to The Day The World Went Away.
For me, this song is the ultimate cathartic musical experience – it starts off so simply and you have no sense of how different the end will be. It is so unsettled all the way through until you reach 4/4 where you somehow feel more comfortable with the rising aggression than you did when the rhythm was constantly changing. It is a very clever trick. The link into the next track allows you to hold that feeling a little longer and bathe in the newly found calm after the storm.
Rhythm and metre is so important in the way music makes us feel. Take for example NIN’s March Of The Pigs. Its time signature keeps changing between 7 and 8 beats per bar, and the mood goes from wild to calm and then almost jazzy and then back to wild again within minutes. It is a song which is virtually impossible to ignore. However, play the remix All The Pigs, All Lined Up, which is altered to be totally in 4/4, and the mood completely changes; although it is still loud and angry, it is suddenly much more rhythmically comfortable and predictable, which has the effect of making it sound a little less desperate.
Trent Reznor (pic from NiN archive)
2. Slipknot & Structure
Most pop/rock music is structurally very predictable. It usually consists of alternating verses and choruses, broken up by a middle 8 before the climactic return of the chorus. It is a very old structure dating back hundreds of years.
A noticeable difference with more extreme music in many of its forms, is that it is often far freer with its structure. Although it does often follow the same old structure, there are so many examples of when it doesn’t. I find that there is so much more variety and unpredictability in these genres than in most.
There are countless varying structures and it would take forever to look at them all but one song that works really well is Slipknot’s XIX from The Gray Chapter. This is a different kind of anger – it is desperation, loss, grief at the death of bassist Paul Gray. Lyrically, it is not at all suited to a standard structure. It starts small and builds layer upon layer of sound, building up to a desperate sounding climax. This song has a lot in common with the first three minutes or so of the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Both them are in the key of A minor and are structurally similar. Both use an ostinato (a repeated musical idea) which moves between different octaves and both have a slow build up texturally, adding new layers on to existing ones.
This kind of structure allows us to be gently drawn into the mood. By the end of the song you have built up to an emotion which you may not be able to access right away. It draws you in. XIX has the added point of ending with one last yell on the 7th (G), a dissonant (clashing) note. By finishing the song on the 7th, the song doesn’t end ‘properly’, allowing you to hold on to that feeling a little longer and embrace it. Instead of shutting those difficult emotions out, you are asked to really feel them.
3. Dissonance & ‘Hurt’
If you want to experience how a tiny harmonic change can totally affect the sound of something, try listening to both NIN and Johnny Cash’s versions of Hurt. The two versions usually divide opinion, but it really shows how harmony can make a song feel very different. Although this is not exactly an angry song, it demonstrates a specific type of dissonance in a way that is easier to hear, so I want to include it anyway.
The two versions vary a little in key, instrumentation and other things but it is the tritone in the original NIN version which gives this version its distinctive sound. A tritone, sometimes called diabolus in musica (the devil in music) is the interval (distance) of an augmented 4th or diminished 5th. It is one of the most dissonant intervals in music – some emergency vehicles have sirens tuned to this interval as it’s very hard to ignore!
In the NIN version, as the first word, ‘I’ is sung, the guitar plays a note which is a tritone above the home note. It reappears in that place in the bar throughout the song. In the Johnny Cash version, there is no tritone so that clash is missing. Personally, I think the tritone in the NIN version adds an uncomfortable feel to the music, whereas the Cash version simply sounds sad. NIN also fills the background space with something like white noise which adds to the mood.
Another great use of the tritone is the last two notes of the piano melody in the opening of NIN’s The Wretched. In both this song and NIN’s Hurt, the tritones (and white noise) are dropped in the chorus, making the choruses feel more euphoric.
Tritones are found everywhere in music, two together make up the chord of a diminished 7th which is your standard ‘scary’ chord from old horror films, but using them in a melody like this is far less common.
There are, of course, other more technical effects such as extreme vocal techniques, distortion, detuning guitars and other less theory based things as well as the lyrics which all contribute to the emotional impact of angry music, but I will leave those areas to the singers and guitarists.
The key point with all of this is the unpredictability. The songs that have the most dramatic effect on the listener are often the ones with the most extreme contrasts. They allow us to feel unsafe and wild and get in touch with the more hard to reach parts of ourselves.
It is said over and over that music expresses that which cannot be said – so what if you are feeling angry? Frustrated? It seems that is much more acceptable historically to connect with music that is happy, calming, sad (in a gentle kind of way) or exciting, but far less acceptable to enjoy music which emulates states of extreme anger or frustration, which most people feel just as much as they might feel happy.
It is so important to be able to connect with all sides of ourselves and music is a fantastic way of doing just that. If you need to get something out of your system, a nice poppy song won’t always help with that… I am a big believer in constructive anger, embracing those feelings and letting them out in a healthy way, channelling them into something creative.
And, as Trent says, doesn’t that make you feel better?
Money Pink Floyd
Somewhat Damaged NIN
March OF The Pigs NIN
All The Pigs, All Lined Up NIN
(2nd Movement of 7th Symphony Beethoven)
Hurt Johnny Cash
The Wretched NIN
We are very pleased that the website GetPsyched published a guest blog from us about heavy metal therapy and Co-production here
We are delighted that Metal Music Studies (that’s a real academic journal, people!!!) published an article about Heavy Metal Therapy. It outlines where we have come from and the key theoretical ideas behind our project. We realise that not everyone will be able to access the full thing but here is the link:
Metal Music Studies is the journal for the International Society for Metal Music Studies, they have a cool webpage 🤘🏻