As an avid fan of metal music, I’ve been asked the same question for years: “How can you enjoy listening to this type of aggressive music?”
The first person who asked me this was my science teacher, a woman known by students and her colleagues for an angry attitude and judgmental comments. So, there I was at 12 years old, being pulled aside in class, trying (and failing) to find the right words to explain to my scary teacher why I liked metal music. I just knew it made me feel joy.
My answer was not good enough for my science teacher because, as she bombarded me with questions about the “aggressive, violent music,” I felt more and more discouraged from sharing my positive experience. It felt as if she didn’t actually want an honest answer from me. She just wanted to judge.
Now I have a better response.
Metal music can feel like chaos, but behind that “screaming nonsense” and “pile of sounds” there’s an order to a bunch of interesting, risky elements. Once I was able to recognize these elements, I found metal music the most effective means of catharsis.
Although extremely intense, metal music helps me relax when I am stressed. It makes me happy when I am sad. It makes me calm when I am angry. It makes me run mental marathons and go to sleep.
I find metal music relaxing, but I understand why others don’t. When I discovered the genre, it didn’t have this calming effect on me. I was just bored — bored of listening to the same safe sounds in the most popular songs. My mind was numb from hearing the same tunes in pop music, a genre I enjoy but was everywhere I went. I was bored of listening to music that felt so safe that shopping malls and restaurants were happy to use them as the background soundtrack no one is paying attention to. The radio songs started blending with one another, and it was not as fun anymore. I think, subconsciously, I wanted something riskier.
And nothing was riskier than metal.
There is something intriguing about the way extreme, loud guitar riffs, fast-paced drumming, a bass you can actually hear, and a vocalist’s scream can all work together in a song. The ensemble of some metal songs has as many layers as classical pieces. I first realized this when I listened to “Hospital For Souls.”
“Hospital For Souls” by Bring Me The Horizon is an almost seven-minute song about depression and the after-life with multiple musical layers and instruments. It’s also my favorite song from the band.
Out of the many elements in metal, the screaming is probably the most shocking one. It’s also the hardest to get used to, but it became my favorite part.
I learned that there’s an art to the screaming in metal music. There are different types and different techniques to a healthy scream. It’s more than just shouting, it’s controlled, projected screaming. If it’s not done correctly, it can hurt you.
Chester Bennington, the vocalist of the nu-metal band Linkin Park, was known for “singing like an angel and screaming like a demon.” His ability to change from a raspy singing voice to powerful screams shines in “Given Up,” famous for the uninterrupted “17-second scream.”
The same way vocalists master the art of projecting their screams, preventing their vocal cords from getting hurt, metal music helps me channel my most intense emotions in a controlled, healthy way.
Depression is a common topic in metal music, but the introspective lyrics and intense sounds can sometimes be surprisingly motivational.
The lyrics of “Unsainted” by Slipknot say “I didn’t come this far to sink so low, I’m finally holding on to letting go.” I find listening to these lyrics along with the fast-paced drums more helpful at making me get out of bed and do things than listening to sad songs. The intensity of it all makes it difficult to continue being sad.
“Unsainted” by Slipknot motivates me to get up and do an intense workout.
Just like metal music can help the sadness go away, it can also help control anger.
The obvious outlet is experiencing this emotion in concerts. Joining a mosh pit is not as dangerous as it seems and it can be freeing and exciting. But not everyone has the time to find a metal concert to attend to every time one gets angry. That’s why I think listening is enough.
Listening to metal songs can sometimes feel like going to a rage room.
From the angry outbursts I had as a teenager to the difficult transition into an independent life I am going through now, metal has helped me mentally scream at some people and at my problems.
I even find watching my favorite metal concerts before sleep very helpful.
After a long, stressful day of study and work, watching a bunch of people screaming along to a song and joining together in an aggressive, yet controlled mosh pit, feels like running a marathon in my mind. All the stress and anxiety are sucked out of my brain, so I can calmly go to sleep.
I don’t know what it is about this aggressive Of Mice & Men’s 2019 setlist that I find relaxing, but maybe it has something to do with my familiarity these songs and the way angry screams create a happy reaction in some of the audience.
But metal music is not only about controlling negative emotions like sadness, anger or stress, it’s also about intensifying emotions I want to keep.
Since my sister was 11, my 13-year-old self was accidentally influencing her to listen to my music. She got it instantly. So, we would jump up and down everywhere while screaming along to the popular heavy song at the time. This was our bond, and it created many happy memories.
Now, almost 10 years later, my sister and I listen to the same bands we did as kids and we would still do our small karaoke session to Pierce The Veil’s songs.
Known for a “mexicore” style, Pierce the Veil is an American band that adds a Mexican element to post-hardcore songs. They can be a gateway from rock music to harder genres.
So, to the scary science teacher who tried to warn me away from the dangers of “devil music,” thank you for actually making me think about it.
Just like the metal bands who organize a “mess” of sounds, I now know how to make some sad days happier, how to express anger in a healthier, non-destructive way, and how to maximize happiness and joy.
I realize now that I became the happiest when I started listening to the angriest music genre.