Research Position – Justin Baker

Heavy Metal Helps

“Heavy metal music is about shutting out the tensions of life, putting it away.” Peter Tork, bassist for The Monkees, an early pop rock band, made this statement when asked about how important heavy metal was. Peter Tork has a lot of appreciation for heavy metal and the positives the genre has to offer even though he is not a heavy metal musician. Heavy metal has received a bad reputation because of various assumptions, such as that it is strictly for Satan worshippers and serial killers. Subgenre names such as Thrash metal, Death metal, and Black metal sound like music that is just loud music and angry vocals. Those genres do encompass those characteristics, but there is so much more to the music. A closer look under the surface of the music shows lyrics that many troubled people can relate to and an aggressive sound that can help people vent frustration, depression, and stress.

Heavy metal is a highly amplified, harsh-sounding, violent therapeutic genre of music. Due to it being harsh and aggressive, the music diffuses the anger in its listeners. A study done by Jeffrey Arnett at the high point of heavy metal in the late 80s and early 90s showed many young adults used heavy metal as a way to cope with being bullied at school or with family issues. Many of the young adults interviewed claimed that if they did not have heavy metal to calm them down, they could have done something they would later come to regret. One young male interviewed stated, “’Trapped Under Ice’ by Metallica is seen as a metaphor for emotional distress.” The band Exodus was revered by many of the interviewees because Exodus talked about child abuse and many of the young adults went through child abuse. Heavy metal was also seen as a way to help guys deal with rejection from girls because of the lyrics in many heavy metal songs dealing with a similar rejection.

Heavy metal is a type of therapy for people who cannot tell their troubles to a proper, licensed therapist. Whether they are too stubborn or too egocentric to go to therapy, heavy metal is seen as a great way for troubled listeners to vent and relieve tension. Also, many people do not want to come to the realization that they are depressed or too stressed out. Heavy metal is a way to subconsciously help depression and anxiety. The genre provides people a way to vent their feelings and release the stress that is pent up in them. Nic Fleming published an article in The Telegraph, Britain’s finest journalism website, about a study done by Stuart Cadwallader at The National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth at the University of Warwick that surveyed more than 1,000 gifted students aged 11-18, and found that “heavy metal provides cathartic release and a way to dissipate negative emotions.” Many higher intellectual children are picked on in school and heavy metal provides a way for them to eradicate any violent retaliation feelings they may posses towards their bullies.

Music is a reflection of what is going on in someone’s heart and soul. Heavy metal is the purest form of music. Some issues that many people have to deal with, such as death, anger, fear, illness, repressed weakness, and shortcomings are all issues portrayed in metal songs. Dave Mustaine, lead singer and guitarist of Megadeth, a pioneering thrash metal band, wrote the song “In My Darkest Hour” about his failed relationship with his ex girlfriend. Many listeners can relate to the lyrics in the song because many people have gone through bad breakups. People burdened with issues such as depression love to hear about other people going through similar things so they don’t have to feel alone. Heavy metal musicians usually come from a bad background. Ozzy Osbourne, lead singer of Black Sabbath, grew up dealing with dyslexia and many other learning disabilities. He left school at the age of 15 because he was bullied and he did not believe learning was important. He went to find menial jobs to do such as construction and even decided to try burglary. Known now as the Prince of Darkness, Osbourne helped forge what was to be known as the heavy metal sound. Whether people are bullied, depressed, or too stressed out, there are metal musicians out there that can relate to them and who write music about it.

Heavy metal is considered a genre of music that is very aggressive, satanic, and has no positive message. Heavy metal is the genre that has saved countless lives. By easily relating to the general population and basic hardships that everyone goes through, such as breakups and death, it is the most relatable genre of music. Unlike in pop music, every hardship can be found in the lyrics of metal songs. Heavy metal is also a very broad term as it is a very broad genre. Whether the listener prefers the softer metal bands such as Black Sabbath, or the harder metal bands such as Death, many of the messages portrayed in the songs are similar. In “Altering The Future” by Death, the man in the song is plagued with an awful life and a dim future. “Creating a life only to destroy. Saved from a life of the unemployed, where crime is the only way to survive. Which is the best to be dead or alive?” The man has no hope for a good future and he wants to give up. In “Hand Of Doom” by Black Sabbath, the man in the song realizes time has caught up with him and he cannot do anything else with his life. “What you gonna do, time’s caught up with you. Now you wait your turn, you know there’s no return. Take your written rules, you join the other fools. Turn to something new, now it’s killing you.” Death’s song, “Altering The Future” has incoherent lyrics while Black Sabbath’s song; “Hand Of Doom” has very coherent lyrics. Both songs talk about death and the ability to do nothing with life. Since heavy metal has evolved so much over the years, people tend to think of the heaviest metal they can think of as what heavy metal truly is. Heavy metal is such a broad term, but its message across all subgenres of it is the same. Heavy metal helps the listener cope with the hardships of everyday life.

From the loud, distorted instruments to the screaming vocals, heavy metal helps relieve stress and depressing feelings. Heavy metal has been condemned from the start of the genre due to its sound and perceived lyrical content. The genre has many songs that talk about real life situations. In other genres, such as pop, the music and lyrics are very light and there is no substance to them. While heavy metal can shock and scare people because of the loudness and aggressiveness of the music, the loudness and aggressiveness are the very things that help the listeners with their issues.

One of the most vocalized claims about heavy metal is that it makes its listeners, especially the younger, more impressionable listeners, more violent. A study done by Shaleen Coss of Loyola University has found that this is not true and there is no direct relationship between heavy metal and violence, such as crimes and suicide, especially in younger listeners. In fact, participants in the experiment that listened to heavy metal were less violent than those in the control group. One hypothesis that is widely accepted is that since the listener is exposed to violent music, they become immune to it and decrease their desire to be violent. They are able to expel the negative feelings they have in their mind while listening to something deemed “violent.”

Music listeners and music critics both turned away heavy metal for many years. For that reason alone, heavy metal has become more of a cult following, never to get the mainstream success of pleasant sounding genres such as pop and soft rock. Heavy metal has been the scapegoat for various tragedies and crimes in history. It is known as the most destructive genre of music because of various misconceptions. It is very easy to dismiss heavy metal as a destructive genre.

It is the loud, aggressive noise and the content of the lyrics that has the public point to heavy metal bands as the scapegoat for tragic events such as Columbine and suicide attempts by young adults. Whether it was music made by Marilyn Manson or Judas Priest, the public has correlated violence with heavy metal. What most of the public won’t admit why the reason such violence can happen is not because of the music the criminals listen to, but because of other factors. A common factor in the criminals is a poor up bringing. Abuse, divorced parents, and a poor environment are some reasons why the criminals had a poor upbringing. Musicians have always been a scapegoat for why crimes happen. Larry Rohter, New York Times journalist, covered a 1990 trial in which two families sued Judas Priest for the reason why their children decided to commit suicide. It was stated in court that Judas Priest had subliminal messages in their songs and the messages drove the kids to commit suicide. What was not used in the trial was the fact that the families the kids came from were very dysfunctional. Kenneth McKenna, lawyer for the boy’s families, claimed in court, “The members of the chess club, the math and science majors don’t listen to this stuff. It’s the dropouts, the drug and alcohol abusers.” His argument is invalid merely for the fact that he did not know if members of the chess and math club listen to metal. The dropouts and drug abusers listen to heavy metal because they can relate to the lyrics easier. They both usually have a troubled background. The prosecutor for the families did not state the fact that both of the families the kids came from were very troubled. Domestic violence and child abuse were prevalent in both families. The kids had troubled pasts. Heavy metal was a way for them to get away from all of the drama in their lives. Families love to point fingers at everyone except for themselves and do not like to take the blame for their children’s death because they do not want to admit they did not see the signs or admit they failed as parents.

“Suicide Solution”, a song written by Ozzy Osbourne about the passing of AC/DC’s frontman Bon Scott, was said to push teenagers to commit suicide. 19 year old John McCollum shot himself in his bedroom while listening to Ozzy Osbourne’s music. The parents singled out “Suicide Solution”, saying that song had subliminal messaging in it and drove McCollum to shoot himself. The parents admitted that McCollum was emotionally unstable. The parents did not do anything to help their son, such as send him to therapy. While this case was going on in court, two other families jumped on the opportunity to blame Osbourne for their son’s suicide and sued him as well. Those cases were thrown out of court immediately for lack of evidence. Parents jumped on the bandwagon of suing artists for their child’s suicide just to make money and have some peace of mind. Parents do not want to admit they failed as parents, rather they would much rather admit a song pushed their child to kill themselves.

Many people blamed Marilyn Manson for the reason why Columbine happened. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Columbine shooters, were bullied in school and wanted revenge on their classmates. Eric Harris was told he was “weird looking” and Dylan Klebold had a cup of fecal matter thrown at him. This bullying incited the retaliation from Harris and Klebold. Manson responded to the accusations, through an article written by Elena Gorgan, by saying, “Blaming me for Columbine was ridiculous. It’s a lack of responsibility from everyone. If you want to blame something, well, I went to a Christian school. That’s why I write what I write. Shall we blame the Christians?” Manson is making the point that he did nothing to incite the violence that happened in Colorado on that day in 1999. Manson’s music promotes individuality, thinking for yourself, and questioning things. His music has very good morals and messages.

Heavy metal does not incite violence. Abuse, a poor environment, and bullying incites violence. Nobody wants to take any blame for why events, such as suicide and mass murders, happen. It is much easier to point fingers and blame musicians who already have a bad reputation. While the court cases usually do not amount to anything and are thrown out of court relatively quickly, it damages the artist’s reputation and costs them a lot of money.

Out of all of the music genres, Heavy metal has the deepest lyrics. While sometimes a quick google search is required to understand the lyrics, once read, the lyrics are very relatable. Whereas Pop has shallow lyrics and airy music, Heavy metal has lyrics that deal with the sensitive issues in life, the issues people keep in the head and don’t want to talk about, such as death and failure. It is the genre of music that makes the listener think, not only about the intricate playing in the song, but also about themselves.

“Flattening of Emotions” by Death, a pioneering death metal band, is one of the heaviest songs to come out of death metal. With its double bass drum, down tuned guitar, and screaming vocals, it is very easy to be turned away from the moment you hear Chuck Schuldiner start screaming. A closer look at the lyrics shows the pain of man who has lost himself. “Where is the person that could have been, who, what took over, when did the end begin.” Many teenagers do not know who they are and can relate to songs such as this to help them relieve the stress of not knowing who they are or what purpose they wish to fill. The loud and brash music helps them relieve the tension they have built up. Unlike pop music, heavy metal deals with the sensitive issues in life. Pop will deal with issues such as wanting to be in a relationship, like the song “Baby”, by Justin Bieber. Heavy metal will deal with the sensitive issues in life, such as breakups, death, and tragedy.

“Heavy metal is what I am into. Music that moves you. Music that has heart and soul.” Dimebag Darrell, guitarist for pioneering groove metal band Pantera, proclaimed this mere months before he was fatally shot while onstage performing with his band Damageplan. Heavy metal is the raw expression of emotions in song form. The lyrics are written from the heart and soul of the writer and the music is played with the release of emotion from the musician. Therapy is defined as “treatment of physical, metal, or social disorders or disease.” While heavy metal cannot cure cancer or AIDS, it does a good job relieving the mental problems that many people have to deal with everyday. Heavy metal is therapy in the purest form.

Works Cited

Arnett, Jeffrey. Adolescents and Heavy Metal Music: From the Mouths of Metalheads. 1991.

Coss, Shaleen. The Effects of Heavy Metal Music on Aggression in College Students. 2009.

Fleming, Nic. Heavy Metal a “Comfort for the Brain Child.” 2007.

Gorgan, Elena. Columbine Massacre Cost Me Everything, Marilyn Manson Says. 2009.

Murphy, Kim. Suit Claiming Ozzy Osbourne Song Led To Suicide Dismissed. 1986.

Rohter, Larry. 2 Families Sue Heavy Metal Band As Having Driven Sons To Suicide. 1990. Having-Driven-Sons-To-Suicide.html

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