If you ask metalheads why they love heavy metal music you will get loads of answers: the energy of the music, the intensity, the loudness… But there will also be quite a few who will say that metal saved their life, or keeps them sane. Music is a great coping strategy for many people, but metal in particular has only recently been understood within research as a potential tool for enhancing wellbeing. Many metalheads seem to have this shared experience of finding extreme music helpful for mental health, and Heavy Metal Therapy exists for those people.
At its core, it is a peer support project where we share our stories of how metal has been helpful for mental health, build playlists together, and share related ideas via blogs, articles and even memes. Most of our content is based on the personal experiences and accounts of metal fans. However, there is some science behind our ideas. At first, academics were quite worried about the mental health impacts of listening to metal, including ideas that it could cause people to be suicidal or behave in ‘delinquent’ ways. However, we now know that there are benefits to listening to metal, such as the community aspect, and for helping with processing feelings like anger. This is consistent with what the followers of Heavy Metal Therapy tell us about their lived experiences of life with metal. From a metal studies perspective, we are interested in what it is about metal that so many people report is helpful to them, and we have a few ideas about this. We’ve used lyrics from the song ‘Hospital for Souls’ by Bring Me The Horizon to illustrate some of these points, though there are many other good examples: first, metal talks a lot about mental health, and often represents a ‘reclamation’ of concepts related to ‘madness’ and the darker side of humanity, which is quite different to some aspects of society where there is stigma about mental health problems:
“The fragile, the broken
Sit in circles and stay unspoken
We are powerless”
Second, despite its usual appearance as outwardly aggressive, metal often considers complex emotions and difficult experiences, including the conveyance of vulnerability in a way that people may relate to. Some people find ‘turning towards’ and engaging with intense feelings in healthy ways, such as through music, quite helpful (and a possible alternative to acting out in more destructive ways).
“And then I found out how hard it is to really change
Even hell can get comfy once you’ve settled in
I just wanted the numb inside me to leave”
Finally, some metal songs also reference ideas that may be helpful to people (e.g. getting help, mindfulness) and wider psychological concepts related to mental health, such as attending therapy:
“You can tell me, what do you say?
Do you wanna talk about it?
How does that make you feel?”
Songs to keep in your ear (besides those mentioned in the text)
- Bring Me The Horizon, ‘Hospital for Souls’ (2013)
- Slipknot, ‘Eyeless’ (1999)
- Slaughter to Prevail, ‘Agony’ (2019)
- Quiet Riot, ‘Metal Health (Bang Your Head)’ (1983)