Metal music is rife with either “mosts” or “-ests.” The most brutal. The most extreme. The most depressive, oppressive, and downtrodden. The saddest, angriest, fastest, meanest, and heaviest. Our music lives and dies by those concepts. Every day, bands, fans, and us critics go on the hunt to find or create music that scratches the perpetual itch that those “mosts” and “-ests” bring forth. But in that unending pursuit, many bands and musicians fall by the wayside. Worse still, some of those musicians do so by their own hands. Today is a good time as any to talk about mental health in metal and rock music, and what can be done to stop the stigma associated with it.
Truth be told, this has been kicking in my head for quite a few years, or at least as far back as when Strapping Young Lad folded in 2007, due to band leader/vocalist/guitarist Devin Townsend disbanding the project for his own sanity, having self-medicated in the past in order to handle the insane rigors and high levels of aggression that Strapping Young Lad demanded of its members. In his need to put that chapter aside and shut it, I remembered fans crying out for Devin to re-open that particular wound, and bring them what they craved: more anger, more insanity, more SYL. Some even went as far as asking him to go off his bipolar medication again so he can give them what they wanted, an idea which is not only preposterous and insane, but also dangerous and even deadly if not supervised. As someone who’s dealt with severe depressive episodes and panic attacks himself, and has been on various medications and been to many therapists to deal with them, to see the sheer lack of care or fucks given being either astonishingly low or even absent, is nothing short of disheartening.
In the ensuing decade-plus since, you would figure more care and attention would be given to mental health awareness and causes. Sadly, childhood heroes, comedians, and musicians left and right would either disappear without anyone knowing where they were like Sinéad O’Connor did back in 2016, or end up checking out early by their own hands, such as Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, and Chris Cornell. Sadly, I remember jokes being tossed around on various social circles at Bennington’s expense which, again, was neither clever nor funny. But what hit me hardest was earlier this year when the body of Nature Ganganbaigal, the vocalist/guitarist/mastermind of Mongolian metal act, Tengger Cavalry, was discovered by authorities. While no cause of death was ever released, Nature wasn’t afraid to discuss his prior battles with depression and suicidal thoughts.
I saw posts from people going on about how Nature’s success in bringing Mongolian-tinged music to Carnegie Hall in New York City should have made him feel fulfilled as a musician, or how his vocal and musical ideas getting him gigs with movie soundtracks and gaming voice-overs was envious, and here I was thinking, “None of you have any fucking idea what depression is like. None of you.” Something that may be a huge success in everyone else’s eyes could be an impenetrable ceiling cap for its depressed creator. What would blow us away in terms of the sheer awe and beauty of something’s creation might very well look like a piece of shit that didn’t deserve to be made in the makers’ eyes. Depression and other mental health issues distort things in ways that those who’ve (thankfully) never had to battle them could never comprehend. So when fans get confused, or worse start cracking jokes at our expense, we tend to not talk about them due to fear of isolation and insults. The fact that certain bands use mental health issues as a “LOOK AT ME, I’M FUCKED UP” reductive musical angle (or worse) doesn’t help things either.
But I’m done with being silent about it. This is something that needs addressing in as much of an empathetic light as humanly possible. With the help of Master of Muppets and TheKenWord, we’ve reached out to various musicians, such as Déhà and members of An Isolated Mind, Mizmor, Ancst, and Heretoir to discuss their openness about talking about mental health, and hope it can shed some light on it, and what we can all do to help. Those will be coming in the course of the next few weeks. Also, if you are battling depression, or dealing with mental health issues, reach out to someone, anyone1, and know that you are not alone in these battles.
Finally, if you know someone who’s struggling with these issues, fucking reach out to them. I can’t stress this enough. Be that listening, empathetic, non-judgmental ear and shoulder. If you need to set a time with them, do so, and stick to it. Also, don’t just throw a phone number or a website their way in hopes that you are doing enough. That’s about as effective as American politicians offering thoughts and prayers after yet another horrific school shooting. Be active, be caring, be there in the moment for them. Maybe together, we can put a stop to the stigma and have far less casualties in the music we love.