When it comes to discussions about serious topics—religion, politics, mental illness — I have found many people prefer to steer clear. Occasionally that’s an appropriate stance. These are difficult and delicate subjects and sometimes the circumstances are just not right for them. But this isn’t one of those times. Today, I approach one particular subject, that of mental health awareness, frankly. This issue is not to be trifled with, it’s not to be ridiculed or belittled, and it most certainly will not be ignored. Mental health is simply too relevant in the pursuit of a happy and fulfilling life, especially in this era where it’s easier than ever to forget how to care for ourselves. Moreover, just because you aren’t officially diagnosed with a particular condition does not mean you should take this series any less seriously, or that you should feel at all unworthy of self-care. There are approximately 7.65 kraxpillion ways to practice self-care, between accepting that there’s a problem to investing seriously, financially, emotionally, behaviorally, and/or otherwise in your mental health. But the most important thing is that you talk about it—no matter if it seems like a small issue or if it represents your most vile demons, because nothing improves or changes at all if you don’t speak up. Today, I speak up with Tom from Ancst about mental health and how he uses music to cope with his own personal challenges.
TheKenWord: First off, allow me to thank you for agreeing to participate in this article. We want to bring awareness to mental health issues, which go underappreciated all too often even in this interconnected society of ours. Metal seems to be a common outlet for these issues in music, but it can be tricky to tackle the subject with dignity and respect and still have impact. What experiences, emotions or concerns bring inspiration for you and Ancst‘s music?
Tom: Hey Ken, first off, thanks for asking questions. I don’t know if I really agree with the fact that metal is a common outlet and tackles mental health issues. From my experience, the ordinary metal guy probably does not give a shit about lyrics and content in the first place. Also, the omnipresent image of masculinity that dominates the metal scene doesn’t really favor a lot of discourse when it comes to that topic. From my experience, emotions and all that is for emo’s when it comes to beer tent metalheads. Like so many other counter-culture genres, a lot of people come and go for the wrong reasons. But mental health as a subject of lyrical content within extreme music has been there for a long time and you can find bits and pieces if you can read between the lines or are sensitive to that topic in general. The difference nowadays is that people tend to talk about it much more openly as the ugly child can be addressed with various names now, and that the overall the public focus has shifted into much more accepting territories.
So where do I draw my inspiration from? Well, life just hands me negative shit all the time. that gives me plenty of stuff to deal with. My music, lyrics and artwork are in fact the coping mechanism that helps me deal with existence. It gives me a purpose when everything around me seems meaningless.
TheKenWord: Blending black metal with punk attitude offers a lot in the way of energetic release. Does your music represent a catharsis or some way to cope with your own personal challenges? Is it more geared towards getting your audience to open up and express themselves in ways they might otherwise repress?
Tom: Ancst is definitely some kind of catharsis or a catalyst for things that go wrong, for emotions that pull you down and so on. It’s my way of dealing with that crippling thing called depression. I don’t care too much about the impact that it has on other people. It’s an amazing side effect that people like what I do and that in some cases it helps them to deal with their own demons or rough times, but it’s not intentionally aimed at this. It is and it stays my own therapy.
TheKenWord: You mentioned that you take inspiration from whatever is happening in life in the moment when writing material with/as Ancst. Do you ever find putting those experiences to music challenging or does it just happen naturally?
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. Both from a personal point of view, because you have to put what you have lived through into words and then from a arranger’s point of view if you try to make them fit with the music. But I can see these experiences from a pretty neutral standpoint. So, the actual process is not painful at all. It’s very liberating sometimes.
TheKenWord: I’m going to ask these next three questions just as I did for ALN (Mizmor). Have you any particularly memorable moments of support/pushback in response to your music?
Tom: Well, we are somehow trapped between different rooms I guess. We are coming from the DIY HC subculture and are playing extreme metal. A lot of people from both camps will not touch our music because of that. There have been a lot of amazing people who like what we do and that try to support us. Be it promoters, other bands, labels and most importantly fans/supporters. Being in a band means getting used to times of support and pushback I guess.
TheKenWord: On your darkest days, when you are at your lowest/most vulnerable, what kind of music (if any) do you turn to? What about when you are at your best?
Tom: That’s really hard to be honest. I dig a lot of dark ambient when I’m in the hole and wanna be left alone but can’t say no to some old Katatonia and some melodic black metal stuff too. When I’m happy everything goes. Jazz, pop-punk, grindcore, slam, synthwave and the list goes on. I’m constantly switching genres, to be honest.
TheKenWord: Everyone has different ways of expressing/coping with their mental health concerns and exercising self-care (you with your music, for example), but a lot of folks struggle to overcome the fear of ostricization for even acknowledging the existence of an issue. What advice, if any, would you give someone who was struggling to break free of that particular roadblock?
Tom: Get professional help! Seriously, I can’t stress that enough. Don’t shy away from talking. I have the feeling that I’m the wrong person to ask this, as I’m just going inwards when the downward spiral gets me again. I tend to stay away from people, from social interaction. I’m mainly hiding and trying to survive these times. Don’t be me.
TheKenWord: Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these for me!
I would like to thank Tom once again for taking the time out of his full schedule to participate in these interviews. I feel extremely grateful to Grymm and Master of Muppets for including me in this series, as well. Arriving at the relatively stable point that I’ve reached has been a lifelong struggle and the journey is far from over. Many difficult days/weeks/months/years surely lie ahead, but if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that, beyond a shadow of doubt, the effort is worth it. Truly, there is nothing more rewarding in this world than getting to say to yourself, “I’m doing better today than I was yesterday.” Take care of yourselves, frens. Be kind to yourselves. Most of all, talk to someone when you find yourself in a bad way. You might not realize it when it happens, but that one step makes all the difference in the world.