Last week, Scientific American, a print and online magazine bringing its readers scientific and technological insights since about 1850, published an article call Dissecting the Bloodthirsty Bliss of Death Metal. My brother Garrett forwarded it to me, a fitting article to read on Halloween.
Ah, yes, the article opens with the visceral, brutal, and grotesque lyrics from the song Hammer Smashed Face by the ultimate death metal band Cannibal Corpse. I can only presume they used this song because of the song’s popularity with the heavy metal community, having been listed in numerous “Top 10” lists of all-time best death metal songs, including MetalSucks, LAWeekly, Loudwire, The Top Tens, and more. Even searching Google Images for “best death metal songs of all time” brings up a picture of Cannibal Corpse.
I’m confident that the writers of the article were also aware that song is a bit more mainstream than that. Jim Carrey, in his movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, finds himself in a heavy metal club while being chased by some goons. The band performing on stage? Cannibal Corpse. The song? Hammer Smashed Face.
Of course I’m intrigued by this point, so I decide to read further…
The article focused on a simple question from psychologists: Why do fans of this violent music report feelings of transcendence and positive emotions? Researchers described their methodologies, using various personality tests and subjects’ responses to hearing death metal. The article describes one assessment that “the high amplitude, fast tempo and other discordant traits of death metal may elicit the release of neurochemicals such as epinephrine—which may underpin feelings of positive energy and power reported by fans, and tension, fear and anger reported by non-fans.”
All of that made me remember a time when someone very important to me was introduced to heavy metal and the positive impact it had on her. It changed her paradigm, opened her up to new perspectives, and enabled her to see things in different ways.
That person was my wife. Here’s how it happened…
In the spring of 2016, I was driving home from work speaking to Abby (we weren’t married at the time) through my Bluetooth earpiece. She was at her apartment already and was telling me about how terrible of a day she had at work.
“I want you to try something for me,” I told her. “Open up your Spotify. I want you to listen to three songs.” I told her not to say anything until she was done listening to all three.
“First, listen to the song called Laid to Rest by Lamb of God.” Christian music, you might presume, but it’s quite the opposite. A staple of Lamb of God concerts, the song talks about laying failures to rest and moving on, as you’re better off alone than keeping these negative experiences with you for the rest of your life.
I heard her play the song in the background. I said nothing until it ended.
“Okay, now I want you to listen to a song called Contractor. I heard the explosive opening, its thrash-metal-like drums and guitar riffs. Lamb of God’s vocalist, with his guttural approach, growled out the lyrics. Abby remained silent. So did I as the song slowed before exploding one more time.
“Now play the song Now You’ve Got Something to Die For,” I said. For the third time, we were silent, as I kept driving home. The third and final song ended, and I asked Abby a simple question.
“How do you feel?”
“Calm. I feel better.”
I could sense the confusion. She was Justin Bieber’s number one fan. She didn’t believe heavy metal, as “angry and loud” as it sounds to most people, could make her feel the opposite, calm and collected.
“It’s really weird,” she said.
“That’s the power of heavy metal, darling. That’s why I’ve listened to it all my life.” Since then, Abby has become a huge fan of several heavy metal bands, including Lamb of God, Slayer, and her favorite, Killswitch Engage. She’s been with me to several heavy metal concerts, including all of the above, as well as Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Ghost, Behemoth, and more.
“It’s an outlet,” she told me. The music helped her release those negative emotions, so she could get back to being herself. Now, whenever she’s angry or needs to decompress from a long day, she’ll come home, turn on Lamb of God, and let those five amazing musicians from Richmond, Virginia melt away the stress and frustration of her day. When she bakes, she turns on Slayer. When she’s cleaning, she listens to Killswitch Engage.
And that’s what it was for me, too. The power of the guitars, drums, and lyrics drove something inside me, and that power always made me feel better after I listened to it. The lyrics didn’t matter. It was the energy I felt from the music.
And it’s not just Abby and me, just take a look at the comments for the YouTube music video of Now You’ve Got Something to Die For. Shawn Niedermeier wrote “Lamb of God makes me just wanna punch people in the face, in a good way though.” Aleksi sk8 said “Huh… My depression went away for about 3 min and 40 sec.”
This is the power of metal. It’s why you’ll always find me in a mosh pit, why Slayer was such a huge influence in my life, and how I’ll never forget listening to heavy metal the first time. And it’s also why listening to and playing music has been such an important part of my life since I was 11 yeas old.