The year 2021 has been rough for me so far, and throughout the months listening to heavy metal music has kept me positive. Despite being aggressive, listening to the music has always made me happy.
But when I told my mom about the kind of music that I listen to, she scowled and showed distaste to it saying that metal music is toxic for young listeners.
Adults and teenagers have held a belief that heavy metal makes listeners more prone to violence and suicidal thoughts. But psychologists studying the nature of heavy metal have concluded that it can help listeners vent their own pain and emotions, leaving them feeling happier. If we acknowledge this, it might introduce others to the possible benefits the music could bring.
Metal has been one of the most popular genres and has been around since the late 60s with Black Sabbath, who have sold over 70 million records worldwide and who were ranked by MTV as the greatest band of all time. But the genre has long had a negative reputation among many music critics, with many believing that it encourages violence among its listeners and worsens the mental health of those with depression.
In the early days of metal, bands such as Iron Maiden were accused by religious groups for being Satanic due to their album name “Number of the Beast”.
In 1985, Tipper Gore, the wife of US Vice created the Parents Music Resource Center, in which their goal was for parents to monitor the kind of music their children listen to. The committee compiled a list of 15 songs deemed the “filthy fifteen” which contained songs by heavy metal bands such as AC/DC and Def Leppard.
In 1990, two boys attempted suicide, with one of them succeeding. These boys were fans of the band Judas Priest. The parents of the boys believed that the music they were listening to contributed to their suicide arrempt, saying that the song “Better by you, Better than me” contained subliminal messages which prompted the boys to kill themselves. The parents of these boys later tried to sue the band believing they were responsible for the boys’ death.
In 1995, the US senator Bob Dole accused the band Cannibal Corpse, of undermining the national character of the United States, calling it immoral.
However, the work of psychologists can give us a different perspective, shedding light on the positive impact heavy metal can have on the listener.
A study was published in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience” in which participants aged 18-34 were asked to think of an unpleasant memory and then listen to heavy metal music to see how their mood changes. After 15 minutes of listening the participants reported feeling much calmer. Factors such as heart rate and subjective ratings on positive and negative scale were studied in which rates of irritability, stress and hostility were shown to have decreased after listening to the music
“The findings indicate that extreme music did not make angry participants angrier; rather, it appeared to match their physiological arousal and result in an increase in positive emotions. Listening to extreme music may represent a healthy way of processing anger for these listeners,” said study co-author Leah Sharman, of The University of Queensland.
Sharman and her co-author, Genevieve Dingle came to the conclusion that listening to a type of music that matches your current mood will usually result in more positive emotions. With this statement applying to all genres of music
Sharman and Dingle cite other studies that support their claims. In 2013, another study was conducted by Sharon and Karno in which they tested to see whether or not metal fans are more prone to depression and anger. It was shown that while metal fans have tend to be more depressed, there were no differences between metal fans and fans of different genres in terms of anger levels.
A 1997 study was conducted by Gowensmith and Bloom, in which they found out that heavy metal fans didn’t get angrier after listening to metal.
These three studies are just a few examples of psychologists proving that metal music actually can leave a positive impact on listeners.
If we break the stereotype surrounding heavy metal and to end the assumption that people who listen to metal are violent or untrustworthy, we can be more open to unique forms of coping and allow the mental health community be a more welcoming place for those who cope through less conventional ways.
Not every coping mechanism will work for everyone, and we should allow those who are struggling, to cope to handle it the inways that works for them, even if we don’t always understand them.
Parents have feared that listening to metal music would cause those with depression to feel more suicidal, in my experience it did the exact opposite.