Heavy metal is a ‘bloodletting for the emotionally engaged’ according to a new book

The album of my 16th year was ‘Who’s Next’ by the Who. On it was ‘Baba O’Riley‘ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again‘ I am over 60 and to this day these tracks make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and John Entwhistle’s air bass comes out. We also listened to ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath‘. This is such a true article. Metal and heavy rock generally for me is an outlet for disdain. It comes out through the music so it doesn’t come out in my life. Metal is a lifesaver.

There is a bit at the end about seeing more violence at an Oasis concert than a metal concert and it made me think of Liam going to ‘Have a word’ with a German footy fan and loosing his front teeth. Here.

Contrary to its dark reputation, heavy metal can help those suffering from mental health problems and can be a healthy coping strategy

By Nick DuerdenThursday, 12th March 2020, 7:30 pmUpdated Thursday, 12th March 2020, 7:30 pm

Guitarists Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, Steve Harris and Janick Gers of Iron Maiden performs at Ozzfest 2005 (Photo: Karl Walter/Getty)

The best use of a whistle in modern music – the ordinary kind used by referees – comes one minute and 19 seconds into “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses. The whistle signals the moment at which the slow-build intro of this heavy metal classic bursts open like the gates of hot hell to unleash an auditory assault you feel, not just in the ears, but the stomach, too.

By the song’s conclusion, five ragged minutes later, you cannot help but fear the spontaneous combustion of at least one member of the group, very likely guitarist Slash, if only because nobody could possibly play that loud for that long… could they?

Paradise City”, which was released in 1987, remains as invasive as the dentist’s drill. Somehow this is a good thing. It is this combination of fear and thrill-seeking that, according to Dan Franklin, author of a new book called Heavy: How Metal Changes the Way We See the World, makes an often-misunderstood type of music so special, and worthy of deeper appreciation.

“Heaviness is full-on, it’s intimidating, exhilarating and addictive,” says the 38-year-old, his Viking-style beard failing to conceal a thoroughly gentle disposition.

Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden performs on stage (Photo: TIMM SCHAMBERGER/AFP/Getty)

“It feels necessary, like a kind of bloodletting for those fully engaged with their emotions, who sometimes just want to be consumed by sound and fury.”

Sound and fury: this is pretty much what heavy metal has always been about. It is music to give vent to our inner torment, music made by men (and it is predominantly men) who have found a way to channel a surfeit of angst into energy.

Some proponents invoke Nazi imagery (Motörhead), others Satanic chic (Marilyn Manson). Some wear masks into which they vomit for “fun” (Slipknot), and many behave like ill-educated, tyrannical pirates (Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Skid Row et al). In short, not folk you’d readily trust to look after your labradoodle.

“Actually,” Franklin corrects, “you don’t need to have traumas or issues to play heavy metal, just as you don’t need them to be a fan of it. I don’t see myself as someone who needs metal as an escape. I like it because it’s powerful and magical. It’s transcendental.”

Franklin was introduced to heavy metal as an eight-year-old via his father’s copy of Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, Appetite for Destruction. In his book, he offers up potted histories of a succession of metal acts, many of whom have courted controversy. Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, for example, have seen their dalliances with the dark side misappropriated by purported fans.

“Outsiders make great scapegoats,” says Franklin. “The irony is, heavy metal tangles with a lot of the emotional issues wider society suppresses, and could even provide a key to solving them.”

The HU is a Mongolian heavy metal band that uses traditional Mongolian instrumentation, including the Morin khuur, and Mongolian throat singing

Slipknot, whose back catalogue includes songs with titles such as “People = Shit” and “Pulse of the Maggots”, employed unusual methods to tip their concerts into mini riots.

“We had a dead bird in a jar,” band member Sid Wilson once said. “We kept it in there for a long time. We’d bring it out on stage and take big deep breaths out of it, see what death smelled like, have that inside you. It gets you into that dark place.”

Metal first came lumbering into mainstream prominence during the tail end of the 60s with bands such as Hawkwind and Judas Priest, and reached its apotheosis in the 80s with Motley Crüe, Van Halen and Whitesnake.

It was reborn in the 90s as grunge, where it proved a far more eloquent soundtrack, though it remained every bit as subversive and countercultural.Read MoreCelebrating 50 years of Kraftwerk, the electronic pioneers who could be more influential than the Beatles

And then there are endless sub-genres: black metal, death metal, industrial metal, Stoner metal, sludge metal; collectively, Franklin suggests, “music that triggers a primal element within you, that makes you want to lose yourself”. According to Franklin, the 19th-century composer Richard Wagner made classical metal. “It was certainly heavy,” he says.

All of which illustrates Franklin’s central thesis: metal, these days, is everywhere. Billie Eilish is precisely what a 21st-century post-metal pop star should look and sound like, while Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp encourages his team to play in a fast and aggressive style that he terms “heavy metal football”. Even sensitive writer types are partial to it, among them Turkey’s celebrated novelist Elif Shafak.

“I like gothic metal, industrial metal, Viking-pagan-folk metal and metalcore,” Shafak said recently.

“I especially like dark, loud, aggressive Scandinavian metal bands. I listen to this kind of music on repeat while I am writing my novels.”

A festival-goer enjoys the sun during the heavy metal festival Wacken Open Air in Wacken, northern Germany (Photo: OUTAXEL HEIMKEN/AFP/Getty)

At one point in his book, Franklin even insists that we can see certain elements of a particularly bleak metal offshoot, called doomcore, in modern literary classics such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day.

“There’s an emotional tragedy at the heart of that book,” he says, “that you can hear in a lot of doomcore, bands that play very slow, heavy songs about an inability to express yourself in ill-fated relationships.”

Metal also happens to be a useful tool to help wrestle mental health problems. Dr Kate Quinn is a clinical psychologist who works with the NHS in early intervention of psychosis in young people, and runs a website where heavy metal fans struggling with emotional issues can gather online for support. Its Twitter account is moderated by a “Nurse Ratchett”, and contributors get to share playlists in which Ed Sheeran features rather less than Godsmack.

‘Anger is common in all of us. If a band expresses that rage on your behalf, then that is a good thing’

“Heavy metal can be a healthy coping strategy,” says Dr Quinn, explaining that because metal conveys a range of emotions broader than the average pop song, including myth and folklore, its cathartic properties are ample, never more so than when dealing with feelings of anger.

“Anger is common in all of us, but it can be difficult to express,” she says. “It’s problematic if it is expressed in actual violence, but if a band expresses that rage on your behalf, then that is a good thing. I do it myself.”

She believes, too, that its routine demonisation is careless and crude. “Metal fans, in my experience,” she says, “are lovely people, very community-minded, friendly and inclusive.”

Franklin echoes her sentiments. “I’ve seen more aggression at an Oasis concert than I’ve ever felt at a metal gig. At the Monsters of Rock festival, people bring deck chairs and sandwiches. What’s aggressive about that?”

Heavy: How Metal Changes the Way We See the World by Dan Franklin is out on 19 March (Constable, £20)

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Chris Reed

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