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The Healing Powers of Heavy Music

To hear someone putting what you feel into crushing, audible assault is gratifying in a way that is dubiously hard to describe, usually dependent on whether someone else has ever shared that experience.



You remember the last time you got your ass kicked by life? I’m guessing it was pretty recently. Chances are it happened today. It may have even happened just moments ago.

Mine did.

For the purposes of this piece, I won’t go into details. Needless to say, it was an isolated incident, and not one that I was anticipating, and from which I will recover.

What matters is that I was in the car at the time. And as I drove away, I played music. I right away jumped to familiar tunes, starting with Discharge’s “Drunk With Power”, then Converge’s “Plagues”, before moving on to Code Orange’s “My World”, “Antihero Resuscitator” by Cursed. As the dischord and noise and violence played out from the speakers, I gripped the wheel so hard I thought it would break off in my hand. My arm was a knot, my body a pumping heart, tight as a balled, bloody fist.

What mattered in that short duration was that I wanted to know that someone else could feel that way. I wanted something to give voice to what I was feeling, what I was, who I was in that moment. I wanted to fall into a comforting bed of despair, but in sonic terms, without needing to fall back into destructive habits. I wanted all these things, and they were immediately available at my fingertips. I let the thrashing and fury crescendo to the point I could feel the blood pumping in my ears.

Then, I got to the parking space at my work, and I walked into my office and sat at my job, smiling, laughing, talking, and generally being a good colleague and coworker.

Because, while you would think that revelling in this kind of rage would only serve to intensify it, instead it is cathartic. To hear someone putting what you feel into crushing, audible assault is gratifying in a way that is dubiously hard to describe, usually dependent on whether someone else has ever shared that experience. Other genres can do the same, but violent or heavy music holds a special place when it comes to the raw emotion of anger.

I’ve tried to push myself to be as accomplished as possible in the areas of work, home life, and in trying to manage my emotions and mental fortitude. I have made inroads in all of these areas, but when push comes to shove and the chips are down like they were in that short drive, I fell into the most basic and arguably primal of things available to me: my music. My heavy, crushing, vicious, violent fucking music.

The majority of the population still struggle to understand this connection to heavy music. Why the negativity? Why meditate, ruminate, bathe, or sulk in the darkness, when you can just be “Happy”, by Pharell Williams (Minions memes not included). Music is a reflection of our inner thoughts and what we value, after all. But listening to happy music doesn’t automatically make you happy. After all, if that were the case, we could blast “Happy” at a riot and the situation would be diffused. This is simply not the case, and broadly speaking, music doesn’t have the same effect as its sound. Instead, music is a stylistic reflection of our emotions, encased in a suitable, sonic landscape on which we can conveniently reflect.

We live, we feel, we die. In that interim there is the constant rhythm of our hearts; where you can detect and recognize the pattern of rhythm, of music, therein lies the possibility of identifying with it. Identifying with heavy music is sometimes referred to as catharsis or purging emotions, and studies in the past have provided peer-reviewed results that echo this thesis. The most relevant and recent of these is a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in June 2015. The study suggested that based on a small sample group, “All of the responses indicated that extreme music listeners appear to use their choice of music for positive self-regulatory purposes.

This idea of self-regulation is central to the ways in which mental health are addressed today. One of the main things taught in both CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) is mindfulness. Mindfulness has enjoyed a surge of support in recent years thanks to the work of luminaries in the psychological field, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn and Zindel Segal. One of the major misconceptions propagated by pop New Age literature is that we should avoid negative thoughts, and focus only on the positive. This can be damaging, because it doesn’t acknowledge that bad things happen in life, and makes us feel guilty for experiencing natural emotions. What mindfulness does, instead, is allow one to sit with their emotions and experience them without judgement. Through this interaction, through allowing themselves to feel the emotions inside of them, people who practice mindfulness are able to better understand, recognise, and eventually regulate their emotions.

So, it is with heavy music that we allow ourselves to boil over with the latent emotions that might otherwise be hard to identify for some people. Speaking from personal experience, I know that I had trouble with emotional intelligence for the first twenty years of my life (at least) and the only thing that could help in those times was to allow heavy music to take over and provide an ersatz release.This, then, is the main misconception that I challenge around heavy music: People who listen to heavy, dark, or violent music ultimately do not want to stay static within a negative headspace. At the end of the day, people are people, and want to experience joy, happiness, and the realisation or discovery of their true self.

This is a result of our emotional minds, and we do have a responsibility to control our respective emotions. If we were only emotional beings without any override or objective reasoning, the world would be a wasteland. It’s because we are able to exert our human minds over these base emotions that we are able to enjoy the benefits of higher functioning emotions.

And sometimes you just need to bang your head to some Agoraphobic Nosebleed before you move on with your day.

Director of Communications @ V13. Lance Marwood is a music and entertainment writer who has been featured in both digital and print publications, including a foreword for the book "Toronto DIY: (2008-2013)" and The Continuist. He has been creating and coordinating content for V13 since 2015 (back when it was PureGrainAudio); before that he wrote and hosted a radio and online series called The Hard Stuff , featuring interviews with bands and insight into the Toronto DIY and wider hardcore punk scene. He has performed in bands and played shows alongside acts such as Expectorated Sequence, S.H.I.T., and Full of Hell.