Modern life is hell. Between destabilizing personal relationships, crippling debt, and an ever-growing national ennui rooted in disenchantment with the political system and the polarizing effect of social media tribalism, Americans seem to be rushing headlong like frightened lemmings toward some precipitous cliff of substance-fueled and overstimulated self-destruction. But one man wants to fix all that. A Reddit user named Flalaski is inviting you to throw on some extreme tunes, unplug, and work through all that garbage inside.
One of the most beautiful aspects of art is its capacity for self-reflection. Music, in particular, provides a particularly ready, though not quite blank, canvas upon which we may write our varied pressures, fears, doubts, and joys. Many of us were drawn to extreme metal for its promise of emotional resonance. Caught in the throes of turbulent adolescence, we looked outward for strength and found a mirror of extremity, something on the fringe, that in turn helped us to look inward, to reflect upon self.
It is this promise that drew Flalaski to black metal. Although he had been a fan of progressive power metal bands like Pagan’s Mind and Symphony X for some time, it was during a particularly turbulent period of his personal life that he finally “got” black metal. “It was my first year in college 6 years ago where I delved into Black Metal. I was depressed as hell, being in a small college town out in the middle of nowhere. Most people were Mormon, and I was struggling through a long distance relationship (I should say I was there for the music program, which was good… but damn!),” Flalaski notes. “I discovered Burzum’s stuff and Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger, and It connected with me in a strange, dark emotional way. Like it understood the shittiness of loneliness and seclusion. the chord progressions and lo-fi raw-ness really did the trick. I’ve always liked to draw and doodle mainly for fun, and I ended up drawing while listening to these bands now and then. It helped me get through the year, and then I moved out of that damn town.”
Like many of us, Flalaski fell headlong into extremity in order to drown out the seemingly insurmountable waves of stress that many young people face. As he grew older and learned how to better cope with his own personal demons, he maintained his interest in black metal, treating it as a welcome friend to offer support and companionship. Over time, Leviathan, Marduk, BloodThorn, and Watain became some of his favorites.
However, a dramatic life change caused Flalaski to turn inward again earlier this year, and in desperation, an idea for self-treatment came to him. “Now earlier this year, that same [long-distance] relationship ended, causing a WONDERFUL couple months of dread…” Flalaski notes. “This idea of ‘Black Metal Therapy’ was floating around in my mind for a while, and I decided to dig at it after this event.”
Like many creative types, Flalaski took his anguish and transmuted it into art, into catharsis. “I (loudly) listened through the whole Marduk – ROM 5:12 album with a friend who was going through very similar garbage, and drew / scribbled the whole time. I tried to keep my hand moving nonstop, almost like I was automatic writing or something. Eventually I felt like I was in a trance-like state, just staring hard at the paper, drawing what the music sounded like, as well as what I was feeling when certain thoughts came up.”
You can see the three drawings Flalaski produced below. They’re raw and visceral, exchanging sweeping refinement for harsh lines and bleak details. The point isn’t technique or precision, but a kinesthetic link between emotion and music. Unpolished as they are, they certainly look as if the artist was exorcising some deeply interred demon within his subconsious mind.
Encouraged and relieved by the process, Flalaski encouraged his friend to channel his own torment into art as well. “My friend also fell into a similar state, and I thought it was pretty interesting seeing the vast differences in drawings we did. His were a lot more abstract with shapes than mine.” The two realized that the process had, at least temporarily, quelled a raging emotional storm, and much like the folks who started Black Metal Yoga, Flalaski realized that perhaps others could benefit from a self-reflective, like-minded community. Thus the Black Metal Therapy community was born.
“I find this to be a pretty good output for processing what’s got you down, and I basically made the sub[reddit] hoping to help others perhaps get a similar effect,” Flalaski commented. “I wanted to see what ended up being drawn out from this process, especially since everyone’s got different things going on.”
Although the subreddit is still small and in its infancy, others have already embraced the method and are channeling their guilt and grief and pain while drawing to black metal. Some of the artists have taken a more refined approach to creation, while others have embraced the raw emotional contours of Flalaski’s style. All seem to have found comfort in both the process of creation and in the community slowly building around it. It’s an amazing testament to the power of art, even art that’s considerably dark and violent, to bring healing through self-reflection.
If you’re interested in joining the subreddit, checking out some of what the others are drawing, or want to work through your own junk, you can do so here. Flalaski is an immensely companionable and welcoming sort, so I’m sure you’ll feel right at home.
If you’ve got a few minutes and some stress to work through, feel free to grab and pen and share your own Black Metal Therapy with us in the comments below.
(h/t Flalaski for answering my questions and letting me share his drawings)