Sunday Sesh: What Came First, The Metal or Your Shitty Attitude?


Are you divergent, friend…?

If famous rock musicians would stop killing themselves, I might be able to stop thinking about the issue of depression. On the whole, there’s no use thinking about it, at least insofar as there is no way to think yourself out of it. A lot is being written about depression lately; comments are flying like projectile snacks in a food-fight. Most of these writings and comments tend to come down squarely upon one side or the other of the mental health debate; mostly I try to abstain from the conversation because my thoughts are somewhere in the middle, which can be an irreconcilable place to find yourself.

Eschewing all of that, I’d like to talk about the connection between metal and mental health. Our own Decapitron already covered it sympathetically in one context here, so I’ll try to cover it in another. I’ll start off with Story Time:

One day back in 200? I gave a co-worker a ride home from work. In the CD player was a compilation I’d made of all kinds of dark goth and metal music. The music did not appeal to my passenger, but he too was suffering mentally, and as we had formed a tenuous bond over mental suffering, he had the good grace not to write off the music out of hand. Instead he asked: “Do you listen to this stuff because you are depressed or are you depressed because you listen to this stuff?” It was a damn good question—one that had somehow never occurred to me before. I couldn’t give him a clear answer then. And I still can’t. On the one hand, it is patently clear that an inherently shitty disposition opened me up to the enjoyment of music which exults in shitty dispositions. On the other, it is unclear to what degree my continuing struggle with said shitty disposition is the result of continuously feeding it with dark, dreary, feel-bad music. [Insert Ouroborus-reference here.]

Glam was my first musical love. Not a dark genre, you’ll agree, but it seems relevant to note that even as a child I preferred ballads to party-songs. I liked those sad tunes about loss and loneliness and irreparable mistakes. Kix’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” became a favorite long before I ever figured out what it really meant (my young brain either glossed right over the word “suicide” or I was actually too young to know what the word meant). I’d already been listening to metal for years before any signs of anxiety or depression began to manifest. And yet, could those early forays into metal have planted themselves like seeds in the underside of my psyche and grown there for years without detection, until finally they broke the surface and everything went to shit?

Whatever the case, at some point in the midst of my teenage years I began to withdraw from the nauseating gang-bang sometimes referred to as the social sphere, and to view other people my age as a species among which I was forced to live but to which I certainly did not belong. Inexorably, I gravitated toward the darkness in the arts. If you’re looking for darkness in music, you can look further than metal, but you certainly don’t need to. By 1997 I was consuming metal almost exclusively. My Dying Bride, Moonspell and Cradle of Filth were in constant rotation. One of my brothers once looked at a pile of my CDs and remarked: “Where do you even find this shit?” Well, asshole, I went looking for it. “Why? Are you a Satanist?” Yup, that must be it.

It goes without saying that very few people around me understood my burgeoning obsession with dark, aggressive music any more than I did—or any more than they understood what was happening to my brain. But the issue of the familial/social isolation faced by depressive fucks will have to wait for some other article. Or not, since it has already been covered fairly extensively.

So, to those of you metalheads out there who grapple with mental health, or to those of you who generally feel okay but just don’t like fun, I pose the question:

Which came first, your love of metal or your cognitive distortions?

At what point, if any, did a coping mechanism become a part of the disease? Could a break from metal—even a permanent one (gasp!)—be just the thing you need to start turning it all around, despite how loathe you are to admit it to yourself? I mean, carving out the metal from your life would be tantamount to carving out a giant piece of your flesh—but if that piece was synonymous with so much of what plagues you every step of every day, would it really be so bad? Doubtless you’ve already asked yourself some or all of these questions. Did you find an answer? Do you even care?

Sound off in the comments below.


Did you dig this? Take a second to support Toilet ov Hell on Patreon!
  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    My cognitive distortions came first. I used music to cope with clinical depression at first. Now I’m unsure what I use it for. Maybe if I take a break from music I could focus on finding a better paying career and my future although I’d probably still be depressed.

    • what if you thought about depression as something that could be cured, instead of a thing that’s always going to be with you?

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        Not going to happen. This is part of my mental problems.

        • more beer

          If you keep that attitude things will never change. I think if you try to have a little more of a positive mental attitude about it will help. It’s when you admit defeat, that you are defeated.


  • slipjackthewanderer

    Dropping out of the social scene to listen to Moonspell just means you’d rather spend time with like-minded individuals who would “get” you even if it’s only through the stereo. The shitty attitude comes first, metal immersion is simply seeking out others who share a similar worldview so the crushing emptiness of the universe doesn’t seem so lonely.

  • EsusMoose

    I think for those who grew up as teens during the nu-metal to metalcore periods it was easy to have affinity with the angst filled nature of a lot of groups. When feelings of despair / anger / social removal, etc, matured out of that angst, metal was an appealing option.
    So really ended up being concurrent. In the era of internet, it is definitely easier for someone who wants something more, to find the next landing point further down the pit

  • Howard Dean

    I try not to be depressed (which works most of the time), and I’ve never had music (even music designed to be depressing) make me actually feel depressed. I associate listening to music with fun and leisure, so I basically never attach negative feelings to music (even if it’s really negative-sounding music with negative themes).

    Rather, I like to listen to Van Halen or Motley Crue for the same reason I often wear a tuxedo t-shirt: Because I want to be formal, but I’m here to party.

    • Janitor Jim Duggan

      Yay, Motley Crue!

    • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ


    • tigeraid

      Oh no, we’ve started a dad rock circle.

      • Howard Dean

        That’s right, brother. Crue, Van Halen, W.A.S.P…. we’re talking a one way ticket to titties, nose beers, and fistfights. Get on board, you no-fun-having sallies!

        • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

          WASP ain’t all fun and games; they can be rather miserable-sounding at times.

          • Howard Dean

            Indeed. Headless Children is dark as fuck. Might actually be my favorite W.A.S.P. album, though. Dudes were on point.

          • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

            Headless Children and Crimson Idol are my favorites. It’s a shame so many write them off as “glam bullshit” (though some of their glam stuff is actually good as well) when albums like those two are basically as gloomy as straight-up heavy metal gets.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            Yay, the Crimson Idol! That’s my favorite album of theirs as it saved my life.

          • Freedom Jew

            Crimson Idol is one of my favorite albums of all time. I was easily able to buy into it being an autobiographical story, it was so well done.

          • more beer

            I am not sure that having a circular saw blade attached to ones crotch is really glamorous.

          • NDG

            For sure. I never understood why people would lump them in with glam…musically speaking. They had the hair and spandex but the tunes were always far superior to anything most glam bands were doing.

        • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

          I hate Crue and WASP but can get down with Halen. I’ll also add Twisted Sister, one of the few hair bands I can actually enjoy

          • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

            STAY HUNGRY RULEZ!!!!!

          • more beer

            Personally I think Under the Blade and You Can’t Stop Rock n Roll are both better than Stay Hungry.

          • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

            Under The Blade in its original mix was fucking killer

          • more beer

            Yes much better than Stay Hungry.

  • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

    I’ve always been surrounded by quite a bit of music; as stated before, my dad’s a blues musician and aways owned a shitload of blues, classic rock, 70’s prog, jazz, soul, psych…records. That coupled with the fact that I always had a lot of imagination also led me to the path of metal (being one of the more escapist and diverse genres, or so I always found) the same way it led me to David Lynch, Cormac McCarthy, Lovecraft as well as true crime stuff (there probably isn’t a book on the New York Mob I haven’t read).
    At the same time I can’t deny to have episodes of dispiritedness at times, which is something I always had, even though I haven’t really had a reason to feel depressed for about 20 years now. My grandmother on my mother’s side was an alcoholic with a borderline personality disorder and my grandfather on my dad’s side was in a troubled downtrodden state of mind for about 90% of his days. So there’s definitely some genetic factor into play here.

    I guess my imaginative and slightly gloomy nature came first; metal came after.

  • killvps

    Personally, metal came first. I’ve always held a stoic viewpoint, most likely came from family of hard-asses. Although I’ve one of my first introductions to metal came from my sister’s music collection, (which included plenty of Type O Negative on her Windows Millennium Edition), it took me awhile to associate Pete Steele’s lyrics with depression as well as other artists. I guess i’ve always been somewhat numb to life’s ups and downs. I mostly suppress life’s depression with constant work and my dumb hobbies. I guess that works for me…

    • killvps

      Although I’m somewhat numb to life’s depressions, I’ve noticed plenty of memes on the interwebs that parody the whole “I have crippling depression” a little bothersome. Good humor can be a great coping mechanism for most, but the way most people portray it seems to normalize and cloud the actual issue of depression. I’d like to help others out, even if it’s just lending an ear, but for me it seems that everybody has some form of depression.

      • There’s this funny video that basically says there’s no such thing as depression–just adulthood. I forget where I saw it. In a way it’s very true. Although in another way it’s completely false. *shrug*

        • killvps

          I may have seen that video and I remember there were some decent points made in said video. I’d like to agree on the true part: there are (from what I’ve read) cases of misdiagnosis, whether by self or medical professionals. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to fully empathize and/or understand what’s going on because I’m an asshole. *shrugs back*

  • GoatForest

    Oh, the depression definitely came before the metal. I’ve been working full time, in some form or other since I was fourteen. Back then it was all manual labour, and it consumed all my non school time. I remember thinking that if all life was nonstop work with no respite, maybe death was better.
    Of course, I was a dumb teenage kid being dramatic, but those feelings were very strong, nontheless.
    As I grew older, the depression got stronger, though the apparent causes routinely varied.
    Metal, especially the darker stuff has always been a useful tool in helping me cope with shit.

    • For me, working is probably one of the few things that keeps me emotionally afloat. That said, boy do I fucking hate work.

  • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

    I guess the shitty attitude came first in my case. I was always a fucking weird kid, always more into Tales From The Crypt and Spawn than G.I. Joe and Saint Seiya and all the other shit kids were into. So I guess that’s why I found metal to be so appealing. I also must add that, while metal was not THE cause of my ostracism in my youth, it may had exacerbated it a little, since nobody else liked the death and black metal I was listening to and I disliked the mainstream rock that was popular among other kids my age, making me not want to hang out with them. I’ll attribute this to me being kind of an elitist dick with a musical superiority complex, not to a mental illness

    • Being an elitist dick (which I totally am) is probably also a mental illness, but we’ll save that for another Sunday…

  • TheTransmuted

    This is an interesting question. I’ve always loved music, and tended to gravitate toward ballads and more melancholy music because, honestly, it felt real. Perhaps this is because I’ve been depressed from a very young age and was unaware of its presence at the time, but I don’t think so. This may sound odd, but music that focuses on more “negative” emotions like sadness, heartbreak, anger at the state of the world and critical self-reflection always struck me as more genuinely human. I think part of this line of reasoning is due to an upbringing that was most assuredly privileged, but needed a constant smile to maintain the facade of constant joy (praise Jesus!).

    I found out I was depressed in my early twenties. Had been since high school but didn’t want to admit it. Suicidal phases will kind of knock you out of that space real quick one way or another. Thankfully, mine landed on the side of obviously still being here and quite happy about it. I feel mentally healthier and more focused than I ever have. Most of that is due to psychiatric medical attention and therapy, a re-introduction to myself as worthy of life and happiness, friends who loved and supported me when I was adrift and a family that rallied around me. Another key aspect of this has been metal. I’ve always liked it, but I began to love it in high school and still do. It helps me think, brings cathartic emotional release, and empowers me. I love the intricacy of it, the dynamism and level of difficulty. But I love it most because it screams with confidence and verve what I sometimes cannot articulate myself. So I suppose the depression came before the love.

    But that love has helped me a great deal. I love metal deeply.

  • Hans

    Great piece, great question. I’m pretty sure the mental state begets the musical taste. My mood seems to dictate what music I put on, not so much the other way around.

    Nonetheless, I wonder what would happen if I stopped listening to both gloomy and aggressive stuff, i.e. the feelings I’m most familiar and, for better or worse, comfortable with. What I’ve found is that other genres will sometimes stir emotions in me that feel too big to handle, almost painful. This will then make me retreat to my old trenches – a behaviour that translates to everyday life, where I avoid conflict, challenges, and responsibility to remain at a comfortable (and ultimately unsatisfying) status quo. I don’t know if (literally) facing the music would enable me to change that behaviour or if it’s the other way around.

    • Hmm. It’s interesting that other genres stir feeling too big for you to handle. For me other genres tend to stir nothing at all. I just stay away from certain albums that are too closely associated with garbage from the past.

  • Freedom Jew

    I think that metal, especially hair metal, gave both an outlet for depression through some of the darker songs, but also enabled cycles of depression. I don’t know how many hours I spent sitting in my bedroom blasting ballads through my headphones during a breakup instead of getting myself in gear and moving on.

  • Señor Jefe El Rossover

    I’ve never really had any issues with depression/dark thoughts that led me to Metal, it is a genre that has been in my life since day 1, so it was nothing I had to seek out. Came as natural as breathing, really. Yes, my style and preferences have changed over the years and I have delved deep into sub-genres, etc. But everything I have gravitated to has always kept me positive. Even gloomy/fark/depressive tunes that I may enjoy, I usually have a smile on my face.

    That being said, the first tunes that really spoke to me on an evocative mindset level was Bad Brains. Their stance on PMA has stuck with me since first listen. I try my best to have a positive outlook on everything and knowing what I can do to make things better for my surroundings is always a nice comfort.

  • Óðinn
  • Decapitron

    Great, great article.

    I’ve only been a metalhead for the last six or seven years, starting (in adulthood) right after I got the upper hand in my battle with mental illness.

    But before that I was attracted almost exclusively to dark art, before my mental health took a turn, even. I listened to electronic music, but the stuff that spoke to me was the most fucked up stuff I could find. And now that you’re making me think about it, I think the dark shit did help me into negative headspaces more than liberate me from them.

    Like, this was my favorite song when I was 12, and it samples recordings taken by two real serial killers of their whimpering victims. I didn’t think it was off that I listened to this and my friends listened to Hanson, i just thought it was cool music. Kids don’t know the implications of most things, they’re just drawn to what they’re drawn to.

    Maybe art did fuck me up a bit.

    • In the end it’s just a vicious cycle of seeking out what is inherently pleasing to you and then having that experience reinforce those neural pathways or whatever.

      This is a pretty cool track. I got pretty heavily into Aphex Twin at one point, and this reminds me of that. Personally, I don’t associate this kind of music with emotional states; it’s just interesting on a cerebral level.

  • Sir Ukkometso The Based

    I’m not depressed, I’m just Finnish.

  • Lone Biker of the Apocalypse
    • more beer

      Personally I prefer beer and bud.

  • JWG

    My random historical flirtations with metal in certain forms all seemed to roughly coincide with periods of recovery from neurosurgery (some of you know more about my medical history, I won’t repeat it except an allusion here or there). Whether or not that was because it triggered something (in a positive sense, not the way internet nazis use it now) is something I could only guess at, or assert without evidence of a correlation. But I can tie it to three of the rougher surgical recovery periods, so maybe there’s something to that.

    Age 9:
    I had discovered (Canadian) thrash when just a kid but kind of ignored it before one surgery. Afterward that was one of the two interests that got me back up and active (due to nerve damage in-surgery I had lost the ability to walk for a few months). We only had one record store in town back then, where i lived up Island from here, and I was eager to get back to it and dig into the bins (not that I bought anything, most of that was saved for the other hobby I picked up…)

    The other was video games. Yeah. I know you’re thinking “how is that at all active?”. It’s because the hospital I was in for a few months had an NES waaaaay down the hall in the other Wing. But this should be about metal. So back to that…

    I was pretty lucky to avoid need for neurosurgery between the age of 9 and 18, but then wound up back in hospital. I had through high school peers had the usual peer-driven flirtation with nu metal that most teenagers in the mid-to-late-90s had, but having little else to do for a few weeks but listen to music (and having only those CDs brought by my family) and watching pro wrassling on TV which was all kinds of nu-metal obsessed in the late 90s, I kind of got more into it than I would have otherwise. Again the association was metal->recovery.

    I had one surgery in between (2001 I think), but this one came up right in the last term of my last Masters. The symptoms started early in my last term and I toughed it out to the end, possibly to my detriment. I’ve mentioned this (2005) was the year I technically ‘rediscovered’ metal and branched out a little further than those last two brief flings.

    – Part of the trigger was environmental: at the time I lived in Vancouver and not here, to attend UBC without having a 6-hour commute. At the time at least Vancouver had many more gig spaces, more bands, more sources for acquiring metal – although the gap is closing lately.

    – Part of it was accidental (the root: an NPR interview with Tyr the previous year).

    – But a lot probably had to do again with being suddenly swept up in the familiar surgery-post-surgery drama.

    Except this time my recovery was much longer due to the surgery having to be done twice, when the first time didn’t quite take due to an accidentally-introduced abdominal infection. Sitting in the hospital for a few months while my system was cleared even before the second surgery gave me time to explore what I had just discovered even further. The coincidence of discovering Tyr first (in my metal rebirth) led me into folk and viking metal first because they’re just more uplifting if not happier forms (don’t argue) and I needed that. I don’t know that I ever exactly needed an anger or depression outlet, but I did wind up getting into forms that suited that purpose along my journey.

    This last surgery (May 2016 right) didn’t change up my listening habits as far as subgenres go, though. Maybe because it wasn’t quite as rough on me in any tangible sense as those past ones were (though physically there was more trauma, as evident by my sudden trend toward baldness when MPB should have skipped my generation, and ongoing abdominal issues). I suppose I have been trending toward more dissonance and anger-outlet stuff. But I’m not sure it’s related so much as just how I respond to Summer. Bleh.

  • Prom_IsRuined

    I grew up listening to pop, soul, and R&B, but the music didn’t hit the “low” or “heaviness” I wanted it to. I gravitated to more emotional music as I started looking around for it. As a teenager listening to rap, I still would listen to hard rock on the side and numetal. Then I got into heavier music and have found myself into Doom and death metal since then. I don’t see myself as mentally ill just because I not a happy or open person.

    I accept who I am, and I still participate in society and will tone it down depending on situations I find myself in. Metal is an outlet for my darker moods. It is more a thing of comfort than something that arouses distress. Now if I am feeling dangerously depressed I won’t listen to any music, I Although I admit I can’t listen to some of it without freaking out while high because it gets too dark.

    Anyway it was attitude first then music.

  • Óðinn

    If Metal fans have a bad attitude, everybody knows it’s because Antifa. Let’s stop blaming the victims,

    • The Mighty Thorange

      YEAH! FEELINGS ARE FOR THOSE QUEEROS AND LIBERTARDS! TRUE METEAL OUTLAW APHA BROS 4 LIFE! *adjusts fedora, strokes many chins and neckfuzz*

  • Jeff Manteiga

    My dad was always listening to Pink Floyd or Steely Dan on the car stereo when I was growing up, tales of washed up husks and members of seedy city underbellies. After my parents divorced 16 years ago, I quickly got into Rob Zombie with the help of my Shotokan karate sensei (seriously). While my family fell apart, I delved deeper into heavier music to cope. I’m still digging further down to this day, but enjoying the descent where once it was out of our necessity.

  • James

    Depression first, metal second.

  • Kyle Reese

    It was the drums and the guitar that got me into metal. And the lyrical content is fun in the distopian way. I don’t think I’ve had any mental health issues besides drinking too much beer.

    • more beer

      I always considered drinking beer a way to keep mental health issues away!