The Link-Up Spell: Am I a metal fan with synesthesia?

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I am entering today into a dark rabbit hole, because we discuss a bit about living with probable synesthesia as a metal music listener.

While writing this piece, I must say that I had to confront some kind of weird self-discovery, so I am opening myself to scrutiny and the public eye to correct my odd self-diagnosis. I never went to a psychologist or made some kind of guided therapy, so anything in this brief chronological piece of thought is just my point of view.

Since I was a child, my imagination was very vivid, and things like drawing monsters and heroes on my notebook was the type of hobby I liked the most. Of course, video games and reading were another part of my daily child play, but even when those activities consumed my free time I was not an overly solitary kid since I enjoyed playing with other people too.

But, here is the part that does not click with the entire puzzle of my past (at least according to my extroverted Caribbean roots). Even when I did not loathe at all the company, I was most comfortable at home, alone. I wasn’t a particularly sad child, just a little bit overly reflexive and analytic.

In my first years, music was not exactly a huge part of my life, but there was something alien and attractive behind the act of devoting time to be lost in a sea of sounds.

When I reached the age of 9 (that is 97 in my Half-Elf years), my cousins and I used to lock ourselves in to listen nu metal and MTV crap, a decision that would pave the road to where I am right now (you know, writing personal crap to thousands of international internet people!). Shortly after these first juvenile listening sessions I bought a lot of pirated records in my hometown, and in a matter of weeks, my house’s Stereo was quickly overthrown by this weird narrator.

At the same time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 dominated my imagination, offering to me an expansive and fantastic world that I explored from back to back non-stop for years. In this part, the music composed by Koji Kondo played another vital role in my final tastes with the rich expressiveness and multi-colored moods of the entire soundtrack.

I cannot remember when was the first time I stumbled more into those “What do I feel?” questionings, but even my first active listening sessions with lights out, headphones on and eyes closed just suspended me in the air. Metaphorically speaking, of course. However, the more I realized about the difference and changes between all the textures, sounds and compositions of songs, albums and genres I listened to at the time, the more I could feel that my mind worked into different sensory responses.

Metal and Synesthesia

Metal music, for me, is a paradox. Withsome bands I feel very threatened or have different kinds of feelings that I should not like, but I do. I search highly above mountains and seas for music that makes me feel “something”, whether it’s the sense of jumping from a bridge or casting the magic that surrounds me. So far, the last three years of music discoveries have been great because of that; the highly diverse albums and genres I have been listening to the most through my “Toilet years” opened my mind to new experiences, and, certainly, made me very happy.

When I entered into University studies, my musical taste went into a phase of rabid exploration that has not ended yet. For the first time, I could listen to many different albums (with my home internet connection), and I was now aware that music was, indeed, a powerful tool to expand my mind into many different places.

At that time, bands with a tight musicianship, mixed with a healthy dose of progressive touches, like Death, Cynic, Pestilence and Obscura were dancing in my playlists with melodic death metal, fusion jazz and classical. Later on, I discovered this humble blog and my tastes were opened to more extreme material, but I never renounced my melodic quest.

Through all this, no matter what I listened to, my odd sensory response to metal persisted. If I closed my eyes and really concentrated on the piece, my mind travelled into different planes. And this experience really led me to wonder if I am, in fact, a synesthetic Elf.

The main visions portrayed while listening to the music were mostly connected to flavors or colors, always represented in spheres that floated in front of me. All the responses varied with genres, albums, production and songs, but if I concentrated enough, the visions could come.

Because of this, a song like “King of Those Who Know” is a “yellow” with strawberry flavors. In contrast, Latin pop hits give me a nasty cigarette burnt flavor. A Mozart work, King Diamond‘s excellent falsetto, the Spiritual Beggars style, a Videogame OST or a neofolk track, for example, all develop different responses in my head with many varied results. And, in the end, I like them all for giving me the ‘vibes’ I seek and enjoy.

On the other side, if I find a song I do not really enjoy, that will be translated into some kind of corporeal answer. In the crowded buses of my city, I have experience severe chest pain, like an oppressive weight, when certain popular songs start to play at high volumes. Very unpleasant situations I passed through the first time I listened the György Ligeti’s famous “Requiem”, I have not touched that song in a long time because of that. Other bands, like Dissection or Pyrrhon (Sorry, sexy dude!), give me the creeps because they make me feel really nervous if I concentrate enough, but I appreciate them from time to time.

TFW the “low-level synesthesia spell” starts.

Do I really have synesthesia?

To be completely honest, I don’t really know.

I encountered the term once in a Discovery Channel documentary and, for the first time, I could express what I thought was a normal response for everyone. Then, I just forgot about it until I found an Internet article about it. As far as I can tell, my sensory responses come and go. It is not permanent. They only appear if I concentrate enough on a piece, and that demands a lot of energy.

if the writings of the Scientific American web page are to be believed, I am just probably a weirdo. According to a psychology team from Vanderbilt University, “what makes synesthesia different from drug-induced hallucinations is that synesthetic sensations are highly consistent,” but, even when my responses are repeatable, I think this quote probably does not correspond to my case (and I also do not do drugs!).

On the other side, there is some kind of “Sound-To-Color Synesthesia” that could match to my case, which can trigger a perception when the stimulus ranges from a few types of sounds. Maybe I have this one? The writing in this blog partially connects to my experience, I think.

I am aware that even though synesthesia is not listed as an abnormal state of health, there is some kind of scientific research that I cannot obviate. I even neglected the possibility for all these years to even search for the word on Google to just be at my own path, but I thought this was a good opportunity to express myself and find some answers.

So, that’s it. I led you yo the jury position. Help me find the conclusion to this. Do I have this “low-level spell” or I am just a regular freak? What do you think? What would you do with this condition? Shoot it out in the comments, and let’s discuss!


The Link-Up Spell is a weekly Toilet ov Hell column about music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic nonsense. If you want to contact the author to send your material, mail us at toiletovhell [at] gmail.com with the subject “The Link-Up Spell” or message him on social media.

Cover art: Composition VIII, by Wassily Kandisnki (VIA).

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  • RJA

    Mahavishnu for the win! I listen to this one a few times a year and blows me away everytime.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD36-Zn2bA4

  • nbm02ss

    You are a wise elf to decide not to Google your symptoms, Link. The results will have you convinced you have ass cancer, or something equally as horrid.

  • KJM, Anla’Shok

    This is a tricky one for me. I’ve had my share of LSD experiences. Must ponder a minute.

    • need more data. back to the lab! 😉

      • KJM, Anla’Shok

        I had friends who were chemists at MIT. We got the best shit possible.

  • Howard Dean
  • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

    Very interesting article, Link.
    I always found metal to be one of the more “imaginative” types of music around for some reason; and one that has explored various ideas of story-telling and scene-setting throughout its, relatively short, existence. For instance, an album like “Call of the Wretched Sea” by Ahab knows how to successfully transport me to a place smack in the middle of the ocean. “Thy Mighty Contract” by Rotting Christ makes me feel like I’m at a dusty graveyard in some country with an incredibly humid climate. Darkspace’s albums make you feel like you’re floating around somewhere in the dangerous parts of deep space. Cobalt’s “Gin” almost puts me in some Sam Peckinpah-like Wild West scenario. I could go on and on with examples like these…
    If that’s some form of synesthesia…yeah, then I definitely get what you’re talking about.

    • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

      Off-topic but: today I pulled out my copy of Corrosion of Conformity’s Blind again. Didn’t listen to this album in quite some time, but suddenly I felt like this album is CoC’s peak.
      Still think Deliverance has excellent songwriting, but that album has more like a “riding your Harley into the sunset” kind of vibe. Blind on the other hand has a reasonably dark, antagonistic kind of atmosphere; like a bunch of crazy biker types out to put a bullet in your brain. And it’s damn heavy as well (the guitar tone is gnarly as fuck).

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdVA4m929SE

    • Yeah, it is very imaginative. Concept, lyrics and covers sometimes are totally connected, so it is kinda regular that you could engage your active listening to those imaginative landscapes. I think that is my favorite part of metal, if it’s done right, it is a very narrative medium! <3

      Thanks, Frank, King of NY!

  • Hans

    Cool piece! Not sure why I thought auditory input didn’t play a role in synesthesia. Now I’m interested to see where the line is; is a bodily response to certain unpleasant sounds (e.g. nails on a chalkboard, FFDP) already considered some form of synesthesia?

    As for whether you really have it or not, I shan’t judge. I hope those negative effects you mentioned aren’t too prevalent.

  • Óðinn

    When you have synesthesia, Avenged Sevenfold tastes like shit.

  • BobLoblaw

    Awesome article Elfbro. There are two very strange things that stand out to me as some for of synesthesia. When I was VERY young I watched a movie that I always had this weird association with a jelly like pane that was somewhere between red and orange when I thought about it. I remembered there was a train and monster involved. One day I am perusing the local now defunct Movie Stop discount bin and see Horror Express, immediately I get that strange image in my head. I buy it and it is the movie I remember. The “jelly like pane” is when they look into eyeballs and see a prehistoric scene (watch the movie, its classic horror and will make that sentence not sound so strange). The other is from when I was very sick as a child. During a fever dream there was this weird, pervasive perceptual feeling of something expansive and rigidly sharp while still being soft, its very hard to explain. Its like a feeling, its uncomfortable and ever since then I can only “feel” it if i think about it specifically. Weird shit.

    • Ahhh, man, the second experience was painful, you were raving 🙁

      On the other hand, I think we mostly attach a lot of different things to our memories, and sometimes those attachments are incredibly powerful. If your “jelly like pane” experience happened in some form to other media, you should probably pay attention to your responses. I thought, in the end of this article, that people that consumes excessive amounts of music, like most of the people that reads and comments in this site, develops some kind of sensitive responses.

      A musician friend once told me that, that art moves you in mysterious ways and music is one of the easiest ways to develop these kind of responses. Active listening could accelerate those responses, according to her explanation.

      On a scientific level, this is a very difficult task to analyze, it seems. But, sometimes is kinda interesting to see how we all react to music 🙂

  • NDG

    Interesting write up.

    I am glad this question was answered…“what makes synesthesia different from drug-induced hallucinations is that synesthetic sensations are highly consistent”.

    Prior to reaching that section I was continually asking “what makes synesthesia different from drug-induced hallucinations?!?!?!?!”

    • KJM, Anla’Shok

      I’d actually argue that drug hallucinations ARE quite consistent, but the experience is different for everybody.

    • Thanks a lot for passing by and comment! 🙂

    • BobLoblaw

      DMT hallucinations are highly consistent and its synesthesia as a rudimentary basis.

  • Eliza

    I usually imagine music videos for the songs I’m listening to at a given moment, but that can’t be synesthesia. I saw a documentary about this phenomenon when I was younger and I find this topic interesting ever since.

  • Kyle Reese

    Drugs man. It’s the drugs.