Despite the fact that it is one of the best things on earth, it’s not often that heavy metal gets associated with positive outcomes in the mainstream media. But recent studies are revealing what most of us have known all along: that metal is actually mega-relaxing. Contrary to the popular opinion that extreme music causes anger and aggression, it turns out that listening to metal can be a healthy way of processing these emotions and, on certain subjects, has similar results as a session of deep meditation.
So, what’s the deal?
While a lot of extreme music features lyrics of a somewhat depressive nature, ranging from themes of anxiety to isolation, there is evidence to suggest that metal fans are calmed by their choice of music. A study conducted at the University of Queensland in Australia required 39 extreme music fans to describe a situation that they found frustrating, then measured their heart rates and emotional reactions. Half of the participants sat in silence after describing their situation, while the other half listened to a heavy metal track of their choice.
The study found that instead of increasing the anger levels of the listeners, the music actually calmed them and promoted positive emotions. It is worth noting, however, that the study did point out that the calming effects of listening to the music might be as a result of the fact that the listeners were fans in the first place.
But, as the epic soundscapes of drone doom bands such as Earth and Sunn O))) show us, the soothing effects of metal go further than simply calming those who already like the music. Low-frequency sound played at a continuous level is super-conducive when it comes to entering a meditative state. In fact, it is so conducive that heavy metal yoga sessions have sprung up in London, and a therapist in Scotland regularly uses extreme music to help her clients enter a meditative trance.
So, is it the emotional release of listening to an angry track? Or is it simply that low-tuned guitars and distortion allows people to turn on, tune in and cop out? Video game makers would say the latter. Metal tracks are so popular on video games that it is almost impossible to separate the two, and with studies claiming that gaming can also have meditative effects, it is easy to see why. As anyone who grew up on classic video games from the 80s knows, zoning out to Tetris was one of the best ways of unwinding from the day. So, it was only a matter of time before some bright spark decided to combine the calming effects of video games with an epic metal soundtrack.
While the initial forays into this genre might not have been the most awesome (Iron Maiden’s Ed Hunter, anyone?), the likes of Splatterhouse and Metal Gear Rising: Revengance certainly picked up the slack, each proving to be an enthralling combination of heart-pumping riffs and high-temp action. The ultimate cult game in this genre is, of course, Brütal Legend, voiced by Jack Black and featuring 75 artists on the soundtrack, from Mastodon to Cradle of Filth. Metal AF.
If you’re not into gaming, though, simply listening to metal is just as relaxing. Anyone looking to incorporate more meditative metal into their listening schedules would do well to check out Justin K. Broadrick’s project Jesu, particularly the self-titled debut, which is a great example of transcendent heavy doom that allows the mind to take a break from itself. Neurosis may have created some of the heaviest music in the genre, but their 2004 album The Eye of Every Storm is a perfect example of how metal bands can walk the line between menacing and melancholy, all the while taking you to a higher state of consciousness.
Whether the link between meditation and metal is simply the result of personal taste or something more, we definitely get why people find heavy sounds so relaxing. Which bands do you listen to when you want to zone out?