It’s no secret that heavy metal music can be a bit morbid and macabre. Because of its loud and rowdy characteristics, heavy metal music is often associated with violence. Some heavy metal music is said to be inciting teenagers to commit murder and suicide. Bands are also accused of being devil worshippers, Satanists and trying to pervert kids, and using music to confront mortality, pain, and suffering.
Various cases of heavy metal artists committing suicide or heavy metal fans committing crimes make people wonder, is there really a link between heavy metal music and suicide or criminality?
“I cannot and will not conclude that heavy metal music effect on criminality simply because a criminal incident has many elements or factors to consider which outweighs a person listening to music, such as intention, opportunity, dynamics or the individuals in each role including risks, and the like. It is simply stereotyping and prejudicial, which is against any ethics or law,” said Candy Mauricio, certified management consultant, and licensed counselor.
Heavy metal music
Heavy metal music — or simply metal — is a genre of rock music often characterized by high energy, distorted guitar, yelling or growling vocals, and headbanging. Popular heavy metal artists include Metallica, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Guns N’ Roses, Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, Pantera, Anthrax, Megadeth, Scorpions, Deftones, Marilyn Manson, Death Angel, Korn, among others.
Of 20 musicians listed by OC Weekly namely Ouorthon, Mike Scaccia, Nick Menza, Bill Tolley, Wayne Static, Jani Lane, Paul Gray, Mayhem Dead, Mitch Lucker, Bianca ‘Butthole’ Halstead, Chi Cheng, Peter Steele, Chuch Schuldiner, Lemmy, Ronny James Dio, Jeff Hanneman, Oderus Urungus, Randy Rhoads, Cliff Burton, and “Dimebag” Darrel Abott; three reportedly died from heart problems, six from accidents, five from alcohol and drugs, one from depression, one from suicide, three from health problems, one from smoking, and one was murdered.
Ranker.com also listed 27 famous musicians who committed suicide with two deaths stemming from alcoholism, four from drugs, eight from health-related factors, and two from mental problems. Fifteen of them suffered from depression.
How music influences a person
Music, as defined by the dictionary, is vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion. Being an expression itself, it can resonate with individuals with similar sentiments.
“For example, when we are heartbroken, we may find ourselves listening and ‘feeling’ particular love songs similar to the situation we are dealing with. On another note, when we are not heartbroken yet are fond of sad love songs, we also find ourselves somehow getting back to that particular state of being broken hearted or sometimes scared to get into ‘serious’ relationships. Why? We need to understand that the energy stimulates our brain and aligns with our mind, soul, and spirit to trigger our decisions as expressed in our actions. When I say ‘stimulates,’ I mean ‘influencing,’” explained Mauricio.
Mauricio used a “friend” as a classic example who can influence a person in making a particular decision, going on a diet, shopping, taking a course or even getting into a relationship.
“However, the effect of this influence to our action is dependent on us — on how much we will let it affect our decision. I think this perception was strong in the 1980s when people thought heavy metal was encoded with secret messages,” Mauricio added.
In an article published by CNN.com, it was stated that heavy metal is often used as a scapegoat to distract one from more complicated societal problems.
With that, it’s easy to see where journalists, parents and religious groups get their ideas from by just scanning the lyrics of any heavy metal band worth its salt will often reveal some gasp-inducing subject matter.
But for metal musicians, death, blood, and mayhem, in its various guises, are all simply part of the act, part of “the show.”
“Although recent researches concluded young heavy metal fans are five times more likely to self-harm or attempt suicide, the research also caveat that this requires interpretation within the wider context of public concern around alternative subcultures and their impact on the mental health of young people,” said Mauricio.
It can also be noted that there are several underlying factors leading metal artists to commit suicide, either from deteriorating health, illnesses, depression or prolonged use of drugs and alcohol, or some mental illness.
‘Exposure’ to criminality
As to the link between criminality and heavy metal music, Mauricio revealed they investigated the background of people who had committed a crime. She added the common historical element was their “exposure” to it — either their parents, relative or neighbor did it and was not caught or they witnessed such event — personally or through media and the effect or aftermath of the crime was something “tolerable” to their regard.
They also looked into the basic elements of a crime: desire, ability, and opportunity. The individual who may have been exposed to the crime may find it desirable because it augments their needs — could have given them food on the table, means to buy medicine, among others.
“I’d like to emphasize on this point the idea why we know we are only catching the small-time criminals who have limited ability such as snatching, hold-ups and pushing drugs yet are not able to stop syndicates who have greater abilities to synchronized crimes. Lastly, the opportunity is given by the environment when the ‘right’ timing is determined by the person to commit the crime,” she explained.
“Because criminality, as mentioned above, requires elements and/or factors that are not just in consideration of the person to commit such act, it will definitely be stereotyping and/or prejudicial to spot a criminal,” Mauricio added.
On another note, individuals during their childhood don’t necessarily show telltale signs unless they talk about their fantasies or make believe to be, for example, a robber, serial killer and the like.
“You may then need to further examine the child’s desire to in such role/s and determine the required way to ‘process’ such thoughts with him or her,” said Mauricio.
When it comes to reversing the negative effect of a certain type of music to a person, Mauricio stressed that it might be addressed by the brain through neuroplasticity, a characteristic of the brain that allows it to regenerate.
“With regards to unlearning, for some behavior modification techniques, this includes replacing what we want to unlearn with something new to learn. For example, instead of just stopping smoking, it suggests you learn breathing exercises. With these in mind, if we feel that heavy metal music is influencing to the point that it is affecting you towards a negative act, stop listening to it and explore new genres of music,” she concluded.