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Heavy Metal Therapy: Music is my Medicine – Thoughts on Men’s Mental Health

April is a month that for myself and my family contains some sad anniversaries. It’s the month we lost my lovely eldest sister, my best friend who introduced me to Zappa and Stevie Ray Vaughan (and was a deeply intuitive and talented musician himself), and when we discovered my late father’s brain tumors were inoperable.

But hey, real men don’t cry, do they?

So, this year all this comes around like clockwork. I know it’s coming and am pretty much ready for it. Well, not quite. Alongside the expected, there’s also not getting the job I really wanted (despite two really confident and positive interviews), the general doom and gloom around rising bills and socio-political ills in my home country, the sad reality of the aging process, and generally feeling that life is taking me for granted.

In the space of just a few days, I go from coasting along, adequately strong in mind and spirit, to the absolute dissolute numbness of depression.

Not sad, not angry, just numb.

For the first time in years, I reach lunchtime and realize I’m still sat in silence without music on. That scared me to be honest.

(The first thing I did when we moved into this house was assemble the hi-fi separates. The kettle? It can wait. Cutlery and plates so we can eat? Give me five minutes, just bi-wiring the floor standers first, ok?)

It’s 12:45, I’m in the house alone, and finally, the realization of the silence hits me. This is a house with almost continuous music (we do sleep sometimes) and I’ve not even switched the amplifier on; not fired up Spotify or gone through the CD racks or the IKEA cubes full of Vinyl. Alarm bells well and truly rung, I message Adam and ask if he wants to reassign the reviews I’m sitting on, I work out how long I have before leaving the house for the day job (itself also a major contributor to the decline in my overall mental state), and go and have an involuntary sob for half an hour in the shower. Days roll by, and every ounce of energy I can summon up is just about enough to get to and from work and get back to bed without actually killing the people who have pissed me off. I’m hardly eating, and when I do its rubbish comfort food. Beers are going down well enough ok though…

And then last night, a pre-arranged concert I can’t not do; for one thing I’m driving to and from, secondly, it’s a Birthday present for my father-in-law, and it’s in one of the most spectacular venues not just round here, but globally. Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall is the most acoustically perfect purpose-built concert hall in the world. The entire building sits on 280 isolating springs and bearings to remove noise and vibration from the bustling city centre with its trams and busses right outside. It’s said that every seat on the five levels of the auditorium get the same sonic experience. I’ve not sat in all of them yet to confirm this!

Image by Alan Stanton – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.

Good band on too. Manchester’s own The Hallé.

Opening with Vaughan-Williams quite astonishing Ninth Symphony, complete with twin harps and a quartet of lugubrious saxophones (and possibly the greatest triple-fake ending ever), and after the break Gustav Holst’s iconic “The Planets” suite (itself possibly the first Prog-metal concept album?) this is a night with everything; full orchestra, chorus, colossal organ (ooh-err), harps, tubular bells, even AN ACTUAL TRIANGLE.

But mostly this was an enforced reacquaintance with music at the most basic and primal level. Live, acoustic, and really fucking loud.

 There’s a guy sat on the front row in a Cannibal Corpse T-Shirt, with his immaculately shaved head he looks like a Heavy Metal Professor Jim al Khallili. He nods and gestures along with the loud bits, and completely fails to look out of place. I hope he is a Metal Digest reader, and recognises himself and excitedly says to his friends and family “I was mentioned in an article”.
In a world dominated by pre-packaged over-produced and autotuned banality, real musicians with violins and cellos for a Vaughan Willians Romanza, or Schecter Demon 7’s and Jackson V’s down-tuned to “A” for a chugging Post metal backing to a plaintive scream are simply the most life-affirming noises we, as a species, have ever dared to make.

And they give life to emotions we might otherwise bottle away and never confront.

It wasn’t like the epiphany on the road to Damascus, but I did leave smiling inwardly, and talked to people properly for the first time in days. This morning I put music on before the kettle. Normal service may not be fully resumed, but the steps are being taken.

James.

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Metal Digest is hosting a Mental Health Focus column with Heavy Metal Therapy.

Our goal and aspiration is to post our stories, educate, share resources, encourage our readers to talk about mental health, and most importantly create a community bound with the sounds of heavy metal, so that we are all, less alone.

We will keep the conversation going and we will be sharing interviews, playlists, articles and resources so stay tuned for more!

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