I had talked about metal music and recalling unpleasant memories in an earlier post. Wouldn’t you know it, I had the most vivid, controlled recall of my life a few days ago. I was alone, almost as if the part of my mind that controlled access to those memories had read the post, and I was fully aware.
As the memories unfolded, I expected my soul to cringe. I expected to die of mortification or to turn into a psychopathic killer that police would shoot in the middle of the street if I didn’t off myself first. I expected to disintegrate into dust or burst into flames.
I think it’s obvious none of those things happened. I started to laugh, actually. I laughed at the things that had crippled me for so long. I started to sing. In the middle of the night. I banged my head. I raised the horns. I danced with joy.
I sang the song of my people:
…Tamed with confidence of a brighter future
I found a flame in the burnt out ashes… burn out, burn out!
Fueled, these new shores burn, dark past lies cold
Shadow, my sweet shadow, to you I look no more…
–“My Sweet Shadow,” In Flames, from Soundtrack To Your Escape
Every time I think about it, I start to cry. Happy tears.
I’ve been asking myself why metal music makes me shiver. Particular songs just make my skin prickle and bring such intense, all-over pleasure that it has caused me to question some fundamental understandings about myself.
I asked my son about this and he told me, “You’re getting in touch with your rage.” He should know. I think he inherited mine in utero.
My son says his beast looks like a tall, roaring flame with a mouth full of teeth. Mine looks more like this. You can dress it up, but you can’t take it anywhere.
I agree that metal, especially extreme metal, can be comparable to shaving unhappy bears and setting them loose on an innocent population. But why do I love it so much? Before it had made me so uncomfortable that I ignored it.
All music is an expression of the human condition. Yes, even the vapid boy bands with their bubble gum pop riffs and saccharine lyrics express a human condition whether I agree with said condition or not. Based on this premise, I followed the threads backwards.
From an early age, I remember fear. I remember helplessness. I remember not having the power to say “no” though I screamed it in my mind. I remember pain. I remember rage. I remember crying so much that it seemed that all I tasted were tears.
I do not remember the actual events. My mind has suppressed them so successfully that only once in a blue moon will I have a complete recall. The recall is hellish.
See, I ran from my past like a tri-athlete There were years when I forgot what it was like to cry because I hated the taste and the sensation. I laughed at the most inappropriate times. Verbal arguments were fought with a desperation and viciousness that left my opponents stunned. I was ready to swing whenever I felt remotely threatened. Until I went to therapy. Until the first recall.
It’s never convenient to recall. The recall doesn’t happen while I’m sitting at home alone or with a trained therapist. The recall doesn’t care if I’m at work or if I’m at the grocery store. I am helpless in the face of it—frozen—as my awareness is transported to a brutal moment of physical degradation in another place and time. Sometimes I am three years old. Sometimes I am in middle school. Always, I am young and I am helpless.
During a recall I receive a quantum packet of FML in about thirty seconds. No lube. No consideration for whether there are spectators or not. No “thank you” afterwards.
At first I thought it was because I was in therapy. But when I had reached a point where therapy had done what it could, including medication for an incapacitating anxiety disorder that rendered me agoraphobic for three months, I realized that I needed to take control of my past.
I started by asking for tears. In 2009 I cried de Nile River. That was when my love for heavy metal truly blossomed. All the old standbys from my adolescence came into play: Sabbath, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Metallica and some newer, angrier hard rock/heavy metal acts like Godsmack, Alice in Chains, Black Label Society, Chevelle, Mastodon and QOTSA got their time. Anything that talked about the rage and the helplessness, the establishment and the insanity.
I realized that the music was a natural release valve for all the pent up rage that boiled inside of me. What I didn’t realize until five months ago was that the above mentioned music only scraped the surface.
I have October 8, 2013 marked as a turning point. I went to my first all extreme metal show. Screams and growls mostly. Blast beats a requirement.
At this show were a number of thrash metal bands, three of which stood out for me. The first was my son’s band Xstrophy and I go to almost every show now because they have opened up a whole new world for me. The second was Exemptus just because they have a sheer energy that engages me on a visceral level. The third was Battlecross.
If you’re friends with me on FaceBook, you know that this band is my all time favorite thrash metal band. It isn’t because the music is phenomenal. It isn’t that they are just all around great guys who know how to put on an amazing show. Though the aforementioned certainly contributed, what made them special is that their music helped me communicate with my Beast.
I wish I had started that young…
For the first time, I could get in touch with my rage and it didn’t scare the crap out of me. Together, my Beast and I could thrash and wrestle and scream and growl, and let me tell you, it feels freakin’ incredible. No one gets hurt, least of all me, and I come out grinning like a fiend.
The happy side effect is that instead of getting bludgeoned by total recall, my rage is feeding me the feelings in small doses. Instead of going catatonic, I get to step back and examine the pain, the helplessness, and the fear from a place of empowerment. I never expected something as extreme as, well, extreme metal to be so therapeutic. From In Flames to Meshuggah to After the Burial to All Shall Perish, I am discovering a whole new world inside of me where the things that go “grrr” in the night are my allies. \m/