By Brad Hayne @Lintmusic
Heavy metal’s effect on your brain can go deeper than just feeling light headed after head-banging in the front row of a concert for 90 minutes. Studies have shown it may actually make you calmer, happier and more motivated.
A 2015 study by University of Queensland psychology honours student Leah Sharman looked at 39 fans of extreme music, aged 18 to 34, and showed listeners mostly became inspired and calmed.
“We found the music regulated sadness and enhanced positive emotions,” Ms Sharman said. “When experiencing anger, extreme music fans liked to listen to music that could match their anger. The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired.”
But it appears these positive effects of metal may be exclusive to those who are already attuned to the music’s often challenging sounds. Further research revealed that listening to any music you don’t like can impair your spatial rotation (the ability to mentally rotate objects in your mind), and one study by psychologists at Florida Gulf Coast University suggests that non-fans who hear heavy metal have increased anxiety compared to sitting in total silence.
J.R Moores, a British journalist and author of Electric Wizards: A Tapestry of Heavy Metal, proposes that the type of metal, and volume at which it’s played, perhaps contributes to the meditative effects it can produce.
“I went through a phase of listening to Napalm Death at extremely low volume when suffering from a bout of insomnia, and I found that strangely calming. Nic Bullen (of the same band) says in my book that at twin points towards the end of the spectrum, i.e. very low and very high volume, details begin to merge into sound patterns and what you’re left with is tone and sensation.”
On the other end of the volume spectrum, are experimental doom and drone metal bands. Akin to ambient relaxation music played at insanely high volumes, fans of this genre often enter a meditative state when listening to them, especially live.
“If you go to see Earth or Sunn O))), it’s not like you can mosh, head-bang or floor-punch to them”, Mr Moores noted. “You might sway or close your eyes or contemplate things or just lose yourself in the sound … I’m not an expert on meditation but it must be a similar vibe.”
As well as the stimulative effects heavy metal has on your brain, the community itself plays a vital part in maintaining good mental health amongst fans. There’s something cathartic about releasing pent-up negative energy surrounded by others who share your enthusiasm, and perhaps the need to feel a sense of belonging.
“The metal-centric Download Festival in the UK is one of the friendliest festivals I have ever attended, which probably tells us something,” said J.R. “It always rains there too, which you’d think would make people less jolly, but perhaps it adds to the feeling of camaraderie which is already present from being in a big field with strangers who have similar interests.”