Music is widely accessible from all forms of media with the capability of influencing attitude and to manipulate emotions, and listeners are drawn to music that reflects their emotional state. Heavy metal is a genre that is characterized by chaotic, loud, heavy, and powerful sounds with emotional vocals, often containing themes of anxiety, depression, social isolation, and loneliness (Shafron and Karon 74). Due to these musical characteristics, heavy metal has been claimed to lead to anger, and expressions of anger such as delinquency, drug use, and suicidal tendencies (Selfhout et al. 443).
Heavy metal began to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s with bands such as The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. Due to the consequences of the 1960s era of drug experimentation, decline of peaceful protest movements, and the continuation of the Vietnam War, angry and pessimistic themes began to emerge in the new genres of music (Reddick). This, heavy metal music was dedicated to notions of anarchy and destruction (Stack et al.). At the front of the controversy surrounding heavy metal is the prominence of aggressive lyrics and titles, such as “Dead and Bloated” by Suicide Silence, and “St. Anger” by Metallica. The powerful vocals that exist in heavy metal, where nearly all lyrics are screamed at the listener, may account for the perception by outsiders that the music is angry. Furthermore, heavy metal music has been held responsible for social problems such as depression, suicide, aggressive behavior, and substance abuse (Shafron and Karno 83)
Some evidence is available regarding the effect of listeners’ emotional states and preference for listening to heavy metal when suicidal. Though, in reality, heavy metal attracts people who are considered a suicidal risk to the subculture not, vise versa. “The impact of the heavy metal music subculture on suicide has been the subject of much public debate but little scholarly research” (Stack 19). Nonetheless, heavy metal has been accused of being the leading cause of suicide on multiple accounts, including the instance where two families sued heavy metal band Judas Priest for supposedly driving their sons to suicide (Rother). “Reno, December 23-Two days before Christmas in 1985 two young Nevada men shot themselves after listening to multiple albums by the heavy metal band Judas Priest. The families had argued that the musicians had played subliminal messages in several recordings, including the album “Stained Class,” thereby enticing the two troubled young men to try and kill themselves” (Rotehr). However, looking deeper into the daily lives if these two troubled teens the court found that both men were troubled dropouts with criminal records and both had problems holding jobs. Each of the men also came from homes with a history of domestic violence and child abuse, and while the suicide letters wrote that Judas Priest and several other bands blatantly drove the men to suicide, Judas Priest was not held legally responsible for the death of the two men (Giles). Since this tragic event, many studies have been conducted in an attempt to find out the psychological effects heavy metal has on teens and young adults.
A study conducted by K.R. Scheel and J.S. Westfeld revealed that several people between the ages of sixteen and thirty-four have a better understanding of suicide and death. 40% of participants liked or strongly liked heavy metal music. 6% listed heavy metal as their favorite genere. Out of the four genera’s tested heavy metal had a significant negative correlation. “Heavy metal fans showed significantly lower survival and coping beliefs and responsibility to family” ( Scheel and Westfled 262).
Musical characteristic such as delinquency, drug use, and suicidal tendencies have been linked to heavy metal, though it is not the music or the subculture that causes these issues. There are multiple factors that play into one’s suicidal thoughts and acts, such as home life, personal life, and work life, heavy metal is merely an escape.