This is the Part II of a three-part series on Music, Mental Health, and Masculinity. Be sure to check back to read parts I and III.
When I was about 14 I had a conversation with my uncle, who makes a living playing music. He asked what I listened to these days, and I told him Metal and Hardcore. Quickly, my uncle asked about a few bands, to which I replied “No I don’t like those emo bands.”
Uncle: What’s wrong with Emo bands?
Me: They just complain and are annoying.
Uncle: Isn’t Emo short for emotional?
Me: Yeah I think so…?
Uncle: Isn’t Metal and hardcore emotional?
Me: Well yeah, but it’s different…
Uncle: I don’t know; it sounds like you listen to Emo music.
I was struck by this and halfheartedly admitted to myself that he had a valid point. Of course, I shrugged it off in the moment to defend my view; citing the musicianship and lyrical content of Emo music as supporting factors in my disregard for the genre.
Where did the disregard for an entire scene of music come from? It came from my view of masculinity through the lens of a teenager.
After my going to my first concert in 7th grade (Slipknot, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and Trivium), my friends and I became obsessed with heavier music. The energy and passion we witnessed at the show was unlike anything we had experienced. Enormous mosh pits, screaming along to songs, head banging, fans jumping fences to get into the pit, shoes being lit on fire and thrown; it was an adrenaline fueled sea of chaos and we loved it. Perhaps if it was any other concert, we would have been set down a different path, but that day our choice had been made. We wanted more.
Naturally, we turned to YouTube to watch other Metal concerts to discover new bands. I couldn’t say when, but it got to a point where what we were listening to “wasn’t heavy enough.” We were building a tolerance for Metal and needed something stronger.
Soon we were discovering bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, Animosity, Despised Icon, Carnifex, Through The Eyes of the Dead, The Red Chord, and the list goes on. It almost became some unwritten law that if the band did any clean vocals (singing) they sucked, and Emo bands being at the forefront of this “suckage.”
We could literally pull up a band’s page and write them off simply from the 3 genre descriptions that were listed. I had come to understand and buy into the idea that listening to Emo music somehow made you weaker, or a lesser fan. I would see shirts at concerts that said “Defend Metal, Kill Emo Kids”. Metal, right?
The irony was most Metal bands preached the same kind of acceptance and understanding their Emo contemporaries did, just in a different way. It was all a means to the same end. An outlet to seek refuge from life’s turmoil, and your own insecurities. I didn’t realize it, but I was using heavy music to escape from my issues while feeling safe behind a veil of masculinity.
I love Death Metal. I still listen to it every day. I’m actually listening to Whitechapel right now. My point however is that it was easier to wear the patch of Metal with confidence, because I felt protected by what I considered to be its inherit “toughness”. I knew Emo music was the butt of many jokes, simply because they were outwardly emotional and vulnerable about very real subjects, but unfortunately, I fed into that.
Believe it or not, Metal, is equally open and emotional on similar subjects, but people have this hesitation and fear of the genre, and for whatever reason, I loved being a part of that. I felt stronger, more protected and more of a man because of the music I listened to. It was a vicious cycle, fueling both my affinity for Metal and disdain for Emo music.
During my fall into the Death Metal abyss, I caught wind of bands like Stick to Your Guns, The Ghost Inside, Have Heart, and Guns Up. These groups embodied more of Hardcore style of punk mixed with some Metal motifs and an attitude reminiscent of the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) punk bands from the 1980’s. Not only did they preach an understanding of mental and emotional issues, but they addressed a wide range of topics like drug and alcohol abuse, racism, sexism, masculinity, and family struggles.
These bands had a defining role in my life. They helped me shatter my ignorance towards music, myself, and my identity. They question the stereotype of what it meant to be a man and opened my eyes to the fact that what you wear, what you look like, who you know, and what music you listen to has nothing to do with your ability to be a good person. I found a strength in this. I found acceptance. It wasn’t just an acceptance of the music I had previously written off, but it was an acceptance of myself, my problems, and who I was. It was an acceptance of it being okay to cry, scream, and hate the world. With them, it was okay not to ALWAYS be okay and they worked to offer solutions through their music, to light a path towards getting through these problems.
Sacred Purpose does the same thing for me. Living my life through our shared sacred purpose lets me know my brothers are there, just like music, to help me through. Shattering the idea of what it means to be a man and what it means to hold myself and others accountable is something I didn’t think music could do. Re-framing masculinity and mental health, as a ton of our chapters are doing is a good thing, and is a conversation worth having. I am proud to be a member of an organization that values health and safety just as much as it values brotherhood.
“A poor man’s poor sport we’ve fallen short of reasoning/Sex does not determine capability /But we let our hostility be our guide to decide /What’s right for a girl and for a guy/Because every sex is just as able to keep this foundation stable /Enough is enough speak up its tough but don’t think that your unable/Let acceptance be our key to unlock our integrity /From there we’ll be able to see that there’s more than just she and he”— “A Poor Man’s Poor Sport” by Stick to Your Guns
Kris Taibl, Director of Communications