To for some foreigners, the metal appears chaotic, violent and devoid of emotional value, but inside the message is that of solidarity. Nothing illustrates it better than the pit. Moshing could be considered dance, and like any dance, there are rules. If someone falls, everyone has to put it back on its feet, dust it off and push it back into chaos.
For many in underground metal, life is a moshpit and Covid-19 has knocked them down. Many artists have continued to play from home or experiment with paid livestreams, but in a world where bands depend on raw decibels, this is often not an option. The music is too loud for anything other than expensive professional equipment, and the physical heaviness felt in the chest – and the soul – is a vital component of the experience. Musicians, meanwhile, rely on their art as an outlet for personal trauma and hardship.
In early 2020, Fed Ash, a metal / hardcore group from Syracuse, New York, coordinated several tours. They paid a premium for quickly getting physical copies of their debut album, Diurnal Traumas, for sale on tour. Among these shows was a concert at the three-day Oblivion Access festival in Austin, Texas, alongside big names like Converge and Carcass. Like all other live music events, it has been canceled.
“It would have been huge for us,” said Matt Jaime, who plays bass for Fed Ash while acting as their de facto manager. For this workers ‘group, each tour, T-shirt and recording session is funded by members’ jobs. So when the pandemic broke out, money for CDs and merchandise, a pickup truck and rehearsal space added significant financial pressure.
All this without the catharsis and the social bond of playing live. “It’s like a moment to give yourself completely to something and forget where you are,” said the group’s singer, Allie French. “You can’t do this anywhere else. It’s a way to exorcise all this bullshit. Physical, emotional and spiritual liberation. ”
Ethan Lee McCarthy, of the Denver Primitive Man mud metal group, who was also to play Oblivion Access, was in the studio with his group mates in March to record the group’s third album, Immersion. Primitive Man, in addition to its other two projects Vermin Womb and Many Blessings, had booked shows until 2021, all of which were canceled. “I hate that. I’m like a plant without water, ”says McCarthy.
According to social psychologist Kyle J Messick, who studies music and metal culture, the impact of Covid-19 on touring these extremist acts is “immense, both financially and emotionally. Most of the group’s income comes from tours. They are people deprived of a key facet of their identity and being. “
Messick relays the results of his many Covid era interviews with metal musicians. Some describe playing live as giving meaning to their lives; veteran musicians say that playing a concert makes them feel young again. “Losing these feelings and this opportunity can lead to depressive symptoms, anxiety, and general feelings of emptiness,” he said. “It can be emotionally devastating when musicians are prevented from touring, and it can be even more damaging when it is unclear when they can start playing live again. “
Since its inception, rock music and, to a greater extent, metallic subgenres have been accused of causing serious emotional and mental health problems. Think of the “satanic panic” of the 1980s or the artists “Filthy 15” quoted by Tipper Gore in a censorship campaign partly concerned with the fixation of metal on death, blood and darkness. In fact, says Merrick, fans use music to cope, while the metal community is less likely to stigmatize people with mental illnesses.
However, some artists are at least trying to get the metal out of its current stasis. From singing for the great guitarist Steve Vai to creating his own death metal outfit Strapping Young Lad, the 18 albums by Devin Townsend trace his trajectory from the “mad metal scientist” to something closer to a guru. Since Covid-19 sent him home to Vancouver, he has broadcast live, raising money for hospitals around the world through a crowdfunding campaign.
Townsend says there are “opportunities in the midst of chaos” and that having resources to connect with fans during the lockout has helped. “I have been struggling with self-esteem issues for as long as I can remember,” he said, adding that the overwhelming response to his crowdfunding campaign shows how much his music and message mean to listeners. “I cannot thank them enough, and I hope to show that thanks to the support, I can provide them with a ton of material during this period. Townsend uses time to work on several projects including a new album, Lightworker.
His well-deserved positivity is commendable. The vast majority of musicians, however, still cannot connect properly with locked out fans, and their isolation and silence are endless. For metalheads, the call to “open this well!” must be heard more than ever.