In the 1980s, it was widely reported that heavy metal turned kids into antisocial, drug-crazed, devil-worshipping thugs. ‘Scientific’ studies were even conducted which concluded that fans of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were at risk of “poor developmental outcomes”. But this week, it was confirmed, that was balls: according to new research, metalheads do have more fun. A project by Taylor & Francis Online – led by Humboldt State University psychologist Tasha Howe – found that most of the heavy metal fans who took part in the study “were significantly happier in their youth, and better adjusted currently” than people the same age who liked other forms of music. “Despite the challenges of adverse childhood events, and other stressful and risky events in their youth, they reported higher levels of youthful happiness,” the study found. “They were also less likely to have any regrets about things they had done in their youth.”
This might not apply to the kid at my school who tried to carve ‘Hell Awaits’ into his arm with a compass, but it hurt too much so he ended up with ‘Hell Awa’ picked out in infected scar tissue.
However, it’s nice to hear academic confirmation that those feelings of excitement and belonging that we feel when we discover heavy metal for the first time do have a long-term benefit to our well-being. “Metal enthusiasts did often experience traumatic and risky ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll’ lives,” the study continues, encouragingly. “However, the metalhead identity also served as a protective factor against negative outcomes.” In other words, as Den Dennis declared in Bad News Tour in 1983: “Heavy metal, top of the class, stuff the media up your arse.”
Those who took part in the study were largely remembering their 1980s childhoods; if Mayhem Festival owner Kevin Lyman is to be believed, a new generation of kids are being put off heavy metal by the predominance of ageing bands at festivals. “What happened was metal chased girls away because metal aged,” he announced to Detroit Free Press. “Metal got grey, bald and fat. And metal was about danger. When you went to a metal show, it was dudes onstage – there was some danger in it.” 2015’s Mayhem Festival includes headliners King Diamond and Slayer, whose axeman Kerry King has been an outspoken critic of the festival’s bill: “The King Diamond thing I was really into because King Diamond doesn’t play live that much,” Kerry says. “And for him to be a part of this, I think it adds to the cool factor because everything they were coming up with I wasn’t really into. We were at the point once where we were even going to completely back out of it because I hated it so much. We got them to keep thinking and tweak the list a bit.”
Lyman also complained about the fees charged by headline-level metal bands, contrasting them against the community-minded punk ethos: “Metal doesn’t seem to have that concern, never has, never since I was working in the clubs in the ‘80s. It’s always about a me, me, me thing.” It didn’t take long for Lyman to apologise, although he did admit “I was talking about the metal scene as a whole” and that his regret was “for conveying my deepest concerns on the record. Bottom line, we need headliners to put on a production of this magnitude,” he continued in a statement on Blabbermouth. “We need the larger bands also so that we can fulfil our responsibility to… bring you headliners and the up-and-comers – who are the future.”
However, if Dani Filth’s assessment of the situation this week is to be trusted, then the future looks bleak. “We’ve got the social media and all the bullshit that goes with that. It’s a good thing – but it’s a double-edged sword. Illegal downloading is absolutely choking the music industry and you can see how it’s coming to a head,” the frontman observes. “I sort of fear for the music industry in general because of what’s happening. The music industry seems to be fair game. Today you can download a thousand albums in a matter of days and never listen to them.”