“Love, friendship and camaraderie”: how heavy metal saves lives

Brann Dailor in new documentary Heavy Metal Saved My Life
(Image credit: Press/© hr)

As we all know, the cathartic, healing and inspirational power of music is as essential to a happy and fulfilling life as oxygen, food and water. Now German public TV network ARD has made a documentary series detailing just how important heavy metal can be in making a positive impact in the lives of people across the globe. Titled Heavy Metal Saved My Life, the docuseries makes for hugely inspiring and essential viewing, the narratives as diverse as metal’s countless subgenres.

In the first episode, German metal fan Andy details how Iron Maiden’s Fear Of The Dark soundtracked his struggle to overcome heroin addiction after his life spiralled out of control, while Mexican Maiden fan Zyanya shares how Maiden’s music helped empower her, inspiring her to take up drums and use music to pull herself from depression after being sexually assaulted at an early age. These stories are intercut with an interview with Bruce Dickinson, who succinctly sums up his relationship with fans, saying “fans are to Iron Maiden what blood is to the body – they are what drive it”.

The second episode explores how metal intersects with the LGBTQ+ community, with guests including Rob Halford, Faith No More’s Roddy Bottum and Gaahl discussing their experiences coming out, while trans metal fan Rick shares how metal offered him a sense of belonging he hasn’t found elsewhere. 

These are inspirational stories, and in every case, the speaker credits heavy metal as the catalyst for changing their life. It’s a frequently moving watch, reflecting the passion and drive of metal fans and musicians around the globe. Among the musicians featured is Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor, who highlights just how much work went into creating the series. 

“The first thing I knew was that there was a film crew that wanted to fly to Atlanta and film us,” Brann tells us of how he got involved. “They wanted to follow up by flying out to see us in Mexico, so we knew they were really committed to this project.”

By putting the focus purely on the stories of the musicians and fans involved, Heavy Metal Saved My Life offers an intimate look at the metal community, allowing subjects to open up and discuss exactly how metal has helped them through the often-desperate situation they have found themselves in. For Brann, the story of Mastodon’s 2009 masterpiece Crack The Skye, a tribute to his sister who passed away at the age of 14, has been fairly well-documented. But to see such a candid selection of interviews from the drummer, talking about his life and what he went through to make that landmark record, will almost certainly bring a lump to your throat.

“In these sorts of situations, you want to open up,” says Brann of his contribution to the documentary. “The interviews are like therapy sessions in a lot of ways. You can talk through these things you poured into your music, and the things that inspired that music. You can kinda comb over them and make sense of them. It helps to talk about those things that made a big part in what helped create that music.”

In episode one, it’s all brilliantly tied together as Zyanya, who finds catharsis through playing drums in her own band, experiences Mastodon for the first time as they support Iron Maiden in Mexico, and singles out Brann in particular as an inspiration.

“It’s cool,” smiles Brann. “That’s the thing with heavy metal drumming. You can find that energy to work out all these feelings so they don’t get taken out on someone else! If there is some kind of anger that crops up then it can be worked out on the drums. It’s cool, that was a great moment.”

Seeing heavy metal being represented in such a wholesome way is a welcome rarity in a world where metalheads are still often so deeply misunderstood, the series cleverly drilling down to the core passion at the heart of metal fandom. 

“From a fan perspective, it’s been there my whole life,” Brann tells us. “There are more passionate fans in metal than… well, I don’t want to belittle other types of music, but the fandom is extreme and it’s lifelong. If you find a band you love, you’re there to the end. It becomes a part of your identity, your tribe. A lot of metal fans feel like misfits, like they’re ostracised from society, and we come together through that. It’s important to give these people self-worth and not feel like they’re alone, metal provides that: love, friendship and camaraderie. To unite.”

It most certainly does, and if you want to see that ethos succinctly and movingly play out in front of your eyes, then Heavy Metal Saved My Life is a show that you need to seek out immediately. 

Watch Heavy Metal Saved My Life online now at www.ardmediathek.de

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.