On any given day, there’s a number of click bait articles on various social media platforms. I’ve learned to ignore them for the most part, but there are a few that always catch my eye. Every few months a short piece pops up about how listening to metal releases stress and makes you happier. Personally, I’ve never given this much thought. I feel these tend to cater to crowd who listens to Five Finger Death Punch and drinks Monster energy. Bottom line—they’re not aimed at the guy in his mid 30’s who swears Heaven in Flames by Judas Iscariot is the greatest Black Metal album ever recorded. Utilizing music to help me cope with daily life is something I’ve been doing since childhood—it’s nothing new. I don’t need a study to tell me music that’s full of aggression and angst can alleviate melancholy.
Recent events in my personal life have led me to take a closer look that this concept. Since the age of 13, I’ve suffered from clinical depression. I’m a survivor of abuse. I’ve lived most of my life in a near state of perpetual isolation. That hasn’t stopped me from moving forward. I’ve made films, written music, and in the past few years have written criticism and analysis in regards to both mediums. I’ve taken the negative aspects that afflict me and have always attempted to use them to create something positive. Now, at age 36, I find I can’t deceive myself anymore. I despised antidepressants and therapy as an angst-ridden teenager. As an adult, self-preservation in regards to my mental health has become top priority. Getting better is a process. I’ve been open about my struggles, and as a result have been alienated by some. Others have stepped forward and shown me the true meaning of friendship and loyalty.
Which brings me to Destruction. From an outsider’s perspective, mental health might be the last thing to associate with the German thrash metal band. Looking at the band in their early days, armed to the teeth with studded gauntlets and bullet belts give off the impression of Teutonic warriors preparing for some unholy conquest. Songs such as “Bestial Invasion”, “Mad Butcher”, and “Curse the Gods” are soaked in violence and blasphemy. Even the title from the one of the bands’ earliest demos, Bestial Invasion of Hell is a solid indication of the sound that permeates much of their early work. Looking past Michael Sifringer’s blistering guitar work and Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer screeching vocals with the occasional falsetto, one finds lyrics that are for the outsider at odds with the world. Now more than ever, these early albums have allowed me to cope with my daily struggles. It’s time to gear up for battle with the invincible force of evil…
1986 saw the release of the groups’ second full length Eternal Devastation. The albums opening track, “Curse the Gods”, attacks the hypocrisy of religion and declares firmly “Fuck them, believe in yourself.” If there were any doubts as to Schmier’s ability to craft lyrics for those who exist on the outer fringe, “Life Without Sense” is an anthem for their struggles. As a teenager, I was placed in a psych ward on three separate occasions. I can still remember reading the lyrics for the first time and having them speak to me on a very personal level.
“Your parents they’re shocked but still they love you
You are their flesh and blood what else could they do
Not even modern medicine can help your tortured body
Hospitals are your world, doctors your friends
To keep your dreadful life
Other people never treat you like a normal human being
They often think you shouldn’t be a part of their sick society
They smile at you but deep inside they think you shouldn’t be here
Because they never ever realize, you got a heart and feelings too
People turn their heads
Whenever you walk by
Because they believe
You live a life without sense”
Strength and purpose, which so many of us crave to possess, are found on “Eternal Ban” and “United by Hatred.” “Eternal Ban” beckons to the outcast—reminding them that just because they aren’t accepted by normal society, they don’t have a belonging. “I don’t fit into the general rules; I ignore them all the time.” “United by Hatred”, recounts the Teutoburg forest massacre, where Germanic tribes lead by Arminius defeated three Roman legions commanded by Quinctilius Veras. Much like the rebellion against Roman imperialism, there’s a feeling of standing up against the establishment that inflicts its own form of oppression. “United by Hatred” is a story of unity, strength, and not backing down from the challenges and obstacles standing before you.
“The people of the land they suppress
Were born with the free and wild spirit
Slavery they cannot bear
Rome’s legions are charged to death
The whole German tribes are standing together
Hatred is ruling their brains
Marching out to fight for freedom
Marching out to destroy Rome’s pride”
This subversive use of history as an allegory for being independent from the establishment is repeated two years later. In 1988, Bathory releases Blood, Fire, Death. In doing so, Quorthon moves away from the Satanic imagery which itself is reactionary in favor of writing songs related to Sweden’s Viking history. By celebrating the old pagan religions, he attacks Christianity in a unique way.
Eternal Devastation and the album that preceded it, Infernal Overkill are both incredible. However, it’s their third full length, Release from Agony, which contain anthems for recent struggles. The albums cover art, a bandaged and bloodied face screaming in hopeless desperation is more than appropriate considering the lyrical content. The idea of being free from suffering—it’s all too real for me. “Release from Agony” opens the album, and coincides perfectly with the illustration on the cover. The song deals with a nightmare and someone wanting to return to reality. As for me, it speaks to my experience of waking up in the middle of the night following an anxiety attack. Reality is subjective, and often times depression seems to take the form a different world in which I’m forced to exist in.
“It will get me; it will choke me.
Screaming in my bed in agony
When I hear the clock
I have to go wake up
Cause falling back asleep
means to get in his trap.”
Reality and fantasy aside, “Dissatisfied Existence” has become my personal anthem as of late. Depression is almost impossible to describe. The best way that I can put it is that it feels like you’re living in a shell of existential dread. It’s where doubt overrides rational thought. You question whether or not the people you call ‘friend’ are sincere. You ponder every aspect of your life and attempt to make sense of your predicament.
“What do you really want in life?
What’s the meaning of life?
Is it worth to be alive?
Where’s the answer for my searching?
What’s the meaning of my life?
Is it worth to be alive?
I live my boring life
And no one takes notice of me
Happiness is not what I feel
Is there any sense for my searching?”
While the ordeals of depression might not be known to all—the problems that plague the modern world are relatable to everyone. “Our Oppression” deals with the corruption of politics. An aspect of dealing with mental illness is being condemned without any choice in the matter. Like a government enforcing strict rules upon its citizens, there’s little course one can take, except for standing up to the problem and confronting it. Schmier’s lyric “We think that the power of decision is in our hands. But those who rule are not the ones we chose” can be applied to someone afflicted with depression. I can assure anyone who’s reading this from personal experience—no one chooses this. Much like “United by Hatred”, Destruction revisit a part of German history on “Incriminated.” Here, they address the shame regarding the legacy left by Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. Schmier’s lyrics deal with taking responsibility for something his generation never asked for. The chorus of “No forgiveness” was a firm indication of where the band stood as far as politics were concerned. The fact that they were willing to address such a topic shows a willfulness to not ignore the past. When I listen to it, I think of the refusal to ignore the past, no matter how vile it might be.
In regards to Cracked Brain, the groups 1990 effort recorded after Schmier’s decade long departure, a wide range of opinions exist. The effort is certainly more melodic and André Grieder’s vocal style is noticeably different from his predecessor. While some dismiss it as not being a proper Destruction album because of the lineup change, I tend to disagree. If anything, the lyrical content is relatable and very personal. There’s a lot of emphasis on personal struggles, which had been ground explored by the band before. Similar to Release from Agony, the albums cover art is indicative of its content. A person confined in isolation with a demon manifesting. Living in a state of isolation and facing personal demons has been a part of my life for many years.
“Frustrated” deals with the subject matter depicted in the album’s artwork. Anxiety has made engaging in social activity next to impossible at times. Aside from depicting the disdain for the outside world, the song illustrates the nihilism that comes from watching it deteriorate. Sometimes, a correlation exists between the two. I found when I was at my worst depressive state as a teenager, I would let things such as personal health and cleanliness of my room fall into total disarray.
“Hiding behind these walls every day
Upset my mind
Cannot believe, it’s getting worse
No solution in sight
I’m so fuckin’ bored
Can’t stand it
I can’t think of things to do
Only I know it’s no pleasure
Expectations won’t come true.”
There’s an old expression— “I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me.” Often times when someone has been depressed for a considerable amount of time, remembering a time period where they weren’t is sometimes impossible. When I went back on antidepressants a while ago, I noticed a change in mood that was completely unexpected. “When Your Mind Was Free” depicts the haze and inflicted destruction from self-medicating.
“Sliding into deep depression
Leaving such a magic time
Away from all the world’s intrusion
To find liberation in mind
You’re just a fool and it’s true
Don’t know what’s going on around you
Destroy your hopes and dreams
Support the cultural decay
Sell and buy and betray
Destroy your hopes and dreams
The music of Destruction has become a powerful coping mechanism. Because of the ordeals I face on a daily basis, I see their body of work in a completely different light. This is why the arts are important. No matter what form they might take, they can alleviate the worst that life throws our way. If you’re reading this and suffering yourself, I say this—you’re not weak, you’re not inferior, and most importantly, you’re not alone. There’s no shame in reaching out for help. It doesn’t matter who you are—you don’t have to live a life without sense.