You don’t get into the heavy metal business to lullaby orphan kittens to sleep. You do it to sing about death, violence, and destruction while gargling gravel mixed with battery acid. However, after talking to members of extreme metal bands like Insomnium, Daylight Dies, The Fallen Divine, and Landmine Marathon, I realized that all that stuff is just a front, and that heavy metal can get pretty gosh-darn adorable once you peek behind its bloodstained curtain. For example…
4. Proper Hair Care Is VERY Important To Metal Musicians
A lot of heavy metal musicians sport wild, long hair that makes them look like they’re in the early stages of turning into a Wookie (the barely-discernible growls just add to the illusion.) But those dead cell waterfalls, as all long hair will be known henceforth, actually require a ton of work and upkeep. Jesse Haff, drummer for the American doom metal band Daylight Dies explains:
“Each member has their own hair care ritual. I’m always experimenting with the latest and greatest moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. I think your hair gets accustomed to certain brands if used too regularly, so you need to cycle through a variety of them to keep your hair healthy. Our vocalist [Nathan Ellis] cannot go a single day without washing his lavish locks of hair … which often leads to frustration while on the road: ‘Fuck, is Nathan already in the shower? I guess I’m not showering today. Damn.’”
Magnus Kvist, the vocalist of The Fallen Divine, a Norwegian black/death metal band, says that he doesn’t do anything special with his hair… unless you count him using his girlfriend’s pink straightener on his unruly locks, which of course I do.
On the other hand, for Ryan Butler, who plays guitar for the death metal band Landmine Marathon, proper hair care is more of a safety concern: “My hair is ridiculously curly and will dread up in spots overnight. While on tour, I’ll comb it every day or two so that I don’t headbang with one giant beavertail slapping me in the face,” mainly because, in Ryan’s case, getting hit by his mountain of hair could probably kill him.
And speaking of the dangers of long hair: “Occasionally, it causes serious problems,” Jesse Haff explains. “The most common complication is when someone’s hair gets wedged into someone else’s guitar strings. This generally happens when [Barre Gambling] or [Charley Shackelford]’s guitar neck gets too close to Nathan … Nathan has gotten quite good at dislodging himself by violently ripping his hair out, sometimes causing a guitar to get out of tune.”
The other common problem with metal hair, according to Jesse, is when someone’s locks get lodged down their throat. “It’s really funny when it happens to Nathan, as his vocals will suddenly go silent and he’s visibly occupied with pulling huge quantities of hair out of his mouth. As any true professional, he continues as if nothing happened once it’s resolved.”
What’s really surprising about that, though, is that chocking on your own mane isn’t how vocalists get that growly metal voice. In fact:
3. Getting That Metal Voice Just Right Can Take DAYS (And Some Mango Tea)
Extreme metal genres like death, black, or doom metal often make use of distinctively harsh and abrasive vocal styles known as either “growling” or “screaming,” both of which are about as healthy for your throat as a sandpaper smoothie. That’s why Niilo Sevänen, the bassist and vocalist for the Finnish melodic death metal band Insomnium, has to warm up his voice for close to a week before each performance.
“I have to prepare it for the tour so that it will last a long time and I can do a full show every night. So I start maybe 5 or 6 days before tour,” Niilo explains. “Step by step I increase the time I practice it. So for the first day it’s like 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, 15 minutes, an hour etc. With this I can do 30 shows in a row. I just practice the songs. It’s like exercising with weights. You start with lighter weights until your body gets used to them. Then you can increase them. It’s the same with growling.” Although, unlike with weightlifting, you don’t have to bring up how long you can growl in every goddamn conversation.
But that’s just one way to do it. According to Jesse, the first vocalist for Daylight Dies, Guthrie Iddings, had his own voice care regiment: cheap whiskey, apples, and cough drops.
The Fallen Divine’s vocalist Magnus, on the other hand, prefers to pamper the shit out of his larynx before murdering it in the studio (it makes its ultimate suffering all the more sweet.) “I HAVE TO HAVE my Mango tea from this one special brand with a good dash of honey or else shit starts falling during the show! I’ve tried coffee, beer, heavier stuff, water, juice, milk etc. But nothing does the job as a good cup of Mango tea from ‘Ahmad Tea.’ Over the winter holiday I ordered 10 packs online, because the local shop ran out.”
2. Getting Into That Heavy Metal Headspace Can Take You To Some Dark Places
Daylight Dies plays doom metal, which is characterized by a gloomy atmosphere that evokes feelings of dread and despair… On the other hand, the members of Daylight Dies are regular people with families, bills, and memories of the time they waved back to a person who was actually waving to someone behind them. How do you go from that to writing albums titled Lost to the Living? Well, the first step is apparently to make yourself as sad as possible. It’s why all metal musicians have Comcast on speed dial.
“Our music is dark and melancholic,” Jesse explains, “so frolicking at a pool party isn’t going to get us in the right mindset. Instead we prefer the solitude of night, dim the lights and get in the introspective headspace necessary … it can take forever and be pretty painful.”
“You have to get the goofiness out of your system before you can focus and be serious.”
Essentially, you need the kind of ambiance that Edgar Allan Poe probably set when he was ready to release his raven and tap on some chamber(maid’s) door. One way to do that is by setting a few things on fire: “Weather can play a big part for me. If it’s cold and stormy outside, I’ll light a couple of candles, burn some incense, and let go of whatever thoughts are flying around my head at that moment. Once I’m in a more reflective place, themes emerge which can be pieced together into a story.”
1. Extreme Metal Musicians De-stress In The Cutest Ways Imaginable
Even if your job was literally playing video games against naked supermodels, you’d eventually start craving a quiet night in with a book and a girl wearing three, heavy woolen sweaters. It doesn’t mean you hate your job. It just means that, sometimes, we all need a break, and that includes metal musicians.
Niilo from Insomnium, whose second to last album was oh-so-cheerfully called Shadows of the Dying Sun, says that the band “[cares] about our ‘dark’ image but this is also so much about having fun and that’s very important to us. We take our music very seriously but we don’t take ourselves very seriously.”
“Our drummer [Markus Hirvonen],” Niilo recalls, “once played an entire show without any trousers on. The stage was so deep and the drums were so in the back that no one noticed that he had no pants on. Also, some of us had worn some pretty funny underwear while performing on stage. No one could tell but one time we had like G-strings on etc.”
Even Daylight Dies, who gave us such puppies-and-rainbows anthems like “Dreaming of Breathing” can get, in Jesse’s own words, “kinda dorky backstage” (although they have nothing on The Fallen Divine’s all-night LAN parties playing League of Legends.)
Jesse goes on: “The main melody from Janet Jackson’s ‘Black Cat’ has been used as a warm-up riff for many years. And of course, nothing is a better cleanser than the ice bang. An ice bang is when you drink all the beers from the beer tub, then dunk your head in the icy water that remains and bang your head!”
“This was fun! Can I go wash my hair now?”