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Mental Health

Hide the Metalhead: How Uni Reveals the Real Me

I want you to picture a metalhead. This is me just being curious. Don’t worry—I have the patience to watch you pull out a handful of stereotypes. Someone who dresses in all black, graphic tee with a skull that looks like it wants to eat you, scruffy with a testosterone-muscled jaw, horse-mane hair framing the face, “unruly” and “delinquent.” My, my, people can be the scholar of labels, can’t they? This is not me chastising; this is me tackling the negative uniform us metalheads have been forced to wear, black leather and all. So it shouldn’t surprise you that before I converted to the metal genre, I, too, had been guilty of tossing about these stereotypes like a clumsy card-dealer.

Suppose you met someone who didn’t know who Cardi B was. Suppose this person didn’t even learn about Loud Luxury until August, after having been crammed into an EDM-sandwich at Camp Frosh. And suppose that at the mention of Khaled, they broke into such gaieties of “The Kite Runner,” for to them, Hosseini is the only sort of Khaled who exists.

Don’t hate them. Don’t hate them because that’s me. 

Before moving from my hometown in the West to the glorious (and albeit terrifying) slap of being a first year, I was not a self-proclaimed metalhead—I was a metalhead in hiding. High school was the dreaded Barbie doll factory across the street waiting to mould me like plastic. I saw the face of conformity in pursuit of the awkward and the nameless, and frightened out of its eagerness to transform me, I kept to myself. Yes, for twelve whole months, I kept a secret in my earbuds from everyone I knew: I lived and breathed the music that sends everyone running.

Image obtained from https://imgur.com/gallery/GrKnoWY

Senior year of high school was an all but perfecttime to fall in love with the most-hated type of music. It didn’t help that there was a disturbing correlation between serial killers and their most common musical preference: heavy metal. This was an observation I had learnt in Law 12, and it was partially what made listening to metal feel like standing skin-screamingly close to the edge of a cliff. My first meeting with metal began with indie music to alternative bands, which I had already been familiar with from growing up with the early styles of Coldplay and Paramore (before they became mainstream). Back in my hometown, my brother had introduced me to a local indie and alternative radio station, where I truly fell in love with my first grunge/rock songs. That was where my exploration went to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.” After a while, I began to dabble with grunge bands in their 90’s prime (God, that era was gold), like Failure and Radiohead, and a little shoegazing like Catherine Wheel. My curiousities didn’t stop there: I raked through the heavy rawness of Alice In Chains as quickly as I binged watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I bounced between modern alternative like Nothing But Thieves to my greatest infatuations with the late 90’s and early 2000’s: Deftones. Chino Moreno, the lead singer of Deftones, dazed me with his fantasy-laced vocal range, as if to reveal that dreams truly existed from the sound of a voice. It made the least sense of all to me, to find harmony coursing through my veins but anarchy resounding in my ears. I was pulled, almost drowning in this hidden realm, to what would seem ancient history to our radios: Metallica (I love this band), Foo Fighters, Machine Head, Tool, Van Halen, Misfits, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, System of a Down, a little Slayer, a little Pantera. Headbanging or not, I had found comfort in a place that sounded like beauty wearing her thrill boots and riding a bolt of lightning. 

Could you imagine telling a school full of Aminé-tuned, Post-Malone-pitched teens that you liked Metallica? Whenever I thought of even mentioning it, my chest would tremble like my skull when it was in a Pantera-ecstasy, which is why my true self remained a secret. I’d always been too afraid to even read a book in front of anyone without hearing that “books are dead,” even to my closest friends, least of all my parents. Why tell any of them if it meant that I might lose the love I already have, this shell safe of the shame and contradictions it seemed to pose to image. By my image, I mean that inescapable reflection that the world had thrust upon me, and those darn rigid chains to my limbs called “expectations.” Sweet Alice in Chains, I felt no different from her; my image was so fixed that doing anything remotely out of the ordinary was cause for others to stare. See, with classical or mainstream music, you can feel safe about being open, but with metal, you simply can’t. If I tell everyone that I love Black Sabbath in truth, they’ll assume I’m violent and rebellious, lacking tasted, or going through a “depressed emo phase.” My parents would go off the rails thinking that I was worshipping the devil or going through a rebellious phase, when in reality, I just love the way it soundssimple as that.Just because I’m part metalhead, doesn’t mean I’m drawing pentagons, dropping out of school or abusing drugs. I found nothing more than the sound in which I belong. 

My high school friend group back in my hometown always does a secret-Santa gift exchange every year, and we use an online generator called Drawnames.com. Feeling as if I’d hurtled myself over a ledge, I decided this year to reveal my secret to them by making my entire wish list of t-shirts from my favourite metal bands. One of those friends and I both came to McGill this year, and when she pointed out that she had noticed my wish list, I said embarrassedly, “Surprise—I listen to heavy metal.” I’ll never forget the fascinated smile on her face, and the simplest reply, as if to tell me that I’d had nothing to hide all along: 


Let me tell you, this isn’t high school anymore, thank goodness. There’s just something inexplicably liberating about being provinces away from the person everyone expects you to be, only to find yourself in a place where you’re no more known than the awkward small talk with people on your floor. For the first time ever, I’ve met fellow students with whom I can rant about Rockfest without feeling like an uncultured idiot. Even if your interests don’t please someone else, or even if you don’t want to start partying with the rest of your building on Thursday night, you don’t have to create a different version of yourself here. University itself would not be the glory age that it is without a diversity of tastes, interests (and sounds.) That’s the beauty of university: start fresh, start free, and start feeling proud of who you can be. I mean, why bother hiding anymore? It’s really just extra work, and frankly, I still have a paper to write.


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