A CURSE. A BLESSING. A MESSAGE OF HOPE - You are not alone
Depression. Self harm. Suicide.
These words are utterly alien to anybody who has never suffered through such horrors. Even in this modern age of supposed acceptance and understanding, they are viewed with prejudice and distain, and those of us who genuinely have been in such a dark and helpless situation are branded as cowards and attention seekers, yet in reality, in my personal experience at least, the majority of people who really afflicted by such maladies of thought are deeply ashamed and keep it buried deeply in private, seldom opening up to anybody.
I always try to write from my own personal experiences, and whilst the lyrics for Thirty Aethyrs’ latest release, Phoenician Apocalypse, largely deal with an allegorical concept about misanthropy and the end of the world, they slowly subside into the more relatable themes of peace, melancholic regret, isolation and ultimately, suicide. To look at my favourite bands (Marillion, Nevermore, My Dying Bride, Birdeatsbaby and Shining to name but a few), it becomes clear that genre itself isn’t a defining point in my musical tastes, but rather the honesty and sincerity of emotion that gives me some small comfort that I am not alone in this particular mindset. Such as it is, when channelling the lyrics for Aethyrs, I was able to tap a well of repressed emotional Darkness that had lain more or less dormant since the age of fourteen. My aim was to really feel every word, of pour all of my anguish, rage and depression into each singular utterance, and anybody who has witnessed our intense live show will tell you about the ritual suicide which I perform at the end of our set as part of the theatrics that are to do our concept justice.
Whilst I am immensely proud of the outcome (I am usually highly critical of my own work, yet Phoenician Apocalypse is an exception to this rule – aside from the snare sound!!), expressing such deep and violent emotion took its toll, and opened up the floodgates to the inner Darkness of mine that I have kept so well hidden for so long, and I was set upon a veritable helter-skelter of depression. A week or so after I had completed writing the closing track, Six Feet of the Abyss, a friend of mine tragically took her own life (the second such instance that I have experienced. The first of which afforded a lot of inspiration and focus to my writing), and considered the feelings that I had allowed to air for the few weeks prior, it suddenly seemed a whole lot more real and this notion hit me like a sledgehammer; was I in danger of being in that same situation now?
Due to several other factors that coincided with this (they say that bad things happen in threes, right? Try fives. Or even sevens), which I have no desire to divulge right here, right now, I found myself completely emotionally void. It’s difficult to explain, but I suppose that after such a great flood of emotion as I experienced, there followed a drought, to borrow biblical analogy, For months, I felt no emotion whatsoever – no attachment, no joy, no sadness, none of the empathy upon which I so pride myself. I felt entirely alone, and seemed to be actually living out the events described in Six Feet of the Abyss.
“From ashes I rise; blood-soaked wings of fire burning all those around me,”
I began to drink myself into oblivion to be granted at least the liquid illusion of emotion, and each morning I awoke with fresh lacerations to my chest. That was something that I COULD feel. Physical pain and sensation became the only things to remind me that I was still alive, and in my emotionally numb state, I lost the ability to differentiate between pain and pleasure. It would get progressively worse though, as I became almost acclimatised to the caress of steel against my flesh. What started off as a few scratches and prods escalated so deep gouges and stab wounds. I became entirely addicted to my own self destruction, obsessed with the sight and smell of my blood, even craving it. The helter skelter was picking up speed exponentially, and had I not woken up, I very much doubt I’d be here today, writing this.
I remember vividly my moment of realisation, the moment of clarity that led to my emotional rehabilitation. I awoke one morning with two other people (thankfully, I was still fully clothed), surrounded by discarded wine bottles, with only vague recollections of the events of the night before. It was the very definition of a “compromising situation”. The entirety Candlemass t-shirt was cardboard stiff with dried blood, as if it had been dipped in a vat, and there was a six inch gash across my chest that had opened up skin and flesh like a zipper right down, deep into the muscle. Were it half an inch higher, it would have exposed the bone of my upper sternum. I realised, thinking rationally for the first time in months, that something was very wrong with this situation, and I left that place in an instant. I have never even seen the other two people since (one of whom was a longstanding “friend”, who during the course of my Darkness, would get a sick pleasure out of encouraging me to cut, and from watching me do it). Instead, I immersed myself fully in the band.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I was well on the road to recovery. Thirty Aethyrs were just about to release Phoenician Apocalypse, and it was the day of our first gig at the Dry Bar with Designer Magazine’s Metal on Metal night. We played the show anticipating only having a few of our friends turn up for moral support, but the reaction from the crowd was as staggering as it was unexpected. People were in tears, and others were asking to sign copies of our CD. We were physically bogged down in a throng of ardent new fans. One young girl nervously asked me to sign her arm, pressed forward by her friends, who were to shy to approach me, and as I did do, I felt a stab of deep sadness. Her flesh was crisscrossed with a knotwork of scars and cuts, and in an instant, I knew what she was feeling, and I knew that, as a performer and as an artist admired by complete strangers, that I have an obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of my fans.
That single moment changed my viewpoint forever – that as isolated as I felt through my Darkness, I was never truly suffering alone. In the weeks that have followed, I have been reaching out to people in similar situations, sharing my experiences, and listening intently to theirs. That is why I have written this blog, to spread the word even further that IT IS OK TO TALK ABOUT THESE THINGS! This isn’t some self-indulgent cry of “pity me, for I have suffered!” which is an attitude that irritates me so to no end, but it instead an open handed gesture of “Look, I’ve survived this, so can you,” and if just one person can read this and know that they needn’t suffer in silence, that my ears are ALWAYS open to anybody who needs it, then I will have succeeded.
As an epilogue to this story, my solitary shred of silver lining to this entire episode in life is that I now have an entirely new experience and perspective on my inner Darkness from which I can draw experience, and now armed with the knowledge of how to protect myself from it, you can expect the Thirty Aethyrs of the near future to delve to previously unexplored depths of intensity, melancholy and apocalyptic anguish!
Hear the call.
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