This essay first appeared in Ex Abyssō I.
Two people I was acquainted with have taken their own lives in the past twelve months. In the same period, I have been suicidal myself. If you are dealing with the same issues at the moment, it would perhaps be best to skip this essay, or at least consider whether this is the best time to read it or not.
As a six- or seventeen year old, I once reviewed an album as “the ultimate soundtrack to suicide”. ·☾· ·☾· It was Worship’s Last Tape/Vinyl/CD Before Doomsday, in case you were wondering.A few years later, I started to regret this choice of words, and the rest of the review, wherein I muse on how the album’s four tracks follow a path through depression, acceptance, anger, ego-suppression, and death.
I had decided that in my juvenility, I had been, if not glorifying, at least romanticising suicide in an irresponsible and offensive way. And I think there is some truth to that assessment; at the time, I had indeed not considered any potential impact of phrasing my review that way, except as a way of expressing my enthusiasm about the album.
There is a broader trend in heavy metal, particularly black and doom metal, to aestheticise or even exploit suicide. The deaths of Mayhem’s Per ‘Dead’ Ohlin and indeed Worship’s ‘Fucked Up Mad’ Max Varnier, only made their brands more kvlt in the minds of many fans, in a kind of strange spectacle where real life tragedies somehow lend a degree of realness to more or less theatrical genres. ·☾··☾· In Mayhem’s case, the exploitation was particularly blatant, with Euronymous taking and keeping pictures of Ohlin’s corpse, and fashioning necklaces out of bits of his blown-out skull.
Apart from these examples of actual suicides impacting a band’s image, suicide was a common lyrical theme for many metal artists, and a sub-sub-genre was eventually coined: DSBM, depressive and suicidal black metal.
In light of this, for a long time I was afraid that I had contributed to what I saw as a trivialisation of suicide. To write about suicide, to sing, to scream about it, was to treat it in a way that did not do justice to the severity of the act itself.
But I now have my doubts. Coming and being close to suicide has taught me that aestheticisation of suicide and depression can be an important, if not vital way of coping with them. It’s not always easy to speak about one’s suicidal thoughts directly, and by projecting them through a layer of abstraction—music, lyrics, poetry, or even a review—we can express what would otherwise fester.
Both aestheticisation and the avoidance of it are ultimately reactions to a concept that is unreachable: the act of suicide itself. It frightens and awes us, because it is a voluntary act to end all volition and action. We cannot completely understand it because we can never be in that moment until we are. Some people will have a moment between inception of suicide and death, in which they themselves, perhaps, understand what it is they are doing. But others cannot experience it. Suicide notes are merely premeditations, and even if a person can write or speak in their moment of death, they can only express a fraction of what is going through their mind and what led them to that final point.
For me, then, aestheticisation does not automatically equal trivialisation. And even when it could be seen as such, I would argue that it is far less destructive or malicious than exploitation or accusation. The latter includes the commonly heard refrain that suicide is a cowardly, selfish act, that inconveniences and hurts others. This, I feel, is the truest trivialisation of suicide, when people morally judge an act that they, by definition, cannot truly understand.
To aestheticise suicide is to bring it into a clearer view for yourself, a way to admit to yourself that perhaps there is something going on with your mental health, a step towards realising that in an existence that is frequently oppressive and painful, there is one way in which a person can exercise full autonomy.
No anxiety, no pain —
just everlasting sleep.
“The Supreme Sacrifice”