Self-harm, suicide and pain in general are all central themes in many subgenres of metal (especially black metal). Some performers have been known to cut themselves with razor blades on-stage during concerts and/or during the recording process. The late Pelle Ohlin ('Dead') of Mayhem did the former and much more in order to feel like a corpse while performing. The mysterious Nattramn of Silencer allegedly did the latter to achieve his highly unusual scream.

My question is, have any artists taken this concept of pain as an essential part of the musical experience to the next level by composing music that will (intentionally) be physically painful to play? This could be achieved through high complexity, high speeds, unique instruments specifically designed to inflict pain when played, etc. I do not disagree with self-harm, but it seems so artificial to bring razor blades to your show in case your music isn't moving enough. Seems like a good idea to just, I don't know, incorporate the pain into the music. That's what metal is all about, after all.

Thanks in advance!

P.S. This idea was probably inspired by the movie Whiplash. We must all earn our parts sooner or later... :)

  • Not a direct answer to your question, but here's a New Yorker article on music (or, more generally, sound) as a means of causing pain: newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/04/when-music-is-violence. You also might check out Diamanda Galás. If anyone has done what you're asking about, she'd be a good candidate.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 3:00
  • @Aaron A thought-provoking article, and I 100% agree that Galás is really strange and would probably do something like this. Thanks! Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 20:27
  • I wouldnt say it improves Musical Sagacity in any way. Probably induce some adrenal reactions that serve in increasing intensity of screams or aggressiveness in playing the instruments. Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 9:17

2 Answers 2


The closest example I can think of is the use of the "casket vocal track" in Black One by Sunn O))).

Scott "Malefic" Conner of Xasthur is claustrophobic so they decided his vocal contributions to "Báthory Erzsébet" would be best recorded (and enhanced with real feeling) by locking him inside a casket.


"Torture as an Instrument of Music", by John T. Hamilton, describes instances in which torture has been (purported to be) used to produce music as its result. Different, obviously, from the question of an artist choosing to cause themselves pain, but related, the article can be found at https://www.academia.edu/29314305/Torture_as_an_Instrument_of_Music.

It is also Chapter 8 in the book Thresholds of Listening: Sound, Technics, Space, Edited by Sander van Maas (Fordham University Press, 2015).

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