Within the first 60 seconds of Mark Hunter’s film Down Again, I am hooked into a world that immediately connects with my own, which is a constant spiral of negative, withdrawn, and explosive emotions conflicting with a warrior’s ambition and intensity. Hunter speaks truths simply and addresses his life as a manic at the outset.
Metal is an art form that cultivates itself in moods of explosive rage over rhythms that move with frantic energy. It is a symbiosis between anxiety and the waves of music played by each band that creates a group’s soul. For Chimaira, vocalist Mark Hunter conjures his anger out in the form of his lyrics and songs.
From early adolescence, Hunter’s first experiences with a highly developed sense of sadness and despair began to develop, with the music of Alice In Chains and singer Layne Staley (who also suffered from depression and a fatal drug addiction) resonating over him in these dark times. From there the roots spread, and not long after Mark saw Machine Head live in concert with Slayer and realized his destiny. After jumping through a ring of hardcore bands between the mid-90s, Chimaira was formed in 1998.
Depression is a curse we bear commonly in the heavy metal community which is built upon the bones of antagonistic behaviors and isolated negativity, and glorified are the bands that stay true to this perpetually grim form of representation. No one is safe from being called out when deviating out of character, and the hounds of metal elitism can be the most obscenely toxic when weakness is revealed.
Musicians who steal the show night-in and night-out at venues around the world also know this to be true, and among them should be counted the those we have lost over the years due to suicide and addiction. Hunter’s bravery to come forward and address mental illness in a serious way brought me to this film out of respect for him as an individual who shares my goal of removing this stigma in our culture.
The issue with mental illness is an epidemic that grips millions throughout the world. In the words of Dr. Patrick Runnels, a lead voice in the psychiatric care community who appears in the film, “25 percent of people in the world, particularly in the United States, are going to experience some kind of mental health issue at some point in their life,” which tells all about the encompassing effect of this crisis. Many are forced to be quiet about it, particularly in communities where access to proper psychological help is not even valued, never mind affordable.
As Dr. Patrick Runnels discusses the nature of art and its relationship to psychology with Hunter in Dr. Runnels’ Cleveland office, one is led through a process of exercising mental illness through creativity. In other words, the arts community is not just a safe space for the mentally afflicted, but it is a haven where we grow.
Fortunately, we can build a network between people in progressive communities who are willing to contribute their experiences and skills to help tell the story for those of us who lack a voice. As metal builds itself up from dirty, foundational parts that include frenzied misogyny, bigotry, and otherwise complacent ignorance, we each may have a role in identifying where mental illness is rooted in our culture and establishing ways to create positive growth from scorched soil.
As an advocate for mental health, and a 33-year-old man who first experienced the trials that would haunt me forever when diagnosed at age 6, this is a cause I can get behind. For people on the edge of giving up, heavy metal has always been an empowering voice. It is important to recognize this challenge that many in the metal community face, and hopefully together we may lead better lives because of it.
Mark Hunter is a leader for this change as a vocalist in the band, and he believes in the power that his music has as a resonating force for positivity among fans who contribute their story and love for Chimaira in the 27-minute docufilm.
Chimaira has gained a legion of fans over two decades. Their multidimensional observations of madness in everyday life encapsulated in the words of Hunter, flung through twisting agonizing cacophonies of brutal rhythm, have left a pillar in metal that stands undisputed across a generation. One fan who has found strength through the outlet of their music, Emily Kmiecik, tells how she survived Leukemia and battled depression.
“Metal music in general brings out this part of you that nothing else does,” she said. “It takes you outside of wherever you are and lets you escape for as long as you want.”
Now Mark Hunter steps out for fans as more than just an advocating frontman, but as an advocate collaborating with director Nick Cavalier. Cavalier’s storied career holds success in documentaries, music videos, and advertisement. He captures the essence of what he is filming and allows that to tell the story in a thickly detailed way. Not only is Nick a gifted storyteller, but he is also a man who was consumed with mental health struggles in adolescence.
Hunter and Cavalier have been very active in promoting the battle against mental illness. They met on a panel in 2017 to discuss the powerful coping mechanism of creativity and mental health, called Mental Health and Creativity. The panel was overseen by Dr. Runnels. From the panel encounter, Mark set out to do a project with Cavalier, and a film about Hunter’s experience and the process of overcoming as lead singer of Chimaira was born.
Chimaira’s influence and accessibility as one of the largest bands to come out of the New Wave of American Metal explosion in the early 2000s guarantees that this message reaches many.
Down Again is free to stream in its entirety via its website on October 10.