“Can I send you some promo of my new project Sirkuit Preikker?“ reads a text from Samuli Peltola. I remember Medeia’s lead guitarist from the Metal Crane Festival in Helsinki in January 2019 which was the last carefree days before reality hit hard with my cancer diagnose. Samuli sends his promo in which I find this passage: “The song is about severe depression, which in my case escalated to the point I had to check in to a psychiatric hospital. The nurse seen in the video actually called me one Friday morning asking me to go skateboarding, to which I replied that I want to die. These are also the same words I told my wife earlier that morning, because I simply couldn’t come up with anything else to say.”
We arrange a video call to speak openly of everything. Our biographies are a journey into the darkness of the void. These words are commonly used in metal songs, but the lyrics end usually just there. The true horror of living with a mental disorder or developmental disability only just begins here and leads – by far too often – to suicide. The well-hidden torments work for months if not years and have killed iconic geniuses such as Curt Cobain or Chester Bennington. But what have we learned from that?
Mental Disorders Are Fatal
The World Health Organisation reports that 5% of all adults suffer from depression, making it a leading cause of mental health issues (source). While outing one’s depressions is about to become socially accepted, what it actually means remains unknown to other 95 %. The direct costs for the treatment of psychic disorders paid by German public health services sum up to 44 billion Euros alone in the year of 2020 (source). Yet hospitalisation for mental reason nevertheless is still highly stigmatized.
This ignorance kills. The casualties of suicide worldwide make annually a number of 700,000 and in the group of young adults and adolescents (15 – 29) the fourth leading cause of deaths is suicide (source). No one would walk on a broken leg or feel ashamed to have it treated in a hospital. It is an injury that demands medical care – just like mental disorders. Mental diseases are not just a period of sadness or grief but biochemical dysfunctions of the brain and the nervous system. Neither those nor the few therapies providing relief shall be stigmatized.
Samuli has come up with a solo project to channel his experience in music, word his emotions in newly Finnish lyrics but most of all break the stigmata; all this apart from his main band Medeia. From this point we approach the topic.
“Let’s begin with the obvious. The band name sounds familiar but looks somewhat strange to me. What does it mean?”
“Initially it was circuit breaker, but then as I ‘accidentally’ switched to Finnish, this bad ‘Finglish’ happened. It was ‘electric’ as was my idea for the music. I also wanted a name that could not be mixed with anything else.”
“I am certain it is unique! You mentioned more people were joining Sirkuit Preikker which was initially your solo project. So is it a band now? And who is with you in it?”
“Well”, he says frowning,”I have a bassist Juho “Dark Funk” Manninen” smiling widely now. – I mumble “Very important!” Samuli goes on: “Then, the guy who mixes my songs is quite honestly a big reason I‘m doing this, very very inspirational. The guy ‘Ville Hautaluoma’ is literally the best kept secret when it comes to mixing and mastering metal. Having him on board early on affected me a lot.” He adds after a short break: “In the most positive way… There was some sort of creative thing from the start between us, we both wanted the heaviest top-end sounds humanly possible”, Samuli tells me confidently.
Jonne’s and Ville’s Impact
”In which way did he affect your music? The role or weight of a mixer – or likewise producer, mastering engineer – can be between zero and everything in terms of style.”
“Well, first of all, I might not have released anything if it wasn’t for him. His mixes ‘made me’ do it”. Now it has become a true learning on the job experience for the both of us, I’m trying to perfect my tracks while he twists the knobs. Also, I do have a producer, Jonne Soidinaho who‘s really good with vocal arrangements and helps me with screaming a ton.”
“So Jonne is coaching your vocals?”
“Jonne, yes, he‘s a voc coach and a producer, many times records me as well. I knew from the start that I would need to have someone to mix Sirkuit Preiker, but had no idea who”, Samuli says and switches back to the master of mixing: “I heard of Ville through a common friend and ended up sending him just raw untreated tracks straight from my computer. From those he made my first track “Heijastus”.
“Raw meaning: instrumentals and vocals recorded but needed fine tuning? Or even more effort and input from the mixer?”
“Well, hmm” he takes a second to word his thoughts. “The track was in a way a ‘polished demo’, if you will. I had just started programming more midi and using samples, experimenting, but the guitar, bass and drum tracks were in fact ready to be sent to any studio for mixing.” I nod getting a clearer idea now. “Let‘s just say that he really did bring everything together.”
“Ok, so there was some space for the mixers creativity left?”
“Definitely that! He got to define the sound. He replaced all my drum samples and probably re-amped the guitars.” His face reflects how happy Samuli is with the result. I am very tempted to dive a little deeper into the question how much perfection in contrast to authenticity is needed on a recording. But keep it for me and move on.
Some weird inspirational moment
“I wonder how those songs came to be at all. How do you write songs?”
“This is easy”, be begins smiling.
“Do they just flow out of you?”
“I had one sample. The one that‘s heard in the beginning of “Heijastus”. I like to search for samples online, and one time I ran into this cool electric, aggressive rhythmic pattern that just needed to have a song crafted around it.” He breaks a second. “I actually had it for some time, but finally got some weird inspirational moment and just made the song.”
I have something on my chest that I need to get out in my native tongue
“Hm, ok. So you had the instrumental part done in sort of a flow and how about the lyrics? They do matter a lot here. Did you write lyrics before?”
“I‘ve been writing lyrics in different bands all my life I guess, but never in Finnish.”
“Really? I wasn’t aware of you writing lyrics regularly at all. But why now in Finnish, if I may ask?”
“I’ve always written rather personal lyrics. In case of Medeia for example, everything is coated underneath something else with very few exceptions where the lines are just pure non-filtered thoughts. I’ve gotten more and more direct over the years, but somehow I feel very few people get how honest the content actually is. With Finnish I’m going all out, everything is blunt and brutal, almost in a way you can’t misinterpret any of it. I guess I have something on my chest that I need to get out in my native tongue. It might be something like cursing, where you only get the full benefit in your own language.
“Speaking of Medeia anyway: how do you make up your mind whether a song or a part of a song is for Medeia or any other band/project?”
Samuli frowns, “Good one! I try to separate how the bands sound in general, there are some parts I must admit that could go both ways. Sirkuit Preiker will likely venture into more electronic and well, brutal direction.”
“In this case I need to get back to the weight of the mixer and/or any other external ‘consultant’. So could any of these make it fit any other concept?”
“Well, the mix/master guy is now the same for both bands.” We’re both laughing. “But, I do see both bands growing in different directions in the future. Medeia has its sound and Sirkuit Preikker is still very much a work in progress. But the ‘weight of the mixer’ is definitely more prominent in SP.”
The Metal DJ on Stage?
“As the Sirkuit Preikker family is growing, can we hope to see you playing live? It is not limited to the project status, right?”
“I‘ve been asked to do a show, but in reality that would be difficult to pull off. I might have to do what rappers do and just show up with a mic and a DJ.” I really like this idea and we follow the lead for a minute off records discussing the massive role backing tracks have become. From this point of view Samuli’s idea of a mic-plus-DJ metal concert is simply honest in a bone-crushing manner but then perhaps a welcome caricature. “But this would be really honest to what the project is: Yours!” I sum up and point out: “And more than anything yours.”
He agreed on the spot
“Still the one question I cannot avoid. How did Ilkka [Laitala] and Tommy [Tuovinen] come in?”
“Handsome guys! No other reason. I‘ve known these guys, especially Ilkka for a long time. Tommy I‘ve seen around a lot. They have great voices and somehow I just figured they‘d fit these particular songs. Tommy, I did contact pretty much out of the blue, he agreed on the spot, as did Ilkka. Cool dudes!”
“They knew what the songs are about?”
Extreme Music Therapy
A Mental Health Outlet
“Did they agree because or despite of knowing the mental health focus of the songs?”
“We started of with the music, I think they digged the tracks enough to get involved.” After a second he continues: “SP is basically, at least now, some sort of a mental health outlet. I actually started it at a time when I had severe anxiety issues and was thinking of quitting doing live shows in general.” I recall the passionate show of Medeia I had the pleasure to attend and wish to see him back on stage. The topic, however, triggers so many more questions in me.
Extreme Music And Mental Health Research
Numerous times I heard metal musicians speak of the therapeutic aspects of their music. While mainstream ears tend to be scared off by the raw aggressions and harsh sounds typical for metal, the metalhead finds relieve. Even more, it can be channel to deal with our own negative features, be it aggressions, frustration, grief or whatnot.
The therapeutic value of our music has finally been scientifically proven, in contrast to the descriptive and superficial early research in the 1990’s (examplary source). Mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety are found significantly more often in the metal community (source). The emotions we find in our music provide access to the very same emotions we find in us. They help us to access and process them. A study dealing with sad (heavy) and sadness was the first to demonstrate this link (source). It is supported by now by a larger study about extreme music and anger (source). This shows that extreme music of choice can increase inspiration, improve the mood when sad and evoke the experience of power. Additionally there is finally proof that aggressive music of choice does not desensitize the listener. Furthermore fans of extreme music are no more or less responding with anger after the induction of stress as any other does. On the contrary, extreme music of choice calms, and relaxes.
None of this is really new to us. Indeed, it still is only a quite shallow description of the metal community as those studies leave numerous fundamental questions unaddressed. Still the studies illuminate two critical points: Firstly, there are way more than 5 % of us dealing with depression just now, sticking with the most prominent mental disorder. Frankly, I am tempted to say it is quite normal for us to have many friends living through mental nightmares. Secondly, our music helps to cope with those challenges.
This however cannot replace a medical treatment! But whereas it seems rather normal for us to be surrounded by mental disorders those who have to live with them are still subject to stigmatisation – at the very least when it comes to hospitalisation!
The Only Refuge From The Absolute Dread
“Numerous musicians explained – not only to me – that playing and writing music is therapeutic to them. Is that your purpose of SP?”
“For sure, to the extent that at times it is for me the only refuge.”
“Can music do the trick? Anxiety to me seems so much worse than solely depression. Anxiety is often a part of severer forms of depression but if anxiety is the main thing it may limit you to do nothing. So this needs a really ‘hard drug’ – or heavy music – to get you back into life, right?”
“Most definitely, anxiety can limit life in a way that leads to depression. For me it wasn‘t that, but just made e.g. going on stage at times, and even weeks out, to feel dreadful. And I mean absolute dread, where you‘re basically just in a constant survival mode.” I am afraid this condition is hard to comprehend for those who have yet been lucky enough not to experience it.
“The thing with these mental health issues is that they hardly ever go alone.”
Evil Loves To Party
“I have not much of an idea how this feels although my conditions and the immense risk of new tumors have caused plenty of fear, naturally. But my severe depressions and the anxiety came gradually.
“Exactly. Well, anxiety is fear, I‘d say.”
“How about you? Did those sneak into your life or hit in a short time?”
“Yup, neither just shows up. I built my ‘conditions’ over many years and at a certain point they just took over. Stress, insomnia and what have you, can make these things so much worse.”
This is a critical point, Samuli raises here, many are not aware of. Depression, anxiety & co, they feed on the negative experiences, spread from external triggers such as traumata but in the bloody end can happen anytime out of thin air.
“Absolutely. I think this sneaking in or slowly developing is one of the main issues. Neither you nor the ones close to you will notice before long.”
“Yeah, totally! I pretty much just grinded myself through everything, until something sort of broke.”
Resilience Grows From Sensitivity
An image pops up in my mind. A young birch pulled by strings to bent towards the ground. It is very flexible and remains intact, would simply flip back if the strings were cut. But at some point even the most flexible tree will break.
“Resilience up to the breaking point …? Resilience is all but being sturdy or hard, in my experience. Quite the opposite.”
“Well, I‘m a very sensitive person all in all, not suited for all the hard knocks of life.” His lips bent upwards but it is not really a smile.
“In my experience the sensitive people are the actually toughest ones. You have to deal with everything on a much higher, much more intensive level than the sturdy ones.”
“I wouldn‘t know, really, I get teary when I hear a certain interval in music.” His eyes search for comprehension.
It takes strength to show tears and even more to speak of it in public! And this is exactly what I meant previously and mumble, “I know this.”
“You‘ve taken more punishment and maybe learned to roll with the punches, or not!”
“Exactly. And you have to put so much energy in fighting the punches back.” We need to address the secrecy of mental disorders again.
Secrecy And Loneliness – The Assassins
“I was asking about the sneaking because if depression comes unnoticed no one seems to care when you need care the most.”
“Yeah!” Samuli sighs.
“And as you are thinking no one cares, you do not dare to ask for help or anything.”
“And if you ask no one gets the point or only on a lighter level. Like you ask ‘can you come, I need someone’ and you get refused: ‘Nah, I have other plans tonight’ Had your friends known how badly you needed him/her, they had not refused for sure.”
“How have you experienced your friends and family when you asked for help in this regard?
“Simply great. I think I‘ve pretty much received help on the spot without having to ask, which has saved my skin a multitude of times. What often happens is that when you tell people that all is not well, many times you get relatable experiences thrown back at you, which in turn results in rather rich and honest conversations. Same as with you.”
Although I share his experience there still is the growing loneliness. Depression is a black hole neatly distilling all positivity from life. In the middle of feeling worthless it is hard to reach out at all. On the contrary, the hole grows darker and deeper, the sensation of helplessness overwhelms until there seems to be only one way out, the final and fatal one.
Of Fatal Frailty
How To Make It Through The Day
“At some point I lost all my confidence in being able to get the point of my message to the recipient. It added to the long list of endless suffering. Have you managed to keep your communications working?”
“’Long list of endless suffering’ will likely find its way to some of my future lyrics in one shape or another, will have to remember to tag you in somehow”, Samuli says before he dives deeper. “There have been times I‘ve just completely shut down and kept to myself with the main focus on making it through the day. Other than these extreme periods I haven‘t had much trouble interacting. If I have the strength, I actually might escape a tough situation by going on a walk with a friend or calling up someone close to me, usually this leads to being pulled towards normal life a little I suppose and sometimes even a minute of normal feels like a bliss.”
A walk with a friend can make all the difference. “You mentioned somewhere that not being alone is so critical in mental health conditions. When I was alone, to me it has often felt like I was let down by everybody. How are your experiences?”
“Yes, I think I mentioned this in the context of clinical depression, which to me is a condition where your brain – a troubleshooting device – will eventually start throwing in all sorts of ideas on how to get rid of depression. Worst-case scenario is that the solution involves getting rid of yourself, which is something that has happened to too many. I feel deeply for anyone who‘s faced that darkness alone, dead or alive. I personally didn’t feel too let down, maybe just forgotten. On the other hand, or at least in hindsight, I think the friendships I have today have become that much more meaningful and dear to me.”
Distance To Your Own Thoughts
“This loneliness and false impression I was let down by everybody added a lot to the impression escaping live was the only way to end my suffering. Have you had similar moments?”
“I can totally relate to this as far as any sort of escaping and getting trapped inside your own head goes. My ‘escape’ or according to my understanding perhaps the actual reality, which surfaces when thinking recedes, has for some years been my way of dealing with life in general. I meditate daily and if I don‘t, massive dysfunction follows. If I‘m not able to keep any sort of distance to my thoughts and start taking them seriously, I‘m done.”
Again an essential message. Dealing with this kind of disorders crucially demands to achieve some distance to yourself, questioning constantly all this negativity which is extremely energy draining and time-consuming. Whenever something unexpected however small pops up, the immediate reaction is ‘no!’ It is quite a challenge to stop there in order to try and review the situation on a subjective level again. The automatic no hardly survives this second-stage review. Nevertheless it is a long way to get to this point.
The Façade – Hiding From Your Diagnosis
“I have met numerous people in severe mental conditions – some of them even ended suicidal – I did not know about their perilous state. They hid it well and perhaps I did not really want to question their facade. How about you?”
“Similar experiences and the reason behind why I want to talk about these things in public. Literally the last thing to do is to hide when life turns to crisis, be it due to shame or whatever, there needs to be openness to prevent isolation when push comes to shove.”
“I think one point why many people do not see how severe a mental condition is might be that those people very often do still function in their lives really well. Do you have any idea why?”
“Yes, yes and yes, this is such a good find. People in general are quite clever, maybe even creative. Hiding your diagnosis (sometimes even from yourself!) can become quite the art. These workarounds come in many shapes and forms, because when you can‘t or don‘t know how to treat the actual condition, you‘re going to be hard-pressed to find a formula that allows you to exist. The sad part is that many times these workarounds create a life filled with suffering, or at least taking up considerable amounts of energy. It‘s truly crazy to think about for example bi-polar or OCD people even 50 years ago, what were they to do?”
Despite everything, too often mental disorders are highly stigmatized which is only one key issue here. In contrast to a flu or a cold it is not healed after a couple of days, not even weeks. It takes months, if not years to recover from them or learn to live with them as quite numerous can become or are usually chronical.
In our long conversation accompanying the interview, I spoke with Samuli about his family life as he has children. Parents have no choice but to function. Nevertheless there are situations when this is impossible such as in but by far not limited to periods of hospitalisation. Kids demand their parental care 24/7. This puts quite some extra pressure on the ill parent on the one hand’s side but provides a structure of hold on the other hand’s side. I wondered how Samuli’s children take the situation. He replied they would have noticed yet that something is wrong. In my experience children are not that blind but on the contrary have very sensible antenna to observe and review the behaviour of their social environment, most of all their parents. For example, I had known all my life that the rest of my family is keeping secret from me. But only later, I learned perhaps in the age of around ten that it is an eating disorder from my oldest sister. By then her diet was special but no threat to me so it was ok. As a consequence however in her eyes I was always a fat child. This message followed me through thick and thin, literally to my early fourties. Thinking of Samuli’s family I think his children have noticed long ago that their dad is special and concluded that this is just fine because he is a good dad. Thus there is no reason to worry for them and let him know that they know.
“I am afraid that mental health is still a matter of stigmata and shame in general. Has this had any impact on you?”
“In the sense that when I was young I would have bet against myself ever having any sort of diagnosis, because I felt that it was for the feeble minded. I honestly don‘t even know where such bullshit entered my mind, maybe it was how mental health was portrayed back in the 80‘s. The stigmata levels have lowered, maybe even to the point that there‘s quite a few trendy online diagnosis floating around, but I do think there‘s a certain level of fear related to ‘being mentally ill’, that still casts a shadow. My take on this is that the brain is an organ just like the rest and that it can get sick and also heal.”
the brain is an organ just like the rest
“Even more I think, hospitalization for any mental condition is even more stigmatized save perhaps in case of addictions. Isn’t this frankly idiotic? I mean, no one would walk with a broken leg to avoid medical treatment.”
“Even more, yes, and still these are exactly the places where people with suicidal depression need to be. Hanging around the house alone with that broken leg is neither a great idea.”
“Have you consulted any form of support group or other has speaking with people in similar conditions [perhaps in the hospital] helped you in another way than speaking for example with your close ones?”
“I most certainly have and I‘d highly recommend checking out local or online supports groups related to your condition that concentrate on recovery. Around where I live I think there‘s groups for the most typical diagnosis. It‘s so goddamn relieving to sometimes hear that someone is going through exactly what you are.”
The Unbearable Level Of Sorrow
I have often wondered why all these stigmata and prejudice are still there. And I have come to the conclusion it might be because everybody believes to be proficient in the topic. ‘Isn’t it just a little more sadness than usually’, they often think. This is far from true, of course. But to define the line between grief and a clinical depression triggered by grief is even for a professional hard to draw. What do you think?
“Ha! Everyone living through an ego certainly needs to have an opinion and voice it in order to be right about something. This is not relevant but still annoying. Clinical depression to me includes having your brain cocktail mixed to the extent that the level of sorrow becomes unbearable.”
The Biochemical Brain Soup
“I was also thinking that our self-perception and cultural image of the mind and the soul avoids the acceptance of both being driven by biochemistry and consequently the option of developing malfunctions that require medical treatments.”
“It‘s a chemical soup driven by electricity and it does respond to medication. The human mind, or the brain is something that malfunctions rather easily in the end. Many times I think that our evolution could be at a stage where this part of us is still heavily a work in progress. The positive thing to me, is that humans, or maybe all creatures can experience something that‘s not related to the mind itself. But yes, to be balanced, it would seem that the normal human mind and whatever lies beyond its comprehension do benefit from stable chemical conditions. I remember trying to meditate during some of my more difficult phases, that was not pleasant or even possible at all, I can say that much.”
“Another issue I think might be that non-chemical treatments such as behavioural or analytic therapies for an outsider seem too banal by far to treat a ‘true’ disease or illness.”
“Well, one could make the argument that many times both are needed. For instance depression many times stems from having absurd expectations on how things should be, this is something that can be treated by therapy alone.”
“When Kurt Cobain left, the topic was entirely unspeakable of. This had changed when Chester Bennington surrendered to his condition. Which role do you think their casualties have played in mental health awareness inside and beyond the metal community?”
“This is true, Cobain‘s demise took place in another time altogether. I only remember topics revolving around suicide, shotguns and Courtney Love, not so much what was behind the event on a personal level. Bennington on the other hand just makes me so unbelievably sad, as his fate – as far as I know – had more to do with what had happened to him earlier on in life. Even being one of the best singers on the planet adored by millions couldn’t patch that up. One can only imagine what he had to carry around all those years and hope that he can now truly rest in peace.”
Mental diseases usually are a never-ending series unbearable horrors and feeling entirely incapable of getting out of it. What is behind if we hear or read that most who try to commit suicide would not really want to die? There are very acceptable reasons to die on free will, and thinking of my own fate that is very likely to end in a fatal fight with cancer, I favour the freedom to decide on my life’s end on myself. But thinking of all the moments I was unable to see any chance of getting out of those horrors, is entirely different. Each situation was driven by horrible events or news such as the cancer and being left alone by the doctors to take horrible decisions. The pain from such situations alone is unbearable. But then on top the depression run everything through a pitch black filter that cancels every reasonable and every positive ending from the range of potential options but spit out the darkest and most horrific ones to be the most likely if not the only option left. In such moments you need to step away from your own thoughts and remember that sun will rise again tomorrow. But actually you might not be even able to answer the phone and accept the help or distraction offered there. You expect even more bad tidings. In such moments the only way to end the pain, to get out of the torment seems suicide. It is not, of course. One does not want to die but end the pain.
the real value of anything is in the doing
“To come to an end: what do you hope to achieve with SP for yourself and in general?”
“Achieve, nothing, because I guess I already have everything, just not the smarts to get it sometimes. What I hope I‘ve learned is that the real value of anything is in the doing, not in the outcome. I had this backwards for a long time and it brought me nothing but grief. Creating something, when it‘s not seen as a means to an end, can in the best setting turn into the meaning of life and behind such activity I believe there‘s a four-letter word that keeps the wheels rolling.”
What a sweet final statement especially after such a conversation. I cannot thank Samuli enough for coming up with Sirkuit Preikker and his strength to speak openly about mental health. His fiery statement pro medical and hospital treatment of clinical mental disorders is hopefully heard and heeded!
If you have a friend or spouse or family member suffering from any mental disorder or developmental disabilities, speak of it! It is a disease not a shame! It demands medical treatment by professional and person living with it needs all the support you, yes y o u can provide.
Visit Sirkuit Preikker on social media Facebook & Instagram
Listen their music on several platforms or watch their videos in Samuli’s playlist