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Heavy Metal Recovery: Staying Sober While Going Deaf

heavy metal recovery

Heavy Metal Recovery: Staying Sober While Going Deaf

What’s harder to face — staying sober or going deaf? What if you had to face both? That’s what happens to the man in this heavy metal recovery story.

Call it a case of full volume sobriety. Ruben and his girlfriend Lou have a metal band called Blackgammon. He plays drums. She plays guitar and sings. They are loud. They are proud. And, night-by-night, gig-after-gig, the two are beginning to make a name for themselves. One problem though: each night Ruben loses a little more of his hearing. Not an ideal situation for a musician.

It’s even less ideal for a musician who’s in recovery. Then again, perhaps someone in recovery is better able to handle the hit. After all, haven’t they already handled one of the greatest hits of all?

That’s how the heavy metal recovery story plays out in Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal. And it plays out with all the guts, grit and gusto you can imagine. More importantly perhaps, it shows some of the many salient truths of recovery. It also illustrates its strengths — to roarful detail.

Sound of Metal

The reviews are in. In fact most of them came in last September, when Sound of Metal played the Toronto International Film Fest. But dates don’t change a reviewer’s impression, and here they were universally impressed. Rotten Tomatoes has given the film a 95% Approval Rating (based on 41 reviews) and Metacritic weighs it 85 out of 100 based on 9 critics. Terrific stats for any writer/director. Downright magnificent for someone making their directorial debut. So Darius Marder deserves our kudos.

Of all the reviews though, David Fear’s Rolling Stone take seems most apropos to cite, if only for its summary smarts. So we’ll do so here.

First, it should be noted that Blackgammon is a noise-rock duo. Yeah, we know. We call this a heavy metal recovery story. And there isn’t always a clear-cut distinction between metal and noise. Nevertheless, it’s an important distinction to make for a film that largely takes place in a noiseless world.

Which is probably much of the big idea to begin with. After all, sudden silence and the loudest sound around does make for a beautiful extreme. However it’s hardly the film’s only big idea — nor of course its biggest. How about immersing a movie in the still of deafness?


As Fear makes clear in his review, Sound of Metal is chock-a-block with big ideas, including casting Ahmed to star. “When you’ve cast Rogue One‘s Riz Ahmed as your lead, and have the advantage of filming the sinewy, charismatic British-Pakistani actor covered in tattoos, you already have moviegoers’ attention.” That’s crucial, considering “this is a story that needs us to walk a proverbial mile in its protagonist’s shoes.”

“Or rather to drop us into a partial sensory-deprivation tank that lets us feel just as disoriented, dizzy, desperate for what passed as ‘normal’ a day ago,” continues Fear. Sound of Metal “will suddenly switch to low rumbles, muffled reverberations, indecipherable voices, [and] nerve-jangling feedback. It’s not a gimmick [either]. It is a way to gain empathy without, literally, bells or whistles.”

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” he writes, summing it up. “And as the film makes abundantly clear, you don’t know what you’ve gained until you’re forced to face the loss of something taken for granted.”

There’s more of course (isn’t there always?). But we don’t want to risk giving anything away. Besides, it’s better to read a review in its entirety. Especially one of such kickass caliber. Suffice it to say, is Fear offers a ringing endorsement of what sounds like an ear-ringing movie.

Heavy Metal Recovery

But where’s the recovery? Oh, it’s there alright. It occupies prime space in the film too. See Ruben isn’t simply a noise-rock musician going deaf, he’s also a recovering heroin addict. In fact, when we catch up to him he’s got four years of sobriety under his belt. Lou is extremely worried the loss of his hearing will drive him back to drugs.

It’s an understandable worry. Considerably understandable. Even after four years of sobriety. A hit like this can easily lead to relapse. Fortunately for Ruben, he’s got a gal like Joe on his side. Even better, she’s both supportive and proactive. And she tracks down a sober home for the deaf.

We don’t know for sure whether or not this is the only sober home of its kind. But it’s got to be just one of a very few. Here though again Marder outdoes himself. That is, he doesn’t rely upon sober home cliches to make his point. In fact, he bypasses them altogether. No easy feat when you’re talking recovery.

Fear again: “You get a sense of daily routines and everyday minutiae within an insular world that doesn’t often get a lot of screen time, or is rendered without a sense of novelty.” That’s true of halfway houses. It’s also true for places for the deaf. So it must be doubly true of halfway houses for the deaf.

All in all though, this heavy metal recovery story attests to the strength to be found in these sober homes. Where people learn both to rely upon others, as well to fend for their inner selves. How recovery can not only prepare you for life-s eventualities, but how it can also help you transcend them. Is Ruben the first person to suffer a double whammy? Of course not. Recovery however has given him the tools to handle it.

Healing Properties Recommends

Sound of Metal opens in theaters on November 20th (that is, whatever theaters are open) and hits Amazon Prime on December 4th. Healing Properties wholeheartedly recommends everyone catch it wherever they can. Heck, if David Fear’s Rolling Stone review is to be believed (and we don;’t see why it wouldn’t be) you may want to catch the flick in both places (or at least twice). And why not? Inspiring recovery stories are rare enough. Inspiring heavy metal recovery stories are even more rare.

Are you suffering from substance use disorder? Do you know someone who’s battling addiction? Well remember, help is out there. Within everyone’s reach. In fact, it’s just a phone call away.

(Image taken from Indiewire’s review of Amazon Prime’s Sound of Metal. With Gratitude.)

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