We live in a society where subjects too taboo for the establishment's prescription for the perfect normal life are brushed under old carpets and locked away in bedroom wardrobes. Depression and anxiety are part and parcel of modern-day life, yet mental health is still often not allowed to leave the lips of anyone struggling through their own ordeals. Music, perhaps more than any other artform, is prepped and primed to open its doors to the voiceless generation. In 2020, there's one band flying the flag for British metal's mental health brigade, and that's Bury Tomorrow.
"We're very scared of being vulnerable, but there's a lot of strength in that, not just from ourselves but strength from others supporting us through that vulnerability. It's not something to be afraid of, it's something we should relish in," states frontman Dani Winter-Bates, currently in the midst of juggling his role not only as the frontman of one of British metal's flagship bands on the cusp of releasing their sixth album, but his life away from music in the NHS as a culture improvement facilitator.
'Cannibal' is Bury Tomorrow's sixth studio outing and their darkest yet. Touching thematically on the experiences and trauma Dani has battled bravely over the last two years since the release of 2017's 'Black Flame,' the album is their attempt at wearing their hearts on their sleeves and baring their scars to the world to open up and normalise discussions around mental health and wellbeing.
"I see my depreciated mental health as my superpower, that's my thing that intrinsically links me to so many strangers that I may know or may never know; that's something I'm proud of having. I have to work through it pretty much daily, but it's important I view it in that way because there's nothing to be scared of.
"The pre-requisite of having something like depression is that you feel isolated, the idea nobody is going through something you're going through. The more we normalise it, and the more we talk about it, the more it becomes really obvious that so many people go through this. The normalisation of such is that you can talk about it and then someone's not going to freak out about it, thus reducing the fear."
The decision to internalise their songwriting and to utilise the experiences Dani and his bandmates have experienced was a difficult one. In order to help normalise it for others, they had to first normalise the concept of opening up for themselves. It's a process that's been developing somewhat subconsciously since 2016's 'Earthbound'.
"The main decision on 'Cannibals' was to make it really straight-up, to focus on not focusing too hard on metaphors, and saying it how it really is, which is something we started to touch upon back in the 'Earthbound' era. No frills, just get on and say what we want to say.
"With 'Black Flame', we pushed that on to our fans and how we feel about them and connectivity and how to link everything to them, which it always is about. With 'Cannibals', the decision was to turn it inwardly. Instead of objectively looking out to the world, it was more about looking inwards."
While it's undoubtedly easier said than done, the process of putting pen to paper, mouth to mic and expressing his innermost thoughts was for Dani something unusual and unheard of despite the advice he delivers to others on a daily basis both on stage and off.
"It's something I've never really done before. I've delved into mental health in other songs sure, but I've never really written a song specifically, or non-metaphorically around myself. I never felt that I was in a mentally right space to be able to do that. I wasn't in a mentally right space to be able to articulate that in a good fashion, or I certainly wasn't in the right space for it to not have a depreciating effect on me having to talk about it. I knew if I wrote songs that were close to the bone and very obvious people would ask me questions, so I think that always subconsciously kept me back from being so open."
On previous albums, Bury Tomorrow have buried their brains in metaphors and anecdotes, telling their stories from a birds-eye view rather than from their own point of view. There's a naked honesty that runs through the songs from the obliterating opener 'Choke' to the broodingly cold 'Quake', and it lends itself well to the band's ever-expanding evolution lyrically and sonically.
While delving into the depths of his mind was at the forefront of Dani's motivations, the rest of the band – guitarists Jason Cameron and Kristan Dawson, bassist Davyd Winter-Bates and drummer Adam Jackson – were just as concerned with exploring uncovered, uncharted and at times uncomfortable territory. By colouring outside of the lines, their straight-up metalcore has evolved into a whole new beast hellbent on delivering blistering blast beats and bulldozing breakdowns alongside some of the most melodic moments they've penned in their history as a band.
"There are some really proud moments on that record. Something like 'Quake' is really different for us as it flips our sound on its head between the serious melodies in the verses and then the really heavy choruses, not to mention an absolutely massive breakdown at the end.
"'Better Below' is quite commercial, but it's the most blatant when it comes to what it's about. If 'Cannibal' wasn't the title track, it would be that track. If I could pick one, it would be that one because it's so obvious of what it's about. 'Dark Infinite' on the other hand, is a straight-up metalcore banger."
Not only was the songwriting process built on progression, but it was also built on developing an in-house support network for Dani. In previous years, the band have shared their own experiences in the lyrics and poured their own hearts out into the music, however on 'Cannibal,' they set their sights on capturing the brainwaves of their frontman.
"I feel really lucky that the rest of the boys allowed me thematically to really go somewhere personal because this isn't a band of just me. This is a band of four other dudes who have their own agendas and their own problems in life or issues and demons they face every day, and for them, it's not always about mental health.
"It was important to me that I asked the questions to the guys. We've been brothers in arms and have been for a long time, and they were very open. They were willing to put their part into it. Jason wrote his lyrics focused around me, and Dawson writing the songs and putting his heart and soul into it to bring it to life, and Dav and Jacko doing their part too. They all rallied around me."
Being brothers in arms has and always will be one of the driving factors between Bury Tomorrow's stability in a scene too topsy-turvy for its own good. They've developed a deeply-rooted connection with their fans, from staying way past curfew after gigs until they've met every single person waiting for them to sharing their own troubling experiences to encourage and empower them to open up. They've never held a VIP meet and greet, and nor will they. Not only do Bury Tomorrow see their fans as the reason they're still making music, their fans are also part of the positivity that keeps Dani going:
"The things I get out of being in a band is connecting with people and talking to people and sharing experiences. I'm not going to ask people to pay for that, that's just not in me because I get things out of it too.
"We've done this on our own, we've had no handouts, no management steering our way, no magazines absolutely obsessing over our band and posting about us left right and centre. We've never had that over 14 years of being a band, it's just never happened so for us it's important that we truly connect to the people that actually matter which is our fans, and if I abandon them or I put them away in a box, then I've got nothing. It's important that they are the front and foremost thought in our brains at all decisions we make as a band."
With their fans driving their desire to continue to make music and take on tours, Bury Tomorrow are using the positive energy from their handout-free longevity and string of barrier-breaking Top 40 releases to stir the pot in the murky waters of the UK's political consciousness. It's clear that so many more bands could've been standing next to them had there been more of a support network for young creatives.
"We've never been the most critically acclaimed band, we're not the coolest band for people to say they listen to nor are we a hype band, we never have been, certainly not for a long time at least. Saying that, it's nice to see that metal can certainly stay in the mainstream world and there's a lot out there that tries to diminish that and not play it on our radios.
"The British government has a lot to answer for when it comes to the reason why British bands aren't as supported as Australian bands or Canadian bands, where a lot of effort is put into homegrown talent or music and the arts. We really don't do a lot in this country when it comes to promoting bands; it's hard for us to even survive."
It's not only the government's lack of support for the creative industries and the arts in the UK but their negligence towards taking ownership of the countries issues, particularly around mental health and equality that spurs the band on to use their platform for the greater good.
"Predominantly if we're in a position of power, we should only be preaching compassion and kindness to other people, whether that's around mental health, learning disabilities, human rights, equality and so on, and challenging points of incivility or unkindness and points of bigotry. We have an obligation to do that regardless of what people's political views are. If you are in a position of power, you have to think that you have influence and understand that influence and privilege. If you understand that, you need to use that for good.
"I'm proud of our band. Since day one we've championed being inclusive and equality-driven and moral and diminish the thought process around being a rock star or anything more than we are, which is just five dudes who are really lucky to do what we do."
It's clear in the way Dani articulates the thought-process behind making 'Cannibal' that there is an undying love for developing people and inspiring change. However, it's also clear that we're all human at the end of the day and that the concept of it being easier said than done will always be a struggle to defeat. In fact, 'Cannibal' is an attempt for Dani, and Bury Tomorrow at large, to begin practising what they preach.
"I preach a lot about talking, about reaching out to other people and being part of a community with people with depreciated mental health. When I'm doing that I need to do it myself and practise what I preach, so that's the brainchild of this album, which was to live by your word. Otherwise, I'm being negligent helping other people do it if I'm not following my own instructions."
With songs like 'Better Below' and 'Imposter' seeing Bury Tomorrow be as openly obvious about the meanings and messages behind their songs as ever before, it's clear that the crossover between Dani's life as a frontman and as a culture improvement facilitator for the NHS has benefited not only their musical output, but Dani's overall outlook on life.
"I want people to connect the dots. That's what this album is about, it's about people seeing those tangible links between what I say, that it's not a separation between what I do on social media, in the NHS and with the band, but that it's all one message and one thing and people can pick up on that. It's a conscious decision to make it really obvious."
"My situation with the NHS has been a weird journey because the band has developed me. I have a good understanding of people skills and talking to people on a platform, and understanding the level of trying to be humble and compassionate and kind to people and to be inclusive. The band has driven that because that's what we're about morally and ethically, and obviously the NHS has that as a pre-requisite - trying to treat people with equality-driven healthcare."
In a social media world where being yourself is becoming unusual and opening up about your feelings is taboo, 'Cannibal' is the flag-bearing call-to-arms this generation needs, and it's also the album Bury Tomorrow, and Dani in particular, need.
"This album is the last tick on that box, that people will now absolutely understand what I'm talking about rather than people going 'oh he must be talking about NHS stuff'. Obviously, I've played many shows and many tours and come back straight to work the next day, and it's helped me strike a balance mentally without having to flick between the two, I can just be the real me all the time."
Taken from the April issue of Upset. Bury Tomorrow's album 'Cannibal' is out 3rd July.
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