In the early days of the pandemic, Death Angel drummer Will Carroll was one of the first metal musicians diagnosed with COVID-19. The disease almost killed him: Carroll was in a medically induced coma for 12 days and one of the first patients in the United States to receive the then-experimental antiviral drug Remdesivir. But his journey was only beginning. Carroll first talked about his hospital battle with Decibel. During the interview, he mentioned strange experiences while in a coma that included imagining he’d been to hell and back and encountering a Jabba the Hutt-like creature. Metal blogs and mainstream news outlets picked up the story and implied Carroll had a religious conversion (he didn’t). The story quickly blew up on social media.
When the storm abated Carroll focused on the hard work of getting his health and life back. He speaks with us about his journey and what he’s learned during the pandemic. Death Angel will stream a concert on May 29 focusing on rarities from their catalog — get tickets here.
The last time we talked was shortly after you got home from the hospital. One of the things we discussed was some of your strange experiences in a coma. That story quickly got picked up and turned into something I never expected – people thought you had a religious conversion.
That small aspect of your story took off and had legs. A lot of people focused on that part with an agenda. A lot of Christians picked it up. Michael Sweet of Stryper posted my story, and that opened the floodgates for a bunch of Bible thumpers. I had Christians message me on Facebook and Instagram. A few of them even got my home address and sent Bibles. Some Christians are as crazy as cult members, and I wasn’t too comfortable that they knew where I live. It went on for like a month and was stressful. People were telling me to give myself completely to God, that I was only halfway there. I’m not a Born Again Christian, and I’m not going to church. I just had a bit of a spiritual awakening. I didn’t have much of a spiritual side before, and now I do. I believe in the power of prayer. I pray for Tom Hunting (Exodus drummer who is fighting squamous cell carcinoma) every day. But that story spiraled out of control, and I’m glad it’s behind me.
Didn’t you also hear from some coma survivors who had similar weird visions and dreams in the hospital?
I welcomed people who had similar experiences. I honestly didn’t know what to make of what happened to me. Many (coma survivors) also felt like they went to Hell and had a bad trip. I didn’t mind that they reached out to me and I even joined a few groups for coma survivors. It was just the Bible thumpers who scared me.
I couldn’t believe it when Fox News ran a story on your experience.
When that Fox story appeared, my phone started blowing up. I thought something terrible had happened or someone died. And it was just that people had seen my name on Fox News. Blabbermouth didn’t help the situation either. It was stressful, to say the least.
I think anyone who read the initial piece looked at it as a story about triumphing over COVID. It was disconcerting that some people picked up a small part of the piece and blew it out of proportion.
They ignored how these doctors saved my life and used the same methods to save other people’s lives. It was so frustrating – that was a tough month.
And Jabba the Hut isn’t exactly satanic…
I didn’t have any Star Wars fans reaching out to me [laughs].
After you finished hearing from Christians, what happened in your life in the ensuing months?
I learned to walk again. That was the scariest thing. Your body can deteriorate when you just lay in bed for two weeks. I focused on that immediately. Once I overcame that, I went straight back to drumming. The suspense was killing me, but I came back pretty quickly. I got addicted to Frisbee golf and started playing out a few times a week. I never did that before – I almost hated nature before, and now I love it.
You hear a lot about long-haul corona survivors, and many of them didn’t have nearly as bad of a case as you did. Have you had any lingering symptoms?
I’ve had none whatsoever. I got a clean bill of health six months ago. My heart and lungs recovered one hundred percent. I don’t feel any bizarre fatigue and have no breathing issues. When I drum, I have the same endurance as before. The only thing that happened is that much of my hair fell out when I got home from the hospital. I’ve heard that happened to other COVID survivors. But I’m pretty lucky. I’ll take it.
You were one of the artists who participated in Decibel‘s Get Behind the Mask campaign. As you’ve watched the progression of the pandemic in the past year-plus, were you amazed that people were flaunting health guidelines?
A handful of people who have been friends for years fall into that category. I didn’t know how to deal with them. I didn’t want to deal with them. Between the pandemic and the election, a lot of people’s true colors have come out. Some of these people I’ve known for 20-plus years. Now I look at them in a different light or don’t talk to them at all anymore. It was a bummer.
What kind of argument can someone make with a person who almost died from the disease?
You’d be surprised. A few people in bands that we know very well were saying stuff on social media like: “I don’t know a single person who’s gotten COVID.” I didn’t even need to respond because a hundred people would jump in and say, “you don’t know Will Carroll?”
Half of your band got sick.
Half of that tour! A lot of the crew and Chuck Billy (Testament vocalist) and the guys in Exodus.
Do you hear a lot about your COVID battle in everyday life? Or have things returned to a place where it doesn’t come up as much?
I’m still seeing a lot of people for the first time since it happened. And they will say: “Oh My God!” It kind of throws me off guard because I’ve forgotten about it a bit. So when I see people, it gets brought up all the time. But the news has died down, and I’m okay with that.
What is Death Angel up to now?
We are still working on new stuff. We have a stream coming up at the end of the month, and we’ve been working on a bunch of old, rare songs this lineup has never played. It’s been a lot of fun and allows me to reconnect with the guys. We’re hoping to be in the studio before the end of the year.
Have you been vaccinated yet?
I got Pfizer. After the first shot, I felt like I did leading up to the hospital – I was just laid out in my bed. I had a fever and that flu feeling. After two days I was fine. I got my second shot, and it hit me like a sledgehammer.
I wonder if you reacted to it more intensely because of your previous infection?
It could be. But I’m glad I did it, and I encourage everyone to do it.
I think a few days of discomfort is better than anyone dealing with something similar to what you had in 2020.
What have you learned about the human condition from this whole experience… both your convalescence and the media blowup?
I learned who my friends are. I’d say about 99 percent of people I considered true friends stood by me. But I did see a few people who were supposed to be my friends sensationalizing the whole thing. I also take things like basic health more seriously. I led a very unhealthy lifestyle before all of this. I wouldn’t say I’m some health guru now, but I think about life down the road and check in with my doctor. I want to be here long-term for my girl and my family. I think I was selfish before this whole experience. I still drink but not like I used to, and I’m eating better. There is life beyond metal. That was all I cared about before this happened. I miss touring, and I miss playing shows. But this time off has led to a lot of self-discovery.