HEAVY METAL LYRICS
AS A FORM OF SOCIAL PROTEST
Carlos Eduardo Reali
B.A., Metropolitan State College of Denver, 2003
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
In partial fulfillment
Of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Carlos Eduardo Reali
has been approved
Reali, Carlos Eduardo (M.A., Sociology)
Heavy Metal Lyrics as a form of Social Protest
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Candan Duran-Aydintug
This mass messaging content analysis study presents several examples of heavy metal
lyrics as a form of social protest. The analysis was done by coding using a purposive
convenience sample of twenty four heavy metal songs from fourteen different bands,
and spanning eighteen different albums recorded within the last two and a half
decades. Furthermore, content analysis for this study was done through the analysis of
the lyrical content of the twenty-four songs in relation to four major categories of
social protest. These major categories were politics, religion, war, and social
problems. The social problems category was divided in six different sections: social
violence, media control, drug abuse, materialism, racism, and environmental issues.
The theoretical framework of mass media as a primary site for the construction and
dissemination of dominant ideologies, establishes a link with the social protest
content in heavy metal lyrics making them a genuine part of the culture industry and
one of the principal channels for ideological discourse in contemporary society. After
inductively testing the research statement I find that it is consistent with the focus of
this study and the theoretical framework presented along with it.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
I dedicate this work first and foremost to my mother Graciela who has always been
there for me, who has supported me with love, and has given me many of the means
to be where I am at this point in my life. I would also not be writing this dedication
without the help, support, caring, patience, teachings, encouragement, and undying
friendship from my band of brothers (and one sister) conformed by David, Chris,
Max, and Marglie. More than my friends, they are family to me. I also want to thank
my biggest muse whose name is none other than MUSIC. You have inspired me
throughout my life, you have guided me, you have been there for me always,
entertained me, taught me, and shown me that humanity still needs you and will
always need you. There is nothing more beautiful than music and I thank you for
existing and making my existence more meaningful. I also want to thank Heavy
Metal music, the Heavy Metal community, and all the Heavy Metal bands around the
world that have made this project possible. Hail and kill brothers...
My sincere thanks and gratitude goes to Candan Duran-Aydintug. I am also very
thankful to my guiding friend Andrea Haar. Another extension of my gratitude goes
to Ed Casteel for accepting to be a part of this project. Thanks to all my mentors
Dennis Green, Deena Weinstein, Jim Beaver, Max/Paulo Jr/Andreas/Igor, and Amin
Kazak. Last but not at all least, my deepest gratitude to the entire department for their
support, friendship, and guidance. To my fellow graduate students, and those closest
to me Tony, Melanie, Michelle, Shokoufeh, and Natrice for their friendship and good
laughs. Thank you all for all the wonderful moments and experiences that I was able
to live in these past three years of my life.
1. INTRODUCTION................................................. 1
2. LITERATURE REVIEW............................................ 8
Cultural Functions of Music................................8
Music as a Representational Art Form......................9
Music and the Individual...................................9
Rock Music and Its Impact on Society......................11
Lyrical Impact on Society.................................13
Theoretical Framework.................................... 16
The Framing of Heavy Metal Lyrics........................ 17
Data Collection and Sampling..............................20
Study Sample and Its Characteristics......................21
Social Protest Categories.................................24
Human Ambition and Materialism..................... 47
5. DISCUSSION AND LIMITATIONS...................................49
Limitations and Future Research...........................52
Gordon Graham [a Moral Philosophy professor at the University of Saint
Andrews in Scotland] (1995) asks, why should we value music? He also asks what is
important about it, and what can we hope to get from it? These complex questions
have motivated me to ask more specific questions such as how can musical lyrics
influence our lives? Especially, the question that I want to explore in this study: Can
Heavy Metal lyrics be a form of social protest?
John Cage (1961) describes music as a way of waking up to the very life we
are living. Van Meter Ames (1967) also states that the human organism is psychical
as well as physical, thus ideas, emotions, and all kinds of associations are stirred by
what is heard. Leonard Meyer (1956) discussed musical meaning as consisting of
recognition and expectation. Subsequently he limited meaning to attention mostly
directed toward the antecedent, and used the term information for attention
concentrated more upon the consequent (Meyer, 1956).
Gordon Graham (1995) states that some of the most reputable students of
music have not hesitated to assert that music is a special sort of language, one in
which composers may tell us things and in which statements can be made. He argues
that some of them have made this claim expressly in order to establish the values and
importance of music and to show it to be on a par with other artistic and intellectual
Lydia Goehr (1994) states that music originates in, and resonates with, what
turns out to be one of humanitys deepest religious and philosophical impulses,
namely, to transcend the ordinary world of human imperfection. This can also be
considered the earliest stage in music history, which denounced some human aspect.
Goehr (1994) also states that this impulse motivated the rise of romanticism around
1800, and the concept of aesthetic autonomy that romanticism articulated as a way to
separate out the fine arts from other human productions.
As history ran its course, Van Meter Ames (1967) states that contemporary
music has become much more irregular in structure than eighteenth and nineteenth-
century music. Yet the composer, being an artist, likes the unexpected. Ames (1967)
knows that it was surprise in music of the past, before its novelties wore off; also that
it was felt to be expressive. He also states that when music was mostly vocal, it
obviously was human. Ames (1967) argues that the violin and other instruments may
still be heard as voices, but there is also the use of the singers voices as if they were
instruments of the orchestra.
Goehr (1994) says that in the early years of the 21st century, having developed
increasingly modernists and abstract forms, much modem types of music were
criticized for having produced a set of formal musical languages that were cut off
from the real world and of no appeal to general audiences. She argues that this music
had become too autonomous and formalistic. It has become elite and specialized, too
concerned with purely technical or music innovations. Following this, the next step
was what Ames (1967) presents as the historical fact that electronic music was first
introduced in the 1920s. Along with this fact, Van Meter Ames (1967) speaks of the
limitation put upon musical thought by a system of notation 350 years old. Thus, the
innevitable evolution that resulted in what can be called electronic music and the
modem musical era.
Having stated these historical notions, I continue with my focus of arriving at
the primary question for this study. Gordon Graham (1995) says that music is as
easily described as moving or exciting as it is called pleasurable. Graham (1995)
continues by saying that the ability to be moved by music is what most people
suppose to be an essential element in music appreciation. Moreover, Graham (1995)
argues that what is missing from the analytical understanding of music, is the very
thing that most musicians and music lovers hold to be peculiarly valuable in music,
namely, its lyrical content.
Michael Butor (1961) protests against the prejudice that music has nothing to
express, attributing this to social pressure building up for analytical thinking. Butor
(1961) maintains that music is a means of knowing ourselves, no less because we
may feel the need to evade self-knowledge, by reducing a score to structures of
numbers. Furthermore, Herbert Brun (1963) sees that the new composers are being
influenced by the social situation, as it is reflected in and affected by information
theory and sociology. Brun (1963) continues by saying that it is the world we live in,
gripped by social changes, speeded by mass methods and cybernetic techniques,
which is heard in the new music.
Gordon Graham (1995) states that some jazz, for instance, has generally not
received the degree of attention that it might warrant and could sustain, partly because
those who most go in for the study and analysis of music have a preference for other
types of music. He also says that this preference is usually presented in the form of a
judgment. Graham (1995) specifies that a similar fate has befallen the remarkable
musicianship that is to be found among heavy metal bands; distaste has led to its
being discounted. Lee Brown (2000) further states that the category of rock music is
an established category of popular music; heavy metal belonging to the broader rock
genre. Brown (2000) also says that we could define rock in terms of rock n roll
style, and then go on to unpack the latter to complete the definition of rock. Brown
(2000) also characterizes rock as music of very specific sound qualities and their
In a more academic sense, Joseph Kerman (1985) describes traditional
musicology as being inclined toward the factual, the documentary, the verifiable, the
analyzable, the positivistic, and concerned primarily with the establishment of critical
editions, with paleography, transcription, repertory studies, archival work,
bibliography, and biography narrowly conceived. Kerman (1985) also says that
musicologists are respected for the facts they know about music, but they are not
admired for their insight into music as an aesthetic experience. He states that this is
not to say that criticism through a concern with meaning, value, and aesthetic
response has been totally absent from traditional music study (Kerman, 1985). The
last ten years, Kerman (1985) argues, have shown remarkable changes in musicology.
Kerman (1985) says that the American Musicological Society and other social
sciences have sponsored a gradually increasing number of sessions on topics like
aesthetic and critical issues, music and politics, fact and value, music literature,
literary theory, deconstruction, narrative studies, ideology, affect and meaning,
composers and sexuality, feminist studies, gender studies, and gay studies. Kerman
(1985) also states that new journals have been founded, and an increasing number of
the great wealth of books that have been published can be considered criticism. He
also states that authors have drawn on fields such as philosophy, literary criticism, art
history, anthropology, psychology, and film studies. In response to Kermans notion I
agree that the meaning, value, and aesthetic response have not been totally absent, but
in my opinion these interpretations and factors have definitely taken a back seat to the
true importance that music messages have in our modem society.
On the other hand, Hanns Eisler (1935) wrote abundantly on music and
politics. Eisler endorsed two political causes: the emancipation of the proletariat and
the fight against fascism. Eisler (1935) wrote that music should not turn a deaf ear to
the conflicts of the times. Following the Marxist line that revolution involves the
radical transformation of the old into the new, Eisler aspired to develop a political
musical language out of what, in his view, had become a thoroughly apolitical one.
Eisler (1935) also stated that a music which loses its sense of community loses itself;
he said that music is composed for the people by the people. Eisler (1935) expanded
his notion by stating that the crisis in music has been caused by the general crisis in
society. He went on to say that revolutionary music is the music of critical argument
and that new forms can be used simultaneously to negate one set of ideals and affirm
another. Eisler (1935) argues that these ideals can be used dialectically to represent
the contradictions of society. He also stated that music should transform the
consciousness of an active community of people.
In relation to these notions, Lydia Goehr (1994) presents the question: In what
relation does music stand to society? Goehr (1994) explains that to understand music
in all its dimensions, it no longer suffices to analyze the form and content of musical
works in isolation; we must investigate as well the institutional context in which the
composition, performance, and reception, the production, exchange, and distribution
of works take place within the context in which these works assume their full
meaning. Goehr (1994) also states that the reductionists view music and its messages
as always and only in service as a form of ideological expression, a prostituted
endorsement of reigning interests. To this end, in this study, I will analyze heavy
metal lyrics using social protest subcategories such as politics, religion, war, and
social problems; with the last category of social problems being divided in six
different sections: social violence, media control, drug abuse, materialism, racism,
and environmental issues.
Cultural Functions of Music
Hans David (1951) states that in the early stages of civilization, musics
primary function was largely as a medium of magic. David says that the primitive
man was surrounded by a world he could not explain, therefore, music was a magic
power. Later on within the history of civilization David (1951) also states that the
music of the Middle Ages largely served the Church. This secular music was
produced in the knightly society of the crusades. David (1951) also talks about the
sociological place of music in the Renaissance as the musician working for Church or
court being employed by a king, a prince, or free men.
Hans David (1951) states that in Oriental [sic] thinking, music has been the
connecting link between man and universe. In ancient Greece music was a symbol of
order and an ethical force in education. If we are to describe the functions of music in
our own time, David (1951) states, we must take into consideration economic as well
as artistic conditions in a society based on free competition where music becomes a
Music as a Representational Art Form
Kendall Walton (1994) states that Plato characterized music as mimetic.
Walton also states that Eduard Hanslick insists that music is just sound or sound
structure, that its interest lies in the notes themselves, not in the stories that they tell
or anything that they mean. Walton (1994) also states that music sometimes
combines words and/or images to form a representational whole, as in song, opera,
film, and dance. Walton defends the notion that music is expressive in one way or
another, and its expressiveness has to do with its susceptibility to being made
explicitly representational. Walton (1994) continues by noting that to be expressive is
to bear a significant relation to human emotions or feelings or whatever it is that is
Music and the Individual
Stratton (1992) argues that music in general reduces stress levels.
Momhinweg (1992) exposes that music also reduces anxiety levels, and even
enhances performance on abstract/spatial reasoning tests (Rauscher, Shaw, & Ky,
1993). According to some researchers, these effects can be attributed to musics
ability to alter mood states as described by Momhinweg (1992).
Previous research concluded that music can shift electroencephalograph
(EEG) readings in chronically depressed adolescents after the participants were
submitted to a 23-minute session of listening to rock music. These EEG readings
suggest that music can affect right frontal activation and cortisol levels when
depression and relaxation interventions have been applied (Field et al., 1998).
At the same time, Scheel and Westefeld (1999) state that adolescent suicide
rates have been increasing over the past few years causing a widespread concern. This
issue has sometimes been tied with music preferences of adolescents and more
specifically the music genre labeled heavy metal. Although one of the studies
reviewed did not find enough evidence to suggest that there is a significant interaction
between heavy metal and suicidality it was found that adolescents preference for
heavy metal music has led and/or influenced decisions related to psychiatric
hospitalization (Scheel & Westefeld, 1999).
According to Stack (1998), heavy metal has not only been related to suicide
rates but also with suicide acceptability and religiosity. This specific style contributes
to non-religious beliefs which can lead to low or no church attendance which is also
closely tied in with suicide acceptability (Stack, 1998). On the other hand, Ballard &
Coates (1995) registers no effects between heavy metal and rap songs on anxiety or
self-esteem issues in relation to mood states of 164 college students who participated
in their study (Ballard & Coates, 1995) while country and western music was
positively identified as a factor that had a significant interaction with suicide rates in
major U.S. cities where this music style was aired on the radio (Lester & Whipple,
1996). These factors are not being measured in this study nor do they represent any
biased intentions of discrediting any specific music style in this or any other culture.
They are merely promoters of the idea that there is an effect on mood states in
individuals, and this is just regarding the musical content of different genres.
Rock Music and its Impact on Society
More research has been conducted in hope of portraying a different side of
musical preferences and lyrical content of various songs for some individuals.
Classroom experiences with music have been of great help and have demonstrated
very positive results in the use of such technique. For instance, rock music was
utilized to illustrate and personify concepts inside a sociology course, basing this
procedure on rock musics lyrics. This was done with the intention of facilitating
class discussions and the students response was favorable (Martinez, 1995). In a
related study, rock music has been able to provide subject matter for other courses.
This has been done by interpreting the music thus expanding the teaching possibilities
inside a classroom and relating the surroundings, experiences, and issues in many of
the students lives (Lane, 1997), which once again shows a clear relationship of how
music interacts with an individual and how the individuals musical acceptance can
determine positive behavior, in this case, towards learning academic material in more
comfortable and original settings. Parallel to this, early poor academic achievement
may draw adolescents to different styles of music by creating a feeling of inferiority,
therefore affecting their mood and encouraging them to grasp other ways to fit in and
rebuild their self-esteem (Took & Weiss, 1994).
The notion that adolescents are passive receptors of negative values such as
the values sometimes included in music, is not warranted (Leming, 1987). The
relationship between rock music, moral values, and some behavioral patterns among
many adolescents are very difficult to establish. Leming (1987) also states that music
does not necessarily have a negative effect on personality moods because while
young people might be influenced by the content of songs they sometimes challenge,
understand, disagree with, and criticize lyrics.
Even though many individuals in our society express concerns about
destructive lyrics (Wass, 1989), music can also be discussed and studied as a
reflection of, rather than a cause of behavioral patterns in society (Arnett, 1991).
These notions simply corroborate the fact that music does have an effect on the
psyche of an individual as it could easily dictate, control, or at the very least,
influence the mood state in which that individual may function either, on certain
tasks, or in society in general. Hence, why lyrical expression is so meaningful and so
important for society.
Stack, Gundlach, & Reeves (1994) explain that music and its various styles
also provide the opportunity for many social interactions. Among these interactions
they find that an individual who relates and/or likes a certain style of music might
find him or herself attending concerts or dances where performers execute such
preferred style (Stack, Gundlach, & Reeves, 1994). These interactions are important
to all of us since many of us need some sort of leisure activity that is tied with social
interaction. Whether it is a party, or a concert, or a dance, there is the need for a
specific mood, which can determine if the individual would attend such social events
and enjoy them in what they can hope would be a positive experience. Individuals
may also seek an artistic escape through music having performances of resistance
expressed in their music choices (Deyhle, 1998). Furthermore, these interpretations of
such lyrical messages may also induce intellectual shifts regarding the notion of
making people critically think about an issue or message presented in a song.
Weinberger (1998) presents the fact that music therapy exists in addition to
the fact that psychology, biology, medicine, education, and computer science are in
favor of a mutual appreciation, communication and collaboration towards this
research idea, is something that not only creates hope, but has also inspired plenty of
research related to this issue of music therapy. The futuristic goal would be the
possible creation of a multidisciplinary science of music (Weinberger, 1998).
Lyrical Impact on Society
When we look at other aspects of lyrical messages Bryson (1996) presents the
notion that research on cultural taste takes into consideration that patterns of taste
reflect and influence social structure and economic inequality (Bryson, 1996).
Another important body of sociological literature posts that education increases
tolerance of political and religious nonconformity (Adorno 1950; Stouffer 1955;
Davis 1975; Nunn, Crockett, and Williams 1978; Lipset 1981), racial integration
(Greeley and Sheatsley, 1971; Hyman and Wright, 1979), and many normative
violations (Davis, 1992). Judging from these studies it is clear that they do not apply
to many of the educated people that think that heavy metal lyrics have no positive
messages, nor any social value. These are the same people that dismiss the power and
positive influence that these protest lyrics can have in our society. These are also the
same people that try to censor and/or ban certain songs, albums, bands, and even
dismiss entire music genres.
Bryson (1996) also states that individuals use cultural taste to reinforce
symbolic boundaries between themselves and categories of people they dislike
(Bryson, 1996). Hence, why some heavy metal bands, their members, and their
messages have been targeted through a negative light and dismissed as a violent,
nonconformist, and Satanic musical subculture. In contrast to this notion, we can see
music in a different light, we can see music and its lyrics as a symbolic resource
(Bryson, 1996). When analyzing such a claim we can see that music has long been
considered an important part of social life. Its symbolic and ritual powers are used to
explain both social cohesion and cultural resistance (Willis, 1977; Hedbige, 1979;
Rose, 1994). Furthermore, music is an important cultural and communicative medium
(Bryson, 1996). For instance, Cerulo (1995) describes how national anthems
represent identity and communicate a nations position in the world system. Likewise,
Weinstein (1991) demonstrates that heavy metal music generates community and
solidarity among fans while sending an unmistakable message to its detractors. Music
contains a complex set of dimensions, sounds, lyrics, visual cues, social relations, and
physical acts (DeNora, 1991; Dowd, 1992). Music also permits many levels of
engagement, from humming to oneself to screaming above the music with 30,000
fans. Given its symbolic and social potency, it is no wonder that music is such an
important part of human society, that nearly every nation has an anthem, that most
religious ceremonies involve music, and that singing is so frequently a part of
political rallies. The importance of music to group identity and social differentiation,
then, suggests that musical taste provides a good test for questions about symbolic
boundaries (Bryson, 1996).
Binder (1993) states that music and lyrical messages are also part of this very
broad medium called the media. Music is a form of entertainment since people
usually read, watch films, and listen to music as major sources of media
entertainment. Many other people also correlate the media with news sources. These
news sources, combined with parental associations, politicians, and religious groups
have taken upon themselves to protect society from the dreaded influence of heavy
metal messages, but it could be argued that many people do not comprehend what
they fear, which in this case is an open channel for social change and social
awareness through lyrical messages. Binder (1993) argues that the pronounced shift
in the discourse about lyrics cannot be explained by differences in the cultural objects
alone (Binder, 1993). Instead, these notions reflect opinion writers perceptions of the
population represented in the heavy metal musical genre. Writers who have been
concerned about heavy metal lyrics did not address the content of the music alone;
embedded in their discussions were reactions to differences in the demographic
characteristics of the genres producers and audiences (Binder 1993).
Interest in the mass media as a primary site for the construction and
dissemination of dominant ideologies was first formally developed in the writings of
theorists associated with the Frankfurt School (Adorno, 1957; Horkheimer and
Adorno, 1972). Writers working from this perspective argued that the mass media, a
key member of the culture industry, were the principal channels for ideological
discourse in contemporary society (Thompson, 1990). As originally set forth, this
thesis subscribes to the idea of heavy metal lyrics as a form of social protest, thus
presenting a dominant ideology amongst heavy metal followers and other non-
followers. This mass media as a primary site for the construction and dissemination of
dominant ideologies theory has been widely contested on empirical grounds (Cantor,
1980; Schudson, 1989). In the past several decades, sociologists and other researchers
interested in the mass media have developed a subtler and more nuanced explanation
of ideological communication (Binder, 1993).
Building on this notion, recent studies have demonstrated that the media
actively construct the events they report by responding to economic and
organizational considerations (Tuchman, 1972, 1973; Gans, 1979), and more
important for the purpose of this study, by providing the available means through
which audiences make sense of events or objects.
Are these artists sending a message of protest that is received by many within
the heavy metal subculture? Are they trying to artistically make sense of the world
surrounding them and express those experiences and perception through their musical
channel? When researching these questions one aspect is certain, all of the messages
are construed as the artists opinion, therefore being legally and morally supported by
such a human right as freedom of speech.
The Framing of Heavy Metal Lyrics
Popular music has always been denigrated by adult society (Binder, 1993).
Musical genres like the blues, jazz, and early rock and roll and dances like the
jitterbug, samba, and rhumba provoked complaints from older generations about the
perversion and general corruption of their children (Peterson, 1972; McDonald, 1988;
Rosenbaum and Prinsky, 1991). Thus, heavy metal was targeted next as this genres
lyrical style was one full of shock, truth, anti-establishment sense, and most of all, its
social protest style. To understand the specific nature of the controversy that
surrounds the many messages expressed in this genre, it is necessary to present a
major event that shaped the media discourse; the Senate hearing in 1985.
The 1985 standing-room-only Senate hearing launched a maelstrom of media
debate about music lyrics (Binder, 1993). One of the most frequent arguments made
about heavy metal music was introduced in 1985 by members of the Parents Music
Resource Center (PMRC) and its witnesses (Binder, 1993). One framing argument
presented by the PMRC is called by Binder (1993) the corruption frame. The
PMRC presented the argument that explicit lyrics, whether glorifying suicide, anti-
authority attitudes, or deviant sexual acts, have a negative effect on childrens
attitudes. A brief speech delivered to the Senate Committee by the PMRC witness Joe
Steussy tries to justify this notion and corroborate such framing of heavy metal music
Todays heavy metal music is categorically different from previous forms of popular
music...Its principal themes are, as you have already heard, extreme violence, extreme
rebellion, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and perversion, and Satanism. I know
personally of no form of popular music before, which has had as one of its central elements
the element of hatred. (U.S. Senate Hearing Before the Committee on Commerce, Science,
and Transportation 1985, p. 117)
Reflecting on her campaign against graphic lyrics, Tipper Gore (1987)
presented one of her main points when she wrote:
We feel as we do because we know that children are special gifts, and deserve to be treated
with love and respect, gentleness and honesty. They deserve security and guidance about
living, loving, and relating to other people. And they deserve vigilant protection from the
excess of adult society (Gore, p.46).
In addition to these testimonies, Paul King, a child and adolescent psychiatrist
who testified at the Senate hearing on behalf of the PMRC, stated:
Every teenager who listens to heavy metal certainly does not become a killer. [But] young
people who are seeking power over others through identification with the power of evil find a
close identification. The lyrics become a philosophy of life. It becomes a religion. (U.S.
Senate Hearing Before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation 1985,
There are many different themes in heavy metal lyrics that society agrees
upon being deviant. The debate generated by the PMRC is still being felt within the
recording industry and society, but since heavy metals exclusion from mainstream
musical popularity, other genres has taken its place in the controversy that always
surrounds music and freedom of speech. Yes, we need to protect our children and
their innocence, but we also desperately need to take responsibility for them and take
some time to explain many issues and/or aspects of society, instead of relegating that
role to the media, religion, or the government.
Data Collection and Sampling
Data collection for this study is consistent with the notions of an idiographic
approach to content analysis by focusing on a precise conclusion about a particular
case. The qualitative nature of this study lends itself to microdocumenting through a
syntagmatic approach with the analysis of written text. In this case, such text is
derived from the lyrical contents of the heavy metal songs chosen for this study.
These same songs are the unit of data collection for this study; with the lyrical
messages representing the unit of analysis and the unit of sampling.
This mass messaging content analysis study is done through coding; and by
using a convenience sample of twenty four heavy metal songs from fourteen different
bands, and spanning eighteen different albums altogether from these bands in the last
two and a half decades. Content analysis studies relies on examinations of message
content and when using convenience sampling by relying on the selection of readily
available units, this will be very relevant when studying the protest lyrical messages
of these twenty four heavy metal songs.
Study Sample and Its Characteristics
As mentioned before, this sample consists of twenty-four heavy metal songs
from fourteen different heavy metal bands. The songs were taken out of eighteen
different albums from these fourteen bands. Out of these bands, three of them are
from Europe; two from Germany, Kreator and Maroon, and one from Sweden,
Hypocrisy. Nine other bands are from North America, all of them from the United
States (Megadeth, Six Feet Under, Fight, Slayer, Deicide, Pantera, Nevermore, Metal
Church, and Testament). The remaining two bands come from South America; one
from Brazil, Sepultura and one from Venezuela, Laberinto. Two notable details about
this group of bands is that the band Fight had members from the United States and
members from England, but they all live in the United States for the last two decades
at least so they are being counted as a United States band. The Venezuelan band
Laberinto is based in Holland but all members are Venezuelan and moved there in
their middle twenties.
These sample characteristics go along the criteria for choosing these bands.
Looking closer, these bands represent three different continents, which are also the
three most mainstream continents for heavy metal following and heavy metal music
production. Furthermore, these bands represent four of the major countries where
heavy metal music comes from, regarding production and distribution, in this case
being the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Brazil. Twelve bands have a first
world background and two other bands have a third world background, but this does
not affect their lyrical messages.
Another extremely important criterion that was followed for this study was
applied to the selection of the twenty-four songs. These songs represent the unit of
data collection and their messages represent the unit of analysis and sampling, lyrical
ambiguity was an issue that was carefully dealt with. In order to provide more
validity to this study, non-metaphorical lyrics were used. The messages in the lyrics
had to be unambiguous in the sense that a more realistic and simplistic lyrical style
was preferred. This simply helped prevent the different interpretations that metaphors
can have within a songs lyrics; this way it will be easier to understand the very core
message of the song while still preserving and presenting an artistic and poetic
writing style. Furthermore, this unambiguity aspect will help with coder reliability.
Out of these fourteen bands, seven bands have a primary songwriter band
member, four bands have two primary songwriters in their respective bands, and three
bands had the entire group contributing to the songwriting process. All fourteen bands
are conformed by three, four, or five bandmembers. One last important detail pertains
to the twenty-four songs chosen for this study. These songs span from 1986 until
2005, which means that they were published throughout the last nineteen years of our
last two and a half decades.
Content analysis for this study is being done through the analysis of the lyrical
content of the twenty-four songs in relation to four major categories of social protest.
These major categories are politics, religion, war, and social problems. The criteria
utilized for the first three categories consisted in choosing lyrical messages that dealt
with any aspects of politics, for example, talking about the system, international
politics, and politicians. The religion category is no different and the same criterion
were applied, event though most of songs presented in this study are anti-Christian
songs and others are anti-organized religion songs. The war category could include
any aspects of war such as causes and after effects. The last category, social
problems, is the most complex category of the four. This is a very general, all
encompassing category in sociology. In order to deal with this issue this category was
divided into six different subcategories being social violence, media control, drug
abuse, social ambition, racism, and the environment. Out of the twenty-four songs
chosen for this study, six songs are included in the politics category; five songs are
presented in relation to the religion category; five songs chosen for the war category;
and eight songs were chosen for the social problems categories in direct relation to
the complexity and size of this category. These twenty-four songs were purposefully
selected to not cross the different categories mentioned above.
Social Protest Categories
As previously stated, this study counts with four major social protest
categories; politics, religion, war, and social problems which includes six different
levels. For the first social protest category of politics six songs were selected. Let us
begin by analyzing the lyrical content of these six songs in relation to a broad
spectrum of political issues that these artists decided to explore.
The first song is called Peace Sells by Dave Mustaine and it was performed by
Megadeth (1986). Mustaine writes:
What do you mean, "I don't believe in God"? I talk to him every day. What do you mean, "I
don't support your system"? I go to court when I have to. What do you mean, "I can't get to
work on time"? I got nothing better to do And, what do you mean, "I don't pay my bills"?
Why do you think I'm broke? Huh? If there's a new way, I'll be the first in line. But, it better
work this time. What do you mean, "I hurt your feelings"? I didn't know you had any feelings.
What do you mean, "I ain't kind"? I'm just not your kind. What do you mean, "I couldn't be
president, of the United States of America"? Tell me something, it's still "We the people",
right? If there's a new way I'll be the first in line, But, it better work this time. Can you put a
price on peace? Peace, Peace sells..., Peace sells...,but who's buying?
The political content of this song is mainly targeted at the superpowers of the
world and also at the United Nations. Mustaine (1986) writes about the system as
far as believing in God, which represents a religious connotation. He writes about
supporting the system, having a job and contributing to society, along with paying his
bills. We can see a clear messages to politicians in the sense that he argues that
after being a model citizen and carrying out his civil responsibilities it is still left to
politicians to control the greater scheme of life, and it is up to them to control war and
peace. Hence, the criticism through the song title that peace sells. Whoever has the
means or the political pull will be safe under the peaceful weapons that we have
in our world today.
The second song was written by Max Cavalera (1993) and it is titled
Refuse/Resist. This song has a clear inclination towards the topic of resistance
through civil protest, and also a clear anti-establishment sentiment. Cavalera wrote:
Chaos A.D. Tanks on the streets. Confronting police. Bleeding the plebes. Raging crowd.
Burning cars. Bloodshed stars. Who'll be alive?! Chaos A.D. Army in siege. Total alarm. I'm
sick of this. Inside the state. War is created. No man's land. Whats this shit?! Refuse/resist
Refuse Chaos A.D. Disorder unleashed. Starting to bum. Starting to lynch. Silence means
death. Stand on your feet. Inner fear. Your worst enemy. Refuse/resist.
In this song, we start with a clear message that there is chaos after the Anno Domini,
which speaks of the world today. Tanks being on the streets along with police
confrontation, this comes from civil uprising and civilian confrontation against the
government, hence the reference to refuse and resist in order to advance their
position or achieve a goal. Cavalera makes reference to how inside the state war is
created in the sense that those who oppose the state will be involved in a war. One of
the most uplifting messages in this song is that silence means death, that you need to
stand up for your rights, to not be afraid, and to fight for your ideals.
A third example of the political side of social protest messages is one
presented by Chris Barnes and Allen West (1997) through their song called
Manipulation. This song performed by Six Feet Under, has a concise message about
government manipulation, individual freedom, and the plead for respecting human
rights. Barnes and West protest the following:
Don't speak to me about freedom. Don't speak to me about being free. My mind is mine.
Amputate my mind. You just want to. My mind is mine. No one else's. Manipulation. Now it's
too late. They're gonna take. Away my freedom. Amputate my mind. You just want to. My
mind is mine. No one else's. Manipulation. Don't speak to me about freedom. Don't speak to
me about being free. Don't speak to me it's just a fucking lie!
Barnes and Wests no holds barred approach to their message is very clear. They
feel that the government has manipulated them, and many others, and they carry a
powerful message of our minds belonging to ourselves. They also touch on the human
rights issue of freedom with a nuance about not being free because we are constantly
manipulated and enslaved by the government and society. They ventilate their
frustration against the people that are constantly telling us that we are free, but they
clearly disagree with their last message stating that they believe that its just a
Rob Halford (1993) wrote a song called War of Words, which is performed by
the band Fight. The name of the band is a sure indication of what this band is about.
Halfords lyrics read:
Congress shall make no law, respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the
people peacefully to assemble; and to petition the government for a re-dress of grievances.
Revoke this verbal mental muzzle. Protect the freedom of the mind. Speak out against the
prejudicial. Extinguish ignorance by mouth. War of words. War of words. Disarm the bigotry
with talk, incite the darkness from the veil, react to rhetoric conflict, object with anger at the
law. War of words. Denied opinion comes from silence. Remove the pressure of the tongue.
Assault by speech toward the discord. Attack the fundamental creed. War of words. A War of
words. A War.
Yet another example of protesting against the governments of the world. Halford
denounces the practices against freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of
the press, and freedom of assembly imposed by many governments in many different
countries. It is a clear anti-government control message mixed with the innuendo that
they are always involved in a war of words. Halford values the freedom of the mind
and denounces prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance. He also reminds people that
they should object with anger at the law, which has a clear message of being tired of
being abused and not being able to do much about it. Halford screams about not
silencing ourselves and taking a stance amidst this war of words.
Max Cavalera (1993) has another clear protest message, this time against
political propaganda. In the song Propaganda, performed by Sepultura, Cavalera tries
to create conscience about this issue through his lyrics, he says:
Why don't you get a life and grow up. Why don't you realize that youre fucked up. Why
criticize what you don't understand. Why change my words, you're so afraid. You think you
have the right to put me down. Propaganda hides your scum. Face to face you don't have a
word to say. You got in my way, now you'll have to pay. Don't, don't believe what you see.
Don't, don't believe what you read. No!!! I know my ways, I'm here to stay. I didn't star all
this yesterday. I'll prove you wrong all the way. Life teaches me you're always alone.
In these lyrics we find a very strong message targeted at governments and politicians
regarding political propaganda. Cavalera points out that people usually criticize what
they do not understand. That many of words that we say are misunderstood and
taken out of context in order to gain advantage over the content of certain repressing
comments. He states that people who use propaganda for their own means usually
hide behind it, as it is the most acceptable way to do it in our society. Cavalera
also points out that these people do not have the means to defend their points of views
and/or agendas. He ends his message with a cry for conscience about not believing
what we see and what we read, in the media, hinting at a precise manipulation of the
facts and opposing opinions.
The last political protest message chosen comes from Peter Tagtgren and his
song Scrutinized. This song, performed by Hypocrisy, has a very unique focus in
politics. In here, Tagtgren present a protest message regarding technology and the
governments invasion of privacy. Tagtgren states:
They'll take your life away. They will push 'til you go insane. Raped, they steal your every
heartbeat. Until you fall down dead. They monitor every step you take. And watching all your
thoughts. Another small piece in the puzzle, no one cares, 'cause you're being controlled. They
can see all mistakes that you'll make. How long will it take until you break. From authority's
eyes, we're just a virus, just a frame. A world in technology we can't remain. We're caged
within ourselves, afraid to never be healed. We're trapped within our world, our lives we lived
are sealed. Never can we live again. They have already set the rules. And the law is your only
friend. Obey them and theyll erase you too. Sneaking up on your private life. Leads society to
suicide. Now they move into our minds. You try to run but you can't hide. They can feel all
the moves that you make. Stay away from the light. Is this the way that you and I have to
live? A world in technology there's no escape. We're caged within ourselves, afraid to never
be healed. We're trapped within our world, our lives we lived are sealed. Forever struggle
through our lifetime. We'll never tell the truth from lies. Swallowed by our fears we'll never
retreat. The smell of freedom is finally cut.
For this relatively new technological phenomena within the political sphere Tagtgren
starts by denouncing that governments follow our every step in order to control our
actions. He protests how we are seen as a virus and how we are caged within
ourselves since we have no privacy or true freedom of choice. Tagtgren says we have
sealed lives that must follow the rules that governments have set for us. These
practices, for Tagtgren have very detrimental consequences and he believes that we
can find help in the legal realm of this controversial topic.
Religion is the second social protest category. All societies throughout history
have been based on religious, or at the very least, spiritual beliefs. Religion represents
a very influential force in our societies. At the same time, many heavy
metal artists like to express their discontent with organized religions since many of
them believe that this social component has done more harm than good, and that there
are many contradicting messages found in many religions. Some artists focus on the
hypocrisy of these spiritual practices, others on how much war these beliefs have
created, and others focus on how we disassociate ourselves from our own social
responsibility and wait for higher powers to solve our issues and/or everyday
problems. For these reasons, five songs from four different bands were chosen. Three
of these bands are notorious for their anti-Christian messages, and the other two
bands present more comprehensive anti-organized religion messages.
The first song comes from the band Slayer. This song, titled New Faith, was
written by Kerry King (2001), who has very strong opinions about Christianity.
Kings message reads:
Holy man open up your eyes, to the ways of the world you've been so blind. As the walls of
religion come crashing down. How's the ignorance taste the second time around. Tell me how
it feels knowing chaos will never end. Tell me what it's like when the celebration begins.
Welcome to the horror of the revelation. Tell me what you think of your savior now. 1 reject
all the biblical views of the truth. Dismiss it as the folklore of the times. I wont be force fed
prophecies, from a book of untruths for the weakest mind. Join the new faith for the
celebration. Cult of new faith fuels the devastation. Holy man come and worship me. I am all
that you ever wanted to be. I'm the life of indulgence you never knew. The epitome of evil
shining through. I keep the bible in a pool of blood, so that none of its lies can affect me. This
is new faith. A different way of life. Witness the shame. See for yourself the lies. I'll take the
fight. Bring it every time, any time. Refuse to let them win. My heresy begins. Pray for life -
wish for death. Pray for life know in time you'll pray for death. Tear it away. It lives inside
your mind. Silence the fear, that keeps you pure inside. Now you can see, life's atrocities
endlessly. Witness the miracle. Pray for life wish for death. Pray for life with every breath.
You'll pray for death you'll pray for death. Embrace new faith, embrace new faith. Yeah,
new faith yeah, new faith.
For this extremely graphic lyrical message, King is giving the listener a
choice of a new faith. King presents a message of not following the established
normatives of Christianity, but instead he presents opposing views and practices.
He speaks to the holy men to wake up and experience the real world that they have
not seen for ages. He challenges priests to see the true chaos with the nuance of
saying where is your God now while welcoming them to this revelation. His strong
opinion states that he rejects the biblical views of the truth and that he dismisses them
as the folklore of the time when they were written. He believes that we are being
force fed prophecies from religious books written by humans. He later explains a
unique way to preventing biblical lies from affecting him. King protests that
Christianity is for the weak-minded who also believe in a book of untruths, logically
referring to the Bible.
Along the same lines of Kings message, we find another major exponent of
anti-Christian sentiments, the band Deicide. This band is fronted by Glen Benton
(1997) who wrote the song Slave to the Cross, which is included in the Serpents of
the light album. Benton wrote:
Killing, blood spilling for faith in your god. Spreading the message defending his fraud.
Murder unheard of until their belief. Rape of the willing is blessed by the priest. Travel to new
worlds enslaved under god. Destroy their cultures then leave them to rot. Purification, consent
to concede. Killing the ones who will never believe. Annihilation, convert to the cross.
Civilization all under one god. Slave to the cross. Splitting masses indivision. Genocidal
inquisition. Unified through their religion. Wreck this world with heaven's wisdom. Reign of
the cross, the aggressor. Has killed more people than cancer. Slave to the cross of deception.
When will we stop his infection. Slave to the cross. Terrify into religion. Rectify the church
ambition. Crucify who will not listen. Wreck this world with heavens wisdom.
Benton takes a historical approach for his message by presenting his interpretations of
past actions that the Christian church has partaken. He speaks of genocide, slavery,
and being killed for not believing and/or converting. Benton states that there have
been blood spilling, raping, and cultural annihilation in the name of this faith. The
small metaphor Benton uses relates to being slaves to the cross. With this it can be
argued that he tries to convey the message that we are attached to this religious
symbol and that many blindly follow this faith without considering or denying all the
historical factors that Benton presents. He sees Christianity as the aggressor and states
that this faith has killed more people than cancer. Although his message presents no
solution to what he considers a problem, he definitely presents a concise version of
many of the negative actions that the Christian church have done in the past and the
A more comprehensive example targeting organized religion in general can be
found in Max Cavaleras (1991) message embedded in his song Under Siege
(Regnum Irae). This song, recorded by Sepultura and included in their album Arise
presents the following:
The dual substance of Christ. The yearning so human, of man to attain God. Has always been
a deep inscrutable mystery to me. My principle anguish and source of all my joys and
sorrows. Religious domain is all I see. Suffocate the scum with mediocrity. Lying and
changing your fate. Anno Domini ends misery. From my youth onward has been the
incessant merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh. And my soul is the arena where
these two armies have clashed and met. Holy wars unleashing bloody raids. The sacred earth
without a face. Consumed by murderous sinners. Psychotic leader, Insane -- insane insane -
- insane! Living in a dying age. Persecute the human race. Triumph of death in the wasteland.
Blood signs your epitaph. Religious domain is all I see. Suffocate the scum with mediocrity.
Lying and changing your fate, Anno Domini ends misery.
Cavaleras words are in direct relation with protesting the duality of organized
religion. How difficult has been for him to deal with attaining God and how it
influences his life. He says that through religious dominance society hides its
mediocrity. He speaks of a personal journey filled with contradictions and battles
between the real and the esoteric, ending in the tragic fate of feeling miserable. With
this example we see a different perspective of protest, done through personal insight
in relation to the artists religiosity.
Another relevant lyrical message is once again presented by Kerry King
(2001) and his band Slayer. The main difference between this example and the
previous one is that in this song King shows that he believes in a higher power, just
not the one presented by Christianity. King has strong dissatisfaction with the
Christian God by naming this song Disciple, Kings words are:
Drones since the dawn of time. Compelled to live your sheltered lives. Not once has anyone
ever seen such a rise of pure hypocrisy. I'll instigate I'll free your mind I'll show you what I've
known all this time. God Hates Us All, God Hates Us All. You know it's true God hates this
place. You know it's true he hates this race. Homicide-Suicide, hate heals, you should try it
sometime. Strive for Peace with acts of war. The beauty of death we all adore. I have no faith
distracting me. I know why your prayers will never be answered. God Hates Us All; God
Hates Us All. He fuckin' hates me. Pessimist, Terrorist targeting the next mark. Global chaos
feeding on hysteria. Cut throat, slit your wrist, shoot you in the back fair game. Drug abuse,
self abuse searching for the next high. Sounds a lot like hell is spreading all the time. I'm
waiting for the day the whole world fucking dies. I never said I wanted to be God's disciple.
I'll never be the one to blindly follow. Man made virus infecting the world. Self-destruct
human time bomb. What if there is no God would you think the fuckin' same. Wasting your
life in a leap of blind faith. Wake the fuck up can't ignore what I say. I got my own
philosophy. I hate everyone equally. You can't tear that out of me. No segregation -
separation. Just me in my world of enemies. I'll never be the one to bear the cross-disciple. I
reject this fuckin' race. I despise this fuckin' place.
King once again expresses how displeased he is with Christianity. He calls this
religions hypocritical notions and claims that other ideals can free you from these
notions. He states that God hates us all and he corroborates his point by saying that
God hates the human race and this planet. King talks about how much suicide, war,
pessimists, terrorists, global chaos, violence, and drug abuse are affecting this world.
He also points out that these are clear signs that hell is spreading in our global society
and basically, religion is not doing anything about it, which is in direct contradiction
with religious notions of helping others in need. He cries for people to see these
issues and to make their own mind instead of blindly following a faith. He also says
that he will not be doing this, instead he has equal dislike for all these issues and for
all the people involved with these issues; ending with a powerful statement about
being frustrated by all these factors therefore rejecting the human race and despising
the world we live in.
The last example for this religion category comes from a very popular heavy
metal band known as Pantera (1990). In this song titled Heresy, the band conveys
another message of the current global and human condition and how they see it relate
to religion. These lyrics read:
Here we are in a world of corruption. Human nature is of violent breed. Who cares if theres
no tomorrow. When I die my future's laid out for me. Can't you see? Rise above the lies.
Morals on a backwards globe. A sin to you, for me it's hope. It's my life and provision. Black
or white. Some pay to pray. You question why they act this way. It's their fucking decision.
No more judgment day. Only tranquillity. Peace signs, protest lines, mean nothing to me.
Honesty bom in me. Heresy. I know what's right or wrong. And my belief is stronger than
your advice. People, they go to war because religion gives them reason to fight. Sacrifice, die
for pride. A group that caters. No one's fees or synthetic deities. Is where I belong. My stand
is the human race without a label or a face; so they can lick my sack.
With these words, Pantera presents a very obvious protest against corruption,
violence, immorality, religious wars, and religious hypocrisy. They plead for
tranquillity from all these different factors and from religion. The positively talk
about honesty and being able to choose for themselves regarding lifes choices,
including their beliefs. They call for a human race without labels, so the integrity
solidarity message is very much present as a more simplistic and logical alternative to
the present religious segregation that exists.
War as a social protest category is almost a necessary choice when analyzing
heavy metal lyrics related to this subject. Many bands in many music genres present
their views about war, ranging from its causes to its effects. Heavy metal music does
not escape this sort-of moral obligation to discuss war. Once again, music is a great
outlet and channeling medium, therefore many heavy metal artists have many
interesting perspectives about war. Here are five examples of lyrical protest that range
from territorial to religious wars, to terrorism to the United States intervention, to
analyzing how some people see this ancient practice as an art form of strategy and
The first example is related to a more predominant type of war, which is
terrorism. For this issue Mille Petrozza (2005) decided to express his views
through a song titled Suicide Terrorist. This is Petrozzas message:
Suicide Terrorist. Bringing worldwide death. Random killing. Cruelty obsessed. Tool for
those who know no compromise. Dictating demanding lives. Leaders breathing hell. Cities
bum the day you die now. Suicide Terrorist living sacrifice. Nameless icon within blood
baptized. For the victory of brand new lies. Your life shall be the price. Suicide Terrorist.
Religious divide. Fearless killing. Aggression redefined. Socialists and capitalists fall. No
front line and no rules to this war. Let battle commence. The world will learn the day you die
now. Eradication cleansing of the west. This fragment of hypocrisy won't last. A man made
pandemonium absurd. Hysteria breeding hell on earth. Suicide Terrorist bringing worldwide
death. Random killing cruelty obsessed. Tool for those who know no compromise. Dictating
and demanding. One hundred thousand innocent lives. Suicide Terrorist living sacrifice.
Nameless icon within blood baptized. Socialists and capitalists fall. Self imposed martyr in a
Petrozza condemning terrorism is the first message that can be discussed. He talks
about how senseless these terrorists acts are. How many people are killed by these
terrorists following a belief that gives them reason to commit such acts. He points out
that they commit the ultimate sacrifice of dying for their ideals, but doing so through
fearless killing that redefines aggression. He includes the anti-Western sentiment that
these terrorists share, and that without any front lines or rules it has become an absurd
pandemonium of hysteria, worldwide death, and cruelty. He protests that he does not
agree with their intentions of not compromising, being nameless icons, and specially
being self-imposed martyrs in a holy war between different cultures and faiths.
A close example to the previous one is presented by Andreas Kisser (1993) in
his song Territory. In these lyrics Kisser protests against the territorial wars created
by natural resources and especially by religious and political ideologies. Kisser states
Unknown man speaks to the world. Sucking your trust. A trap in every world. War for
territory. Choice control, behind propaganda. Poor information to manage your anger. War
for territory. Dictators speech, blasting off your life. Rule to kill the urge. Dumb assholes
speech. Years of fighting. Teaching my son to believe in that man. Racist human being, racist
ground will live. Shame and regret of the pride you've once possessed. War for territory.
Kisser protests that there is a war for territory fueled by political propaganda through
poor information in order to tell us how to think about key issues. He criticizes these
figures as having the same old speech with the end result of fighting, war, and
conflict. These key figures from certain political groups and from certain religious
groups are seen as racist by Kisser, which in the end feels ashamed and regretful
about his pride which has been tarnished by these circumstances.
A third world perspective is offered by the members of the Venezuelan band
Laberinto. Ceballos, Minoli, Bernal, and Gregorio (1996) take a strong stance against
the United States armed intervention in foreign affairs through their song titled
Greengo. In this case the title of the song is purposefully adapted from the word
gringo to its true and original format and meaning, which was used by the
Mexicans against the U.S. invading cavalries that wore green uniforms, hence green
go. Laberinto decided to make a protest point by requesting the same from U.S.
troops in recent conflicts. Laberinto present their perspective through these words:
So you pretend to make me think that you came here to help us, to save this land from hunger,
blood, and wars? And put everything in order with peaceful weapons? Putting our faith in
Gringos Army wagons? Painting in red the green of your marines? Leading that crew of
DCs comic super heroes? You know what Im saying? Fuck you! So you pretend to make me
think WAR! Greengo, we dont need your fucking help
Laberinto starts by stating that the United States generally have their diplomatic
reasons such as helping others, saving people from hunger and war. They state that
the U.S. does this through their peaceful weapons, as they are used to exert
intimidation towards their enemies from superior firepower. The band also denounces
how much blood is spilled by their Marines, and even jokingly attack the Americana
notion of the U.S. army in comparison with the comic book companys line of
popular super heroes. They denounce U.S. intervention by telling them that they do
not need their help and in different and more direct words tells them to leave them
Maroon (2004) presents a more organic version of how they protest war and
conflict focusing entirely in the human aspect of it. Through their song Human Waste
they protest about how people are so numb to such horrible events like war. How
many of us do anything about it, but instead waste our lives worrying about other
trivial aspects of our own individual life. Maroon sends a wake up message through
Apathetic mass enslaved to machines that never sleep. Blinded eyes, waste of life! Bones that
carry rotten flesh through days of lethargy. No refusal, no resistance! Not every heart is worth
beating! Eyes accepting senseless killing of the innocent day by day. Animals die, no reason
why! Men that speak of freedom leading soldiers to their graves. Hypocrite, full of shit! Not
every mouth is worth breathing! This life its wasted! Destroying everything around for some
abhorrent needs. Human kind, crown of creation! Misanthropic hate campaign against our
human kind. No turning back, hordes of the dead! Not every live is worth living! This life its
These artists have a very clear message against the human race. They start by
pointing out how we are addicted to technological machines, which are the same ones
that make us blind to reality. They call us non-active protagonists of our society, we
simply accept our roles without refusal, therefore with no resistance. We simply
accept the killing of the innocent without questioning why. We kill many other
species and do not seem to care or be bothered by it. We let other men lead more men
to their graves in the many wars we have. They talk about how hypocritical we are as
a species and how many lives are wasted either by apathy or by our wrongful choices.
We destroy everything around us, even though we are supposed to be the intelligent
species. Instead, they say that there is a campaign of hatred and distrust of the human
For the last example of the war category we find, once again, the band Slayer
making a stance against war by presenting their perspective. Araya and Hanneman
(1990) take a different focus for their message. In their song called War Ensemble,
they approach the fanaticism that some people have with war, how people are bom to
fight wars, basically describing this act as an art that some individuals live for. Araya
and Hanneman say:
Propaganda death ensemble. Burial to be. Corpses rotting through the night in blood laced
misery. Scorched earth the policy. The reason for the singe. The pendulum it shaves the blade.
The strafing air blood raid. Infiltration push reserves. Encircle the front lines. Supreme art of
strategy. Playing on the minds. Bombard till submission. Take all to their graves. Indication
of triumph the number that are dead. Sport the war, war support. The sport is war, total war.
When victorys a massacre. The final swing is not a drill. Its how many people I can kill. Be
dead friend from above. When darkness falls descend into my sights. Your fallen walls.
Spearhead break through the lines. Flanked all around. Soldiers of attrition. Forward their
ground. Regime prophetic age. Old in its time. Flowing veins run on through. Deep in the
rhine. Center of the web. All battles scored. What is our war crimes (era forever more...war).
Propaganda war ensemble. Burial to be. Bones shining in the night in blood laced misery.
Campaign of elimination. Twisted psychology. When victory is to survive and death is defeat.
In the usual lyrical style of this band, their perspective regarding war cannot be any
different, they are consistently graphic and direct in their messages. They start by
narrating the aftermath of war, moving on to the strategic aspect of combat and how it
is seen by some as a supreme artistic form. They talk about the pleasure some
individuals have when playing war, how some see it as a sport, and how victory
means survival and defeat means death. How we bombard each other creating
countless graves of fallen humans. Victory comes through massacre and the morbidly
fulfilling notion of how many people one can kill. Araya and Hanneman continue by
lyrically illustrating the many war crimes that we are guilty of committing, alongside
the propaganda and psychological techniques that we apply to achieve our means that
lead to war. They end with the explicit message that, in war, survival is victory and
death is defeat.
Social problems as a category of social protest found in heavy metal lyrics is a
very important defining drive for many bands in the heavy metal community. Three
other major categories have been presented, but this category weighs some more in
the sense that it carries with it a more complex set of issues, this is not an issue-
specific category. This category is more encompassing of various and serious social
issues that our world faces. In this category we will explore six primary issues being
social violence, the media, drug abuse, social ambition, racism, and the environment.
One of the best examples with regards to protesting against racism can be
found in the words of Mike Howe and Kurdt Vanderhoof (1993) when they wrote
their song No Friend of Mine, performed by the band Metal Church. In this song they
send out a clear and loud message about racial intolerance and bigotry in the world
today. Howe and Vanderhoof state:
No one's bom with hatred, it's something that you learn. How do you think the good Lord
feels, about the crosses you bum. What makes you hate the difference of someones skin or
race? You must think you have more rights to be living in this place. I dont know what you
feel, or have you lost your mind? Afraid to take a look at yourself, afraid of the things you
will find. Youre no friend of mine. The Dark Ages are over, in case you havent heard.
While youre lost in ignorance, you killed a mockingbird. Hide behind your bedclothes, meet
in some secret place. One day soon this hate youve brewed will blow up in your face. Black
and white and yellow, living side by side. The children always play together, we taught them
otherwise. All men created equal, all have human rights. So tell me why we hate each other,
no winners in the fight.
These lyrics present a clear frustration about this issue along with the sentiment of
trying to understand this nonsensical discriminatory practice. An excellent starting
argument is the one regarding the nurture of this sentiment. They follow with a
historical point saying most of society has evolved past these prejudices, but some
have remained ignorant in the matter. Howe and Vanderhoof continue with the
inclusion of a novel/film reference by citing the line you killed a mockingbird. This
was a novel written by Harper Lee called To Kill a Mockingbird, which was later
adapted to celluloid in 1962. The central theme spoke of a White Southern lawyer
defending an African-American male of unjust rape charges, while also dealing with
discrimination targeted against his family. The songwriters also hint at the infamous
Klan rallies expressing their notion that this obfuscated hate will act at the person
who carries it. They end with the most positive notion of all of us being created
equally and being able to coexist in society. They also finalize their message by
stating that these feelings and practices are pointless and that nobody wins in the end.
Environmental issues are unfortunately found in abundance in modem days.
There is consensus regarding the degradation of our environmental conditions.
Pollution, disease, deforestation, the depletion of the ozone layer, the greenhouse
effect, acid rain, and nuclear waste are some of the most widely known issues in
relation to this social problem. Many music bands are no strangers to this topic and
many voice their opinions and even take stances against these destructive practices.
Some heavy metal bands also openly voice their dissatisfaction with the many human
practices that are destroying our ecosystem.
In order to exemplify this last notion Alex Skolnick (1989) spoke about this
issue seventeen years ago, and his view unfortunately still stands true today since we
even have more environmentally destructive practices. Skolnick wrote a song titled
Greenhouse Effect, which was performed by his band Testament, included in the
aptly titled album Practice What You Preach. Skolnick states:
Fools the ones who stray, the rain forest bums away. Know what to believe, this is the air we
breathe. So the world we know is dying slow in South America. Flames are burning down, all
the trees to the ground. Time is running low, we cant stay no more. Wealth these people see,
fight for eternity. Lies they televise paid by the government. There on! it lingers on. And they
dont even care if they...Seal the planets fate. Crimes they perpetrate. Wasting precious land.
Its time to take a stand. Our only hope to breathe again. To stop the madness closing in. What
will we do when all is lost. Environmental holocaust...Foes these people go, someone
destroyed their home. Plagued with disease, left praying on their knees. Laws protect the land,
social justice in demand. Smoke it fills the air into the atmosphere. Now its time to see a
cycle of a tragedy. On! it lingers on, and they dont even care if they...
Skolnick speaks first of the deforestation in the Amazon. He protests against the
polluted air we breathe, while others try to gain capital wealth through these
practices. He accuses governments for propagating these ideologies or simply lying
about these practices. A call for conscience is included as Skolnick demands to take a
stand against wasting land and perpetrating environmental crimes. He then speaks of
the people affected by these specific practices which are left with no home and
contract many different diseases. He concludes by saying that all this pollution lingers
on being consistent with the effects of greenhouse gases.
Social violence is another unfortunate social problem that counts with many
different levels. From war to conflict, from murder to gang violence, from rape to
ethnic cleansing, violence is the main ingredient in these inhuman practices. Many
heavy metal artists come from different backgrounds, but most of them do share a
Realism-driven perspective of how the world creates and sometimes instigates
violence among people. For this reason I present two different lyrical examples.
The first protest message comes from the hand of Max Cavalera (1991)
through his song Murder. In this song he expresses several notions related to
violence, racism, and religion all playing different violent roles. Cavalera states:
Chaotic violence in my eyes. This whole world moves backwards. Peace, another sign that
lies. Life today is not worth the pain. On the radio, another homicide. Inmates suffocate in
jail. Severed heads of revolt. I wish I'd never been bom. Same hand that builds destroys.
Same hand that relieves betrays. Same hand that seeds bums. Same peace that exists -
here lies. I can't trust anymore. Criminals within the law. I have something to say. Where I
live, don't believe in another day. Heresy and graft, apartheid, same religion that saves
Cavalera presents a personal journey through this subject by starting with the line
chaotic violence in my eyes. He speaks of societal regression and how violence is
present in our everyday lives. He also presents the duality of how the same people
that help can also worsen the situation. Considering his Brazilian background, a
different perspective of distrust in the social systems in place is presented along with
the closing statement that religion influences these acts.
The second example comes from the band Slayer. Once again they present a
straightforward perspective, this time in regards to gang violence. All members of this
band have lived in the state of California, which is well known for gang activities.
Tom Araya decides to present his view of this violent issue through his song
Expendable Youth by saying:
Gun down cold on a raw deal. Home turf my battlefield. In no ones way caught in a crossfire.
Stray bullets can kill. Expendable youths, fighting for possession. Having control the principle
obsession. Rivalry and retribution. Death the only solution. Injured soul lies on the ground.
Head blown off face down. Lying in a pool of blood. An accidental death homicide.
Struggling to survive. The drug induced warfare. To have control and principle obsession.
Expendable youth fighting for possession. Violence is only a friend.
Araya starts by addressing the issue of innocent bystanders suffering from this type of
violence. He goes on saying how these youth fight for possession, which translates
into territorial possession and the obsession they share about it. Violence rarely
has a positive outcome the rivalry and retribution factor between gangs many times
result in deaths. He also states that much of this type of violence rises from the illegal
activities carried out by different gangs, while justifying it as a way to survive in their
environments. He reminds us that our youth is expendable as far as how society
sees them, as many people still hold the ideology that they deserve it or that they
are a cancer in society without informing themselves of the facts surrounding this
Drug abuse is another detrimental social problem affecting our global society.
From people who want to escape their lifes reality to an easy recreational fix that
allows them to experiment with different perceptions. Regardless of the reason for
their use and going beyond the issue of being a personal choice, it is still a very real
social problem that affects many individuals, families, and society in general. Two
lyrical examples will be presented in relation to this social issue. The first being a
lyrical interpretation from an artists personal experience, and the second being from
the perspective of drugs and how they can easily take over our lives.
Dave Mustaine have experienced many altercations with alcohol and drugs
and through his song Use the Man he provides a hands-on account of a phase in his
personal life. Being the main songwriter for his band Megadeth, he decides to create
conscience by delivering the following message:
I heard somebody fixed today. There was no last good-byes to say. His will to live ran out. I
heard somebody turned to dust. Looking back at what he left. A list of plans and
photographs. Songs that never will be sung. These are the things he won't get done. I've seen
the man use the needle, seen the needle use the man. I've seen them crawl from the cradle to
the gutter on their hands. They fight a war but it's fatal, it's so hard to understand. Ive seen the
man use the needle, seen the needle use that man. Just one shot to say goodbye. One last taste
to mourn and cry. Scores and shoots, the lights go dim. Just one shot to do him in. He hangs
his head and wonders why. Why the monkey only lies. But pay the pauper, he did choose. He
hung his head inside the noose. I've seen the man use the needle, seen the needle use that man.
I've seen them crawl from the cradle to the coffin on their hands. They fight a war but it's
fatal, it's so hard to understand. I've seen the man use the needle, seen the needle in his hand.
Cryptic writing on the wall, the beginning of the end. I've seen myself use the needle, seen the
needle in my hand.
Mustaine begins by showing the detrimental effects that a drug dependency can have
on an individual. He speaks of a fatal war with oneself and the duality between a man
using drugs and the drugs using the man. In his message he includes the reality of
personal choice and how this individual realizes that he made the wrong choice. He
also talks about seeing himself use the needle and seeing the needle in his hand.
The second example comes from Peter Tagtgren (2005) when he writes from a
drugs perspective and how they use us. In his song A Thousand Lies he reinforces the
message of how one can loose so much by taking this easy way out. Tagtgren writes:
Come closer. I've got what you need. I crawl into your veins. Satisfaction guaranteed. A
thousand smiles. A thousand lies. I'll break you down you'll need more just to stay alive. A
thousand dead. A thousand highs. Close your eyes and wait to die. Your life was built on a
thousand lies. I don't know what you're looking for. I don't know why you keep on crawling
back for more. Erase and rewind. Your life is gone. I can read you like an open book. I'll steal
your life like the lives you took. I'll set you free from what you've become. See the needle
disappear into your skin. Shoot it up and wait for the thrill. Lay your body down and wait for
the chill And I'll whisper you a lullaby that will kill. Throw away everything you've got. For a
rush you cannot stop. Injecting the will, the will to be free.
It crawls into our veins and satisfies us through what Tagtgren calls a thousand lies, a
thousand smiles, and a thousand highs. He also deals with the fatal effects that these
drugs can have along with the deceiving rush and escape that they provide. He
focuses on how we fool ourselves that this is what we need and that based on
someones circumstances this is the only way to lay down and enjoy a fantasy life
that is not there.
This category presents itself with a certain air of irony since music is part of
the media and especially since music in general can be seen as a marketable product
consumed by the masses. For the one example presented in this category we have a
very complex song that not only deals with media manipulation and profiting, but
also with politics and religion.
Warrel Dane and Jeff Loomis (2005) present a very comprehensive message
about society as a whole being the Final Product that it has become. Their protest
The media loves the latest tragic suicide. They exploit it, then package it and profit from the
people who die. Look at the world, look at the hell, look at the hate that we've made. Look at
the final product, a world in slow decay. I'm told that all your seeds are black. I've learned the
question is unanswered and opaque. We're witnessing the famine of the innocent. Did they die
for religion or the government? Because if your god wont do, their god will starve you. There
are those that believe the world ending again. That impending Armageddon is inevitable and
waiting. The last survivor barely breathing. Should I run or will I fall? How have I survived at
all? We live in a time of revolution. We swim the silent seas of sanity gone.
Dane and Loomis waste no time in criticizing how the press enjoys sensationalizing
death and struggle. One of the best lines that truly define their message is the practice
of exploiting, packaging, and profiting from the people who die. They also protest
about the current condition of our society filled with hate, and more specifically
pointing out the roads that lead to the final product that is our global society. The
denounce the poverty and hunger that people are suffering and sarcastically blame
religion and our governments for letting this situation occur. They also seem
preoccupied with the notion of surviving this human struggle, but they do present an
empowering solution through revolution.
Human Ambition and Materialism
This is one of the most unique sections in this general category. Human
ambition can be traced to the very first instance that one human overpowered another.
As most of society is ambitious in one aspect or another, modem times have
created specific forms of ambition that can be very detrimental to society since the
ambition of power, fame, and/or wealth can greatly discriminate many individuals
and inspire negative roads to attaining these socially constructed traits.
Leave it to the original mind of Peter Tagtgren to protest against this issue.
Many others have written about it, of course, but few can be selected to represent this
section for this study. Tagtgtren (2002) compiled his opinions in a song titled Edge of
Madness included in his bands album Catch 22. Tagtgren explains that:
I realized I never should be bom in this world where money talks. The honesty of systems can
be won when the power of dollar is running the life. We're closing our eyes. How could we be
so blind. That we can't see what's going on? The world's on edge of madness. It's burning out
with frustration. We're never satisfied. It's never enough. We can't get enough. Trying hard to
make an extra buck. To roll us ??? So he was guilty of a ??? So we grab whatever we can
take. Blinded by the dollar sign. A disease that bums through our minds.
Capitalism is the first notion explored in Tagtgrens message. He moves onto saying
how easy honesty can be bought as we live in a money-driven and materialistic
world. He denounces the fact that we follow this notion blindly without questioning
its implications and consequences. He speaks of human unconformity with material
possessions and how we cannot seem to get enough since it is never enough for many
of us. We are blinded by the money that we have and/or want and we will do anything
to obtain our goal, stating that he sees this mentality as a disease that bums through
Having just analyzed these lyrical messages the next methodological step is
for me to present the last chapter of this thesis. This last chapter pertains to the
discussion and limitations of this research along with several future research
suggestions, which might further help the research of this and other issues.
DISCUSSION AND LIMITATIONS
When analyzing the lyrical content of these twenty-four songs, the first and
most obvious factor is that heavy metal music and its lyrics is unequivocally a genre
not known for subtlety. After analyzing the lyrical messages within the context of
four major categories of social protest, these lyrics and the artists that wrote them
show a passion for social reality. The unique perspectives and experiences presented
by these songwriters speak about utilizing their art as a channeling medium with the
intention of creating conscience about these social issues, or at the very least,
presenting their personal opinions to the heavy metal community and anyone else
who might receive their messages. These musicians do not take their social
responsibilities lightly and at the same time they do not claim to be role models, nor
to have all the answers or possible solutions to these problems. They do try to leave a
mark in society through their artform.
The presented analysis dealt with political issues such as censorship,
oppression, civil protest, human rights, and invasive technology. The religion
category was exemplified by messages of anti-Christianity, religious control, and the
ability to include non-mainstream spiritual ideologies in society. The war category
counted with such protest messages as religious wars, territorial wars, United States
intervention in foreign affairs, terrorism, and even the perspective of how some
individuals trivialize war as an art or sport. The social problems category was very
inclusive with six different social issues present in our world. In these songs, the
messages against social violence, media control, drug abuse, materialism, racism, and
the environment were very strong and unambiguous.
Furthermore, in relation to the theoretical framework of mass media as a
primary site for the construction and dissemination of dominant ideologies, we can
clearly see that the social protest content in heavy metal lyrics is a genuine part of the
culture industry and one of the principal channels for ideological discourse in
contemporary society. These messages present an alternative to televised and printed
media which may have their own agendas when reporting relevant information. These
messages also present an alternative to mainstream religious ideologies and have an
end goal of inciting an intellectual revolution regarding how we see our society
nowadays. These artists also show a form of respect to their listeners by providing a
very realistic perspective of their views.
This study could also easily be used as an analysis of the positive, strong, and
realistic messages against these social dilemmas. It could serve as a positive indicator
that even though this genre enjoys a negative reputation in some social circles, within
the media, and especially within social academia; this music does have a social
agenda of helping their own members and creating conscience among the heavy metal
subculture. These twenty-four examples span the last nineteen years of this genres
recording history. With this in mind, it is clear that this is not a new direction within
this music style. These artists have been protesting against these social injustices from
the beginnings of this music style and they still strongly continue to do so. These
artists deserve more respect from society and even though they do not really care
about this point, this is exactly what shows us that they truly love and dedicate
themselves to their art, which is something that society, politicians, religious groups,
or censors will never be able to take away from them. The end goal of this study is to
create conscience of the fact that we will probably not agree with each other
regarding the interpretation of these messages, but still, these messages do exist and
are very worthy of academic research. Ultimately, nobody has to like these messages
or agree with them, but we do need to respect freedom of speech and the right that
these poets have to voice out their opinions. For last, after inductively testing the
research statement we find that it is consistent with the focus of this study and the
theoretical framework presented along with it. Hence, I can conclude that some heavy
metal lyrics can be a form of social protest.
Limitations and Future Research
The limitations of this study are closely tied to the future research ideas. The
inclusion of bands backgrounds, such as country of origin, culture, and other
variables that may be correlated could have also helped to better present the artists
messages. One notable limitation is that the selected songs are from specific heavy
metal bands. Future research may include different songs from different heavy metal
bands. Another limitation and future research idea would be to study the lyrical
content in relation to social protest within and/or across the music genre spectrum,
since for this study only the heavy metal genre was selected. This idea could also be
extended to cross reference heavy metal music with other music genres in hopes of
contrasting protest messages and artists opinions. Another approach would be to
study specific or individual social protest categories with the end goal of focusing on
gaining more insight into a specific social problem. It would also be very interesting
to conduct a study that would include more metaphorical lyrical content. Even though
this would greatly increase the ambiguity of interpreting the lyrical messages it would
also represent an intellectual challenge, that maybe, would be best to write about for a
text publication rather than for empirical academic research.
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