Editorial: Stop Saying Politics Have No Place in Metal

  • Axl Rosenberg

As this politically contentious years continues, and we here at MetalSucks continue to comment (as we always have) on the political enviornment and the way it’s reflected (positively or negatively) in the music we love (and often the behavior of the people who make the music we love), we’ve increasingly received some variation of the following message:

“Stop talking about politics. Politics have no place in metal.”

With all due respect, beloved readers: this assertion is total horse shit.

It’s such total horse shit, in fact, that I can’t even believe we have to explain to you that it’s such total horse shit.

But apparently we do. So…

Even if you ignore the fact that all art is political, whether it intends to be or not (Hell, everything is political, period) metal and hardcore have a long history of taking inspiration from political strife.

Consider the very origins of the genre itself: the first honest to Satan metal band, Black Sabbath, was composed of four working class dudes. Ozzy Osbourne dropped out of high school at age fifteen and worked a series of blue collar jobs before spending six weeks in jail for robbery; Tony Iommi was just seventeen when he lost the tips of two fingers while working in a factory. Had these two legends been from monied families, Osbourne would almost certainly have completed his formal education, and Iommi almost certainly would not have been working in a factory; consequently, Iommi would never have to tune his guitar down to make the strings more flexible, and Ozzy might have identified, and imitated, the lovey-dovey lyrics of his heroes, The Beatles. The world might never have experienced Iommi’s dark, intimidating guitar sound, and Ozzy may have never written about war and death and evil. Metal is the direct result of its creators’ socioeconomic backgrounds.

And while Sabbath were content to let this fact be subtext on their eponymous debut, their second album, 1970’s Paranoid — released in the thick of the Vietnam War — tackles the connection between class and military conflicts head on in its very first song, “War Pigs”:

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor, yeah

Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait ’till their Judgment day comes, yeah!

These lyrics go beyond being an objective observation about war — they are explicitly commenting on who starts wars and who is forced to finish them. They’re as overtly political as political gets.

Sabbath set the tone for metal in all ways, and that includes being politically outspoken. There is a seemingly endless list of metal bands that have tackled political issues… often in one or more of their most popular songs: Iron Maiden (“Run to the Hills,” about the genocide of the Native Americans), Judas Priest (“Breaking the Law,” about the connection between economic hardship and crime), Metallica (there are no shortage of examples here, but in case you didn’t notice, they have an album called …And Justice for All), Megadeth (98% of all their songs), Anthrax (“Indians,” see: “Run to the Hills”), Slayer (see: Megadeth), Exodus (“And Then There Were None,” “Children of a Worthless God,” etc.), Testament (“The New Order,” “Practice What You Preach,” etc.), Sepultura (the entire Chaos A.D. album), Death (“Spiritual Healing,” about the evils of religion), Napalm Death (see: Slayer), Carcass (“Keep on Rotting in the Free World,” self-explanatory), Deicide (a band devoted to anti-organized religion screeds), Pantera (“No Good (Attack the Radical),” self-explanatory), Guns N’ Roses (“Civil War,” self-explanatory), Alice in Chains (“Rooster,” about ‘Nam), Living Colour (see: Napalm Death), Rage Against the Machine (see: Living Colour), Lamb of God (see: Rage Against the Machine), Killswitch Engage (“Numbered Days,” about revolution), God Forbid (the entire IV: Constitution of Treason album), Avenged Sevenfold (“Critical Acclaim,” which alleges that not supporting war is the same thing as not supporting the troops in that war), Nine Inch Nails (“Terrible Lie,” “Head Like a Hole,” “Hand That Feeds,” “Capital G,” etc.), Marilyn Manson (the entire Holy Wood album), All Shall Perish (see: Lamb of God), Otep (see: All Shall Perish)… I could go on and on (don’t even get me started on hardcore, a genre with such strong political leanings that there’s an entire Wikipedia section devoted to those leanings). And those are just songs with explicitly political lyrics/albums.

The fact that politics as a constant talking point in extreme music is even less surprising when you consider that metal is angry music for angry people — and there’s nothing more worth getting angry about than the ways in which our leaders are fucking up the world.

Do most of the songs mentioned above lean left? Well… yeah, of course. I never understand why anyone is surprised that creative people are predominantly liberal; thinking outside the box is what they do, so naturally they’re not gonna jibe with any traditionalist worldview. So while there are definitely exceptions (the aforementioned “Critical Acclaim” by A7X, for example), no duh these songs tend to be anti-conservative.

But that’s actually beside the point! You don’t need us to tell you that you’re free to disagree with our political opinions, or the political opinions of any musician. As Slayer’s Kerry King recently told Rolling Stone, “People just have to make up their minds and not be into things because their friends are into it or because their girlfriend or their spouse or whoever is into it.”

What you do need to recognize, however, is that politics and metal have gone hand in hand since the genre’s inception — and that ain’t gonna change anytime soon.

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