“The only truth is music.” – Jack Kerouac
Heavy metal, in particular, has influenced me. It has helped me be a better person. It has helped me think more deeply about life, about social issues, about our shared humanity. And therefore, heavy metal has helped me be a better HR professional. Good people make better HR pros. Music is life. Heavy metal is GREAT music, therefore, great for life!
Music communicates to us. Sometimes, it communicates through the chords, arrangements, notes, or harmonies. Other times it communicates more directly – through lyrics.
These past few months, music has been speaking more frequently to me. Heavy metal is an inherently rebellious musical style. It takes the macabre, the alien, the political and transforms them into a call for action.
And, heavy metal, contrary to popular opinion, isn’t a “White man’s” musical style. Metal music has a history of influential and talented Blacks, Native Americans, Latin Americans, and Women who have contributed to the genre in deeply impactful ways. In addition, metal music has MANY White allies, speaking up and using their platforms to discuss important issues.
Metal has always been political. Social justice issues have permeated many of metal’s most powerful musicians, and inspired many to seek a path of justice.
I wanted to share some of the songs that (1) Have influenced me to think differently and (2) showcase some of the genre’s move diverse bands, who have important perspectives.
I hope you can enjoy, if not the musical style, at least the messages. I believe strongly in searching for inspiration in places we normally wouldn’t look. If you’re not normally a heavy metal fan, challenge yourself to do the same.
War Pigs by Black Sabbath
Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role for the poor, yeah
There wouldn’t be heavy metal without Black Sabbath. The innovators took the Blues and rock ‘n’ roll and turned it into something dark and menacing. They set the template for every metal band since. Part of that template was infusing their sound with political lyrics. They would use their platform to bring attention to injustice – and through the process write catchy lyrics and SICK riffs! (All Hail Tony Iommi, riff god!). War Pigs is the ULTIMATE Sabbath political statement – a stark rebuke against the injustices of war, specifically the Vietnam War. But these lyrics could be attributed to any war before or since.
Native Blood by Testament
I won’t be afraid
I got something to say
My voice will be heard
So loud, native blood!
Thrash metal legends Testament are fronted by Chuck Billy, who is proud of his Pomo Native American and Mexican ancestry. He often uses his own lived experiences in his lyrics, commenting on how difficult the Native American experience has been over the last 400 years. Native Blood is a thrash documentation of his experience as a Native American in a society that has always ostracized him.
Kill the Silence by Nervosa
Crying in the dark
It’s what he’s done
And you want him to die
Don’t be afraid
Don’t feel dirty
You have the power
Just scream out louder
Kill the silence!
Nervosa is a special band! They are an all-female thrash band from Brazil. While metal isn’t strictly a male’s world, it is overwhelmingly dominated by male acts. It takes guts and fortitude to excel in a male dominated environment, and Nervosa do just that! Their unique talents are powerful, and their experiences bring a different perspective. Kill the Silence is a call for women to continue being loud about their experiences with harassment. Harassment and misogyny is still a very real daily experience for millions of women across the world, and Nervosa aren’t accepting of it.
Remain Violent by Warbringer
The constant threat of a shot to the chest
But defending yourself is resisting arrest
City streets that I called my home
Are starting to look like a combat zone
The new wave of American Thrash has few peers in Warbringer! The band’s front man, John Kevill, is incredibly smart and pointed in his social critiques. His lyrics and commentary are directed, thoughtful, and damning. In Remain Violent he uses the phrase “remain silent” as a twist on police brutality that has become common place on our televisions over the past several months. However, John argues rightfully so, it’s been common place in many communities for far longer.
Black Hoodie by Body Count
Got on a black hoodie, its hood up on my head
I didn’t have a gun so why am I dead?
You didn’t have to shoot me and that’s a known fact
And now I’m laying face down with bullets in my back
Ice-T is someone who has been writing music about police brutality far longer, and has been far closer to that situation than anyone else on this list. Ice-T isn’t only a rapper and actor. He also fronts the all Black metal band Body Count since the early 1990s! In Black Hoodie he goes off on the unjust murder of Trayvon Martin that started the modern Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, it’s something that isn’t new to far too many people…
“All these people out here tripping off police brutality, Like this shit is something new”
Refuse/Resist by Sepultura
Tanks on the streets
Bleeding the Plebs
Who’ll be alive?!
This song was written in 1993 by the legendary Brazilian thrash band Sepultura. Those lyrics read as if they were written last week about Kenosha, not about humanity’s ever constant fight – the elites and everyone else. Sepultura, being a Latin band, have a unique perspective on elite control, coming from a country that was colonized for slavery. They’ve brought that “overthrow the dictator” theme in their music for over 30 years now.
The World Is Yours by Arch Enemy
There was only so much
You could take
There was only so much
You could tolerate
When the bough breaks, the empire will fall
Fronted by the AMAZING Alissa White-Gluz, Arch Enemy has always been a band about not caring about other’s rules. They’ve been a female fronted band for 20 years after the departure of their only male vocalist. And they’ve been a BETTER band for having that diversity over the years! Alissa’s lyrics in the World Is Yours clearly a call for women to stand up and not take shit from male dominated spaces. Clearly, she lives her values by being a kick ass woman in a kick ass metal band.
Blackened by Metallica
Blackened is the end
Winter it will send
Throwing all you see
Death of Mother Earth
Never a rebirth
Never will it mend
No way I could post about heavy metal and NOT include my main band Metallica! Blackened isn’t the first heavy metal song about how humans are destroying the planet – perhaps that was Black Sabbath’s Hole In the Sky – but it is my favorite. Justice cannot end with humanity. We must rise up and take better care of our world. When nature is out of sync, humanity suffers. The earth in general seems to chaos – polar ice caps are at their lowest levels in recorded history, wild fires are burning large swaths of the world over, freak weather occurrences happen with regularity, pollution is overpowering the Pacific ocean, etc. If man is a product of our environment, then it’s no wonder we seem to be on tilt. The earth isn’t doing well… people aren’t doing well… We need to treat our Mother better, or there’s no point in social justice, as the world won’t be habitable enough to support us.
Rise Inside by Killswitch Engage
Free your mind
Raise your fist
We stand in defiance
Of hatred and deception
If I stand alone
I will fight for you
The time has come to
Make a difference
Why have we forsaken love
The time has come to
Raise our voices
So rise up and fight with me
Second only to Metallica, Killswitch Engage has influenced me more than any other band. Rise Inside, in particular, is a song with immortal lyrics. Today, it seems not more than ever, we need to read the lyrics of Jesse Leech and implement them deep within ourselves. Love overcomes. Hatred destroys us all.
Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine
F*** you, I won’t do what you tell me!
The song has simple lyrics. Simple lyrics can sometimes be the most impactful. Recently, this song has enjoyed renewed interest as the anthem to many worldwide protests happening in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. It’s easy to see why. People are fed up, and I think this lyric, while crude, is incredibly relatable on a human level. As Frederick Douglas once spoke, and I paraphrase, the moment we gain true freedom isn’t when we lose our shackles. It’s when our master says “yes” and we say “no.”