My last two posts gave the misleading impression that all Heavy Metal lyrically cares and complains about was the dirty business of war, politics, and racist exclusion. However, the beautiful side of life, that of love and sex, ranks high among the most famous topics as well. What binds both realms is the emotionality with which they are approached. Of course, Metallic lyrics find darkness even within the positive, turning towards love’s counterpart hate, and emotional excess, which is obsession. This post’s headline is actually the title of a Godsmack song from their 2010 album “The Oracle”, and the line “Love, hate, sex, pain, it’s complicating me sometimes” describes four of the most intriguing elements of human emotional life.
In some ways Metal is “kind of an extension of the Blues”, Machine Head’s lead singer Robb Flynn suggests in a 2004 interview with Faceculture. “We’re a Metal band and, […] we write about the darker sides of life,” he elaborates. “There’s plenty of bands out there writing about love and flowers and bunny rabbits, you know, happy stuff, and that’s just Pop music.” Feeling blue has turned into feeling bluesy. The Blues is a musical genre that originates in African-American Folk and slave music and mostly tells tales of personal woes. Today, some mysterious quality in Metal music appears to make it especially attractive for the dark, the negative and the melancholic, but this tendency is not pointless: everyone needs a valve for their emotions. Why not let them into music? If musicians can lighten their hearts while writing and singing, then perhaps the lovesick, bad-mooded, pessimistic or demotivated Metalhead out there will find listening to these songs equally relieving. Psychologically, music definitely has a particular value, unrivalled by any other medium. Music therapy is versatile and effective; music has a potential for easing, healing, relaxing.
From the vast amount of lyrics revolving around painful topics such as unrequited love, excessive hate, burning obsession or the maelstrom of addiction we can easily infer that Metal is frequently employed as a form of therapy. Robb Flynn has made Metal his personal Blues by reflecting on his adoption. Lawrence Matthew Cardine was abandoned by his parents when he was an infant, then adopted by a couple who gave him the name Robert Conrad Flynn, and love. The musical result of Flynn’s struggle, “Left Unfinished” (from the album “Through the Ashes of Empires”, 2003) is hard to misinterpret and painful to hear. Flynn describes his struggle to understand why he was born at all and then abandonded. He reaches this powerful conclusion:
You never could love me
I’m glad that you never did
My parents that raised me
Had plenty of that to give
And for that
I’ll love them forever with all my heart
But to you
Don’t let there be no mistake about it
Fuck you, you cocksucker
Fuck you, you whore
I’ll live my life the opposite of what you are
Love will be my rock
The rock that I stand on
He resolves that he will “give to this world what you [his real parents] couldn’t give, love the unwanted, every child born discarded.” Flynn somehow comes to terms with his adoption, and the song develops from the bleak view of a scornful and misunderstood boy to the resolution of a man to be the opposite of his parents and build his life on love.
A relationship which is ended not by the ceasing of affection but by death is at the heart of another very profound Heavy Metal love song (if I may indeed coin a term such as Heavy Metal love song without reaping nothing but contempt…): “Cemetery Gates” is part of Pantera’s famous record “Cowboys from Hell” (1990) and allows for much interpretation. Besides, the song is proof for Dimebag Abbott’s beautiful guitar work. After the death of his girl (my interpretation only), he who tells the story feels “lost within my plans for life, it all seems so unreal. I’m a man cut in half in this world, left in my misery.” He feels painfully incomplete, at a loss for tears, and needs to stop living in the past. “Believe the word,” he claims, “I will unlock my door and pass the cemetery gates.” Will he pass those gates and come to terms with his calamity? Or will he pass those gates as a body, finally resolving to kill himself and end his miserable half-life? Pantera leave the decision to us. They treat the issue of loss with a note of power and despair, outlining it as that sublime tragedy it really is.
Iowa’s monster Slipknot, appropriate to their habit of cultivating the extreme, pass from love to obsession and from anger to hate in about a nanosecond. In their record “Prosthetics” (from the album “Slipknot”, 1999), Corey Taylor, I interpret, tells a story of kidnap and abuse. I hate the idea of people having to suffer such agony, yet I can’t help admiring the songs because it always makes my hair stand on end.
Even if you run I will find you
I decided I want you, now I know I need
If you can’t be bought, tougher than I thought
Keep in mind, I am with you
Never left out fate, can’t concentrate, even if you run
You will be mine
He goes on to advise:
Better make yourself at home, you’re here to stay
You won’t bother me, if you let me bother you
All the doors are locked, all the windows shut
Keep in mind, I watch you
Never leave my side, never leave me, fucker even if you run
The terrifying image of madness and hopelessness is sharpened by Taylor’s ever escalating screams of remorse:
What the fuck is different man? I can’t believe I’m doin’ this
Dammit man I knew it was a mistake
You brought it outta me, mistake
Heavy Metal is a collection of motley songs and styles, lyrics and issues. Love and all its disarray is a significant element of heavy music. You want further songs on love, hate, sex and pain?
“Everything Ends” from Slipknot’s “Iowa” (2001) could be a helpless tirade of pain after a breakup (“You are wrong, fucked and overrated, I think I’m gonna be sick and it’s your fault. This is the end of everything, you are the end of everything…”)
The song “Skeptic” by the same band (from “.5: The Gray Chapter”, 2014) might be a song about Jesus (a startling idea my boyfriend recently uttered and which would fit in many respects) as well as a loving remembrance of their bass player Paul Gray who died in 2010. (“And our hero, martyr, missionary. God – he was the best of us. The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you, the world will never know another man as amazing as you…”)
“Hollow” by Pantera (from “Vulgar Display of Power”, 1992) once again centres on loss, and in an interview with Metalhammer in 2012 Phil Anselmo mused that at the time he wrote the song he was actually much too young to understand the truth of these words. (“He as hollow as I alone. A shell of my friend, just flesh and bone. There’s no soul, he sees no love. I shake my fists at skies above, mad at God…”)
German Industrial Rockers Rammstein must have written at least several dozen of songs revolving around love and sex. Just try “Heirate mich” (a simultaneously tragic and amusing song about a necrophiliac, from their debut “Herzeleid”, 1996) , “Amour” (a poetic tale of the wild beast love, from “Reise, Reise”, 2004) and “Liebe ist für alle da” (the story of a greedy hunter and a chased beauty, from the 2006 album of the same name).