The Representations Of Social Issues In Metal Music Essay

American public still supported environmental goals and different organizations were able to expand their membership in response to Reagan’s policies. The late 1980s saw the growth of the environmental justice movement, which argued that all people have a right to a safe and healthy environment. As this issue couldn’t leave any American untouched back in the 80s, Testament members were also concerned about the problem. Greenhouse Effect comes from the band’s third studio album Practice What You Preach. Testament changed their lyrical themes from occultism, inherent in previous albums, to more political and societal in the new one. In fact, many metal bands changed their slant in lyrical themes in the second half of the decade from mystic and occultism to criticizing politics and society.

For example, Metallica with their Master of Puppets and And Justice For All, released in 1986 and 1987 respectively, Megadeth’s Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? (1986). This is a sign of exacerbation of problems in the society in that time, including the problem of Earth’s pollution. As every musician uses their lyrics of the songs as a way of expressing their opinion and promoting their ideas, Testament’s Greenhouse Effect is a protest against pollution, which was and still is one of the biggest threats to humanity and to any existing creature. The opening lines set the tone of the lyrics that will remain the same throughout the whole song and help the band to express the idea they are trying to share. The tone is warning and redoubtable, words sound like a speech of a person who wants to be heard by many people. In the first lines it refers to the increase of rainforests burning down in South America in 1980-1990s, slowly bringing to death “the world we know” with its green trees, big diversities of plants and animals, living in the forests. The band is also conveying the idea of absurdness of self-extinction via wasteful living. Any living creature on earth can’t live without air as well as many other resources, for example water, however it doesn’t stop humans from damaging it, therefore killing not only the nature, but also themselves with “the air we breathe”.

Testament tries to warn that the way people indulge themselves, combined with the way they treat their planet and use its resources, they are slowly killing it. Humanity is constantly taking more than it can give back, which will lead to nothing being left because of the people’s hunger for more. In their lyrics, the band criticizes how humanity’s effort is blindly pushed into their endless desires, causing irreversible destruction of the environment and nature. It warns listeners that people’s careless actions will bring them to the brink of utter destruction, so “it’s time to take a stand” for their planet and stop while it is possible as “time is running low” for the earth and for us. This is the only way and “our only hope to breathe again” – to breathe some fresh air literally and figuratively. Besides that, lyrics addresses corruption, permissiveness and dishonesty of those, who has an endless desire for materialistic and doesn’t care about damages caused during satisfying their hunger for money.

A line “Lies they televise paid by the government” states that for the government it is also more convenient to ignore the existing problem and spend money on hiding the issue, not solving it. Pollution is a result of some people’s greediness, however this has consequences for other people, whose home was destroyed and who can now only be “praying on their knees”. Furthermore, pollution, as it is committed by humanity, should be considered as a “crime they perpetrate” against the environment, creatures living in the world and humanity itself. People keep their moto high “Save the Earth”, yet their own actions are nearly opposite to what they say.

The closing line of the song leaves a strong impression on a listener by the word “holocaust”. Testament compares pollution with horrific genocide during the World War ll, in which Nazi Germany murdered millions of Jewish people. Such juxtaposition emphasizes the position of the band.

All the strong expressions, vocabulary, metaphors and tone of the song helped Testament to express their position concerning raised problem. They captured the feeling that Mother Nature was in distress all the way back in 1989 with these lyrics from their song Greenhouse Effect. Back in the ‘80s people took notice on how the rivers, lakes, and air were being destroyed daily. But as the industries demanded more, more was taken from the earth. The song speaks to the mindset of the corporate machine even today, driven by greed and the artificial desire to keep up with society’s standards.

The third lyrics used for the analysis will be Killing in the Name, released in 1992 by arguably the most politically charged metal band Rage Against the Machine. Centered on racial tensions and unfair laws, the song touches the listener with themes of standing up to pressure and overcoming the spoilt systems. Killing In The Name is heavy on poisonous polemic, directing its stare into what the band saw as racism in US security agencies. The beating of black motorist Rodney King by four Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers in March 1991 served as the main inspiration for the lyrics. Captured on CCTV footage, it had enraged the nation and caused many riots after it was spread across every news channel. This wired Rage Against The Machine, who were against all manner of societal and political evils. The song was released six months after the riots, triggered by barely believable acquittal of the guilty police officers.

Rage Against the Machine keeps tone of the lyrics rebellious and powerful throughout the whole song. This helps the band to express their strong concern and refusal of justification of police brutality. It can be seen from the very beginning of the lyrics. The strength of first line are the blanks at the end. The band refuses to accept murder of any kind, no matter in whose name it is done – in the name of God, in the name of an ideology, or even in name of the law. This way, it embodies both the reasons for present violence, as well as any violent creeds. In the line “Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses” Killing In the Name equates with Ku Klux Klan – a historical embodiment of racism – not only the police force but also politicians who create laws and society who pushes a preferred social norm. The second Klan embraced cross burning in order to intimidate people. In pre-chorus Rage Against the Machine is impulses their listeners to question why they “do what they are told” by drawing attention to it. In the song’s context, these lines refer to the resulting servility of the masses through fear of the violence of those in greater authority.

Those who died are justified, For wearing the badge, They’re the chosen whites. You justify those that died By wearing the badge, They’re the chosen whites Same as the whole song, these lines reflect on the representational violence, specifically police brutality. The band claims that murder is justified by wearing a police badge, speaking ironically from the killers’ perspectives, hinting that there is no difference between police brutality and any other type of violence. The third line addresses racism, accusing the police force of employing too many racist officers that abuse the badge in order to justify their racist actions. “The chosen whites” joins the modern police assaults and the historical roots of white supremacy in America.

Overturning the previously repeated line of “Now you do what they tell ya”, Rage Against the Machine state their riot with a line “F*** you, I won’t do what you tell me” – a refusal to be controlled and thus a denial of authority. This line, as many others in the song, is repeated many times. This repetition is used cleverly to highlight the band’s main protest points. The song ends with an exclamation “Ugh!”, expressing the band’s strong disgust and leaving an impression on the listener and highlighting the importance of the band’s point – the abuse of power by those who have been given it to protect and serve. Killing in the Name is the rebellion against racism and the military-industrial complex – one that is still widely used as a protest anthem against social injustices to this day. When researching the question I was thinking of how genuine the statements were and did the bands really believe in what they were singing about. The concernment of Metallica about the drugs problems can be proven with the quote of the band’s frontman James Hetfield in the interview for the Thrasher magazine: “‘Master of Puppets’ deals pretty much with drugs. How things get switched around, instead of you controlling what you’re taking and doing it’s drugs controlling you. Like, I went to a party here in San Francisco, there were all these freaks shooting up and geezin’ and this other girl was real sick.”

Testament’s engagement with the addressed problem is also clear. Band’s guitarist Eric Peterson: “Well, we never really tried to preach anything. There were certain things that we would see here that would interest us, you know? […] There was “Greenhouse Effect”; I mean they were all things that we cared about, too, but they were brought to attention by him (Alex Skolnick – band’s lead guitarist).”Alex Skolnick gave an interview when they played in Vancouver with other bands – Judas Priest and Megadeth – on Halloween night 1990: “So he writes as many as he can and usually there’s a couple of songs left over and those are the ones I write and they’re more political and more social, and it’s just things that bother me you know, like when something happens to a friend of mine. [..] The “Greenhouse Effect” has been going on a long time and I wrote that just to let everybody know about it.” Rage Against the Machine were also directly connected to the problem they addressed in Killing in the Name. The frontmen Zach de la Rocha is a son of a Chicano political artist and grandson of a Mexican revolutionary, and Band’s guitarist Tom Morello himself was the scion of African insurrectionists. Garth Richardson, producer of the song and self-titled album, explained the influence of the incident on the band: “I was in LA when the whole Rodney King episode went down. That was a big thing for the city. Zack and I had a long talk about the power of speech and how whatever he needed to say, he had to say it. Malcolm X was a major influence in Zack’s life, and this was not the time to back down.” Richardson mentioned name of Malcolm X, who was a famous human rights activist.

Taking into account the interviews that some members of these bands or people close to them gave about the problems addressed in the songs I can conclude that the songs reflect personal opinions of the bands and are genuine.


By showing these three different songs by 3 different artists and 3 different social problems I can say that there is a place in metal music for commenting on social issues. Metal music can be seen as a tool of spreading events and is a good representation of how even the performers of the heaviest music genres cannot be indifferent to some important problems of their time. There are still bands which “fit” to the common stereotypes about metal music, however stereotypes imply that all bands fit them, which I proved to be false by analyzing selected lyrics.

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