Heavy Metal Protest Songs: An Independence Day Playlist
Heavy metal by its nature is defiant and rebellious, a threat to law and order. Black Sabbath‘s early records were loaded with protest songs about war, drugs, and ecology. Even the ancient and Biblical blood raining from the lacerated skies above Slayer has a radical effect; and no matter what Lemmy sings about Motörhead is a three-man social revolution in motion.
The entire thrash metal wave took a cue from punk rock and explored themes like injustice, exploitation, and corruption. Those moshpit revolts inspired political 1990s rap-metal bands like Rage Against the Machine, Downset, and System of a Down. For any metal freedom fighter, here’s a playlist of protest metal to run up the flagpole during the rockets red glare.
“Peace Sells,” Megadeth
Regardless of Dave Mustaine‘s outspoken current-day rabidly right-wing political outlook, in the early days of Megadeth he had a visceral connection to his disenfranchised audience and a knack for galvanized widespread frustration. Songs like this and “Foreclosure of a Dream” brought the social outcry of punk idols like the Dead Kennedys into a broader suburban metalhead mindset.
“You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll,” Twisted Sister
Often times metal’s cause is metal itself, the right to rock and be rocked, or just stand around jabbing a giant middle finger at the world with a good blasting soundtrack. The revolution begins at home, right-even in a bedroom covered with metal posters. Twisted Sister had a serious side, and tough anthems like this and “The Kids Are Back” succeeded because Dee Snider knew his audience well, and had a gift for empowering headbangers to stand and deliver.
“Morale,” Napalm Death
Though impossible to pick a single song capable of galvanizing the hearts of a thousand revolutionaries, Napalm Death‘s very existence is a militant affront to the status quo.
Doubtful that Mexican revolutionaries Emiliano Zapata and the rebels of the mid-’90s Chiapas uprising would be flattered by Brujeria toasting them alongside communism, Satanism, and witchcraft, but this is a rabble-rousing revolutionary anthem if metal ever produced one.
“Protest and Survive,” Discharge
While not technically a metal band, this caustic British hardcore punk outfit has been covered by everyone from Anthrax to Metallica to a legion of Dis- bands slavishly recreating the look and sound of their classic protest anthems.
“Flag of Hate,” Kreator
Recent Kreator releases like Violent Revolution are smarter and clearer expressions of disgust with the world order, but “Flag of Hate” from the band’s 1985 debut remains a live favorite and lightning rod for universal pissedoffedness of all political stripes.
“War Pigs,” Black Sabbath
The barren and resolute anti-war anthem was crystallized during Ozzfest 2004 by a grim video projected above Black Sabbath combining black and white World War II footage of the Nazis who shelled the band’s native England relentlessly, garish Vietnam films from the time of Sabbath’s arrival in the early 1970s, and contemporary clips of George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.
Far and away heavy metal’s greatest protest song, combining pummeling percussion and a simple refrain, “Refuse/Resist” is the work of a band formed under a military dictatorship in Brazil followed by rampant corruption and unequal access to wealth. Furthermore, they were one of the few bands to tour everywhere in the world during the early days of globalization, and they remain the leaders of the third world metal uprising. Refuse! Resist!
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Ian Christe is the author of Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, and the publisher of Bazillion Points Books, home to Swedish Death Metal, Only Death Is Real, Hellbent for Cooking, and other heavy reading.