Lochlan Watt: When Metal Gets Political
Historically, heavy music has been no stranger to politically and socially motivated lyrics and concepts. While it’s certainly not an exclusive theme for any genre, ever since Black Sabbath penned War Pigs in 1970 (and no doubt even before then), heavier bands have often served as platforms for expressing discontent and outrage at social injustices, corruption, the evil nonsensibility of global combat, and even the specific lies of individual politicians and community leaders themselves. Many of the biggest classic heavy acts to ever exist have had entire albums dedicated to such topics.
We exist in an age where information is more freely available than ever. Thanks to organisations like WikiLeaks, we have been granted an unprecedented level of transparency in order to see directly through the lies and omitted truths told or not told to us by our political leaders and employing corporations. In turn it’s all perpetuated through the mainstream media, which as a side note, quite clearly puts more energy into the scandal of Julian Assange than the actual groundbreaking information he facilitated the publication of. Yet the void of voices actually saying something about any of this through song seems to be large. Rather than seeing much significant musical retaliation, we more often see bands concerned more with depression and self-loathing. First world freedoms are gradually stripped as the third world burns and starves, all the while people pay good money to see grown men yell about how hard their privileged suburban lives are.
I must insist that I do not think I am above such sentiments. It wasn’t until my own ever-expanding knowledge and listening habits were punctuated by some eye-opening travels to developing nations that I began to feel a sense of guilt over using my own musical platform for nothing more than self-centred catharsis. I don’t mean to say that there is no room for this kind of expression – had I not had such an outlet I would have quite literally committed suicide long ago – but as age and experience builds, I find myself in a place where it seems more trivial than ever before. I do not expect to forcefully change anyone’s direction – a contrived or non-genuine sense of concern could perhaps be more painful than none at all – nor do I foresee any kind of dramatic revolution rising from the ranks of angry young metalheads and hardcore kids. I do however wish to share my changed sense of perspective with the world, in a hope that something ripples through time and space with positive effects.
Perhaps we are facing an information overload, combined with a multi-generational build-up of apathy and political confusion, as well as our social-media induced self-obsession. In some musical circles it is seen as being cool to be cold, to be switched off to empathy, life is harsh and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s easier to focus on our own perceived disappointments, to project hatred towards the haemorrhaging and increasingly irrelevant Church, or to turn to fantasy. Metallica didn’t stop the USA from starting wars with Master of Puppets and Green Day turned the issue into a multi-million dollar joke with American Idiot; why should the kids of today bother themselves with the plights of those less fortunate? It is somewhat in vogue to sing about environmental decline and global warming, but is anyone putting their money where their mouth is, or just simply proliferating poetic doomsday prophecies?
In a world where the gap between those who control and those who are forced to follow seems to grow further and further apart, our global situation can easily seem futile and not worth the energy spent worrying. To quote Cloud Atlas - “what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” Seemingly insignificant actions do reverberate through time. A song or album might not change anything today, but could easily spur someone to take real life action years beyond the fact. The generations above us will age and die, and those below will rise to take their place. It’s undeniable that the popularity of heavy music is constantly growing, but it doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t all be about just escapism. It presents a platform that can be used to cultivate political subversion amongst the youth, or even just an expansion of free-thinking, and project an alternative voice for the voiceless.
There are bands out there that understand this, and use their music to educate and spread imperative messages. I am growing increasingly fond of albums that tackle the bigger picture, yet more often than not they seem to go more unnoticed next to the party rockers and metaphorical wrist-slitters. Meanwhile, American weaponry slaughters the innocent, our soldiers are sent to die for lost causes, millions starve to death while fast food chains profit and waste immeasurably. The lies and the double-speak just keep coming onto our screens, and we do our best to ignore many of the harsh truths of existence.
I’ll fill you in on some releases that have over the past couple of years helped to shape my thoughts into the concerned space they inhabit today, and inspired me to research further into the various issues they address – perhaps you too can listen and learn.
No one’s going to save the world from its own ways, but anyone who desires so can help make it a better place.
I don’t know where I will go from here, but I know that thanks to this music, I have to do something. My next lyrical venture will certainly be nothing like my last.
First Blood – Silence Is Betrayal (2010)
On their second album, California’s First Blood took the political themes they’d previously touched on to a whole new conceptual level that saw them freed from the almost-gimmick like elements of their past. With a super-aggressive style that sits a little more on the ‘core side of the metalcore fence, Silence Is Betrayal is an album that effectively covers dozens of linked topics, from the 9/11 truth movement, to the unjustified American occupation of third world nations and the silencing of whistle-blowers. The message is delivered not just through succinct, clearly sung and outraged lyrics, but with the samples that litter the tracks that have been taken from all sorts of politicians and commentators from both sides of the fence. The album opens with the statement “the time comes when silence is betrayal” – the theme that encompasses it all and stands as a counterweight to those who see but do not speak up or act against wrongdoing. “Six hundred and fifty four thousand Iraqis have died since the war began, most of them violently” echoes over building distortion...
In an article published on TheGauntlet.com in early 2011, vocalist Carl Schwartz, an outspoken animal rights advocate and the driving force behind the band, commented on dealing with his own battle of apathy versus idealism in relation to the album’s creation.
“The making of this record was quite an emotional journey for me, with few ups and mostly downs. The optimism I once held that society as a whole would inevitably rise up and challenge their corrupt governments and institutions slowly began to fade. The confidence I once held that people would somehow want to begin to make themselves more aware of the horrors wrought in their name every day around the world and then find a lasting motivation to try and create change, make sacrifices, inform others, stand by their convictions and beliefs, blah blah blah... All of these ideas seemingly became just hopeful fantasies in my mind; non-realities. Maybe, by looking to my American friends and peers for revolutionary inspiration, I had it all wrong. In the words of the late George Carlin: ‘No one seems to notice. No one seems to care.’
“Then came Egypt. Holy shit. Let it be known. My sympathy for government leaders and their false smiles can always reach new lows. But my faith in people and their willingness to rise up could not have been restored at a better time and from one of the most unexpected of places. Surely, the uprising in Iceland and more recent revolts in Tunisia can be credited with igniting the flames of resistance in Egypt, but what we are seeing now in the streets of Cairo, throughout Egypt, and in many parts of the Middle East is HUGE. HISTORICAL. This is a fucking wake up call to all the corrupt governments around the world, and this time the game is tilted in the favour of the people.”
Century – Red Giant (2011)
“Now watch your life come apart for someone else's entertainment. Shoot everyone in your office building. Drown your kids in the bathtub. Burn your home to the ground. Leave it behind. Leave it behind. I was a baby-boomer's kid so you can all go fuck yourselves. I saw three failed wars sponsored by corporate contracts, so I'm not gonna shed a tear when this bitch falls. Sacrifice yourself for a fucking idea and die for nothing. Fly a plane into a building. Now you've become your god and now you're gonna pay. We're funding both sides of a war we can't win. You wanna do something fiscally responsible? Just kill yourself. Welcome to Hell. I'm counting down from ten with a knife in my head like Rosemary Kennedy trying to recite the pledge. Do you think this is fucking funny? Do you even comprehend this bullshit? Fuck you motherfucker. I will rip your head off and fuck what’s left of your oesophagus. I wanna stab your eyes out. Eat shit you fucking bastard. Whoa Mike, calm the fuck down - you don't have to yell and curse so much. What are you so angry about? You act like they've abandoned and sold you out. Complacence and rapists and homophobes and war-mongers, and white supremacists and lobbyists and xenophobes and hypocrites, and every single seat in the U.S. House of Reps: fuck you. Walk through my spit, through your war-path.”
That’s some relatively sarcastic but entirely topical rage, huh? While vocalist Carlson Slovak has claimed that “the only agenda of Century is that we have no agenda”, on their most recent release the US group went a little harder on the social/political and even environmental rants. A little more concerned with troubles faced on their home soil than the other side of the world, they possess elements comparable to Refused, Meshuggah, Rage Against The Machine, Converge, Snapcase and Integrity, yet are entirely their own beast. The band has barely played off the back of Red Giant, let alone toured it, so despite receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews, this absolutely killer and question-raising album has unfortunately received very little attention.
“Our currency is ignorance and we’ve been doing just fine. We’ll keep rewarding ourselves for economic genocide. I can’t think while I’m staring at the screen. The days turn to weeks... maybe we’ll find a way.”
With these as the album’s closing lines, perhaps at the end of the day apathy has gotten the best of Century too. The name itself kind of sums it up – Red Giant – the state that scientists predict our sun will reach eventual reach as it burns earth out of existence. I’ll be damned if this collection of ten songs doesn’t make me fantasise about the collapse of The Pentagon and the world banking system a little earlier than that though.
Molotov Solution – Insurrection (2011)
Insurrection, as defined by the Random House Dictionary, is “an act or instance of rising in revolt, rebellion, or resistance against civil authority or an established government.” With this release the LA based Molotov Solution present their overall case fiercely and directly. It goes a little something like this: the government is lying to us, do not trust the government, conspiracies exist, the people have the power if we could only wake up to it, separate Church and state, and, oh yeah, God isn’t only dead, he never existed. For what the album lacks in the form of any actual specific examples it makes up for in pure brutality, with a technical deathcore sound that is absolutely crushing in delivery. Easily accessible catch cries litter the album such as “justice is forgotten and liberty is dead”, “people should not fear their governments, governments should fear their people”, and “we won’t change for this world – we’ll change this world for us”.
Though the band is currently on hiatus, an inspection of their Facebook page will reveal there are more layers to their onion than just tough talk. While the stories behind their songs are a little non-specific, they go straight to their online audience with an array of hard facts, conspiracy speculation, inspirational quotes, and topical memes – despite the fact that they have not performed live in some time. They’re still selling merch too, but everyone’s gotta make a crust somehow.
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