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OpEd

Metal Lyrics: A Race to the Bottom? Has Porngrind Gone Too Far?

Photo of Anal Blast

Band Photo: Anal Blast (?)

I love art that shocks just for the simple shock value and the awkward looks I get from people when I mention enjoying things like "Fanta Claus" and "Postal 2." So it goes without saying that I've done my fair share of listening to bands with lyrical themes glorifying every single perversion and depravity imaginable. But once you've pushed things to the crudest and most vulgar level possible, you hit a wall and say to yourself, “Wow, this is completely fucking pointless.”

Yes, I've been there. I've listened to Aryan Terrorism's xenophobic calls for violence. I've sung along to the homophobic hate hymns of Impaled Nazarene and The Meat Shits. I've even praised the lyrics of Rupture Christ and Woods of Infinity with the term, “Pedo to the metal!” Looking back on all that now, it just seems beyond juvenile since intentionally upsetting people and violating taboos doesn't do anything productive. Getting knee-jerk reactions out of people doesn’t make you more enlightened just because you aren’t bothered by the things that other people would prefer not to think about. At some point, you need to move past The Death of God and onto the Reevaluation of All Values. Yes, reality is filled with all sorts of horrible things but that hardly means that the most horrific are the most real and the most terrifying are the most true.

If you're going to cover topics that shock people, it's important to know why they're shocking instead of merely labeling the majority of civilization as a bunch of prudes and have the bullet glance back at the shooter. Blindly glorifying things that you know are wrong is about as subtle as turkey slapping your own mother in the face for the hell of it and contains as much intent, purpose and meaning as the aforementioned action, which is to say, next to none.

Take for instance, the topic of misogyny. There are ways to explore it without running down the street screaming, “Gary Ridgeway was a true American hero!” It's the fine line between something like Silent Hill 2 and Irreversible on one side and Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS and Rapelay on the other. It's also something that more often than not, metal is on the wrong side of. There are bands who can use sexist themes but still portray them in a manner that at least has some dignity to it like Pig Destroyer and Strapping Young Lad. Metal, however, is more often than not saturated with bands like Anal Blast and Waco Jesus who aren't exploring anything - they're just degrading people, which furthers a stigma against metal as a culture and community and ensures that metal shows will continue to be such complete sausagefests that no (straight) man will ever be able to get laid at one.

And that begs the question. How much have the extreme lyrics of bands like Cock and Ball Torture and Jon Benet Ramsey stigmatized the entire metal scene? Is the race to be that much more shocking and juvenile really worthwhile when there are so many more intelligent ways to explore the same issues without degenerating into a glorification of infibulation? Moreover, how is any date a man brings home going to react to your copy of Cesspool of Vermin’s “Bestial Necrophilia?”

Even beyond the concerns of marketing and sales, how much harder will the bands that actually have something to say get neglected because, “Haha, I rape young boys” is the norm? Does having a message that isn't about cheap shocks and extreme violence with no context make a band “false metal” since it doesn’t conform to the norms of the metal scene? And how much is this obsession with being that much more disgusting dissuade musicians from making the high-minded concept albums that Immortal and Dream Theater are known for because of fears of not finding a target audience?

These are questions that I can't answer since I'm only one person and not the entire metal scene. However, to me the race to be most depraved band in the world is getting old and after growing out of my love for cheap shocks, it's a shame to see that most of the underground extreme metal scene is still trying to see who can be more immature than the next band. There needs to be more unsigned bands who pursue different lyrical topics simply for the sake of diversity, since you can only listen to so many songs about raping somebody with a chainsaw before it just becomes stale and routine through predictability. And we have to ask ourselves if this elitist, “more foul than thou” cultural extremism is creating a stigma against metal to the point where bands who do pursue lyrical themes have trouble finding acceptance. At what point can we ask ourselves these hard questions instead of trying to hide our Devourment CDs anytime a co-worker peers over our shoulder out of a fear of appearing sexist?

For instance, this is a great example of exploring sexist themes in a mature way:

This is not:

Dasher10's avatar

Matt is a freelance writer living in Chicago, Illinois and a metalhead since 1999.

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27 Comments on "Metal Lyrics: A Race to the Bottom?"

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Progressivity_In_All's avatar

Senior Reviewer

If you think about the phrase "more foul than thou" for a little bit, it should inevitably lead one away from adopting it. Who are the worst human beings and what sort of things did they delight in? Jeffrey Dahmer, rape/necrophilia/dismemberment/cannibalism. Hitler, eugenics/human testing (read: torture)/mass genocide. Et cetera...

The whole point of trying to blatantly up the ante of the offensive content in heavy metal is, in spirit, aspiring to the level of Dahmer and Hitler, short of actually committing the acts.

It's one thing to write about offensive things from a historical perspective, but to take on first-person perspective lyrical viewpoints in a song or a third-person narrative perspective of fictional accounts of the vile in a song is very telling of the writer's own mental state if they're not doing it 'just to be offensive.'

More... I argue that lyrics about inhuman acts are slowly desensitizing listeners as the content gets more gruesome through one-upsmanship. The race to the bottom needs to stop, as well as songs about inhuman acts of abuse or perversion. If not for the above-mentioned reasons, then for the sake of making a living. If you're in a band and would like to make a decent living without getting 3-5 jobs at once, keep your perversions out of your lyrics. We're not in an age where that's valued and would make money, so it's just smart not to use them.

...but I'm just a guy with an opinion, just like everyone else.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 4:11 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Dasher10's avatar

Writer/Reviewer

2. Dasher10 writes:

I agree. The problem is that a lot of the subtlety and irony is lost on a lot of the newer bands. It started when Slayer started exploring controversial issues from a detached perspective, Cannibal Corpse and Carcass were inspired by cheesy Video Nasties and Anal c*** just wanted to annoy people. Then bands like The Mentors and Meat sh**s started taking it seriously.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 4:32 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Progressivity_In_All's avatar

Senior Reviewer

Right, which is why movies like Apocalypse Now make you disgusted from a detached perspective, but movies like Kids make you feel both disgusted and complicit in the act of what you just saw. The better bands, filmmakers, novelists, and artists are always commenting on offensiveness when they show it and aren't just doing it for the sake of doing it (unless doing it for the sake of doing it was actually a groundbreaking concept at the time -- which it isn't now).

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 4:40 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
4. Hamburger Martyr writes:

Shocking lyrics are boring and both intellectually and creatively lazy. Any idiot can write that sh**.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 4:46 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Dasher10's avatar

Writer/Reviewer

5. Dasher10 writes:

Exactly. There was a time when John Waters and GG Allin were groundbreaking but now, today, I just feel like it's all been done before and pointless shock value for its own sake isn't even shocking, it's just boring.

That and most porngrind bands are only one or two man projects made by virgins for virgins... but it's still half the unsigned bands out there today.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 4:48 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Dasher10's avatar

Writer/Reviewer

6. Dasher10 writes:

Comment #5 was directed at comment #3.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 4:48 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
7. Poison writes:

Youre thinking too hard about this. Extreme and obscene lyrics/artwork are just a dumb little cliche. No one takes it seriously at all, including the musicians...your article outlines the difference between a mature and immature approach to extreme themes as if the listener is too dumb to realize it himself. You may think it's pointless, but it's just a gimmick. I like my fair share of brainless trash and that doesn't reflect on my personality or beliefs. Let's not pretend that all music as an art form must be meaningful and insightful in some way, sometimes it's just about being f***ing silly.

The reason we have to hide our Devourment CDs is because most non metalheads will not understand what I just wrote above. But when has it ever been about what others think? I could write a 20 thousand word essay elaborating on how I feel about the subject.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 5:32 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
8. bobby las vegas writes:

everyones different.
we all take lyrics, songs, entertainment and digest it our personally way.
for me, the band that sticks out the most because of my personal bullsh** in life is korn, there lyrics spell alot of what ive endured in life.
On the other hand i personally enjoy horror films, and i think todays horror movies suck ass, there fore i gravitated to death and black metal, the erie lyrics and music, a band like cradle of filth who many say " oh they arent nearly what they were 10-15 years ago"..maybe sound wise, but lyrically they have not lost a step.
a band like cannibal corpse i personally dont gravitate to the lyrics much but musically they kick ass, george is a beast on vocals and the lyrics and the art work are a an added bonus.
so everyone is lured by a band for certain and different reasons, some for pure entertainment, some for therapy but whatever it may be its what lures and connect all of us to the metal world, and thats all that matters.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 6:19 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
9. Poison writes:

Well said, #8.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 6:44 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Progressivity_In_All's avatar

Senior Reviewer

10. Progressivity_In_All writes:

"But when has it ever been about what others think?"

Since day 1. Since someone said "What you think is not what I think, therefore I will start a new genre for what I think." Metal has always been concerned with what others think. "I don't care what other people think" has always been a lie unless a band's playing in their garage the whole time, playing for nobody. A band wouldn't need to play to anybody if they didn't want the support. for their music.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 8:18 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
hellrat's avatar

Member

11. hellrat writes:

^au contraire...I don't give a fvck what anyone thinks, except for my wife and a couple business colleagues...and those considerations have NOTHING to do with music :)

and yes, I do play music, in my studio, on the fvcking stage, or wherever the fvck else I feel like playing it. I DO NOT heed any beckoning call...and I REALLY don't give a fvck if anyone likes it or not. In fact, I would guesstimate that most would not like it much anyway...boo fvcking hoo

I write music and lyrics to satisfy MYSELF...if others happen to like it, hate it, find it repulsive, etc and so forth; well, that is entirely up to them.

As far as the 'race to the bottom' is concerned, I assess the real degradation (in this context) to be in the 'quality' of the written lyric, as opposed to the subject matter. The 'metal' scene is over-saturated with talentless hacks, that due to the ease of modern media conveyance, have never had to 'make the grade' so to speak

I enjoy cleverly written lyrics of most any persuasion; again, subject matter is of far less concern to me...however, if I am ever in the mood to have ALL my better sensibilities offended and 'shocked', I just throw on a Stryper tune for a couple measures

Talk about repugnant :)

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 8:54 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
12. Poison writes:

#10 What in the world are you on about? Not only is what you said preposterously nonsensical (and a wild generalization), it isn't even what I was talking about. What I meant was that I simply don't care what people think about the music I listen to. I wont go advertising my love for goregrind/BDM but I'm not ashamed or afraid to show it either, and I certainly have lost any friends over it.

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 8:55 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Dasher10's avatar

Writer/Reviewer

13. Dasher10 writes:

Well said Hellrat. That's probably the best comment yet. All it takes is a one person Myspace band to make a name for yourself today and that's why the quality is so low and why so many are drawn to crap in an oversaturated market in an attempt to seem, "underground" and "indie."

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 9:35 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
hellrat's avatar

Member

14. hellrat writes:

Cheers Dasher...though I should also add that I more than willingly endure a lot of sh!t lyrics because I like the music and the vocal arrangement/delivery...

I do agree about the bombardment of our music by folks who find the alternative for their lack of skill in attempting to be more 'extreme', in whatever ill-conceived sense.

I would also like to say that I commend these recent columns you've authored...it is interesting to explore these subjects and discuss all our differing opinions on such matters...which invariably provide us all a bit of nice Happy Time as well ;)

NP---The Boy Who Wouln't Hoe Corn---Union Station live in Louiseville

# Jan 30, 2013 @ 10:08 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
hellrat's avatar

Member

15. hellrat writes:

^heh, check out Havok's new tune for a prime example...total sh!t lyric, utterly cliche and redundant; yet, the honest and well executed effort to emulate old school thrash is appreciated

Everything is interprative

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 1:14 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
sonictherapy's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

16. sonictherapy writes:

Most of us look at it as an energy release, but it can get redundant. Desensitization can backfire, too. I forget the specific band, but recently a band with shock lyrics had a family member come down with cancer and put up a paypal page to help with the costs. The average fan was supportive and differentiated between entertainment and a real life crisis, but you should have seen the trolls on the page telling the band that it was funny and they deserved it because they 'condone' it in their lyrics.

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 8:13 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Dasher10's avatar

Writer/Reviewer

17. Dasher10 writes:

Well there are certain ways of releasing negative emotions that aren't sublimely anti-intellectual. Again, it's not content, it's context. I'm not above shock value and offending people but there needs to be something blow the surface otherwise it's just a combination of childish and insincere. I don't get morally outraged, I just get bored.

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 11:41 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
RememberMetal?'s avatar

Writer/Reviewer

18. RememberMetal? writes:

Metal being the free speech free-for-all that it is, one should expect rotten/broken eggs in the bunch. And if there was ever a race to the bottom, the subterranean depths were breached with shovels and pick axes long ago. Clearly Dasher has grown tired of and moved on from “shock-for-the-sake-of-it” but every year there’s a new generations of teens and 20-somethings to perpetuate the demand and creation of that form.

With the respect to the "One man's offensive, vulgar tirade is another man's beautiful sonnet" angle: When Opeth and AxCx discuss the same atrocity, there's clear distinction in terms of presentation and intent. Shock only take a band so far, especially when you only have one trick up your sleeve. Note that Opeth ascended in every way possible, and with roughly the same lifespan, AxCx terminally circled the bottom. Poor form is a problem, but often it’s self-limiting and self-correcting.

In a previous thread I stated that I felt metal music is the id allowed or forced to depict itself through music. Nowhere is that more evident than the lyrics. But because of the unchained nature of the music, metal is an ugly, vicious, beast that roars: “F*** manners! F*** rules!” F***ing asterisks!... Everyone’s demon is a unique little snowflake.

Per usual, I digress. However, I do believe that crafting artful, intelligent, and emotionally profound lyrics is a dying art. Consequences be damned, metal and the darkest aspects of humanity are inextricably linked. Lastly, shock-centric expression and the resulting moral outrage are funny and increasingly antiquated generational torches.

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 11:51 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
cbella's avatar

Member

19. cbella writes:

Very interesting article and comments!

I agree entirely with post #18. Quality is the determining component for me.

Furthermore, nobody mentioned the increasingly vapid, tedious and uninspired lyrics of today's 'pop' music. It is seen in politics, fashion and art as it is seen in music - this polarization. As metal tries to disassociate itself from the mainstream and become more underground (as #13 mentioned), it is unsurprising that the lyrics become increasingly ostentatious.

So as long as Taylor Swift keeps putting pen-to-paper, we will continue to see bands like Vaginal Penetration Of An Amelus With A Musty Carrot appearing.

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 2:04 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
BrianMN's avatar

Member

20. BrianMN writes:

@ RememberMetal?..."Everyone’s demon is a unique little snowflake."

Great song title right there. :D

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 4:45 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Cynic's avatar

Senior Reviewer

21. Cynic writes:

Damn, Dasher beat me to writing about this.

In short, few metal bands write about gore and violence purely to shock others. Mostly, they write about it because they enjoy the subject - which is a profound statement.

Metalheads are often accused of being sick, or glorifying violence. This is a misdirection. Violent lyrics are a comfort mechanism, it's about understanding and associating with human suffering and drawing power from it. Once you understand something intricately, you can't be afraid of it - and once you understand something everyone else is afraid of, you grow deeply attached to it, because that is power. To draw a parallel, it's the same as a submissive partner during sex. Sometimes submission is the greatest form of inner power, knowing that you can take suffering makes you feel powerful.

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 5:00 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
EsotericSurgery's avatar

Member

22. EsotericSurgery writes:

Great thread guys. Very powerful insights here. Especially enjoyed your post Cynic. Cheers :D

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 5:54 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
obscured_by_clouds's avatar

Member

23. obscured_by_clouds writes:

its bands like this that make people think metal is just angry talentless people screaming and playing their instruments as fast as they can

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 7:00 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
BrianMN's avatar

Member

24. BrianMN writes:

As always Cynic's and HR's insight is spot on. Very good read here.

# Jan 31, 2013 @ 9:19 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
BrianMN's avatar

Member

25. BrianMN writes:

I’d also like to add that some bands have genuinely good lyrics but you really have to dig most of the time.
Suffocations “Suspended in Tribulation” and “Breeding the Spawn” both have awesome lyrics.
Hell, even old Deicide had deliciously blasphemous lyrics in “Behead the Prophet”.
Slayer “Angel of Death”.
Metallica never really did much for me lyrically even on the good albums.
“Master of Puppets”….Chop your breakfast on a mirror (???)…..(massive eye roll)
Megadave…too preachy.
Chris Barns still writes some of the funniest dark stuff ever.
Can’t think of anymore right now.

# Feb 1, 2013 @ 9:16 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Dasher10's avatar

Writer/Reviewer

26. Dasher10 writes:

I'll agree to that, Brian. And that's the problem with dealing with controversial topics. You have to do it right. This is why Cannibal Corpse, Anal c*** and Aborted are seldom tasteless. It's because they're actually funny.

# Feb 1, 2013 @ 12:09 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

27. deathbringer writes:

Damn good comments on an interesting topic. Great points RM? and Cynic - both make you look at it from different angles. I don't think this is something that affects metal as a whole necessarily. The very most extreme will be largely relegated to the very most extreme bands, who will hardly be a blip on the radar to most people - even most metalheads - and therefore have little overall effect on the perception of metal.

In individual cases where a non-metalhead comes across someone listening to this stuff, what's the chance they'll even be able to understand just what depravity the person is listening to? Pretty low. Some listeners will leave the extreme stuff on proud display and others will hide it away from their less understanding friends like a collection of porn.

# Feb 1, 2013 @ 3:54 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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