Three Heavy Metal Lyrics You Need to Hear

2019-04-04 Essay


by Alec Plowman

In popular thinking, “metal music” and “great lyrics” don’t usually go hand-in-hand.

Heavy metal has a reputation for being all pomp, speed, all shred and very little else. But, behind the walls of guitars, wailing and fast tempo drumming, you’ll often find some surprisingly sophisticated stanzas and sentiments.

Today I’m running through three of my all-time favourite metal lyrics, and why I rate them.

Metallica – Dyers Eve

Metallica’s James Hetfield has a knack for penning some pretty hard-hitting lyrics. But on the first three Metallica albums, he steered clear of the personal, taking on state-of-the-world topics with abstract narratives.

The final song on the band’s fourth album - “…And Justice For All” - however, was a very different story. The track, titled “Dyers Eve,” featured the most starkly confessional words of Hetfield’s career to that point. Reflecting on his Christian Science upbringing and his mother’s death from cancer, the frontman raged with bile and ferocity like never before:

“Dear mother Dear father
What is this hell you have put me through
Believer, Deceiver
Day in day out live my life through you
Pushed onto me what's wrong or right
Hidden from this thing that they call life

Dear mother Dear father
Every thought I'd think you'd disapprove
Curator, Dictator
Always censoring my every move
Children are seen but are not heard
Tear out everything inspired”

As he’d later tell Rolling Stone:
“That song was about being in a cocoon, and now that I’m out on my own, oh, my God, the world is shocking me. I don’t know how to deal with this stuff. I don’t know how to deal with grief, poverty, confrontation. How to live on my own, after father leaving, mother dying.”

Hetfield would move further into personal territory on Metallica’s “Black,” “Load” and “ReLoad” albums. And, while many of those lyrics are arguably better than those of “Dyers Eve,” they can’t match them for sheer gut-punching intensity.

Motorhead – We Are the Road Crew

When you think about proto-thrash behemoths Motorhead, volume and attitude are the first things that probably come to mind.

And to be fair, that’s an image that late frontman Lemmy Kilmister was more than willing to promote. He once famously told an interviewer that Motorhead was “the dirtiest rock n’ roll band in the world. If we moved in next door, your lawn would die.”

But behind that hard-as-nails façade, Lemmy was a surprisingly sophisticated songwriter and lyricist. And the pros knew it too. Ozzy Osbourne hired Lemmy to write some songs for his 1990 “No More Tears” album, and they ended up being some of the most enduring records of the Prince of Darkness’s career:

"He wrote me a lot of good lyrics. I was doing one of my albums, and I went to his house and said, 'Would you care to do some lyrics?'

"He said, 'Yeah, come back in a couple of hours.' And I went back, and he says, 'Do you like them?' I read them and he had given me five different sets of lyrics, and they were all great!

"He wrote 'Mama I'm Coming Home,' 'See You on the Other Side,' 'Hellraiser,' a bunch of stuff! Everybody underestimated him. He was very well-read, very clever guy. I miss him all the time.”

For my money though, Lemmy’s crowning achievement as a lyricist has to be “We Are the Road Crew” from Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” album. “Life on the road” songs are ten for a penny in hard rock and metal, usually abounding with clichés and overworn sentiments. But, Lemmy’s view of the rigours of touring from the perspective of the crew is – like the late man himself - completely unique:

“Another town I've left behind,
Another drink completely blind,
Another hotel I can't find,
Another backstage pass for you,
Another tube of super glue,
Another border to get through,
I'm driving like a maniac,
Driving my way to hell and back,
Another room a case to pack,
We are the road crew.”

Megadeth – Peace Sells

Back in the mid-1980s, heavy metal acts got a bad rap in the mainstream media. It was widely regarded as the music of meatheads and morons, much to the dismay of its practitioners. This was something that Dave Mustaine – frontman of “thinking man’s metal band” Megadeth – took issue with. And in response, he wrote one of the band’s enduring classics, “Peace Sells”:

"I wrote it because I was tired of people mocking metal in general and mocking people who are metal fans. It was hard for me to watch the way we were stereotyped on TV, just as dumbasses. For the most part, I think that a lot of musicians are very intelligent and very talented. It's a bummer the way people had been stereotyped."

A meathead anthem “Peace Sells” most definitely wasn’t. A scathing take on the state of Reagan’s America circa 1986, it helped to change the perception of heavy metal and launched Megadeth onto the main stage in the process:

“What do you mean, "I don't believe in God"?
I talk to him everyday.
What do you mean, "I don't support your system"?
I go to court when I have to
What do you mean, "I can't get to work on time"?
I got nothing better to do.
And, what do you mean, "I don't pay my bills"?
Why do you think I'm broke? Huh?
If there's a new way,
I'll be the first in line.
But it better work this time.”

What are your favourite heavy metal lyrics?