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Metal Mondays: Graphic lyrics are necessary in metal

Metal bands often push the limits of extremity in all musical aspects. Whether vocally or instrumentally, the genre is no stranger to expanding the definition of music by testing the limits of heaviness.

Metal’s most unrecognized innovation is undeniably its lyricism. Too often are clever, genius and emotionally rich lyrics disregarded because of the more extreme sonic delivery by the band performing them. Bands like Pantera and Slipknot often explore complex social and emotional issues in their lyrics (particularly in songs like “Hollow” and “Snuff,” respectively), yet are not fully recognized because of the genre they call home. 

These testaments of songwriting are usually overshadowed by lyrics considered brutal for brutality’s sake, i.e. lyrics with no purpose beyond shock value. However, I would argue the lyrics that people consider stereotypically metal are more than simply trying to be as grotesque as possible; they are fundamental expressions of a human’s right to creative freedom and deliver political and social messages.

The world of extreme metal is ripe with examples of this. Bands like Cattle Decapitation and Venom Prison criticize alt-right ideology, corporate greed and imperialism while remaining true to their death metal roots. In the song “Uterine Industrialisation,” Venom Prison’s lead singer roars, “Deprived of lust and sexual desire / Reduced to fertile breeding machines.” These lyrics may seem nonsensically graphic but pack a strong political punch, especially when placed within the context of the song — a song about the systematic mistreatment of women. 

Despite the mischaracterization of these lyrics, artists and bands continue to utilize them. These lyrics can translate into rather intense live shows, but they never fail to deliver the point the songwriters had when writing them. These energetic live shows often create spaces for fans to vent their anger at whatever the band is raging about on stage.

Behemoth, Sunami and Cancer Christ — all bands with highly political, graphic and at times controversial lyricism — translate this fury into unforgettable live shows. While to some the stage theatrics may go too far and become distasteful, that is almost always the point; the show matches the lyrics, furthering the artist’s message. The over the top lyrics and live shows are what make metal special — no other genre allows artists to express their ideologies in such a sincere way. 

However, I do have criticisms of certain types of graphic lyrics. A particularly toxic subset of extreme metal, National Socialist Black Metal, or NSBM, is in no way valid and should be entirely uprooted. I think I can speak for all real metalheads when I say that NSBM is not representative of heavy music in any capacity, across subgenres.

In a way, toxicity like this is exactly why graphic lyricism exists — the overt cruelty spewed by NSBM bands is exactly what the metal bands I’ve already mentioned fight against. Anything less than singing “Nazi Die” is a huge disservice to everyone ever, and there should not be disdain for this type of passion for hating the far-right. Let bands match their live shows and lyrics to their already heavy musicianship and the world may just be a better place.

Jackson McCoy is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to share your thoughts? Let Jackson know by emailing or tweeting him at or @_jackson_mccoy_.

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