The importance, or non-importance, of lyrics in metal (November 2000)
Words and Meaning
As with most answers this is another one that has a yes and no answer. If I was forced to pick one then I'd say no, lyrics are not THAT important. However, since I'm not being forced to pick I'm gonna say that while lyrics are not the most important
ingredient, they can be a great bonus and make a band be one of my
Let's take a band like Judas Priest - now don't take this the wrong way, cause I LOVE
Priest, but I honestly don't get a lot out of their lyrics. Sure, they paint a great picture and all and there's nothing wrong with that.
For the most part there is not big message being laid down here.
Then there are the bands that use their lyrics to tell a story. Bands like
Blind Guardian and Rhapsody are two that pop in my head right away when I think of fantasy lyrics. The fantasy
element is very appealing to me and when it comes to Rhapsody, I especially like the storyline and I'm sure that's a result of growing up reading such authors as Tolkien, Eddings and Brooks. I remember when I got the first
Rhapsody CD Legendary Tales - I didn't realize it was part one of an
ongoing saga. After I actually spent the time reading the
booklet.....that put them over the top for me. So here's an example of a band who not only has their music down but who spends some time thinking and planning out some great lyrics. I know some people aren't into the whole fantasy thing with the knights, swords,
sorcerers and dragons but I guess then that you also weren't into the fantasy style of writing which I happened to like beforehand. Other "storyteller" lyrics that I like are some of the horror stories. The guy that comes to mind here is
King Diamond. His lyrics and storytelling, to me, are awesome. Wouldn't you love to see something he wrote like
THEM, ABIGAIL and CONSPIRACY made into a movie? I know I sure would!! I also like lyrics that are historically based - WWII,
Ancient Rome, Egypt...etc. I guess the minor in history I did comes in handy for something haha. The other style of lyrics that I like are the ones that speak to me on a personal level - not ones that are escapist or fantasy-based but lyrics that are reality based. I really like some of the what I'll call realism / world view lyrics of
Kreator and Death. Some of their ideas on life, meaning, people, society, religion, etc. reflect
exactly how I feel and thus make me like those band's even more.
While a band's lyrics may not be the most important ingredient that makes me decide if I like them or not, it can be a factor in making that band stand above the rest and make me spend more time reading their lyrics which eventually leads to memorizing songs and before you know it becoming one of my favorite bands. So initially, lyrics are not what I look for but as I dig deeper into a band it can be one of the things that increases my interest. The only place lyrics do not matter is for instrumentals - but for that style of music you listen to it from a different perspective - the perspective of more closely following the music and guitar melodies replace the vocal lines.
"Existing like the rest in endless emptiness. Manipulated slaves from the womb until the
"You used my trust to satisfy your brainless lust. Your word isn't worth more than puke in the dust."
"Behold how the blind lead
each other...You know so much about nothing at all."
"Eternal glory spread your
wide wings. Fly and forever lead my holy steel."
"We know you've come to inherit
what's yours. The Mansion. Take our advise and go back on this night.
If you refuse 18 will become 9."
The Importance, Or Non-Importance, of Lyrics in MetalMichael De Los Muertos
Are lyrics in metal important, and if so, how important? If there was
one “right” answer, this wouldn't be a Hell’s Heart topic! As with
almost everything else, the answer is, “It depends.”
There is a strong case for saying that they aren't that important -
or at least not as important as they are in other forms of music, such
as pop rock, for example. Death metal presents an almost tragic example.
Death metal is the genre where lyrics have probably the least importance
- the "message" of the song is carried primarily through the
music and the style of the vocals, as opposed to the lyrics. However,
ask a mainstreamer (non-metalhead) to evaluate death metal, and most
likely they will start with the lyrics. “Oh my God, this song is about
a woman getting her head chopped off! This is so harmful! This
must be banned!” The response that “nobody pays much attention to
that” rings hollow to them, because when they listen to a song,
they're trained to hear primarily the lyrics. The value that metalheads
hear in death metal songs is inaudible to them. The only thing
intelligible is the lyrics.
However, in some contexts, from some bands, lyrics are very
important. Take, for example, Christian metal. There is no generally
recognized musical “style” of Christian metal. What makes a band
Christian is, and can only be, the lyrical content. A vehemently
anti-Christian metalhead may choose not to buy an album solely and
explicitly because of its lyrical content, where conversely a strong
Christian metalhead may pass up Morbid Angel because of its Satanic
lyrics. So it is not true that lyrics don't matter, can never matter, or
that a metalhead's like or dislike of a particular band could never be
based solely on lyrics.
In my opinion, when done well, lyrics add to and augment a great
metal song. Power metal bands seem to have the best luck with lyrics,
and sometimes their lyrics can be pure poetry. Take, for example, Bal-Sagoth's
flowery phrases like "Earthbound, a star falls to my
tongue..." or "Behold the ghost of a king as his unborn."
Sometimes the lyrics can add another dimension of understanding to a
song, especially when the vocals are unintelligible. An example of this
is Rotting Christ's "Der Perfekte Traum," which presents a
beautiful poem buried not only under screeching black metal vocals, but
behind a language barrier (some of it is sung in German). You can read
the jewel case insert and unlock some of the song's mysteries that you
would never even perceive just by listening. Thus, on some songs, you
ignore the lyrics at your peril. If that wasn’t the case, bands wouldn’t
bother printing them on the jewel-case inserts.
Lyrics are a tricky business. While it may not answer the question of
whether they are “important” to metal or not as a whole, I can tell
you that if I had a band, I would spend a lot of time and
attention getting the lyrics right. They’re not just something to say
(or shout, or screech, or growl, or wail) while the music is going on.
Somebody, somewhere will eventually read them and try to find a meaning
in them. Whether there is one to be found may depend as much on the mind
of the one who reads them as it does on the intent of the one who writes
“The importance, or non-importance, of lyrics in metal.”
By Nathan Robinson
Lyrical value can be assessed only by the individual listener. Some
extremely devoted metalheads take lots of time reading and re-reading
the lyrics along to the music, in turn memorizing the words. To these
devotees, lyrics are quite important I would think. They are an
essential piece to the overall puzzle that is the album. Other
metalheads focus purely on the music, and perhaps the vocals…not what
the vocalist is saying, but rather how the words are being sung. These
people probably never even open the CD booklet. I have friends that are
at both extremes. I myself lie somewhere in between. I do think that
lyrics are important to a degree. It all depends. So many things need to
be taken into consideration when listening to a band: the sound, style,
and playing abilities of the guitarist(s), bassist, and drummer, as well
as the vocalist, the mood or atmosphere of the music, the overall
production or sound of the album, and of course song lyrics (you also
have the album’s presentation via artwork, CD booklet layout, etc.,
but that’s a mere supplement to the actual music). Each person could
weigh these factors differently, but for me, if the music is outstanding
and the vocals are strong, the lyrical value doesn’t necessarily have
to be high in order for me to appreciate the band. And chances are, if
the music sucks, then the band sucks no matter how precious the lyrics
are. But if a band is just average, yet the lyrics are impressive and
unique, it may be worth holding onto the album. So it all depends on how
you weigh the different elements of the music. Upon listening to an
album for the first time, I always sit down and read the lyrics along to
the CD. I dedicate my full attention to the album. I at least like to
know generally what the lyrics are about. I only wish I knew the lyrics
to all my CDs, so then I could sing along using actual words instead of
nonsense gibberish ha!
Lyrics in metal: Important or Not?
By Rick Maloney
Are Lyrics Important? Metal is a total package of music, lyrics and
attitude with the music coming first and foremost in my opinion. When I
pick up a CD and pop it in the player I rarely grab for the case right
away to read the lyrics. I usually sit back and just listen. If the
music grabs me and blows my mind, I sit back and enjoy it. I will
eventually get around to looking at the lyrics but even if they are
gibberish it rarely turns me off from a song.
The reverse is not true however. A band could have the most
intelligent lyrics and not appeal to me at all. If the lyrics are good
then that is a bonus. I was recently reviewing the Cryptopsy CD And
Then You'll Beg and I had a lyric sheet in front of me. I had heard
the CD at least 10 times and I had never bothered to read the sheet. The
CD is great so I started reading the lyrics and lo and behold they were
like entering someone’s dark tormented mind. A bonus. If the lyrics
had no meaning at all it wouldn't have mattered. The music was still
what interested me in the first place.
I will admit that certain lyrics and subject matter fit certain types
of music. I can't imagine HammerFall playing power metal and singing
about being suicidal or Cannibal Corpse writing lyrics dealing with how
much Corpseginder loves his pets. It just wouldn't fit. Iron Maiden to
me is an example of a band that has great music but also has great
lyrics. They are one of the few bands that make me want to know every
word to their songs. Lyrics are important to bands like Manowar with
their "True Metal" stance and Deicide with their anti Christian
message but as a whole I feel that the music comes first and that good
lyrics are a bonus but not always a necessity.
Are lyrics really important to a song? Well, if you’re a fan of
Pop, Rap, or Country music, then probably not. I mean, how many ways can
someone write about broken hearts, "the ‘hood", and pickup
trucks before the lyrics start to decline in terms of quality??? Of
course, the same can be said for Metal. How many ways can someone write
about Viking Warriors and Satan before the topics become routine and cliché???
On the plus side, though... Metal hasn’t been around as long as most
other genres so I guess we can safely continue to sing the praises of
mighty warriors and the Lord of Darkness for at least a couple more
Personally, I appreciate well-written lyrics. I consider myself to be
an intelligent person and since lyrics reflect not only the interests of
the writer, but also their level of intellect, then obviously I will
tend to frown upon dumb lyrics. Sorry, but I can’t respect an artist
who, despite his best attempts, makes Raffi and Fred Penner look like
geniuses. This is probably the main reason why I despise Mallcore.
Granted, trends come and go and Mallcore is just another one among many
more to come, but the level of intelligence of the band members and the
fans makes me want to scream! For example, I had the misfortune of
stumbling upon Limp Wristed’s video for "Break Stuff" one
day while channel surfing. The line that I remember was "...I’m
like a chainsaw, I’ll skin your ass raw...". There were also
numerous audio edits to delete all the profanities in the song. I just
sat there... Stunned. "What the hell to people see in this
stuff?" I wondered. If it were the same music with more intelligent
and relevant lyrics, I could brush it off as "Yeah,
whatever...". But these idiots who revel in stupidity and senseless
violence are the driving force behind today’s pop-rock scene. Not only
is it mind boggling, but it’s down right infuriating.
The same can be said for Rap. All these people "sing" about
is the glorification of the "gangsta" lifestyle and the
degradation of women. I’m not saying that there’s never been a Metal
band who sang a sexually explicit song, but it’s not a topic that
dominates the genre. These people parade scantily-clad women around in
their videos while shouting stuff like "Yo, bitch! Shake that
ass!" or some other sexist nonsense and the moral majority still
overlooks it and craps on Metal. Damn hypocrites.
I realize a lot of people don’t relate to the whole fantasy /
sci-fi / supernatural themes that a lot of Metal bands write about, but
at least the stuff doesn’t sound like it was composed by a retarded
chimp with a crayon. Bands like K**n, Limp Wristed, and 99.9% of all the
rap/boy bands out there with all the slang, profanities, and cloned
"love" lyrics merely insult the intelligence anyone who
isn’t a media sheep. Sure, there may be some unrealistic and
excessively dark topics covered in Heavy Metal, but as long as it’s
presented in an intelligent manner, then I’ll take it any day over
incoherent home-boy slang.
"YO! WORD UP, MUTHAFUCKA!!!" There’s a phrase
overflowing with intellect, now isn’t it?
Lyrics In Metal
Lyrics in heavy metal are probably just as important as the music
itself. By nature music is escapist but you can only listen to so many
lyrics that are mindless “raise your swords” kinda stuff. Don’t
get me wrong, there’s definitely a place for that but sometimes I’d
rather hear lyrics with a little more substance. Part of the reason that
so many people listen to hardcore is that the lyrics are almost always
about real people with real problems expressing their feelings on an
issue. The lyrics give listeners something to identify with beyond the
immediate gut reaction that the music brings out. Other artists use
lyrics to try and expand the minds of listeners. A perfect example of
this is Bruce Dickinson’s The Chemical Wedding where almost all
of his lyrics are based around concepts first put forward by the poet
William Blake (also masterfully tackled by Ulver). When lyrics make you
think, it can increase the listenability of an album.
On the other side of the coin, there are lyrics that create all new
worlds for punters to explore. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Cradle of Filth
are masters at this. Dani’s highly poetic lyrics create worlds that
invite metalheads to enter them and explore. CoF are also great examples
of how lyrics can be used to enhance the mood or feeling expressed
through the music (in they’re case, mostly horror).
Ah hell, after saying all of that, I just wanna throw on a Manowar CD
and let them kick ass and sing about true metal and dragons. Either way,
ya can’t deny that lyrics are an important part of metal music.
Icing Never Hurts (Except In Hockey)
By Ice Maiden
I have to be honest-when I get a new CD, I'm not one of those folks
who revel in the cover art and sit down with the liner notes to read the
lyrics line-by-line. Almost immediately after I purchase a new album, I
stack its jewel case in our family room and take the CD itself straight
to my car (I do most of my listening in the car and at work). Without
the benefit of the cover and liner notes, I often feel like I know an
album relatively intimately, and yet I'll have no idea about some of its
song titles, let alone lyrics.
The thing that appeals to me most about metal is how it sounds-the
melodies, the aural onslaught. And let's not joke with ourselves-with
virtually all black and death metal, at least, the lyrics are pretty
undecipherable unless you read them first. The way a vocalist uses his
or her voice is much more important for my listening enjoyment than the
words the vocalist is actually singing. It's for this reason that I've
often wished more bands would sing in their native tongues. The guttural
inflections of words in German work so well in black and death metal
that I wish more bands would sing in German, even though I don't speak
German. Similarly, the rhythm and sensuality of words spoken in Italian
or French sound incredible-I'd love to hear more of those languages
incorporated into power metal and heavily melodic metal. Latin in
Haggard albums, Arabic and Hebrew in Orphaned Land albums-it doesn't
matter that I don't understand the lyrics-the emotions that the sounds
of the languages invoke has more of an impact on me than the message of
Having said all of that, there is no question that lyrics can add or
detract from a song. In large part it is because of the poetry of
certain Dark Tranquility lyrics that I love that band. Conversely, if I
have taken the time to read the lyrics of an album and I find them
offensive, it might taint my desire to listen to the album more
(although it generally takes quite a bit to offend me). Along the same
lines, if the vocals are clear and the lyrics are preachy (whether
pro-Satan, pro-Jesus, or pro-none-of-the-above), I sometimes get
annoyed. However, while I may listen to albums with pretty lame or
offensive lyrics if the overall sound impression is good, I can't think
of a single instance of an album with incredible lyrics and a crappy
sound to which I listen. So I guess for me lyrics are simply icing on
the cake-but I can stand cake without icing.
Well, for me personally, I've always been a sucker for a good riff and a good melody
line. However, that's not to say that lyrics don't play a big part in Metal
music: Iron Maiden's Rime of the Ancient Mariner is classic (as most
Maiden!!), Queensryche's "Operation Mindcrime" concept album, the storytelling lyrics of Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott, and Metallica's Master Of Puppets are just a few examples where lyrics play an important role in
metal. But then you have bands such as Motley Crue and Judas Priest whose lyrics are not very
thought provoking, but damn those songs rock: "Screaming For
Vengeance", "Red Hot" ,etc. You get the idea. The point I really want to make is that just because the lyrics are corny
doesn't mean that a song sucks. Lyrics are not the only thing that "makes" a song.
The importance, or non-importance, of lyrics in metal - By Skyklad
Whether one places importance on lyrics in metal or not is entirely
up to the individual person as well as the style of metal being played
(or particular band in my case). Take, for instance, the lyrics found in
most Death bands, they have absolutely no importance to me due to
the fact that generally the subject matter is of a "stomache
turning" nature and the vocalization is usually undecipherable due
to the vomitous/growling style. This is a generalization based on my
experience with Death Metal bands though. Now, take bands like KING
DIAMOND, SKYCLAD or IRON MAIDEN and the lyrics ARE important. I mean,
the music comes first but I also look for quality lyrics from these guys
since they have a history of writing some of the best out there. So
there really is no answer here. It depends on the band, style and
personal preference of the individual. It's not black and white but
consists of many shades of grey.
Keith's Rant - Lyrics In Metal
There are two sides to this coin. First, there's the important side
of lyrics in music. They are what tell the story of the song, delivering
a message to the listeners. A song has to have an idea of where it's
going. This isn't rap-metal where you're just looking for words that
rhyme. It could a person's own experience that is being played out. It
also has to deal with emotions and is a release for some writers. There
are writers whose only way to express themselves is through their music.
There's also another side to this story. You can't take someone's
lyrics too literally. If a song tells you to get a shotgun and blow away
a family of eight, it doesn't mean you should. We've seen how much of a
problem lyrics can provide to artists like Ozzy and Judas Priest who had
to go to court to defend their lyrics to a grieving family who had lost
someone close and blamed them. Take it for what it is and let's not take
things too seriously.