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From Hell's Heart

"From Hell's Heart..." is an editorial column written by the Metal-Rules.com team. Every other month or so we pick a metal-related topic and share our thoughts, feelings and ideas on it.

Check out past editorials



The importance, or non-importance, of lyrics in metal (November 2000)

Words and Meaning
by EvilG

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 favorites!

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 grave."

"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 Metal
By
Michael 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 them.

 

“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.

 

Joe's Rant

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 decades.

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
by Waspman

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 the words.

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.

 

Pete's Rant

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.



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