Metal is a thriving subculture in its own right. To outsiders, it can seem angry and violent, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The genre is vast, as any metalhead will attest. Finding success in the music industry, in general, is tough, but the internet has helped to increase visibility and place the spotlight on independent artists. As an aspiring artist, you’re going to need to find your own fan base, and this is, of course, done through the music you put out. One of the most integral elements of a song is the lyrics. There is no one way to write the lyrics for a metal song, but it is worth considering common themes, so let’s take a look.
From an outsider’s perspective, metalheads can look a little gruff, but, for the most part, they’re all big sweethearts. So it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the most common themes in music across the board is also really common in metal music: love! If it weren’t for the music and melody in the background, some of these lyrics wouldn’t look out of place in Adele’s repertoire.
Love is a timeless theme; it is really accessible and relatable because, ultimately, everyone wants to be loved. Whether it is a fledgling relationship as outlined by Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’ or the bittersweet yearnings of lost love a la Pearl Jam’s ‘Black’ or anything in between. There are almost too many songs to mention in this theme.
Mythology & Magic
One of the most popular themes seen in metal music is mythology and magic in general. Think ‘Flight of Icarus’, ‘Sword of Damocles’ or ‘Halls of Valhalla’ by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, respectively. These types of songs do really well, perhaps because the imagery feeds into the subculture as a whole anyway, detailing heroic efforts, bloody battles and flames.
At the risk of stereotyping, magic is to women what mythology is to men in this subculture. This is why witchcraft is another common theme, perhaps because it also tends to detail what it is like to be an outcast which is something that a lot of people relate to. Metalheads do definitely have an interest in the dark arts, and it has cropped up in songs like Megadeth’s ‘Five Magics’ or Rob Zombie’s ‘American Witch’.
Gambling & Casinos
Gambling is actually a common theme within a lot of different music genres, and it does tend to conjure certain images. In terms of metal music, the most mentioned game is blackjack, perhaps because it is sort of a game of chance, but it is also a battle of wits and skill. Players go up against the house to win, and the ‘house’ in this scenario represents authority.
In some cases, gambling is just a vessel, an analogy used to explore other topics, as seen in ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead or ‘Blackjack’ by Airborne. In order to use references to gambling in your lyrics, you are obviously going to need to understand the games and have dabbled yourself. Luckily, if you play with online casinos like Jackpot, you can get some free spins to make the most of your wager.
Another theme that crops up again and again, is the environment. Environmentalism is a hot-button topic in society at large at the minute, with the state of the world, pollution and global warming being seen constantly in the media. This theme might appeal to songwriters because it does indeed have a sense of urgency to it.
Environmentalism is a great theme to use when you want to explore existentialism and the vulnerability of life, as it depends on the environment around it. Within this theme, there are songs like Metallica’s ‘Blackened’, System of a Down’s ‘ATWA’ and Gojira’s ‘Global Warming’. If this is a theme that you want to explore in your lyrics, then you have a lot of rich imagery to choose from.
Rebellion, Anarchism & Anti-Establishment
Finally, the last common theme seen in metal music is, as an umbrella term, just rebellion. Whether this is against social conventions or authority. It makes sense; a lot of metalheads feel rejected by other factions in society for their subscription to alternative subcultures, so, in turn, they reject and rebel against them right back.
It comes down to a preference for free thinking and individualism. As mentioned above, a lot of metalheads are actually really sweet people who care deeply about others. When inequality and inequity are noticed, it is called out through the music, as seen in ‘Peace Sells’ by Megadeth, ‘Wrong Side of Heaven’ by Five Finger Death Punch and ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath.
Becoming a songwriter is no mean feat, but it is a really great way to express yourself – especially when you would otherwise struggle to do so. Metal, as a genre, is incredibly accepting; almost all themes and subject matters are dealt with via the medium of music and an undercurrent of rage. If you dream of making it in this genre, stick with it.