Nov 172014

(The following piece is by guest writer Grant Skelton.)

“Yes son?

I want to kill you.”

The Doors, “The End”


“I am my father’s son

He’s a phantom, a mystery and that leaves me nothing!”

Slipknot, “Eyeless”


“Dear mother

Dear father

You’ve clipped my wings before I learned to fly…”

Metallica, “Dyer’s Eve”


“Dear father, I’ll be waiting, I’ve saved you a seat in hell.”

Job For A Cowboy, “Knee Deep”


“I tried hard to have a father but instead I had a dad.”

Nirvana, “Serve The Servants”


“A world of violent rage

But it’s one that I can recognize

Having never seen the color of my father’s eyes,”

Rage Against The Machine, “Settle For Nothing”


“What was it like to see,

The face of your own stability,

Suddenly look away,

Leaving you with the dead and hopeless?”

Tool, “jimmy”


“When all is said and done

I’ll always be your son

But all is not forgiven,”

Life Of Agony, “This Time”


“I vent my frustration at you old man, after years your ears will hear.. You screamed that you tried, but it’s words of a weakling and promises made by a drunken liar,”

Pantera, “25 Years”


“Why was I born?

Sometimes I wish I didn’t know

Been times when

I wish that I had just never been

Why did you have me?

Or better yet why’d you leave?”

Machine Head, “Left Unfinished”


“All this time I swore I’d never be like my old man

What the hey it’s time to face exactly what I am,”

Alice In Chains, “Hate To Feel”


Author’s Note: I will concede that I have not taken the time to listen to every single song that’s related to this topic. I haven’t heard every single obscure/rare/local/independent/scene metal band out there. So, I encourage the readers to expound on this topic. Post some of your favorite songs. Include samples of lyrics and your own reflections if you like. Entire books could be written on this topic; this article is definitely not exhaustive. I will read and respond to comments.

The rise of the recording industry and radio brought with it the movement and consumption of music as a product. Artists and bands were able to provide something that people could purchase and own. Record labels financed recording and distribution of LPs and singles, radio stations took music into homes and cars. The biggest consumers of recorded music products were young people, particularly teenagers. Be it blues, jazz, Motown R & B, or rock and roll, young people loved (and still love) music. Young people also connect with the ideas and concepts presented in whatever genres they are interested in.

I live in Memphis, Tennessee. This city itself is home to a musical legacy that intertwines all of the genres I just mentioned. Whether it’s Johnny Cash, B.B. King, or the King himself, Memphis played an important role in the cultural landscape of music and music fans. Since we have had access to recorded music as a product, we have had access to the viewpoints presented in its lyrical content. We could listen to a song or album repeatedly, singing along with the lyrics until we knew them better than our own names. We could relate to and identify with the lyrics.

Music has always been a platform for dissension and protest, of decrying wrongs and demanding change. Rock music’s tumultuous history with established authority has been well documented elsewhere. By the time bands like Blue Cheer, Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and the like arrived on the scene, the establishment perpetuated the idea that fans of this type of music were outsiders — political dissidents, hippies, burnouts, losers, flower children. Whatever you might call them, these were the people who put money into the recording industry.

Enter heavy metal music in the 70’s and 80’s. The genre’s progenitors pushed the envelope even further than their rock n’ roll forefathers.  They spoke out against government deception, religious hypocrisy, war, politics, and parental oversight. It is this last topic that I want to examine in this article.

I’m about to be a father for the first time. I know for a fact that I’m not the only dad out there who still listens to metal. I know there are a number of metal musicians who are fathers themselves (and great ones at that). How can we look back at songs we loved as teenagers and learn from them? What can we take away from the melancholy and often caustic heavy metal lyrics dealing with parents? Is it possible that with some introspection, we might have a meaningful dialogue about how to be better parents?

Parents provide easy lyrical fodder for the theme of rebellion. They are the first authority figures that we encounter upon our arrival in this world. We see them every day. We live with them, eat with them, we are socialized by them. They are our most visible representation of control, censorship, and power. Our struggle with our own identity and autonomy begins with the beings that we refer to as “Mom” and “Dad.” Of course, everyone’s experience with family is different. Yours and mine are by no means identical. And thank heavens they’re not. How boring would that be?

As I read about and researched this topic, I found that the parent most challenged, questioned, and vilified in metal lyrics was the father. Metal fans will likely recall the humorous caricatures of overbearing Dads in videos like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” For many, Dad is the most personal symbol of authority. In the metal lyrics I read through, the songs dealing with rebellion against parental authority tended to classify 2 types of parents:

  1. The Absent
  2. The Corrupt

The first category deals with a parent who isn’t there. He may abandon the family prior to or shortly after the birth of a child. His appearances may be sporadic and infrequent. He may not be financially or occupationally stable. He may be present bodily, but otherwise occupied with his career or a hobby. He may be physically present, but absent in other ways. Perhaps providing financially is the only thing he feels he is good at; he might feel like that is his only role. As long as the physical and material needs of the family are met, he has done his duty. He may be an addict, whether to his job and work schedule or to alcohol and other substances.

Alice In Chains fans probably remember the last interview that late singer Layne Staley gave. In that interview, Staley explained that his father left his family when Staley was eight. Staley thought if he became famous, his dad would want to be around him and would come back into his life. When the two finally did establish something of a connection, their “bond” only aggravated their respective drug addictions. They enabled one another’s self-destructive behavior. Staley’s encounters with his father were more like that of dealer and user than father and son. Read more about that interview here:

From “Dyer’s Eve” to “The God That Failed” and “Mama Said,” Metallica fans are already familiar with James Hetfield’s estrangement from his upbringing. In 2010, director Justin Hunt released the documentary “Absent,” which deals with the issue of fatherlessness. James Hetfield was among those interviewed in the film. That interview can be viewed here:

The idea of the corrupt parent, the second category, has inspired many an incendiary lyric. By no means is this lyrical theme confined to heavy metal. That fact alone lends credence to the universal nature of the theme. Corrupt parents may dominate their households. They may intimidate with their words or their presence. They may be hyper-vigilant and harsh in their discipline. They may manipulate covertly with passive aggression. They may be verbally or emotionally abusive. On the more extreme end, that abuse may even be physical or sexual. Domestic violence such as this can even cycle through multiple generations if it is not dealt with.

Songs like Motorhead’s “Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me,” Trivium’s “A Gunshot To The Head Of Trepidation,” and Pantera’s “25 Years,” are but a few examples of songs that address this second category. Domestic violence and sexual abuse were frequent lyrical themes in the nu-metal of the 1990’s. KoRn covered these topics throughout their discography (“Daddy,” “Kill You,” “Dead Bodies Everywhere,” “Falling Away From Me,” etc.). Tool’s disturbing music video for the song “Prison Sex” more than adequately depicts the perversion of innocence by compromising it too quickly. “Down With The Sickness” built Disturbed’s entire career on this same lyrical theme. Bands like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails sometimes stretched themes of abuse and its effects across entire albums (NIN’s The Downward Spiral, Manson’s Smells Like Children).

In the coming days (or any minute now!) my son will be born. His coming brings with it a new role for me; the role of “dad.” I will not be a mere biological father to him. I resolved that long ago. I will pass on more to him than genetic traits. I want to hold him. I want to play with him. I want to hear him laugh. I want to dry his tears and put my arm around his shoulders and tell him that he can take more than he thinks he can. That he can survive and outlast and thrive. I want to see the man in him emerge. I want that man to come out of him and do some good in this world. I want to do something different than the dads who inspired the lyrics I’ve discussed. I don’t want to be a source for lyrics like these.

Metal always has been, and will continue to be, a genre that gives a voice to anger. Sometimes it may be anger for anger’s own sake, and that is just fine. But sometimes, that anger needs to be more substantial and profound. Sometimes that anger needs to speak against something. That anger needs to drag dark, ugly things out of the shadows and expose them. It needs to wrap chains around their necks and lurch them, kicking and screaming, into the light. If not for metal, some would have no voice for their own pain and abuse. And if we listen to those voices, we can learn from them.

For Noah.

“My son, my blood, you’re never alone. And my word is bond.” – Impending Doom, “My Blood”



  1. Thank you — this is a good read.

    My sons, age 6 and 7, like metal but it scares them. They like Amon Amarth, because Vikings are cool, and they like Black Sabbath because, duh, Iron Man is awesome. They liked metal a lot more before something happened a year or so ago — this is the story.

    We were in the car and I felt the need to listen to “… and justice for all.” I told them it was classic metal, because I’m Daddy and I Explain Shit. When we got home my youngest son was quiet and said it didn’t like it much, but that was it.

    That night, before bed, my wife said he had something to tell me, and he was crying. He came and I hugged him and he said he heard something by that band today that was so awful he didn’t even want to talk about it. I was wracking my brain — I don’t think there’s even an F bomb in the whole record — but I kept hugging him and asked him to please tell me what.. he said it the part about seeing your mother die. I told him that doesn’t happen but he was so upset.. crying… I just hugged him. He asked “WHY, WHY would someone make a song like that???”

    I said, well, maybe the singer’s mother died and he’s trying to process that? I also said, “that’s metal… metal sometimes is very, very negative… it’s negative and it’s scary music. We don’t have to listen too as much metal, we can listen to more country or hip-hop.” Poor kid.. he felt better but ever since he’s been understandably gun-shy. When there’s some metal on he’ll ask me “is this super scary metal?” I make a point to listen to metal with completely unintelligible lyrics — because poor kid if he ever heard the lyrics to half of the shit I listen to it would really fuck him up.

    That episode actually caused me to step back and evaluate my taste in music. There’s images in metal that are so awful, so disturbing, so vile — I sometimes wonder what the net effect is of that shit on my own psyche — or is my own psyche so hardened that it doesn’t bother me? And what does THAT, in turn say? It’s actually made me stop liking certain things like Cannibal Corpse. I don’t enjoy lyrics like “fucked with a knife” or other shit about rape, torture, etc. The fact is most metalheads are blase about the lyrics — and like, the music requires brutal, negative, meanspirited lyrics and that’s what’s awesome about it, it’s a nasty form of music.

    Anyhow. FWIW. I figure my kids will get into some fucking awful nu-metal revival or, worse, hardcore, or something else that will piss me off. Because that’s what music’s really for when you are a teenager.

    • I don’t think it’s so much that we’re numbed to what the music is saying as much as we can better grasp why they are saying certain things or what kind of effect the words are supposed to have on a listener when coupled with the music. I think it’s the same way that high school kids are forced to read “The Old Man and The Sea” without really grasping how depressing the subject matter is and therefore not being able to appreciate it. I think an analysis and research of certain song lyrics would be beneficial for both of you in the long run and could help repair what your son might think of as something that is taboo at his age. All in all, super cool article.

      • Thanks for replying Dylan! Totally agree about “The Old Man and The Sea.” Anyone would likely spurn Hemingway if he’s forced upon them. I think what you said begs a different question. Are bands popular because teenagers like them or do teenagers like them because they are popular? Slipknot was my go-to teen angst metal when I was 14. They markey very easily to that demographic. They’re also immensely popular and have been since their inception. It’s not my thing anymore, but there definitely was a time.

    • I have a nephew who also loves “Iron Man.” His parents tell me that he likes to make up his own lyrics to it, usually involving bowel movements. He’s 5, so that’s his perspective on the world. I have a video somewhere of he and my niece in the back of my car singing ,”Seek & Destroy.” One of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.

      I can definitely see the allure with Amon Amarth. Vikings are awesome at any age. I hate that your son felt so afraid after hearing “Blackened,” but I can definitely see how that lyric could be troubling for him. It’s not hard to imagine. I’ve revised some of my music choices recently as well. I know for a number of us, it isn’t about the lyrics. And that’s ok too. I’ve recently been on a doom metal kick, mainly because of the sound and the instrumentation. I hear the lyrics, but they don’t really speak to me. Some of the metal I used to listen to just didn’t fot with me or who I wanted to become. So I listened less or cast ot aside completely. My son will learn most of this from me. He will be naturally curious about what Dad puts in his ears. And kids do hear the lyrics, I would say more than adults do. Great thoughts. Thanks for commenting!

      • What it comes down to, is what is and isn’t age-appropriate. I love gangsta rap, but I don’t listen to it around my kids either, because when my oldest son was two I figured it wouldn’t hurt, and he spent the next two days cutely singing “rolling down the street smokin indo with my mind on my money and my money on my mind.”

        There are things that children are not equipped to handle. Lots of them. It’s our role as parent, to the extent that we can, to reduce the amount of those things that they are hit by, and to make sure our kids are resilient enough and have good solid communication with us to handle the inevitable things they do run across. As much as it sucked to have Scotty weep over a Metallica song, my two takeaways were:

        1. I’m glad he found me and we figured it out.
        2. At least it wasn’t St. Anger. That would be bad parenting.

        • There is a way to expose our children to things that is loving and age appropriate. I agree with you completely on that point. It’s good that you talked it out with him. It was confusing and frightening to him and he was able to handle it after talking it out with you. And on your last point…better St. Anger than Lulu.

          • The best piece of advice I can offer you is enjoy the period when your kids favorite music is whatever Daddy is listening too. It’s really the greatest thing ever and he’ll probably go back to that music later in life and have a totally new appreciation for it. I can see it starting with my kids now — 1st and 2nd grade — that they come back from day camp or something and be singing some absolute dreck like Taylor Swift. I make sure I do my duty as Daddy and tell them that music sucks, but I can tell… they don’t believe me. 🙂

    • You could have explained to him what the lyrics really mean: That “your mother” in the song is Mother Earth, whom we are killing. At 6 or 7, I’d probably be disturbed by those lyrics too. But I was also able to grasp the concept of a metaphor and would have been reassured by that explanation.

      • Good idea if I were a Metallica scholar. I barely am aware of the lyrics to 99% of the music I listen to. 🙂

        • As a kid, lyrics were a big deal to me. I payed probably TOO much attention to them. But this theme of rebellion stuck out as a theme to me over the years. As we get older, I think the lyrics tend not to speak to us as much. Maybe we’re mature and finally secure in who we are…maybe we’re just too busy to pay attention to the words. I’m a writer in my spare time and metal lyrics are a source of inspiration for me. As a whole I think metal fans do think more about our lyrics than fans of other genres.

          • Yeah this was definitely something that drew me to metal as a teenager.. the lyrics and the themes they explored. There were times too when I tried to figure out what some obscure lyric ‘meant’, and in hindsight now some of them were probably just fillers or something to sing that sounded rhythmically fitting, rather than having any profound meaning.

            In all, great post. I love this more introspective style of post. Parental rebellion is definitely one of the major themes that resurfaces time and again in metal. I don’t know if anyone’s read much Joseph Campbell, but he talks about this issue of myths involving killing the father figure; that in order to fully come into the world different mythological figures have to surpass and take the place of the father – like it’s some kind of metaphorical realization of the need to develop one’s own autonomy and individual modes of thought and action. So there’s probably some deep-seated aspect where the same themes in metal may not necessarily be ‘new’ but the modern incarnation of this same frustration formerly told in myth. Although the ‘absent father’ aspect is probably reflective of modern day changes in family dynamics, etc.

  2. interesting read : )
    i really prefer horror fiction lyrics over the usual angry/political/religious lyrics.

  3. Coming from a background where I could only listen to gospel music I deeply desire for my children to know a freedom to choose that I didn’t have. I have shared with my 11 year old son and my 10 year old daughter that exact notion, which pissed my ex off to no end. To make a long complicated story short they know that dad won’t judge them and can listen to their questions, hell, maybe even answer some.

    A couple few years ago I decided to start again with a good woman (despite her disdain for metal). 😉 We now have a 3 year old and a 1 year old, both boys, and I tell you man there’s nothing greater than watching my 3 yr old jam out with his toy guitar and drum to some of the stuff I find on NCS. He even does a pretty good black metal rasp. 🙂 I know there will be a day that I will get the “what does that mean?” question from both of them, but until then watching him jam out is awesome. Knowing, however, that he will grow up with a freedom to ask questions and make decisions for himself is priceless.

    Just my two cents…Great article!

    • That’s an inspiring story! Freedom and transparency with Dad is definitely something that kids need. My Dad was like that. We had our disagreements here and there. And I’m sure I was an absolute horror more than once. But I always knew I could tell him anything at any time. And he wouldn’t judge. He might not agree, bur he wouldn’t judge. I hope your kids continue to pursue music as a passion.

      Thanks for your two cents! I enjoyed reading it.

  4. I just want to add this post and this thread makes me really happy… where the average discourse on metalsucks or metal facebook groups is like, “you like that? that sucks, you suck, you don’t know anything about music and did i mention you suck”, this blog is a thinking person’s metal blog. Three cheers for everyone who works hard at it and three big sets of devil horns… nah, six hundred and sixty six of them, for everyone who comments here.

    • I like Metalsucks as a source for news and sometimes reviews. But this site is a lot more balanced. The comments are thought-provoking and profound. It’s refreshing to have meaningful discourse. Horns up indeed!

    • I agree, this site is clever and self-thinking 🙂 I enjoyed reading this post as well (even though I’m still far from being a father!).
      And I immediately thought of: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, Father, into your hands why have you forsaken me…” from System of a Down. But yeah, this is actually referring to another topic I think 😉

      • Great comment! Glad you liked the article. I hadn’t even considered that reference from SOAD, but it’s a great lyric. My impression of that song was that it was about a religious terrorist’s thoughts prior to his death (…”self-righteous suicide…”) but that’s just my opinion. That lyric would work very well if we looked at metal and other types of authority and control i.e. political, military, and religious.

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