Metal > Interzone

Subjects in death metal lyrics

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dead last:
(If this topic should be in the Metal board, then tell me so. I chose this board rather because this subject is less about a metal band/s or music and more about our connection with the ideas that are presented in metal lyrics.)

I've not been listening to metal long enough to absorb a solid understanding of lyrical styles in metal, so I am asking for help. Excuse my lack of experience.

Lyrical themes in metal appear to me to follow trends (naughty word!) throughout the history of metal eras. Much like techniques used in writing and playing metal - the d-beat (Slayer, Possessed) preceded the blast beat (Deicide), which preceded more experimental tempo-shifting beats (Incantation, Suffocation) - lyrical focus shifts between subjects that seem relevant to the time at which they are written (naturally).

In the 1980s metal, I hear a lot about war, especially nuclear events. According to my dad who was a teenager in the 80s, there was much tension even so many decades at the conclusion of the last all-out war between nations. You can even find mentions of nuclear-weapon-based tension in pop music from the 1980s (Escape Club - Wild Wild West). There are also a hanfdul of movies based on nuclear attack (or just invasion - "Red Dawn") made in the 1980s. So it makes sense that this kind of tension among society would bleed over into contemporary metal, which is an art form that exposes tension that would otherwise remain an obscure, paranoiac undercurrent.

The theme of death is a big one from metal's get-go and has remained since. Obviously the fear of death has not loosened its grip on the throat of society since the 1980s (unlike nuclear attack), so it remains just as common (maybe just as relevant) today as it ever has been in metal's history.

Satan and hatred are two subjects that occasionally overlap (Deicide is my best example), but there are the uber-aggressive grindcore acts that focused on hatred as an inescapable consequence of the liberalized society mired in superstition and anti-aesthetic utilitarianism, and they rarely cross into religious commentary (except to decry the oppressive methods of modern Christianity's offshoots). Then there are those that took a step back and delved into the conceptual aspect of Satan as a liberator; Satan introduces chaos into the rigidity of the hideously mechanical framework of society and therefore offers us new tangents to explore psychologically and socially. Thus it makes sense to glorify Satan even if Satan is not considered a being or entity of any type.

Another constant in lyrical subjects is the relatively simple concept of discomfort. This is a deceptively subtle matter; "goregrind", "brutal DM" and related tripe has driven the subject of brutality and murder into the ground so far that it has popped out the other side of the planet (though I'm not so cool as to be above listening to Disgorged).  But there are subjects that do not relate to war or religion that are still extremely uncomfortable for most people and like I said earlier; it is death metal's duty as an art form to expose these subjects. Some examples I have are Death - Spiritual Healing (almost every song), Slayer (mostly everything up to and including Reign In Blood), Blood (most every song I know the lyrics to), and Cryptopsy - Blasphemy Made Flesh and None So Vile.

What are some subjects that are exclusively (or just mostly) relevant in the 1990s or 2000s? Have there been any paradigm shifts in lyrical techniques like the shifts we see in instrumental techniques? Punk rock has run out of stuff to bitch about because the punks won; they repainted their hippy-infested world with a fresh coat of bullshit but were still pushing that agenda of acceptance, tolerance, and equality all along. Will death metal ever get there? Is it languishing or stagnating (lyrically) for an obvious reason or do the subjects of death, war, violence, and Satan remeain just as relevant today as they were three decades ago?

fenrir:
This is a great thread!

A lot of Death Metal in 90s is actually about Power and the unavoidable Death in any form.  As a secondary yet very prolific topic, there is madness/insanity.  Either literal or as a form of desperation caused by either our close-minded and plastic society or your own inner tribulations.

If I remember correctly Suffocation's debut is about Death, and every song taken literally could be read in a tongue-in-cheek manner or could be seen as an attempt to take Death as a real topic, forcing the audience to face it and think about it.

Gorguts sings about death and insanity in their second album, and about power in their fourth album.  I haven't taken a look at Obscura's lyrics.  I should go over them again.

At the Gates writes almost exclusively about introspection and the possible insanity found in certain moments of these journeys into your own mind.  I recommend you go over the excellent lyrics of the first two albums.  I am not familiar with the lyrics of the last two.  Tompa is a great vocalist and lyrics writer, in my opinion.

Eleison:
Good thread!  One development in metal lyrics that I find interesting is the push towards an almost theological approach in lyrics of bands like Deathspell Omega and similar acts.  Unfortunately their execution (lyrically and musically) is quite poor.  I would hope that future groups can take this idea and improve on it.  One possible example is SVEST, whose album Urfaust is quite brilliant, although I haven't heard their other work.

This may seem like a strange thing to say but I think that finding suitable subject matter for lyrics goes a long way towards creating quality metal.  Once you have found the concepts which inspire you the music comes quite easily in my experience.

dead last:

--- Quote from: fenrir on October 26, 2013, 09:19:48 PM ---This is a great thread!

A lot of Death Metal in 90s is actually about Power and the unavoidable Death in any form.  As a secondary yet very prolific topic, there is madness/insanity.  Either literal or as a form of desperation caused by either our close-minded and plastic society or your own inner tribulations.

If I remember correctly Suffocation's debut is about Death, and every song taken literally could be read in a tongue-in-cheek manner or could be seen as an attempt to take Death as a real topic, forcing the audience to face it and think about it.

Gorguts sings about death and insanity in their second album, and about power in their fourth album.  I haven't taken a look at Obscura's lyrics.  I should go over them again.

At the Gates writes almost exclusively about introspection and the possible insanity found in certain moments of these journeys into your own mind.  I recommend you go over the excellent lyrics of the first two albums.  I am not familiar with the lyrics of the last two.  Tompa is a great vocalist and lyrics writer, in my opinion.

--- End quote ---

Great observation, my mind just glossed over At the Gates but there are definitely some great lyrics on The Red... Do you know of any other lyrics that express that kind of fear/elation mixed reaction in discovering the ever-present threat of lurking insanity?

Also in what way is power glorified by what specific bands? That's an interesting concept I've not heard a lot of. The only examples I can think of are the boring "I'm gonna kill you" lyrics that retard brutal bands use too regularly.

dead last:

--- Quote from: Eleison on October 27, 2013, 05:03:48 AM ---Good thread!  One development in metal lyrics that I find interesting is the push towards an almost theological approach in lyrics of bands like Deathspell Omega and similar acts.  Unfortunately their execution (lyrically and musically) is quite poor.  I would hope that future groups can take this idea and improve on it.  One possible example is SVEST, whose album Urfaust is quite brilliant, although I haven't heard their other work.

This may seem like a strange thing to say but I think that finding suitable subject matter for lyrics goes a long way towards creating quality metal.  Once you have found the concepts which inspire you the music comes quite easily in my experience.

--- End quote ---

Yes, I definitely am interested in this momentum toward more fleshed-out theological themes. DSO is a great example (and I'm [as far as I know] the only listener of DSO on this board), probably the only group that tries to put forward an idea of Satan as anything more than a way to scare superstitious listeners. That's one thing that has baffled me for some time; if you are already in a mindstate to listen to death metal, what makes death metal bands think that you will be scared of Satan?

Definitely agreed about the lyrics-before-music part of what you said as well. One of the main reasons I started this thread was to get an idea of what topics would be redundant to write about in my own music. I'd rather not rehash already-explored topics because I feel that will lead me to produce already-done music. A recent song of mine is about freezing and drifting eternally in space, and I'm very happy with it because the sounds just sort of created themselves as I thought out the words.

But, of course, sometimes I work backwards; a riff or phrase will put an image so starkly in my mind that I'm able to meditate on a unique idea or feeling just because of the sounds that came from my guitar.

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