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Subjects in death metal lyrics

Subjects in death metal lyrics
October 24, 2013, 06:23:14 PM
(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?

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
October 27, 2013, 04:19:48 AM
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.


Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
October 27, 2013, 12:03:48 PM
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.

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
October 28, 2013, 12:43:49 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.

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.

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
October 28, 2013, 01:10:58 PM
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.

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.

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
October 28, 2013, 04:37:12 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.

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.

Well, any lyrics that imply domination/conquest of something, are about power. Early Vader would revere the ancients in some of their lyrics.  This adoration, I would say, is also an adoration of the great power these ancients (whoever they are) wielded.  A yearning to obtain a glimpse of that greatness too.  That is combined with an introspection of the self, I think.

Quote
Strange visions dreams my mind,
When I'm walking through the night,
Each time I see the visage of the moon,
Dead cities amongst the sands,
Under the black abyss of seas,
Does madness seize my soul?
The elder race,
From beyond the stars,
Eternal watchers,
Of sphere of no return,
Seven seals,
Of seven mighty gates,
Abominations,
That come true within me.
  -- Vader Dark Age

Gorguts does this without the soul-searching aura of Vader, and this particular one is more bent on adoration  of ancients alone:
Quote
Relics captured in stratas
For millennia, have been sleeping
Secrets of buried scriptures
Are whispered through the sound of wind

Kingdoms or dormant splendors
For millenia, have been sinking
Speaches of buried surfaces
Are roaming through the seas of sand

Realms, once back to light
Archa-speaches are told
Realms brought back to sight
Archapolis beholded

Rising the fragments
Signs of previous lives
Told to the present
Lores of ancient times

Unspeakable beauties
Ruins of fabled places
Soiled testimonies
Of ancestor races
Gorguts Unearthing the Past

On power alone:
Quote
Gain through terror
Maintained the growth of my empire
Pain caused by anger
Maintained the fall of their empires

Blinding, is, my crown
Fearless, is, my throne
Your land... I will make my own
Gorguts The Quest for Equilibrium


Amorphis' The Karelian Isthmus album is about a folk epic.   What are epics but not tales of adventure, worship of the ancient and stories of grandeur and power?
Quote
As the sun falls down
and the swell crashes into the shore

The great warriors of doom and wind
ride high
Silent is the silence,
the only breathing of horses sound,
Cold northern steel, shining blade, pleases us
And we all live under the black mark
Amorphis Warrior's Trail

You could go on finding examples of power worship all over heavy metal in general.  But in Death Metal it is a bit more detached, and displayed in a dark tone:

Quote
DEATH WARRIORS WITHOUT FEAR
DESTROYING ALL AROUND
NOW YOU KNOW WHO THEY ARE
ETERNAL GHOSTS OF WAR
  Massacra Apocalyptic Warriors

I like the dark/epic/mystic that Death Metal adds to the atmosphere to the power/adventure/ancient worship themes.

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
October 28, 2013, 06:02:42 PM
Actually have never listened to Vader, though the name appears to me from time to time as I peruse metal resources on the web.

Gorguts lyrics are outstanding for sure, and I have detected a reverence in them for times long past and the person-types that established such majestic and inspiring worlds. I didn't think much of that theme when I posted my initial thoughts. I always felt like the Lovecraft-worhip lyrics were less relevant but along the same lines; recognition of a superior order of beings that were awesome in contrast to the types of world leaders and heroes that we have today. (I guarantee that no metal band in the future will write about the glories of the ancient Western world and its presidents and congressmen.)

Maybe we could generalize and say that this theme is praise of legends and legendary circumstances?

Those Amorphis and Massacra references are new to me as well; I have just started listening to those respective albums (thanks to your torrent) and will pay close attention to the lyrics throughout my next listen.

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
October 28, 2013, 06:03:28 PM
Arghoslent took power relationships and the worship of strength to a notable level. Check out some lyrics from their 1998 album Galloping Through the Battle Ruins.

"The Banners of Castille"
Spurred on by hope of conquest
Lusting for spice and gold
Into the churning seas
In the frail bark of tiny boats

Embedded in the soil of every continent
The bones of our ancestors lie
Testifying to a higher mandate
Sent down to warring soldiers

In the shadows of our banners
The indigenous bow to their masters
O' mighty winds caress our sails
And take this wrath away


Men of awesome might
Blue blood bred of steel
On cloven hoofs they ride
In the banners of Castile

In the sign of the martyr's cross
We torch the tropic fields
To the windswept shores of gold
With the banners of Castile

For blood and gold
The banners of Castile are raised... "

And here they aren't afraid to take the trope of the ancient and powerful ancestor and attribute to it a notion of GENETIC superiority. Beyond the music is a sort of deified place for progenitors-of-races which realize their potential through the process of conflict through history. Accompanied by the brilliant proud sound of their music, this is practically the best propaganda for the virtue of military might of the post-fascist era.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvwfFrNKWro

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
October 31, 2013, 06:49:38 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.

There seems to be somewhat of a push to de-emphasis lyrics, vocals, album concepts, cover artwork, production etc as some sort of non-essential aesthetic flourish, especially in the newer 'traditional' bands, but I see this as a mistake. Everything from music as notes to how it is presented is going to have an effect on the audience (whether they realize it or not). It is a lost opportunity not to make the most of that.

As for a theological approach to lyrics, my favourite concept would be based around the three marks of existence of Buddhist doctrine, this would completely blow any other death-metal lyrics out of the water. But I'm terrible at writing and I also worry that other elements of the album might be outweighed by the overly intense lyrical concepts. Not saying it couldn't be done, but it would take some very careful treatment.

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
November 01, 2013, 12:48:53 PM

Maybe we could generalize and say that this theme is praise of legends and legendary circumstances?


Indeed, but it seems to me that different metal genres tend to do this praise in slightly different manners.  I think I mentioned this before, haha.  Power Metal is clearly on the "good guys'" side and constantly praise them.  Speed Metal seems to just point out the evil directly, without selecting a hero.  Death Metal seems to just state things as fact, IMO, and may even take a tone of adoration toward the dark side.

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
November 01, 2013, 01:00:33 PM

There seems to be somewhat of a push to de-emphasis lyrics, vocals, album concepts, cover artwork, production etc as some sort of non-essential aesthetic flourish, especially in the newer 'traditional' bands, but I see this as a mistake. Everything from music as notes to how it is presented is going to have an effect on the audience (whether they realize it or not). It is a lost opportunity not to make the most of that.

While I get where you are coming from (music should be the first and foremost concern of musicians), I do think this element of literature in non-instrumental metal goes a long way to increase the quality of the product as a whole.

I can present two examples. Deicide's Legion has truly amazing music.  It is a high mark on Death Metal, and it is not about the level of brutality alone, this by itself is nonsense.  It is the songwriting.  Yet the lyrics are tiring, and repetitive, in a way.  I dig the whole anti-God posture from an atheist (I am a stout atheist myself) point of view.  But the lyrics are just attack God attack God and sometimes almost touches on insults. I for one have no respect towards vulgarity and insults in lyrics.  Fortunately they did not cross this line.  Because I would have really contrasting feelings regarding them, feeling so compelled by the music and so disgusted by the lyrics.  I think the fact that they do not cross into the utterly vulgar has to do with the music being good too.  But that's just a wild guess.

At the Gates' trilogy "The Break of Autumn", "Non-divine" and "Primal Breadth" are songs that captured me because of the melodic work in counterpoint and how the songs developed.  When I started to catch glimpses of the lyrics in the screams of Tompa, I decided to go read the lyrics completely and they are both aesthetically beautiful and philosophically meaningful.  This increased my liking of them by at least 50% (in a manner of speaking, haha... it is hard to describe the feeling).

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
November 02, 2013, 11:38:08 PM

There seems to be somewhat of a push to de-emphasis lyrics, vocals, album concepts, cover artwork, production etc as some sort of non-essential aesthetic flourish, especially in the newer 'traditional' bands, but I see this as a mistake. Everything from music as notes to how it is presented is going to have an effect on the audience (whether they realize it or not). It is a lost opportunity not to make the most of that.

While I get where you are coming from (music should be the first and foremost concern of musicians), I do think this element of literature in non-instrumental metal goes a long way to increase the quality of the product as a whole.

I can present two examples. Deicide's Legion has truly amazing music.  It is a high mark on Death Metal, and it is not about the level of brutality alone, this by itself is nonsense.  It is the songwriting.  Yet the lyrics are tiring, and repetitive, in a way.  I dig the whole anti-God posture from an atheist (I am a stout atheist myself) point of view.  But the lyrics are just attack God attack God and sometimes almost touches on insults. I for one have no respect towards vulgarity and insults in lyrics.  Fortunately they did not cross this line.  Because I would have really contrasting feelings regarding them, feeling so compelled by the music and so disgusted by the lyrics.  I think the fact that they do not cross into the utterly vulgar has to do with the music being good too.  But that's just a wild guess.

At the Gates' trilogy "The Break of Autumn", "Non-divine" and "Primal Breadth" are songs that captured me because of the melodic work in counterpoint and how the songs developed.  When I started to catch glimpses of the lyrics in the screams of Tompa, I decided to go read the lyrics completely and they are both aesthetically beautiful and philosophically meaningful.  This increased my liking of them by at least 50% (in a manner of speaking, haha... it is hard to describe the feeling).

I would agree that good music with poor lyrics will generally work better than poor music with good lyrics, but to be honest I can't really think of a great album that has terrible lyrics. Could it be that the various elements which make up the complete album are in fact not so easily separable? Even at the sub-conscious level of trusting a certain producer/engineer to bring out a certain sound, or a friend to provide cover artwork etc.

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
December 25, 2013, 07:59:37 AM
I would agree that good music with poor lyrics will generally work better than poor music with good lyrics, but to be honest I can't really think of a great album that has terrible lyrics.

I think it has to do with the attitude towards what you are doing.  If you are pouring your very best into the music and you respect your own music, I doubt that you will write lyrics you think are complete bullshit for it.

Take the vilified Deicide, for instance.  If you read the lyrics of Legion, they are a lot more philosophical  than they seem at first, because on top they can be seen as epic and cheesy. I remember that their song "Dead but Dreaming" has references to Sumerian mythology/beliefs, and uses them to state something further about his/their own philosophy in this world.  Yet I cannot nail down what exactly that is.

Re: Subjects in death metal lyrics
December 26, 2013, 08:06:14 AM
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?
I would say the '90s death metal approach to Satanism was pretty specific to that era. Satanism in death metal has certainly undergone a paradigm shift in the '00s.

Back then, it was pretty clearly tied to the mass hysteria surrounding the idea of Satanic cults hiding in nondescript midwestern towns, abducting children and sacrificing hobos, etc. Satanic lyrics in the '90s were clearly more "anti," part of the genre's total embrace of all things that upset the illusion of order that the visible level of society maintained in order to keep people from realizing the kind of nihilistic morass toiling underneath it, and from which it derives all of its true power.

Nowadays, Satanic lyrics in both death and, to a somewhat lesser extent, black metal have become more focused on the mystical power inherent in the idea of the supernatural than they are on the element of evil itself. This is most obvious in the aforementioned proto-hipster DSO. Of course, there are all those throwback bands that just aim to repeat past successes of others, copying both musical techniques and lyrical themes.

Even here, though, there is a sensation of there little being left to rebel against. Even the most vapid NORPs have, by now, become exposed to (what must be for them) a dizzying array of deception and disorder in the world that "allows" them to feed. Even the most retro "black thrash" band, doing nothing but directly praising Satan's virtues, seems to be doing more than simply mimicking the spirit of the '90s. Because mimicry itself says something about what you desire and what you believe in.

The gist of what I'm saying is that Satanic lyrics in the '90s were revelatory and disruptive. Satanic lyrics now seem more inspired by a search for something mystical to give meaning to a mundane existence. Of course, there have been traces of this since the beginning, but it seems to be the main thrust of such lyrical themes now. '90s Satanism, deconstructive. Modern Satanism, nearly emo. I am by no means a follower of the dark one, I don't even believe in such a thing as evil(much less a personification thereof) - but even I know his aspects well enough to know that a true follower of his would follow his example, and create his own meaning out of the muck in which he festers, instead of following his words/actions/teachings/whatever and wait for a purpose to be given to him as a reward for his loyalty. Nevertheless, it's an interesting shift to go from death metal bands trying to show everyone the world is meaningless, to now... trying to find meaning in the world.

And then there was black metal :p