The folk movement of the ‘60s is often cited as playing a huge role in the societal shifts of the time, with the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez railing against illegal wars and the elite class. But just as significant was heavy metal, seeing bands such as Slayer and Black Sabbath incorporate anti-establishment themes into their combustible compositions.
Where there’s an elite establishment of any form, you can rest assure heavy metal will be there to drop sonic bombs onto it. Whether you’re left or right politically, basic human rights is something that we can all agree on. It just so happens that these metal artists use their basic human rights to smash down the established order. That’s where this list comes into play.
These ten tracks epitomize the best anti-establishment sentiments put out under the heavy metal genre, featuring themes that tackle war, colonialism, police brutality and more. Prepare to put a monkey wrench in the system with these ten venomous condemnations of the establishment. Listener discretion isn’t advised.
10. Machine Head – Clenching the Fists of Dissent
Boy, what a return to form Machine Head made with their 2007 magnum opus The Blackening. With a renewed sense of vigor, the group unleashed hell on the metal world with their best work since 1997’s musical bulldozer The More Things Change.
And with this revitalization came a fiery lyrical component that took aim at just about everyone. But it was album opener “Clenching the Fists of Dissent” that really unloaded on political tyrants and war perpetrators. Lines such as “…blood is their new currency, and oil pumps the heart of money” clearly reference the Iraq war, but they also address the wider political structure with lyrics like “Our generation can be the fucking one, that overcomes the greed of corrupt nations.”
Rarely do album openers deliver the heavy walloping effect that this firecracker does, and with such compelling lyrical themes, the track also manages to deliver a profound message amidst the chaos. Awesome music + riveting lyricism = “Clenching the Fists of Dissent.”
9. Fear Factory – Replica
Creating a landmark record is no mean feat, but industrial metal titans Fear Factory made it look like child’s play on their 1995 mechanized beast Demanufacture. A true metal beacon of the ‘90s, the album contained a plethora of crushing tracks, not least the thumping anthem “Replica.”
What’s clever about the song is how adopts several meanings. On the outset, lyrics like “I was conceived so violently” and “I am rape, I am hate” would lead you to believe that it’s about being born as a result of rape. However, deeper inspection (and knowing the group’s mantra of man vs. machine) it’s clear that this one is about cloning. Lines such as “I am a duplication” and “Every day I feel anonymous hate, forever in the shadow of disgrace” highlight the emptiness of something that’s been genetically engineered. It’s a stern warning about the scientific and technological establishments, and their yearning to take man to the next level.
Fear Factory were so ahead of their time that much of their lyrical content is only being unraveled now. As most artists become dated or lose relevance with time, these pioneers only become more pertinent. “Replica” is their scathing attack on those who chose to play God, and the repercussions of such actions.
8. System of a Down – B.Y.O.B
“B.Y.O.B” (Bring your own bombs) stands as one of the most overtly political statements released by System of a Down. Much of Toxicity railed against corporate greed and mass incarceration, but on this single from 2005’s Mezmerize, the band take aim at the Iraq war.
Lines like “You depend on our protection, yet you feed us lies from the tablecloth” reference the deceptive means used to get into the war, while lyrics like “Hangers sitting dripped in oil” touch on what some believe to be the reason the invasion in the Middle East happened – natural resources. The iconic phrase “Why do they always send the poor?” drives home the lack of empathy that political figures have in times of war. Oh, and the party they refer to? They’re actually talking about the battlefield.
SOAD followed in a long line of metal artists condemning the war in Iraq, but few reached the same frenzied and crazed heights as “B.Y.O.B” does. This one starts angry and ends even angrier, with a fiery passion that’s tough to rival.
7. Anthrax – Indians
This one’s quite on the nose, but it’s a terrific song nonetheless. From their classic 1987 thrash LP Among the Living, second single “Indians” sympathizes with the Native Americans who were colonized.
They sing about the natives having their land taken over (“Forced out-brave and mighty, stolen land-they can’t fight it”), becoming scorned and maligned (“Original American, turned into second class citizen”), and their inability to live in harmony (“Peace is what we strive to have, some folks have none of this”). It’s not a subject that gets much attention in music, so it’s great to see it emboldened in this heartfelt message.
Anthrax have scores of brilliant tunes, but none are as anti-establishment as this passionate war cry.
6. Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name
As arguably the most politically charged metal band to ever hit the stage, Rage Against the Machine certainly have no shortage of rebellious anthems in their back catalog. But their 1992 Molotov cocktail “Killing in the Name” still stands as the most effective of the bunch.
Both lyrically and musically, the song makes an incredible impact from the first second to the last. Centered on racial tensions and unjust laws, the bouncy song pummels the listener with themes of standing up to oppression and overcoming the flawed systems in place. The circular lyric “Those who died are justified, for wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites” is aimed at crooked police officers, more specifically, the four who were acquitted of severely beating Rodney King in the 90s.
“Killing in the Name” is the ultimate middle-finger to institutionalized racism and the military-industrial complex – one that is still widely used as a protest anthem against social injustices to this day. It’s in your face metal infused with a snotty punk rock ethos, and it’s brilliant.
More anti-establishment songs on the next page