5. Sepultura – Refuse/Resist
Much like RATM, Sepultura also stood up for the underdogs in society. Their most iconic political statement was the Chaos A.D. protest song “Refuse/Resist.” Because while they’ve always discussed social injustices in their music, none strike with the same bluntness as this one.
They unload all of their pent up rage in three intense minutes of direct force, layering confrontational lyricism on top of the pulverizing instrumentals. Lines like “Inside the state, war is created” and “Disorder unleashed, starting to burn, starting to lynch” depict scenes of major unrest and violence in the streets. Hard-hitting, thought provoking and insanely intense – all things that you would want from an anti-establishment anthem. Well, Sepultura deliver it in spades here.
You might be able to find more subtle tracks around, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more impactful one than the unstable firecracker “Refuse/Resist.”
4. Ministry – Thieves
“Thieves” by Ministry is the perfect example of a song firing on all cylinders. From its unconventional sounds to its hypnotic rhythm – the track is chaotic in all the right ways. But the lyrics are just as enticing, featuring a really pissed off Al Jourgensen spouting out all the hateful things of the day.
Although never said, this one is pointed in the direction of corrupt politicians and unscrupulous corporations. Jourgensen howls phrases like “Two-faced bastards and sycophants, no trust” and “Geriatric fuck-fest, we still believe in lies” in his demented shaman style. This is a war of words, and Ministry refuse to back down from the challenge.
Rarely does a song with such minimal context invoke so much meaning, but with “Thieves”, the grim clattering amidst some venomous screams speak louder than words.
3. Metallica – Disposable Heroes
War has always played a prominent role in Metallica’s music, from “One” to “The Day That Never Comes” – James Hetfield and co. have never shied away from its horrors. And the thunderous “Disposable Heroes” is no different.
From their landmark Master of Puppets LP, the song speeds along while addressing the harrowing reality of battle. It describes the mind-set of those who would send others to die with lines like “Soldier boy, made of clay, now an empty shell. Twenty-one, only son, but he served us well.” The lonely nature of war is also brought up with lines like “Looking back I realize, nothing have I done. Left to die with only friend, alone I clench my gun”, with the latter lyric expertly summing up how the concept of being a hero can be a misleading one. It’s all really intense stuff, but in the hands of Metallica, that intensity increases ten-fold.
Much like the rest of the album, “Disposable Heroes” nails everything that it attempts. Screams of “Back to the front!” will be lingering in your mind long after it’s concluded – the true mark of a song that oozes quality at every turn.
2. Megadeth – Symphony of Destruction
They don’t come much more politically charged than guitar heroes Megadeth, and their 1992 album Countdown to Extinction was certainly one of the most scathing. First single “Symphony of Destruction” is as devious as the people they are criticizing, featuring an unforgettable vocal performance from Dave Mustaine.
Choosing not to beat around the bush on this driving corker, the group launch directly into diatribes like “You take a mortal man and put him in control”, before adding “Watch him become a god, watch people's heads a’roll” – clearly referencing the dangers that come with power hungry politicians. From there, the band steamroll over the establishment with chugging riffs and the iconic chorus of “Just like the Pied Piper, led rats through the streets”, again touching on the herd mentality of people.
Featuring killer riffs, catchy vocal melodies and driving beats – “Symphony of Destruction” is a musical tour de force. But throw in some fantastic political commentary as well, and you’ve got one of the best rebellious metal songs ever recorded.
1. Black Sabbath – War Pigs
Black Sabbath not only more or less created the heavy metal genre, but the use of politically themed lyricism in metal too. “War Pigs” was a product of this, the opening track to their legendary sophomore effort Paranoid.
This 8-minute epic has it all; perfect pacing, slow deliberate drum beats, inspired guitar licks and a seriously creepy atmosphere. They ratchet the song up until its almost bursting at the seams, while delivering one of the most famous singalongs ever constructed in metal. Released during the Vietnam War, the song is very bluntly about the selfish practices of warmongers, and the consequences of their actions. Lines like “Treating people just like pawns in chess” and “Why should they go out to fight? They leave that role to the poor” highlight these sentiments with pinpoint precision.
Sabbath never succumbed to playing it safe, and “War Pigs” is a prime example of that. Since its release in 1970, many anti-establishment songs in heavy metal have come and gone, but this one still towers above them all.
What are your favorite anti-establishment metal songs? Let us know in the comments!