Headbangers come in many forms, including Dads that still like to rock but also attend PTA meetings, because I hate to break it to you, that's one of the things you do when you're a parent. But that doesn't mean you have to suddenly buy a fucking Subaru and sell your concert shirt collection just because you're someone's Dad. So many of our favorite metal gods are not only fathers themselves (James Hetfield has three and Ozzy has six), but many have also written songs about fatherhood, and in some cases, about their own dad. Some, like Metallica's song "Junior Dad" from their much-maligned album with Lou Reed, Lulu, had both Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield in tears during the recording session. Written by Reed, Metallica recorded the song a few short weeks after Hammett's father passed away. As for Hetfield, the song brought back memories of his father who, after his parents divorced in 1976, left his family high and dry. So, when it comes to the songs in this post, keep in mind that they are not all going to be heavy metal homages to the guy who deserves the "World's Greatest Dad" mug–but some of them are. Let's get to it!
Alice in Chains: "Rooster"
Easily one of AIC's bowel-shaking jams, the song, penned by guitarist Jerry Cantrell, was written during a dark time in his life. The year was 1991, and Cantrell was living with Chris Cornell and his wife/AIC manager, Susan Silver, because according to Cantrell, he was "in between places to live." During the few weeks he spent with Cornell and Silver he found himself thinking about his father, Jerry Cantrell Sr., a two-tour veteran of the Vietnam War. The perspective of the song is written from Cantrell Sr.'s perspective, with Cantrell telling his father's story of his experiences in Vietnam as imagined by Cantrell Jr. The title of the song was a direct nod to Cantrell Sr. and a nickname given to his father by his great-grandfather who dubbed Cantrell Sr. "Rooster" due to his "cocky attitude" and hairstyle. Cantrell Sr. also appeared in and worked as a consultant in the video for "Rooster," which contains real combat footage from Vietnam, adding to the emotional heaviness of the song.
The seven-minute video for "Rooster."
Iced Earth: "Ghost of Freedom"
Another war-based father and son scenario is "Ghost of Freedom" from Iced Earth's sixth album, Horror Show. The song's poignant lyrics tell the conceptual story of the spirit of a fallen soldier and father communicating with his son from the beyond, who is grappling with his death. Combat and war have been somewhat common themes with Iced Earth historically, and "Ghost of Freedom" is very much a rallying cry for those who died serving in the military, and is considered one of Iced Earth's better musical, albeit somber moments. As you might imagine, it's a favorite headbanging jam to hear around Memorial Day and the 4th of July.
"Ghost of Freedom."
Dream Theater: "The Best of Times"
Former drummer and co-founder of Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy, wrote "The Best of Times" for his radio DJ father, Howard Portnoy. While recording the band's 2009 album Black Clouds & Silver Linings his father was fighting for his life after being diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, Howard would pass away at the age of 69 before the release of Black Clouds & Silver Linings, but Portnoy's father did hear the song his son wrote for him before he died. Here are some heartbreakingly beautiful words from Portnoy, who posted on the tenth anniversary of his father's death on Facebook this past January:
"I remember vividly sitting at his bedside with him and playing him the song (my original demo with myself singing the song) and the two of us holding hands and crying while listening to the song. It was one of the most emotional experiences of my life, but something I'll be eternally grateful for. A lot of times, people write songs for their loved ones after the fact. But it was a great gift to be able to do this before he passed away, and share it with him."
The next time someone tells you it's un-metal to cry, tell them this story. And on that note…
"The Best of Times."
Metallica (lyrics by Lou Reed) "Junior Dad"
As discussed earlier in this post, the song "Junior Dad" proved to be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for both Kirk Hammet and James Hetfield. Penned by Reed, there has been much speculation the inspiration for the song came from Reed's relationship with his father, Sidney Joseph Reed. Prior to Reed's posthumous induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the musicians' sister Merrill spoke in detail about her brother and father's relationship and the turmoil the family went through with Reed, including the decision to treat Lou's depression (and other perhaps perceived psychological issues) with electroconvulsive therapy (aka electroshock therapy). So is "Junior Dad" an open letter to Lou Reed's father? Many fans say yes. Although when Kirk Hammett was asked about the inspiration for "Junior Dad," Hammett wouldn't get specific. Here's more from Kirk on the song, which hit home with the guitarist and his "not strong" relationship with his father, a man he stopped from beating up his mother on his sixteenth birthday:
"That song, I don’t really want to pinpoint exactly what the song is about, because it’s one of those songs that could mean a million different things to a million different people, but what it really meant to me, it had everything to do with the fact that my relationship with my father was just kind of, you know, very emotional. And that’s really what hit it. It pretty much touched upon my own relationship with my own father. It’s a hard one for me to talk about."
As I said, it's okay to cry, guys. And if you disagree, I suggest you take it up with James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett. Good luck with that.
Metallica and the late Lou Reed performing "Junior Dad" live on Rockpalast in 2011.
Pantera: "25 Years"
Twenty years after its release, Phil Anselmo went on the record about the meaning behind a song found on Pantera's seventh studio record, "25 Years." As so many fans feel strongly about this jam, I'm going to let Anselmo talk about the song which he confirmed is about his father, Phil Anselmo Sr.:
"At the time, I had a gigantic falling out with him, and I wrote a beautiful song about it. Within doing that though (at age 25), it became a time capsule of how far he and I had not come. And I think that song really, hmmm, I think a lot of the fans could relate with a dysfunctional family vibe."
To date, Anselmo hasn't elaborated as to what happened, but one can only think about the possibilities with lyrics like this, and Anselmo's admission in 2016 he had been molested during his "entire childhood."
Written by Joey DiMaio, "Father" appeared on Manowar's 2009 EP Thunder in the Sky. The song itself is a bit of an oddity, as it was recorded in fifteen different languages. The song is kind of like Manowar's version of a nice Father's Day Hallmark card, and it's no surprise. You see, Joey DeMaio digs his Dad, a former police officer, and his parents in general as they all live together in Joey's house in order to help care for his father. Here's more from DiMaio and his happy relationship with his dear old Dad (and Mom):
"We get along very well. My family actually live with me, and we share a double house because my father's been ill for a while. We get on famously."
Anvil: "Deadbeat Dad"
This last Dad-themed song comes from Anvil off of their 1998 album, Speed of Sound. Penned by Lips (Steve Kudlow), it's not clear who, if anyone, this song is about. Though it's doubtful it was Lips' father who passed away during the filming of Anvil!: The Story of Anvil. Lips did recall his father, a Polish immigrant, wasn't really into him playing guitar, much less being in a band. Kudlow eventually found a way around his Dad's "no guitars" policy by agreeing to go through with a traditional bar mitzvah, though his goal was to use the money to buy a guitar. Which, to his Dad's chagrin, he did, although' the elder Kudlow did not allow Lips to play it in the house. Unlike drummer Robb Reiner's super supportive father, a Hungarian who survived Auschwitz and financed Anvil's first record. So it seems safe to assume Lips' take on a bad dad isn't about his father, but more of a social commentary on the issue of absent fathers. And, in true Anvil style, the band can pretty much make any topic fucking rock, and "Deadbeat Dad" is no exception.