One of the things I’ve always loved about heavy metal is that it’s a thinking person’s music. Not only are its melodies and musical attributes complex, but metal bands don’t shy away from tackling weighty subjects in their lyrical content. My metal CD case contains forays into Greek mythology (Virgin Steele), Egyptology (Nile), literature (Mastodon), Civil War history (Iced Earth), and so forth. Metal also is not afraid, and is in fact a uniquely appropriate genre to deal with, social problems, especially of a destructive nature. Sepultura has, for example, done songs about slavery and prison riots. This is one thing that separates metal from casual pop music.
Why, then, with its record of being socially relevant, has heavy metal not embraced climate change as a major theme? There are unquestionably some bands out there who do, and I’ll talk about them here, but the issue of climate change doesn’t have nearly the resonance in heavy metal that issues of nuclear war (for example) did in the 1980s. One of the most famous metal bands of all time, Megadeth, came to prominence in part because of its critique of mutually assured destruction and the nuclear age. Why is the same not true of climate change?
On the whole, climate change seems a perfect lyrical subject for metal bands. Exactly like nuclear war, it’s a global threat created by mankind in its folly and excess. It threatens everyone on the planet to some degree or another. The blasted landscapes of a globe ravaged by climate change paint just as vivid lyrical pictures as to the prospects of a post-nuclear world. Heavy metal’s harshness and intrusive power is uniquely suited to calling attention to issues that many people would rather sweep under the rug. Yet on Metal-Archives, an online encyclopedia of metal bands, a search for bands with either “climate change” or “global warming” as lyrical themes yields only 4 hits. The same search for “nuclear war” serves up 76 examples, with bands from Australia to Indonesia.
The earliest major band to tackle climate change was Kreator. The opening track on their seminal album, Coma of Souls, is called “When The Sun Burns Red,” and unabashedly deals with the issue of climate change. It’s noteworthy that this album came out in 1990, the year the very first IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report came out; the issue was just then making the jump from scientific literature to public discourse, spurred mainly by the ozone depletion issue that was big between 1985 and 1990. Thus, Kreator certainly gets kudos as a pioneer in bringing the issue of climate change into the heavy metal universe. And it’s an awesome, crushing song to boot.
Although many bands have incorporated general themes of environmental degradation into their music over the years, climate change as a specific issue has been pretty rare. Disturbed–admittedly not my favorite band–is one of the few who have done it. Their song “Another Way To Die,” on the 2010 album Asylum, deals with the issue; the video is particularly stark. The release of the video got a mention on the political website Daily Kos, asking why a heavy metal band is “smarter than government.” That’s a good question.
Aclla, a power/progressive metal band from Brazil, has also incorporated climate change into their lyrics. This band goes about it in a more roundabout and poetic way, but the themes are definitely there. Here is “Beyond the Infinite Ocean,” from their 2010 album Landscape Revolution. Many of their songs contain an environmental critique either explicitly or implicitly stated.
Climatic Terra is another South American band, this one from Buenos Aires, formed in 2004. They are death/thrash metal. Their band name and album title Earth Pollution (2010) obviously telegraph that they have an environmental theme. Their songs, like “Pollution,” clearly do deal with environmental issues. Yet while songs like “Pollution” reference the terrible impacts of environmental pollutants on human beings–including unborn ones–Climatic Terra doesn’t take on climate change quite as explicitly as you might expect. Nevertheless, it’s a step in the right direction.
These are all great examples, but they’re mostly outliers. Climate change is not a recurrent theme in anything close to the same way that nuclear war was in the 1980s (and beyond). I hope this changes, and I expect it to. Climate change is rapidly becoming an issue that no one on Earth can ignore, no matter how hard some people try to. Heavy metal is a medium uniquely positioned to make a cultural difference on this issue. As we are increasingly seeing more and more cultural and artistic responses to the problem of climate change, heavy metal, though perhaps a little late, will undoubtedly make a very loud and unmistakable entrance to the party.