Horrible History Metal
So you're writing a Heavy Metal
song. You've got a few good riffs and chord progressions down, but now you need lyrics. You don't want to write about Satan
, existing works of fiction
, elves and orcs
, or even about metal itself
... so what do
you write about? Well, history, of course!
Metal, much more so than other genres, has a tendency to be about Real Life
history. Since history can be rather gruesome, it appeals to Metal Heads
' love of songs about violence and death; also, writing about history can be an excellent way to Show Your Work
and convince the critics you're not just shallow sensationalists who write about violence and death
Note that to fit this trope, the lyrics have to be about a specific historical event. Metal that just evokes the imagery of a more loosely defined historical setting (e.g. Viking Metal
or Pirate Metal
) is not this trope — that's more of a Period Piece
. Also note that if the historical events in question were current when the song was written
, then that's Ripped from the Headlines
instead (thus, the Dead Kennedys
' "Holiday in Cambodia
" wouldn't be Horrible History Punk Rock
Horrible History Metal usually averts Mad Lib Metal Lyrics
; it is, after all, hard to write meaningless rambling and still maintain it's "about history"... although some bands certainly try their best.
Has nothing to do with Horrible Histories
(although the live-action TV show did once feature a Heavy Metal pastiche song about William Wallace, so perhaps not quite nothing...).
- Ariya has a song about Alexander Nevsky's battle with the Teutonic Knights, a song about the Norfolk regiment that was (supposedly) inexplicably lost in 1915, and one about Christianization of Kievan Rus (from the Pagan viewpoint).
- X Japan has Rose of Pain, which is about the infamous Serial Killer Elizabeth Bathory.
- HammerFall have a number of songs about the Crusades. Realism does not seem to be a priority.
- The Dutch death metal band Hail of Bullets writes concept albums about World War II. Their first album Of Frost and War deals with the Eastern Front, their second album On Divine Winds focuses on the Pacific Theater and their most recent album III: The Rommel Chronicles recaps the life and military career of German field marshal Erwin Rommel.
- Holy Martyr focus a lot on this trope (albiet in an often heroic way), with their historical subjects ranging from Spartans, to Romans, to even feudal Japan.
- Iron Maiden loves this trope. It helps that long-time lead singer Bruce Dickinson has a history degree that gives him a wealth of knowledge to draw on for lyrics. Notable examples include:
- To start with, they are named after a late medieval torture device, though such devices may never have actually been used for real.
- "Invaders" is about the Rape, Pillage, and Burn the Horny Vikings inflicted on Anglo-Saxon England.
- "Run to the Hills" is about the Rape, Pillage, and Burn inflicted on Native Americans.
- "The Trooper" concerns The Crimean War, specifically the Charge of the Light Brigade (see trope image).
- "Alexander the Great", about the famous Macedonian Young Conqueror, is perhaps their most unabashed one. With lyrics like, "In 334 BC, he utterly beat the armies of Persia," and, "The Scythians fell by the river Jaxartes," they've really Shown Their Work.
- "Paschendale", about the titular battle on the Western Front during World War I.
- "Death or Glory" concerns World War I style fighter manoeuvres and mentions a "blood red triplane" that clearly evokes Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.
- World War II is a particularly fruitful topic for the band.
- "Aces High" is set during the Battle of Britain, with mention of Spitfires scrambling to intercept bombers and ME-109 fighters.
- "The Longest Day" is about the Allied landings in Normandy on D-Day.
- "Running Silent, Running Deep" concerns German U-boats preying on Allied shipping during the Battle of the Atlantic.
- "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" uses religious imagery to describe the first ever nuclear test, "Trinity", and the subsequent development of nuclear weapons, and refers to Robert Oppenheimer.
- Although based on current events when first released, "Mother Russia" now counts since it's basically an ode to the end of the Soviet Union several decades ago.
- "Empire of the Clouds" is an epic retelling of the final flight of the R101 Airship down to the death toll.
- Masterplan's Self-Titled Album has a song called "Crystal Night", which is about Nazi Germany.
- Nile covers plenty of events throughout Egyptian history. On top of that, they hold nothing back in regards to discussing the sheer brutality behined a lot of it.
- Running Wild has "Calico Jack" about the famous pirate, and "Ballad of William Kidd" and "Adventure Galley", about William Kidd and his Cool Boat.
- Nine out of every ten songs by Sabaton are this, to the point the band has fully embraced it. (That last one is Heavy Meta.) Quite a few songs are about World War II and/or Those Wacky Nazis. They also have "Counterstrike" about the Six Day War, "Back In Control" about The Falklands War, "Cliffs of Gallipoli" and "The Price of a Mile" about World War I, and "Panzer Batallion" and "Reign of Terror" about the Gulf War.
- They made an entire album covering the rise and fall of the Swedish Empire, covering from the beginning of the Thirty Years' War, all the way to the end of The Great Northern War, named Carolus Rex after the latinized name of Charles XII of Sweden.
- Also their album "Heroes", which details the heroic deeds of specific people or groups of soldiers, primarily during WW2.
- Their most recent album, "The Last Stand", is (unsurprisingly) about some of the great Last Stands of history, from Thermopylae to Castle Itter.
- "Machine Gun" about World War I. Contains some Technology Porn about tanks and (duh) machine guns.
- "Dallas 1 P.M." about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Note that it does not contain any speculation - it merely recounts the assassination itself, and public reaction to it.
- Schandmaul's "Trafalgar" is about the Battle of Trafalgar.
- Skyclad has "Think Back And Lie Of England" reminding about unglamorous moments as a jab at Politically Correct History.
- There's also R'Vannith, which is about the Roman conquest of England.
- Slayer has "Angel Of Death" about horrible medical "experiments" conducted by Josef Mengele during World War II, and "Unit 731" about horrible medical "experiments" conducted by the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
- They have a few more songs about Those Wacky Nazis, such as "Behind the Crooked Cross" and "SS-3."
- Korpiklaani more commonly sings about mythology (and even more commonly sings about drinking), but in "Vesaisen Sota" (Vesaisen's War), they describe Finnish freedom fighter and folk hero Pekka Vesainen and his actions during the Russo-Swedish war of 1570-1590.
- "The Enemy" by Anthrax discusses Hitler.
- Many songs by Primordial are concerned with Irish history and myth. One of their most well-known songs, "The Coffin Ships", takes its name from the ships that carried Irish emigrants to Canada and America during the Famine (so called because so many of the passengers died during the journey).
- Several System of a Down songs are about the Armenian genocide. All of the members of the band have Armenian heritage and have campaigned to have the genocide recognized as such.
- UK Black Metal band Winterfylleth have numerous songs about various English historical events.
- Although he was never the heaviest act around, Steve Taylor did try his hand at this with "Over My Dead Body" on his album Meltdown.
- Ancient Rites sings frequently of European history, ranging from ancient to modern times. From there, they often like to focus on its wars and major battles.
- Norwegian black metal band Vreid likes singing about the Norwegian resistance in WW2.
- ChthoniC's members are quite politically active, and it shows in their music, which often references dark periods in Taiwan's history, especially the Wushe and 228 incidents.
- Iced Earth's The Glorious Burden is based primarily on important battles and war icons. Its centerpiece, Gettysburg 1863 is an in depth retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg.
- Savatage's song "Chance" is about Chiune Sugihara, a diplomat during World War II who was basically the Japanese equivalent of Oskar Schindler. In other words, it's a rare example of Uplifting History Metal.
- There's also their album Dead Winter Dead, which takes place during the Serbian Civil War of he 1990s.
- Cradle of Filth did a whole album about Elizabeth Bathory, entitled "Cruelty And The Beast", though it may be based more on her Hammer Horror depiction than the historical Serial Killer.
- AC/DC have also done a song about the Original Night of the long knives from Arthurian legends, appropriately entitled "Night Of The Long Knives".
- Cormorant does this almost exclusively.
- Reverend Bizarre were known to do this from time to time. "Cromwell" is one example.
- Eluveitie has the album Helvetios, which is a concept album about the Gallic wars. On their other albums, they're singing about various topics regarding the Gallic Helvetii-tribe.
- "Nazis Auf Speed" by Die Krupps is about the Wehrmacht's use of Pervitin and aerial ramming by BF 109 pilots.
- A couple cases in Heliocentric/Anthropocentric by The Ocean, considering they are critiques of Christianity. Notable examples being the trials of Galileo and the execution of heretics.
- "Europa Burns" by Dismember is about World War I.
- Leaves' Eyes have a few, incl "Eleonore de Provence", about the medieval English queen Eleanor of Provence, and "Maid of Lorraine", about Joan of Arc. Their considerable portfolio of Viking Metal includes songs about famous historical and semi-legendary Norsemen such as Halfdan the Black, as well as an entire Concept Album about the Norse visit to modern-day Canada under Leif Eriksson.
- Civil War was formed by several former members of Sabaton and continues its parent band's tradition of historical themes, though their lyrics are usually more abstracted than Sabaton's. They named themselves after The American Civil War and pattern their stage costumes after Union and Confederate uniforms, and named their first three albums after the Shaaras' novel trilogy about the war. They've also written other tunes such as "Tombstone", about the Showdown at the O.K. Corral from Doc Holliday's perspective.
- Kamelot had a trilogy of songs titled "Elizabeth," about Elizabeth Bathory. She's a pretty popular subject for this trope. They've had other songs referring to legends, such as "Nights of Arabia" which is about Scheherazade.
- Serenity has made three albums of this sort, with songs on topics ranging from Elizabeth Bathory to Leonardo da Vinci.
- Pyrrhon have a partial example with the song "Turing's Revenge", which starts off talking about the forced chemical castration and subsequent suicide of Alan Turing for his homosexuality, and then goes on to talk about how his creation, the modern day computer, would go on to essentially dominate the way society functions and metaphorically "castrate the minds of your children's children/As surely as you've castrated me".
- The Monolith Deathcult are a band that does this almost exclusively, with a particular focus on wars and genocides. Examples include "Drugs, Thugs, and Machetes", about the Rwandan genocide, "Kindertodeslied", about the Hitler Youth, and "Master of the Bryansk Forests", about a particularly brutal battalion of Nazi Einsatsgruppen during World War II.