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Horrible History Metal

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Are you metal enough for The Crimean War?

"Who needs ghouls and goblins when the real world provides such terrors on its own, right?"
Todd in the Shadowsnote 

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, politics, the evils of religion 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; for example, the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia" wouldn't be Horrible History Punk Rock. Many Horrible History Metal songs are Historical Biography Songs.

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...).


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     Metal examples 
  • Ad Infinitum's "Marching on Versailles" is about the start of the French Revolution in 1789, when rioters stormed Versailles palace.
  • Alestorm has a song called "1741 (The Battle of Cartagena)", which is about Exactly What It Says on the Tin. It's notable because Alestorm went Denser and Wackier after being pirate metal for the longest time, but this song plays the drama of the battle and its history completely straight.
  • New Zealand-based metal band Alien Weaponry have a lot of songs about the colonisation of New Zealand and battles between the British and the Maori. Turns out, Te Reo Maori is an awesome language to sing metal in.
  • While Amon Amarth's songs about Vikings usually fall under the Period Piece mentioned above, the album Berserker has a few songs about specific historical events and figures of The Viking Age: "Raven's Flight" is about the Great Heathen Army and the destruction it spread across England, "Ironside" is about the semi-legendary king of Sweden Björn Ironside and "Berserker at the Stamford Bridge" tells the tale of the epic Last Stand of the legendary lone berserker at the battle of the Stamford bridge in 1066.
  • 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.
  • "The Enemy" by Anthrax discusses Hitler.
  • 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).
  • Blue Öyster Cult do a seriously heavy paean to the ME 262, Gemany's iconic first jet fighter, in the last battles of April 1945
  • Celtic Frost's Into The Crypts of Rays is all about the knight/serial killer Gilles de Rais.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cormorant does this almost exclusively.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • "Europa Burns" by Dismember is about World War I.
  • 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.
  • Exodus have done a few, including "Last Act of Defiance" which is about the 1980 New Mexico prison riot, "Nanking" which about Nanjing Massacre and "Ballad of Leonard and Charles" which is about the infamous Bay Area serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng.
  • HammerFall have a number of songs about the Crusades. Realism does not seem to be a priority.
  • Holy Martyr focus a lot on this trope (albeit in an often heroic way), with their historical subjects ranging from Spartans, to Romans, to even feudal Japan.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • "Montségur" is about the Albigensian Crusade.
    • "Paschendale", about the titular battle on the Western Front during World War I.
    • "Death or Glory" concerns World War I style fighter maneuvers 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.
      • "Tailgunner" is in turn about allied bombings.
      • "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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • "Nazis Auf Speed" by Die Krupps is about the Wehrmacht's use of Pervitin and aerial ramming by BF 109 pilots.
  • 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.
  • The Bloody Verdict of Verden, part of a metal album on Charlemagne by his descendant Christopher Lee (in this case, about Charlemagne shedding the blood of 4,000 Saxon men).
  • Masterplan's Self-Titled Album has a song called "Crystal Night", which is about Nazi Germany.
  • 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.
  • Motörhead's "1916" is about World War I, sung from the perspective of a soldier.
  • Nanowar of Steel parodied this with "Pasadena 1994", a song in the style of Sabaton, below (and including Sabaton's Joakim Broden as guest vocalist) that portrayed the 1994 FIFA World Cup final between Italy and Brazil as a bloody battle.
  • Nile covers plenty of events throughout Egyptian history. On top of that, they hold nothing back in regards to discussing the sheer brutality behind a lot of it.
  • 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.
  • French Black Metal band Peste Noire has "Des Médecins Malades Et Des Saints Séquestrés" (literally "About Sick Physicians and Sequestered Saints") which is about the Holocaust. The name of the band itself evokes the trope (it literally means "black plague", and is the French name of The Black Death).
  • 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).
  • 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".
  • Radio Tapok has made cover versions of a number of historically based metal songs. His original releases include "Battle for Moscow", about the Red Army's all-out defense against the Axis at the gates of Moscow in 1941, and "Tsushima", about the 1905 Battle of Tsushima, which decided the Russo-Japanese War in Japan's favor. His first solo album, Наследие ("Heritage"), consists of nine original songs about Russian military history.
  • Reverend Bizarre were known to do this from time to time. "Cromwell" is one example.
  • Running Wild has a number of songs based on history, often of the piratical variety:
    • "Calico Jack", "Black Bart", "Jennings' Revenge", and "Ballad of William Kidd" (and "Adventure Galley", about William Kidd's Cool Boat) are all about the famous pirates they are respectively named after.
    • "Port Royal" and "Tortuga Bay" are also about the eponymous famous locations from the Golden Age of Piracy.
    • "Little Big Horn" is about, well, the 7th Cavalry's defeat at Little Bighorn.
    • "Genghis Khan" focuses on the life of...guess.
    • "The Battle of Waterloo" is - yeah, you get the idea.
    • "Treasure Island" and "Last of the Mohicans" are somewhat mixed examples as they are Filk Songs based on historical fiction.
      • Another mixed example is the Epic Rocking number "Genesis (The Making and the Fall of Man)", which is a retelling of The 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin, a book positing a history of humanity and its creation by Ancient Astronauts based on (heavily mistranslated) readings of ancient Sumerian texts. Although the book purports to be real history, the band have clarified that they don't actually believe it themselves, so it functions as more of a Filk Song.
  • Sabaton is this trope. Nearly every song of theirs is about military history, to the point the band has fully embraced it as their theme (the only exceptions being their occasional Heavy Meta anthems and one song about the Nazgul from The Lord of the Rings). Their name comes from a type of medieval leg armor, the band frequently wears camouflage onstage, and their drummer plays on a freaking tank. They also have a weekly Youtube series devoted to the history behind their songs.
    • 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 concept album about the rise and fall of the Swedish Empire from the beginning of the Thirty Years' War to the end of The Great Northern War, named Carolus Rex after the latinized name of Charles XII of Sweden.
    • Their album Heroes details the heroic deeds of specific people or groups, primarily during WW2.
    • Their album The Last Stand is (unsurprisingly) about some of the great Last Stands of history, from Thermopylae to Castle Itter.
    • Their album The Great War is all about World War I, whether events, technologies, and people.
    • They also have an unattached single about the German battleship Bismarck.
    • Their 2022 album The War to End All Wars is another World War One concept album covering, among other topics, German stormtroopers, the Battle of Doiram, and the Anglo-German naval race. It was followed up later in the year by Father, a standalone single about Fritz Haber’s work to develop chemical weapons during the war.
  • 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.
  • Saxon:
    • "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.
    • "Crusader", of course.
  • Schandmaul's "Trafalgar" is about the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • Serenity has made three albums of this sort, with songs on topics ranging from Elizabeth Bathory to Leonardo da Vinci.
  • 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."
  • Sodom:
  • A Sound Of Thunder has "Tomyris" (about the eponymous queen of Scythia), and also deserve mention for their metal cover of the already shockingly metal national anthem of Catalonia, "Els Segadors" (literally "the reapers!"), which is about the Reapers' War or Catalan Revolt of 1640.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Turisas is the same for Finland as what Sabaton is to Sweden. Their theme album The Varangian Way is about the historical Eastern Route of the Vikings all the way to Constantinople.
  • Norwegian black metal band Vreid likes singing about the Norwegian resistance in WW2.
  • UK Black Metal band Winterfylleth have numerous songs about various English historical events.
  • X Japan has Rose of Pain, which is about the infamous Serial Killer Elizabeth Báthory.
  • German blackened death metal band Kanonenfieber is basically a band about WW1, much like Ukranian blackened death-doomer group 1914

     Other Examples 
  • AC/DC have done a song about the Original Night of the long knives from Arthurian legends, appropriately entitled "Night Of The Long Knives". They also wrote "Hail Caesar" and "War Machine" based on Ancient Rome.
  • Scott Walker, a major history buff, has quite a few songs like this, especially later on in his career. "The Electrician" from Nite Flights is inspired by American torturers working for the Pinochet regime in Chile, "Clara" is about the execution of Benito Mussolini and his mistress, and "Farmer in the City" is about the murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini.
  • "Mary Turner Mary Turner" by the avant-garde band Xiu Xiu is about barbaric murder of a pregnant black woman by a white mob in Georgia in 1918, for the simple act of protesting her husband's lynching for a crime he didn't commit.
  • "Slug Bait" by Throbbing Gristle is based on numerous massacres committed during the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya.
  • "Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story" by Jedi Mind Tricks is a rare hip hop example. Vinnie Paz's verse is from the perspective of a regular soldier in The Vietnam War expressing doubts about what they're doing in the country, while R.A. the Rugged Man's verse is about his own father, telling the story of how he nearly died in a helicopter crash and how exposure to Agent Orange caused birth defects in his children.
  • "The Mexican", the 1972 Signature Song of British Progressive Rock band Babe Ruth, which later became a popular sample source, is about the Battle of the Alamo, focusing on one of Santa Anna's troopers named Chico Fernandez, who dies. The more general point of the song is how the Alamo was a Pyrrhic Victory for Santa Anna. The Mexican forces annihilated the Texans, but there were only around 200 Texans, while 600 or so Mexicans died in the battle.
  • Swans: "Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'ouverture" is a really bizarre example. It's named after the man responsible for the Haitian Revolution, and the lyrics consist entirely of Michael Gira screaming revolutionary slogans in French, accompanied by various sound effects like panicked horses galloping.
  • The Decemberists' songs are mostly fiction, but sometimes they'll sing about the French Conquest of Algeria ("The Legionnaire's Lament"), World War I ("The Soldiering Life"), the American Civil War ("Yankee Bayonet"), botanists protecting grain during the Siege of Leningrad ("When the War Came"), boogeymen of the Troubles ("Shankill Butchers"), the Speculator Mine disaster ("Rox in the Box") and the Charge of the Light Brigade ("Cavalry Captain").
  • Dywizjon 303 (about Battle of Britain, specifically, about the Polish airmen who took part in it) and several other songs by Kuba Sienkiewicz.
  • Rush has "Bastille Day", about the storming of the Bastille that began the French Revolution, and "Manhattan Project", about the creation of the first atomic bomb.
  • The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing (whose very name is a reference to the Jack the Ripper killings), love this trope. "Brunel", a highlights reel of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's career, is a great example.
  • This Heat have "The Fall of Saigon", though in typical This Heat fashion it's less a matter-of-fact recounting of events and more a sort of grotesque and exaggerated depiction of the psychological decline of the people who lived through it.
  • "Brown Sugar" by The Rolling Stones is about the rape of enslaved women in the antebellum Deep South.
  • "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen is about The Vietnam War—though it also touches on how Vietnam veterans struggled to make their way after returning from war, which was a contemporary issue when the song came out.
  • Another 'Nam-related example is "Goodnight Saigon" by Billy Joel.
  • German Folk Rock band dArtagnan's song "Wallenstein" is about General Albrecht von Wallenstein, who led the Habsburg armies against the Protestants during the Thirty Years' War.
  • Eric Bogle's most famous song "...And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is about the Gallipoli campaign in World War I. A number of his other songs are about specific historic events: most often in one of the World Wars.
  • Indie singer/songwriter and anarchist David Rovics has multiple songs about historic events, including "The Battle of Blair Mountain" about Exactly What It Says on the Tin, The Battle of Blair Mountain: the largest labour uprising in United States history and the largest armed uprising since The American Civil Warnote .
  • Sea shanty band The Longest Johns has "Fire and Flame", which is about the Halifax Explosion, an industrial accident that levelled a city when two ammunition haulers collided.
  • Huns and Dr. Beeker has "Ghost Town," about Chernobyl.
  • "Forgotten Years" by Midnight Oil is about World War I.
  • "Spanish Bombs" by The Clash (from their album London Calling) is about the Spanish Civil War.
  • Pop singer-songwriter Gene Cotton had a moderate US hit in 1978 with "Like a Sunday in Salem", a cryptic, symbolism-laden account of Joseph McCarthy and The Hollywood Blacklist.
    The curtains were drawn and the prophets had cried
    When somebody screamed that the joker had lied
    But the damage was done and the saints crucified
    And the truth will be lost till the end
  • Genesis: "The Return of the Giant Hogweed" is a comedic example. The song examines how the plant was taken from Russia by British nobles, only to become an invasive weed throughout western Europe and North America, portraying it as a war between humanity and a Botanical Abomination. Fitting the "metal" part of the trope's name, the song is one of the harder rockers on its parent album, Nursery Cryme.


Video Example(s):


Sabaton - "Fields of Verdun"

The first verse and refrain of Sabaton's "Fields of Verdun", which chronicles the 1916 Battle of Verdun between the French and German Armies during World War I.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / HorribleHistoryMetal

Media sources: