if a song could be freedom – 013 – Injustice For All is a mixtape by Lara Messersmith-Glavin.
“I grew up in very remote, rural areas of the Pacific Northwest, in predominately white, working-class communities. The only music I heard was country, bluegrass, classical, and—for the freaks—metal. I didn’t hear punk rock until I was in my twenties, and by then, had already developed a strong emotional attachment to the cathartic rage and dark lyrics that metal afforded. After I moved to cities and became more involved in radical politics and organizing work as an adult, I was surprised to find how many of my comrades had been politicized through punk and hip hop, genres I knew next to nothing about. I was equally surprised how dismissive folks were of metal—as if they were only familiar with it at its worst: misogynistic, sell-out noise for white men. While it’s true that many branches of metal have histories of sexism, heterosexism, racism, and indiscriminate or gratuitous violence, the same is true of many other genres of popular music. For this playlist, I wanted to share some of the metal artists who use the intensity of the sound, the aggression, to capture the essential outrage and passion that is the (necessary) shadow side and fuel for much of our transformative work, and who bring insightful analysis and history to audiences who might never hear it, otherwise.”—Lara Messersmith-Glavin
Metallica – …And Justice For All
Throughout much of their early career, Metallica consistently took on political themes in their work, from the anti-war stance of “One,” based on Dalton Trumbo’s WWI novel, Johnny Got His Gun, to this, the title track of their fourth album, “…And Justice For All.” The song critiques the influence of capitalism and the power of the ruling class in the American judicial system.
Black Sabbath – Children of the Grave
While bassist Geezer Butler’s lyrics to “War Pigs” receive most of the attention for Black Sabbath’s political content, “Children of the Grave” is the most revolutionary of their songs, and is explicitly critical of the nuclear age. “If you want a better place to live in / spread the words today / Show the world that love is still alive, you must be brave / Or you children of today are children of the grave.”
In “Refuse/Resist,” Brazilian thrash metal pioneers Sepultura describe the outrage of people taking the streets: “Tanks on the streets / Confronting police / Bleeding the Plebs / Raging crowd…Inside the State / War is created…What is this shit?!”
System of a Down – Prison Song
Through mocking vocals and overlays of statistics, System of a Down takes on the farce of the war on drugs and the intersections between race, class, and the prison industrial complex.
A cathartic feminist revenge poem, “Menocide” was written by Otep’s frontwoman, poet/painter/musician Otep Shamaya, who is openly lesbian, and an animal rights activist in addition to her creative work: “This is the beginning of my liberation! …Brides and Breeders / Lillith, Eve, Isis, Kali / Give me free! / Remember! Remember! / Female circumcisions! Burning! Like Salem witches! / Never again! Never again! / No compassion, kill your masters!”
Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills
Probably the best known of Iron Maiden’s hits, “Run to the Hills” chronicles the atrocities the white colonizers committed while seeking to destroy Native American cultures and appropriating their lands and resources. The song speaks from both the Native and the Anglo perspectives, which, combined with the use of old film footage in the video that stereotypes Indian cultures, has led some fans to suggest that it is not a critique. The lyrics, however, suggest otherwise: “Soldier blue in the barren wastes / Hunting and killing their game / Raping the women and wasting the men / The only good Indians are tame / Selling them whiskey and taking their gold / Enslaving the young and destroying the old.”
Lamb of God – Now You’ve Got Something to Die For
Several of the songs on this album (“Ashes of the Wake,” 2004) address the war on terror in the aftermath of 9/11. “Send the children to the fire, sons and daughters stack the pyre / Stoke the flame of the empire, live to lie another day / Face of hypocrisy, raping democracy.”
Megadeth–Countdown to Extinction
An unexpected ally in the animal rights movement, in “Countdown to Extinction,” lyricist and frontman Dave Mustaine criticizes sport hunting and species depletion due to human activity.
Corporate Avenger—Pig is a Pig
Cherokee band Corporate Avenger perform with their faces painted white with black crosses to “symbolize the suffering that [their] ancestors…received at the hands of Christianity,” and to invoke war paint, as they engage in “a war of ideas.” Their work spans genres, from metal and industrial to hip hop.
Napalm Death—Instinct of Survival
Citing influences like Crass and Jello Biafra, Napalm Death cross over between anarchopunk and metal, with frequent sociopolitical commentary in their lyrics. “Instinct of Survival” is a brief indictment of global capitalism: “The multinational corporations / Makes its profit from the starving nations / Indigenous peoples become their slaves / From their births into their graves.” Vocalist Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway is also a pro-choice activist.
Slayer—Read Between the Lies
While Slayer would likely not consider themselves radical, many of their songs reject the hypocrisies of Christianity—like “Read Between the Lies,” which calls out evangelists and churches who take donations (typically from working class believers) and grow rich on the proceeds. “You claim God speaks through you / Your restless mouth full of lies gains popularity / You care not for the old that suffer / When empty pockets cry from hunger / Penniless from their generosity / Sharing their money to quench your greed.”
Testament – Trail of Tears
Testament has worked for much of their career to raise consciousness around Indigenous issues in the US. While tracks like “Native Blood” better showcase their thrash roots, every metal playlist needs a ballad.
Big Business – Guns
“Guns are better than everything else.”