Sunday, August 7, 2011

Writing Metal Lyrics: Yep There's an App for That

I admit I've never been a big metal fan.  It's not so much the din of screaming vocals over repetitive minor fifth chords that turns me off.  Sometimes the musicianship can be exceptional and the riffs undeniably catchy. It's just the lyrical content that I can't get past.  By that I don't mean the typical subject matters of death, violence, the occult, religion, the old Gods, or death.  I mean the cringe inducing cliches, hackneyed rhymes and clumsy similes that have nearly become a metal trademark, despite the apparent sincerity of the writer and regardless of sub genre (heavy, speed, thrash or death). 

The lyrical ham-fist has been a constant since the early days of metal.  Way back in 1978, in "Metal Gods," Judas Priest sang about, well, I'm not quite sure: 

We've taken too much for granted
And all the time it had grown
From techno seeds we first planted
Evolved a mind of its own

Marching in the streets
Dragging iron feet
Laser beaming hearts
Ripping men apart . . . .

Machines are taking all over
With mankind in their command
In time they'd like to discover
How they can make their demand

Better be the slaves
To their wicked ways
But meeting with our death
Engulfed in molten breath

On the one hand, I guess you could say the song is a critique of  industrialized society and our increasing dependence on technology, a la Ted Kaczynski.  Mercifully, Kaczynski didn't burden his manifesto with lockstep  ABAB, AABB rhyming verses.  And just what the hell is the last part about?  Is it better to be a slave to the wicked ways of technology or to meet your death "engulfed in molten breath," or both? I'm not sure whether the "but" is intended to be conjunctive or disjunctive, but I'm pretty sure it's a bad thing either way.

Whatever its failings, you have to admit that metal is a genre of rock music that does not suffer from lack of ambition. Metal fearlessly tries to take on the big epistemological questions like the meaning of life and our place in the universe.  Metallica's "The Never," appearing on their breakthrough Black Album from 1991, even goes Stephan Hawking on your ass:

All that is, was and will be
Universe much too big to see
Time and space never ending
Disturbing thoughts, questions pending
Limitations of human understanding
Too quick to criticize
Obligation to survive
We hunger to be alive

All that is, ever
Ever was
Will be ever
Through the never
Wow.  I'm tossing out my copy of A Brief History of Time.  Kudos to Hetfield for cramming in however many syllables it takes no matter the meter.  And once you've committed to the line "time and space never ending," then "disturbing thoughts, questions pending" practically writes itself.

Speaking of which, why labor over your metal lyrics to capture just the right bleak metaphor or ominous sounding turn of phrase when there's an app for that?  Actually at least two apps.  "The Metal Maker" java app will generate metal lyrics for you.  You simply input a song or album title and it generates your lyrics in seconds.  Sadly, it appears the lyrics are random regardless of your title, e.g. typing in "Taters and Gravy" still yielded three verses about unrelenting despair.  Likewise,  Battlecry, available as a java plugin or downloadable app, will write your metal classic for you in the blink of Satan's eye. 

Now if I could only remember where I put my leather chaps.

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