Saturday, July 16, 2011


Last night I made my return to The Busted Halo Show on SiriusXM's The Catholic Channel.  It was "Mellow" Matt's one year anniversary as the show's Board Operator, so I was invited to bring some of Matt's favorite music, heavy metal.  No problem.  Except that I had to have some kind of theme, beyond "Matt likes this music." A year and a half ago, I talked about Black Sabbath on Busted Halo, and I felt that went over well.  But I didn't want to repeat myself. 

Here's the thing about (some) heavy metal music.  It has a sense of consciousness, just like folk music, and a sense of outrage just like punk rock, but doesn't get much credit for either.  When I was a kid, though, I didn't really know much about punk rock and folk wasn't really appealing to me.  But there did seem to be a moral code to at least some records by Iron Maiden, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth. That struck a chord with me back then, and it still does today. I don't mind songs about cars and girls, but I also enjoy and appreciate when a lyric goes deeper. That's what was going through my mind over the past week when I was deciding what songs to use.

So the theme I came up with was war, and the effects of war on the people forced to fight.  When I first talked about Sabbath on Busted Halo, I used "War Pigs," which decried the fact that wealthy people decide that we need to go to war, but it's generally the poor who have to actually go and fight.

This time, I decided to use another Sabbath song, "Hand Of Doom," which, like "War Pigs," is on the 1970 album Paranoid. I've always interpreted the song about guys who came back from Vietnam and the damage they brought with them.  "Hand of doom" is code for heroin; some soldiers either got hooked on smack while in Vietnam, others started using when they got home.  The song doesn't glorify or moralize anything.  Because of Tony Iommi's fearsome guitar playing, you get the message that "hand of doom" is scary and not something you want to mess with. When people accuse Sabbath of being Satanists, I suggest they listen to this song.  Geezer Butler (who wrote the lyrics) wasn't trying to tell you want to think, just presenting a reality, and Ozzy Osbourne sounding as haunted as he ever would, delivered the song perfectly. To me, there's a great sense of moral outrage in this song.  How could we send people to fight for our country, and let them linger as empty shells when they come back, poisoned by heroin?

Next, I used Metallica's "Disposable Heroes" from one of the hugest albums of my high school years, 1986's Master Of Puppets. Metallica are taken for granted a bit now, as they are one of the biggest bands in the world, but back then they were very radical and underground.  This album was about the different things that control people's lives, mainly drugs and war. "Disposable Heroes" was about soldiers, and it struck me that at the time the album came out, America hadn't officially been involved in any wars, and hadn't been for quite a few years. As opposed to now, when you hear stories about soldiers from the various wars in the Middle East having problems re-acclimating to "normal" life. Metallica frontman and lyricist James Hetfield must have known some Vietnam vets, and made his own observations based on what he saw.  I'd love to ask him about this song.  In the lyrics, Hetfield doesn't have to point out that he cares about what these people were going through: the fact that he sings with such rage tells you all you need to know.  It's a subject that Springsteen has sung about, Hetfield and Metallica reaches a different audience. Maybe this song gave some people some ideas about the consequences of war. 

Finally, I used Alice In Chains' "Rooster," which Jerry Cantrell wrote about his father, a Vietnam vet, and all he went through when he returned home after the war.  The lines that resonate are "the bullets scream to me from somewhere" and also "they spit on me in my homeland." Jerry doesn't take a stance on war, but he shows from his first hand experience, what the after-effects are on people returning from war. It's a pretty heavy song.

When I was a kid, I felt that adults proclaimed heavy metal to be a depraved and angry form of music with no redeeming social value.  That was part of the appeal! But if you paid attention to the lyrics as I did (and I was not alone there), there was a lot you could get out of lyrics to songs like Iron Maiden's "Run To The Hills," Anthrax's "Indians" and Megadeth's "Peace Sells." (I'll probably write about those three songs in a later post.) I love the fact that these bands were able to get across ideas without slamming you over the head (lyrically, at least). While getting you to bang your head.

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