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The silliest of the stereotypes that people apply to metal fans is that we're all these hate-filled loners huddling in the dark. Any self-respecting metalhead knows that while they may wear exaggerated scowls in any photo, most long-haired sonic satanists are good-natured creatives and party animals, who would rather have a few at their local bar or go to an awesome museum exhibit than hurt anyone. Similarly, while the perception that most metal music is dark and angry, plenty of it is just cathartic, and some of it is downright empowering, hoping to raise their listeners spirits rather than condemn them to the underworld.
To keep the current dire state of the world from getting you down, here are 14 of the most uplifting metal tracks ever recorded…
With a song title that should be everyone’s mantra during this quarantine, Machine Head open 2011’s Locust with a meditative boom. At the same time both militant and zen, Be Still And Know is the perfect example of how a song can pack a punch and have an almost wholesomely positive message. The lyrics see Robb Flynn screaming and flailing in a song about how to stop screaming and flailing, bellowing, 'We are all in this together / Weather the storm.' It’s rare to hear a thrash song that sounds so much like dawn breaking over the horizon.
One usually associates speed metal with themes of blazing hellfire and back-alley confrontation, but Brooklyn’s Mutoid Man somehow play deeply positive and introspective music that still sounds like being strapped to the front of a truck. Melt Your Mind stampedes forward, but both its wriggling riffs and thoughtful lyrics feel especially intelligent and positive. The latter are especially good at quelling anxiety, with frontman Stephen Brodsky urging you not to let the stress of everyday life bowl you over or wear you out. A loud and unstoppable take on, ‘Don’t let the blues make you bad.’
So, yes, Evil is a song about rising from the dead as an agent of Satan, and, depending on how you interpret the lyrics, eating someone’s brain. But first off, it’s a ridiculously metal metal song, and as such is pretty uplifting because one feels like a spandex-clad party demon on top of a pile of tombstones while listening to it. Second, there’s an upbeat vibe to the tempo and riffs of this Mercyful Fate track, so that even while King Diamond is wailing about the Devil, it sounds more like it’s Satan’s birthday than anything else. Break out the facepaint.
On paper, Slipknot’s Pulse Of The Maggots is a fan rally song, with the band calling out to the power of their diehard listeners. But the truth is that Pulse… is really a song about anyone who refuses to be an easily-bought commodity, and who is looking for a community that’ll celebrate their abnormality. That position – against the grain but living by one’s own standard and helping those in need feel less alone – has always been at the core of rock’n’roll’s more rebellious genres, and sounds like a rallying cry straight for the heart. Corey Taylor’s lyrics include what is most metalheads’ final principle: 'And if I lose, at least I tried!'
Strapping Young Lad certainly aren’t your most traditionally uplifting metal band, and Force Fed doesn’t exactly open with rainbows and sunshine, as frontman Devin Townsend screams, 'Anima / You’re an animal / You’re a goddamn fucking animal!' But the song's shimmering, synth-driven chorus is beautiful and full of hope, and illustrates the band’s central ethos of reacting angrily to the state of the world only because of how much it breaks your heart. The track is deeply inspirational, even as it's mad as hell.
How did a band wrap together all the most heartwarming parts of thrash metal, country music, and ska-punk into one song? We sees Danish Elvis-metallers Volbeat performing a song that might've been played at prom if it weren't for the double-bass drumming. Bright and nostalgic without losing its metal edge, the track is like a speed-metal Valentine, complete with all the hand-to-heart earnestness that metal romantics secretly live and die by. Good for dancing, singing along, and cuddling with various degrees of nudity.
Few bands pull off the mixture of heavy and uplifting as powerfully as Gojira. The French groove metallers’ songs are often about looking inwards, believing in one’s self, and saving the planet. There’s just something about Silvera’s sweeping guitars and lilting vocals that make it especially powerful, primal yet intricate in its rhythms and movements. Of course, the screamed chorus of, 'When you change yourself, you change the world!' certainly helps.
It’s in our darkest moments, when the heart needs to soar its highest, that we must all look towards the unique healing cheese of power metal. Yes, Hearts On Fire is the ultimate German metal festival anthem, with its heroic atmosphere and massive chant-along chorus. But when a metal fan is feeling mired in depression or doubt, a band like Hammerfall is the ultimate way to shed worries and just have a shitload of earnest, no-fucks-given fun. Sometimes it’s important to hoist a sword, even if it’s plastic.
Leave it to GWAR to write their most emotionally-positive track about riding a giant maggot around the planet. Jack The World, from 1994’s This Toilet Earth, is a jaunty and hilarious funk-thrash tune that features Oderus Urungus crooning at his most plucky and reedy. Obviously the usual GWAR tropes of giant monsters, gushing fluids, and blithering Bohabs are present, but somehow they all become supremely danceable when cased in this upbeat number.
Don’t call it a comeback! The Black Dahlia Murder are death metal’s modern-day masters of the macabre, but they’ve always appeciated the jauntier parts of metal that get a line of fans headbanging in unison. The epic, bounding section that opens and closes this song about using crionics to outlive everyone else makes one feel like they’re skipping over mountains, while the lyrics, though imbued with a certain mania, do bring a message of never letting the world take you. The battle cry for the mad scientist within us all.
Sometimes, you don’t want metal to sound like a scornful condemnation of humanity; sometimes, you just want it to sound like Nightwish. Wish I Had An Angel pounds and throbs with epic Euro-metal power, while its operatic vocals give it an elevated sense of scope. Like many of the tracks on this list, it’s not necessarily a happy or joyful song at its core, but its vibe is one of having fun and celebrating heavy music rather than standing in judgment over mankind. A great track from some at-home in-front-of-mirror air-shredding.
'Another prophet of disaster who says the ship is lost…' Iron Maiden’s ultimate anthem to personal perseverance opens as though it’s been watching the news lately. Die With Your Boots on may sound morbid in its title, but its core concept is one every metal fans recognizes: that if the world is going to take you, it had better bring its A-game, because you won’t be taken quietly. For a certain type of person dealing with stress and anxiety, especially those caused by the media, this message is the spit-back needed to weather the storm.
Among their peers during the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal, God Forbid always had a meditative quality to them, and Divide My Destiny is that attitude personified. The song is still a blistering mixture of hardcore and melodic death metal, but its themes are about shedding doubt and doing what’s right by your gut instinct. The spoken-word bridge feels like the kind of thing one would listen to during a panic attack to ease them back to calm. A balm for the soul, even if it packs a little sting at first.
Hell yes. The beauty of biker rock is the good-timey throwing-bottles mindset it brings, and few bands have that down like Motörhead. Born To Raise Hell is an off-the-wall tattoo put to music, calling on the outlaw in us all to create memories we might not recall by the night’s end. Sure, your average metal fan in 2020 isn’t dancing around a bonfire in the desert or waking up on a pool table wrapped around a one-night stand – especially in quarantine – but the feeling that at any minute you could is what Lemmy wanted to world to have with every song. Out of your seat!
The Kerrang! Chart
The ultimate new music countdown – every Friday!
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