Death metal lyrics can be so much more than an intelligible mess about violence, zombies, Satan and gore. It can work, but there could be so much more to it. I’m one of the writers for Swedish death metal band Desolator. These are my views on death metal lyrics. If you enjoy this, don’t miss my article about doom metal lyrics.
About the author
I’m Stefan Nordström, an aspiring musician and content creator. This is one of the ways I promote Desolator, my old school death metal band. If you’re searching for new music in the style, it would be awesome if you listened to my stuff on:
Themes in death metal lyrics
Some of the most common themes are:
Many of the death metal lyric themes feels done to death (no pun). Gore has gone to the point of surgioembryonic ultradevourment eight times and back, and the same can be said about the other topics. I did enjoy writing about it myself when I started out with Desolator (see “Antimortem Autopsy” below, wish I had a lyric video though).
” Carve and hear you scream
Explore your anatomy
Flesh, blood and steel
My morbid fantasy
Internal organs left to decay
Your ribs spread open, bleeding away “
Don’t get me wrong, the gore of old Death and other classic bands is still charming at times. Who doesn’t get the classic “Zombie Ritual” (below) hook on their head instantly? But there can be so much more to death metal. It’s possible to be aggressive and insightful at the same time.
” Revengeful corpse out to kill
Smell the stench, your guts will spill
Vomit for a mind, maggots for a cock
With his axe the corpse will chop
Stare into his eyes
Now in his spell
Kiss the rotting flesh
Now you’re in hell “
From gore and fantasy to cold reality
To me, there are so many things in the real world that encompass the made up topics that dominate death metal lyrics. Immolation and Hour of Penance have good ideas, violently questioning many of our terrible life ideals. Ironically, it becomes an almost humanistic standpoint. This is also something I’ve heard once or twice, concerning my more recent Desolator lyrics.
” Surveilling from ivory tower or confined to the gutter
A radiant spectacle for the blind to see
The glowing charm of ephemeral games
Constructions for the feeble-minded
Cannot halt the decay of years
Fodder for a dying earth
Illusions of grandeur “
How I write death metal lyrics
My process for writing death metal lyrics differs from how I write doom metal. When writing doom metal, I often find key phrases that I base a whole song on before finishing it instrumentally. Death metal is more about finding the right riffs and connecting them until I have a full song instrumentally. I think that’s a similar process to how most other death metal bands do it; riffs first.
To me it’s an explanation, but not an excuse. It’s certainly very easy to go phonetic and generic. Generally, I’d say most people have something frustrating worth talking about that would make better death metal lyrics than gore, violence and the occult. I think I will always go riffs-first, but the mostly meaningless, “cool” hooks from early Desolator won’t reappear any time soon.
Favorite death metal lyricists
Some of my favorite death metal lyric writers are:
- Misery Index
- Hour of Penance
Death – an early innovator
Death had the right idea early on and, according to me, had the perfect balance around 1991’s “Human”, 1993’s “Individual Thought Patterns” and 1995’s “Symbolic”. The band started moving towards a more reality-based lyric palette in the late 80’s, and in the 90’s it really made a difference. Many of the frustrated lyrics dealt with inhumanity, inability and other issues on a personal and grand scale.
I’ve seen Chuck get a fair degree of shit for the somewhat righteous lyrics, but I find myself agreeing on too many of the topics for that to be an issue. Highly personal frustrations were definitely part of the mixture, along with thoughts on a higher level. To me, this definitely hits harder than any fantasy or gore tale, at least if it’s done right.
” To the left and to the right
From behind – they’re out of sight
Plunging into a newfound
Age of advanced observeillance
A worldwide, foolproof cage
Privacy and intimacy as we know it
Will be a memory
Among many to be passed down
To those who never knew “
Immolation – from “Dawn of Possession” to reality
Immolation is one of my favorite bands and a quality act down to every damn song they’ve ever released. The early Immolation output was mostly about anti-religion, damnation and topics of that kind. Gradually, the band turned their attention more and more to human nature. “Sinful Nature” from 2002’s “Unholy Cult” is one of my favorite death metal lyrics, and Immolation hasn’t slowed down on those topics over the last few years.
Strangely, very few bands seem to follow suit on this, despite Immolation opening the door wide on it for a long time. There is so much to write about and it’s definitely possible to do it without turning political or cliché.
” How can we live with ourselves
Our jealousy, our tyranny
The lives we make, the lives we take
The fools we serve, the fools we are
Brazen in our final days
Our time on top is near on end
It’s clear to me we’ll never change
It’s clear that I will never change
The tragedy of life we live
The tragedy of life we’ll see
We call it human nature
The seducer of mankind “
Misery Index – taking Napalm Death to the next level
If you want to turn political, however, look no further than Misery Index. Misery Index’s left-wing ideas obviously have a strong inspiration from Napalm Death, but I do find their presentation and execution more refined and affecting.
The main thing is that the human misery and the exploitation Misery Index talks about in their death metal lyrics fit the pissed off music perfectly. Passion and uniqueness sets them aside from the many similar bands in the crowded brutal death metal and technical death metal scene. The crust punk attitude of their music also really gets an extra push.
” Sharpen up the guillotine, as fashionistas clean the scene
You’re socially bewitched with narrative affixed
Tried and executed with no due process
Do you fight the good fight? Or instigate the fighting?
It’s a fucking witch-hunt, somebody’s head’s gotta roll…
In New Salem
Burn the books, rename the streets, nothing is safe, suppress the speech
A virtual conflict, binary logic, who the fuck is the strawman now? “
Hour of Penance – from anti-Christian to anti-humanity
I always thought Italy’s Hour of Penance was hands down one of the most genuinely aggressive sounding modern death metal bands out there. The band also delivered some of the most mature, refined anti-religious statements in the genre. Gradually, they seem to be shifting towards human inequality and the backwards evolution of society.
The band cites “bigger threats to our well-being” as what they attack nowadays. This fits my worldview like a glove, not to mention the calculated aggression of the music. It also supports the theory I have about humanism and death metal lyrics. I can’t deny that I really like their passionate anti-religious delivery as well!
” God denies the reason, we’re suffering in disdain
In our prison of sufferings
I committed high treason
Proving the certain non-existence of god
Through the truth
I became a disciple of the philosophy
Of truth denying false sacraments
God denies the reason, we’re suffering in disdain “
What about other types of elaborate death metal lyrics?
The discussions around this post got me thinking about another side of the coin; the bands that write occult, themed or violent stuff on a more grand, conceptual scale. I do admire the work that goes into the lyrics of bands like Nile, Septic Flesh and Sulphur Aeon, but it just doesn’t seem to hit me anymore.
Another, more reality-based, theme for death metal lyrics that needs to be addressed is war and history. I definitely enjoy the battle tank delivery of bands like Bolt Thrower, Hail of Bullets and Just Before Dawn. It hits harder and more direct for me compared to the occult and similar topics, though I can’t deny my interest in these bands also faded a bit over time.
I’m not sure if my standards are becoming higher, or if I’m just panting myself into a corner when it comes to death metal lyrics by feeling like that. Either way, I felt it was worth mentioning in this article, as it is a relevant side-track to the old school vs. humanistic point I was making.
Final words on death metal lyrics
So what do I want to say with this article on my highly subjective views on death metal lyrics? Pretty much this:
- Lyrics in a death metal band do matter
- Find inspiration in the environment around you
- Ditch the generic shit
- Go the extra mile and find something unique to talk about
- Lastly, worship the hell out of the death metal bands that deliver those truly high quality lyrics