The last time I visited my childhood home, I went on a massive cleaning spree. It hurt to get rid of the Beanie Babies under my bed (those investments never paid off), old baseball cards, and Dave Matthews Band CDs, but we all make tough sacrifices from time to time. But, much to my mom’s chagrin, I couldn’t depart from my high school notebooks. I didn’t care about my sloppy history notes — I was more concerned with preserving the unrelated notes I faithfully scribbled in the margins during fourth period. Specifically, the lyrics.
Before I took my annotations to Facebook and Twitter, I would quote my favorite songs the ol’ fashioned way: memorize them as best as I could, then, using a pen or Sharpie, write them on desks (I wonder if “I’m not an animal” is still visible where I slept through 11th grade math), and in bathroom stalls (“if you’re looking for a good time… listen to Sublime”) and notebooks. In 10th grade, when I got really into Metallica, I tried to draw the band’s logo (shoutout to “Metallica Sues 8th Grader Over Hand-Drawn Logo on Notebook”), as 10th graders, particularly angry male 10th graders, are wont to do — when my hand-to-eye coordination let me down, I settled for writing “exit light, enter light” on the cover of my black-and-white composition book.
This was in the early 2000s, before St. Anger nearly turned me off Metallica for good. My mini-boycott didn’t last long — that punchless, trashcan-drumming album only made me appreciate the band’s earlier releases, particularly Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice for All, that much more. 2008’s Death Magnetic was a promising comeback and the pummeling Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, released just last week, is downright… good (there’s something about the ellipsis in Hardwired… to Self-Destruct that’s so much funnier than the one in …And Justice for All). It can be monotonous at times — it is 77 minutes over two discs — but the solos are aggressive, and the boys sound energized after an eight-year break. Hardwired is the kind of album that teen-Josh would have gone gaga for, which got now-Josh thinking: Which metal lyric would I have been most obsessed with?
What’s the key to a good metal lyric? It needs to be over-the-top and pissed off and evocative and corny but also earnest enough that teenagers can relate to it while closing their bedroom door on their parents. You should be able to picture it spray painted on a creepy van and imagine screaming it in a bruising mosh pit and most importantly, it needs to be the kind of line that wouldn’t look out of place in a 10th grader’s notebook.
So, without further ado:
5. “Sharpened edge touch liquid flame / Deepened seed soaks anger’s reign / Arching back, shape-shift derange / Father, how I watched you change”
I barely know what any of that means, but it sounds metal, doesn’t it? Also, it’s in a song called “Am I Savage?” with an imposing chorus that goes, “Am I savage? I don’t recognize you anymore.” Metallica is wonderfully ridiculous.
A study released last year determined that the five most “metal words” are, in order, burn, cries, veins, eternity, and breathe. The data checks out: “burn” or “burning” appears in five of Hardwired… to Self-Destruct‘s 12 tracks. Among those five songs, though, there’s not a single “cries” or even “cry,” so I’m giving the burning honor to “Moth to Flame,” a song about the dangers of social media (“Infamy / All for publicity / Destruction going viral”) where the chorus is followed by James Hetfield grunting the word “burn.” It’s wonderful.
3. “All sanity is but a memory / My life, the war that never ends”
Anyone who had a terrible time in high school should go see Edge of Seventeen, which is to say, everyone should go see Edge of Seventeen. The movie nails something that other adolescent-set films forget: Teenagers are terrible people because they hate themselves. We all say terrible things to our parents, our friends, our boyfriends and girlfriends when we’re 16 because we’re desperately confused and unhappy. Lashing out proves we care. I totally could have used this lyric after the first (and thankfully, only) time my mother grounded me. “God mom, you just don’t understand — everyone is terrible and everything is the worst. My life is endlessly sucky.”
2. “Sanity taken / Seething damnation/ Cthulhu awaken”
Any mention of Cthulhu is an automatic inclusion on a most-metal list.
1. “We’re so f*cked / Sh*t outta luck / Hardwired to self-destruct”
Green Day’s chant against Donald Trump at the AMAs (isn’t 2016 the best/worst?) reminded me of when I was a teenager, and I thought protesting meant stealing American Idiot from Best Buy. “Those corporate pigs aren’t getting my money,” I thought before spending $15 at Chili’s. That’s what this lyric reminds me of: It’s a youngster’s concept of self-loathing rebellion. The swearing, the swearing again, the idea that our actions are pre-determined for us by, I dunno, Cthulhu? That no matter how much good we do in the world, no matter who we fall in love with, no matter how many Metallica albums we buy (not “borrow” from Best Buy), we’re programmed to explode, “hardwired to self-destruct.” So might as well head bang while we can.
That totally would have been my AIM away message.