Music with a Conscience: Metalcore's Environmentalist Messages are Loud and Angry

By Doctor Comrade

In general, metalcore has a bad reputation. Many people dislike the genre because of its aggressive instrumentals, screamed vocals, sophomoric disposition, and its distance from more mainstream music like pop and contemporary hip-hop. Musician and Youtube personality Jared Dines released a video called "Things Metal Haters Say" to draw attention to many of the unfair criticisms faced by metal fans and artists ("It's just screamo garbage" and "I like real music anyway" and "this singer sounds like the Cookie Monster"). What gets lost in these out-of-hand dismissals are the violently poetic, frustrated, and hopeful messages embedded in metalcore music (and many -core genres generally).

Popular music has long embraced environmentalist messages. Perhaps made most famous by the protest songs of the hippie movement from the 1960s and 1970s, music has aggressively targeted the depletory characters of capitalism and consumerism. And mainstream acts like The Beatles, The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Pete Seeger, and U2 have all contributed to this musical dialogue with their own songs about protecting and preserving the environment. Hardcore punk acts like The Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion also demonstrate how the hardcore scene(s) have engaged in discourse about the environment.

In this hardcore vein, I think it's important to draw attention to the work created by metalcore bands who advocate environmentalist messages. Among these groups are Architects, Northlane, and Parkway Drive.

British metalcore band Architects. Photo: BMA Magazine

British metalcore band Architects. Photo: BMA Magazine

Architects in particular have coalesced a powerful environmental message based in large part on animal rights and reversing the damaging effects of human technology, greed, and cruelty. Four of the band's members are vegan: vocalist Sam Carter, guitarist Tom Searle, drummer Dan Searle, and bassist Alex Dean. Additionally, the band has also promoted the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and visited the Sea Shepherd fleet, and Carter is a British ambassador for the organization. Their song "The Devil is Near" from the album Lost Forever // Lost Together is dedicated to the organization, which protects marine life from hunters and fishing vessels.

"They live this day and night / This is sacrifice, no fucking compromise / They have the heart to resist / Whilst the hunters hunt, they will persist / This is where tragedy is bought and sold / It seems their pain is worth its weight in gold"

From this song, we can see the distinction articulated by Architects between human greed and animal life, where the pain of whales is contrasted with "its weight in gold." Here, they seem to be criticizing the extractive relationship between humanity and the environment, where resources are attacked without regards to physical, psychological, and emotional damage inflicted upon the living environment. Even more damning, the line "Selling souls / the Devil is near" further illustrates that this unsustainable relationship is built upon the sacrifice of humanity's soul, which is sold to the Devil in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.

"There's an imminence stirring like a siren singing / There's a debt to pay but they keep on drilling / Why simple truth, so hard to tell / We had an Eden and turned it into hell"

"Black Blood" is a track on the re-release of Architects's Daybreaker, and it specifically indicts the oil industry for its reckless actions drilling for oil. But more importantly, the song indicts our attitudes towards, and reliance on, oil, which is not only highly destructive to the environment but poisons our relations with so many foreign countries. The enduring motif throughout the song is that humanity is bleeding the Earth dry, which is an act of violence against our home, and it's an act of violence against ourselves.

It's also important to look at the religious allusions in both songs: the first to the Devil and the second to the Garden of Eden. Both songs refer to powerful Judeo-Christian imagery in which the evils of capitalism, cruelty, and exploitation are aligned with mythical evil, whereas the Garden of Eden, which is meant to portray a paradise, is corrupted by that evil. However, Architects do not allow humanity to shirk its responsibility in this alignment: rather, we are reproached for our complicity, in our tolerance of animal cruelty or our addiction to oil. Commenting on their song "These Colours Don't Run," Dan Searle said, "go to Huntington Beach and you see the oil rigs on the horizon. You get this sense that it was once such a beautiful place but it’s been destroyed. America is a new country—people went there and destroyed it when they should have known better."

From Genesis to Revelations, Judeo-Christian imagery calls upon a compelling cultural mythology, enduring structures of thought which terrify us. The apocalypse--always on the horizon in the narratives of environmental disaster--serves not only as the contrast to the Garden of Eden, but also as the impending doom which faces a humanity that refuses to alter its destructive course. This apocalyptic brutality is conjured by Parkway Drive's "Dark Days" from the album Atlas.

"What will you tell your children when they ask you "what went wrong?" / How can you paint a picture of a paradise lost / To eyes that know only a wasteland? / How will you justify watching the world die?"

Parkway Drive. Photo: Epitaph Records.

Parkway Drive. Photo: Epitaph Records.

Australian metalcore quintet Parkway Drive demands a departure from humanity's current course, which they argue is leading humanity towards an apocalyptic future. In the music video for "Dark Days," they portray humanity's destructive technologies, including strip mining, nuclear testing, and factory production. They ask us to "Behold the Pale Horse / This is the funeral of the Earth." From the Book of Revelations, the Pale Horse, ridden by Death, is the fourth of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and brings with it Hades, the resting place of the dead. The message is clear: to avoid the catastrophic extinction of humanity, we must avoid the dark days of environmental disaster.

Here too Parkway Drive uses imagery to invoke the impending doom prophesied in the Bible. However, they chose the Pale Horse, ridden by Death, who follows the White Horse (Conquest or Pestilence), the Red Horse (War), and the Black Horse (Famine), which implies two things: either humanity is already in the midst of its experience with the first three horsemen, or environmental disaster is what ushers in all four, ultimately culminating with the Pale Horse.

"The blind eye can no longer be cast / The clock is ticking, there is no second chance" reminds us that this march toward disaster is one of ignorance, not blindness. If we were already blind, then our fate would be inevitable; as Parkway Drive points out, our chance is now, and it is within our sight to change the future, if only we would turn our eyes upon our own nature.

"The worst enemy’s one that’s homegrown / This is more than just a faceless warning / Don't let the world rot / Hanging by a thread they just putrefy / Our blood, our birth, our sky / And we will not stand by"

Northlane.

Northlane.

"Rot," by Australian band Northlane off their album Node, is a call to action as much as it is a manifesto about the interconnectedness of humanity. In the song, Northlane asks us to overcome the fear that leads to apathy, which will in turn "cause a reaction... a power they can't repress." Where people have so far failed to institute meaningful environmental protections, only collective action by all stakeholders can change the future. They remind us that we are the protagonists of our own story, but our story is intricately woven throughout the stories of everyone around us. Instead, we have to imagine ourselves as the collective, forging a movement that is incapable of being stopped by those whose interests are not aligned with those of the environment.

The parallels between this song and the others in this article also include the identification of an unnamed enemy. Each allude to some facet of humanity's relationship with the Earth: greed, extraction, domination. These characteristics also describe the inherent flaws of capitalism, which above all other factors puts profit. In our addiction to oil or our fascination with consumption, we have lost sight of our shared destiny, becoming too fractured to consider the consequences of our individuality. Instead, we have to look to the collective good, not only because we will all suffer when the Earth can no longer sustain us, but also because only through collective action can we address capitalism and environmental degradation.

"Give me a reason / Tell me why we lost our reason / Tell me the truth / Not an excuse / Because we have everything to lose / Plastic oceans, plastic farms / Cover your footprints like a Band-Aid on a broken arm"

"You fell asleep while your bed burned" from the song "Leech" prompts us to remember that the Earth is our home and we are destroying it, and we have so far ignored our obligation to protect our only planet.

Metalcore is not merely groups of men screaming about what makes them angry; it is also music with a conscience, something that sees the brutality inherent in capitalism and the treatment of our planet. Moreover, metalcore is an ideal platform for artists to voice their discontent with environmental policy: the genre is built for anger, frustration, calls to action, and aggression. Deploying these genre conventions toward environmental action reveals the heart that artists have, the courage to speak out against the injustices of industrialism, consumerism, class stratification, and environmental degradation. If nothing else, metalcore is a genre of music that remains true to a spirit of anger and frustration toward embedded power structures, which should be familiar to any music lover.