Top 10 Metal Lyricists

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A skilled lyricist can make a good song great. Samuel Coleridge-inspired lyrics make “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” unforgettable; Generals gathered in their masses / Just like witches at black masses is seared into my consciousness despite awkward repetition. Metal has evolved to the point where the best lyricists could be considered writers, even outside their songs.

— Justin M. Norton

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10. Chris Barnes (Cannibal Corpse, Six Feet Under)

Barnes isn’t the best wordsmith, but he might be the most influential lyricist on the list. Every death, gore, and pornogrind band has tried to top Tomb of the Mutilated. His best work was on The Bleeding, including the family-friendly “Force Fed Broken Glass”: Wounds too deep to heal / In me / Torn trachea / Splintered skin / Down the throat / Choke/ Lungs fill with blood / As vocal chords collapse / Oral sex, with broken glass.

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9. Glenn Danzig (Misfits, Samhain, Danzig)

Every metalhead can bust out a few choruses of Misfits or the lyrics to “Mother”, but Glenn did his best writing for the punk/metal/goth hybrid Samhain. “Kiss of Steel” is about the aftermath of a highway accident and having “a love affair with a Chevy in midair: Car crash / The pressing of two lips / Hard steel and an accidental death / One action does you up / Kiss of steel.

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8. King Diamond

King Diamond’s wordplay isn’t superlative, but he is a singularly gifted storyteller. Demonaz of Immortal is obviously a disciple. “Abigail” is the centerpiece of his best-known concept album: Abigail, I know you’re in control of her brain, Abigail / And I know you’re the one that’s speaking through her, Abigail / Miriam, can you hear me?

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Samhain – “Kiss of Steel”

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7. Jacob Bannon (Converge)

Jane Doe is an album-long chronicle about a dissolving relationship. A highlight is the title track: Out of the burdening night sweats / Out of the rising seas of blood / Lost in you like Saturday nights / Searching the streets with bedroom eyes / Just dying to be saved / Run on girl, run.

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6. Cris Jerue (16)

Jerue has translated his struggles with addiction into song. On “Zoloft Smile”, he writes about experiences with the popular antidepressant: Changes in the brain, depressed mood all day / Sexual dysfunction with ejaculation delay / Trapped between the good and bad / A world that does not exist / Now I’ve got control of it / The mind that cannot rest.

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5. Quorthon (Bathory)

The late Quorthon was the best at tackling metal’s most well-traveled topics: Satan, war, Vikings, and the afterlife. Consider the opening of the Bathory classic “Enter the Eternal Fire”, a poignant view from a visit to hell: Leave the world of mortals to walk / Into the mist to stalk unto the other side / Plains of otherness / The utter emptiness / Where time has ceased and dark and light collide / Crossing the river of death and water cold / Slowly walking up the bridge / The jeweled bridge I walk for what seems a lifetime.

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Bathory – “Enter the Eternal Fire”

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4. Jon Chang (Discordance Axis, Gridlink, Hayaino Daisuki)

Chang’s short grind poems are earnest without self-absorption. His lyrics are as honest and direct as hardcore, but more thoughtful and affecting. “Use of Weapons” does fine work with a few lines: Battered arrays and jagged contours / A scaling box that beseeches me / Chamber a round into my head / From the breach.

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3. Lord Worm (Cryptopsy)

Although his vocal style sparks debate, few doubt the singular power of Worm’s writing. Worm is the Dario Argento of metal, gifted with an ability to make the horrific seem beautiful. Take “Defenestration”, in which he professes his love for a woman and then throws her out of a window: Ordinarily, I’d not wish to frighten her or hurt her / But such beauty inspires one 
to give the gift of murder / She’s the kind of girl you want to / Run up and tackle through a window some floors up.

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2. J.R. Hayes (Pig Destroyer)

Hayes is the best metal lyricist of the new century. He writes sparse but powerful prose poems. Some of his best work is on Prowler in the Yard. But “Girl in the Slayer Jacket”, about a young suicide, might be his most affecting: …the truth is her eyes / Has been dead since she was five / She just hadn’t disposed of the body.

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1. Mike IX Williams (Eyehategod)

Williams, an editor at Metal Maniacs during its halcyon days and a published author, weaves minimalist tales of despair, addiction, and woe. Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs inspired him, and it shows. On “Sister Fucker”, he conjures a universe of feelings and images with few words: Screw mommy, mommy screwed / Lick golden sky like rain / My sight sees storm weather / Weathered like wood and dust / Peer into glass yellowed / Curtains are stained with smoke / Melancholy crush / In love with hurt and dust / Burn her.

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