German Heavy Metal and the Cold War

Rammstein were the very first metal band that I ever listened to. As a teenager, not only was I fascinated by their blending of electronic music, heavily distorted guitars, pounding rhythms, but also the fact that this music was coming from a country other than the U.S. (this being a novelty in the largely American-dominated music industry).  Since first listening to Links 2 3 4, I’ve listened to literally hundreds of bands of all different metal sub-genres from many different places around the world. After several years, I noticed a distinct trend. The fact that Rammstein was from Germany was not strange at all. In fact, there appeared to be a disproportionate number of bands from Germany across all metal sub-genres.

Though an empirical study of the number of metal bands in each country would be almost impossible to achieve, for what it’s worth, Wikipedia has 100 pages of metal bands from Germany, compared to 38 from France, 35 from Italy and 29 from Spain. The other three countries’ populations are not as high as Germany’s but the difference is nowhere near as great as with the number of metal bands (Germany 82 million, France 66 million, Italy 62 million and Spain 47 million in 2012). With (somewhat) conclusive proof of the greater popularity of metal music in Germany, it got me thinking – what exactly makes metal music so much more popular in Germany than in other countries in continental Europe? Being an enthusiast of metal as well as history, I decided to answer this question.

What you see in this picture what Germany was like during the 1980s. A country torn apart by two opposing ideologies and saturated with military forces, which could lay waste to the entire region with the most destructive weapons that mankind has ever produced. In short, if war broke out between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, Germany would bare the brunt of the destruction. This fact was always present in the minds of the German people until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. What I’m arguing here is that this has everything to do with the popularity of heavy metal in Germany.

From its inception in England in the late 1960s, heavy metal has always had a very anti-war statement. This can be seen in Black Sabbath’s 1970 song War Pigs. With the rise of thrash metal in the United States in the early 1980s, this trend became even more prominent. The theme of nuclear holocaust was shown in songs such as Fight Fire With Fire by Metallica, Skeletons of Society by Slayer and Set the World Afire by Megadeth. These bands inspired countless others across the world, especially in Germany. Not just musically, but the anti-war theme was taken up as well. Here’s an example from Accept’s 1979 song Sounds of War.

Sounds of chains we hear from far behind
Mechanic noises of magic kind
Mighty war machines are on their way
I’m knowing here no place to stay

Time will come – we’ll have to pay
An evil war will come some day
I feel frosty atmosphere
Don’t you see that the point is near

Another example is the song Under Friendly Fire by Tankard.

The Yearning! For Conflict, I am a Cowboy from up ‘nigh
I’ve got my Go Pills-I’m a Winner
On the way up I’m gonna get high
I’m speeding! Do I care?
The military orders us to fly
Amphetamines have made us Killers
Ooops! British Troops! Was that a Crime?

This song refers to an incident during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when an American fighter pilot, under the influence of sleep-deprivation drugs, accidentally dropped a bomb on a group of British soldiers. Sodom are a band who have a very strong anti-war message in every album they have released. In their song Remember the Fallen,

Honour the fallen heroes
See their last resting place
Perished in the battle of nations
Where they found eternal peace
Do you know the use of their decorations?
Awarded for patriotism
They left their life in fire
But don’t know even why

To the command of despotic dictators
They marched to fight in a senseless war
Most of them were just puppets and children
The battle was lost before it began

In an interview with, Sodom’s vocalist and bassist Tom Angelripper states that

“Why are we writing about war? Because we don’t want war. We wanna describe how bad the war is. If I write about it I gonna dream that I’m a soldier in the Vietnam conflict or Afghanistan. It would be very bad, you know, just to be in the war, to be a soldier in the war. This is a really bad thing. Now when Americans are bombing Afghanistan hundreds of thousands civilians die and everybody knows about it. So we are going to write about it. But I have to write about it in a lyrical way, I won’t write any newspaper article.”

When looking through their lyrics, it can be seen that most German heavy metal bands have written songs with a strong anti-war message. This is quite understandable due to the fact that this style of music was born during the Cold War. Heavy metal has always been a very rebellious form of music, with many musicians questioning their governments’ official doctrine that war is necessary to preserve freedom. This is my explanation for why heavy metal is far more popular in Germany than other continental European countries.


About alexcarrette

University of Queensland graduate (Bachelor of Journalism and Arts with majors in History and International Relations), rock/metal musician, amateur photographer, and massive military history nerd.
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