Heavy Metal Professor William Irwin focus's exclusively on the lyrics of Metallica.

metallica meaning of lyrics podcast Apr 24, 2022


More than 40 years since their formation, and 125 million album sales later, Metallica is as relevant as ever. Much has been written about the band, but never like this 

The Meaning of Metallica is like a riveting conversation with a close friend. A thematic tour de force that traces Hetfield’s lyrical development across the decades, this companion examines everything from deep cuts like “Confusion” to megahits like “Enter Sandman.” Sure to spark debate and discussion, The Meaning of Metallica provides a close reading of lyrics dense with details and rich with allusions.

Join The Vernomatic and “METAL PROFESSOR” William Irwin as they take a deep dive into The Meaning of Metallica- Ride the Lyrics. Please like, Share and review with all your friends.


Meet Professor William Irwin

Are you a native New Yorker?

Yeah. Yeah. So, I'm from Yonkers right outside New York city.

How long have you been a Metallica Fan?

I go back to 1984, you know, when I'm a budding young metal head. Into Sabbath, Priest, that kind of stuff, hanging out with my buddy, Joe, you know, we're Beavis and Butthead before there was Beavis and Butthead. Joe was a step ahead of me as he often is, and it gets a copy of ride the lightning and you know, he tapes that for me. And mean really, it was like nothing else I had heard at that time faster. And in many ways, deeper than a lot of other metal out there. So, it really struck a chord with me right off the bat.

Did you go to a lot of concerts in those days?

Yeah, we'd see the shows in the New York Metro area. L ’Amour’s was the rock capital in Brooklyn. Sort of famous east coast place.

I ended up seeing lots of shows, never Metallica. They were too big by the time I got there, but I saw Slayer on The Reign in Blood tour with Overkill. Anthrax a bunch of times. So, it could have accidentally happened that I went to see a WASP and saw this new band Metallica, but it didn't happen that way. 

All right. So, you have your metal credentials. Nice! let's talk about the book.

Yeah. So, the book is called the Meaning of Metallica- Ride the Lyrics. And it's the only book out there that specifically addresses the lyrics of the songs. lots of great Metallica books. I think I've read them all and am friends with some of the authors, but you generally see sort in some cases, you see some catalogs of the songs. What I do is look at the songs in many cases line by line and analyze the lyrics. And this is something that I've been doing since probably I am 14.

How did you  Gravitate to Lyrics?

Metallica Brought me to things that lots of guys, my age, particularly back then shied away from, and that is poetry and therapy. You know, I probably got into, into poetry by looking at song lyrics and in particular that the best among them in my opinion Metallica. And so, they've done the soundtrack of my life, at least in some 14, all the way through to the you know, the most recent album. And they've always been a source of inspiration and therapy and poetry for me. And so, this is sort of tribute to that. I know that a lot of fans take the lyrics very seriously as I do.

And although I was a goofy Beavis and Butthead type kid, I was also, you know, the brooding existentialist type kid with a, with a crisis of that meeting. And what's it all about. And, and quite frankly, a fade to black was the first song that really spoke to me. And although James didn't write that from a place of suicidal despair himself, he puts in.

A preview of some of the songs covered.

The first chapter in the book deals with religion and so I have a lengthy dissection and analysis of

creeping death intellectual Messiah into the God that failed. That sort of thing.

Second chapter deals with addiction. And so, I'm looking at like master of puppets low man's lyric, fixer, and other songs that really speak to that.

The whole trilogy of Unforgiven songs. And I mean, I've listened to that song hundreds of times, you know, maybe not thousands in the case of that one, since it's on reload, but I've listened to it many times over.

And it wasn't until I started really dissecting it and trying to link it with the first and the third unforgiven that it became. Yeah, by the end, the narrator ends up killing the woman who is in love with, and if you, if you take a look at the printed lyrics, it becomes very clear, right.

Kill them All. They're better than you might think. All due respect to Dave, Mustaine , if  you compare the lyrics to the four horsemen to mechanics ,you get a sense of the of the aptitude that Hatfield had for writing lyrics early on. Kill, 'em All, has lots of, sort of fantasy lyrics with Phantom Lord. And I mean the four horseman is straight out in the book of the apocalypse, but there's a lot of that sort of thing. But it really is done about as well as you get on debut album.

Kill em All really avoids the typical heavy metal cliche is, I mean, the only one that really gets into the cliche realm there is Jump in the fire.

St. Anger.  You know, they kept it together enough to have an album and for them to move forward. And that's the real success out of. I don't think that I spend a lot of the ink on St. Anger in the book, but I do give it some do, partly for example I mean, one of the things that comes clear in watching this some kind of monster documentary, right, is that Hetfield leaves for rehab

And so, the addiction issue is important then. So lyrics like “my lifestyle determines my death style” is very important for thinking about the addiction issue and sweet Amber, which is a sort of tongue in cheek about drinking. That's the one album where they were sharing with even lyric writing although, I mean, the odd thing about that, right, is that, you know, you have, contributing some lyrics, but no guitar solos, right?

St. Anger didn't actually yield a great lyric. there are fans of Metallica for whom that somehow is their favorite it's amazing now, even what we might consider a bad metallic album is in some people's estimation, great music and even great lyrics

 The Black album lyrically it’s, in some ways, one of the deepest. You know Enter Sandman aside, there's all kinds of great stuff on there for, for example, from unforgiven which you really start to see some of Hetfield's autobiography coming through there the way in which he you know, it was resenting the way in which he was raised in the way that people try to put you into a box and deprive you of your authenticity.

And we also see a very thinly veiled storytelling about the God that failed and his experience growing up as a Christian scientist and the way in which. You know, there was all sorts of hypocrisy and misdeeds involved in that. And, you know, just other songs that seem really kind of, self-reflective and even self-lacerating, the struggle within my friend of misery.

Behind the Making of Ride the Lyrics

What kind of research did you do for this?

So, in some way I've been writing the book in my head since some 14 but you know, more seriously. I mean, I think I've read every book on Metallica that's been written and there are quite a few at this point and lots of published interviews and all that kind of thing.

I ended up memorizing the lyrics so that I could sing them for myself. That was my way of really sort of reverse engineering, the lyrics for myself, that way, thinking of how they would be song and where they're coming from

Did hear from Metallica regarding this?

I did reach out to Metallica you know management and such requesting an interview. I was treated very kindly and professionally and it just didn't end up happening. I can understand that a lot of artists don't want to comment on or even be interviewed about their lyrics.

Were there any songs that didn't make the cut?

first of all, it really covers the whole catalog from kill em All, all the way up to a hardwired to self-destruct.

And I haven't done a count on it, but I would say half of a Metallica songs get at least some sort of mention in discussion other songs, get elaborate line by line analysis and dissect. And so, what, what the, what the book does is it doesn't catalog album by album song by song, but rather goes thematic Oakley and looks for songs that sort of speak to one another or continue a theme.

Comments on the book or this interview? Feel free to contact Bill directly: E mail -  [email protected] TWITTER- @williamirwin38

“Metal “Professor Irwin’s other books

Irwin is best known for having originated the philosophy and popular culture genre of books with Seinfeld and Philosophy (1999), The Simpsons and Philosophy (2001), and The Matrix and Philosophy (2002). In 2006, became the General Editor of The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series, which includes Metallica and Philosophy (2007) and Black Sabbath and Philosophy (2012), among other volumes.

You can hear much more of Professors takes on so many more classic Metallica cuts. Follow the podcast or listen to the episode


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