Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Three Best Metal Songs About Native Americans

I'm glad that the movement for the Washington Redskins to change their name is picking up. Owner Dan Snyder might be sure that his own childhood nostalgia matters more than the dignity of an entire race of people, and I know he speaks for a lot of folks who are attached to the name without meaning any harm. Still, I doubt Snyder will call the name "a badge of honor" to any of the Oneida Indian Nation spokesmen he's been dodging meetings with.

The Redskins should change their name, and the fans will get over it, just like they got over the changed lyrics to their theme song ("Scalp 'em, swamp 'um/We will take 'um big score") and the team's integration (original owner/virulent racist George Preston Marshall held out until 1962, when Bobby Kennedy threatened to take away their stadium.)

In honor of a group of people getting disrespected by a billion-dollar industry and this weekend's federal holiday (not to mention John Boehner's shutdown cutting off their healthcare and education funds), here are three songs to play loud this weekend.

1. Iron Maiden, "Run to the Hills"

Easily the best metal song written about American Indians, and probably the best over all song about their tribulations at the hands of the Europeans. Informative without being heavy-handed, "Run to the Hills" is carried by Iron Maiden's most recognizable intro and that eternally rousing chorus, ripping centuries of colonialism out of the history books and writing in the parts about murder, rape and enslavement. Maiden would go on to make more great albums, and still be the best live metal band in the world 30 years later, but by "Run to the Hills," they'd already cemented their place as a cultural force.

2. Anthrax, "Indians"

This used to be the only song that I would ever skip on Among the Living, Anthrax's 1987 classic that's often nominated as the best New York City metal album ever. Listening again, I'm remembering that the music and verses rock pretty hard--it's just the irksome chorus ("Cry for the Indians! Die for the Indians!") that makes one wish that Anthrax had stuck to writing about comic books and Stephen King. Still, "Indians" means well and gets by on the riffs and drumming. Half-Iroquois singer Joey Belladonna was not the cause's most articulate spokesman, but as dreadful songs like the Cult's "American Horse" and Rebel Meets Rebel's "Cherokee Cry" prove, he didn't have an easy task.

3. Testament, "Native Blood"

Testament have always been a small cut below the Big Four, both artistically and commercially, but they were arguably the most consistent, an honor that was upheld on 2012's excellent Dark Roots of Earth. If anything, they've gotten heavier over the past 25 years, and not due to compression. Lead singer Chuck Billy had addressed his native heritage before ("Trail of Tears," "Allegiance,") but never as searingly as on "Native Blood," which won the band a music video award  at the American Indian Film Festival. Also, unless we're counting proto-metalhead Jimi Hendrix, Billy is metal's most accomplished American Indian.

No comments: