10 Metal Songs That Also Provide a History Lesson

Summer's over, and class is back in session!

While you're busy cracking open all those textbooks, here are 10 metal songs you can blast that will provide you with a few history lessons while you're banging your head.

And while some of the subject matter covered here might be presented with a bit of, um, artistic license, it can't be any harder to comprehend than advanced calculus.

Listen closely…there may be a test.
1. Iron Maiden, "The Trooper"

There are so many Maiden songs to choose from here—classics like "Aces High" (about the Battle of Britain) "Invaders" (Viking raids), and "Alexander the Great" (an incredibly detailed bio of the Macedonian king), to more recent fare like "Paschendale" (World War I), "The Longest Day" (D-Day) and, from the upcoming 'The Book of Souls,' the 18-minute "Empire of the Clouds" (the British R101 airship disaster). But for the purposes of this list we'll go with "The Trooper," if only because, in addition to featuring lyrics that tell of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, which was fought during the Crimean War, it's also one of Maiden's most musically awesome tunes.

2. Nile, "Smashing the Antiu"

Fitting for a band with their moniker, Nile's entire catalog—or most of it, at least—is basically a history lesson in ancient Egypt. This song, the leadoff track on their 1998 full-length debut, 'Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka,' tells of the Antiu, a supposed band of ancient desert dwellers who were frequently at war with Egypt's pharaohs.

3. Manowar, "Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts"

Manowar bassist and lyricist Joey DeMaio adapted parts of Homer's 'Iliad,' in particular the fight between Hector and Achilles, for the basis of this song from 1992's 'The Triumph of Steel.' And at close to a half-hour in length, it probably takes as long to listen to as it would to just read Homer's epic poem in full.

4. Iced Earth, "The Devil to Pay"

Iced Earth's 'The Glorious Burden' is a concept album centered around pivotal moments in American history, much of it war-related. The centerpiece of the record is "Gettysburg," a three-song trilogy in which one full song is given over to each day of the Battle of Gettysburg. 'The Devil to Pay' is the first in this trilogy, focusing on the events of July 1, 1863.

5. Metallica, "Creeping Death"

This 'Ride the Lightning' track and live favorite tells of the biblical Plague of the Death of the Firstborn. James Hetfield sings the lyrics from the perspective of the Angel of Death, sent to "kill the first born pharaoh son."

6. Sabaton, "Angels Calling"

How entrenched in historical facts are Sabaton's lyrics? So much so that the Swedish band even has their own history website. This song, from 2006's 'Attero Dominatus,' was inspired by the events surrounding the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which sparked World War I.

7. Metal Church, "Rest in Pieces (April 15, 1912)"

Coming off of the band's 1989 effort, 'Blessing in Disguise,' this track chronicles the sinking of the Titanic, predating the movie of the same name by eight years. If only James Cameron had talked to Metal Church instead of Celine Dion when he was looking for a theme song…

8. Lamb of God, "Torches"

The final track on Lamb of God's new 'Sturm Und Drang' tells the story of Jan Palach, a Czech student who, in 1969, self-immolated in Prague’s Wenceslas Square to protest the occupation of Soviet forces. He died a few days later, and became a national symbol of dissidence in Czechoslovakia until the end of communist rule. LOG singer Randy Blythe was inspired to write the song after visiting Palach's grave.

9. Ex Deo, "Legio XIII"

Canadian symphonic death metal act Ex Deo is an ancient Rome-obsessed side project of Kataklysm frontman Maurizio Iacono, who has taken to wearing a quasi-suit of armor when performing with the band. This track, from their 2009 debut, 'Romulus,' is about the deadly 13th Legion, which helped bring Caesar to power.

10. Slayer, "Unit 731"

This song, from 2009's 'World Painted Blood,' tells of a vicious Japanese military unit that experimented on humans during World War II. It's a sort of companion piece to the horrors described in the band's infamous "Angel of Death."

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.