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James Hetfield / New Metallica book suggests there is no better lyricist in Metal

Today, William Irwin, philosophy professor, literary critic, and Heavy Metal scholar who teaches at King’s College in Pennsylvania, released The Meaning of Metallica: Ride the Lyrics, the first book to focus on Metallica’s lyrics exclusively.

William Irwin – Meaning of Metallica: Ride the Lyrics (ECW Press)

Release Date: 19 April 2022

Words: Brandon Oberkrieser

“I was a teenager in the middle of an existential crisis, and trying to figure out what life is all about, and Metallica spoke to me right from the very beginning”, William Irwin told Metallicast – THE Metallica Podcast, before adding “for me the lyrics have always just spoken.”

This is one of the many reasons William Irwin became a lifetime fan of Metallica and a big part of what led him to write the new book The Meaning Of Metallica: Ride The Lyrics. There are a lot of books you can read that cover their career and the lives of the band members, but surprisingly only a few that cover the most important part- the music.

Metallica. © Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
James Hetfield. © Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

Even among the most diehard fans, sometimes the lyrics can take a backseat to the iconic riffs, making this book an essential read. Each chapter focuses on themes that appear throughout various Metallica songs. Death, addiction, and religion are among the themes covered, and each helps unite songs from every Metallica album.

This makes for a more interesting and engaging read than a simple chronological or alphabetical arrangement of the catalogue. As William explained to Metallicast, using these themes as a means of arrangement allows “the different songs to speak to each other, and in some ways, a picture of [James] Hetfield himself emerges as you look through the reflection through the lyrics across times and over albums.”

Personally, I have always felt Hetfield to be an underrated lyricist, especially when considering the millions of fans who find his words so meaningful.

Irwin agrees with this sentiment and makes no bones about where he feels James Hetfield sits as a lyricist in the history of not just Heavy Metal but in popular music. “I think he really is at the very top as a composer of rock poetry,” Irwin told Metallicast. “For my money, there is no better lyricist in Metal… and frankly, I think he stands well in comparison to lyricists of any popular genre. I would put him, and I’m not a big [Bob] Dylan fan. Dylan got the Nobel Prize for his lyrics, though… but I don’t think he’s any less deserving, quite frankly. I mean, he’s written the soundtrack to many, many people’s lives.”

For those of us who consider Metallica the soundtrack to our lives, this book is for us. “Not only did I write this book as a fan, but it’s written for fans,” Irwin says. “It’s not written as a book to convince people who hate Metallica that they really should like it.”

If you laugh at the notion that Enter Sandman should be in the same conversation as Like A Rolling Stone, this book is not going to sway you otherwise, nor are you the target audience.

For those of us who are fans, though, and want to take a deep dive analysis into the words, The Meaning Of Metallica: Ride The Lyrics will provide you with well thought out and articulated meanings behind some of their biggest songs as well as some of their deepest cuts.

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