What is the essence of heavy metal? What is it about this music that makes all of the fans around the world defend its honor with such religious zeal? I am sure there are many reasons that are particular to every individual, based on their circumstances and experiences, but I believe there are some traits and themes which translate into any language and connect all heavy metal fans on a base level. True heavy metal does not concern itself with the fashions and trends of the world at large. Nay, these are the things which represent conformity and the death of self. Heavy metal does not worry about “fitting in.” Heavy metal walks to its own beat and does not understand why anyone would choose to do otherwise. Individuality. Freedom. Justice. These are the words tattooed on heavy metal’s bulging bicep.
Everyone at some point in their life can probably relate to feeling different from others, or has experienced being taunted by bullies; we have all felt misunderstood or unfairly pigeonholed. Who has not felt the stinging injustice of having someone else’s will imposed upon them, be it by their parents, a school, a religious doctrine or a government? These are the life experiences which cross all boundaries and borders and apply to all people everywhere. And like a big brother looking out for us, heavy metal is there to step in and say, “hey, fuck that shit.” Heavy metal understands that life is not fair, but it is willing to reach down, lift us up, put us back on our feet and dust us off. Heavy metal looks at us incredulously and says “Are you gonna take that shit? I say we go get those motherfuckers!”
Heavy metal also brings community to those who feel no connection with any other group. A person may feel utterly isolated and alone in the course of their day to day life, but put them in the middle of a crowd at a heavy metal show and they can feel the connection and camaraderie with thousands of other people. We may not know each other, but we are family. We are more than just family; we are legion.
There are many, many heavy metal songs which cater to these emotions (just check out any Manowar album), but there is one song in particular that for many years has epitomized the spirit of heavy metal for me. If you read the title of this article, you may already be salivating in anticipation of my announcing that the song I speak of is “Blood Red Skies” by Judas Priest.
Allow me to switch gears here and delve into a little Priest history. I got on board with Judas Priest around the release of “Defenders of the Faith” in 1984. Tracks like “Freewheel Burning” and “The Sentinel” are raw and powerful classics. For reasons I have never understood, (and honestly never cared enough about to look into) Judas Priest followed up this classic album with the ultra-commercial sounding “Turbo.”
I will be the first to admit that when it came out (and even now) I loved pretty much every song on “Turbo.” That was the point I suppose, to make it so more people would like these songs. From a purist standpoint, this was tragic, but honestly, like I said, the songs were still pretty decent. In doing a little research for this article, I found that originally “Turbo” was intended to be a double album called “Twin Turbos” and was supposed to include the material that eventually became “Ram It Down.” The band wanted to have one disc of commercially viable songs and another of heavier songs. The label nixed this idea and the albums were released separately.
The importance of “Ram It Down” lay mostly in that it marked the beginning of the return of Judas Priest to heavier sounding songs. It was the harbinger of “Painkiller.” Other than the title track, “Ram It Down” was fairly forgettable. With one stark exception – “Blood Red Skies.”
Despite the use of synths and what are likely drum machine beats, “Blood Red Skies” managed to captivate my imagination. First of all, the song was epically long for a Priest song; at nearly eight minutes there was no way this was ever intended for radio airplay. That leads me to believe it was a labor of love rather than a cash grab. The only other option was that it was a throwaway, and who invests that much time and effort in a throwaway?
The dangerous atmosphere and the defiant lyrics are what drove home that my new and all time favorite Judas Priest song would henceforth be “Blood Red Skies.” I doubt they were looking to create a song that would come to epitomize heavy metal, but, in my mind that is just what they did.
“Not begging you
I'm telling you
You won't break me
You won't make me
You won't take me,
Under blood red skies
You won't break me
You won't take me
I'll fight you under
blood red skies”
You know everything that I wrote about at the beginning of this article? There it is, summed up for you much more succinctly in several lines of lyrics. I am not going to beg you to allow me live my life my way; I am going to live how I choose, and you can try to stop me if you do not like it. You are going to try to stop me? Ok, but know that I will not bend or break; you will not change my mind or force me to accept your way.
“As the end is drawing near
Standing proud, I won't give in to fear
As I die a legend will be born
I will stand, I will fight
You'll never take me alive”
I will fight you with every ounce of my being and I will prevail or die trying. Either way, you may take my life, but you cannot break my spirit. Hell yeah! Under blood red skies.
Ok, the lyrics, taken in the context of the entire song, sound like some sort of combination of Terminator meets The Matrix, but the story is merely the vehicle for the sentiment. And the sentiment is “Fuck you. I am my own person, this is my life to live how I want; accept me for who I am or not at all. I do not care what you think. I will survive.”
Whenever I hear “Blood Red Skies” I tend to get goose bumps and, if I am alone in the car, I might even get a little misty-eyed. It has become my go-to song when feeling self-righteous or if I am in need of some extra backbone. In fact, the whole reboot and steady upkeep of this site which commenced in late 2010 came about because of a particularly emotional commute in which I played “Blood Red Skies” on repeat four or five times in a row. I was so inspired by that song to write this particular article that I reinvented the site so that I would have a means for presenting these thoughts. It took a couple years before I would sit down today to write this particular article, but the spirit of that afternoon has been present ever since, and has been a key part of the motivation to keep this site running.
I am sure that every metal fan out there probably has their own song that defines metal for them, like this song does for me. I do not expect everyone to understand where I am coming from, but I think a lot of people will. I would love to hear about other people’s songs and stories.
I offer my humble apologies if I have rambled or wandered too much during the course of this writing. That tends to happen when I speak from the heart and let the words flow out of me how they will. I rarely premeditate these writings beyond the spark of an idea; I just have an idea and run with it to see where it leads. I think that is pretty metal.