As with most musical stylings that operate outside the confines of the establishment, heavy metal has a maligned reputation as nothing more than a transgressive art form. One that thrives on an abrasive sound that, to the uninitiated, might seem like nothing more than nails running down a chalkboard with utter contempt. The truth of the matter is this, as an art form, it’s completely subjective and one that’s multifaceted in its expression and subject matter. From the moment Blue Cheer released their cover of “Summertime Blues” in 1968, the seeds were planted. And, for those who love heeding the call of the road and consider themselves devotees of horsepower, there’s a common bond. The roar of volume and rush of adrenaline is as familiar to someone who loves a Ford Mustang as it is to someone who worships In the Sign of Evil by Sodom. Today, we look at some essential anthems that bring these two worlds together.
Armour – Highway Survivor
Playing this song for the first time to someone relatively unfamiliar with black metal might cause quite a surprise. Werewolf, the mastermind behind Satanic Warmaster, has never been one to have a laugh at his own expense. So, when he penned this anthem of being an outsider and singing the praises of the open road, it was a departure from the sounds that emanated from albums such as Carelian Satanist Madness. “Highway Survivor” is a modern anthem for fans of classic heavy metal. “Riding on the highway, out in the night. Eye of the tiger, my flashing headlight. Metal horses galloping on the pitch-black road, rider clad in chains, under heavy load” extoll the praises of being an individual who isn’t held down to the restraints of societal expectations. The chorus, which sings, “I’m the heavy metal highway star,” is a clever nod to another anthem of the road that we’ll be touching upon a little bit later.
Saxon – Wheels of Steel
We go from an homage to the days of classic metal to genuine classic metal. Anyone who possesses knowledge regarding the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) will certainly be familiar with Saxon. Songs like “Princess of the Night” and “Denim & Leather” are anthems that champion the outsider and make us all want to take to the road with a lust for freedom. Wheels of Steel pulls no punches in its celebration of the road. “I’ve got a 68’ Chevy with pipes on the side. You know she’s met the idea of beauty, that’s what I drive” is about as straight to the point as one can get. And while the Pontiac Trans Am is the stereotypical metalhead car, Biff Byford’s lyrical passage of “a Trans Am didn’t, I blew it away” certainly echoes the superiority of the bow-tie brand, at least in the narrator’s mind.
Sarcofago – Screeches From the Silence
Sarcofago was a band known for its unique take on the English language. One of the many extreme metal pioneers to emerge from Belle Horizonte, Brazil, alongside Holocausto and Sepultura, their 1987 album, INRI, is considered one of the most influential black metal releases of all time. Guitarist and singer Wagner Lamounier, now a college professor of political science, was known for his blistering guitar riffs and unique translation of English. With one of his most notable contributions being “if you are false, do not enter” and “the more stupids believed on you.”
“Screeches from the Silence” merges the detonation of thrash with the blistering roar of engines. From the opening lyrical passage that declares “speed is a way of life” to the narrator of the song referring to the rush of adrenaline as something inside of him “awakening him to new life,” the lyrical content was heavily accentuated by the music video, which reflected a ferocious lifestyle often associated with traveling at full-throttle.
Deep Purple – Highway Star
If you think the most notable contribution to come from Deep Purple was simply “Smoke on the Water,” then you should keep reading. From the iconic riffs of Ritchie Blackmore to the thick, murky bass of Roger Glover and the vocal stylings of Ian Gillan, Deep Purple helped metal evolve in new directions. Their 1972 release, Machine Head (not to be confused with the band of the same name), was a certified game changer, and “Highway Star” is one of the ultimate anthems celebrating the road. The opening lyric of “Nobody gonna take my car, I’m going to race it to the ground. Nobody gonna beat my car, I’m going to break the speed of sound” makes the intentions of the song known with absolutely no pretense.
Freewheel Burning – Judas Priest
It would be impossible to make any list that even slightly relates to the world of heavy metal and not mention Judas Priest in some capacity. Not only have they been the standard-bearers for the genre for several decades, but they can also be credited with creating the greatest metal album of all time, Sad Wings of Destiny. (You can disagree with me on this, but you would also be wrong.) However, it’s their 1984 album, Defenders of the Faith, which features one of the best driving anthems of all time, “Freewheel Burning.” Combining the high-octane world of heavy metal and horsepower together, “Freewheel Burning” is a rapid-fire assault on the senses. “Fast and furious, we ride the universe” and “Born to lead at breakneck speed, with high octane we’re spitting flames” creates a visual image that blends with the music of the song and makes one want to quite literally put the “pedal to the metal.”
Megadeth – 502
As we conclude our list of anthems, it’s almost too fitting to end on a song that praises the life of someone who lives their life outside the law. Appearing on their 1988 release So Far…So Good…So What!, “502” (not to be confused with the Marduk song of the same name) is an anthem of living in the fast lane at full throttle. The narrator of the song speaks candidly of traveling at high speeds and evading law enforcement with reckless abandon “Full tank, pockets lined with cash. Full throttle…Drive all day and through the night, Romance the road, winding left to right” and “breaking laws ‘cause there’s nothing to do” romanticizes those who exist outside the rules.
Turn Up the Volume and Go Full Throttle
No matter your selection, music and the open road are a combination that goes perfectly with one another. If you need further proof of this situation, just look at all of the anthems that spread across multiple genres. From country to hip-hop and even rockabilly, you’ll find no shortage of songs that deal with the pursuit of horsepower and the freedom that one finds on the open road. As a matter of fact, the songs that reflect your mood when you’re behind the wheel might not precisely be about driving. One of the aspects that makes music such an incredible force is how multifaceted it is and how it manages to impact our emotions on a wide variety of levels. Whether you need to maintain your focus, unwind from a stressful day, or get yourself mentally prepared for the day ahead, having the right anthem playing in your vehicle makes all the difference in the world.