The Review/List/

The Raging Sounds of Heavy Metal

How Devo, Journey and Black Sabbath ended up on the greatest soundtrack of all time

by
May 19, 2016

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Science fiction, fantasy, rotoscope erotica and '80s hair are some of the things you can expect from the animated rock-and-roll journey that is Heavy Metal. It may not be for everyone (as one reviewer put it, "chances are your granny wouldn't like it"), but this epic helped to usher in the modern age of adult animation. Plus, it inspired one of South Park’s most elaborate episodes, “Major Boobage.”

Heavy Metal is known for its mystical mosaic of animation styles. It's an anthology of 10 different stories, culled from the comic magazine of the same name. However, it's the cult-favorite soundtrack that draws you into this stoner classic. Even though, inexplicably, only one of the songs falls under the heavy metal genre. Here's some of the film's greatest hits.

1. "WORKING IN A COAL MINE" BY DEV

This percussive DEVO tune is a cover of the classic track by Allen Toussaint and Lee Dorsey. It first appeared on the band's album New Traditionalists, and was later repackaged into the Heavy Metal soundtrack. Featuring melodic pick-axe sounds, the moaning laments of a man forced to do back-breaking work are paired with the faint sound of angsty maracas. The lyrics, “but when Saturday goes around, I'm too tired for havin' fun,” are something we can all relate to. Toussaint even admitted that they “didn’t know anything about a coal mine”, let alone worked in one.

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2. "VETERAN OF THE PSYCHIC WARS" BY BLUE OYSTER CULT

You know a song comes from a cult classic soundtrack when the A.V. Club writes an entire article about its many merits. "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" first appeared in BOC’s Fire of Unknown Origin. Funnily enough, that album also featured another Heavy Metal-inspired song called “Vengeance” that never made it to the movie because it was too heavy on the spoilers.

“Veteran of the Psychic Wars” has a foggy, doom-filled sound that's perfect for an angsty drive in the middle of the night. Its lyrics could be a reference to the symptoms of PTSD, first experienced by soldiers after the war ("We've been living in the flames/​We've been eating out our brains/​Oh, please don't let theses shakes go on"). For bonus genre credit, it was written by sci-fi novelist Michael Moorcock.

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3. "REACH OUT" BY CHEAP TRICK

The motivational tune stands on its own as an empowering anthem with a repetitive mantra that urges listeners to follow their wildest dreams. In the movie, it serves as the background song to a space procedural drama. The vignette features a witness turning into an almost copyright-infringing version of The Hulk, elaborate trap doors, disembodied rocket hands and radioactive paranoia. It was also specifically penned by Cheap Trick for the soundtrack.

Plus, that synth riff in the intro and outro is clearly due for a comeback. Kanye? 40? Anybody?

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4. "OPEN ARMS" BY JOURNEY

In Heavy Metal, this song plays over a segment that can best be described as an animated film noir Taxi Driver. Today, it's been covered by singers born with strong, melodic voices and a need to move you to tears (like Mariah Carey and Clay Aiken). In true power ballad style, it features sweeping chords, a soft piano melody and Steve Perry’s honeyed voice.

It hurts to think that this song was almost scrapped by the band for being too syrupy. What would modern karaoke bars be without this classic?

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5. "THE MOB RULES" BY BLACK SABBATH

Another song written and recorded exclusively for the film, Black Sabbath's jam is one of few songs that actually falls under the genre of heavy metal. It features an epic electric guitar solo, a vague yet passionate call to a revolution and ominous apocalyptic imagery. Unfortunately, this jam received mixed reviews when it was first released. Clearly, the critics didn't watch the movie to appreciate all this riffage in context.

Overall, it's either a call to anarchy or a seductive ode to Satanism! You decide.

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