The very concept of heavy metal is built on varying degrees of depravity. Whether it’s the anti-social tendencies of thrash, the occult evil of black metal, or the good old-fashioned, mailbox-smashing spirit of classic metal, this is a genre that raises a proud middle finger to the longstanding ideas of simply smiling and playing along with society.
There’s a key distinction, however, between metal’s storied bad attitude and how it plays out in real life. When you’ve got a community as strong as heavy metal, it’s both important and impactful to do some good in this world. Sticking it to the man with a killer guitar solo and spike-studded gauntlet doesn’t mean forgoing opportunities to help others — in fact, the very idea of reaching a hand out to those in need is pretty metal. In light of this, we wanted to spotlight some metal do-gooders. Here are eight examples of heavy-metal musicians who have put in the hard work to make the world a better place — without sacrificing their gory lyrics, shock value, or partying, anti-conforming ways.
The Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund Crusades for Early Detection
Ronnie James Dio’s legacy lives on in a very big way other than his distinctive voice. A tragic takeaway from the singer’s 2010 death from stomach cancer is that it could have possibly been treated if it had been caught early enough. That’s why his wife, Wendy Dio, co-founded (along with Sandeep Kapoor, M.D.) the Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund and champions for early detection through its work. The fund has raised over $2.5 million so far, giving the money to efforts in advancing cancer screening methods. Wendy Dio explains that much of the research Stand Up and Shout benefits is on stomach, pancreatic and colon cancer, known for being common in men, because it’s often difficult to get men to visit the doctor to get checked out.
“Early detection saves lives,” Wendy stresses. Two of the organization’s best known events are the annual Ride for Ronnie, a motorcycle ride and concert, and the Bowl for Ronnie celebrity bowling tournament. These events, among others hosted by Stand Up and Shout, bring together Dio’s former bandmates, his friends and his admirers, like Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler, Gilby Clarke of Guns N’ Roses, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Otep’s Otep Shamaya. “They all loved Ronnie,” Wendy says of the star-studded turnouts at the organization’s happenings. “He wasn’t just a wonderful talent, he was a wonderful person.” Next year is the tenth anniversary of Ronnie’s death, so Wendy says Stand Up and Shout will be planning something special. For this year, tickets are available for the fifth annual Ride for Ronnie on May 5th, starting in Glendale, California and riding to a performance by Eddie Trunk’s All Star Band.
The Heavy Metal Truants Ride for Children and Teens
They may have more behind-the-scenes roles in metal, but Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood and former Metal Hammer editor-in-chief Alexander Milas are center stage for The Heavy Metal Truants. The duo joined forces in 2012 for an arduous bicycle ride through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to raise money for charity. Cut to 2019, and the Truants have completed their sixth ride this past summer. The annual ride’s route now takes place in England, ending at the Download Festival. The journey is three days long and can be quite grueling, but it draws out metalheads from fans to musicians like Paradise Lost’s Aaron Aedy who want to show the good that headbangers can do when they work together.
Proceeds from the rides along with other events like a yearly memorabilia auction have totaled £580,500 (about $756,606) so far, and benefit three charities: Nordoff Robbins, which helps children as well as adults with music therapy; the Teenage Cancer Trust, providing support and care for teens with cancer and their families; and Childline, a resource for kids to use as a safe space to talk about any issues they might be facing.
Slash Helps Bob Irwin Set Up a Wildlife Conservation Foundation
Saul Hudson, a.k.a. Slash, the famed top hot-donning guitarist of Guns N’ Roses, loves snakes and reptiles — this is well documented, and perhaps most charmingly captured by this photo of the guitarist and Betty White with some serpentine pals. The two are members of the board for the Los Angeles Zoo, where’s Slash’s contributions have included headlining fundraisers. In 2012, he expanded his animal advocacy portfolio by helping Bob Irwin establish the Bob Irwin Wildlife & Conservation Foundation. The Guns N’ Roses member met Irwin, father of the late Australian conservationist and TV personality Steve Irwin, at the Soundwave music festival in 2010. Slash was inspired by Bob Irwin’s conservation efforts and had been a fan of the younger Irwin, so he remained in touch and signed on to help set up the foundation. The organization assisted with wildlife protection efforts around Australia and taught children about conservation until Irwin’s retirement in 2018.
Alice Cooper Provides a Safe Place & Inspiration for Teens
Alice Cooper has a reputation for being one of the nicest guys in rock: contrary to his status as one of the founding fathers of hard rock’s evil side with his horror movie-style stage antics, the singer is known for being a devout Christian and golf fan. In 1995, concerned about the lack of creative channels and safe environments for kids between 12 and 20 years old, Cooper and his wife, Sheryl, founded Solid Rock. This teen center in Phoenix (where Cooper lives) provides training and coaching in many different aspects of the arts, from playing in a band to dancing to editing music videos. The goal is to give kids direction, community and a productive way to use their time. To raise money for the center, Solid Rock throws a variety of anticipated events every year. There’s the Annual Rock & Roll Fundraising Bash, which is coming up April 27th and will this year feature members of Alice Cooper’s band as well as KISS, Cheap Trick and The Doors; the Rock & Roll Golf Classic; and Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding, where Cooper has performed with his all-star cover band The Hollywood Vampires as well as welcoming musicians like Slash, Ace Frehley, Rob Halford, David Ellefson, Nita Strauss and Edgar Winter.
Serj Tankian, Devin Townsend, Ihsahn and Ray Holroyd Honor Nelson Mandela
South Africa-born musician, producer, writer and music teacher Ray Holroyd, perhaps best known for his guitar and writing work in 12 Ton Method, has woven charity throughout his career. He founded Revolution Harmony with his wife, Kate Haddow, in order to make music theory accessible so more people can create and record music, as well as to release music from well-known artists to raise money for different causes. In 2013, Holroyd collaborated with Serj Tankian of System Of A Down (who, himself, has devoted his career to bringing awareness to the Armenian Genocide), Devin Townsend, and Emperor’s Ihsahn on We Are, a track dedicated to Nelson Mandela. Not only did the song set out to spread an inspiring message and pay homage to the revolutionary Mandela, but it also raised money for a cause close to home for Holroyd.
“Growing up in apartheid South Africa left me feeling so guilty, because while I was enjoying a music education, other kids were living in shacks and getting no education,” Holroyd says. “It became my mission to make music education accessible to everyone, which is why I made We Are, and why I now teach music lessons on YouTube. All proceeds from We Are go to Buskaid, a life-changing charity that provides music lessons to South African townships. Back in 2009, after mentioning my crazy ‘charity single’ idea to Steven Wilson, who was my neighbour at the time, he very kindly offered to sing on it. I then approached Ihsahn and Devin, and finally built up the courage to ask Serj. Steven ended up on tour at the time of recording, but he’s on my second charity single, Hello.”
Slipknot Speaks Out Against North Carolina’s HB2 “Bathroom Bill”
Slipknot made headlines when the band released a statement against North Carolina’s HB2 bill the day before playing a show in Charlotte in August of 2016. The bill overturned protections against discrimination for the LGBTQ community, and it prohibited transgender people from using public restrooms according to their gender identity. The band wrote on their Facebook page:
“[HB2] halts the rights of LGBTQ people…We believe that regardless of who you are, or what you believe in this country — and in our own metal community — that everyone should be given access to equal opportunities they need to succeed. This law flies in the face of those values.
We believe that regardless of who you are, or who you love, you shouldn’t have to face hatred at home or in your community…We don’t care where you pee — just please flush. It’s pretty simple, really.”
Some argued that Slipknot should have canceled their show, but the band stated that their North Carolina fans “deserve better.” Instead, Slipknot partnered with LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC to help motivate people to register to vote and to fight this bill, which was partially repealed in May of 2017.
Bands Unite to Fight Fascism and Raise Money for a Good Cause
In April of 2018, Blackened Death Records released 32 anti-racist, anti-fascist songs by some of metal’s most extreme bands on a compilation called Worldwide Organization of Metalheads Against Nazis, or W.O.M.A.N. Part of the label’s announcement read:
“Heavy metal is a form of music that embraces freedom and community. Music for down and outs, music for the disenfranchised. Metal is for all of us. We are men, we are women, we are trans, we are non-binary. We are Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists. We include members from all around the world. We are gay, we are straight, we are pansexual. We are free and we fight for freedom.”
Blackened Death followed up with W.O.M.A.N. II in October of the same year. This 44 track-strong album included songs like Nazi Smasher by Ghoul.
“We were simply relating [a] story of what happened when a bunch of lonely dorks with diseased minds, bad upbringings and $500 worth of Home Depot tiki torches marched over the resting place of a high-octane WW2 relic designed to sniff out and smash Nazis,” Ghoul guitarist Digestor explained of the song’s allegory. “There’s only room in Creepsylvania for one group of syphilis-brained morons who terrorize the public, and that group is US, so we were more than happy to see those be-khakied fascist LARPers ground into the muck where they belong. A word to the wise from four fuckheads who know from personal experience: you all end up rotting in a box underground, so you shouldn’t waste the short time you have on Earth being a stupid asshole if you don’t have to.”
In addition to W.O.M.A.N. II’s strong statement, all day-one sales were donated to Doctors Without Borders.
Randy Blythe Leads a Spirited March Against the Westboro Baptist Church
When the Westboro Baptist Church announced plans to protest Virginia House of Delegates representative Danica Roem at the state capitol, Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe decided to drown out their vile hatred with his own wild march. Roem is the first openly transgender person to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly, as well as a heavy metal musician and fan and personal friend of Blythe’s. The day before Westboro’s rally, on March 10th, Blythe put out the call for fans to meet him on the morning of the 11th in their craziest costumes, even offering $200 for the best ensemble, rallying his followers to stand up to the church not by engaging but by stealing their thunder.
The vocalist also packed 200 kazoos, and the crowd proceeded to throw a raucous “anti-party.” Blythe’s crowd was at least double the size of the Westboro group, and sent a (very) loud message that the heavy metal community isn’t going to stand for bigotry of any kind.
Here’s a definitive list of the 50 best first tracks in heavy metal history…
We hate to admit it, but this Deftones/Britney combination has its cool moments.