At first glance, a heavy metal band like Metallica may not be an obvious candidate to be promoting good-for-you, good-for-the-earth causes like reducing pollution and saving the Earth from destruction at the hands of lazy humans. And yet, hidden deep within the rock guitar and tough-guy exterior of the band lies a group of artists who are passionate about how humankind treats the Earth. Like many other musicians, the members of Metallica use their art to talk about what they believe in and to try to influence their fans to care about the projects they support. Some artists use their music to talk about politics, family, or moral issues, and some use it to talk about causes they support. The Metallica song Blackened, released in 1988, is one example of music meant to expose the band's thoughts on how humans could be close to destroying the earth, and to give warning about what might happen if humans don't mend their ways.
The song Blackened, which runs 6 minutes, 41 seconds long, was released in 1988 as the fourth song on the "…And Justice of All" album. It was not the first song written and produced by Metallica which referred to humankind's potential to destroy the Earth through the use of nuclear weapons. In their second album, 1984's "Ride the Lightening," which was filled with songs talking about various aspects of death and dying, the band included a song called Fight Fire With Fire which talked about the possibility of destruction and death to humanity by nuclear war. Blackened, released a few years later, returned to the topic of nuclear war and was meant to warn both average people and governments about the dangers they courted.
In the 1980s and earlier, it was believed that a massive nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union could result in widespread destruction by nuclear bombs. Recent calculations have shown that even a small regional conflict, such as between India and Pakistan, which both have nuclear weapons, could be enough to cause nuclear winter across the world (MacKenzie, 2007, paras 1-10). Nonetheless, nuclear war is not an event that seems on the near horizon as it felt to many people in the 1980s, while the United States was still involved in the decades-long Cold War with the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, both nations actively kept nuclear weapons aimed at the other, even while they made treaties to reduce the great stockpiles of nuclear weapons each nation kept at the ready.
The refrain "Blackened is the end" is repeated throughout the song Blackened. The phrase refers to the way in which parts of the Earth might be destroyed, by the fires of nuclear bombs, which would have the power to destroy the Earth and kill all plants and animals if enough were used. One or two nuclear bombs, used individually such as during World War II, would have the power to blacken and burn a great many things in the vicinity of where the bombs exploded. Blackened goes on to say:
Blackened is the end
Winter it will send
Throwing all your see
Into obscurity (Hetfield et all, 1988, para 1)
In this opening verse, the song states that the world will end through the use of nuclear weapons, with the weapons used in sufficient quantity to throw the planet into the state known as 'nuclear winter.' Nuclear winter is a state of disaster which would result from the use of nuclear weaponry in a two-sided conflict. The explosion of several nuclear bombs would have the potential to throw enough smoke and other particles into the atmosphere to shade the Earth from the sun. Without the sun to give warmth and to grow plants, the Earth would enter a state of winter that would last for an extended period of time, at least several years. The lines, "Throwing all you see / into obscurity" refer to the black soot that nuclear war would release into the atmosphere, dimming the light from the sun and absorbing solar radiation (MacKenzie, para 10).
The fifth verse of the song Blackened warns again how nuclear weapons would block the light of the sun by dirtying the atmosphere as nuclear bombs exploded on the ground:
Blistering of earth
Terminate its worth
Kills what might've been (Hetfield et all, 1988, para 5)
Nuclear bombs impacting on the ground would blister the surface of the Earth, burning everything nearby and throwing smoke and soot into the air. Much as nicotine clogs and blackens the lungs of smokers, the smoke and soot from fires set by nuclear bombs, would rise up into the air and begin the deadly cycle of nuclear winter that would kill plants and animals, including people.
Several verses of the song warn about the results of nuclear winter. During the extended nuclear winter, crops would be unable to grow due to a lack of sunlight, and consequently, animals that rely on plants to eat would die. The famine would spread up the food chain and also result in the deaths of millions of people. As Blackened states in verse 6:
Callous, frigid chill
Nothing left to kill
Never seen before
Breathing nevermore (Hetfield et all, 1988, para 6)
The massive nuclear war envisioned by Metallica would not only darken the skies but turn the world "frigid" and "chill." As the nuclear winter continued on year after year, even the hardiest plants would have a harder and harder time surviving, which would in turn make survival harder for animals and people. Eventually, it might pass that everything had died, thus the line "Nothing left to kill," which refers to the total death of all species on Earth.
As if the destruction of all life on Earth during the nuclear winter isn't bad enough, Blackened states in verse 2 that nothing might ever recover:
Death of Mother Earth
Never a rebirth
Never will it mend (Hetfield et all, 1988, para 2)
Some plants can hibernate for many years, and it could be possible that seeds might spring to life again once nuclear winter ended and the sun returned. But Blackened claims that nuclear war might destroy everything, either through extended nuclear winter or perhaps by spreading deadly amounts of radiation across the earth. Radiation has been shown to damage the DNA of living organisms (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2011, p 9-4), which effects the growth and reproduction of plants and animals alike. The presence of a great deal of post-war radiation could result in "evolution's end," a period at which so much radiation existed that plants and animals couldn't reproduce at all, even if they somehow managed to survive the nuclear winter.
The last several verses of Blackened reiterate the danger of the threat of nuclear war to people and to the Earth, and warn that listeners should not allow themselves to become complacent because they are comfortable.
See our mother
Put to death
See our mother die
Take her breath away
Millions of our years
In minutes disappears
Darkening in vain
All is said and done
Never is the sun [Lines omitted]
Is the outcome of hypocrisy (Hetfield et all, 1988, paras 10-14)
The song doesn't just talk about the laxity of regular citizens, but also warns that politicians and governments are moving the world toward destruction out of selfishness. Politicians who claim to be working for the good of mankind or America while actually serving their own interests, the song suggests, could be leading the way toward nuclear war with their hypocrisy. Thus the "outcome of hypocrisy" could be a war in which nuclear weapons are used, and in which the world is destroyed -- or, as the lyrics put it, an event…