Working-class issues move to the forefront in Extreme music
Terminal Nation via Bandcamp

Since the Renaissance, art has reflected the politics and social movements of its time. Blues, jazz, folk, western, and hip hop have been vehicles of political and social expression of our diverse American culture.

The boomer generation brought rock n’ roll to dominant popularity in the 1950s and ’60s. Political messages were the backbone of 1960s folk, and the mid-’70s brought the raw energy of punk, an extension of rock n’ roll. Punk has, in its many forms, become a popular musical vehicle of political expression. But due to its counter-culture nature, it is not widely played on commercial radio and has moved to the thriving underground scene.

Recently, a nuanced change has occurred in the underground musical genres of punk, metal, and their hybrid product: hardcore. Punk has always been political and reflects a response to frustrations with the social status quo. Its messages have been about questioning authority and raising awareness of society’s ills.

Beginning in the late 1980s, hardcore music refined topics like homophobia, racism, animal rights, and unity into more mature messages. Over its 50 years of existence, metal themes have been overwhelmingly anti-establishment in a way that has unfortunately been a draw for individualistic sensibilities such as excess, fame, and living without consequence or accountability.

Past messages of objection and/or inclusion have recently galvanized into tangible calls to action like getting out to the protest, joining a union, publicizing the whereabouts of ICE, resisting colonialism from behind, and defining and defeating fascism. To elaborate on these changes, People’s World spoke with a few of the current standard-bearers of working-class consciousness in extreme music.

Stan Liszewski, the vocalist in Terminal Nation (Little Rock, Ark.), says the band has been political since the start, but they have “cranked things up a few notches in recent years.” Terminal Nation’s message has included the healthcare crisis and a critique of capitalism. However, recently they’ve released scathing material on gun culture and immigration. Their single “ICE Watch” struck a nerve with an increasingly multi-cultural hardcore scene.

“The bad guys have dropped all the subtlety,” says Liszewski, “so why should punk/hardcore be different?

“There have been some who are annoyed by the message or even some who are outright opposed to it, but that’s expected. If those people didn’t exist, I wouldn’t need to be speaking on these issues,” he said.

Based in Arkansas, a state that has long suffered from right-wing government domination and a legacy of Jim Crow racism, Terminal Nation is light years ahead on understanding how to survive in hostile territory. The guillotines they bring on stage acknowledge the necessity for major systemic change.

Xibalba via Bandcamp

Brian Ortiz, a guitarist in Xibalba (Los Angeles), notes that the band members have always been proud of their Xicano culture, rooted in indigenous peoples and their struggle against oppression. Anti-colonialism has been part of their message since the beginning. In the band’s ten-year existence, Ortiz notes a noticeable growth of Hispanic pride in underground metal and hardcore scenes.

“Our LP ‘Tierra y Libertad,’ explained Ortiz, “was influenced by the anti-immigrant demonstrations we saw in Murrieta [Calif.] in 2014. This is our land. We have always been here, and it will always belong to us, no matter what.”

A common theme in the artwork employed by Xibalba to help convey their message includes the figurative struggle to reach Aztec pyramids, acutely symbolizing a sentiment shared among Xicanos in parts of America that were once Mexico.

Madeline, one of the two vocalists for Redbait (St. Louis), says that writing personal lyrics is difficult. Instead, she prefers to write from her experiences in collective action. Her band puts a political message in the forefront, before even the music.

The cover of Redbait’s album “Red Tapes”

“The lyrics go beyond the current state of affairs in the USA,” says Madeline. “They are written with the entire legacy of the country in mind. Historical context is required to better understand power structures.”

Even outside of the musical content, Redbait uses slogans like “Working Class Liberation” and “All Power to the Workers.” When pressed on how these messages were received, Madeline responded: “It’s well-received because it’s a widely shared experience. Most people go about their lives knowing they won’t own homes, won’t retire, won’t get out from under debt, won’t have representation in the workplace, and be doomed to work in the service industry. Class consciousness is growing in the United States, especially since the 2008 crash, and more are doubting the capitalist system. Part of what I would like to accomplish is to keep that conversation going.”


Mani Mostofi, a vocalist for Racetraitor (Chicago), says the entire concept for their band was to present a confrontational, anti-whiteness, anti-colonial, and human liberation message. Racetraitor was founded in 1996, split up in 1999, then reformed in 2017 in response to the growth of fascism and to better contribute to the class struggle.

“We had no doubt that we would find people open to our message,” recalled Mostofi. “What we were saying 20 years ago was novel. Today, it is common.”

Sharing the sentiment with other politically mature bands, Racetraitor shares a hope to galvanize politically conscious punks and metalheads into action, “because everyone should know by now the fight is neither abstract nor avoidable.” As a band, the members of Racetraitor engage in several forms of activism, including a focus on stopping a potential war with Iran.

“The people in the U.S. are too comfortable with the violence we are sending out into the world. It has to stop,” said Mostofi.

FB, the mastermind behind the metal project Adzes (Seattle), placed emphasis on climate change, inequality, and crises created by capitalism from the project’s conception. FB echoes the current perception that metal fans are passionate and yearn for music with a socialist and anti-fascist message.

The cover of Adzes’ album “Climate // Capital.”

“The trajectory of the U.S. over the past two decades has been radicalizing for me,” said FB. “It’s an unbroken stretch of exported imperialist violence, climate inaction, and deregulation and rollback of any sort of social programs that benefit underserved and marginalized communities.”

The above contributors are merely a tiny cross-section of makers of extreme music using their art as a platform to convey mature and directed messaging as a call to action. Arguably, these are not only artists but organizers claiming ground in areas with a history of being devoid of both developed ideas and diversity.

Historically, the voices heard in the musical genres of punk, hardcore, and metal have been dominated by straight, white males. Themes of union organizing, socialism, equity, access to abortion, women’s rights, trans rights, climate justice, and universal health insurance have only existed in these genres of extreme music anecdotally. The welcome reception to these themes from punk fans is a portent of radical change.


Nicholas James
Nicholas James

Nicholas James is a union rep living in St. Louis, Missouri. Political button and sticker maker. Speaks English, Spanish, German, and Croatian.