Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cimmerian sighting: Heavy metal and fantasy

Like a wizard and his staff, or a dragon and its gleaming horde, heavy metal/hard rock music and fantasy literature are an inseparable pair. I haven’t seen any statistics published on the subject, but fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard just seem more inclined to listen to heavy metal than any other genre of music.

For a small sample of this trend, you need look no further than The Cimmerian’s About the Bloggers page: While I can’t speak for Leo, Steve, or Al, Deuce and I wear our metal credentials on our sleeves like Sauron’s orcs bear the Lidless Eye (for the record, Deuce is more metal than me). I don’t think it’s an aberration that at least 40% of this site’s bloggers are metal fans; there’s something to this phenomenon, even if I don’t quite understand the connection.

You don’t have to look far or dig deep to see the connections between metal and fantasy. Led Zeppelin might be the most popular fantasy-influenced hard rock band, with songs based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (Ramble On, Misty Mountain Hop) and Viking invaders (Immigrant Song). Progressive rock band Rush also shows Tolkien influences on its early albums, including Rivendell and The Necromancer. Molly Hatchet’s album covers featured work by the immortal Frank Frazetta, he of Conan the Cimmerian Lancer fame.

And that’s just hard rock. Full-blown heavy metal artists take the fantasy influence and turn it up to 11.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian Web site.


Anonymous said...

I've had a draft post on my blog for almost a year now, trying to write something similar to this... but I'm looking more into the 'why'. Why exactly are a lot of fantasy/sci-fi nuts attracted to metal (or vice versa, a metalhead getting into fantasy because of the songs).

Ian Christie talks about it briefly in Sound of the Beast, but I've always wanted to write the in-depth analysis on this phenomenon (and believe it or not, it doesn't just affect beard wearing males... there are GIRLS who like this crap too! Amazing, I know...). Maybe one day I'll get off my lazy ass and finish it.

Also - I know they get a bad rap from certain corners of metal fandom, but The Sword have some Howard-influenced tunes. They are fellow Texans, after all.

David J. West said...

Read the full blog at the Cimmerian and couldn't agree more. I have heard the name China Mievelle bandied about quite a bit lately and after reading that interview, don't know that I ever want to pick up one of his/hers (I don't even know which it is) books.

Love the Metal, can't say that I ever really got into Manowar, but still.
I started listening to Zeppelin when I was a kid because of the Tolkien refrences. Another you didn't mention would include "Battle of Evermore" (Ringwraiths ride in black)

Another favorite of mine is the finnish symphonic-metal band Nightwish, a song called 'Elvenpath' samples from the old Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings intro narration. Not their best song by any means but I stll got a kick out of it, cuz I loved that movie when I was a kid.

R. Lawrence Blake said...

The first couple of Blackmore's Rainbow albums (with Dio on vocals) are heavily fantasy-influenced.

JimLotFP said...

For an article for The Cimmerian, one should mention Gates of Slumber (who have releases called Suffer No Guilt, Ice Worm's Lair, and their latest album Conqueror is all about RE Howard stuff), Reverend Bizarre (By This Axe I Rule!), Solstice (Cimmerian Codex, etc), etc...

Brian Murphy said...

Arcona: You should definitely try to get that written. I'd love to see it. I do own and have read Sound of the Beast, but had forgotten that it references this topic.

David: The only Mieville I've read is Perdido Street Station. I picked it up after seeing the gushing praise it was getting on some of the forums I visit. I thought it was pretty good, and a wonderful work of imagination, but I wouldn't rate it as a great book by any stretch. And I don't agree with Mieville's statement that "The problem with escapism is that when you read or write a book society is in the chair with you." Maybe that's true for Mieville, and to all readers to some degree, but I like to think I can read fiction with a relatively neutral, detached eye. If Mieville brings a socialist view to everything he reads, that's his own perogative. I don't see how he can make a blanket statement like that regarding all readers.

Lawrence: Agreed. I wasn't trying to make a comprehesive list here.

Jim: The Cimmerian article contains far more bands than what I've listed here. The author actually interviewed some of the bands for his piece and included their comments about Robert E. Howard. He has a quote from Karl Simon of Gates of Slumber in the article. I don't think he references the other two.

Andy said...

I think the intersection has a lot to do with the fact that the core of the heavy metal "philosophy" is rugged individualism. If there's a single recurring subtext across all metal bands, it's that it's a big scary world out there but if you stay true to yourself and maintain that inner strength you can survive it and maybe even win out in the end. This is also a major appeal of fantasy fiction, I think, especially Howardian sword-and-sorcery.

I love Blind Guardian's stuff. Manowar's done some good songs but I have to admit their "Death to false metal!" and "Real men play on 10!" routine is a bit too over the top for my tastes :) Manilla Road's a great band. Slough Feg has done some great sci-fi/fantasy influenced songs, and their related band, Hammers of Misfortune, did a very good rock opera called The Bastard that's inspired by Norse mythology. I very much recommend The Bastard to fans of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword (the whole album is available for free at

Anonymous said...

I guess this is why, in the late 80's-early 90's I had very long hair, played bass in a thrash band, read the big three of weird fantasy voraciously and played rpgs like a maniac: they all blend together.

However, I always found ManOWar a bit cheesy.

davidf said...

Another solid essay, Brian! I'd like to add another Zeppelin song: Ramble On, wherein Plant sings, "Gollum, the evil one, ran away with her" or something like that.

Brian Murphy said...

Andy: Great observation about rugged individualism. Definitely one of the qualities that attracted me to metal as a youth. And thanks for tipping me off to Hammers of Misfortune: I'm a huge fan of Poul Anderson and The Broken Sword and will have to check it out.

ancientvaults: I never had long hair, though many of my friends did (I was playing sports and unable to grow it out, even had I wanted to). I find Manowar a bit cheesy too, but they're a guilty pleasure.

davidf: Thanks for the kind words. I did mention Ramble On in my essay, which you may have missed. The whole bit is:

"T'was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. But Gollum, and the evil one, crept up and slipped away with her."I used to work with a guy who was a self-professed Led Zeppelin fan and used to poke fun at me for my love of Tolkien. When I pointed out the lyrics of this song he basically shrugged and walked away.

davidf said...

So you did, so you did. Heh. My observational powers are at their lowest on Fridays! Thanks for the rest of the lyric -- even better with the Mordor reference. Nice.

That's pretty funny about the Zeppelin fan blowing off your Tolkien comment. You could've probably picked any lyric and told him it was a shout out to any number of books and you would've gotten the same response -- dude probably wasn't much of a reader. While I sense/agree there's a high percentage of metal/rock fans who read SF/F, there's also a large percentage who, shall we say, fit in a somewhat less cerebral category. But of course the latter holds true for almost anything . . .

Al Harron said...

You can count me among the appreciators of metal, Brian! My tastes echo your own, traditional heavy metal in the vein of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest et al, though I appreciate strong power metal of the Blind Guardian and Manilla Road ilk.

By the way, to which "Mordred's Song" are you referring? I have an inkling it's the Blind Guardian version, but Grave Digger wrote one that trades the torture, misery and desire for acceptance with unceasing rage, hatred and lust for power and vengeance. Very different stylistic interpretations of a character, yet still somehow familiar, kind of like how I imagine Tolkien and Howard would interpret Arthurian legend.

Scott said...


Nice article! And I want to thank you for mentioning my article for The Cimmerian, and I'm glad you liked it.

Great blog, keep up the good work!

-Scott Hall

Brian Murphy said...

davidf: The guy was a reader, but not of fantasy (he thumbed his nose at it, more or less). I'm sure he was aghast that one of his favorite bands actually read J.R.R. Tolkien.

Al: Thanks for dropping by! It looks like the percentage of Cimmerian bloggers who like metal is up to at least 60% (Leo also likes some metal, as it turns out, so that number may climb).

I was referring to the Blind Guardian version of Mordred's Song--I've never actually heard Grave Digger's. It sounds pretty awesome, though.

Scott: Great to have you drop by, also. And again, nice job on the essay.

Scott said...


Are you going to make it to Howard Days this year?

davidf said...

Ah yes -- a literary snob. Well, so much for my genius theory! Later.

Brian Murphy said...

Scott, alas, I am not. I have never made it to Howard Days but I hope to some year.

Scott said...


Hopefully one day we can hang out under the Howard House pavillion and talk REH and Metal in person.