Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blogging The Silmarillion: Of Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-earth

In this week’s Blogging the Silmarillion, I’ve decided to take a temporary detour into two tastes that taste great together: Heavy metal and J.R.R. Tolkien. Following is a review of Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-earth, aka. The Silmarillion with electric guitars.

I can’t speak for all readers of The Cimmerian and The Silver Key, but back when I was in high school—circa 1987-91—there was a bright line drawn between fantasy fiction and heavy metal. The former was the province of D&D-playing nerds, and the latter was for bad-asses who hung out in the back parking lots, wore denim and smoked cigarettes. And never the twain shall meet.
This divide was equal parts myth and reality, of course. Some people liked both. For example, I always prided myself on having one foot in each camp, and I was not alone—most of my friends were into metal, and many were also fans of books like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

In addition, you could find a few examples of successful metal-fantasy alliances back then. For example, Iron Maiden attracted both stoners and readers alike with songs like “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Alexander the Great,” and “To Tame a Land” (the latter was a song about Frank Herbert’s novel Dune). Black Sabbath’s album Heaven and Hell (fronted by Ronnie James Dio) had plenty of fantasy imagery in its lyrics, too.

Still, in the main, the two camps were on opposing sides of the battle-line, perennially at odds like the forces of Gondor and Minas Morgul.

After high school I lost touch with the day-to-day happenings in the heavy metal scene. I kept listening to bands like Maiden and Judas Priest, but I stopped paying attention to new trends and upcoming bands. Specifically, I failed to keep up with a new metal force rising like a steel wave out of the heart of Europe, until I woke up one day to find that heavy metal and J.R.R. Tolkien had inexplicably become bedfellows. The unholy offspring of this unlikely coupling was the 1998 album Nightfall in Middle-earth by Blind Guardian.

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


Falze said...

Nicely done. Nightfall was what finally got me to finish The Silmarillion after probably 3 false starts (that beginning is just brutal and goes on long enough that you start to fear the entire book is like that). However I don't believe I've reread the book since then and never assembled so many ties between the two as you did here. Thanks.

Andy said...

I'm not sure if it's still on but I believe Blind Guardian is still working on a similar musical adaptation of Lord of the Rings. Supposedly it's taking awhile because they want it to be their masterwork.

What I like about Blind Guardian is that they aren't just a "flower metal" band - they remember to keep things strong and Hansi's voice has a commanding quality in the same way that Dickinson or Dio's does.

Scott said...


'Nightfall' is one of my favorite BG discs...'Iron Hill" s my favorite track from it. I did get to see BG live a few years back (with Symphony x !), and they were fantastic. Worth noting is that they were writing and recording songs based on Tolkien's works before the movies came out.

Back in the day Manowar did do some fantasy-related material, but I guess you could qualify it as more Nordic/Heroic fantasy-based, and not on any one particular author, though I'm willing to bet Joey Demaio is an REH fan.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I'm glad you made mention of no " Cookie monster voice ".. I cannot say how many promising Viking-metal, Folk-metal and Fantasy-metal albums I've picked up only to find that the Lyrics who make up part of the whole reason to listen to it.. are unintelligible.. I can deal with a bit.. but when its just a constant thing.. blech

Another good post.

David J. West said...

Great stuff Brian, skalds gotta stick together.

Taranaich said...

I think Blind Guardian are one of those bands who really have to be listened to live. I don't know why, but their music sounds even better away from the production booth, and I think Hansi's become a much more powerful singer over time.

In their early works, Guardian's Helloween influences were fastened tightly to their sleeves, before they evolved into their own sound. That said, most of my favourite BG work is their early work up to "Somewhere Far Beyond," where it was closer to speed metal than power metal.

I've never seen them live too, sadly, but I do have the "Imaginations Through The Looking Glass" DVD, which is almost as good. The live version of "The Last Candle" and "Majesty" (both LotR tracks, and two of my favourites) utterly blows their earlier iterations out of the water.

With you talking about Blind Guardian & Tolkien, I'm sorely tempted to do a Manilla Road & Howard post! Might even do it this week.

Andy said...

I was going to say that as REH goes, there are surprisingly few metal bands that have done songs based on his stuff, although that's probably more because of his until-recently diminished literary profile. Manilla Road are one of the few.

Brian Murphy said...

Falze: No problem. I'm obviously in the middle of re-reading The Silmarillion so that certainly helped formulate my ideas for this post.

Andy: That would be awesome... let's hope the rumors are true. BG certainly set the bar pretty high for itself with Nightfall. Falze (the commenter above you) sent me a link to a post by Hansi where he confirms a North American tour starting this fall... I will be there.

Scott: Iron Hill kicks so much ass it's not even funny. You're right about their long adoration of Tolkien: They of course wrote the song The Lord of the Rings before Nightfall in Middle-earth (circa 1990), and both were well before Jackson's films. These guys are no fly-by-night Tolkien fans.

Good call on Manowar. Very much fantasy influenced, I'm just never sure how much of their act is tongue-in-cheek (thinking of Pleasure Slave...). I'm still a big fan, though.

Lagomorph: Hansi Kursch, BG's lead singer, is really good. He's got an accent that takes some getting used to, but you'll like him.

David: Right on, from one skald to another.

Taranich: I'd like to see that piece. The Cimmerian needs more metal!

It's hard to pinpoint my favorite all-time BG song: I vacillate between a handful, but I frequently come back to Mordred's Song. That one just captures everything I love about the Arthurian myths.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, are you trying to make me, an opera girl who doesn't even know what exactly heavy metal is and who had to google Ramstein a few months ago, listen to that stuff?

But damn, it does sound interesting.

Brian Murphy said...

Gabriele: I can't guarantee you'd like Blind Guardian, but they are from your neck of the woods ...

For a sample, try these:

Rowdy Geirsson said...

That would be mind-shattering if BG pull through with a full-blown LOTR album!

Not sure how popular Stephen King is 'round here, but some of the guys from BG and Iced Earth have teamed up a couple times in the past under the name Demons and Wizards. Few years back they released a concept album based on The Dark Tower (so more of Hansi's excellent vocals). Cool horror/fantasy music video with them at any rate (and rockin' metal song):

Gabriele C. said...

Looks like Germany has quite some good bands. There's Ramstein (I keep getting asked about them simply because I'm German, lol), this one, and the Mediaeval Rock or Whatistwas bandn who played in the HBO pilot for Game of Thrones is from Berlin.