Sunday, 8 July 2012

Metal From The Mines Of Moria: LOTR in Music

 A little while ago, I re-read The Lord Of The Rings series, for the first time since I was very young. A few things jumped out at me this time that kind of passed over my head when I was child; Pippin is extremely useless, nearly everyone is gay, and, in the real world, a ton of metal bands are named after obscure characters and places.
For god's sake, turn on safe search before you google "Frodo and Sam gay".
It seems that heavy metal and light mythril go very well together, as opposed to other genres of music, where they're busy singing about the real world and personal problems and such shallow things. When was the last time you heard anyone belting about Gimli's beard on the Top 40? Even after the movies came out and made the stories "mainstream", LOTR (and fantasy in general, really) seems notably absent from anything radio-friendly. And yet, if your guitars are distorted, your drums are blasting, and your singer sounds like a woman, sooner or later it seems like something is going to pop up about the One Ring To Rule Them All. What is it about heavy metal that attracts the kind of people who'd write songs about epic fantasy trilogies?

Spoiler alert: More on this guy later.

 In some ways it seems obvious. Sure, I could go on about nerd stereotypes and how they apply to escapism into both fantasy and heavy metal, but damn it, Jim, I'm a musician, not a psychologist. Maybe I could talk about how heavy metal is just a much more appropriate medium for epic battles, legendary swords, dragons, and other such fantasy cliches. Or maybe I could just list some of my favorite uses of Lord Of The Rings in heavy metal music and let the examples speak for themselves.

Classic Rock

Ramble On by Led Zeppelin on Grooveshark: It's 1969. You're a rebellious teenager, sticking it to the man by putting on the newest Led Zeppelin record. Robert Plant is speaking to you with his lyrics about needing to keep moving, never staying in one place, and ramblin' on. And then, all of a sudden... 
 'Twas 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."
Not only is Robert's rhyming ability seriously put into question, but you have now realized that this man is a nerd! Yes, apparently when he wasn't thinking about how big legged women ain't got no soul, Plant was reading Tolkein. And if that wasn't enough to make him deserve a wedgie according to 1970s teen movies, he was also writing songs about vikings, celtic mythology, and something about a spring clean for the may queen.

"Maybe we can hide the fact that this song makes no sense by making it really easy for annoying people to play in public."
 And if that bout of nerdiness wasn't enough to cast your doubt on the legitimate coolness of your classic heavy metal icons, you're not safe just yet.

The Wizard by Black Sabbath on Grooveshark Before Ozzy was biting the heads off of doves, he was biting the tassels off of bookmarks. Although the song was also allegedly about their drug dealer at the time, it's clear that Black Sabbath's real Wizard is none other than Gandalf himself. If only parents had realized that this entire time, heavy metal music was really encouraging their children to read, and not to commit satanic acts!

I guess it wouldn't have really made a difference...

 Zeppelin and Sabbath are far from the only classic bands to sing about LOTR. But I've still got a few decades left to get to, so maybe I'll bring the rest of this list into slightly more modern times. First, however, there's one more classic rock band left to get to, a band who took their Ring references far past the novels...

The Necromancer by Rush on GroovesharkI'm not going to pretend that Rush aren't blatantly nerdy. After all, it takes a special kind of brain to read Ayn Rand and think "I'm going to turn this into an epic rock opera!". But before 2112, Rush released Caress Of Steel, where Neil Peart wrote The Necromancer, about some of Tolkein's lore that was just barely mentioned in the books. While the third movement of the song deals with Neil's own character, the rest of the song involves the time Sauron spent as a dark power in Mirkwood, while recuperating from the loss of his last battle with Isildur. Yeah, Neil Peart went there. And believe me, as we shall soon see, he's not the only one...

Power Metal

Lord of the Rings by Blind Guardian (Studio) on Grooveshark :I could fill this entire article with Blind Guardian. Not only about the core novels, Blind Guardian have also rocked out to The Hobbit:

And they even wrote a concept album about The Silmarillion, which is, for those who don't know, the extended prequel Tolkein wrote but never published that basically described the building of the Middle-Earth we all know and love:

Yes, if there's one thing Hansi Kursch loves more than multi-tracking his voice, it's J.R.R. Tolkein. But more so than any other genre, power metal is very fitting for songs about Lord Of The Rings, which probably explains why so many power metal bands have written about it.

"You mean to tell me that these people are nerds?"

Band Names

 The phrase that I probably said (or thought) the most while reading Lord Of The Rings this time around was "So that's where that band name is from!" Here's a few of my favorite band names that I discovered, and where in the novels they're from.

 Cirith Ungol and Gorgoroth are both locations in Mordor. Cirith Ungol is the name of the passage where Frodo and Sam encounter Shelob, and Gorgoroth is the plateau that Mt. Doom is located in. 

The Fate of Norns by Amon Amarth on Grooveshark: Amon Amarth is the Elvish name for Mt. Doom. You know you've done your research well when you're naming your band in a fictional language. (Unfortunately, I don't know of any bands named in Klingon, but please, tell me if you do.) And speaking of Tolkein's made up languages...


Det som en gang var by Burzum on Grooveshark: "Infamous" has got to be the internet's favorite word to throw around when describing Varg Vikernes, also known as Count Grishnackh, the mastermind behind Burzum as well as the mastermind behind a multitude of Norwegian church burnings and one murder. So instead I'll use a different word: Geeky. Varg has taken not one, but two names from Lord Of The Rings, and both of them are so obscure they make Gorgoroth look like high school jocks. First of is his original stage name, Grishnackh. Grishnackh was the name of an extremely minor character in The Two Towers; he's one of the orcs in charge of Taking The Hobbits To Isengard.

Everyone has seen it. Multiple times. Let's not be that guy.

 And even more impressive is where the name Burzum comes from. No, it's not a location anywhere in middle earth. No, it's not the name of a character. It's a specific word in the Black Speech of Mordor, one of the words in the inscription on The One Ring. And there you have it. We have reached the point from which there can be nothing nerdier, right? What could be geekier than naming your musical project after a word in Tolkein's made-up language? Well, I've made it obvious that I'm about to link to something much nerdier, so here's the band Summoning.

                                               Mirdautas Vras by Summoning on Grooveshark

 A symphonic black metal band hailing from Austria, Summoning almost exclusively writes about Lord Of The Rings. The specific song I just linked to is written entirely in the Black Speech of Mordor. So one of the two fine gentlemen that make up Summoning took the time to learn a fictional language, and then become proficient enough in it to write a whole song. That might be the nerdiest thing possible. And you know what? It is extremely AWESOME.

 So there we have it. My favorite Lord Of The Rings references in heavy metal. Oh, I'm sure I missed a ton. There's a lot of them. But this is, I believe, enough of a cross-section to show that if you like the sound of dissonant, angry guitars, you probably also like to read.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! It's also worth noting that 1980s British prog legends Marillion take their name from The Silmarillion.