Literary inspirations of metal


Fenriz (Darkthrone, Storm) unleashed his band Fenriz’ Red Planet a half-decade ago and on its first release included a song named “John Carter, Man On Mars.” This should immediately send all of you running to your search engines, where you will find that John Carter was the protagonist-hero of a number of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of which are available online.

That in turn leads to the larger question of which metal bands have shown their literary influences. If a list were made, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien would lead the list from the 1970s onward, but perhaps the influences are subtler. Jim Morrison acknowledged Louis-Ferdinand Céline and William Blake, and this carried forward into metal through thematic elements, some of which have been picked up on by metal bands since. Many of these influences may be subtler than explicit reference, such as whatever gore-drenched literature inspired Carcass and any of the occult fringes of underground metal.

One wonders what lurks in lyrics and song ideas from the vast library of black metal, death metal and grindcore. Science fiction seems to make an appearance with the more technical bands, where the more primitive and violent prefer popular but challenging literature such as Lovecraft. It has yet to be seen whether metal bands can adapt ideas from Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy. But perhaps some are working on it. If you can think of any literary references in metal, drop them in the comments.

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25 thoughts on “Literary inspirations of metal”

  1. Disremember says:

    Edgar Allan Poe- murders in the rue morgue, Frank Herbert’s Dune– even thought it’s not literature it’s a Good Sci-Fi literature
    But I think the biggest influence is the old Jewish Folk/tribal tales plus

  2. OliveFox says:

    I think Slough Feg did a concept album based around Bester’s, “The Star’s My Destination” that was a lot of fun.

    “For Whom the Bell Tolls” of course, and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Obviously there is a lot of random power metal that references Beowulf, Tolkien and Conan (Blind Guardian, ManOwar). And Doom/stoner metal cannot get enough of Moby Dick.

    For Death Metal nothing springs to mind other than Lovecraft, really. But there must be some songs that reference Dante or Milton, right? Or at very least Shakespeare. Death Metal could do worse than delve into the epics (Iliad, Gilgamesh, Aeneid), or take on some of the well known, but less read masters like Borges or Faulkner.

    1. Squarekiller23 says:

      Which SLough Feg album are you talking about?

      1. PPK says:

        He’s probably thinking of the song Tiger Tiger from Hardworlder.

  3. Jeanie says:

    “This Living Hand” by John Keats was the inspiration for “The Gift” by Ye Goat-Herd Gods.

  4. Balze says:

    Melville in Ahab’s “The Divinity in Oceans” [2009]

  5. Balze says:

    Melville in Ahab’s “The Call of the Wretched Seas” [2006] Precedent post is a mistake.

  6. Anthony says:

    How in the fuck/why in the fuck would you ever try to adapt Jane Austen in a metal context? Quit trying to impress your (not actually but you’d like them to be) girlfriends, dorks!

  7. OliveFox says:

    “Like and Everflowing Stream…” is from a verse in Amos, if you consider the Bible literature. Though I don’t think many of the songs have anything to do with the book.

    1. Daniel says:

      “I’m forced to murder and slaughter,” – Fred Estby
      “BY THE VISIONS INSIDE MY HEAD!” – Matti Karki.

      1. Anthony says:

        Never knew that Estby did that narration. I always just assumed it was Matti. Thanks for the info.

  8. Kingdom_Gone says:

    Murders in the Rue Morgue?

  9. thomasw_ says:

    Knut Hamsun’s “Growth of the Soil” has touched the Norwegian metal scene. The Icelandic Sagas and the Finnish Kalevala have impacted metal in so many ways. Considering that Tolkien was inspired by the latter, the impact could arguably be very extensive, depending on how direct one wants the inspiration or influence to be.

  10. Anthony says:

    List of authors working in the same sphere as Lovecraft (some were influences, some were contemporaries):

    William Hope Hodgson (Best novel is probably The Ghost Pirates for its portrayal of a world slowly going insane and how that process affects people.)

    Clark Ashton Smith (At his best, his writing is like a Cathedral album cover: colorful, exotic, morbid, and humorous. I’d recommend The Seven Geases as his peak.)

    Robert E. Howard (If you don’t know this guy, get the fuck out of metal. Red Nails, Pigeons from Hell, Beyond the Black River… too many classics to name.)

    Arthur Machen (Another writer that’s very good at portraying a hidden (sublime?) world unperceived by most that gradually twists the socially acceptable “real” world. Of all his stuff, I liked his supernatural detective fiction like The Inmost Light the best.)

    Lord Dunsany (Excellent fantasist that influenced Tolkien and Lovecraft alike. I would say that your best bet is just reading the entire Penguin Classics collection of his. His strength lies in his ability to create and maintain a dream-like atmosphere.)

    I’ve heard Algernon Blackwood is good as well, but I haven’t read his stuff yet. I’ve been stuck in the Lovecraftian weird fiction ghetto since my early high school years, and it’s still my favorite stuff to read.

    Also, H.G. Wells and Jack London at their best are not to be missed.

    1. Thanks for this.

  11. Marcus Johnston says:

    Iron Maiden “Brave New World”

  12. The first half of Helstar – Nosferatu is based on Dracula by Bram Stoker (which I would not recommend reading unless you like dry prose and xtian morality).

    Blind Guardian have had a number of songs based on Stephen King novels, Anthrax as well (none of the artists in this sentence are good except in a “fun distraction” kind of way).
    Let’s face it guys: There’s been more death metal written about shitty old horror/occult movies than literature.

    1. But y’know, death metal being removed from the intellectual sphere gives it a certain directness and honesty that would be impossible to replicate were those brutes replaced with self-conscious navel-gazers.

      1. The best death metal never came from brutes, though. Perhaps just not academically trained.

    2. Anthony says:

      When you say literature, do you affect a faux-Oxford accent? Lit-toor-ah-choor *raises pinkie*
      You pretentious fuck

    3. Nuclear Whore says:

      I fail to see a problem with that.

  13. Balze says:

    If it’s Metal enough : Cradle of Filth’s “Midian” was inspired from Clive Barker’s “Cabal”.

    1. Balze says:

      One more : On Vexovoid [2013] Portal explores through the song “Curtain” the text of Poe : “The Conqueror Worm”. Nive video by the way :

  14. John Dough says:

    Our band No God Only Pain is soon recording our 2nd EP which is named after Friedrich Hayeks’s classic “The Road to Serfdom ” .
    Hayek’s classic detailed his first-hand account the rise of the Nazis in Austria as having actually been a result of class politics (poor vs. rich propaganda)- that the Jews were demonized for their wealth rather than for their religion . Hayek was an economics professor at the time he saw the rise of the Reich as having coming up through institutions such as colleges. Our bands themes are about how government, religion. your woman , your job, all try to control you (tax you and make you slave as much as possible)and turn you into their serf. The roots of what APPEAR to be religious conflicts such as in Nazi Germany (or even in today’s middle east )are really economic and territorial in their nature.

  15. Yog says:

    Mighty Morbid Angel album “ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION” inspired by “The Necronomicon”- book of dead names….May be one of the most finest musical transformation of the spirit of fictional grimoire genre and a great nod to the occult literature. The shapeless but shapeshifting and fear lurking possessive sound is the archetype of Death Metal sound.

    Legend Mike Browning expressed their influence behind this album in his interview in His words says everything about this album. A transcendental coalition of music and primitive literature.

    Mike Browning :

    “Both Trey and I were into the occult, so when he moved into my area of Tampa and started going to school at my school and we met and started talking about what we were both into and we both were musicians that liked the occult and most especially we were both into a book called The Necronomicon and we really believed every bit of that book was true and real, so we decide to put a band together that was based on music that would please these Sumerian Gods that were in The Necronomicon. We were totally serious about what we were doing and the whole purpose of the band was to make music that would bring forth these Ancient Ones back to the Earth”

    Read the whole interview here :

    Cory Van der Pol, brother, it’s a pleasure to read this article. All of your literature oriented articles opened thousands eyes for me. Thnaks.

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