With every band from Burzum to Blind Guardian indulging in overt Tolkien-worship, and given that if you had a pound for every time you listened to a metal song inspired by HP Lovecraft you could afford to run a Premier League football club as a plaything, we thought we’d compile one of our totally (not) comprehensive Top 6s on the most metal fantasy novels. This one may contain goblins.
6) Raymond E Feist – Magician
One of Britain’s 100 favourite books and America’s answer to Lord Of The Rings (only without the silly songs, Tom Bombadil or casual racism, or the clunky, boring prose), Magician is the archetypal high fantasy. The main character is an adolescent male in a vaguely bucolic setting with mysterious parentage and natural affinity for mystical power (not a spoiler). Other characters include the wise old wizard, the quiet bowman, the benevolent warrior lord, the beautiful princess, and the plot involves the saving of worlds. And it’s been done a thousand times since.
Why it’s metal: It’s Dawn Of Victory by Rhapsody (Of Fire), basically; not unique, hugely over-the-top, bombastic and ambitious, full of unpronounceable names and the best at what it does. It thankfully doesn’t do the usual fantasy/English Heritage black metal thing of feeling nostalgia for an age where serfs tilled the fields and died in abject poverty before they were thirty.
5) Brian Jacques – Redwall
An abbey full of mice defend themselves from a marauding horde of fiendish rodents lead by the evil Cluny The Scourge in probably the best children’s anthropomorphic fantasy.
Why it’s metal: Don’t be fooled by this being a kid’s book about mic. The villain is a massive rat (literally) called Cluny The Scourge. Find me a more metal name for yourself than “The Scourge”. Go on, try. We’ll allow you Decapitated, but beyond that, there’s pretty much nothing. And frankly, even Decapitated struggle to match the metalness of a rat who fits a barb to the end of his tail and uses it to whip disobedient minions. Redwall also has a big fuck-off snake called Asmodeus as a baddy, and Asmodeus (aka Ashmedi, the stage name of Melechesh’s frontman) is the name of the king of demons. In other words, somewhere in the world right now, an eight-year-old is reading something more metal than you.
4) Terry Pratchett – Mort
One of the best of the brilliant Discworld novels, this installment sees Death (the tall thin guy in a black robe with a scythe, rather than the greatest death metal band of all time) as a main character, letting rip with his sarcastic humour, and taking on a mortal apprentice who ends up fighting a comic duel with Death. Fucking fantastic.
Why it’s metal: It’s about Death. How much more metal do you want?
3) George RR Martin – A Storm Of Swords
While the HBO dramatisations have caused plenty of nerdrage amongst the long-term fans, and the interminable waits for inferior sequels have irked badly, there’s no denying that the first three books of A Song Of Ice And Fire changed the way the world looked at fantasy. Meaning non-fantasy fans acknowledged the existence of an author not called Tolkien, Lewis or Pratchett while continuing to mock all the others and anyone who read them. It also ushered in a new era of darkness amongst fantasy.
Why it’s metal: Above and beyond the shagging and fighting, when you look at The Others, the series ubervillains the TV show renamed “The White Walkers” (presumably they wanted an even shitter, less scary name for them) and their goal, and compare them to the lyrical content of every Immortal album from Battles In The North onwards, there’s an obvious parallel. GRRM ist krieg, and this book’s the grimmest of the lot.
2) Steven Erikson – Gardens Of The Moon
Steven Erikson’s first opus of the Malazan Book Of The Fallen saga is a sprawling, bleak epic that’s confusing to the point of near insensibility. You probably won’t give a shit about any of the characters, but you might enjoy their messy ends.
Why it’s metal: It opens with not one but two battles that have body counts bordering on 100% of the participants and has bloody death hanging over practically every character for the duration of the entire piece. It’s the fantasy novel equivalent of Meshuggah at their most lunatic and disturbing with lyrics by Autopsy.
1) Joe Abercrombie – Before They Are Hanged
With a basic premise that human beings are violent, selfish, sadistic, vindictive, cruel and without a solitary redeeming feature, Joe Abercrombie’s hopeless, depressing First Law trilogy is strangely compelling. Centred around the strangely likeable pairing of psychopathic killer Logen Ninefingers and the mutilated torturer Sand dan Glokta, it makes for compulsive reading, as much as it reviles you while you’re doing it, and stops short of the gratuitousness less skilled writers have resorted to.
Why it’s metal: If A Song Of Ice And Fire was dark, the First Law is so pitch black and utterly without light that it’s more likely to inspire a song by Anaal Nathrakh than Blind Guardian. If A Storm Of Swords was At The Heart Of Winter, Before They Are Hanged is The Codex Necro. Viciousness, spite and nihilism make this the most trve kvlt black metal of fantasy novels.