Metal music has historically had strong undercurrents of misogyny. Even metal’s brightest recent stars have been culpable of a contributing to “a culture of crass sexism,” as described in Dom Lawson’s 2014 piece for The Guardian. Although metal, like many musical genres, has its faults, this music is still worthy of academic analysis. One of the more interesting facets of lyrical and musical compositions by various metal bands is the intertwiningof mythology and mythos. Below is just a small example of bands that draw from myths and legends that are thousands of years old. These heavy metal artists succeed in making ancient figures contemporary.
“The Wicker Man.” Iron Maiden.
Julius Ceaser first reported pagan druids burning Wicker Man effigy’s in his first hand account of the Gallic Wars, entiteld Commentarii de Bello Gallico. Although recent archeological evidence debunks the majority of Ceaser’s claims (with the potential exception of the Druidic people of modern day Britain and Ireland), the burning Wicker Man has become engrained in the minds of many, slipping from myth into reality. The Wicker Man has become the subject of many works of art, ranging from film, to a song composed by British heavy metal giant Iron Maiden.
Referencing motifs of rebirth that are found within the mythos of The Wicker Man, Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson chants:
“You watch the world exploding every single night,
Dancing in the sun a new born in the light,
Brothers and their fathers joining hands and make a chain,
The shadow of the Wicker man is rising up again!
Your time will come,
Your time will come.”
As for the patriarchal reclaiming of birth found within the lyrics, that’s the topic of a whole other article.
Finnish metal music has a long and storied history of borrowing stories and characters from Finnish folklore. Many of these subjects come from The Kalevala, the national epic of Finland. Finland also recognizes the academic merit of metal, hosting numerous conferences so that scholars of metal can unite. (Author’s Note: I am attending one such conference, The Modern Heavy Metal Conference, this June, so I can confirm this).
Many Finnish metal bands sing in English, some, like Korpiklaani, opt to sing in their mother tongue. In a song entitled “Lempo” off of their newest album, Noita, Korpiklaani sing about a Finnish deity.
Like many ancient Gods or Goddesses, the occasionally non-gendered Lempo (which is why I will alternate pronouns here) wears numerous proverbial hats. Lempo is the deity of love and fertility, while also being a notoriously evil trickster. This duality may because of the capricious nature of love itself.
Lyrically, “Lempo” is a song about the spells and incantations used to invoke Lempo’s lascivious power. Korpiklanni fiddler Fiddler Tuomas Rounakari is quoted as saying:
“Lempo is a fiery God of fertility and the song is about the spells designated to Lempo in order to guarantee a success in one’s personal love life. The Finnish mythology is very unique in its approach to sexuality. We do not have spells to improve procreation like most of the cultures do. But the spells to gain more luck in love life or to increase ones stamina are numerous for both men and women. Lempo is also closely related to fire and one could see the hair of Lempo flashing in the red and yellow flames of fire. The song is a prime example of the new KORPIKLAANI sound with a lead guitar like violin solo and more prominent folk arrangements. It takes a step towards progressive rock balancing the folk and metal in a way Jonne has always dreamed it to be.”
For those who are unaware, the “Jonne” that Tuomas is referencing is Jonne Järvelä, a vocalist and guitarist for Korpiklanni.
“Twilight of the Thunder God.” Amon Amarth
Another Nordic band that sings about figures found in mythology is Amon Amarth, a metal band originating from Tumba, Sweden. The band’s name is a reference to the allegedly fictional (it’s real to me) Middle Earth location of Mount Doom; “Amon Amarth” is one of the Sindarin names of Sauron’s stomping grounds. Amon Amarth the band tackle seemingly epic motif’s in their music. “Twilight of the Thunder God” is a prime example of this.
“Twilight of the Thunder God” discusses Thor, God of Thunder, and his role in Ragnarök. Lyrically, “Twilight of the Thunder God” references numerous other figures in Norse mythology, including but not limited to, Jormungandr, Fenrir, Odin, and Hlödyn.
When a listener hears the following verse, they are instantly transported to a mythological battle.
“Thor! Odin’s son
Protector of mankind
Ride to meet your fate
Your destiny awaits
Thor! Hlödyn’s son
Protector of mankind
Ride to meet your fate
Although feminist metal fans rightfully critique the genre’s numerous misogynist flaws, listeners and academics can still appreciate the storytelling aspects found within many songs composed my metal artists. Listening to a song on a modern day MP3 device does not have the same panache as hearing it from the lips of a grizzled storyteller. Regardless of this fact, the Old Gods and Goddesses are not so far away; they are found within the present-day stanzas of modern metal melodies.