Why I Write Fantasy: Inspirations – the Music of Fantasy Part 2: The Metal Years

I started buying metal and rock albums in 1983. I still remember the date when I first bought Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath, and the Rainbow albums On Stage and Rising, and I celebrate those days each year. Loudly. 35 years this year. That seems hardly credible, let me tell you!

Ronnie James Dio was the prime musical influence for me, and I listened to his music over and over again, but the 80s were an incredible decade for metal music, and I had the 70s to mine for classic albums from the fathers of metal too. (And the older albums were way cheaper, and so stretched my paper round pound all the farther!)

The first band I owned 5 albums by was Judas Priest. I bought them all in September and October of 1983, the most recent release I bought being 1980’s British Steel, the rest were 70s classics from the time before studs and leather came to dominate their look, and Screaming for Vengeance defined their sound for the rest of that decade. Prior to that they went in quite a few unexpected directions, and I, an ardent teen searching for music to match the feelings and ideas coursing through me, found in them both bone crunching heaviness and otherworldly dreams. The song that for me encapsulates this is in fact two songs that run together on their Sad Wings of Destiny album, Dreamer Deceiver. Give it a listen, you may be surprised by it.

So many of their early songs glittered with ideas for me, Island of Domination, Sinner, Beyond the Realms of Death, Here Come the Tears/Dissident Aggressor (another pairing of songs that should be listened to together, in my mind) making Judas Priest a far more interesting band than the casual observer might imagine when looking at them through the ubiquitous lens of You’ve Got Another Thing Coming, great song though it is.

But if Judas Priest provided a  solid break from the various works of Dio, Queensrÿche and Crimson Glory represented true rivals for the throne of metal in my 80s heart, writing epic songs powered by twinned guitars and voices that in their prime simply had to be heard to be believed.

Queensrÿche arrived first. I saw them supporting Dio on The Last in Line tour in September 1984 and was instantly smitten. For a fantasy obsessed teenager their first EP and album were an insanely perfect fit, the music, ideas and delivery just shocked through me. So many great songs, like dreams becoming real, with Roads to Madness as my personal favourite by the narrowest of margins over everything else, though The Lady Wore Black rides it very close. They did not put a foot wrong in their first four releases, though they turned their back on the fantastical for Operation: Mindcrime, an incredible contemporary concept album that was their crowning achievement. For me, they were never as good after that, though they enjoyed greater commercial success. I remember (to my shame) being on a train and passing off the lyrics to The Lady Wore Black as my own to two older lads I got talking to, as early proof I was a writer. (I had already started writing my first book by this stage, but didn’t have the confidence to share that, and so offered those lyrics as evidence. I wonder now if they knew what I was doing and let it slide, if so, I thank them both very much!) QR’s early music was the soundtrack to scout trips and playing Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! choose your own adventure books, that were so much fun they inspired me to write my own, which one day I may share with you!

(It’s funny how at that time in your life some sets of input can be so closely intertwined as to never quite fully separate afterwards. For me the Belgariad has as its soundtrack Rainbow’s Down To Earth album, especially Eyes of the World, a song that seemed to sum up the malice and threat of Ctuchik, before he was undone at the end of Magician’s Gambit. I digress. But that is an awesome song – listen to it, and if you are an Eddings fan, tell me it doesn’t capture some of that Belgariad magic, haha!)

QR’s songs went everywhere with me. I scrawled Nightrider across far too many school jotters to count, and was in heaven when Rage for Order came out, even if Geoff Tate did look like a glammed up fish on the inner sleeve photo! (the glam metal phase did have an unfortunate effect on some bands that changed their look to adapt – Saxon took a hit that they almost didn’t recover from when they went glam on Innocence is No Excuse, another inner sleeve photo that is best forgotten, which is a shame because that was a great album otherwise, but the denim and leather lads wondered what was up with that lipstick!! It was very much another world 30+ years ago, children!)

Anyway, for a long time I thought nothing could hold a candle to Queensryche, until I discovered Crimson Glory. It was 1988 and I was a grimmer, smellier, all grown up teen. Crimson Glory matched my mood perfectly, with more pointed songs about madness, (I know, I know, my fave QR song was supposedly about that too, (teenagers got to teenage, I guess, and who wasn’t interested at that age in identity and the possibility of it all melting away beneath your feet? You weren’t? No? Oh well, must just have been me and all those metal bands, I suppose!) but it (Roads to Madness) is a fantasy epic and warning not to overreach versus Crimson Glory’s Lost Reflection, which is, in comparison, a raw depiction of actual pain and suffering, brilliantly delivered.)  loves lost and of course dragon ladies. (I mean, why not?) Song about Azrael? Awesome. Again it was the feelings and imagery that the band managed to project that was so enthralling to me at that time, awash in my own teen fantasies. Of course dark ladies of power and promise abounded –  the lyrics of most 80s bands could never be considered progressive, but at the time those things either didn’t register with me, or didn’t matter. Burning Bridges was the most awesome song ever according to 1988 me, it didn’t matter how dubiously conflicted the lyrics were on closer inspection. At the time I was growing my hair and attempting to be cool, and that song had incredible guitar breaks and vocals to die for, which counted for a lot more than any serious consideration of the lyrical content. He sounded tragically heroic, so he was, dammit! The years bring re-evaluations of more than just books.

Crimson Glory’s more tortured aesthetic, love of dark places and magical mistresses had a strong impact on me: the shadowed antagonist of my college-era novel was definitely partly inspired by their music, which also served as a kind of crossing point between a number of musical genres I favoured in the late 80s: fantasy laden rock, old school metal, glam metal, and gothic/alternative rock. Yes, these years also saw the dawn of my Gothic era, to be visited another time, perhaps!

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One thought on “Why I Write Fantasy: Inspirations – the Music of Fantasy Part 2: The Metal Years

  1. Pingback: Why I Write Fantasy: Inspirations – The Music of Fantasy Part 3: Gothic Dreams – Roderick T. Macdonald

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