Few things make me happier than music. And while I listen to everything from jazz to Gregorian chant, there’s no denying my love for metal. For me, it might be first among equals, as they say. So, when I was asked to put something together about five fantasy writers, I imagined what the metal sounds of their worlds might be…
I could have done this for a ton of authors. But the powers that be said only five. Fair enough. I went with: Robin Hobb, Mark Lawrence, myself (a’course), Patrick Rothfuss, and George R.R. Martin. Once I’d selected the writers, I thought about their work, and pretty quickly bands and songs came bubbling up, suggesting themselves. I’ve whittled a huge number of tracks down to what I’ll share here.
My hope is that you’ll meander slowly through this article, taking time to listen to the music. Enjoy.
I’ve known Robin, or Megan, for a lot of years now. We were Facebook friends for a while. Then a supremely cool thing happened.
See, each day I post a Song of the Day on my Facebook page. I’m always looking for new bands and sharing what I find. One day I shared a Nightwish rendition of Phantom of the Opera. Later that day I got a private message from Megan. Turned out she was a Nightwish fan; and the band was coming to Seattle soon. She knew one of the guys in the band, and had not only tickets but backstage passes, too. She was inviting me to go. Hells yes!
We’ve been good friends ever since, talking music and books and life. She’s my kind of people. Anyhoo, I learned that she sometimes writes with Nightwish playing. So, naturally my first selection for her and the Farseer books is “Storytime” by Nightwish. It’s not only powerful, but has some beautiful lyrics:
I am the voice of never, never land,
The innocence of dreams from every man,
I am the empty grave of Peter Pan,
A soaring kite against the blue, blue sky,
Every chimney, every moonlit sight
I am the story that will read you real,
Every memory that you hold dear
And it’s not just that Megan likes the band. Tuomas Holopainen, the keyboardist for Nightwish who writes most the music, is an amazing composer. He produces great orchestral arrangements to their music. The cinematic nature of the songs reminds me of Robin’s writing. Good match.
To this I’d add “My Confession” by Kamelot. This is another power metal band that has a symphonic element in their music, but married to a crushing rhythm section. Megan, if you’re reading, you’ll dig the lyrics on this one.
Of course, I need to include something that talks about killing, right? I mean, Megan does write about assassins. And stuff. With that in mind, I give you Within Temptations “The Howling,” featuring these lyrics:
When we start killing
It’s all coming down right now
From the nightmare we’ve created,
I want to be awakened somehow
And let me close out Megan’s section with Evanescence. I love Amy Lee. Amazing talent. And because Megan’s every bit as talented—as a writer—and because her fiction and her books have a clear, undeniable voice—like Amy—I give you “Good Enough.”
But because Robin can also haunt you with her imagery, I also give you “Hello,” which leaves you just the least bit unsettled.
I’ve never met Mark in person. But we’ve traded a fair number of emails. I have loads of respect for the guy. Yes, for his fiction. But even more so for the way he cares for his family. Could be because we share some common ground in that regard. Regardless, that’s not why I pulled him into my list. I simply had so many metal ideas for his work.
Let me begin with Devin Townsend’s “Kingdom.” This track is big. Sweeping. But it’s got this gritty bottom end. And Townsend’s vocals hit so many colors. Like Mark’s own authorial voice. I can hear this track soaring over the Broken Empire.
Now let’s get a bit grim. Alice in Chains. This is a more retiring track, but no less impactful: “Down in a Hole.” And check out these lyrics, remind you of anything:
Down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved
See my heart I’ve decorated like a grave
You don’t understand who they
Thought I was supposed to be
Look at me now a man
Who won’t let himself be
Okay, let’s pick up the pace. And with some humor, albeit on the square. Next for Mark I go with Faith No More and “We Care a Lot.” I mean, can’t you just hear the “road brothers” singing:
(We care a lot) about the welfare of all you boys and girls
(We care a lot) about you people ’cause we’re out to save the world
It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it
Oh, it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it
Last for Mark is Amaranthe and their track “Drop Dead Cynical.” I choose this one for a few reasons. Amaranthe does some really interesting things in blending driving metal with an almost pop industrial sound. Given some of the surprises in Mark’s Broken Empire, I like the allusion to Amaranthe’s similar blend of elements you aren’t expecting.
Now, I was told I could add myself to the mix. And because I have distinct ideas about music for my own Vault of Heaven series, I had to take the chance to share.
Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite band is Dream Theater. But beyond that, the first time I heard “Pull Me Under,” I heard the axles and wheels of siege engines going to war—not unlike a kingdom in my series who build gearworks for war. So, naturally “Pull me Under” is the first track I’ll submit. There’s a precision about it, too, that reminds me of an entire society in Trial of Intentions dedicated to astronomy, mathematics, physics, and other colleges, that factor big in the book. Anyway, listen at about 1:17, and tell me if you aren’t hearing those siege engines rolling to battle.
Then, from DT I also have to include “Wither.” I do so less because of its association to my books, and more because it’s something of a personal writer anthem for me. Listen and you’ll understand why.
Back to the books. My second book, Trial of Intentions, is just out. But the song I’m going to give you has direct ties to book three. It’s “Damaged,” by Sevendust. I absolutely love Morgan Rose’s backing vocals. This is how the music magic sounds in my series. Most of the time, anyway. Morgan inspired me on many fronts in building my magic system. Rhythmically. Viscerally. And you’ll want to remember this song when book three releases.
In Trial of Intentions I deal with the topic of suicide. It was hard. I had a friend do this recently. It got deep into the motivations of a few of my characters. So, it’s not surprising that I’d pick Disturbed and “Inside the Fire.” This is a sensitive topic. Please listen to David Draiman’s note at the beginning of the video.
And because some of my world is quite dire, I give you another track from Disturbed, “Prayer.” Consider these lyrics, and you’ll get a flavor for some of the challenge my characters face:
Let me enlighten you
This is the way I pray
Living just isn’t hard enough
Burn me alive, inside
Living my life’s not hard enough
Take everything away
But let me leave you with the hope I try to infuse into my world. This song—ironically for me, since I’m a vocalist—has no lyrics. It’s epic orchestral. And if you haven’t discovered Two Steps From Hell, I’m glad to be the one to introduce you to them. This song is another personal anthem—of mine, and a few of my characters. Listen to it and tell me if you aren’t ready to stand behind a good cause. I give you, “Heart of Courage”
For the last several years I’ve corresponded with Pat around his Worldbuilder’s charity. The topic has almost always been music—as in what kind of musical thingy can I do to help out with the charity: a rewrite of The Ballad of Serenity; Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” refashioned after Name of the Wind.
And, of course, I’ve read Pat’s books, which is why I’m going to start with Rush and “Tom Sawyer.” I get a Kvothe feeling in this tune. I mean, really, you don’t you just hear the resonance in these lyrics?
No, his mind is not for rent
To any God or government
Always hopeful yet discontent
He knows changes aren’t permanent
But change is
Plus, Rush (like Dream theater) is one of those bands that employs the use of odd meter and other compositional techniques to really embellish their music. Like Pat with his writing.
Go from this to Tool. I could select any number of Tool songs. But I’ll go with one most folks know, “Sober.” There’s a sobering poetry in this tune. Pat does that, too, in his fiction. And I can hear this played by modern day Edema Ruh.
Now, a band that does some extremely interesting things, and with great range, is Opeth. They’re my next pick for Rothfuss. In particular, I’ll go with “Porcelain Heart.” When the Kingkiller Chronicles get dark, I can hear this. There’s a confessional nature here. The honest tone is like the voice of Kvothe as narrator of his own tale.
Last, I’m giving Pat one of my favs: Queensryche. Geoff Tate is one of my all time favorite vocalists. I studied with the same vocal trainer as Geoff did. A gentlemen by the name of David Kyle. Amazing man. He trained Lane Staley, too, of Alice in Chains, as well as Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and a gajillion more. Queensryche tells great stories. Their concept album Operation Mindcrime is one of the best ever written and performed. But the song for the Kingkiller Chronicles is “Killing Words.”
This song works on many levels, since Pat’s got the whole Naming thing in his series. Words with power, after all. Like if you needed to kill someone. But, on a more subtle level, I like the allusion to the relationship between Kvothe and Denna. Give it a listen.
George R.R. Martin
Now, George has written fiction about music—Armageddon Rag. So, I thought a bit about this one. I kept coming back to foundational metal. Even though George is standing on shoulders himself, it can’t be argued that he’s providing a broad set of shoulders for generations of new fantasy writers. So, in that spirit, let’s begin with “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath. Not like there’s war in George’s books or anything. I mean, was Sabbath uncannily aware of George would one day write? Consider:
Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death’s construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord yeah!
The other thing readers soon learn about George is that he has no fear of killing his characters. This is why one of the first songs that popped to mind was “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” by Blue Oyster Cult. I have a feeling George would approve of this choice.
As I’ve done with most of the writers above, I wanted to have at least one tune in contrast to the big and bold. For A Song of Ice and Fire, what I kept hearing was “When a Blind Man Cries,” by Deep Purple. The cold lament of this song just feels right. It bears an ineffable quality that belongs to George’s world. Consider the lyrics:
Had a friend once in a room,
Had a good time but it ended much too soon.
In a cold month in that room
We found a reason for the things we had to do.
But no way we’re ending there. Last, but not least, I’m going with Iron Maiden for Martin. And I need two picks to do it: “Run to the Hills,” and “2 Minutes to Midnight.” The first has a specific meaning, if you listen closely. But if you abstract it a bit, the song works amazingly well for battle in general. And really, how can you beat these lyrics:
The killer’s breed or the demon’s seed,
The glamour, the fortune, the pain,
Go to war again, blood is freedom’s stain,
But don’t you pray for my soul anymore.
2 minutes to midnight
The hands that threaten doom.
2 minutes to midnight
To kill the unborn in the womb.
Iron Maiden writes many of their tunes with a galloping rhythm. It feels like war music. And while George has a lot of political intrigue in his work—like, lots of it—there’s plenty of blood. Make no mistake. So, yeah. Maiden. Here you go:
You know what, this was hellaciously fun. I’ve decided to do more of these articles. If you have suggestions of writers you’d want me to metalize, shoot me an email or tweet. You can find me at Orullian.com. Until then, enjoy the music above that plays as a virtual soundtrack to the works of these writers.
Peter Orullian is the author of the epic fantasy novels The Unremembered and Trial of Intentions, the first two installments in the Vault of Heaven series. You can find his interview series with popular fantasy authors of the day both here on Tor.com and at his site, where you’ll also find more of his music.