Although I’ve probably talked about this topic before, I thought that I’d look at heavy metal-themed stories. This is mostly because the writing project (which I probably won’t post here) that I started shortly before writing this article will hopefully become one of these. Still, heavy metal-themed stories have a reputation for being cheesy or “so bad that they’re good”. This is especially the case when they are written by people who aren’t fans of the genre.
So, here are a few thoughts about writing stories that are based on one of the best musical genres in the world 🙂 For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you aren’t a metalhead (eg: a fan of heavy metal). If you are a metalhead, then skip the first two points on this list.
1) Do your research: Heavy metal music is a much more complex and varied genre than you might think. So, listen to it. Get a feel for the differences between all of the major sub-genres of heavy metal (eg: classic metal, power metal, symphonic metal, thrash metal, metalcore, black metal, death metal etc..) and also do some general research into the history, culture and fashions of the genre too. If you live in the UK, then Metal Hammer magazine is probably a good place to start.
The essential metal bands to listen to whilst researching are probably influential metal bands (that formed in the 1960s-1980s) like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Helloween, Motorhead, Metallica etc… in addition to a couple of slightly later, but also well-known, bands like Nightwish, Rammstein, Arch Enemy and Cradle Of Filth.
If your story is set in the present day, then also check out some more modern metal bands like Unleash The Archers, Storm Seeker, Ghost, Lyzzard, The Unguided, Lady Beast, Monument, Ancient Bards, Headbanger, Iron Spell, Gloryhammer, Frozen Crown, Powerwolf, Alestorm, Rage Of Light etc… too.
However, unless your story is set in the 1980s, then don’t rely on the classic pop culture idea of what heavy metal is. Heavy metal has moved on since then!
These days, metal fashion tends to be a bit more understated (eg: band T-shirts, dark clothes etc…), metal bands usually tend to play to a devoted audience of fans rather than a mainstream audience and the genre is less cartoonishly hedonistic than it was in the 1980s too.
Metal is also a more high-brow genre than you might think and there is more musical variety than there was during the 1980s (for example, this Ancient Bards song has a classical/baroque-style segment [at about 2:52 into the video], Van Canto perform metal songs a capella and many songs by Nightwish incorporate elements of opera).
2) Theatricality and contrast: The important thing to remember about heavy metal is that it is a very theatrical genre which doesn’t usually take itself very seriously. In other words, if you’re telling a heavy metal-themed story then you need to be aware of the contrast between the “scary” imagery etc.. used in the genre and how non-seriously it is usually taken by fans, musicians etc…
Yes, this varies slightly between the fandoms of different bands/ different types of metal, and there have also unfortunately been a small number of occasions where angry, hateful etc.. people have used the “scary” parts of the metal genre as an “excuse” for doing horrible things (such as a well-documented series of violent crimes in early 1990s Norway). But, it is important to remember that most metal fans and musicians are just ordinary people who enjoy the music and, quite rightly, don’t take the “scary” elements of the genre seriously. These “scary” elements of the metal genre are there to be enjoyed for their amusing theatricality, dark comedy, “over the top” melodrama, rebellious “shock value” etc…
Plus, the use of horror imagery etc.. isn’t an integral part of every type of heavy metal. For example, symphonic metal music (from bands like Nightwish, Visions Of Atlantis etc…) will often have a more positive/uplifting emotional tone and/or more of a focus on wonder, nature, myths etc… than on horror. Likewise, the pirate metal genre (eg: bands like Running Wild, Alestorm, Storm Seeker, Lagerstein etc..) also tends to focus more on classic-style pirates, sailing, rum, humour, hedonism etc… than horror too.
So, if you remember that the “scary” parts of the metal genre aren’t taken seriously by most metal fans and musicians, then your heavy metal-themed stories will feel a lot more authentic.
3) Descriptions and lyrics: Since the copyright rules about using/quoting real song lyrics in works of fiction can best be described as “not friendly towards authors”, it is usually a good idea to come up with your own fictional songs and lyrics for your story.
Although I’m not a lawyer (and this is NOT legal advice), some research will show you that merely referencing the names of songs or bands generally seems to be ok (eg: “… and then they played a cover of “Painkiller” by Judas Priest” would probably be ok), but quoting lyrics in works of fiction apparently tends to require hefty royalty payments for even the smallest quotations. Hence why coming up with your own fictional songs/lyrics is better.
This can be a bit of a challenge, but just think of it like writing rhyming poetry or something like that. Plus, of course, heavy metal lyrics can include everything from simple repetitive rhymes to elaborate 19th century-style poetry (eg: most of Cradle Of Filth’s lyrics).
The important thing to remember though is that they lyrics should flow at least vaguely well when read aloud. So, a good test for fictional lyrics is simply just to read them aloud and see how they sound.
Likewise, describing music and musical performances can be a difficult thing to get right. So, if you’re having problems with this, then keep the music itself as a background element and focus on other things (eg: characters, drama etc..). For example, instead of showing a concert, just have a character briefly mention or describe it instead.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂