Three Beginners’ Tips For Writing Heavy Metal-Themed Stories

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.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Today’s Art (12th January 2019)

This (heavily) digitally-edited painting was something that I made after getting out of a somewhat miserable/stressed mood by listening to some of the more cathartic types of heavy metal music. Although, even after lots of digital editing, this painting doesn’t look great on a technical level, it was a lot of fun to make.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Metal Sanity” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (6th January 2019)

Well, although it took me a little while to work out what to paint, this 1990s gothic/ heavy metal-themed digitally-edited painting (which also uses digital lighting effects, airbrush/fog effects etc..) turned out even better than I’d expected 🙂

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“The Skull Stall” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (2nd January 2019)

Well, after all of the fun I had making yesterday’s painting, I felt like making another heavy-metal themed painting. And, although this digitally-edited painting (which, again, also includes digital lighting effects) ended up being less detailed than I’d originally planned, I still quite like how it turned out 🙂

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Metal Summoning” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (1st January 2019)

Well, I thought that I’d start the new year off with something spectacular 🙂 This is a heavy metal-themed digitally-edited painting (with some digital lighting effects too) that was initially inspired when I happened to hear the official preview audio of “Firepower” by Judas Priest.

Basically, I wanted to make a painting with the “machines and leather” aesthetic of a Judas Preist song, the gritty urban decay of a classic 1980s Derek Riggs Iron Maiden album cover (inspired by the Tricorn Centre, with a few subtle cyberpunk elements/ references too) and the Japanese-style horror of a classic videogame like “Silent Hill 3“.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Metal Returns” By C. A. Brown

Want More Originality? Try Some Emotional Variation – A Ramble

Although this is an article about writing fiction, making comics and/or making art, I’m going to have to start by talking about music for quite a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Shortly before writing this article, I found myself listening to a song called “Land Of The Free” by Gamma Ray for the hundredth time and I realised something about my own musical tastes – I prefer optimistic heavy metal music. And, yes, contrary to popular belief, optimistic heavy metal actually exists. And it feels great to listen to!

Not only does it encompass pretty much everything within the Power Metal sub-genre, but optimism also can be found in individual songs by bands in many other sub-genres of metal. I mean, there are even optimistic death metal songs out there (like this one [WARNING: The video contains FLICKERING LIGHTS] ).

Yet, when you think of heavy metal, “optimism” isn’t usually the first word that springs to mind. And, yet, this is what makes these songs so intriguing and appealing. They do something slightly different with a familiar genre, leveraging the strengths of the genre in order to achieve a slightly different emotional effect. They take the intense emotional catharsis that the genre is famous for and imbue it with a sense of joy, fun and/or hope that is often missing from more traditional heavy metal. And it is really something to listen to!

It also prompts all sorts of other interesting creative flourishes too. For example, the theme of optimism means that these songs have something in common with songs from other genres – which is why, for example, a metal band like Alestorm can make an awesome cover version of a (not entirely radio-friendly) rap song called “Hangover” by Taio Cruz. Many of Alestorm’s songs are about drinking, partying and having fun. Taio Cruz’s song is about this too. So, the cover is absolutely perfect.

Likewise, it can also lead to some unexpected thematic matter too. For example, although I’m not a Christian, I was quite surprised to realise that the “epic fantasy” story told in a heavy metal song called “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” by Helloween is, thematically at least, surprisingly Christian. It’s this story about someone who goes on an epic quest to defeat Satan by destroying things related to seveal negative qualities (eg: hate, fear, senselessness, greed and ignorance).

So, why have I spent several paragraphs talking about heavy metal music?

Well, simply put, one of the easiest ways to make something “orignal” within a familiar genre (aside from taking influence from things outside of the genre) is simply to look at the general emotional tone of the genre and then try to create something that evokes a slightly different emotional tone.

For example, one of the things that I’ve noticed whenever I’ve made cyberpunk art is that I’ll sometimes try to make it bright and cheerful, rather than gloomy and dystopian. Although this was initially because I absolutely love this genre and want to celebrate it, it does result in a slightly different “style” of cyberpunk to many things in the genre.

“Market Seven” By C. A. Brown

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

Adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre not only makes your creative works more original, but it also allows you to explore themes that you might not be able to if you stuck to a more traditional version of the genre. I mean, part of the creative process behind some of my “optimistic” cyberpunk paintings was just curiosity about what everyday life in a 1980s-style cyberpunk future would actually look like. And, well, it’s probably not all doom and gloom.

So, yes, adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre can be a really interesting thing to do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things An Old Computer Game Can Teach Us About How To Add Some Heavy Metal To The Fantasy Genre

Although I have a weird love/hate relationship with the fantasy genre, I recently happened to find something really cool in this genre which made me think about how to add elements of the heavy metal genre to the fantasy genre.

Although I don’t know when or if I’ll review it properly, it’s a fantasy/action computer game from 2002 called “Enclave“. Although this game has somewhat clunky combat and was clearly designed for consoles rather than computers, I still absolutely love this game.

This is a screenshot from “Enclave” (2002).

Why? Because it is about as metal as you can get 🙂 Whether you’re playing as a chiselled barbarian-like knight or a scary halfling warrior (yes, there are other playable characters, but these two are the only good ones I’ve found so far), this game exudes badassery in every way.

Seriously, it’s like the epic fight scenes from the “Lord Of The Rings” movies, but with added gloominess, mindlessness and general epicness. Although the game includes a vaguely movie-like soundtrack, I found myself fervently wishing that “Tonight We Ride” by Unleash The Archers was playing in the background of some segments of the game instead. In other words, it’s a brilliant example of heavy metal-style fantasy.

So, what can this game teach us about adding some heavy metal to the fantasy genre?

1) Simplicity: Although the game has a lot of vaguely Tolkien-esque lore (with lots of unpronounceable names like Dreg’athar etc…), one of the reasons why it is so metal is because the story of the game is relatively simple.

I hope you like fighting monsters…..

If you play as the “good” faction, the story involves breaking out of jail, defending the city from orcs, going on an epic quest through some scary wastelands etc…. I haven’t played the “evil” campaign, but the fact that you can also play as the villians is pretty cool.

Both stories are suitably heavy metal, but why? Simply put, they’re simple and focused. They don’t get lost in the minutae of mythical politics or magical lore. Although all of this stuff is still there as a background detail, the basic story is just a simple goal-orientated thing that allows for lots of epic feats of combat and dramatic battles. It doesn’t require you to keep track of twenty character names, memorise seven family trees or anything like that, it’s just a thrilling story that is there to be enjoyed.

So, if you want to add some heavy metal to your fantasy story, comic etc.. then keep the basic underlying story relatively simple.

2) Lighting: One of the best visual ways to add some heavy metal to the fantasy genre is simply to focus on gloomy lighting and death/destruction-related imagery. Again, “Enclave” excels in this respect. So far, I’ve seen creepy old castles, a besieged city, a decrepit ancient temple and some kind of hellish underworld. All of these locations are lit by fire, magma and/or moonlight. And they look really metal as a result.

Seriously, this location is pretty much an album cover in it’s own right…

So, when making comics, art in the heavy metal fantasy genre, then make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of each picture is covered with black paint. Likewise, make sure to include lots of fire-based light sources too. If you need more examples of this type of art, then just look at some classic-style heavy metal album covers.

3) Character design: The character designs in this game provide some instructive examples of both good and bad heavy metal fantasy character design. The good examples, which I mentioned earlier, are the “Knight” and “Halfling” characters.

The knight looks more like a Roman gladiator (in terms of his spiked shoulder armour etc…) or a muscular barbarian than a traditional medieval knight. Likewise, the halfling has spiky blond hair, grins maniacally, has scary-looking facial tattoos and looks genuinely fearsome. Although her costume design (eg: dark trousers and a crop top) doesn’t include any armour, her character design still has a rather practical and rugged look that wouldn’t be out of place in a lawless wilderness or a 1980s heavy metal concert.

Yes, THIS is how to design a badass heavy metal-style character 🙂

And this Roman-like area just makes the Knight look even more like a grizzled gladiator too!

The common factor with both of these characters is that they look like hardened warriors. They look like they’ve been forged in the heat of battle and exist to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies. Their general character designs are meant to exude toughness and they seem like they genuinely fit into a harsh world that is ruled by the sword and the bow.

On the other hand, the “Druid” character is a terrible example of heavy metal fantasy character design. Simply put, she’s wearing a swimming costume.

I’m not exaggerating, this outfit is more suited to a beach party than an epic battle with the forces of evil!

Even though the game recognises the sheer absurdity of wearing something like this into battle (by drastically reducing the level of protection against damage she has), her design comes across more as blatant fanservice than actual heavy metal character design. In other words, she seems like she wouldn’t last five minutes in the game’s world. And this completely breaks the immersion for the audience.

So, design your characters with toughness and practicality in mind and they will come across as considerably more “metal” than if you aim for fanservice or ultra-stylised character design.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂