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 🙂

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Review: “Time Stands Still” By Unleash The Archers (Album)

A few months ago, I was watching random heavy metal music videos on Youtube when I happened to stumble across one for a song called “Test Your Metal” by a band that I’d never even heard of before called Unleash The Archers. I was astonished. This song was proper old-school 1980s-style metal from a modern band 🙂

Fast forward a few months and, eventually, I got round to ordering a copy of the band’s third album “Time Stands Still” (2015) after noticing that it was only about a fiver or so on Amazon. Because if the rest of it was even half as good as the music videos I’d seen, then it was worth getting.

So, let’s take a look at “Time Stands Still” by Unleash The Archers:

And, yes, this album cover is EPIC! It could almost be an Iron Maiden album cover 🙂

The best way to describe the overall sound of this album is that it is a really interesting blend of old-school NWOBHM-style heavy metal and classic European-style power metal, with some more modern Scandinavian-style elements too.

Seriously, some parts of the album sound like they could have come from an old Iron Maiden, Helloween, Judas Priest or Saxon album and some parts of it sound like they could have come from a Wintersun, Ensiferum or Hammerfall album.

One of the early lines in the album’s fifth track, “Test Your Metal”, is ‘You’ve been around town/ with an original sound‘ and this sums up the band’s style perfectly.

Although it’s easy to see who they have been inspired by, they don’t sound exactly like any one specific band. Like all great metal bands, they’ve come up with their own uniquely distinctive sound that is both instantly recognisable as heavy metal, yet also intriguingly different from everything else.

Even though the album isn’t a concept album, most of it has an “epic fantasy/sci-fi” type of atmosphere that wouldn’t be totally out of place on an Iron Maiden, Hammerfall or Helloween album.

But, the album also includes a fair amount of variety too, from the vaguely Iron Maiden/DORO/Saxon-like “Test Your Metal” to the subliminally more gothic/horror-like “Crypt” (which contains some hints of death metal/black metal in some parts) to the opening instrumental “Northern Passage” – which wouldn’t be totally out of place on a Nightwish, Lacuna Coil or Wintersun album.

The best song to sum up the overall atmosphere and style of this album is probably the third track, “Hail Of The Tide”.

The early parts of this song sound vaguely like a mixture of a song like Ensiferum’s “Into Battle” and an epic sci-fi themed Iron Maiden song like “Caught Somewhere In Time” or “If Eternity Should Fail” (but is thematically closer to Iron Maiden’s “The Talisman” or “Ghost Of The Navigator”). Soon, the song goes in a very slightly more Helloween-like direction with a more sustained vocal segment, before returning to classic-style fast paced metal vocals. After this, there’s an utterly epic growled backing vocal segment that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wintersun or Amon Amarth song. And this is only the first half of the song……

The vocals on this album are absolutely outstanding. Lead singer Brittany Slayes’ vocal style is very much in the tradition of singers like Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Rob Halford (Judas Priest) and Michael Kiske (Helloween), but she also adds many original flourishes to this traditional style.

Mostly notably, she seems to be an absolute expert at sustaining a single note for long periods of time, which adds an extra sense of epicness to the songs. But, she’s also an incredibly versatile singer, who can sing more ordinary classic rock/ metal vocals (eg: in “Test Your Metal”) and vaguely Nightwish-like vocals (eg: in the early parts of “Dreamcrusher”).

In addition to this, backing singer Andrew Kingsley adds more modern-style growled vocals in some songs (with his vocals in “Hail Of The Tide” reminding me a lot of Wintersun’s first album). Not only that, the song “Time Stands Still” features some absolutely epic Viking-style clean backing vocals/chants, which reminded me of a band like Ensiferum or TYR.

Instrumentally, this album is wonderfully sumptuous. It is a beautifully complex feast of different sounds and styles, that all blend together perfectly.

Not only are there lots of awesome 1980s-style guitar segments, but the album’s atmospheric opening instrumental “Northern Passage” also contains a wonderful mixture of gothic piano/violin music and electronic elements. Likewise, the guitar segments in other parts of the album also have a crunchier and more modern sound too.

Plus, the longer version of the song “Tonight We Ride” even features a brief bass solo at one point (4:17-4:27, if anyone is curious) too. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a metal band do this before, but it works!

Another interesting thing about the longer version of “Tonight We Ride” is that it ends with a brief audio segment which imitates flicking through several radio stations (a bit like the beginning of “Starlight” by Helloween), which culminates with a single tone rising in volume. This segues absolutely perfectly with the beginning of the next track “Test Your Metal”.

And, yes, there are actually two versions of “Tonight We Ride” on the album (eg: a longer album version and the shorter version used in the song’s “Mad Max”-style music video).

All in all, this is a heavy metal album! If some of my favourite metal bands got together and made an album, it would sound a bit like this one! It is an absolutely brilliant blend of both old and new style metal, whilst also being totally unique at the same time.

If you love bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween, Saxon, Wintersun, Hammerfall etc… then you’ll find something to love about this album. If you’re unsure, then go onto Youtube and look up both “Test Your Metal” and “Hail Of The Tide”. You won’t be disappointed.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Two Very Basic Ways To Create A New Sub-Genre

Well, although this is a short article about creativity in general, I’m going to have to start by talking about music briefly. This is mostly because I seem to be listening to slightly more heavy metal than usual at the time of writing.

Anyway, one of the defining features of the heavy metal genre is how many different sub-genres of heavy metal there are.

There’s symphonic metal, classic metal, power metal, thrash metal, speed metal, black metal, death metal, pirate metal, folk metal, trance metal etc…

Yet, all of these sub-genres are still very recognisable as heavy metal. So, although I’ve probably mentioned all of this stuff before, here are two very basic tips for how to make your own sub-genre (of art, fiction, music etc…).

1) Have a wide range of influences: Generally speaking, many new sub-genres are created when someone takes inspiration from something outside of their chosen genre.

For example, the Symphonic Metal sub-genre probably began when someone thought “what this opera really needs is some electric guitars“. Likewise, the Folk Metal sub-genre probably also began when someone thought the same thing about folk music.

Likewise, the Zomcom genre of films probably began with a brilliantly hilarious film called “Shaun Of The Dead”, which is a mixture of a romantic comedy and a zombie movie. If the creator of this film had only taken inspiration from one genre, the film wouldn’t be the distinctive, genre-defining classic that it is.

So, having a slightly wider range of influences will make it much easier for you to find new things to blend with your favourite genre. And, this is how you make a new sub-genre.

2) Know your tastes: Another way that new sub-genres can be created is when a person realises exactly what they really love about their favourite genre and then decides to turn it “up to eleven”.

A good example of this would probably be Splatterpunk fiction – this is a sub-genre of horror fiction that was popular during the 1980s/90s and it probably just stemmed from several horror writers thinking “why can’t horror novels include more blood and guts? Horror movies can include this stuff, why can’t we? Best of all, we don’t have to deal with film censors either….“.

So, if you’re a massive fan of a particular genre, then look carefully at which elements of the genre you really love, and then emphasise them more. I mean, you’re probably going to do this anyway (it’s a part of taking inspiration) – but if you do it prominently and distinctively enough, then you can end up creating a new sub-genre.

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Sorry for another short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (12th October 2018)

Although heavy metal is one of my favourite genres of music, I don’t own a battle vest (T-shirts are more my thing). But, I was reminded of these awesome things in a few online articles I happened to read. So, I thought that it might be fun to imagine what my ideal battle vest would look like.

I vaguely thought about making a stylised original picture featuring fake album covers, but then I remembered all the fuss about when a fashion company tried this. So, instead, I thought that I’d turn it into a fan art picture about some of my favourite metal bands and/or albums (and, yes “Virtual XI” is criminally underrated!).

Since this is fan art, this picture is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

“Fan Art – If I Had A Battle Vest” By C. A. Brown

Creativity, Subcultures And Fandoms – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, writing fiction etc… I’m going to have to start by talking about music and fashion/clothing for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later. But, if you don’t have time for this, then just skip the next five paragraphs or so.

A while before I wrote this article, I ended up reading some online articles about something that I’d seen a few times at concerts/festivals but didn’t know the exact word for. I am, of course, talking about heavy metal “battle jackets”/”battle vests”, which are covered in band patches. No two are the same, and each one is a reflection of the wearer’s musical tastes.

Even though this made me curious enough to make a fan art painting of what my ideal battle vest would probably look like, it also made me think about my relationship with the heavy metal subculture too. But, first, here’s a preview of the fan art painting I mentioned:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 12th October.

Although I had a lot of fun making this painting, I suddenly found myself wondering if a battle vest was “too metal” for me. I mean, I wouldn’t think twice about wearing an Iron Maiden/Judas Priest/Cradle Of Filth etc.. T-shirt, but a battle vest seemed like a totally different thing.

Even though heavy metal is one of my favourite genres of music (and has been for over fifteen years), I felt strangely uneasy about the idea of ever making or wearing something that distinctively showed me to be the most absolutely dedicated of metalheads.

Why? Because metal is one of several genres that I absolutely love. I’m also a fan of songs by several punk bands, several gothic rock bands, a couple of electronic musicians, a couple of rappers, an indie band or two, a few acoustic musicians and even (dare I say it?) a few pop musicians. In other words – if I like a song, musician or band, then I like it. If the music is good enough, genre doesn’t matter.

But what does any of this have to do with creativity?

Simply put, having a wider range of interests (simply by following your own instincts about whether something is good or not) is essential for both creativity and originality. If you only take inspiration from things in one particular genre, then your creative works won’t be as distinctive as the things that you really love. Why? Because true originality comes from taking inspiration from lots of different things.

Following your own instincts about what you enjoy, rather than rigidly sticking to just one genre, also means that you have to think more critically about your own sensibilities. In other words, you have to look at what all of your favourite things have in common. Once you’ve learnt this, you can use this knowledge to improve your own creative works and make them distinctively “yours”.

To use an artistic example that I’ve used many times before, almost all of my paintings from the past couple of years feature high-contrast lighting and/or chiaroscuro lighting. My usual rule is that at least 30-50% of the surface area of each painting should be covered with black paint. It results in art that looks like this:

“The Lost Room” By C. A. Brown

“Launch” By C. A. Brown

But, how did I learn this rule? Simply put, I noticed that a lot of things that I thought were cool followed it.

These included things as diverse as heavy metal album covers, various computer and video games, old horror novel covers, the film noir and cyberpunk genres, 1980s/90s films (in several genres), historical paintings, various comics etc.. So, looking at a range of different “cool” things can help you to refine your own style and make your creative works more original.

To use a musical example, one of the qualities that I love in music is lyrical sophistication (eg: clever rhymes, good metaphors, interesting vocabulary, humour etc..).

This is why I really love various songs by Cradle Of Filth (heavy metal), Tinie Tempah (rap), Suzanne Vega (acoustic) and Bad Religion (punk). All of these musicians share this one quality, even though their music sounds extremely different. So, if I ever had the musical skill to write a song, then it would probably include this quality.

As cool as subcultures are and as cool as it might be to just focus on one genre, don’t let this restrict you! Following your own instincts and understanding your own sensibilities is much more important for your creativity than fitting into any one subculture, genre or fandom.

Of course, because the universe loves irony, one of the main themes in many subcultures is rebelling against conformity. Seriously, it’s something that metalheads, punks, goths, retro/indie gamers, hipsters, horror movie fans etc… all have in common. So, try to actually take it seriously.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (20th September 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the fifth comic in “Damania Reconnected”, a six part narrative webcomic mini series. Although this mini series can be read on it’s own, it also follows on from the events of this mini series and this one. You can catch up on previous episodes of this mini series here: Comic One, Comic Two, Comic Three, Comic Four

Many more comics featuring these characters can also be found on this page.

Yes, one vague benefit of the age of smartphones is that epic viking/pirate-themed heavy metal drinking songs can be enjoyed anywhere (then again, a MP3 player or a portable CD player could also do this). And, yes, whilst Alestorm have many drinking songs and so do Korpiklaani, I haven’t heard an Amon Amarth song about drinking (than again, I’ve only heard about three Amon Amarth songs). But, well, artistic licence.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Reconnected – Campfire” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (13th May 2018)

Unfortunately, today’s digitally-edited painting didn’t really turn out as well as I’d hoped. I’d originally planned to paint an ornate gothic/heavy metal-style painting, but it ended up being a lot more minimalist than I’d original planned.

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

“Under Shadowy Arches” By C. A. Brown