What would hard rock and metal be without fantasy? Songs of knights, swords, and the bizarre landscapes of the past and post-apocalyptic future have been tropes in music since Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath first took to the stage in the late 1960s. In their wake, a steady stream of hard rocking bands have also drawn inspiration from the fantasy realm.
If dragons, magic, wizards, and the glory of Valhalla are your thing, check out these great metal songs about Vikings, outer space, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Vote up the ones that have catapulted you into the most mythical - and metal - realms.
Ronnie James Dio released Holy Diver in 1983. According Dio, who was raised Catholic, the title track from the album is steeped in religious allegory. Though it takes place on another planet, it features a Christ-figure perishing for the sins of his people. As the singer explains:
All the people on this planet are calling him the "Holy Diver" because he's about to go to another world to do what he did to the first - absolve them from their sins by having himself [slain]. And the people are saying to him, "Don't go," with innuendos of tigers and stripes and hearts and being eaten. It was meant to show just how selfish humanity is, that this one form of humanity in this one world said, "No, don't go down there and save anybody else. Stay here, we need you, you are ours."
Before "Holy Diver" and his solo career, Ronnie James Dio fronted Richie Blackmore's Rainbow. "Stargazer," from 1976's Rainbow Rising, tells the story of a wizard who believes he can fly. He enslaves people to build a tower that he can soar from, and many of its builders perish in the process.
When the tower is finally complete, the wizard climbs to the top and immediately falls to the ground. With his demise, the builders' hopes are dashed - only to be renewed by a rainbow in the distance:
I see a rainbow rising
Look there, on the horizon
And I'm coming home, I'm coming home, I'm coming home
It's no secret that Led Zeppelin was influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Imagery inspired by the series shows up in "Ramble On," from 1969's Led Zeppelin II:
Mine's a tale that can't be told, my freedom I hold dear
How years ago in days of old when magic filled the air
'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, mm-I met a girl so fair
But Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her her, her, yeah
And ain't nothin' I can do, no
It wouldn't be the only time Zeppelin made their Tolkien fandom known. At least three other songs in the band's catalog have clear references to the writer - one of which, "Over the Hills and Far Away," was inspired by The Hobbit. Even the title to the song is directly lifted from a poem written by Tolkien in 1915.
Dethklok began as the animated band at the center of Adult Swim's Metalocalypse. Their melodic death metal is so intense that it inspires rabid devotion among their fans, and the band is dubbed the "world's greatest cultural force" by the Tribunal, a secretive group that keeps an eye on their activities.
Dethklok was so popular they became a real-life band, courtesy of musician Brendon Small and comedy writer Tommy Blacha. "Blazing Star" is a single off the band's fourth (real-life) studio album, The Doomstar Requiem, and the song uses medieval imagery as a metaphor for the group's storyline in the Metalocalypse universe. In particular, it describes the events surrounding the abduction and return of rhythm guitarist Toki Wartooth. The song is a celebration of that reunion and the band's victory over the anti-Dethklok terrorist organization, The Revengencers.