Heavy metal spec fic

Every now and again, my two great loves – loud guitar music and speculative fiction – collide in interesting ways. Witness io9’s piece on the latest album by Texan retro-metallers The Sword, which is a concept album of the old school, based on an unpublished story written by frontman J D Cronise. (The Sword, incidentally, are a superb live act; if you’ve any love for heavy metal whatsoever, be sure to go see them play if you get the chance.)

Science fiction and rock music have always been connected to some degree, but in my experience people tend to assume that their explicit linkage died off around the same time as the dinosaurs of the original Seventies progressive movement. (The heavier types of metal, largely due to the formative work of the mighty Black Sabbath, have tended to cleave to imagery that is more easily classified as horror or “dark fantasy”… always assuming that one can come to any sort of universally-agreeable definition of what either of those terms actually mean.) As mentioned a while ago, Jason Heller had a great essay at Clarkesworld that considered a whole batch of rock albums as science fiction texts, and it neatly puts the lie to the notion of an epoch of disconnection between the two spheres (though I’d argue that Heller ventures way outside the confines of what I’d define as “rock”, though that’s far less a judgement of value than one of aesthetics on my part.)

And out in the musical hinterlands, science fiction and rock music are still finding ways to connect to each other – something I’m fortunate enough to be well-placed to observe in my capacity as an independent reviewer of (often extremely) marginal musics. For example, only a few days back I was listening to a band called Constants, whose final song on their second album was entitled “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” (PKD titles are one of the most consistent reference points for modern bands, in my experience).

Then there’s the mighty Clutch, whose bluesy roadhouse-rawk references sf ideas and texts with almost frivolous abandon when the mood takes them (try “Escape From The Prison Planet“, or “The Rapture of Riddley Walker“, if you can cope with the horrible bandwidth and quality of live footage on YouTube). And I never tire of extolling the virtues of Manchester’s very own Amplifier, who have the rare knack of catching the epic scale and sensawunda of space opera in their sprawling and slightly proggy compositions – in fact, when I guested at Philip Palmer’s blog a while ago, I plucked out their majestic “UFOs” for appreciation by a wider audience. Go have a listen.

Music, after all, is another form of storytelling (and arguably a much older one than the novel and short story), so it should come as no surprise that the ideas and imagery of science fiction appear there, too. What sf-nal musics are lurking on your Generic Digital Music Playback Device, rock or otherwise? Call ’em out in the comments; maybe we’ll all find something fresh to listen to. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Heavy metal spec fic”

  1. Ayreon’s albums are all sf or fantasy concept albums. He also has a side-project called Star One, whose albums are sf. Blöödhäg write songs about science fiction writers. Lord Weird Slough Feg recorded a concept album based on the Traveller RPG.

  2. Although I would not call them metal, they are harder rock; check out Coheed and Cambria. Their entire discography (5 studio, 2 live, and some other releases) are all the telling of a SF story called The Armory Wars created by lead singer Claudio Sanchez.

    I was so excited to see you post something about The Sword. So excited in fact, that it warranted my first comment on your site even though I have been reading it for quite some time.

  3. Ian: I suspect that of all the people I know, your record collection contains the most umlauts. 😉

    Butcher: I’ve got a few of the C&C albums already, and am passing fond of them… they can be a bit too waffly, though (an odd complaint to make about a prog band, but nonetheless). But thanks very much for coming out of the comments closet! |m/

  4. Off the top of my head I can think of Iron Maiden who wrote a song called To Tame A Land based on Dune, progressive black metallers Matriden wrote an entire album based on 2001 called Encounter The Monolith and tech thrash Prototype have a lot of SF themed songs also
    borrowing from Dune and

  5. Two of my favorites, though much more mainstream, are Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” and Rush’s “2112”, both concept albums regarding dystopian futures, the latter based on Ayn Rand’s sci-fi novel, “Anthem”.
    Even better is when sci-fi writers themselves cross over into music, such as Michael Moorcock on his collaborations with Hawkwind, BOC and Spirits Burning.
    Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention my own contribution as co-illustrator on the album “Sky Club” from sci-fi writer/musician Mack Maloney (www.mackmaloney.com). It’s another concept album combining prog rock covers with an original sci-fi storyline.

  6. Yeah, Ayreon also has Floor Jansen do some singing, so worth checking out.

    You of course have to have Queen’s Flash Gordon. 🙂

    And of course, The Misfits. ‘Teenagers Form Mars’, ‘Astro Zombies’ etc.

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