Metal as the Muse
As an author, I listen to a wide variety of music while I write—from metal to electronic ambient to classical music. Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) is one of my favorites. The composition was inspired by one of Saint-Saëns’ own poems where death plays a violin at the stroke of midnight surrounded by skeletons dancing in their shrouds. Pretty damn metal.
Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) once said in an interview that he prefers to draft novels in the waiting areas of emergency rooms, feeding off the noise and drama unfolding all around him. Hemingway is often attributed with the quote: “Write drunk; edit sober,” which I often do in noisy bars downing pint after pint of fermented liquid happiness. But several authors I work with can only pen the future great American masterpiece in complete silence.
For me, silence stifles my ability to write. It’s deafening. In truth, silence is really fucking distracting. It opens the black iron gates to that cacophony of shrill voices in my mind that come crawling out of the obsidian that is my subconscious—their pointed fangs and claws flashing white in the darkness just before sinking deep into my trembling eyeballs.
And it’s not easy to write with bleeding eyeballs.
To quell that silence and keep those visceral voices at bay, I often use metal to mangle my imagination, hopefully resulting in a host of stories convulsing and bleeding on the floor with exquisite ingenuity. And the bands I usually gravitate toward—like the Saint-Saens’ piece—feature a strong narrative quality throughout their albums.
Moonsorrow is a great example and has always been a savage source of creative strength when I’m killing off fictional characters in innovative ways. (Usually involving Medieval weapons. And lots of fire.) The band’s thirty-minute magnum opus, “Tulimyrsky,” (from the EP which shares the same name) cultivates just the right amount of pagan black metal madness and macabre tranquility.
The song itself (translated as Firestorm) is a story of revenge: The violent sacking of a village, homes burning brightly in the night, bodies riddled with arrows, axes and swords coated in crimson, screams drowning in waves of blood—all sung in Finnish. These narrative elements lend themselves to my own story lines and characters whose own internal battles often leave them slaughtered alongside piles of swirling ash.
Another band good for cultivating creativity is Xanthochroid, which I came across on metal-archives.com as a related band to Ne Obliviscaris. Paralleling Portal of I (with the exception of that signature kick-ass violin), Xanthochroid’s album Blessed He With Boils similarly boasts melodic vocals juxtaposed nicely with growls.
There’s a folkish element to many of their songs, including a flute in “Winter’s End.” An acoustic guitar drops in often throughout the album to lull your malleable mind into a false sense of security just before thrashing guitar riffs and high-pitched growls tear your head off your shoulders. There is even a piano solo.
The album, which should be listened to in its entirety from start to finish, fosters a fantastic atmosphere of reflection, animosity, and anguish, the perfect scrim for my own fictional characters to play out their own hardships and miseries.
Caladan Brood‘s debut album Echoes of Battle offers yet another impressive metal conduit for those creative writing juices to bubble up to the surface. With influences ranging from Tolkien to Moonsorrow to World of Warcraft, the band’s first album generates yet another rich atmosphere of black metal embedded deeply in fantasy folklore.
One particular song that tickles my testicles as I write (which is essential for any successful author) is the song “Wild Autumn Wind,” a melodic, slow-paced-yet-fiercely-energetic song, featuring the band’s signature choral vocals.
And then there’s that gorgeous guitar solo at 9:35 that just makes my head slam forward over and over, driving my fingers to type faster and harder.
And check out the lyrics to the song, “Book of the Fallen”
Strap on your shields and raise your banners. / Hear the call of raging battle. / Beneath a hail of flaming arrows. / Push ever forward. Never surrender.
I don’t think there’s ever been a more accurate description of the creative process put to song.
All of these albums share a common narrative theme: Vicissitude. Peaks and valleys. The dichotomy of those guttural screams clawing alongside clean vocals. Gentle piano interludes and head-crushing blast beats. Those all-too-human moments of empathy followed by furious eruptions of raw acrimony that burns the world black with soot.
I greedily feed off the talent and creativity of theses bands, and the albums parallel the very stories I try to write. Conflict. Loss. Resolution. Contemplation. Retribution. Death.