Heavy Metal and Horror: A Marriage Made in Hell!
Whenever I envisioned the character of Astolath in my novel Gape, he was always accompanied in my mind by the sound of chugging guitars, crashing drums and wailing vocals. He’s just such a heavy metal character, straight from an album cover by Ozzy Osborne or King Diamond.
This got me thinking about the long association between heavy metal and horror which somehow always seems to have been there.
There are several claimants to the originators of heavy metal. Some trace the genre back as far as the 60s and bands like The Kinks, Steppenwolf, Blue Cheer and MC5. These admittedly all had a guitar sound that was much heavier than their predecessors, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath that really started to steer hard rock into heavier territory.
But, while Led Zep’s Jimmy Page had a very public fascination with the occult (even going so far as to buy Aleister Crowley’s old house), it was Black Sabbath that really cemented the connection with horror, even taking their name from Mario Bava’s classic 1963 movie starring Boris Karloff. Further still, the title track from their first album was based on a story by British horror writer Dennis Wheatley. Guitarist Tony Iommi once explained their sound by saying that heavy music need heavy subject matter – and what could be heavier than the dark side?
Fellow Brits – Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Angel Witch and Venom (among a host of others) – all followed the ‘left hand path’ that Sabbath had taken. And, while not all were as overtly Satanic-sounding as Sabbath, they all adopted imagery and lyricism that explored themes of horror and black magic. Maiden’s Number of the Beast and Venom’s Black Metal albums are classics of the genre.
Across the pond, Vincent Furnier (AKA Alice Cooper) was cranking out albums about serial killers and homicidal lunatics. On tour, his stage shows owed more to Grand Guignol theatre than to rock and roll with hangings, decapitations and torture devices being employed as props for black humour in his music. His Welcome to My Nightmare album is still in my top ten all-time favourites and sounds creepy to this day.
I even remember desperately trying to find John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness on VHS when I found out that Alice Copper had both written the theme music and made a cameo appearance. There are probably many other examples of metal on soundtracks, but this one (along with Fastway’s Trick or Treat soundtrack) got me really excited. In fact, I think that there are only two really great horror movies that work without a metal or an orchestral score: The Wicker Man and Near Dark.
Though Alice still continues to tour and release new music, Danzig, Marilyn Manson and – most recently – GhostBC have all carried on in the same dark vein. And, if you can handle the intensity, there is a whole genre of ‘black metal’ and its various sub-categories that are devoted to demonology, mythology and horror.
Ok, so this doesn’t all really explain the connection between horror and metal. Perhaps, the same introverted obsession with the darkness that infects many dark writers also affects those who turn to music for artistic self-expression? Though the two aren’t exclusively bound together, there does seem to be a preponderance of people out there who are fans of both.
I was already long into horror books and movies by the time I listened to my first metal album, the aforementioned Number of the Beast. But from that day on, the two were inextricably combined on a personal level. And, if anyone out there wants to commit Gape to film, I’ve already got my list of favourite dark tunes to accompany it:
- ‘Year Zero’ by GhostBC
- ‘Born in a Burial Gown’ by Cradle of Filth
- ‘Roses on White Lace’ by Alice Cooper
- ‘Mother’ by Danzig
- ‘Children of the Damned’ by Iron Maiden
- ‘Lord of this World’ by Black Sabbath
- ‘The Thing That Should not Be’ by Metallica
- ‘Scream Until You Like It’ by W.A.S.P.
- ‘Burn in Hell’ by Twisted Sister
- ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’ by Judas Priest
- ‘Shout at the Devil’ by Motley Crue
- ‘Phantom Antichrist’ by Kreator
Gape by Aiden Truss
When Rose woke up in her favourite shop doorway, she was resigned to yet another day of hunger, struggle and abuse. This was life on the streets after all.
What she wasn’t prepared for was a visit from a demon, an invitation back to his temporally insubstantial sanctuary, and forced to take sides in a battle involving most of the denizens of hell. Oh, and a boat trip down the river Thames.
After a disappointing start to the day, things were about to get a bit more interesting…
Aiden Truss is a forty one year-old geek who still thinks that he’s twenty-one. Despite never having grown up, he’s now been married for twenty four years and has two sons who have grown up against all odds to be strangely well adjusted.
Aiden spends his time flitting between high and low culture: he holds an MA in Cultural and Critical Studies and can often be seen stalking the galleries and museums of London, but also likes watching WWE, listening to heavy metal music, collecting comic books and playing classic video games.
Aiden lives in Kent, England and Gape is his first novel.
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