Pop quiz, metalhead:
Observe these four album covers. What do these bands have in common?
If you answered "They all rule" and/or "They have super kick-ass album covers", you are technically correct. But that's not actually the answer I was looking for.
The correct answer is this: all of these bands often forego traditional "heavy metal vocals" in favor of spoken passages over their music, telling stories rather than singing them. Welcome to the wacky world of NARRATION METAL.
Illogical Contraption has successfully identified and named musical genres in the past (RENROCK, anyone?), and that's why we're here again today. Narration Metal comes in many different sub-genres, which we will discuss below. But it is the storytelling that unites the genre, the solemn recitation of text over rippin' metal, whether it be symphonic power metal, blasting black metal, or dual-guitar NWOBHM.
We all know about The Lord Weird Slough Feg already. I wrote a pretty enormous post about them recently, breaking down the myriad mythologies -- often from comic books or role-playing games -- that they base their lyrical content on. They are nerds, long story short, and an absolutely shredding metal band to boot. What I didn't mention in the duration of that epic piece, though, was that Slough Feg often dabbles in the realm of Narration Metal. For example: Check out "The Great Ice Wars" from Twilight of The Idols (listen HERE while you read along HERE - the good stuff starts at about 4:30) or "Traders and Gunboats" from Down Among The Deadmen (above - listen HERE while you read along HERE - good stuff about parsecs and space travel at 1:30). I don't know if it's just my own inherent nerdiness, but these short segments of monotone speech really add an extra element of "AWESOME" to a song for me, transforming it from a mere "track" to an actual "tale" set to music. Perhaps it is an acquired taste.
You fuckers should really acquire it.
Another band with an entirely different take on Narration Metal is Inquisition, who were featured here on IC last week. Inquisition's version is more of a stylistic approach to their vocal delivery, with singer Dagon croaking out his stories about Satan in a simultaneously whiny and bassy oration. The vocals stay more or less in cadence with the music, a characteristic that differs from most of the other artists featured here, and Inquisition even adds some "standard" black metal screeching here and there. But this is definite Narration Metal, as it is their oddly lackadaisical and monotone manner of singing that sets Inquisition apart from the black metal hordes.
Get their 2002 album Invoking The Majestic Throne of Satan HERE or 1998's Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult (above left) on Thulsa Doom. Evil, nerdy, brutal, and corny all at the same time. Narration Metal at its best.
Another experiment in extreme metal nerdiness is Bal-Sagoth (above), a long-running British band who recite tales straight out of Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert Howard over complex, keyboard-infused, blackened speed/death/symphonic grind. Vocalist Byron Roberts (nice Batman hat, Bro), while occasionally lapsing into more "standard" metal-vocal styles, most often speaks the lyrics of his songs in a powerful, reverbed baritone, almost reminiscent of Christopher Lee. The stories in Bal-Sagoth's music are fascinating, detailed accounts of magic and high adventure set in mystical places like Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu, and are EXACTLY the type of stuff ALL metal bands should write about. These guys are perhaps the finest example of Narration Metal we will discuss today, a completely, ridiculously dorky juggernaut who wear their affection for literature and storytelling proudly upon their frilly sleeves.
IllCon actually published a Bal-Sagoth triple feature on the second day of our existence. Our love affair with this band has been a long and fruitful one, indeed. You can go back and check it out, or just download the albums and research them at your leisure.
- The Cthonic Chronicles (2006)
- Atlantis Ascendant (2001 - above right)
- The Power Cosmic (1999 - left)
Highly recommended stuff if you are into weird fantasy, the Cthulhu Mythos, Emperor, or The Lord of The Rings.
Speaking of LoTR, what about those leather-pantsed LARPers in Rhapsody (of Fire)? These guys are Narration Metal pioneers as well, and display the same on-again, off-again propensity for spoken interludes as Slough Feg. You want nerdy, Italian-accented (and slightly lisped) tales of trolls, wizards, unicorns, mountains, and goblins interspersed with your balls-clutching, symphonic power metal? Rhapsody has you covered. Especially on Dawn of Victory, released back in 2000. That shit is EPIC. Get it HERE.
The problem is, Rhapsody figured out that Narration Metal = Awesome, and once they got the formula, they did it to DEATH. By 2006, the band decided that they would play "soundtrack metal" exclusively, and with the release of Symphony of Enchanted Lands Part II (above right) that same year, they drove the final nail into the Rhapsody coffin. They enlisted the narrative skills of the epically-voiced Christopher Lee for extensive voice-overs, but the problem was that they sacrificed their music to tell a story. It should have been a monumental success, but somehow, Enchanted Lands II was a misfire. Oh yeah, that was the same year they changed their name from just plain "Rhapsody" to "Rhapsody of Fire", as well. Too bad.
Anything pre-'06 is Narration Metal GOLD, though.
And speaking of Christopher Lee, anyone else heard his 2010 stab at Narration Metal, Charlemagne: By The Sword And The Cross? DUDE.
Apparently emboldened by his work with Rhapsody,
Saruman Lee decided to put together this fully realized, orchestral rock/metal opera, telling the story of King Charlemagne's brutal exploits across medieval Europe. Lee sings (out of tune, off time, and creepy), Lee narrates, Lee is Charlemagne. Sure, it's more "opera" than "metal", but this train wreck of an album is completely fascinating, even when it's cringe-inducingly bad. Despite some crunchy guitars, it's mainly the subject matter that's metal here, though -- I mean, beheading 4,000 Saxons in one fell swoop? Chris Lee is FUCKING METAL.
While we're speaking of super-metal subject matter AND narration, I have a couple of other treats to share with you guys. Whether or not these recordings are "Narration Metal" is debatable, but they are certainly "Metal Narration"...
How 'bout a books-on-tape version of Beowulf? Brutal shit, awesome story, download it HERE.
Anyone need Tales of The Norse Legends, as read by Benjamin Soames? That's a good one too. Download HERE.
(Thanks to Camellia, who I'm pretty sure hooked me up with both of these recordings years ago.)
So there you have it. NARRATION METAL. Genre = Defined.
But surely there are dozens more bands exploring this genre. Why don't you tell me about them in the 'Comments' section?