I’m super-excited for the new Gloryhammer album, Space 1992: Rise Of The Chaos Wizards.
It’s a concept album, and unsurprisingly, given the title, it looks like Gloryhammer have taken their first album’s so-cheesy-it-becomes-awesome fantasy themes, loaded them onto a starship and sent them through a wormhole deep into the sci-fi sector.
Metal lyrics often have an imaginative component — dreaming of fantasy worlds or possible futures. This willingness to break from the mundane is one of my favourite things about the genre (aside from the obvious stuff); metal is a great place to escape the daily grind and have some real fun, and fun is Gloryhammer’s strong point. Seeing them live is a fantastic experience; it’s like a heavy metal pantomime.
Visually, I get a real Space Crusade vibe from that video. Maybe it’s just me?
Longtime readers will know already that Science-fantasy themed heavy metal ticks a number of AddAltMode’s boxes, but the anticipation of this forthcoming album has had me thinking recently about other sci-fi metal bands.
I should emphasise that none of these albums carries “serious” science fiction. If you want to experience the headstretch that comes from reading an intelligently-written sci-fi novel, wherein the future is designed to hold a mirror up to the present and make clever points about ethics or politics, then read a novel. Get some John Scalzi or something. The medium of the written word has serious advantages when it comes to complex ideas. Music gets the gist across admirably — it evokes rather than elaborates — but it can transfer ideas on an emotional level more powerfully than any other medium I know.
Nexus Polaris by
Covenant The Kovenant
(When this album was first released, the band were called “Covenant”. They subsequently changed their name to avoid confusion with the Swedish electronic group.)
This album carries powerful memories for me: it is the album that got me into black metal. At the age of 16, I was in many respects a typical 16-year-old death metal fan – on a quest to find the most br000tal songs ever released. Slayer, Bolt Thrower and A*** C*** were among my favorites. When a friend introduced me to an album with keyboards that had a darker, colder sound than anything I had previously encountered, I was blown away. From there it was a rapid journey through Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir to Mayhem, Darkthrone and Arcturus.
The concept behind this album is deliberately obscure — this is science-fiction painted with the broad strokes of mythology, rather than in fine detail. later albums brought a drastic change in sound to the band, although the science-fiction angle never left, Nexus Polaris is the most science-fictional of their releases.
Lots of tr00-kvlt “fans” hated the later material, and tend to deny the existence of the band’s latter incarnation, which I think is a bit sad. Life’s too short to waste time getting angry about artist’s decisions to create art you don’t like after art you do, and the later The Kovenant albums are good, even if they’re not in the same genre (or the same league IMHO) as Nexus Polaris.
The Power Cosmic by Bal-Sagoth
Bal-Sagoth describe themselves as ” an avant-garde black/death metal band … swathed in symphonic splendour and dark fantasy/science-fiction imagery”. I think they’d pretty much hit the nail on the head; their band-name derives from the Robert E Howard short The Gods of Bal-Sagoth, and their lyrics often tell the history of a dark fantasy world of their own creation.
The Ancient World “before the 2nd great cataclysm” is an Earth in the distant past, full of wizards, strange monsters and sword-wielding heroes: it is a realm in the tradition of the best (and worst) swords-an-sorcery fantasy of the last century. The history Bal-Sagoth craft for this ancient world is suitably epic for the grandeur of their music.
However, not every song in their repertoire derives from the history of this imaginary world: they also delve into such metal staples as the Cthulhu mythos, the occasional Godzilla reference, and less staple themes such as Silver Surfer comics.
As you can guess by their more varied inspirations, Bal-Sagoth consistently stay on the right side of the border between grandeur and pomposity. You can read more (much more) about their stories at their vocalist/composer Byron Roberts’ great WordPress blog.
The Sham Mirrors and Sideshow Symphonies by Arcturus
Disclaimer: Arcturus are our favourite band here at AddAltMode; I might gush a bit from here on in.
Arcturus shared several members with Nexus Polaris-era
Covenant The Kovenant, and these album tackle several of the same ideas. Scattered across several songs is a science fiction mythos about some shipwrecked space travellers. Much like Nexus Polaris, the story is never fully revealed or explained, letting the listener’s imagination fill in the gaps. I get the impression that aliens fleeing a planet orbiting a “dying” star have boarded a starship that they don’t really know how to pilot, only to crash much later on Earth, having gone a little bit peculiar en-route due to isolation. Perhaps their “dying” star has exhausted it’s core’s hydrogen and entering it’s shell-burning phase, causing a vast expansion as it becomes a red giant, like the star Arcturus did at some point in the distant past.
Warp Riders by The Sword
The Sword have long produced music that harks back to the 70s, and for their concept album, they produced a story that harks back to science-fiction movies of the 70s. They rounded out the whole affair with three fantastic videos for the three singles from the album. My favourite was Tres Brujas:
From the start of the video in some desert (on Earth? on Tattoine? on Arrakis?), our
intrepid heroes slightly dirty-looking rock band are soon sent off on a spaceship to do some sort of quest involving swords, impractical but super-advanced technology and a villain dressed like Darth Vader as imagined by the costume designers from WWE wrestling. It’s daft as hell, but who cares? The Rule of Cool is the order of the day.
I’ve put together a playlist on Spotify that includes highlights from these albums and a few other on-theme tracks: listen to it here.