Myth and Magic in Heavy Metal Music

Myth and Magic in Heavy Metal Music by Robert McParland (McFarland)

This book scores major kudos by having Cronos of the mighty and highly influential Venom on the cover. It’s a fine idea to explore the influences on the themes of heavy metal and Robert McParland does this with great aplomb. It’s nice to read such well-written work. It would have been nice if a well-known metal musician had written an intro for the book (it also wouldn’t have hurt its sales).

As a constructive criticism, the dearth of artwork and photographs signals a glaring omission. The visuals are a very important part of heavy metal, and it hurts the book not to have visuals to complement the fine text. But the text is very good. For instance, Led Zeppelin rightly get a chapter to themselves. The chapter discusses the influence of occultist Aleister Crowley on their work, as well as that of Tolkien, and Celtic and Norse myth (witness the recent effective use of “The Immigrant Song” in Thor: Ragnorok). Elsewhere, the importance of Black Sabbath is discussed.

Chapter 4, “Mythical Roots” is really superb. I am currently studying Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces and it immediately struck me how much this chapter complements it. And I wasn’t wrong about this connection: McParland refers directly to Campbells ideas.

Finally, I’d pick Chapter 6, “Iron Maiden: Mythology and the Ancient Mariner” as the best in a very good book. History and myth are all part of what makes Iron Maiden so special. McParland writes wisely: “It is one of the goals of the heavy metal bands to animate people’s imaginations.” Indeed, as proof in the pudding, I can remember seeing Steve Harris’s British Lion at Dolan’s Limerick and a friend rightly commenting about how many people Maiden have introduced to history and myth.

An important book because it treats heavy metal as the very legitimate culture it is.

Written by Robert McParland and published by McFarland.

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (