Tag Archives: heavy metal

Reading Robert E. Howard: Is Conan a Lion or a Tiger or What?

Taking the advice of my fellow blogger, Scott, I am finally reading my first Conan book, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian.

Why did I wait so long?  As one of the lyricists for a heavy metal band, I should long ago have been ripping off lines of Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) like this one:

…[he] drew back his mind from the nighted abysses where it had been questing… (p. 16)

If that language sounds a little excessive to you, then get a load of this.  In the short story “The Scarlet Citadel,” Howard so frequently assigns different characteristics to his protagonist that it becomes absurd:

“Who can take a man-eating tiger alive?” (p. 87)

“Take him up and fear not; the lion’s fangs are drawn.” (p. 87)

The kings reined in and gazed in awe at the fallen lion. (p. 87)

In one of these chariots lay Conan…weighted with chains, the tang of defeat in his mouth, the blind fury of a trapped tiger in his soul. (p. 88)

…his laughter sounded like the muttering of a rousing lion. (p. 89)

Conan’s laugh was like the deep short bark of a timber wolf. (p. 91)

…and Conan gave back the glare of a trapped wolf. (p. 95)

…gave Conan the name — Amra, the Lion — by which the Cimmerian had been known to the Kushites in his piratical days. (p. 96)

“Do you not remember the sack of Abombi, when your sea-wolves swarmed in?” (p. 96)

With a terrible curse Conan struck as a cobra strikes. (p. 97)

Conan paced the chamber like a caged lion. (p. 106)

With a lion-like roar the Cimmerian parried the whistling blade… (p. 110)

As a thunderbolt strikes, Conan struck, hurtling through the ranks by sheer power and velocity… (p. 116)

Lion, tiger, lion, tiger, wolf, wolf, snake, lightning, etc.  Whoa, that’s a lot of similes and metaphors.  It’s like Muhammad Ali saying, “Float like a butterfly, / Sting like a bee” and then a dozen other things.

But then again, this variegation is what makes Howard’s stories and Conan himself so darn fun.  The barbarian is sometimes a pirate, sometimes a mercenary, and sometimes a king.  The tales are set in any of the various kingdoms Howard invented (though, significantly, none  take place in Cimmeria and no other Cimmerians are ever written about).  Finally, one can’t expect a barbarian to have only one love interest so there are a number of female companions from slave girls to princesses to pirate queens.

Through it all, the language is gloriously excessive, the horrors of either savagery or civilization are laid bare, and the supernatural elements are exaggerated and over-excited.  In fact, one could say the same things about Howard’s friend, H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), another author that heavy metal lyricists like to imitate.

– Tim

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Metal on Metal

One of the best (and most ridiculous) things about heavy metal music is its many proud odes to heavy metal music.

So get ready to pump your fist and bang your head because here are some metal anthems you can find in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Music Department’s CD collection:

Anvil – “Metal on Metal

  • I think Anvil is like Judas Priest but with a less amazing singer, a better drummer, and slightly dumber lyrics.  They’re also lovable especially if you see the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil.  Their 1982 anthem “Metal on Metal” contains this brilliant stanza: “Metal on metal / Heads start to bang / Denim and leather / Chains that clang.”

Exodus – “Metal Command

  • Exodus are perhaps the best example of 1980s Bay Area thrash and their knuckleheaded lyrics are usually about violence or metal.  Or both.  “Bangers take your stand” and obey their “Metal Command.”

Judas Priest – “Metal Gods,” “Heavy Metal,” and “Metal Meltdown

  • Judas Priest were indeed metal gods of the 70s up until the mid-80s when they started wearing colored leather instead of black leather.  When they wisely switched back to black leather to begin the 90s they sounded good again.

Manowar – “Metal Daze

  • Manowar once held the Guinness record for the world’s loudest performance.  They’re also really into weight-lifting.  I can’t think of a better combination for making music.

Eric Adams of Manowar in 2002 (Photo by Catskingloves)

Metallica – “Metal Militia

  • One of the favorite pastimes of true metal maniacs is complaining about Metallica and how they’ve sucked since bassist Cliff Burton died in 1986.  Don’t worry, this song is from their 1983 debut album.

Quiet Riot – “Metal Health

  • “Bang your head / Metal health’ll drive you mad.”  Whatever that means, it sure sounded good to me while walking home from elementary school carrying a boom box.  Over twenty-five years later, I now offer my apologies to the quiet residents of suburban Denver.

Venom – “Black Metal

  • The mighty Venom aren’t really clever or  talented yet somehow (or perhaps because of this) are enormously influential.  This speedy and bombastic anthem tells you to “Lay down your soul to the gods rock and roll.”  They don’t even fit in the word “of” before “rock and roll.”  Don’t question it.

Let me know some of your favorite homages to headbanging heavy metal!

– Tim


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