So you might know by now that I am a huge goddamn Tolkien geek. But Tolkien is, of course, not the only Fantasy writer I love. From trashy classics like the “John Carter” stories to complicated treasures like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Darkover” novels and behemoths like “A Song of Ice and Fire” (do not speak to me about the show), I just love to delve into strange worlds full of magic and heroism and intrigue and all that other good stuff. And for some reason, Fantasy as a genre has always been a lot more connected with music than any other genre of literature – very likely because of all the power metal I’ve listened to during my formative years, while I was also gorging myself on fantasy novels.
And because I like to help people find new things to love, I want to introduce you to a few of the bands and singers who have touched me the most as a fantasy fan.
Blind Guardian was the first band I actually listened to religiously. I’d been mainly a fan of German musicals and the one or other Britney Spears song before, but when a friend borrowed me the “Nightfall in Middle Earth” album when I was 16, it was like a revelation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to ‘Mirror Mirror’ or ‘the Eldar’ in that year, and even though I was slightly disappointed that “Somewhere Far Beyond” and “The Forgotten Tales” didn’t have the same Tolkien-related songs as Nightfall, songs like ‘Mordred’s Song’ and ‘The Quest for Tanelorn’ still made up the biggest part of the soundtrack of my later teenage years. While their newer stuff doesn’t quite transport me into worlds of elves and dragons and forsaken wars as much as their early albums, I still buy all of their rarer and rarer new releases.
Also, as a side note, I only read the Silmarillion when I was 21, but when I did, I listened to ‘Noldor’ and ‘The Eldar’ again, and I kid you not, I cried like Túrin over Finduilas’ grave. There is just something about knowing that somebody else took stories from a book that moved you so much and turned them into such beautiful music that can hardly be rivaled by anything else.
Battlelore is, like Blind Guardian, heavily inspired by Tolkien’s works, which is also the reason why I bought my first album by them, “Third Age of the Sun”. Every single song on that album, and most of the songs on their later albums, are Tolkien-themed, and like with Blind Guardian, I only started understanding most of the songs when I had finally read the Silmarillion. However, other than Blind Guardian, I actually needed this context to fully appreciate Battlelore, which is why I bought all of their albums relatively recently. I think the reason why I did not completely appreciate Battlelore when I first started listening to it was because of its death metal elements, which I’ve never been quite into as much as I am into power, symphonic or folk metal.
My forever favorite song of theirs is ‘Valier – Queens of the Valar’. Kaisa Jouhki’s nearly dreamy vocals just strike a surprising balance with the power metal of the instrumentals, and there is just something about her saying ‘Ilúvatar’ that makes my heart bloom. Also, I just really love the Valier in the Silmarillion.
Moving away from Tolkien, and from metal, let me tell you about Heather Dale. If you like folklore, beautiful lyrics and slow, emotional Celtic folk, you either already know Heather, or you really, really need to look into her stuff. Her songs are about folklore and about Arthurian myths, and all of her albums seem to have a very specific mood. My first and favorite of her albums, “Avalon”, for example, is sad, nearly desperate, full of songs of betrayal and revenge and loss, while “The Gabriel Hounds” has more of a fighting mood, underpinned by several instrumental pieces. “The Green Knight”, now, is full of optimistic, sometimes even fun takes on old folk songs, while the newest album I have of her, “Fairytale”, has songs that make your spine tingle with its otherworldly creepiness. She seems to span a large portion of English folklore with her music, which is not only reflected in her lyrics, but also in the moods I have just described.
Heather Dale’s music is incredibly inspiring to me. Sometimes her music can be painful, like Fairytale on the album of the same name, which I can only listen to when I’m in a very special mood, but her music always moves me in a profound way that I can’t quite explain.
Loreena McKennitt is less fantasy-focused in her work, with less of her songs being about topics of heroes of legend or fairytale creatures, like in Heather Dale’s music. Her music is also less modern folk and more authentically inspired by historical music, as all of her lyrics, and also most of her instrumental work, are very deeply rooted in different folk music and cultures, such as Irish culture for “Elemental”, or Galician culture for “The Mask and Mirror”. A result of this is that none of her albums really sound the same, even though her lilting, slightly operatic voice does give it a very specific kind of flavor. Since a lot of her work is at least partially instrumental, her music also works great as background music while you’re reading.
Loreena has been compared to Enya quite a lot, but to be honest, she sounds… less commercial? Don’t get me wrong, I love Enya, but Loreena’s music is far less mass-market, and a lot more specific. Even though I love her music, I sometimes have a hard time really getting into new albums, but once I really get into it, her songs transport me like few other pieces of music can. Her music is authentic and very intelligent, and listening to any new song of her is like going on a quest in a faraway land, which is why I think every lover of epic fantasy is going to love her as well.
Faun is a German band, and for me, they have always and will always be the quintessential Pagan Folk band, even though they have gone more commercial in recent years. Their earlier stuff is more alternative, often instrumental or non-German stuff (they used to sing a lot of Latin and rarely used languages like Sephardic, Old Icelandic or Uyghur), and the songs that are actually in German are mostly very old folk songs or songs from classic German literature that they interpret in their own unique style. Their newer albums contain the kind of music you’d be used from bands like Schandmaul if you’re into German folk rock, with very few songs being completely instrumental and, while most are inspired by folklore, they now rarely work with existing folk songs.
I have to say that I really prefer their earlier stuff, but since Schandmaul and similar bands have basically introduced me to the whole genre, I still like to listen to their newer albums every once in a while, especially because their music still has this dreamy, otherworldly quality that takes you into a strange, ancient past. It’s just that it is a little less otherworldly, a little less strange by now. But if you like German folk, or English pagan folk, you might want to take a look at them regardless.
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