10 Bands Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’
Join us on a journey from Middle-Earth all the way to Mount Doom in Mordor to explore the realm of heavy metal bands that are heavily inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s timeless fantasy series, The Lord of the Rings.
It’s unsurprising that the cult novel series, which was later adapted into an award winning movie trilogy by Peter Jackson, has been often cited in heavy metal. Fantasy and mysticism are integral themes in heavy metal and in some cases, it's the foundation that many rock artists have built their persona upon. Plus, the doomy hellscape of Mordor is a setting that rivals hell itself, making the perfect fodder for lyrical brutality.
LOTR is also so much more than just mythology and escapism. It has very real themes of friendship, adventure, betrayal, greed, and mortality, evoking a genuine roller coaster of emotions with every book in the series. It is a brilliantly crafted collection of literature, blending fantasy and reality in a manner that resonates deeply with every reader, making them feel as if they are on this epic journey with our beloved protagonists.
The influence of Tolkien is vast, and surfaces in a plethora of ways. Some bands have only written a song or two whereas some have written entire albums. There are even a few on this list who haven’t been known to write a single lyric about Mordor or Middle-Earth, but simply derived their namesakes from the novel.
So pack your bags, grab the Pippen to your Merry, and get ready to venture though the most timeless series of all time via heavy metal and rock ‘n’ roll!
There are plenty of bands who worship in the house of Tolkien, but none who have made it a staple in their career quite like Blind Guardian. The power metal outfit have not only written a wealth of tunes based on Lord of the Rings, but even delivered a concept album based on the series in 1998, aptly titled Nightfall in Middle-Earth. The band is so heavily embedded within the Tolkien-verse that when news broke that the film series was on the way, rumors spread like wildfire that the band had been tapped to write the score. Disappointingly, this was untrue and a real missed opportunity for one badass soundtrack!
When writing “The Wizard” for Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album, bassist Geezer Butler was reading LOTR, which inspired him to base the lyrics off of the wise wizard and Istari Order member, Gandalf. The song is a bit of a double entendre as it also serves as a metaphor for the band’s own personal wizard - their drug dealer!
You certainly won’t find hobbits or wizards or elves in any Burzum songs; however, the band name itself means “darkness” in The Black Speech, the fictional language spoken in Mordor. In fact, the word can also be found on the infamous ring inscription, which reads, “Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul/ ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.” If this sounds unfamiliar, it’s because you likely know it better as, “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them / One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.” If you still aren’t convinced that someone as evil as Varg Vikernes would cite the works of a devout Catholic in his art, his nickname, Count Grishnackh/Greifi Grischnackh, is a nod to Grishnákh, the captain of the Orcs. Even his first band was named Uruk-Hai. This was another Black Speech phrase for “Orc-folk” and specifically applies to the strongest race of Orcs in Mordor who are the servants of Saruman the Wise a.k.a. The White Hand.
Much like Burzum, Amon Amarth only eponymously pays homage to Lord of the Rings. Amon Amarth literally translates to “hill of doom” and is another name for Orodruin, the volcanic “Mount Doom” in which our loving protagonist, Frodo Baggins, journeys to once and for all destroy the ring. You can’t blame them for finding inspo in Mordor because there is something just so metal about a fiery mountain of doom.
Rush drummer Neil Peart is a hardcore fan of literature, including the epic works of Tolkien. He first incorporated the influence of LOTRin 1975 with the song “Rivendell,” named after the majestic Elven city that is home to Elrond. Just a year later, he wrote “The Necromancer” which references the nickname Gandolf bestowed upon Sauron in The Hobbit, providing a stark contrast to the themes of “Rivendell.” The latter opus is split into three parts, likely to mimic the novel’s trilogy format.
This list would not be complete without an appearance from these legends since Led Zeppelin wrote a wealth of LOTR-inspired material. Contrary to popular belief, “Stairway to Heaven” is not among them, however, the title of “Misty Mountain Hop” references the Misty Mountains or Hithaeglir. “The Battle of Evermore” is filled with metaphorical references to the book, such as the lines “The dark Lord rides in force tonight” and “The ringwraiths ride in black, ride on.” And, of course, “Ramble On,” which retells a very rock and roll version of events in which there are fair maidens in Mordor and Gollum is a girlfriend thief.
Gorgoroth are yet another band who cleverly and stealthily pay tribute to LOTR. While they haven’t written anything that outright references the series, The Plateau of Gorgoroth is a wasteland laden with volcanic ash in the heart of Mordor. This is where Sauron’s army can be found, waiting for his commands and looking out for any potential intruders.
When coming up with the title for Megadeth's Endgame track, “This Day We Fight,” Dave Mustaine reflected on Aragorn’s moving battle speech in The Return of the King and drew his inspiration from there. As the trilogy comes to a dramatic conclusion, Aragorn leads the Army of the West in their final fight against Sauron. Seeing the fear in his army’s eyes, he delivers a rousing motivational speech. “...I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight!”
This Swedish power metal outfit Sabaton are known for their frequent lyrical themes of war and fantasy, which makes it unsurprising that their song “Shadows” from 2007’s Metalizeris all about Mordor and the terrible army of the evil Sauron, the dark lord who created The Ring.
As I compiled this list, I developed a newfound appreciation for Norwegian black metallers Dimmu Borgir and how they have subtly paid homage to Lord of the Rings without being too ostentatious about it. It’s like planting little secret nuggets that only the most devout Tolkien fans would notice. Dimmu Borgir is no different. While they make no direct references to the novels, frontman Shagrath’s namesake is a play on the name Shagrat, the orc captain of the tower of Cirith Ungol. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that J.R.R. Tolkien is a beast at coming up with black metal band names without even trying!