For Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday, I wrote a piece about the band Uriah Heep, the only decent rock band to ever name themselves after a Dickens character. Their first album also referenced the David Copperfield antagonist in its title, Very ‘eavy… Very ‘umble. It was panned in Rolling Stone with the hook “If this group makes it I’ll have to commit suicide.” Reading up on Uriah Heep, I was reminded that I can’t stand literary elitism in music criticism. In literary criticism, fine. That’s what your English degree is for. But I don’t need to see anyone else fawn over the Decemberists for crooning about Myla Goldberg, and then dismiss Iron Maiden for being pompous. Clearly only the bands that we enjoy can really understand books, right? I’m sure that Colin Meloy is a smart guy and that he appreciates Bee Season. It’s just a matter of taste that I’d rather listen to Bruce Dickinson screaming about the albatross. But whatever your preference is, if you’re looking for a good audio book, it doesn’t get much better than these eleven. 1. Anthrax, “Among the Living” (Stephen King’s The Stand) Anthrax are responsible for more Stephen King adaptations than Frank Darabont, but they never hit it better than on their tribute to Randall Flagg from The Stand. Anthrax fan Kevin Smith must have noticed the song’s cinematic qualities when he picked it to score the Clerks 2 trailer, one of the best of the past decade. 2. Corrosion of Conformity, “Wiseblood” (Flannery O’Connor’s Wiseblood) The title track from C.O.C.’s mid-’90s rager took its name from another brutal portrayal of the decrepit American South. Apparently, it left a huge impression on guitarist Pepper Keenan–he later named his daughter Flannery. 3. Iron Maiden, “The Clairvoyant” (Orson Scott Card’s Seventh Son) Any song from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, a concept album based on Orson Scott Card’s fantasy novel, could have appeared on this list. But the most enduring is deservedly “The Clairvoyant,” driven by one of Steve Harris’ healthiest basslines. I’m thankful that Maiden, or anyone, is more inspired by Card’s books than by his stance on gay rights. 4. Iron Maiden, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner) Easily the most faithful of any of these adaptations, Maiden picked out direct quotes from Coleridge and ended up with their longest song to date. We learned more from a 14-minute record than we ever learned in school. 5. Iron Maiden, “The Trooper” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade) What can I say? Maiden wrote many of the world’s best songs about books. This riveting study of Charge of the Light Brigade kicks just hard enough to edge out “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “Brave New World” and “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.” 6. Mastodon, “Blood and Thunder” (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick) Mastodon’s breakthrough Leviathan tackled one of literature’s indisputable classics in themes, scope and cover art. I couldn’t tell you what “Split your lungs with blood and thunder when you see the white whale” means, but it has me convinced that Troy Sanders is Captain Ahab. 7-8. Metallica, “Call of the Ktulu” and “The Thing That Should Not Be” (H. P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu) Anyone who mocks Metallica for misspelling the name of H.P. Lovecraft’s most infamous beast obviously hasn’t read the book–the name is not to be said or written out, lest we bring it closer. The band did get brave enough to quote the Necronomicon passage on “The Thing That Should Not Be,” a harrowing tribute to the same creature. 9. Metallica, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls) By their second album, the world’s most masculine band was already cribbing from the world’s most masculine author. Using basic language and weaving together a series of simple riffs, James Hetfieldway honored both Uncle Ernie’s depiction of the Spanish Civil War and his concise writing style. 10. Metallica, “One” (Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun) Dave Barry once claimed to “play music as well as Metallica writes novels,” and he’s probably right. Still, there’s no disputing the storytelling and mood-setting capabilities behind “One,” a song that took its narration from Trumbo’s wretched hero. 11. Rush, “2112” (Ayn Rand’s Anthem) Perhaps the greatest stunt that Rush ever pulled off was translating Ayn Rand into something that most headbangers could stomach. The fact that a composition as dizzying as “2112” is based on Anthem is proof that the best music is magic 58 Responses Randy July 15, 2014 The only thing is, Troy Sanders didn’t sing those lines on Mastodon’s “Blood and Thunder”. Neil Fallon of Clutch did. Reply Markish July 15, 2014 To tame a land by Iron Maiden about Frank Herbert’s Dune. Possibly my favourite Maiden track ever. Reply bob williamson July 15, 2014 um,no.Anthem was based on rands “Anthem”and to a lesser degree so was “closer to the heart”.2112 was a dream sequence Reply Russ Curtis July 16, 2014 Have you even read Anthem? The electric light becomes the electric guitar. The only differences are Rush kills the hero and Ayn Rand does not, and in the song the bad guys are thrown out but in the book the hero just goes off and starts a new life. Also, the -12 of 2112 is a reference to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. You can hear the muical reference near the end of Rush’s 2112 Overture. Reply Mike Lalla July 15, 2014 What about Iced Earth’s – Dante’s Inferno Reply Craig July 15, 2014 iced earth Gettysburg’s album was a history lesson in it’s self and subject’s written off for a very long time.F***ing loved that album\,,/ Reply grenadeh February 11, 2016 F*cking indeed sir Craig, f*cking indeed. Andy Theke July 15, 2014 My favorite Musik is Iron Maiden and there are so much favorite Songs from them but i think the best one is “Rime of the Anicient Mariner” its like an “Opera” i think. Your Critical its nice to read. Andy from Germany \_/ 🙂 Reply Corn July 15, 2014 Megadeth’s “Five Magics”? Anyone? Reply Sjoerd Tollenaar July 15, 2014 A beter song by Metallica based on a novel would be ”welcome home sanatorium”. It is direct adaptation of one flew over the cuckoos nest. Reply Alvina July 15, 2014 I like Alexander the Great. ( iron maiden) Saw the movie. But didn’t read the book Reply josh July 16, 2014 I immediately thought this track as well, but I am not sure if it was based on any specific book so much as the history. But overall, the subject matter is what makes Iron Maiden so great. Reply Andrew July 15, 2014 Hi Ben, I read your article and I think it’s very interesting in my opinion Maiden is the best band making songs about literature, but you know, this kind of opinions are always based on subjective points of views. I would like to share with you a JKDC’s song based on Melville’s book Moby Dick http://youtu.be/DwgDLuTq3MM I you like I can send to you a copy of the entire album, thanks for your work! Reply gandulf July 15, 2014 What’s about Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth album? Or their masterpiece “Ands then there was silence” about Troy (The Iliad?) Reply Emmi July 16, 2014 Glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed how limited the artist list in this article was. Reply Rick July 15, 2014 And Then There was Silence by Blind Guardian combines both Homer’s Illiad and Virgil’s Aeneid. It is mythology with a power metal soundtrack and bronze age warfare never sounded better. Reply Beeks July 15, 2014 Are you forgetting Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” about the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien? Reply deleon June 29, 2015 That’s what I was gonna say…but Gollum the evil one crept up and commented first. Reply teroras July 15, 2014 Anything off of Bruce Dickinson’s The Chemical Wedding, especially The Book of Thel. An entire album dedicated to William Blake is an awesome thing. Reply Qays July 15, 2014 Amen, preach it! What a great album, and great concept. Reply Kraxis July 15, 2014 “The thing that should not be” by Metallica is about “The shadow over innsmouth”, not about “The call of cthulhu “ Reply Eric July 15, 2014 Dream Theater’s Pull Me Under on the Images and Words album is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Reply Ian July 15, 2014 Wait. Are you calling Clerks 2 one of the best films of the decade, or am I parsing that sentence incorrectly? Reply Jeremy July 15, 2014 Seriously…? The Odyssey by Symphony X? Anyone? Reply Craig July 15, 2014 Brilliant tale’s and song’s on that album from many an ancient source \m/ Reply Steve July 15, 2014 Yes!!! Saw them do it live in it’s entirety as the encore a few years back. Amazing! Reply Neil July 16, 2014 Beat me to it. Fantastic piece of music. “I will right all the wrongs, let the gods sing my song” Reply Devan July 15, 2014 What about Machine Head’s A Farewell to Arms? Reply Lucas July 15, 2014 Please, what about Judas Priest’s “Electric eye”? Refering to George Orwell’s 1984 Reply daniel July 15, 2014 it would be missing one of the most accurate and beauty addaptations of a poem, which is the sleeper by edgar allan poe, interpreted by the gothic rock band sopor aethernus 😉 Reply Kerphelio July 15, 2014 Allan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Whole Album about E.A. Poe stories. Hard to beat when it comes to adaptations. And while I looove Iron Maiden (lovelovelove) – I don’t like their adaptations very much, because they’re mostly just retelling the stories and that’s kinda cheap. No reflection, no own angle – meh. If I want the story I’ll read the book – it’s better written than any re-telling in song can ever be. I prefer it when someone takes a book , mentally works through it and then uses that as the basis for their own perspective on it, or if they look at the story from a specific characters viewpoint. Kinda like Kate Bush did with “The Sensual World” (Based on James Joyce, “Ulysses”) But then again, I do love all the Maiden songs mentioned here for their music, just not their approach when it comes to doing songs based on literature. Reply Melina July 16, 2014 Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson are the reason I have a second major in English lit. Another notable mention is Arcturus with “Alone” (Edgar Allan Poe). Reply Nivunen July 16, 2014 I think there’s a big difference between songs that actually tell the story quite accurately and songs that are only influenced by some book. Listening to Iron Maiden is like reading a book. I heard that some teacher in some Finnish school used to play Maiden’s tracks on his lessons and raised many new metal heads as a byproduct. Reply cody July 16, 2014 Kamelot’s two album epic about Faust? Reply john hammond July 16, 2014 how about The Alan Parsons Project’s “Doctor Tarr and Professor Pheather? Reply Sam July 16, 2014 I love Maiden and Metallica, but it would have been nice to see a few more bands in this list; I don’t think we needed 3 or 4 each from those two. The biggest oversight on here is Sabbat’s ‘Dreamweaver (Reflections Of Our Yesterdays’ album. Based on Brian Bates’s ‘The Way Of Wyrd,’ ‘Dreamweaver’ was not only a literary adaptation, but also featured possibly the most literary lyrics ever found in thrash metal, courtesy of future Skyclad frontman Martin Walkyier. I daresay they fall somewhere between Shakespeare and Poe in their grandeur. Reply josh July 16, 2014 Someone needs to write a metal song about the Glanton Gang from Cormac MacCarthy’s Blood Meridian. That would be a bloody awesome song (pun intended). Reply josh July 16, 2014 by the way, this is going to inspire me to make a Metalit playlist. Reply mike July 16, 2014 the alan parsons project really? did you guys read the article they are not even a metal band Reply Katherine July 16, 2014 Okay, I like Maiden and Metallica as much as anybody, but is it really necessary to have 3 songs by each of them on a list that’s only 11 songs long? So many great bands have been overlooked. Surprised I didn’t see Symphony X on here. They did an entire album based on Paradise Lost. Reply Miguel menezes July 16, 2014 I love a song with a good lyric, somehow is adding the pleasure of reading a book with listening a musical composition. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son being one of my first records, introduced me to that sub world of a community of songs and artists that made this care for the word, has a priority or even an identity to their compositions. Pink Floyd´s introspectives, Dire Straits americas lonely man blues, Radiohead Surrealism and paranoia, Dylans street wisdom and Leonard Cohen´s poetry, are some of the genius that would´t be, without the word that they write. Reply max July 16, 2014 Seventh Wonder’s “Great Escape” is my favorite… 31 minutes of fun 🙂 Reply GruntUltra July 17, 2014 Not that there weren’t enough Iron Maiden tracks here, but I’m also partial to their song ‘Stranger In a Strange Land.’ Reply JKS July 17, 2014 “Blood and thunder” is a war cry. Reply Why Metal and literature get along so well – Flavorwire July 17, 2014 […] and more writers are coming out and writing about their own interest in metal — and as shown by an Electric Literature list this past week, or Liturgy’s Hunter Hunt-Hendrix calling his music “transcendental black […] Reply Bruce July 17, 2014 Got to be Blind Guardian’s And Then There Was Silence.. Epic Reply The Best Things We Read on the Internet This Week: Heavy Metal Flannery O’Connor, Lana Del Rey, Zadie on Ballard – Flavorwire July 18, 2014 […] “The Eleven Best Metal Songs About Literature” by Ben Apatoff, Electric Literature […] Reply Chris July 19, 2014 I’d add “Xanadu” to that list from Rush. Reply Sam July 22, 2014 Lesser known but I’ll include “The Tell-Tale Heart” by From the Dark. Reply 11 canções do Heavy Metal inspiradas pela literatura - vacatussa July 24, 2014 […] Clique aqui para ver a lista completa. […] Reply We Call Upon the Author: A Literary Playlist — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox April 9, 2015 […] “The 11 Best Metal Songs About Literature” at Electric Lit […] Reply gern June 5, 2015 I have much less respect for Rush all of a sudden. Too bad Neil Peart is a teabagger. Reply Kevin June 30, 2015 Don’t know how you classify “heavy metal,” but there are many more choices than this, if you consider “great” or “classic” rock. How about “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” (Homer) by Cream, or “Ramble On” (JRR Tolkein) by Led Zep? Definitely agree with gern about Rush. Reply Whatever Wednesday 1 | writeon48's Blog July 1, 2015 […] http://electricliterature.com/the-eleven-best-metal-songs-about-literature/#.VZNavOPqTU8.facebook […] Reply Tabbycat July 2, 2015 Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky” based loosely on Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy.” The wheel being the wheel of fortune. Reply Marzio July 13, 2015 Porcupine Tree “Fear of a blank planet” is based on Lunar Park. Amorphis “Tuonela” is based on Kalevala Virgin Steele “The marriage of heaven and hell” is based on Blake’s book Ulver re-telled the ENTIRE Blake’s book … Reply grenadeh February 11, 2016 This article really lists 4 more metallica songs than it should, which is 0. So many better choices (pretty much all by maiden) like out of the silent planet, brave new world, children of the damned, childhood’s end, or I would even mention songs like The Swords to take the black. Megadeth – Five Magics better than all 4 of those songs combined. Or the bard’s song by blind guardian, or dante’s inferno by iced earth. Or frankenstein by iced earth. Reply Robert February 13, 2016 Yeah, Rush is not metal. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.