Is Fantasy Music a Thing?

Sometimes, I like to consult with my real life friends and family for ideas of what to talk about on my blog — you try coming up with 120 posts a year without any help. One conversation comes up a lot when I do this.

“Tyler, you should post about the bands you like! It’s your blog; it should be about your interests.”

Emi9ly Haines, leader singer of MetricAt which point I calmly explain, “The blog is about sci-fi and fantasy, my writing, and where those two intertwine. Music doesn’t have anything to do with sci-fi or fantasy.”

And it’s true, isn’t it? There’s no such thing as sci-fi/fantasy music. Sure, there’s soundtracks for sci-fi/fantasy works, and I have talked about them a bit, and then there’s filk, but… we’re not going to be talking about filk.

True fantasy music — serious, professional music on fantastical themes intended to be enjoyed on its own merits — isn’t something I ever thought existed.

But now, I’m not so sure.

So this band is pretty cool:

Lately, I’ve become quite enamored with the Icelandic folk group Of Monsters and Men. Aside from their music being quite pleasing to the ear, they fascinate me because they seem to be producing what can only be called high fantasy music.

Probably the best example of this, and not coincidentally my favourite of their songs, is King and Lionheart:

Howling ghosts they reappear
In mountains that are stacked with fear
But you’re a king, and I’m a lionheart
And in the sea that’s painted black
Creatures lurk below the deck
But you’re a king, and I’m a lionheart
And as the world comes to an end,
I’ll be here to hold your hand
Cause you’re my king, and I’m your lionheart

Fighting ghosts and sea monsters at the apocalypse. If that isn’t high fantasy, I don’t know what is. Heck, this song is basically the story of a couple from my own writing. I think my favourite thing about this song is just the nostalgia for my story.

I don’t seem to be the only one with this idea, either. Reading the comments on YouTube, this song appears to have been adopted by the community of Merlin/Arthur shippers. I didn’t even know there were Merlin/Arthur shippers, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

While none of their other songs or so epic or badass as King and Lionheart, Of Monsters and Men does several other songs that seem quite in the realm of high fantasy. They’re just a bit more eccentric, more whimsical.

The next best example would be Dirty Paws. Its lyrics are probably just a metaphor I’m too thick to grasp, but taken at face value, it appears to be about a war between the animals in a magical forest:

The forest of talking trees,
They used to sing about the birds and the bees
The bees had declared a war
The sky wasn’t big enough for them all
The birds, they got help from below
From dirty paws and the creatures of snow

It took a while for this song to grow on me, and when I first heard it, I only listened through the whole thing because I wanted to hear how the story ended. “DID THE BIRDS WIN? I NEED TO KNOW!”

This is not a typical reaction to a song for me.

While I’m not so big a fan of it, the song From Finner is also a good example. My understanding is that From Finner is about a group of people living in a cottage on a whale’s back.

Even when their songs are not obviously fantastical, their music tends to have a certain power to them that feels very reminiscent of what I love about the fantasy genre.

Take, for example, Your Bones:

Troubled spirits on my chest
Where they laid to rest
The birds all left, my tall friend
As your body hit the sand
Million stars up in the sky
Formed a tiger’s eye
That looked down on my face
Out of time, and out of place

I don’t know about you, but this just makes me picture some tragic hero taking a moment to reflect before he draws his sword and charges into the maw of darkness.

Ultimately, it’s the stories this band tells that really suck me into their music. They’re not writing songs; they’re writing sagas.

I have mixed feelings on them in some ways — I don’t care for Ragnar’s voice overmuch, and I feel they can be a bit pretentious at times — but the stories they tell keep my interest. It feels like listening to an epic fantasy novel.

Late to the party again?

Now that I think about it, it does occur to me that Of Monsters and Men may not be a unique example of speculative (sci-fi/fantasy) music. Isn’t there a Rush song that’s supposed to be about being chased by giant robots or something?

There’s also that Iron Man song by Ozzy Osbourne, and as much as it pains me to say it, I must admit some of Led Zeppelin’s songs flirt with the fantastical.

Zeppelin. How I loathe thee.

Metric performing liveHeck, even my all-time favourite band, Metric, strayed into the speculative a little bit with Stadium Love, a song about everything living thing on Earth being herded into an arena and forced to fight to the death.

I never suspected Metric of substance abuse until I heard that song…

So maybe Of Monsters and Men isn’t as original as I thought. But they’re still pretty cool.

* * *

So what do you think? Is my theory of high fantasy music crazy like a fox, or crazy like Fox News?

…Also, I must sincerely apologize for subjecting you to my awful taste in music. You may commence mocking me at your leisure.

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7 thoughts on “Is Fantasy Music a Thing?

  1. A large part of Rush’s breakthrough album ‘2112’ was a sci-fi story put to music. They have several tunes that would fall under the fantasy/sci-fi catagory. And yes, “Red Barchetta” does have a giant machines chasing the narrator across the countryside.

    Suddenly ahead of me,
    Across the mountainside,
    A gleaming alloy air-car
    Shoots towards me, two lanes wide.
    I spin around with shrieking tires,
    To run the deadly race,
    Go screaming through the valley
    As another joins the chase.

    Drive like the wind,
    Straining the limits of machine and man.
    Laughing out loud
    With fear and hope, I’ve got a desperate plan.
    At the one-lane bridge
    I leave the giants stranded at the riverside.
    Race back to the farm, to dream with my uncle at the fireside

  2. Good post – now you made me go through my iTunes list 😉
    Uriah Heep albums “Demons and Wizards” and “The Magician’s Birthday.”
    Paranoid album…Planet Caravan might fit in the fantasy/sci-fi category.
    King Crimson “In the Court of the Crimson King” is classic fantasy imagery.
    Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” from the Houses of the Holy album is the first one that jumps to mind.
    What the heck, I’ll throw Shriekback’s “This Big Hush” on the list.
    Yeah, this is “old” stuff but I find groups these days lack originality and imagination so I don’t really pay attention to pop stuff (yes, for the love of god there are other signatures besides 4/4 time!)
    Interestingly enough, the only actual songs I like from these (or really any) group tends to lean towards the sci-fi/fantasy theme although I still prefer a rock’n good Mozart or Wagner opera 😀

  3. Have you heard of Coheed and Cambria? They can be compared to a modern version of Rush. All of their albums make up a sci-fi storyline that has also been reproduced in comic form. These guys are awesome live, I’d recommend checking out the music videos for “Welcome Home” and “The Suffering”.

  4. Pingback: Yes, Fantasy Music is Totally a Thing! « Kaliy's Corner

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