Concept albums or songs are a fickle approach to album-writing. On the one hand, bands instantly have a structure to work with, so the songs (if written well) flow together easily. On the other hand, if the concept sucks, chances are the album will suck. To combat this, I have put together 5 suggestions of under-used concept album ideas, taken from interesting novels or stories which would work in a metallic context. Bands with writer’s block, listen closely…
1. Works of Edgar Allen Poe
While Poe has been an undeniable influence on the lyrics many bands, ranging from Cradle of Filth to Nightwish (or almost every sympho-gothic band under the sun, for that matter), it is only his major famous works that have had the full metal treatment. “The Tell-Tale Heart”, for instance, has been done by bands ranging from thrash-death metallers Deceased to Insane Clown Posse, and “Alone” has been reworked by Arcturus and Green Carnation. And naturally, who can forget “Murders In The Rue Morgue” by Iron Maiden?
However, why not consider “The Black Cat”? The story, told by an unstable narrator, follows the tale of a black cat who comes between an alcoholic and his wife, whom he kills and walls up in his basement. A slightly unconventional death metal band would have a lot of fun with this, particularly the climax of the story. Full text can be found here.
Alternatively, why not the story of “Morella”? A man’s wife dies, and his nameless daughter grows up to closely resemble the mother, and when she dies, the narrator bears her body to her mother’s tomb, which is empty. Sympho-gothic metal bands could elaborate on the emotions behind this story, and with a strong vocal duo, make a lengthy number out of it. Full text can be found here.
Finally, a love ballad is a tried and tested method to get the romantic people’s attention (Romantics? Metal? Who’d have thought!), and while not one of the ultimate love stories: a love for “Annabel Lee”, which is so powerful that the angels themselves become jealous and kill her. The love is still so powerful that it continues beyond the grave. None of this namby-pamby stuff, this is potent emotion. So, cheesy bands may not apply for this poem. Full text can be found here.
2. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
One of my favourite novels of all time, and one of the most complex I have read. Russian literature is an untapped goldmine for metal; much of it is either incredibly bleak or witty, or sometimes both simultaneously. This particular novel manages to interweave two subplots: firstly, the Devil comes to Moscow and wreaks havoc, staging a black magic show and driving several people insane. Secondly, an unnamed narrator is writing a novel about the trial and crucifixion of Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus, for the uninitiated), which is rejected by the atheist literary union. Thirdly, his lover Margarita turns into a witch and ends up as Queen of Satan’s Ball. Does that not sound like an utterly fantastic concept for an avant-garde or progressive metal album? I dare any of you to try and stage this as a metal album. Full text here.
3. The Picture Of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
A story of vanity and identity confusion, with a good bit of murder in there too, Dorian Gray’s plight has captivated many since it was published in 1890. The story, for those who haven’t read it, involves a man who sells his soul for eternal youth (“Faust”, anyone?), and his sins instead end up captured in a portrait of him. Eventually, he realizes the only way to absolve himself of his sins is to stab the painting. While Wilde’s flourishing writing would be challenging to convey amidst a metal cacophony, with the right use of dynamics and lyrical genius, this glorious work could be remade with a strong metal background. Full text here.
4. Odd Thomas – Dean Koontz (by recommendation of Quigs)
Admittedly not a series I am familiar with, but the plot itself seems completely up metal’s alley. A man who can talk to ghosts and deals with various nefarious goings-on in his town? Sounds like something Mechanical Poet would take on, if they weren’t on hold. An off-kilter progressive metal band could go to town on any of the 5 novels, and it would be very interesting to hear what would emerge from such a project.
5. The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan
I saved the most disturbing one for last. Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden contains some fairly heavy material, and I’m not talking about breakdowns. The story involves a family with four children who lose both their father and mother. Due to fear of being put in foster care, the children encase their mother in cement in the basement. Two of them then enter into an incestuous relationship, and another experiments with transvestism. While metal has never been one for shying away from the dark side of things, I think this novel would be challenging yet rewarding to put into metallic form. Still, the realistic yet surreal horror portrayed in The Cement Garden far outstrips the outlandish and fantastical elements that make up many gore-based lyrics of brutal death metal bands. Consider the gauntlet thrown down.
Are there any other novels you think would make good metal songs or albums? Let us know in the comments below!