Ragnarök and roll

Great moments in culturally appropriated Viking history
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  October 15, 2008

Dethklok, from Carton Network's Metalocalypse

It takes a pillage: Amon Amarth lead the Viking death-metal pack. By Daniel Brockman.

Amon Amarth are but the latest assault of the Viking æsthetic on our pop culture’s collective psyche. And let’s not split hairs: by the time the Viking thing gets diluted enough to hit American shores, it’s not likely to be as factually accurate as a couplet from an Amon Amarth song. (What do you expect when Götterdämmerung meets good old American fire-and-brimstone Armageddon?) But here's a rough time line of the Viking invasion. 

AUGUST 1962 | Marvel Comics’ Journey into Mystery #83 introduces a new character, the Mighty Thor; Superman and Captain America are trumped by an actual deity, and the Marvel Universe is forever forced to acknowledge the existence of Asgard.

OCTOBER 1969 | Led Zeppelin release “Ramble On” and make mumbo-jumbo Tolkien references mainstream: the opening line, “Leaves are falling all around,” is a paraphrase of “Ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen,” the opening line of J.R.R.’s poem “Galadriel’s Lament” a/k/a “Namárië”

APRIL 1974 | On Queen’s Queen II, “Ogre Battle” creates the blueprint for three subsequent decades of Viking metal: galloping drums, chugging muted riffs, screeching vocal squeals, and lyrics about armies of ogres. Not actually Viking, but you get the idea.

1978–1980 | Southern rockers Molly Hatchet release a bestselling trio of albums (Molly Hatchet, Flirtin’ with Disaster, and Beatin' the Odds) with cover art by fantasy artist extraordinaire Frank Frazetta. Who gives a fuck about the music: horse-bound warriors carrying scimitars are where it’s at. A thousand million posters in a thousand million bedrooms ensue, and an army of 20-sided dice can be heard rolling forth in the distance.

1982 | Viking/warrior culture hits its stride in pop culture a year after Heavy Metal: The Movie (which for the most part is more sci-fi than fantasy, a crucial distinction) with the release of both the Ahnohld muscle vehicle Conan the Barbarian and the somewhat lesser-known but arguably better The Beastmaster. Jacked dudes with bare chests and leather are in, baby!

1983 | Metal behemoths Manowar go Viking with Into Glory Ride, most explicitly “Gates of Valhalla,” which idealizes strength, volume, and an aversion to any sense of hipness or self-consciousness.

1987 | Jon Mikl Thor, bodybuilder, metal warrior, and Canadian, finally has his chance to shine in the film Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare a/k/a The Edge of Hell.

JUNE 6, 1992 | In Bergen, Norway, insane black-metal dudes burn down the Fantoft stave church. Was this the opening salvo of a spate of church burnings meant as a misguided attempt to pledge allegiance to pre-Christian Scandinavia? The church was rebuilt in 1997.

1994 | Enslaved’s Vikingligr Veldi, an album partly in Norwegian, partly in Icelandic, and based on Scandinavian mythology, set the stage for a new degree of literalism in Viking rock.

2004 | Canadian power-metallers 3 Inches of Blood release Advance and Vanquish, a disc filled with advancing orc hordes and unsheathed blades. Its beauties include “Axes of Evil” — the definitive translation of Bush Doctrine pre-emptive aggression into Viking-metal dogma.

2006 | The debut of Adult Swim cartoon series Metalocalypse proves that in the world of metal, there is no such thing as too much self-parody. An episode where the show’s fictional band, Dethklok, accidentally summon a Norwegian demon troll pretty much hits all the marks of Viking metal — the bizarre mixture of ancient lore, screaming guitars, and limitless carnage.

Related: Review: Conan the Barbarian, Interview: Brendon Small finds his niche, It takes a pillage, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , 3 Inches of Blood, 3 Inches of Blood, Led Zeppelin,  More more >
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