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Top 10 Sci-Fi Themed Heavy Metal Songs

Heavy Metal and Science Fiction share more fans than most people think. Heavy Metal and Science Fiction share more fans than most people think.

Heavy metal music and science fiction enjoy some of the most rabid fans this side of soccer’s World Cup. From Black Sabbath to Iron Maiden to In Flames, some of heavy metal’s hardest hitters through the years have had an eye on outer space, the future of mankind, and other such sci-fi themes. Here’s a look at ten of the best examples of when sci-fi and metal come together, making friends of nerds and headbangers, who always had more in common than either side was willing to admit anyway:

 

10. Deep Purple – "Space Truckin’"

Deep Purple’s 1972 album Machine Head is a rock n’ roll classic, due mostly to “Smoke on the Water” and its ubiquitous guitar riff, a stand-by for all beginning axe-weilders. But it’s the last song on Side 2, "Space Truckin'," that was an early sci-fi example for future long-haired rockers.

Although the term heavy metal wasn’t really in circulation in 1972, Deep Purple is widely considered (along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath) to be one of the first heavy metal bands. "Space Truckin’" meets both of this list’s requirements due equally to the lyrical theme of space travel and the song’s sonic qualities.

The chorus riff is a badass bit of darkness that would sound thunderous in any arena. Add some powerful high-pitched vocals in the track’s climactic final refrain that helped set the bar for headbanging wailers to come, and you’ve got a timeless deep cut on your hands.


9. Anthrax – "I Am the Law"


The ‘80s thrash movement launched a new style of metal that borrowed from hardcore punk to make metal faster and heavier. Anthrax was one of the “Big Four” of thrash metal (along with Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer).

Their 1987 album, Among the Living, is considered a classic of thrash and launched Anthrax to unprecedented heights. One of the standout tracks was "I Am the Law," which told the tale of the underground science fiction comic book anti-hero, Judge Dredd.

The dark pummeling guitar that starts the track off is the epitome of East Coast heavy metal at the time, and when the song snaps into a break-neck thrash riff just over half-way, the two predominant feels of ‘80s thrash coalesce into one rocking song.

Honorable mention goes to fellow ‘80s thrashers, Agent Steel, who never achieved much fame, but who were well-respected among their peers. "Agents of Steel" from 1985’s Skeptics Apocalypse is a ripping sci-fi metal track, but the band’s obscurity kept them from cracking our top 10 list.


8. Iced Earth – "When Stars Collide (Born Is He)"


Drawing from the Biblical book of Revelation for one of the oldest tales of the future, Iced Earth rebooted their Something Wicked Saga with 2007’s Framing Armageddon. It was the first of two full-length concept albums based on a story conceived by the band nearly a decade prior.

Nearly any song from this or 2008’s The Crucible of Man could have filled this spot, but "When Stars Collide (Born Is He)" is the unforgettable closing track from Framing Armageddon, and gets the nod.

The song is a crushing dirge set on repeat, featuring a chorus of vocals supplied by Tim “Ripper” Owens. The refrain promises the end of mankind. For what is essentially a fun science fiction/fantasy story, "When Stars Collide" delivers a haunting and powerful close to a great album, and one that marked a return to form after Iced Earth’s subpar 2004 full-length, The Glorious Burden.


7. Lion – "Transformers Theme"


No child of the ‘80s will ever forget the theme to the Transformers cartoon. But when Transformers: The Movie hit theatres, it shook up everything kids had come to know about their lovable shape-shifting robots.

Not least of those shake-ups was the death of Optimus Prime and the introduction of a new generation of Autobots. To accompany the new harder edge of the narrative, heavy metal bands were recruited to contribute to the film’s soundtrack.

One of those bands was Lion, fledgling hair farmers with a ton of talent but the inability to score a radio hit. Lion was tapped to record a version of the TV show theme, and they delivered big time.

Lion stayed true to the original hooks, but added heavy guitar, shredding solos and extra lyrics. Some kids were ready for the darker, more adult Transformers universe, other kids were left in the dust. As for Lion, they wallowed in obscurity, unable to parlay the luck of landing a spot in a kids movie into a serious career.


6. Queensrÿche – "Operation: Mindcrime"


Queensrÿche’s 1987 concept album, Operation: Mindcrime, told the story of America in a near-future dystopia where an underground cult controls the government.The title track tells the story of a heroin addict who is recruited and brain-washed into serving as an assassin for “The Order.” The character goes on to fall in love with a prostitute turned nun, who he then has to murder.

Not exactly timeless storytelling, but a great album nonetheless. Operation: Mindcrime set the stage for Queensrÿche to make the leap from opening act to arena-headliner.


5. Hypocrisy – "Dead Sky Dawning"


Sweden’s death metal stalwarts, Hypocrisy, have been rocking for about 20 years, and have only sometimes dabbled in themes of UFOs and the paranormal. However, their 2004 full-length, The Arrival, was not only sci-fi centric, but also one of the band’s best releases.

The most overtly science fictional track on The Arrival is “Dead Sky Dawning,” a tale about a hostile alien invasion that wipes out humanity. Staying true to their death metal roots despite a more melodic sound and the unconventional (for death metal) sci-fi subject matter, Hypocrisy’s narrative is bleak and despairing, featuring “No mercy for you, no mercy for me.”


4. Gamma Ray – "Men, Martians, and Machines"


The most science fiction of all songs on this list, “Men, Martians, and Machines” tells the story of aliens looking for a new home and landing on earth.

Germany’s Gamma Ray, as the band name suggests, has long been interested in sci-fi themes, but 1997’s Somewhere Out In Space was their most overt exploration of outer space and extraterrestrial ideas (The album’s title track is about Star Trek). “Men, Martians, and Machines” opens with the five-tone melody played by the aliens in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. How much more sci-fi can you get?

Gamma Ray is the project of Kai Hansen, an original member of seminal ‘80s speed/power metal band Helloween, in which he first dabbled in tales of alien invasion, such as on the track, “Metal Invaders,” from Helloween’s 1985 full-length, Walls of Jericho.


3. In Flames – "Colony"


Sweden’s In Flames have undergone something of a reinvention since their glory days, abandoning much of their traditional metal influence and sounding more like a modern American metal band. But in 1999, In Flames released Colony, which featured some of their rockingest songs to date. One of those was the title track.

Although “Behind Space 99” is more overt in its science fiction theme, "Colony" definitely rocks harder with its mosh-inducing intro riff.

Colony (the album) helped define the famous "Gothenberg sound," named for In Flames’ hometown and the birth place of melodic death metal. The title track demonstrates much of what was great about that time and place in metal, blending supreme heaviness with catchy guitar and some subdued moments as well. Sonically, it will probably always be overshadowed by the infectious opening track, “Embody the Invisible”, but “Colony,” with its tale of cyborg torment, holds its own on a great album.


2. Black Sabbath – "Iron Man"


Black Sabbath is THE heavy metal band. Without Sabbath, there is no heavy metal. So for anyone who finds science fiction and heavy metal strange bedfellows, look no further than the most iconic metal band of all time’s most iconic song – “Iron Man.”

“Iron Man” tells the story of a time traveler who causes Armageddon. Bleakness, despair, and the apocalypse, unlike science fiction itself, have been enduring themes in heavy meta ever since, and are on display here.

Tony Iommi’s monster guitar riff is one of the most recognizable in rock history, and created a template for thousands of bands to come from radio rock acts to black metal psychopaths. Released on the classic 1970 album Paranoid, “Iron Man” is the earliest example of science fiction meeting heavy metal, and also one of the best.

Side note: Black Sabbath didn’t stop there, and produced a few more futuristic/fantastical type tracks, all the way up to 1992’s Dehumanizer, which saw the return of Ronnie James Dio on vocals. The album’s lead track, “Computer God,” warned of a dystopian future of nightmarish eugenics.


1. Iron Maiden – "To Tame A Land"


Iron Maiden is one of the biggest selling, best loved, and longest running heavy metal bands of all time. Their 1986 album Somewhere In Time featured a futuristic scene on its cover, but songs like “Caught Somewhere in Time” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” had little to do with science fiction despite the connotations of their titles.

However, 1983’s classic Piece of Mind album featured a storied piece of heavy metal history with the song “To Tame a Land.”

At nearly eight minutes, “To Tame a Land” is epic. It is also one of Maiden’s finest achievements according to bassist Steve Harris and the band’s legions of fans. But one of the most interesting things about the song has to do with Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series of sci-fi novels.

“To Tame a Land” is written about Dune, but when Harris requested permission to name the song “Dune” and use a spoken quotation from the novel to introduce the recorded version of the song, Herbert balked.

Herbert’s written response is rumored to have emphasized the author’s distaste for rock, and for heavy rock in particular. Herbert apparently threatened to sue Iron Maiden, and the matter was dropped.

So science fiction and heavy metal don’t always mix well after all. Nevertheless, “To Tame a Land” remains one of the great heavy metal songs of all time, sci-fi or otherwise.

© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2010



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Last modified on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 10:37

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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