Wednesday, May 19, 2010

D&D is Metal or Metal is D&D

In the wake of the recent passing of Ronnie James Dio, a lively discussion about the relationship between role-playing games (D&D in particular) and heavy metal music has erupted over at Grognardia. The subject has been thoroughly explored and I agree pretty much with James M's view on this, but with two cultural phenomena so near and dear to me heart, I can't let this pass without something to say.

First off, as a metal fan, the connection between heavy metal and D&D is obvious to me. When you see an album cover featuring an axe-wielding warrior, you don't think jazz or disco. There are exceptions, of course, but typically fantasy art and imagery is associated with metal. This wasn't always the case. Sure, Black Sabbath was dealing with occult themes since its inception, but these early efforts were directed more towards gothic horror. Fantasy themes were more prevalent in the music of Rush and Led Zeppelin, bands which were, at most, proto-metal. When D&D began to expand beyond its midwestern US roots in the late 70s, the dominant force in heavy metal music was the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" or NWOBHM. The most prominent bands to come out of this movement were Judas Priest (some would argue they predate the NWOBHM), Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Saxon and Venom (also Def Leppard, but they sold out, so screw those guys). In the early days, fantasy themes were not common in the music of the NWOBHM bands. Traditional rock n' roll themes of cars and motorcycles, sex, drugs and crime were more prevalent, along with a smattering of the occult. It was really in the early 80s that fantastical imagery began to take hold in metal, coinciding with the growth of D&D as a cultural phenomenon. I would suggest this was no coincidence and that D&D was influencing heavy metal as much, or more than the music was influencing rpgs.



Derobane-bane said...

"Def Leppard sold out, so screw those guys."


Anonymous said...

I cannot even begin to describe the endless hours I've spent linking metal and D&D together over the years. The very first game I ever ran as a DM was a 1e adventure based on Dio's song "Sacred Heart". Great song. Horrible first attempt.

But I've dropped elements of metal songs into my adventures ever since, as well as basing adventures on the stories told in them time after time, and the two go together like ham and cheese.

RIP, Mr. Dio. You inspired me to dream.