TMOx10: Stephen King Metal

He’s the walkin’ dude!

At approximately 60 novels, countless short-stories and a few works of non-fiction here and there, Stephen King is one of the most prolific authors of our age. The sheer amount of his works adapted to film and TV outshines any other living writer, and at least 70% of his repertoire ranges from psychologically terrifying to bat-shit insane gore (he also does non-scary, non-gory stuff, but we don’t give a shit about that for the duration of this article).
Considering the raw subject material of such classics as The Dead Zone or Pet Sematary, King’s tales quite rightly lend themselves to the world of metal music. Hell, Anthrax’s cover of “Antisocial” appeared in the 2017 adaptation of IT, and the Maximum Overdrive soundtrack is basically an AC/DC playlist. The great penman himself is a bit of a metalhead too it would seem. His books occasionally mention bands like Megadeth or Pantera, and he’s tweeted things like this:

So, is it any wonder that there have been many songs from the metal genre to be inspired by King’s writing? Sometimes even whole albums! For this edition of TMOx10, here is a list and a ranking (sort of) of ten great metal tracks based on S.K. stories – in order of how great a song it is/how well it captures the vibe of its source material. I also wanted to get a variety of King books here – so no repeats unless the song is so awesome I can’t not talk about it. Carry on, Constant Reader, we all float here at TMO.

10. Metallica – Ride The Lightning (1984)

An undeniably legendary thrash metal tune, the title-track from Metallica’s sophomore album got its title from King’s longest novel, The Stand. The reason this is only at number 10 is that Kirk Hammet reportedly read the phrase ‘ride the lightning’ in the novel and thought it sounded cool to have as a song title. That’s it. But as a cool addition, Stephen King did go on to re-use the phrase in one of his greatest books: The Green Mile.

9. Exodus – Black 13 (2014)

The lyrics may be a little vague with their mention of roulette wheels and whatnot – but no, this is not a reference to The Dead Zone. The opening track from Exodus’ 2014 album Blood In, Blood Out refers to a magical orb found in The Dark Tower series. This won’t be the only mention of King’s 7-book masterpiece on this list, but it’s certainly the most furious. Fantasy influence aside, this track is really all about Gary Holt’s beautifully filthy guitar tone.

8. Savage Circus – It: The Gathering (2005)

Definitely not the only metal band to cover King’s renowned monster epic It – Savage Circus are an oddity. Originally formed as an offshoot from Blind Guardian, drummer Thomen Staunch managed to catch BG’s literature bug and create this banger. “It: The Gathering” covers the second half of the novel, when the losers return to finish off the beast, and the furious power metal barrage definitely matches the tension of the monstrous spider showdown of the book. A fantastic, yet underrated, band who definitely deserve to be in a more active status than they are.

7. Anthrax – Misery Loves Company (1988)

If any band knows how to make an epic Stephen King reference, it’s Anthrax. The NY thrash metallers are undeniable nerds for the master of horror, and they have at least 5 songs based on his work (so don’t expect this to be their only entry!). A cruelly underrated track from a cruelly underrated album, “Misery Loves Company” is a great summation of the psychotic nurse Annie from his hugely successful 1987 novel Misery (winner of the Bram Stoker award for Best Novel). The lyrics sum up the story brilliantly and the punky thrash that accompanies it would definitely be up Stephen’s street, we think!

6. Testament – Disciples Of The Watch (1988)

1977’s Children Of The Corn is one of Stephen King’s earliest and most horrifying short stories. It spawned one good film adaptation, and dozens of completely unnecessary sequels which baffle even the author himself. Thankfully, when the metal community got hold of its terrifying influence, it was the Californian thrash titans Testament who gave the best musical version. “Disciples Of The Watch” is a thrash metal standard, still a staple at live shows to this day, and the centrepiece of Testament’s sophomore album The New Order. They’ll make you pay the price of Malachi!

5. Nightwish – 7 Days To The Wolves (2007)

Definitely the number one contender for most unexpected band to write a song inspired by a Stephen King story. Tuomas and co. make their trademark orchestral pomp fit the fantasy-oriented world of King’s The Wolves Of Calla by adopting a more martial, menacing stomp. Ever the poets, the Finnish symphonic metallers have a more vague lyrical approach but lines like ‘take the road less travelled by/leave this city of fools’ are pretty direct. Marco’s voice shines on this track, the finale is climactic, and Nightwish never quite got this good again. I don’t think this would be up Stephen King’s street, however.

4. Dead Revelator – Concrete Law (2013)

That’s right, not just one song, but a whole album. Hailing from Utah, groove metallers Dead Revelator have only one release – 2013’s Concrete Law. It’s a rollicking, riff-heavy batch of groovy aggressive anthems for fans of Prong. But this time, every track on the record is based on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That’s dedication to the art of Kingcore. With tracks like “The Gunslinger”, “Barbwire Noose” and “Salt The Wound” us metalheads finally get a band who dig into the grit of King’s prose and accompany it with some grit of their own. I mean, just listen to that whip-crack snare and filthy guitar tone. Great stuff!

3. Demons & Wizards – Terror Train (2005)

Just like Anthrax’s Scott Ian, Blind Guardian frontman Hansi Kursch is also a massive Stephen King aficionado. So much so that it spilled over into his side-project, Demons & Wizards (with Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer). “Terror Train”, from their sophomore album Touched By The Crimson King (another King reference in itself!) is about a particular segment of part 3 of The Dark Tower series: The Wastelands. Much kudos to Hansi for making Blaine’s psychotic monorail sound sincerely threatening. This is a ripping power metal track with just enough named references to the story to interest King connoisseurs without being cringingly cliché.

2. Blind Guardian – Tommyknockers (1990)

Here’s Hansi again! This time with his primary focus – the legendary power/speed metal pioneers, Blind Guardian. The Germans are well known for their homages to Tolkien but on “Tommyknockers” they go a totally different direction, lyrically. The novel of the same name is almost always ranked among King’s worst efforts. The 900+ page epic leans toward sci-fi rather than the traditional horror/fantasy King is so good at. And for some reason fans tend to get their testicles in a twist when aliens become a plot device. But whatever you think of the book, Kursch and co.’s rendition is fiery and almost borders on thrash metal territory. It’s one of my favourite BG tracks, and one of my favourite King books so obviously it was gonna be a high-ranker. ‘Oh last night, and the night before – Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocked at your back door!’

1. Anthrax – A Skeleton In The Closet (1987)

This is my favourite song off my favourite album by my favourite band, based on a work by my favourite author. I swear I’m not biased. A face-melting masterpiece of thrash metal, rife with relentless double-kick attacks and blazing fretwork – ”A Skeleton In The Closet” is a criminally underrated thrash gem, often eclipsed by the quality of the album that surrounds it. Similarly, the novella which it recounts, Stephen King’s Apt Pupil, is nowhere near as appreciated among fans as it should be, despite having an incredible film adaptation starring Ian McKellen! The disturbing tale of a schoolboy being hypnotised by a Nazi war criminal is brilliantly brought to life by Anthrax and causes necks to break in the process. If you check out any song on this list, let it be this total thrash assault.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *