It takes a particular type of nerd to write songs about The Elder Scrolls. I should know: I'm one of them. But some things are destined to be married with metal - The Lord Of The Rings, Warhammer, HR Giger...subcultures that boast rich, gloomy otherworlds fit perfectly alongside the brooding, epic sound of metal. Play one D&D campaign with a killer power metal playlist on and you'll quickly learn how intensely metal and high fantasy elevate each other. Hell, even Lacuna Coil released their own Magic: The Gathering 'Secret Lair Metal' cards. Clearly nerd culture and metal shares an affinity that knows no bounds. But of course, there's a niche within this niche: Elder Scrolls-themed metal.
When exploring the mighty tundra of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, any astute metalhead will notice the metal vibes that ooze from the game. The mountainous landscapes feel like stepping into an Immortal album cover; the Dragon Cult look like they could headline Bloodstock in their imposing masks and cloaks. Even Jeremy Soule's haunting original soundtrack is reminiscent of Dimmu Borgir (minus the guitars and blast beats.) And then we have Alduin, an evil black dragon who used to rule over Skyrim, referred to as the World Eater. Alduin is as brutal as any death metal band.
It was the lovecraftian horror of Elder Scrolls' Hermaeus Mora character that compelled me to write a black metal solo album about Skyrim (Wretched Abyss (opens in new tab)). At the time of its release, I wondered if writing metal music themed to Elder Scrolls was a concept that only worked well in my RPG-obsessed brain. Would anyone else get it? Is this concept too geeky for the world of metal?
I needn't have worried. Turns out, there's a whole heap of metal bands inspired by the rich lore of The Elder Scrolls.
"Hail to the sons of Windhelm" belts vocalist Jack Reynolds on Battle Born's latest single, Fire Storm. Yes, this epic power metal quintet released an ode to the master level destruction spell in the game, and it's equally as mighty. Then there's Thuum, a sludge doom metal outfit named after a form of magic that utilizes the Dragon Language to form Dragon Shouts of immense power. Often in metal, shouting is an empowering aspect of the genre and the shouts in Elder Scrolls are the gaming embodiment of this. When I'm screaming into a microphone on stage I feel as though I have the power to Fus Ro Dah the audience to the back of the room.
Hermaeus Mora is the Daedric Prince of knowledge and memory in the game series, often appearing as a grotesque mass of tentacles. His Lovecraftian appearance lends perfectly to the cosmic horror leanings within black metal. It's no surprise to discover there's two American black metal outfits adopting versions of his name: Herma Mora, a black metal band from Alabama, and Hermaeus Mora from South Carolina. The latter released an EP entitled Wandering the Apocrypha in 2018.
Drawing inspiration from the geography of Elder Scrolls is Tamriel, a British tech death metal band named after the continent that The Elder Scroll series takes place in. One particular highlight from their 2012 EP is a track entitled Slain by the Skilled Hand of Lydia. That's right, a punishing death metal song about Lydia exists! Representing the melodic side of death metal, Ysgramor from Germany closed their debut album with a song entitled Stormcloak - making it clear where their allegiances lie in the integral Imperials vs. Stormcloaks debate.
Another popular theme in Elder Scrolls metal is the Deadra, demonic entities who realm Tamriel and cannot be killed. Taking musical inspiration from these creatures are both Daedric Tales, an Austrian power metal band, and Daedric Disciple, a black metal band from the US. As far as metal subgenres go, black metal and power metal are worlds apart in terms of sound, so it's interesting to see two musically opposed bands utilise a similar Daedric concept. It seems the Daedra have a similar power metal/black metal crossover appeal to dragons.
Hailing from Poland is Jagar Tharn, an ambient black metal band named after the powerful Imperial battlemage character. Even British power metal stalwarts Dragonforce tapped the Elder Scrolls well of inspiration on their 2019 track The Last Dragonborn.
So, just what is it that makes The Elder Scrolls so metal? Is it the dragons, the demons and dungeons? Is it the battle and the bloodshed? Is it levelling up your Smithing so you can literally forge metal? No. It's the spirit of the world: The Elder Scrolls is courageous, thought-provoking, majestic and powerful - just like all great metal bands. It's been 11 years since Skyrim was released and bands are still singing about it now. Long may it continue.