No author has had quite as profound an impact on the world of heavy metal as J.R.R. Tolkien. Hellraiser may have its acolytes and Dune inspired whole sonic universes, but Tolkien's fantasy world of demons and wizards, orcs and elves, good and evil is writ into the genre's very DNA.
From songs and albums inspired directly by Middle-Earth to the endless list of bands whose names come directly from the novels - you can't throw a dart at black metal without finding a band named for some orc outhouse or other such geographical location - Tolkien holds dominion over just about every subgenre of metal going.
With Amazon bringing Middle-Earth to life again in The Lord Of The Rings: Rings Of Power (opens in new tab), we figured it high time to pick out ten of the best rock and metal songs inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien. And if you don't see your favourite, feel free to shout it out - there's literally hundreds to pick from.
12. Black Sabbath - The Wizard (Black Sabbath, 1970)
Where better to start than arguably the nexus point that birthed heavy metal as we know it? Featured on Black Sabbath's self-titled debut, The Wizard was a bluesy jam apparently inspired by Gandalf himself - not that you can tell explicitly by the lyrics.
Thankfully, Geezer Butler was on hand to flag the song's inspiration in an interview with Metal Sludge in 2005. "I was reading Lord of the Rings at the time, and I just based the lyrics on that. Gandalf," he says.
11. Sabaton - Shadows
Shadows isn't so much Sabaton taking a break from narrating the history of the world through warfare as a glimpse at what could have been. The first song Joakim Brodén wrote for the band, Shadows is about as explicitly Tolkein inspired as they come, its opening lyrics "Facing the wind as they ride through the sky/Shadows of Mordor, black horses they fly".
It's also a vision of a very embryonic form of Sabaton that hadn't quite figured out their craft yet, but still has a kernel of heartwarming magic hidden away.
10. Amon Amarth - Amon Amarth (Once Sent From The Golden Hall, 1998)
Yep, even the band that sings almost exclusively about Vikings couldn't resist paying homage to Tolkien. Taking their name from the Sindarin (Elven) language for Mount Doom, Amon Amarth's self-titled track more explicitly references the mountain.
More black metal than their later fare, Amon Amarth continues the genre's grand tradition of cribbing from Middle-Earth when it comes to names, everyone from Cirith Ungol and Gorgoroth to Numenorean lifting right from the pages of Tolkien. This being Amon Amarth though, they couldn't resist sticking a few Vikings in.
9. Orange Goblin - Saruman's Wish (Frequencies From Planet Ten, 1997)
It's almost all in the name for Orange Goblin's Saruman's Wish, as beyond the white wizard popping up in the title you could entirely miss the Tolkien reference. Saruman's Wish wasn't the only song on Orange Goblin's debut named for Lord Of The Rings however; instrumental Lothlorian also took its name from the forest which housed a race of elves.
8. 3 Inches Of Blood - Destroy The Orcs (Advance And Vanquish, 2004)
3 Inches Of Blood were so passionate about slaying orcs that they recorded Destroy The Orcs twice. First released on the band's 2002 debut, a much better quality version of the song was released on its 2004 follow-up, Advance And Vanquish, all galloping Iron Maiden riffs and glass shattering shrieks.
It's not as explicit with its Tolkien-isms as many other Middle-Earth themed metal songs - in fact, the lyrics are almost entirely and expressly about destroying the orcs - but it still owes its inspiration to Tolkein's creations.
7. Battlelore - Orcrist (The Return Of The Shadow, 2022)
Battlelore are to fantasy fiction what Sabaton are to songs about battles, or Amon Amarth are to Vikings. So how did they announce their return after a decade away? With an album based almost entirely around Tolkein, of course.
From the more explicit song titles like Minas Morgul to mentions of Brandywine in Homecoming, Middle-Earth is inescapable on the Finns' comeback album. Orcrist - named for Thorin II Oakenshield's sword in The Hobbit - takes the cake however, combining epic symphonic metal chops with a spoken word passage lifted directly from The Hobbit itself.
6. Rush - Rivendell (Fly By Night, 1975)
So, look: there's an awful lot of prog out there inspired by Tolkien, we dare say almost as much as metal. So if we're picking one from the bunch and moving on, it has to be the Canadian kings, Rush.
Avowed Tolkien fan Neil Peart wasn't above slipping references to Lord Of The Rings into his work whilst also using the songs to explore wider topics. While The Necromancer is a prime example (and is supposedly named for the name given to Sauron in The Hobbit), more explicit is Rivendell - a gentle folk-style song that reimagines the home of the elves as a utopian paradise.
5. Sacrilege - Shadow From Mordor (Behind The Realms Of Madness, 1985)
Influential on the likes of Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death, early crust/grindcore innovators Sacrilege generally sang about the ills of this world, with poverty, environmental destruction and annihilation all frequent lyrical topics on the band's debut album.
Shadow From Mordor uses the titular hotbed of evil as an allegory for those same themes, even slipping in a cheeky reference to Durin's Bane - the Balrog. "Like Durin's Bane, rising up from the deep/There is evil at work while the people do sleep". A band most definitely ahead of the game.
4. Reverend Bizarre - Cirith Ungol (In The Rectory Of The Bizarre Reverend, 2002)
Named for the fortress Sam retrieves a paralyzed Frodo from in Lord Of The Rings, Finnish doom merchants Reverend Bizarre afford Cirith Ungol the perfect level of dread for a fortress filled with orcs right on Sauron's doorstep.
The final song on their 2002 debut In The Rectory Of The Bizarre Reverend, the song is packed with references to Tolkien's world. Lines like "An army under the ring/They raised their banners for Him" make it fairly explicit, but its the reading of the inscription on the one ring in its native Black Speech at the end of the song that really drives the Middle-Earth lore home.
3. Cradle Of Filth - An Enemy Led The Tempest (Damnation And A Day, 2003)
At first glance, the lyrics to Cradle Of Filth's An Enemy Led The Tempest are pretty straightforward: it's about the fall of Lucifer, right? Only, it's the mention of a Balrog in "Enraged, he raved in Balrog howl/Upon the storm firstborn of sin" that throws a curveball into the mix, Dani Filth using his literary knowledge to suggest the song could as easily reference Morgoth, Middle-Earth's own variant of Satan.
2. Led Zeppelin - Ramble On (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
Much more explicit in its references to Middle-Earth, Led Zeppelin's Ramble On is sonically closer to something you might hear on a late-60s Rolling Stones record than their usual fare.
It's the third verse where it all goes ring-shaped; "'T was in the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair/But Gollum, and the evil one/Crept up and slipped away with her." It's not the only song in Zeppelin's cache to doff its cap to Tolkien either; Misty Mountain Hop is pretty on the nose about it, while The Battle Of Evermore references Ringwraiths. Even Stairway To Heaven is said to contain a few pearls of Tolkien...
1. Blind Guardian - Into The Storm (Nightfall On Middle-Earth, 1998)
The absolute gold standard when it comes to metal bands singing about Tolkien, Blind Guardian's 1998 opus Nightfall On Middle-Earth is a concept album based entirely around The Silmarillion.
Spoken word narration, massive riffs and cheeser than a gorgonzola avalanche, Nightfall is everything brilliant and OTT about Blind Guardian. We don't fancy its chances popping up in the Amazon series though - even if it does cover some of the same period. More's the pity.