McParland, Robert- Myth And Magic In Heavy Metal Music (Book Review)

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Author: McParland, Robert
Title: Myth And Magic In Heavy Metal Music
Publisher: McFarland
Published: 2018
Reviewed: October 2018
Reviewer: JP
Rating 4/5


It’s no secret that the academic study of Metal has exploded in the last decade.  For what was once shunned as an inconsequential and irrelevant form of music,  there are now many academic conferences held around the globe, societies, Facebook groups, university papers and lots of books, dedicated to Metal.   MYTH AND MAGIC IN HEAVY METAL MUSIC is one of the latest books with a strong academic inclination.

Author Robert McParland is an English professor and Associate Dean at Felican University in New Jersey. He has the very good taste and sound judgment to put a pentagram and a picture of Venom on the front. We are already off to a good start!   This 210-page paperback is more substance over style, containing the usual accoutrements; preface, introduction, an extensive bibliography, notes and a well-thought out Selected Discography, and no pictures!

What follows in an extensive, well researched and well thought out overview of mythology in Metal.  Certain chapters are dedicated to a more in-depth analyses of specific bands, pioneers like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden.  Other chapters such as ‘Thor’s Thunder’ explore the massive world of Norse Mythology in Heavy Metal. He could written an entire book based on his chapter alone!  The same goes for the chapter exploring gothic romanticism is the chapter ‘Shadow Dreams’.  The book is in a sense multi-disciplinary touching upon history, anthropology, sociology and of course literature.

McParland does not show his bias, if he has one at all, as he uses examples from many, common mainstream Metal bands of all styles to more obscure bands in many sub-genres. This helps demonstrate that it is not just say, Power Metal bands for example, that sing about myths and legends, but all genres use literature and mythology for lyrical inspiration.

I was very impressed how extensive his analysis was.  He cites everyone from Homer and Plato to Jung, Nietzsche, Blake, Dante, Goethe, Grimm, Poe and more modern influencers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.  I won’t pretend to even to have more than a passing knowledge of these people and their work but McParland does not talk down to his reader and adds helpful background for those of us who are at a point in their lives where University History and English class was decades ago.

I really enjoyed MYTH AND MAGIC IN HEAVY METAL MUSIC.  As much as I enjoy a good sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll tell all from a burned out 80’s glam rocker, I always find these books to be more substantial, and well, somewhat obviously, educational.  I learned a lot and as cliché as it sounds, I’d recommend this excellent book to those fine folks who say, ‘Heavy Metal is all just screaming’, but to get someone with such a dismissive attitude to read this would be virtually impossible.  Until that day, the more cerebrally inclined Metalheads cannot go wrong enjoying this mind-expanding work.