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Tabletop Miniature Wargaming: An Untapped Well of Metal Potential

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guest writer: Archon Xalkire

It is one a.m. in the morning and six men are bantering over tables of terrain littered with dice, templates, and utter carnage.  They dwell in a basement insulated by body heat and furious music that is just loud enough to make everyone converse in a half-shout.  The music is driving vast legions to war.  It is January but everyone is sweating, and for good cause.  These warmasters have been at it all day long, exchanging dialogue of intense jargon as they enact war scenes from another existence. As they find themselves pounding beverages and yelling over the berserk vibrations of Decapitated’s  “Nihility” pumping through the speakers, every person knows why they are waging war against each other.  There is a storyline that is so captivating as to warrant some physical manifestation.  It is a community that relishes elaborate tales of fantasy and science-fiction so much as to create interactive dioramas that wage simulated warfare, using meticulously assembled and painted models.  If that is too ornate of a description we can simply call it “tabletop miniature wargaming.”  If that doesn’t do it, let’s take a look into perhaps the most intriguing line of such war games.  It’s called Warhammer, a game of otherwordly and savage mystique, and Metal is its soundtrack.

In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.” This may be the first quote you will see opening up the rulebook of Warhammer 40,000, a game of science fiction allure set in the 41st millennium.  This quote makes me writhe. The sheer ferocity of it gives me the urge to growl over a blast beat driven guitar riff tuned in A standard.  It is in these army books, rules books, and black library novels written by Games Workshop that one can truly see the metal potential within the hobby.  Friends gather at comic book stores and engage in self-depreciating jokes as they drop 50 dollars on a 100 page rulebook for their army, meanwhile scraping coins together for a slice of pizza next door.  The books are essential to playing the game.  They lay down the rules, statlines, and point values for each miniature warband. However, there is some other rich content in these books that makes spending the money a bit easier, though still not necessarily practical.  It’s not in the scrupulous amount of rules; it’s in the fluff!

(Warhammer Fantasy)

Fluff, fluff, fluff is what it is all about.  Warhammer is a game of intricate stratagem and calculation, and it is vital to know thy enemy, to not only gain victory, but to also truly enjoy the bounty of what the storyline has to offer.  Bitter rivalries grow and campaigns develop around such elaborate plots.  Consuming hive fleets of Tyranids, (think Starship Troopers) forever plague the defense lines of the Imperium, while the Dark Eldar, abhorrent and soulless elves fallen from grace, conduct piratical raids of appalling definition throughout the webway.  You may have no idea what any of that means, but can you see, or rather, feel the metal?

Less like Star Wars and more like Tolkien in space, we are presented with races of humans, elves, orks, dwarves*, and daemons among other opportunities in Warhammer 40,000. Genetically enhanced humans protect vast planetary assignments across a seemingly endless galaxy in the name of the God-Emperor.  Under siege from foul xenos races and warp daemons, the Imperium of mankind is forever under siege just as they are always hunting to cast down the traitor and alien alike.  Cries of heresy echo throughout the galaxy in the name of the god-figure, the Emperor. This presents the familiar theme of religious struggle, which is omnipresent throughout metal music, but Games Workshop can offer some fresh perspective.

Whether you listen to the progressive hymns and praises of Extol or the blasphemous incantations of Impaled Nazarene, or maybe both with an open mind, the religious motif is always prominent in metal.  The Horus Heresy presents yet another religious metaphor for lyricists and writers to employ thanks to Games Workshop.  There is mutiny in the Imperium of mankind, the gods of Chaos have gained favour, and “brother will kill brother in a stained glass abattoir” called space. (Free beer to whoever picks up on that last line).  Civil war turns genetically modified super humans against each other and creates the quintessential good versus evil binary, Imperium versus Chaos, and uses it imaginatively to create a new metaphor for the Christian faith, which is for better or worse, a prominent theme in metal.  Perhaps, it is time to look at things differently.  Metal has debated and discussed the oppressive qualities of religious faiths ad nasuem.  Let’s try something new. Perhaps it is time to expose the Emperor of Mankind and his mindless devotees!  The wrongdoings of the church are old news!  The Emperor has been responsible for an infinite amount of tragedy throughout the galaxy, and in the wake of such mournful devastation, Thergothon could reunite to write another Funeral Doom classic with such inspiration.

(The Emperor versus Horus)

The genres of metal are boundless, and the worlds of Warhammer compliment this.  The fall of the Eldar race is of such somberness that the entire doom metal community could greatly benefit from that single story.  In the wake of the Eldar’s fall, the birth of the decadent Dark Eldar is bountiful enough for Leviathan to wail about in murderous refrain for the rest of their discography.  If Nile were to ever grow weary of Egyptian lore, they could take up Warhammer Fantasy, the other counterpart to the Games-Workshop series.  The rich history of the Tomb Kings legion would give Karl Sanders enough to bellow about until he’s a senior citizen.  Besides, Settra the Imperishable deserves an album dedicated to his dominant reign over Nehekhara!  There is enough fluff to go around for every genre!  Power metal you say?  What is more righteous than the captains of Ultramar defending the Imperium of Mankind against the twisted Gods of Chaos?  I am truly surprised Rhapsody of Fire and Blind Guardian have not run to their local gaming store, perhaps Mighty Titans Hobbies and Games in Landing, NJ, and picked up some black library novels to draw inspiration from.  The Beastmen versus Wood Elves saga reeks of metal potential, contrasting enough brutality with beauty so that it compares to an Opeth tune.  Finally, I’m surprised we haven’t seen Manowar write an anthem for the stout heart Dwarven race, whom defend their prized works of riches with arrogance and pride.  It is amazing to me to see all this metal potential go unheeded. Though, there is one band caught on a long time ago, so they get the prize.

All hail Bolt Thrower! Bolt Thrower formed in England, 1986 and you can be damn sure that a “bolt thrower” is a weapon used throughout the Warhammer world.  While the general theme of Bolt Thrower is war, they have three albums that directly draw influence from the Games Workshop series.  Realm of Chaos, Warmaster, and Honour, Valour, Pride not only use Warhammer inspired lyrics, but use Games Workshop artwork as well!  Round of applause!  With titles such as “Plague Bearer, World Eater, Through the Eye of Terror”, the unsuspecting metal-head will brush these off as mere badass song titles.  They are certainly badass, however, they would be unaware that these titles came from such a reservoir of untried inspiration.  I am truly grateful to have Warhammer in my life, as it allows me to pierce the mundane with such extravagant imagination from time to time.   It is amazing that Bolt Thrower, as classic of a selection that they are, have not opened more eyes to the world of miniature wargaming and its boundless scope of creativity.

(Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos album.  Check out the MK1 Beakies!)

Whether or not there is a future for wargaming in music, time will tell.  I am expecting to get an email from Karl Sanders after he reads this article so that I can let him borrow my Tomb Kings army book, but other than that, who knows?  The market for Games Workshop has gotten exceedingly big, (and prices borderline impractical), and we have seen video games and even an independent film inspired by the Warhammer series.  Is music next? Since nobody has followed suit after the legendary Bolt Thrower, it may be up to the wargamers and hobbyists themselves to bring the brutality, barbarism, and beauty, yes beauty, of Warhammer to the forefront of metal.

(Come on Karl, Tomb Kings man!)

*-Bring back the squats!

-Archon Xalkire

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