The 25 Fictional Characters Who Most Influenced Metal
A lot of what makes metal great is the escape it provides. Let’s be real, life sucks, and music that takes us out of it and shoves us in an epic, adventurous world that could never actually exist is a gift from the universe. Perhaps that’s why metal has been so heavily influenced by fiction — it embraces the possibilities beyond the nitty-gritty of real life. Whether it’s Mars, hell, or Middle Earth, anywhere’s better than here.
The syncretic nature of metal means that the genre takes influences from characters across all of fiction. But if we’re being real, there are a handful of cultural icons who have influenced metal more than others. So because we’re massive nerds, we decided to rank the 25 fictional characters who most influenced metal.
Here are the heaviest inspirations that never existed…
There’s something about a giant robot with a sword that metal fans will adore until the day they die. In that respect, Voltron will always be close to the genre’s core, and helped bring the strange and multi-faceted world of manga and anime into metal’s creative diet. The character’s space-junk samurai appearance and weirdly presentational fighting style became vital to metal’s artistic development, especially during nu-metal. Voltron never really battles, he mostly just poses dramatically, looking like God put on a suit of armor to fight the entire world. May that be someday said of all of us.
There’s a beautiful simplicity to Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Humans aren’t complicated, so long as you cut along the dotted line. This sense of ultimate madness, of insanity so deep that you can only laugh uncontrollably and fire up the chainsaw, is an especially poetic fantasy for metal fans. The world often feels overwhelming in its nuance, but bit by bit we usually discover that it’s secretly held up with scotch tape and rubber cement. So why not go nuts? Why not hunker down somewhere and wait for your dinner to shove its nose in your business? It’s no worse than what goes on out there, and anyway, a man’s gotta eat.
23. Darth Vader
Metal wouldn’t exist without Star Wars, whether we like it or not. The franchise’s mixture of wizard fantasy and spaceship sci-fi immediately enamored every dude looking for the ultimate heavy story (later, would teddy bears eat soldiers after the Lightning Scrotum perishes). Darth Vader, of course, is the film’s most metal character, the Black Knight of ancient lore recast as a gasmasked reaper with a laser sword. That he chokes the unfaithful with evil telekinesis only further cements him as the character we all secretly dream of being. Who’s your daddy?
22. King Arthur
While Arthur Pendragon himself is pretty metal – you know, God-chosen knight, sometimes bangs his witch sister, pulls a sword out of a rock like he’s straight-up Dio – it’s his legend that has most influenced the genre. The Arthurian saga has it all, from the ancient castle, to flamboyant swordsman who steals the king’s girl, to the bastard son thirsty for revenge, to the literal son of the Devil who’s the most powerful sorcerer in history. Without Arthur’s tale, so much of our medieval fantasy would be bland and tasteless. And let’s not forget about Zoot’s identical twin sister, Dingo!
21. Freddy Krueger
So many of metal’s inspirations are classic and literary – but the genre is inherently modern. And no demon or killer is more modern than Freddy Krueger. Freddy isn’t some incubus riding a black horse through hell, he’s an undead child molester who can access your psyche when your guard is down. He doesn’t have horns or hooves, just a map of burn scars and a handful of knives. Wes Craven’s ultimate boogeyman is a creature of the modern age that still manages to tap into our the deepest fears of our childhood. That reimagining of old-world tradition in the contemporary lens is heavy metal’s bread and butter.
20. Beavis and Butt-Head
How can two people who do so little with their lives be so influential on an entire culture? Beavis and Butt-Head might be couch-bound nothings with obese tapeworms, but their no-nonsense take on the world (it sucks), appreciation for life’s great banquet (you said ‘bang’), and keen artistic sensibilities (dammit, Pantera, this beer is warm!) have won the hearts and minds of millions the world over. Whether you’re the hyperactive tooth-grinder or the open-mouthed goon, these two will grab you by your heartstrings and never let go. There’s a Cornholio inside of us all.
One could lump Pan in with Satan, given how heavily the modern image of the Devil is based on that of the Greek god. The difference is that Pan wasn’t a being of evil, but of indulgence, reveling in sex, gluttony, nature worship and music – everything that the church feared and hated. As such, he’s the embodiment of metal’s everyday relationship with the dark side, a hairy, hard-headed avatar of having a good time, getting wasted, and passing out in a grassy field somewhere. Pass the pipes, bring on the wood nymphs.
We’ve all felt like an alien, but we’re never the all-powerful alien. We’re ET when the government has him and he’s turning all white and crusty like a dog turd. In that respect, the Kryptonian has given metal fans a really painful fantasy that they’ll never be able to meet. Superman is the ultimate goal – being able to do anything, to be bulletproof, to fling your enemies into the sun like they were nothing. It ain’t going to happen, but in our darkest moments, it’s a nice idea. Sorry, guys, not every inspiration is a good thing.
17. Conan the Cimmerian
The influences that Robert E. Howard’s Conan has had on metal are obvious on paper – the barbarian wandering the land, fighting slimes and serpents, axe in hand and wine in horn. Just as important, though, was how the character – especially in his incarnation as detailed by artist Frank Frazetta – brought together all myths, and all heroic tales. One minute, Conan is battling Vikings, the next pirates, the next a Lovecraftian horror. For those of us wandering through a modern wasteland of stories and gods both new and long-dead, Crom is the light.
16. The Cenobites
Pleasure, pain…and leather. The Cenobites from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser films were a well of both visual and philosophical influence which metal can’t stop drinking from. The masochistic quartet’s presentation of hell and darkness as something pitch-black and spiritual was new and exciting, while their baroque physical goriness evoked new concepts of what eternal punishment – or reward – could look like. Especially in the ‘90s and early 2000s, the impact these angels to others had on extreme metal is undeniable. No tears, please.
15. Frankenstein’s Monster
None of us asked to be born. None of us wanted to wear these fucking flesh costumes. But here we are, cursed with life. That’s why Mary Shelley’s undead creation is so relatable to metalheads, and why her novel has inspired so many of them. The Monster is ugly, morbid, a thing of the grave, but all it wants is to be loved. Instead, it gets the torch and pitchfork treatment by those who hate it on sight, and it’s forced to lash out. We know what it is to be cornered by a world that fucked us from the get-go with a heartbeat and a conscience.
14. The Mad Hatter
I hear a lot of you sitting back and scoffing, but you’re wrong. There’s something about this bossy, unhinged, psychedelic asshole that’s a deep part of metal. Some of it is the characters sense of nonsensical command, angry at those around him for not understanding his disturbed bullshit. Part of it is his demented ringmaster persona, which everyone from Alice Cooper to Raven Black has cribbed from. But most of all, it’s how goddamn crazy he is. Metal is heavily informed by the hilarity of being insane in a sane world, and no one gets nuttier than this dude. Now SWITCH PLACES!
Before Arthur and Conan and Saint George and Kraatos, there was Beowulf. The Geatlandean warrior spends the epic poem sharing his name fighting an unholy cave-dwelling monster, then his wretched mother, and then a golden dragon that eventually kills him. The character is one of the first great warrior heroes, and the protagonist of a tale which would go on to define the hero’s journey and the concept of a monster hunter. One of those figures who was never perfectly defined, so he exists as whatever badass you want him to be.
The obvious way H.P. Lovecraft’s acolyte of chaos and destruction influences metal is with his size. The idea that a thing unfathomably large is living on this earth, waiting to wipe us out, feels menacingly real to your average headbanger. More powerful than that, though, is his contempt. Cthulhu isn’t just a giant monster, he’s a god from the old world who’s now watching a swarm of ignorant primates poison the planet and act like they know anything. We’ve all been worried that an ugly, monstrous deity is going to slap us off our pedestal – and we’ve all wished that we were the one doing the slapping.
11. Count Dracula
So many of our favorite monsters are misunderstood loners who just want to be accepted – but not Dracula. The Count was history’s bloodiest tyrant, brought back from the grave by the powers of darkness and given command over all of night’s creatures. Sure, he’s gripped by the occasional dread and loneliness that comes with watching the centuries pass around him, but Stoker’s original character was not morose or poetic, just angry that he couldn’t drink all the blood in the world. From Black Sabbath to black metal, the lord of the vampires has been a figure of terror and power, summoning forth beautiful music from night’s children.
Huge, radioactive, and born for destruction – no, it’s not Municipal Waste, it’s Godzilla. The king of the monsters is a beautiful distillation of metal’s worldview, both ancient and ferociously modern, laying waste to the world around it because it’s too damn big and furious not to. That its very body is a crime against God and science, punishing a society stupid enough to spli the fucking atom, just makes the story sound like how we all feel at heart listening to Red Harvest. Not to mention he’s, you know…big. In Japan. Please clap.
Hey, murder had to start somewhere! In the Bible, Cain slew his brother Abel out of jealously, when God chose Abel’s sacrifice of a goat over his basket of veggies. He bludgeoned the dude’s head in with a donkey’s jawbone and then hid the body (that’s where we get the phrase, Am I my brother’s keeper? God wants to know where Abel is, and Cain’s like, I’unno). Not only is that shit raw as hell, but it adds both poetry and brutality to the first murder ever. Cain not only killed his own brother out of jealousy, he spilled his brains on the dirt and lied about it. Cannibal Corpse owe this guy everything they have.
8. The Undertaker
Obviously, there’s a real man behind the Undertaker (names Mark Calaway, in case you don’t know) – but it’s the character who has captured the hearts and minds of metal fans for going on four decades now. The wrestler’s black-clad frame, perpetual scowl, and morbid image have always been important to metal, especially during his Deadman phase when he was a supernatural force of undead darkness. That said, more than anything, it’s the Undertaker’s presence that’s most powerful – zombie, biker, or foil, the dude is a force to be reckoned with just by showing up. No matter how he’s dressed, what his shtick, he’s here to put you in the ground.
7. Uncle Sam
Like the Roman god Janus, Uncle Sam has two faces, both of which have inspired metal for generations. One is the face of Sam the Soldier, making you heart swell as you roll up your sleeves and fight for what you believe in. The other is Sam the Salesman, feeding you that soldier bit so he can send your children off to die in a foreign country while he lights a cigar with kickback cash. Either way, Sam stands for war, and he wants YOU to join him. As sinister as he is inspiring, he’s somehow metal’s God and Devil in one – and worst of all, he’s American.
It’s hard to pick one member of the Norse pantheon to best represent metal, but it’s gotta be Thor, god of thunder, mighty his Mjolnir. Sure, Odin’s an undead rune-wizard and Loki’s a devious wife-banger. But Thor’s a headstrong hero who’s eventually going to fight a giant snake with a hammer at the end of the world. He’s an elemental who brings a storm of both lightning and ass-beatings wherever he goes. At the end of the day, that’s who metal’s rooting for – the dude who rides in on a goat-drawn chariot, beats the shit out of the scariest thing in the room, and later gets plied with hard liquor by his brother and then convinced to put on a dress or something. Who hasn’t been there?
It speaks to J. R. R. Tolkien’s sheer strength of imagination that he came up with a being so diabolical, it beats a lot of the ancient gods and monsters on this list. But there’s no denying that not only is Sauron immeasurably evil, but his depiction has inspired metal in ways unfathomable. Sauron isn’t evil because some church says so, or because he once did something bad, he is pure elemental evil, the kind of darkness recognized by everyone from high-minded elves to wicked, deceitful humans. With this figure, fiction got the Devil it truly deserved.
4. The Grim Reaper
Death itself isn’t a character – until it is! The Grim Reaper remains fiction’s scariest figure, a living embodiment of every human’s eventual end. But beyond the skull face and gleaming scythe is something that metal fans respect and understand: a dirty job. Does Death want to be Death? Doesn’t matter, someone’s gotta be Death. For metal fans, who often hate the drudgery of everyday life and didn’t ask to be born, the Reaper’s firm, no-nonsense task is almost comforting. King or beggar, pope or killer, he’s gotta meet with us all in the end.
Satan really has everything metal needs. He’s got an apocalyptic realm full of shrieking sinners that he proudly calls home. He’s got a killer weapon, giant bat wings, and awesome abs. But most of all, he’s got a story that we can all relate to – beloved by his maker, but cast out when he was asked to serve a race of selfish, cruel, ungrateful primates who wanted nothing more than to split the atom and poison their own children. In this way, metalheads have sympathy for the Devil, understanding just how it feels to want drama and noise while secretly hurting inside. Mythology’s answer to Dave Mustaine.
2. Jesus Christ
Sorry, but deep down, you know it’s true. By the numbers alone, Jesus is the fictional character who has inspired the majority of metal music. Between the Christian metal bands, the satanic metal bands actively giving him the finger, and the non-religious metal bands who still have anti-church and anti-Christian sentiments in their work, the Nazarene just racks them up. At the end of the day, metal needed something to rebel against in order to exist, and the people who created a hippie victim before using him as an excuse to murder a large percentage of history were the perfect enemy. Sad, but true.
A lot went into the perfection that is Eddie the Head. Much of it is of course Iron Maiden’s music, and the specific place it occupies in our culture – fun and never truly scary, but complicated and full-on metal. A whole lot of it is the scope and weirdness of Derek Riggs’ illustrations, from Piece of Mind’s shaved-head maniac to Seventh Son’s cosmic arctic cyber-god. Some of it is just good old-fashioned horror — the guy’s a zombie, and who doesn’t love zombies? But at the end of the day, Eddie is metal’s most vital fictional character because he completes the circle. Eddie is a metal character created for a metal band, to represent metal fans. Eddie is not ‘metal as an adjective,’ he is a timeless product of heavy metal. He’s our Bugs Bunny, a character who sums up the long legacy of an entire identity. He introduced metal to the idea of a mascot, a reflection of one’s self that identifies with an entire way of life. For that reason, he’ll always be the most important person in our lives who doesn’t really exist. Hallowed by his name.