Emily Brontë: Death Metal Darling

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Surprised classic lit inspires death metal? You have to admit Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë’s penchant for violence, dark passion and gothic morbidity is totally hardcore. And Triptykon, acclaimed for its genre-defying, avant-garde metal stylings, is the perfect band to make the connection.

“In the Sleep of Death,” a song on Triptykon’s recent album Melana Chasmata, speaks directly to Brontë like a long-lost love.

“Emily, how long may this dismal moment last/ Here in this world was your life/ Emily, how can I find serenity,” frontman Tom Gabriel Warrior growls on the dirge-like track.

The song “is an homage to a woman of exceptional beauty, both in her words and as a person,” Warrior writes in liner notes. “[Brontë’s] writing is stunningly beautiful and deeply reflective, and portions of it have become a considerable inspiration for my own, infinitely inferior efforts.”

These “efforts” include Warrior’s earlier gig fronting the seminal extreme metal band Celtic Frost in the 1980s. The influential band’s 1987 album Into the Pandemonium included a song with lyrics borrowed from Brontë’s “Sleep Brings No Joy to Me” poem—without crediting her.

Triptykon’s new song is partly an attempt on Warrior’s part to make up for Celtic Frost’s use of Brontë’s words. “As if she didn’t suffer enough in the course of her all too brief life,” Warrior self-mockingly writes in the liner notes. He adds that the title “In the Sleep of Death” alludes “very respectfully” to the last line of “Sleep Brings No Joy to Me.”

Brontë has other fans in obscure corners of the metal world, including a lesser-known Danish metal outfit called Wuthering Heights. Bandleader Erik Ravn tells Paste he picked up the title after hearing English singer/songwriter Kate Bush’s 1978 hit song “Wuthering Heights” covered by the Brazilian metal band Angra on its 1993 debut album.

The very word “wuthering,” with its connotations of “stormy” and “windy,” was perfect for the band’s name. “My band has been through a lot of turmoil,” Ravn says. “The music is sometimes like a whirlwind of moods and emotions, chaotic at times—and dark … [At] its core, the music and lyrics of [Wuthering Heights] are grim. My worldview is about as bleak as the English moors.”

“Also, I sympathize with the author herself,” Ravn explains. “Brontë was not a schooled writer or a part of the artistic establishment. She wrote this one, strange piece — then died. But amazingly, the piece still lives. We still read it. It’s considered a masterwork.”

If more metalheads knew Brontë, surely they would love her as Ravn does. Heck, Brontë’s family name means “thunder” in ancient Greek (her father deliberately changed the name from the decidedly un-metal “Brunty”). It even possessed a gratuitous heavy metal umlaut 150 years before Blue Öyster Cult and Motörhead.

Yet it’s easy to guess why metal’s Brontë fans are few. Metal remains a firmly working-class genre, its main literary inspirations consisting of horror stories, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Bible’s more exciting bits. In a scene dominated by uber-macho dudes and a sizeable population of outright misogynists, proto-feminist women authors aren’t likely to show up on the reading list.

Reading lists of any kind can be a tough sell with metal’s rebels. Ravn says his band’s name has sometimes been a stumbling block for English-speaking fans whose only memories of Wuthering Heights are of being forced to read it at school.

But if anyone can inspire more metal love for Brontë, it’s Triptykon’s Warrior. He has consistently sharpened metal’s cutting edge, influencing everyone from Nirvana to the entire Scandinavian black metal subculture. Through pushing metal to be more expressive, more dynamic, more extreme and diverse, it follows that Warrior’s making it more literate, too.

If Warrior can get metalheads reading the way he’s already gotten them rocking, heads may one day bang to a new brand of Brontë metal.