He was met at the gate of Hades by the Guardian of the Lost Souls, the Keeper of the Unavenged. And he did say to him, “Let ye not pass Abbadon! Return to the world from whence ye came and seek payment, not only for thine own anguish, but vindicate the souls of the unavenged.” And they placed in his hand a sword made for him called Vengeance, forged in brimstone and tempered by the woeful tears of the unavenged. And to carry him on his journey back to the upper world they brought forth their demon horse called Black Death, a grim steed so fearsome in might and black in color that he could stand as one with the darkness, save for his burning eyes of crimson fire. And on that night they rode up from Hell! The pounding of his hooves did clap like thunder!
Would you doubt someone if they told you the above text came from an old sword and sorcery paperback with a cover by Frank Frazetta?
Likely not, unless you knew the source: “Dark Avenger,” a song by heavy metal giants Manowar. One day, while listening to this song, an idea struck me like a thunderbolt: To release an anthology of fantasy stories written by authors from heavy metal bands. And thus, the concept for Swords of Steel was born.
The past several decades in fantasy literature have displayed a lot of safe trends not much to my liking. What happened to evocatively-written tales of strong-willed heroes conquering (or succumbing to) exotic, dangerous landscapes? Rather than such epic fare, we’ve been treated to volume after volume of thousand-page Tolkien tributes. (Considering Tolkien spent 20 years on The Lord of the Rings, one would think maintaining quality through each successive sequel would prove difficult.) So rather than wait for someone else, I decided to publish a book myself. I simply needed to find people to write these stories; and who better than the heavy metal bards?
One prerequisite of the metal lifestyle is steadfast resistance against mainstream trends. It shows in the character of men like Cauldron Born guitarist Howie Bentley and Twisted Tower Dire guitarist Scott Waldrop, who founded their bands in the early nineties. At a time when metal was believed truly “dead,” they persevered without any establishment acceptance. This attitude, plus their lyrical talents, made them perfect candidates for Swords of Steel.
I also contacted Byron Roberts of Bal-Sagoth and E.C. Hellwell of Manilla Road, having recalled interviews where both musicians mentioned they’d written stories that were never published. All enthusiastically agreed to take part, and as word spread, more musicians/writers were inspired to join our side.
Before I knew it, I had enough content to fill a book. More than enough, in fact, as there wasn’t room for everyone; all the more reason for a second volume!
All this would be inconsequential if the stories weren’t up to snuff. I wanted fantasy fans with no knowledge of metal to pick up the book and enjoy these tales on their own merits. Do they hold their own, compared to the past masters? I believe they do, but a second opinion couldn’t hurt. I contacted no less an authority than David C. Smith (author of Oron and the Red Sonja novels), and was thrilled to find out he agreed.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from his introduction to Swords of Steel:
I have myself written a great deal of this sort of fiction and was heartened when Dave Ritzlin, the editor, told me that his idea was to create a collection of the kinds of stories you would have found in the late 1960s and 1970s — in the Swords Against Darkness anthologies, for example… You will find the enjoyable stories (and two poems!) in Swords of Steel echoing the same sensibility that Andy Offutt exercised when he put together the Swords Against Darkness series in the 1970s: eclectic work from talented writers offering a variety of styles…
So here you have it, Dave Ritzlin’s plan fulfilled, a strong collection of stories that do, indeed, take us back to the youthful, energetic, and unpoliced days of the 1970s. Enjoy!
Swords of Steel was published by DMR Books on February 21st, 2015. It is 254 pages, priced at $9.99 in paperback. The cover is by Martin Hanford. See more details here.