More Metal on Metal: Swords of Steel II edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_905944pvOdEQohFrom its emergence out of the hard rock genre, heavy metal has drawn from the inspiration of swords & sorcery. “The Wizard” is the second track on what is considered the first metal album, the eponymous Black Sabbath. Uriah Heep upped the ante with its albums Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday. Manowar’s epic song “Battle Hymns,” from the album of the same name, channeled all the blood and thunder of heroic fantasy into 6 minutes and 55 seconds. Behold:

Gone are the days, when freedom shone – now blood and steel meet bone
In the light of the battle’s way, the sands of time will shake
How proud our soldiers stand, with mace and chain in hand
Sound of charge into glory ride, over the top of their vanquished pride

Other bands have gone as far as spinning songs directly from actual stories and novels. The Sword, for example, has Game of Thrones-inspired “To Take the Black,” and Manilla Road drafted both the plot and title of of a Robert E. Howard story for their “Queen of the Black Coast.”

The point is, metal and S&S have been fist in glove for many a year now. They have the same penchant for extremes — the big gestures not the subtle, small ones. The idea that heavy metal musicians could turn their love for S&S into prose makes perfect sense.

And that’s exactly what D. M. Ritzlin has encouraged, starting with last year’s Swords of Steel, an anthology of heroic fantasy written by members of heavy metal bands. While I gave it a mixed review, I was utterly sold on the idea. The authors’ ardor was undeniable, even overwhelming weaknesses in some of the stories. Each story was illustrated with a work of hand-drawn lo-fi art that harks back to sketches on the backs of D&D character sheets and murals painted on the sides of vans. Flaws be damned, I enjoyed the book and was happy to learn that a second volume was being planned.

Read More »


Future Treasures: Swords of Steel II edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Swords of Steel II-smallDave Ritzlin’s Swords of Steel anthology, published last February by DMR Books, was a popular topic here at Black Gate and elsewhere. In his review, Fletcher Vredenburghw wrote:

When John O’Neill posted a few weeks ago about Swords of Steel, edited by D.M. Ritzlin, I knew I had to read it. The hook was simple: swords & sorcery stories written by members of metal bands. Tons of heavy bands — Uriah Heep, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Metallica, Megadeth, to name several — have drawn on the themes of heroism, monster-fighting, and sorcery for lyrics and look… Ritzlin set out to recreate a 1970s-style anthology akin to Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords! or Andrew Offutt’s Swords Against Darkness, and has succeeded.

I’m very pleased to report that a second volume is in the works, to be released next month. I asked Dave for a quote, and here’s what he told me:

The Swordsmen of Steel return! Attacking once more now with twice as much strength, the most epic practitioners of the heavy metal arts fill another volume with tales of terror and heroic adventure. Swords of Steel II features stories by such artists as E.C. Hellwell (MANILLA ROAD), Byron Roberts (BAL-SAGOTH), Mike Scalzi (SLOUGH FEG) and Howie Bentley (CAULDRON BORN). A total of eight stories (each accompanied by an illustration) are contained herein, as well as two poems and an essay by David C. Smith (author of the Red Sonja and Oron novels). Don’t read this book unless you have nerves of STEEL!

Read More »


Metal on Metal: Swords of Steel edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_3111058UFfTOs2zWhen John O’Neill posted a few weeks ago about Swords of Steel, edited by D.M. Ritzlin, I knew I had to read it. The hook was simple: swords & sorcery stories written by members of metal bands. Tons of heavy bands — Uriah Heep, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Metallica, Megadeth, to name several — have drawn on the themes of heroism, monster-fighting, and sorcery for lyrics and look. Sometimes they lift stuff directly from favorite authors, like the UK band called Conan, or Texas band The Sword with the song “Beyond the Black River.”

When I read Tolkien I hear folk music in my head; when I read Karl Edward Wagner I hear Black Sabbath. So although I recognized the name of only one band represented in the collection, I was stoked to dive in. With an amazingly cool cover by Martin Hanford and its back cover claim that it’s “NOT FOR WIMPS!,” I was expecting great things from Swords of Steel. It came tantalizingly close.

Set in England during the reign of Elizabeth I,”Into the Dawn of Storms” by Byron A. Roberts (vocalist, Bal-Sagoth) gets the book off to a solid start. Captain Blackthorne is plagued with dreams of death and magic and seeks help from the legend-shrouded scholar, John Dee. It’s billed as the first chapter in an ongoing saga and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for Chapter Two.

From the author bio (and there’s a nice one included for everybody), I learned that Roberts has developed a mulitverse that forms the foundation of his band’s music. This story, with references to past exploits and multiple worlds, is set there as well.

“The Riddle Master” by Ernest Cunningham Hellwell (bassist, Hellwell) is one of the best stories in the collection but, sadly, not S&S at all. A nameless writer narrates his run-in and bet with a demon, made to ensure eternal fame.

Read More »


New Treasures: Swords of Steel edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Swords of Steel-smallSwords of Steel is a brand new sword & sorcery anthology edited by D.M. Ritzlin, filled with stories written exclusively by heavy metal musicians. In his introduction, David C. Smith says the “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.” I’m a fan of Andrew Offut’s Swords Against Darkness, and I heartily approve of any effort to recapture their spirit.

Swords of Steel is an anthology of fantasy/horror adventure stories; it  includes interior illustrations and maps by a variety of artists, and poems by Sean Weingartner. There’s also an artilcle, “Headbanging Warriors,” by Black Gate‘s Thursday blogger  M Harold Page.

Mighty-thewed barbarians… vengeful lords of chaos… desolate devil-haunted ruins… carnage-soaked battlefields… forbidden spells of great power… All of these you will find in the works of authors of heroic fantasy as well as heavy metal musicians. But modern fantasy has been plagued with convoluted plots and series without end. Who better to return traditional fantasy to its former glory than the heavy metal bards?

Swords of Steel is an anthology of fantastic and horrific adventure stories, each penned by a heavy metal musician. Members of such bands as Bal-Sagoth, Manilla Road, Twisted Tower Dire, Cauldron Born, Solstice, and more — proving their talent for the written word as well as song — cut through the modern wasteland, wielding Swords of Steel.

Read More »


In the Beginning: The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball, edited by D.M. Ritzlin

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_24424197NL5TMljIt’s been a bit of a shock, even if a somewhat welcome one, to be done with Glen Cook after so many weeks. I’ve been so immersed in the world of the Black Company that it feels a little weird to be moving on. Fortunately, I was able to turn around and pick up the brand new collection containing all of Clifford Ball’s short stories. Who’s Clifford Ball, you ask? Well, let me tell you. Actually, let Dave Ritzlin tell you:

Little is known about Clifford Ball. His brief career as a writer began in 1937. Ball, a devoted reader of Weird Tales since 1925, was deeply upset by the suicide of Robert E. Howard the previous year. Presumably Howard’s death motivated him to pen sword-and-sorcery stories of his own in an attempt to fill the void left by the departed master. “Duar the Accursed” appeared in the May of 1937 issue of Weird Tales, and the influence of Howard was readily apparent.

Ball wrote two more S&S tales, followed by three non-S&S fantasies, and then vanished back into the audience from which he’d arisen. A short bio from Weird Tales stated he worked all sorts of jobs, including ditch digger, factory worker, and barkeep. According to Wikipedia, he might have been born in 1896 and probably died in 1947. And that’s it. That’s all that seems to be known about one of the earliest S&S writers.

All Ball’s S&S tales take place in the same land of ancient kingdoms, beautiful queens, conniving wizards, and demonic powers. The use of the same place names and gods in all three make it seem as if he was beginning to develop a coherent setting, but with so few stories the world doesn’t get the chance to come fully to life. As with Henry Kuttner’s Atlantis setting, Ball’s was headed in the right direction but he didn’t get the chance to achieve it, and it’s a shame. There’s a creative exuberance to these stories that make me wish Ball had carried on.

“Duar the Accursed” features its titular protagonist, and on the surface he’s an easily recognizable Conan clone. What makes him different is his mysterious past — he has no memory before awaking on a battlefield some years ago. Since then he’s taken to a roving life, but one shadowed by dark omens, including a raven that dogged his pirate galley and earthquakes that leveled a kingdom he ruled.

As the story begins he’s been captured by Queen Nione of Ygoth. He has come to her land to steal the fabled Rose of Gaon — “a jewel magnificent in size and beauty” — from the Black Tower. The tower, while housing the gem, also serves as the place of punishment for citizens guilty of crimes too horrendous to allow for a clean death. They are marched in and left to powers unknown for the execution of their sentences. Needless to say, though by unexpected means, Duar manages to escape his imprisonment and makes for the Rose of Gaon, by way of the Queen’s bedchamber.

Read More »


Even More Metal on Metal: Swords of Steel Volume III

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

For the third time in two years, Dave Ritzlin has gathered metal musicians and gotoie_2311445pWjU2VwKten them to turn their talents toward full-throttle swords & sorcery. (My reviews of the previous two volumes are here and here). Unlike last year’s installment, which too often wandered astray, the brand new Swords of Steel Volume III is almost all S&S. Serious, skull-splitting, blood-spilling, adrenaline-pumping S&S.

Following a short introduction by Mark “The Shark” Shelton (Manilla Road/Hellwell/Riddlemaster), the book kicks off with its best story — “Thannhausefeer’s Guest” by Howie K. Bentley (Cauldron Born/Briton Rites). I didn’t like his story “All Will Be Righted on Samhain” in the first collection, but I did like his “The Heart of the Betrayer” in the second.

The sole survivor of a ship sunk by enemy attack washes ashore, unconscious and suffering from amnesia, on a lonely island. When he first awakes, a woman in white whose name flickers at the edge of his memory, walks the beach beside him and tells him what he must do:

Rolling his head to one side, he glanced at her, his vision wavering in and out. Flaxen hair framed her pale-skinned classic beauty with high cheek bones and full red lips that seemed to have never smiled. Her icy blue eyes looked through him upon dim netherworld vistas far beyond the realm of man. She appeared familiar, but he didn’t know who she was. They had walked for only a moment when she languorously raised her right arm and pointed to the colossal citadel at the top of the hill in the distance. “You must go there,” she said in the monotone of a black lotus dreamer.

When he reaches the citadel he falls unconscious again. This time he comes to in a bed, still unable to recall his name, receiving medical attention from a beautiful, red-haired woman. Because he came from the sea, she names him Manannan after the ocean god.

Read More »


Sound the Horns! Swords of Steel III Arrives Next Week

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Swords-of-Steel-small Swords-of-Steel-II-small Swords-of-Steel III-small

In his review of Swords of Steel II, the second volume in D.M. Ritzlin’s ambitious Sword & Sorcery anthology series, Fletcher Vredenburgh expressed his enthusiastic support for the project.

Metal and S&S have been fist in glove for many a year now. They have the same penchant for extremes — the big gestures not the subtle, small ones. The idea that heavy metal musicians could turn their love for S&S into prose makes perfect sense.

And that’s exactly what D. M. Ritzlin has encouraged, starting with last year’s Swords of Steel, an anthology of heroic fantasy written by members of heavy metal bands. While I gave it a mixed review, I was utterly sold on the idea. The authors’ ardor was undeniable, even overwhelming weaknesses in some of the stories. Each story was illustrated with a work of hand-drawn lo-fi art that harks back to sketches on the backs of D&D character sheets and murals painted on the sides of vans. Flaws be damned, I enjoyed the book and was happy to learn that a second volume was being planned.

Needless to say, we were very pleased to hear that a third volume had been announced. Swords of Steel III, with brand new tales of Sword & Sorcery from eight musicians, new illustrations, and an epic intro from the legendary Mark Shelton (Manilla Road), arrives next week from DMR Books.

Read More »


The Forging of Swords of Steel

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Posted by Dave Ritzlin

Swords of Steel-small

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.

Read More »


DMR Books is Open to Submissions

Thursday, November 1st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

DMR Books

I had lunch with the hard-working Dave Ritzlin yesterday, the mastermind behind DMR Books, and he casually mentioned that they are now open to submissions. This is great news for any aspiring writers out there who produce fantasy, horror, and adventure fiction in the tradition of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and other classic writers of the pulp era. Instead of trying to summarize exactly what Dave’s looking for, here he is in his own words.

Heroic fantasy adventure fiction of the sword-and-sorcery subgenre. Rather than give a detailed explanation of what that means, I’ll just say that if you’re familiar with the books we’ve published, as well as the titles on the following list, you’ll have a good idea of what we want.

What are you waiting for? Start your writing adventure here.

Read More »


July Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1083736EA4SAq7NIt’s that time again, folks. I’m taking a break from my ongoing reread of Glen Cook’s Black Company (6 books down, 4 to go!) to give you an update on the latest heroic fantasy short fiction. First, as usual, there’re the monthly two stories from Curtis Ellett’s Swords and Sorcery Magazine. The other source of stories this July is a collection from Howie Bentley. Most of the stories are reprints I’ve reviewed before, but there are some new things I’ll tell you about.

Issue 77 of Swords and Sorcery Magazine kicks off with “Gina,” the fiery (and bloody) story of a deadly young woman with the ability to control elementals. It’s by Gustavo Bondoni, an author whose work I’ve reviewed in the past. The story kicks off just as Gina is about to be “sacrificed to the fire-demons of Hell’s Gate.” Unfortunately for her captors, just as she steps off the precipice into the volcano’s mouth, they realize she is not the naked and defenseless slave they believe her to be.

Gina looked down again and smiled. She said a few words under her breath. Out loud she said: “Haggan,” and took that final step forward.

She did not fall.

The guard’s footsteps rang out behind her as the man realized that something had gone wrong and rushed towards her to correct it. Not only was he much too late, but he was also running in the wrong direction. Any intelligent person living in a city as infested with magicians as Hell’s Gate would have taken one look at the floating woman and run the other way.

Sadly, dungeon-keepers were not selected for their intelligence. The man kept coming as Gina turned back the way she’d come. A contemptuous flick of her arm brought a tongue of fire from the depths. A gesture sent it towards the rushing defender, who could do nothing but look down at his chest in horror as a searing lance thicker than his arm penetrated his sternum and emerged from his back.

Bondoni packs a lot of back story into this short work, as well as some solid, if not altogether surprising, character development. It successfully walks the line between feeling like something ripped from a longer work and a standalone effort. It manages to feel like an important incident from the larger story of Gina’s life, yet still work as a completely discrete story; something that makes me, as a reader, very happy.

Read More »


  Earlier Entries »

This site © 2018 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.