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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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DMR Books Brings Pulp Sword & Sorcery Back Into Print

Saturday, May 5th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sapphire Goddess The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis-small The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball-small

Last month I rented a booth at the Windy City Pulp and Paper show here in Chicago — my favorite local convention — and piled it high with brand new hardcovers and trade paperbacks I was giving away. I had 31 boxes of leftover review copies, duplicates from my collection, and hundreds of rare advance proofs to get out of my basement, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Bob Byrne and Steven Silver made long drives to the con to help staff the booth, and we were looking forward to handing out books to grateful attendees.

Reality was a little bit different. Most folks passed by our booth with barely a glance. If Bob and Steve and I hadn’t been tirelessly peddling books, handing out free copies as people passed by, and carting books by the dozens to the freebie pile at registration every few hours, we’d probably still be there. This was an audience more interested in pulps and vintage paperbacks than brand new science fiction and fantasy, apparently.

It’s not true that there was no interest in our booth. After eight long hours unsuccessfully giving away books on Friday, Dave Ritzlin from DMR Books joined us on Saturday, and we gladly made space for him in the booth. Once we did interest picked up immediately, as folks zeroed in on his attractive selection — and especially his new releases, The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis and The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball.

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From the Vaults: The Lands of the Earthquake by Henry Kuttner

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

landsoftheearthquakeOnce upon a time, Ace Books published hundreds of double novels. It’s a simple thing: a pair of novellas, often by two different authors, were joined back-to-back, done in such a way that you’d have to flip the book upside down to read the second once you’d finished the first. Black Gate has been posting Rich Horton’s reviews of many of these old books for some time now. Many times a newer author’s work was paired with that of an established author in order to garner more attention. It was a clever idea that allowed lots of shorter works to get in print.

DMR Books, publishers of the Swords of Steel anthologies (reviewed here), has revived the format with the release of Howie Bentley’s Under a Dim Blue Sun backed with a reprint of Henry Kuttner’s 1947 Lands of the Earthquake. I reviewed the former this past August but neglected the latter, so I’m back with a look at a seventy-year-old tale of cross-planar travel and alien wizards.

Henry Kuttner is one of the greats of golden age sci-fi and fantasy. Under his own name as well as over a dozen pseudonyms, on his own and in collaboration with his wife, C.L. Moore, he wrote hundreds of stories. They range from Lovecraftian pastiches he crafted in his youth, to early additions to the annals of swords & sorcery, to classic sci-fi tales such as “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” and “The Twonky.”

There are several published discussions regarding which Kuttner stories are solo creations versus written as joint efforts with Moore. If the second, the question then is how much was done by one or the other. According to one review of Lands of the Earthquake, it was written not by Kuttner at all, but by Moore. I don’t know, and I freely admit that I haven’t enough experience with either to make a claim one way or the other.

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