Metal World-Building: 18 Bands Who Created their Own Fantasy World

Whether it’s Ursula K Le Guin’s intricate interstellar cultures, JRR Tolkien’s lore-rich fantasy landscapes, Frank Herbert’s fully-realised sci-fi planets or Robert E Howard’s myth-fuelled sword ‘n’ sorcery epics, it’s often said of certain works of fiction that the imagined world is a character unto itself. You don’t just fall in love with the story, themes and characters, but the landscapes, so richly detailed as to feel almost real, and the world, with cultures and histories that go deep, as if these mythical realms had actually existed long before their creators ever put pen to paper.

World-building is its own creative endeavour, a chance to escape from the mundanity of reality, sure, but just as often an opportunity to tell us something about ourselves in the process. Thus, what world-building has the innate ability to do is enhance and enrich a story. And as we’ve seen since the creation of the concept album, music is well suited to storytelling. No wonder, then, that the realm of metal, so frequently finding touchstones in fantasy, sci-fi and horror, has seen countless bands seeking to stretch their creative muscles beyond simply writing music. This list (curated with the help of some good folk on Twitter) features artists who’ve taken the concept album to the extreme, in some cases writing multi-album sagas set in a fictional world entirely of their own devising. From 8-bit video game dimensions and futuristic sci-fi civilisations to demon-infested hellscapes and alternate realities, these are some of the greatest imagined worlds in heavy metal.


With a band name taken from Frank Herbert’s Dune and citing inspirations such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, it’s no wonder that Dvne love a bit of world-building. 2017’s Asheran held its own grand concept, but the band outdid themselves with last year’s Etemen Ænka. As the band’s Victor Vicart told us at the time, the record takes place in an advanced civilisation based around a new technology that allows people to achieve immortality. Over time, this technology becomes reserved for the rich and powerful, who the lower social classes come to view as almost god-like beings because they are so remote and powerful. Tapping into sci-fi’s legacy of social commentary, Etemen Ænka is a grand album with a powerful message.


Taking their “fantastical dungeon metal” sound to an extreme both sonically and conceptually, USBM upstarts Stormkeep fill their dynamic take on the genre with epic highs befitting the high fantasy myths and legends of the world of Othertime. Filled with monsters, magic and ancient ruins, Othertime began as a setting in which to base their songs but has since grown into a mapped-out territory with its own narrative and timeline. Debut full-length Tales Of Othertime’s fantastical escapism feels all the more grand for having a fully-realised landscape in which to escape to – the physical release even comes with a map.


Showing the power that escapism can have, vocalist/guitarist Adam of UK sludge outfit Goblinsmoker was still mourning the loss of his friend when the trio entered the studio to record their debut release Toad King. “Even while I was singing about a goblin-smoking toad, there was a lot of emotion going into that record”, he told us when we interviewed him about the project. The band’s bizarre stoner realm, further expanded by 2020’s A Throne In Haze, A World Ablaze, features the Toad King. Cast out by his own kind, he becomes king of the Goblin Forest, where the goblins worship him so fanatically that they willingly dive into his cauldron-sized pipe to be smoked, thus alleviating the Toad King’s dissatisfaction with life.

Mountain Caller

With an adventurous and dynamic mix of post-rock, doom and prog, London’s Mountain Caller use their panoramic instrumental soundscapes to set the scene for an epic feminist parable. Inspired by the art of ‘70s sci-fi novels, graphic novels and cinema, the adventure features a nameless protagonist, a sort of everywoman designed so that anyone can imprint themselves upon her, who travels through a ruined civilisation, facing fierce foes and eventually beginning to understand her power and harness it for good. For more, check out our interview with the band.


When Lancashire’s Matt Moss and Scotland’s Kev Pearson sat down to create a new band in 2012, they ended up with something just a bit weirder than your average project. They emerged on their debut with a full-realised mollusc-obsessed mythos that’s as captivating as it is silly. Existing in a multiverse, Mollusca is a being who exists in a dimension between realities known as Slish, a place that is hidden behind the impenetrable Sea Of Vlekt which immediately freezes anyone who dares enter. “You could always try to gain access via the Rhaexorog,” though, the band told us. “Whose galactic coordinates are l = 264.31 +/-0.16, b = +48.05 +/-0.09, but his ignorance is the stuff of legend and you would probably die in the cold vacuum of space.” A band having this much fun is something to be admired, especially when the music is this fucking good to boot.

High Command

Not only do Massachusetts’ High Command create some of the most savage thrash going, but they also bring the brutality of gritty fantasy to the genre, with an epic story full of evil warlords and rebellious heroes. “That just originated from a tab of acid and my failure to write anything good in the traditional realm,” vocalist Kevin Fitzgerald admits. “I find it a lot easier and more fun to write lyrics when I’m creating a bit of a story with a certain vibe. The music always comes first but we make a conscious effort to create an atmosphere that will help immerse the listener.” That atmosphere is the kingdom of Secartha, an unforgiving landscape of ice and stone that main character Dikeptor must journey across in order to stop the evil warlord Tytericon.


It took this Canadian funeral doom outfit eight years after forming to actually release any music, but mastermind Phil Tougas stayed committed and eventually assembled the team he needed, even borrowing two members from his other project Chthe’ilist. Though it is set within a mythos with its own lore and story, Stygian is also an example of the fact that fantasy is bound to the real world, and cannot exist without in some way facilitating its creator’s experiences and worldview. Inspired by “various emotional traumas, nightmares, sleep paralysis episodes, exposure to extreme meteorological occurrences, illnesses and strange encounters with the paranormal”, Tougas saw fit to create a vast story influenced by Greek mythology and Christian theology and eschatology. With this as a basis, The Perpetual Planes – a futuristic, apocalyptic medieval setting on an alternate Earth with a varying geological composition – began to take form in his mind.


The slam-infused deathcore of Dutch four-piece Distant is about as downtempo as extreme metal gets, with a constant cacophonic clamour of corrosive guitars and guttural growls. Their releases chart the story of Tyrannotophia – “the realm of the doomed and the sound of the world’s damnation.” The entire saga so far is most fully realised in the epic, 59-minute Aeons Of Oblivion, which compiles material from earlier EPs alongside new songs to form one vast narrative.


As much as caveman riffing and guttural brutality is high on any death metal fan’s wishlist, the genre is often at its best when weaving in the otherworldly imagery of sci-fi and the existential dread of cosmic horror. If you need convincing, just look to CosmoSteelBlood Trinity, the mind-bending EP from San Fernando Valley group Greenwitch. Inspired by  Magic: The Gathering and surreal artists like H.R. Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński, the record tells of nine Galactic Lords, reawakened by the newly resurrected Tenth Plane God Walkers. This kickstarts a bloody interdimensional conflict, ending with the Galactic Lords absorbing all the energy and light from surrounding stars into a blade with which to execute the God Walkers. Gnarly stuff – and that barely scratches the surface.

The Brothers Keg

Paying tribute to the infamous and much sought-after book Folklore, Myths And Legends Of Britain in their debut album, Folklore, Myths And Legends Of The Brothers Keg, it’s clear from the off that The Brothers Keg are a highly conceptual band, albeit one with tongue placed firmly in-cheek. Through a fuzzy, ‘70s-tinged strain of metal, the band’s debut tells the origin story of the titular Brothers Keg. Complete with cinematic voiceover, it’s a meandering riff-filled voyage seemingly inspired by high fantasy, science fiction and the ancient folklore that lies buried across British history and culture. “HP Lovecraft meets Queen’s Flash Gordon listening to Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds at the wrong speed smoking a medieval spliff dipped in poppers,” according to the band. Lovely.


There’s lots to unpack in terms of world-building with the now-defunct Yorkshire symphonic black metal band Bal-Sagoth, who always valued fantastical storytelling across their 24-year existence. The group usually made sure to include lyric booklets in their releases so that the stories could be discerned, and frontman Byron Roberts would often write accompanying stories as well. The band’s albums even feature characters and locations later used by Roberts in his fantasy novels, which it should be noted have been criticised for featuring the sort of sexist and orientalist tropes that the fantasy genre has long had a problem with. Still, fantasy world-building doesn’t get much more overt than it was with Bal-Sagoth.


Fantasy world-building is often simultaneously, and perhaps paradoxically, about both escaping reality and finding solace in a world that reflects our own, and so it is with Blashyrkh. Norwegian black metal legends Immortal (one of the only second-wave bands from the era to remain largely unproblematic) have been writing about the violent, demon-infested realm of Blashyrkh since the early ‘90s, continuing even after Abbath left in 2015. Abbath and fellow founding member Demonaz mostly forewent their contemporaries’ Satan-obsessed lyrics to instead build a dark but heroic fantasy landscape inspired by Nordic legends and the isolation of their native Norway.

Cara Neir

On last year’s Phase Out, Texan duo Cara Neir let their imagination run amok, penning a love letter to video games complete with retro 8-bit artwork featuring avatars of the band members in a fantastical world entirely of their own making. Lyrically, the album follows the pair as they’re sucked into a pixelated dimension at the whims of a sinister and semi-omnipotent alien entity known as The One or The One From Trimjrtle. This evil creature has existed in the band’s past material, operating behind the scenes, but is front and centre here as the main antagonist of Phase Out’s bonkers narrative.


A spin-off of sorts from Cara Neir’s Phase Out, Gonemage is a solo project from the band’s Garry Brents. It sees a ‘phantom ego’ of his character from Phase Out being transported into a dream-world, where he encounters mystical beings including The Curator, a cloaked woman who reveals herself to be the one who summoned him into the dream-realm in order to take her place. A unique mix of nostalgic chiptune and frenzied extreme metal, it’s every bit as worthy of your ears as the project from which it sprang.

Sallow Moth

Another Garry Brents (Cara Neir, Gonemage) production, death metal solo project Sallow Moth also features an expansive story, this time involving a conflict between humanoid moths and tech-obsessed human/androids. The moths aim to preserve nature, whilst the human civilisation is eager to colonise space. However, there’s also a section of defected moths who act as both scavengers and sorcerers, causing carnage wherever they go. The story came to an end recently with the project’s final material, Failure To Find, which picks up exactly where 2021’s Stasis Cocoon left off. The sixteen-minute track was written and recorded in less than 24 hours, with the lyrics all being performed in the Mothfolk language created by Brents for the lore.


The tech-death insanity of Vancouver’s Archspire is often so wicked fast that there can’t be that many folks stopping to truly take in the lyrics on first listen, but there’s something about the music that feels cohesive right off the bat, and part of that simply has to be down to the intricate lore the band have built across their releases. For a deep dive, check out Heavy Blog Is Heavy’s impressive three-part *prognotes feature analysing the lyrics in detail, which manages to discern not only the overall narrative, but ask questions about the possible meta-theme running through the band’s material.

Rhapsody Of Fire

This list wouldn’t be complete without at least one power metal band, and Rhapsody Of Fire have gone further than most in terms of world-building. From their formation in 1993 through to 2011’s From Chaos To Eternity, the band told an epic fantasy story across nine albums, collectively known as The Algalord Chronicles. The 2011 record also brought to an end the Dark Secret Saga which began on 2004’s Symphony of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret, an album that saw the band collaborate with Christopher Lee several years before his own Charlemagne-inspired metal project saw the light of day.


Unique extreme metallers (sometimes sludge, sometimes grind, sometimes both) Wallowing came out of the gate strong with a debut release that’s a single 32-minute concept track split into six parts. Planet Loss weaves a complex sci-fi story, one that can be tracked through the lyrics but is most discernible in the gorgeous graphic novella released in collaboration with artist Luke Oram. It tells a story of injustice and oppression, commenting on our own society despite being set amongst the stars.

Words: George Parr

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