“The gate which Iskander built will be torn open”: Classical Antiquity and Heavy Metal

The other course I’m (co-)teaching this semester is very loosely based on our Classical Heritage and European Identities volume and aims to put a critical, contemporary perspective on the uses of classical heritage and to place them within the wider “democratic turn” in reception studies.

Yesterday we had some fun in the (virtual) classroom with Christian (Djurslev) joining us to talk about “Mediterranean Metal”, receptions of classical heritage in heavy metal music, from Iron Maiden to A Sound of Thunder. It was an excellent introduction to the genre and it was fascinating (even if also fairly troubling) to look into the Christian/Western origin story of Iron Maiden’s “Alexander the Great” in the mid-1980s and the complex interplay between Egyptian, classical and Islamic heritages in Nile’s more recent “Iskander Dhul Karnon”. We even briefly touched on neo-paganism and Islamic counter-culture.

For more on all of this, Christian pointed us to this recent edited volume and his own paper in the inaugural issue of Metal Music Studies. Here are the songs that he had picked for us to discuss in class:

Iron Maiden, “Alexander the Great” (1986).
Nile, “Iskander D’hul Kharnon” (2009).
A Sound of Thunder, “Tomyris” (2018).

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