The Toast’s Tolkien correspondent, Austin Gilkeson, previously told us of his legal battle with the Tolkien estate, which was a marvelous piece of satire whose satiric nature was largely lost on Reddit. It is also one of Nicole’s favourite pieces of all time, so please go read it.
J.R.R. Tolkien may have been the epitome of the tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking Oxford don, but his books have inspired a lot of heavy metal over the decades, from Megadeth’s “This Day We Fight!” to Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle Earth. This is not only because The Lord of the Rings is the preeminent fantasy of our time, but also because a lot of people die in Tolkien’s stories, and a lot of the times when they die it’s metal as hell. This is your definitive guide to the hardest trips to Mandos in all three ages.
Gollum bit off a dude’s finger and fell into a volcano. That’s metal, but ranks last on this list because anyone in our own mundane world with teeth, lava, a death wish, and a finger could go out the same way.
12.) Túrin Turambar
Túrin committed suicide by impaling himself on his sentient black sword, a sword forged from a meteorite by a Dark Elf. That is metal. He did so after killing the first dragon, Glaurung. That is really metal. Unfortunately, Túrin gets points docked since the main reason he killed himself was that he realized he’d married his own sister. Granted, he’d been tricked into marrying his own sister by a dragon, but still. Accidental incest is not metal.
Boromir got shot full of arrows by the Uruk-hai in his futile attempt to save Merry and Pippin from being captured. That is a tragic and noble death, but only adequately metal for Middle-earth.
10.) Elendil and Gil-galad
Elendil and Gil-galad died while taking out Sauron. Biting it in the middle of defeating a Dark Lord is very metal, but they rank low because: (1) There were two of them, (2) Sauron came back eventually, and (3) In the prologue of Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring movie, Sauron easily kills Elendil and it’s his son Isildur who defeats the Dark Lord. Peter Jackson gave fucking Kili a more metal death in the last Hobbit movie. That’s not really Elendil and Gil-galad’s fault, but if you want to rank higher on this list, your death needs to be so metal no filmmaker could possibly resist depicting it, let alone give a better death scene to a sexy dwarf.
Let’s talk about Balrogs. Balrogs were fire-spirits corrupted by Morgoth, the first Dark Lord and Tolkien’s stand-in for Satan. Most people think of Balrogs as the fallen angels and demons of Middle-earth. But they’re even more metal than that. In Tolkien’s legendarium, the Sun is a fire-spirit who did not fall. Which means two things: (1) Our Sun is a Balrog, and (2) Taking on a Balrog is a surefire way to get violently inducted into Mandos’s most metal hall.
The elf-warrior Ecthelion and the Lord of Balrogs, Gothmog, killed each other in single combat during the fall of the elvish city Gondolin. Ecthelion gets major metal points for dying in battle against the Sun’s evil cousin. But he loses points for location: he and Gothmog fought and died in a fountain. Fountains are delightful, not metal. Ecthelion should have stopped the battle and suggested they move to a more suitably metal place, like a volcano or a fjord. A demon-lord called Gothmog would surely have agreed.
Lúthien’s life was indisputably metal. She conquered the Isle of Werewolves from Sauron. She disguised herself as a vampire, snuck into Morgoth’s infernal fortress, knocked the Dark Lord out cold, and stole a Silmaril from his crown. She eventually died of old age on a beautiful forest island. That’s the least metal way to die possible, but what lands her on this list is that she died at all. Lúthien was half elf/half Maia, and so could have lived forever in Middle-earth or the Blessed Realm of Valinor. Instead, she chose to gamble on the “gift of man” and shuffled off this mortal coil with her mortal lover Beren. Her descendent Arwen would later make the same choice to be with Viggo Mortensen, but Lúthien was the first person to choose Death over an eternity of heavenly light, spring festivals, and harp music. That’s metal.
7.) Huan, the Hound of Valinor
Huan was a big, friendly dog who helped Beren and Lúthien in their adventures, and was only permitted to speak three times in life. That sounds more whimsical than metal, but Huan was also prophesied to die in battle with the mightiest wolf to ever walk the earth. It’s never said who made this prophecy, but somehow almost everyone in Middle-earth knew it, which suggests that Huan was so metal people took one look at him and thought, “Only the mightiest wolf to ever walk the earth can kill this dog.”
Huan fulfilled his fate when he died fighting Carcharoth, a giant hell-wolf that guarded the gates of Morgoth’s realm and had been driven insane after swallowing a Silmaril. Just before dying, Huan used his third and final time to speak to say farewell to Beren. Presumably, had he been allowed a fourth time, he would have said, “This is so fucking metal.”
A Maia spirit who took the shape of a gigantic spider, Ungoliant ate light, vomited darkness, and served none but her own insatiable hunger. Some believe Ungoliant was originally the primordial spirit of night, though given her actions, it seems more likely she was the primordial spirit of metal. Ungoliant destroyed the two trees of Valinor that gave light to the ancient world, and nearly ate Morgoth himself after he went back on a deal with her. After spawning Shelob and other giant spiders, she fled to the south of the world and eventually devoured herself like an arachnid ouroboros. Her death was equal parts horrific, ironic, and metal.
King Finrod of Nargothrond died after killing a werewolf barehanded. He did this in a dungeon in Sauron’s fortress on the Isle of Werewolves. Just dying of natural causes in a Dark Lord’s dungeon in a place called the “Isle of Werewolves” would be metal enough to get you on this list, but doing so while killing a werewolf with your hands gets you in the top five.
During the sack of Gondolin, the elf-warrior Glorfindel saved a group of refugees from a Balrog by wrestling the demon off a cliff. Glorfindel’s death was so metal that the gods-like Valar let him come back to life and live in Middle-earth again (in the books, he’s the one who saves Frodo from the Ringwraiths in Fellowship of the Ring). He’s the only elf we know of granted that favor, probably because he’d become too metal for the turgid bliss of the Blessed Realm.
3.) Gandalf the Grey
Gandalf the Grey, like Glorfindel, wrestled a Balrog into an abyss. What makes Gandalf even more metal than Glorfindel is that Gandalf did not stop there. After grappling the demon down a seemingly bottomless pit, Gandalf fought the demon in a subterranean lake, through a lightless labyrinth populated by unspeakable monsters, up the tallest staircase ever, and finally on a mountain peak. Gandalf died after he, “Threw down my enemy… and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin,” which is the most metal line in the entire trilogy, and possibly all of English literature. Gandalf’s death was so metal he came back to life a different fucking color.
Fëanor was the mightiest and most talented of the elves, and also their biggest asshole. He created the Silmarils, holy jewels that captured the light of the Two Trees of Valinor. But when Morgoth stole the Silmarils, Fëanor rebelled against the Valar and led his people into exile in Middle-earth. He did this by killing many of his fellow elves, stealing their ships, and then setting those ships on fire just to be a dick. Fëanor was an asshole, but he soon died in a way fitting the most colossal asshole in Middle-earth’s history. While Ecthelion, Glorfindel, and Gandalf all bit the dust fighting individual Balrogs, Fëanor died in battle with a platoon of them. Not only that, his spirit was so fierce it incinerated his body as it left him. That’s so metal I am literally crying as I write this.
Fingolfin rode alone to the doors of Angband, Morgoth’s fortress, and called the Dark Lord out to fight in single combat. So metal was Fingolfin’s challenge that Morgoth had no choice but to accept. The elf-king wounded Morgoth seven times before Morgoth smashed him with Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. As he died, Fingolfin managed to stab Morgoth one last time in the foot, a wound that gave the Dark Lord a limp ever after. Fingolfin’s body was then borne away in honor by the biggest eagle in the world.
In layman’s terms, Fingolfin rode to the gates of hell, fought Lucifer in single combat, and permanently maimed the Devil. Tolkien wrote that the Elves made no songs of that battle because their grief was too great, though had they known about electric guitars and power chords, they might have given it a shot. Still, the Song of Fingolfin remains the greatest metal song yet unsung.