Titular Homogeneity – Masque Of The Red Death

So many horror fiction writers have served to inspire heavy metal music.  Lovecraft gets the obvious nod, but the works of Edgar Allan Poe, too, have had a great impact on the genre.  He was, after all, America’s first Master of the Macabre.  A critical aspect of Poe’s writing to its enduring appeal was his keen insight to the horrors of his everyday world, mundane realities every bit as frightening as the starker themes of his works.  Disease was familiar to Poe, who lived most of his brief life at the edge of its shadow.  He knew poverty well, too, and that it came unhindered by the miserly grip of aristocracy. And he was reminded often that Death leads these by the hand.

Those unfamiliar – or, worse, unconcerned –  with the plights of the poor have historically made for convenient targets of the Everyman’s ire, and Poe made great use of this natural emotional conduit.  Many of his chilling tales celebrate the gratifyingly grisly and ultimate come-uppance of the haughty, the unjust, the people so many of us love to hate.

The Masque of the Red Death, symbolically woven through with blood and plague, fear and hubris, touches on these themes timelessly and so remains a powerful allegory of the illusion of control and relentless advance of Death.  Poe gives us a fantastic tale that mirrors the reality of his time: The Prince Prospero is not content to simply survive a recent plague, instead gathering his dominion’s elite to his fortified retreat.  Here they pass the time with playful pursuits as the Red Death ravages the countryside beyond the abbey’s walls.  Ignoring all signs that theirs is a false security, the sequestered drink and dance and debauch until the inevitable end.  The prince’s ill-fated attempt to escape fate by virtue of his nobility reminds us that no amount of stuff or status can stay the course of Death.

These themes are well known to people who talk about heavy metal. Sure, metal has always been fascinated with Death, and Poe drew endlessly from the Morbid Muse, but Death for both parties represents a kind of perverse respite from reality. The symbolic confrontation of Man’s demise allows for catharsis by proxy; to dance with Death is to steel oneself against those daily ills that pose real and immediate danger and affect genuine hardship. Poverty and disease and oppression and injustice relentlessly haunted the people of Poe’s time and they still threaten today, even if many of us are more thoroughly insulated, virtually removed from their effects.

One of the great dangers of our time, though, is that we’ve become complacent as an ostensible luxury of mass-immersion in a great sea of mind-numbing commercial pabulum.  People don’t like to talk about death, because it’s scary.  They like to talk about other people who live more exciting lives and the stuff they buy that just might make them a little more like those people.  Poe captures this wonderfully in the stubborn gaiety of Prospero’s Masquerade despite the insistent dire chiming of the grandfather clock.

But heavy metal is a celebration of the fantastic, the lurid, the grotesque.  Our genre is revelry in what makes normal people uncomfortable.  Whereas Poe’s terrible tale may serve as warning to many, it is validation to the heavy metal fan that Death doesn’t distinguish between denim and cashmere.  This is what makes The Masque of the Red Death a perfect vehicle for heavy metal music.

Several bands have adapted Poe’s short story, each with their unique perspective and all inspired by the magic of story-telling.  Consider the emphases of each band below.  Hades, for instance, focuses a great deal on the lyrics, touching on every detail of the story. Others, like Manilla Road, take a much more efficient approach with a targeted emphasis on folly, fear and the story’s gripping climax. Who best captures the essence of Poe’s classic tale of terror?

Now go.  Enjoy the Masquerade.  And do beware the Black Room.




[From Mystification, Black Dragon Records, 1987]

Outside these walls
Dances The Plague
All victims fall
Within its wake


Oh, Prince Prospero
All of your dreams
Fade with your last
Dying breath

Locked in your palace
Safe as it seems
But not from The Masque
Of Red Death

Masquerade Ball
Morbid the night
The Reaper calls
Grandfather chimes


The uninvited guest
Who mocks the masquerade
In guise of wretched death
A masque of red decay

He passes through the archways
Of all the palace rooms
The seventh dark and deadly
Where The Clock strikes midnight’s doom

Casting his blade
The Prince attacks
Death shows its face
Behind The Masque




[From Transcendence, Roadracer Records, 1988]

The pain lingers on beyond these castle walls
The Red Death is taking them all
while the king and his court dance the night away
at the masquerade
The hour of midnight grows near

Masque of the Red Death
No one is safe from the poisonous plague
that you breed
Dance while you may in the dark of the room
with the stranger
Laugh while you may, laugh at the danger
Is the a message from god
or fate guiding hideous hands?
Won’t you show us your face

Masque of the Red Death
No one is safe from the poisonous plague
that you breed
Masque of the Red Death
No one is saved, no one remembers your name

On and on, one by one we fall
into the bleeding arms of the stranger
Ripping the masque from your face
I feel your disease running
through my veins
A new king of death threatens us all

Masque of the Red Death
No one is safe from the poisonous plague
that you breed
Masque of the Red Death
The price that you pay for your lust
may be your life



[From Tales of Terror, Intercord Record Service, 1985]

The gates are closed, the bolts are welded
They’ve left the Red Death far behind
In the abbey’s deep seclusion
There’s just beauty, there is wine

The external world is dying
Death is raging in the shade
No time to think about the terror
Let’s celebrate the masquerade

But who’s that stranger in the dark?
His vesture is dabbled in blood
His masque shows scarlet signs of pest
Masque of the Red Death

The fete is held in seven chambers
Triponds flash a gleaming light
Glare and glitter, madman fashions
Feverish dreams in the dead of night

The mighty clock strikes twelve, it’s midnight
And the echoes fade away
The crowd becomes aware of a figure
Dressed in cerements of the grave

But who’s that stranger in the dark?
His vesture is dabbled in blood
His masque shows scarlet signs of pest
Masque of the Red Death

Try to catch him, try to grasp him
Try to seize and to unmask him
Prince Prospero foams with rage
But he cries out
And his death-shout
Took possession of the whole crowd
’cause the Red Death entered their cage

Darkness and decay, and the Red Death
Holds dominion over all



[From Resisting Success, Torrid Records, 1987]


[I. Red Death]

It was a time when life was short
Long devastated was the land
Never had there ever been
A more fatal plague against all man
Pungent pain, sudden faintness
Your energy begins to fade
As you stand there somewhat daunted
You know ‘Red Death’ is on its way

Blood, blood, blood and more blood
Profuse bleeding at the pores
You watch your blood slowly sizzle
As your flesh dissolves some more
Screams of anguish, blood still flowing
Pollutes the ground a rotten red
Your time has come, you must meet your maker
As you slip into the valley of the shadow of death

[II. The Prince’s Master Plan]

All men feared this great disaster
But the valiant Prince had the only answer
or his majesty and his chosen ones
The inception of new life would free them of contagion
Magnificent it was this structure of seclusion
Surrounded by these walls so massive yet elusive
The gates were welded shut impervious to those forsaken
Never letting go of the souls that were taken
There was beauty, there was wine
Ambrosia and sweet nectar
Flowing from within
All appliances of pleasure
Inside the Master-Plan
Providing noble lunacy
Outside the palace gates
‘Red Death’ just sits and waits for you


It was toward the close of the fifth or
sixth month of his seclusion, and while the
pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that
the Prince Prospreo entertained his thousand
friends at a masked ball of the most unusual
magnificence… Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)

[III. The Masquerade including the Twelfth Hour and Return of the Red Death]

Bizarre it was seven chambers
Held this jubilee except for one
It stood alone, the western wing
Where no one shared it’s offerings
Blood tinted panes, brazier of fire
Projects it’s rays
A clock stands tall, ominous
It warns of death so soon to be
So loud, so deep the guests pay heed
The dissonant ring of ebony
The crowd goes pale as darkness
Shrouds the maskers in their revelry
Then as the echoes ceased
A light laughter spread through the assembly
And all is well
Until the next chiming of old ebony

The ebony clock struck the twelfth hour
And everything ceased as the revelers cowered
The pendulum swings all still, all silent
Save the voice of old ebony
As the last chime died and sunk into silence
Soon it was felt a presence so strange
Tall and gaunt who is this masked figure
Shrouded in habiliments of the grave?

His blood splattered mask bore a striking resemblance
The countenance of a rigid corpse
He stalked to and fro in a slow, solemn movement
Enraging the Duke, invasion of his sanctuary
‘Seize him, unmask him, ‘ commanded the prince
‘Who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery?
You’ll hang at sunrise! ‘
Not a person came forth it seemed like all was lost
As the intruder make his way unimpeded
An anon he went on trudged through each chamber
Where the music once swelled and the dreams lived on and on

The prince in pursuit dagger drawn aloft
As the figure retreats to the seventh chamber
He suddenly turns, a piercing sharp cry
Now the Prince lay dead in the hall of the velvet…



[From The Dark Chapter, Hellion Records, 1994]


Posted by Lone Watie

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