Heavy Metal Dido: Heimdall’s “Ballad of the Queen”
Heavy metal has often incorporated the themes and characters of classical and other ancient mythologies into its musical, verbal, and visual dimensions. Metal bands tend to turn to myths that “explore humanity’s darker side” (Hjelm et al. 2013: 10), and also to those that recognize the value of power, in particular masculine power, which is representative of the ideals and principles of heavy metal as a genre (Walser; Weinstein; Wong). Umurhan discusses the appropriation of myth and history surrounding Alexander the Great and the Battle of Actium in the songs of Iron Maiden and Ex Deo, respectively. Alexander, Marc Antony, and Octavian all epitomize masculine power and conquest and as strong male figures, impart lessons and values that resonate with the typically masculinist predispositions of a heavy metal audience.
In contrast, this paper examines the representation of a powerful woman in metal music. The song “Ballad of the Queen” appears on Aeneid, a concept album based on Vergil’s epic. Released in 2013 by the Italian power metal band Heimdall, the album is comprised of twelve songs, each inspired by a book of the poem. While most songs are set from the male perspectives of Aeneas, Anchises, and Trojan soldiers, “Ballad of the Queen” is written and sung from the perspective of Dido. Though it is rare for metal music to “articulate ‘feminized’ emotions” (Overell 2013: 201), the genre is known to present a range of emotions such as rage, sadness, and fear (Wallach et al. 2011: 14). All of these emotions are experienced by Dido, not only in “Ballad of the Queen” but also in the fourth book of Vergil’s Aeneid. This paper will examine the similar emotions and themes in the song and its inspiration, considering music, lyrics, and the album’s liner notes. I will argue that Dido’s struggle in Aeneid 4 between being a rational figure in a position of power and a scorned woman is echoed in the song, which attempts to reconcile traditionally masculine elements of metal music (empowered male vocals, themes of hatred and chaos) with a feminine point of view.
The emotive power of Dido in “Ballad of the Queen” shows how metal music functions as a particularly apt setting for interpreting themes and emotions found in Aeneid 4 and deepens or adds new levels of meaning and understanding to Vergil’s poem. Dido’s disempowerment in Vergil’s Aeneid can also be seen as establishing a rapport with metal bands and fans, who may feel the same emotions of frustration, rage, hatred, and sadness, and use those emotions to fuel powerful songs that transcend everyday experience. Instead of pity and/or condemnation, Dido finally finds acceptance.
Dido in and after Vergil