Left to right: Joe Cox, Ben Blanton, and Jay Cardinell
  • From Foehammer’s Facebook page
  • Left to right: Joe Cox, Ben Blanton, and Jay Cardinell

How much poorer the nomenclature of metal would be had Tolkien never written! Doom trio Foehammer, from Annandale, Virginia, takes its name from the sword Glamdring, which Gandalf found in the trolls’ cave (along with Sting and Orcrist) toward the beginning of The Hobbit. Elrond of the elves calls the weapon “Foe-hammer that the King of Gondolin once wore” after translating the ancient runes on its hilt.

And today’s 12 O’Clock Track, “Stormcrow”—from the band’s debut, a self-titled EP released on Tuesday by Grimoire Records—shares a title with Gandalf. When the wizard pays a visit to Theoden of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings, he gets a frosty reception from the king. “You have ever been a herald of woe. Troubles follow you like crows, and ever the oftener the worse,” says Theoden. “Here you come again! And with you come evils worse than before, as might be expected. Why should I welcome you, Gandalf Stormcrow?”

I can’t help but be reminded of a brilliant 2002 essay Monica Kendrick wrote for the Reader, “Screaming Bloody Mordor,” in which she discusses at length the allure Tolkien has for metalheads. “If there’s anything that epic metal and heroic soundtrack composers crave, it’s a sense of deep history, which is unusual in popular music,” she says. “Metal musicians may be attracted to Tolkien’s villains, but the chief appeal of his work lies in his effective simulacrum of antiquity—a prehistory of prehistory. Tolkien’s palette drew from real legend and lore, real religions (including his own), and real languages.”

And it gets better at the end: “Words like mortality or eternity, which metal warriors can’t proclaim loudly enough, are rarely uttered in the Shire of indie rock,” she observes. “This tiny world of ambivalent romance and polite solipsism has no room for the sort of night terrors and cosmic eruptions the romantics among us imagine our ancestors experienced regularly.”

Foehammer’s “Stormcrow” definitely speaks to the passage of unimaginable ages. “In years ten thousand score / Until the end of days / He serves Ilúvatar,” growls bassist and front man Jay Cardinell, describing Gandalf’s long, lonely work on behalf of Eru Ilúvatar, the supreme being and creator of Tolkien’s universe. It’s more than three minutes into the track before the band modify the syrupy, trudging opening riff, which finally segues into something distinctly different at a bit past four minutes. And the song doesn’t get busy, at least in the “notes per bar” department, until past the six-minute mark. Much like The Lord of the Rings, it’s built for total immersion.

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.