Gustav Holst: the Grandfather of Heavy Metal and Star Wars

I’ve been a fan of both classical music and metal for most of my life. One of my favorite pieces is Gustav Holst’s The Planets, a seven-movement suite written between 1914 and 1916. The brilliant-in-itself score for 1977’s Star Wars was, at George Lucas’s request, practically an homage to it.

Its first movement, Mars, Bringer of War also inspired the main riff for Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath, which for all practical purposes is generally considered to be the first heavy metal song.

The latter is interesting to me, personally, because as a teenager I collected classical CDs and film scores, an interest sparked by John Williams and his iconic compositions for Star Wars, Superman, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc. I was also a massive fan of Black Sabbath and metal in general. I still am, on all counts.

I read an article at some point back then noting Holst’s influence on the music of Star Wars and located a copy on CD. Don’t recall the conductor or the orchestra or when it was recorded, but it’s really hard to go wrong with any of them that I’ve ever heard.

I will say, though, that Mars: Bringer of War lacks punch on certain releases, but that’s a matter of personal taste.

I loved it then as I do now, and it’s always been my go-to writing music whenever I’m trying to conjure up a celestial vibe.

In 1998, there was a lot of buzz around a then-young, now-legendary death metal band called Nile. They’d released an album steeped in historically accurate(Not really, but Karl really knows his stuff so shut up) ancient Egyptian lore called Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka. I bought it when it was released, and just yesterday I listened to it six times straight through.

My favorite track now is Barra Edinazzu, but back then it was Mars, Bringer of War, essentially a “cover” of the original piece by Holst. I was thrilled that these two worlds I loved were colliding, and I didn’t even know about the Sabbath connection, yet.

Holst composed lots of other music, but much like Bram Stoker is chiefly remembered for Dracula, so it is with Holst and The Planets.

In both instances, those works became so iconic that topping them was impossible. They became iconic because they’re really, really good. Go listen to The Planets.



  1. I knew about the Star Wars thing, but I didn’t know Holst’s Planets had a connection to heavy metal. I learned something today!

    My personal favorite is “Jupiter: Bringer of Joy,” but I’m also really fond of “Neptune: The Mystic.” I like listening to “Neptune” when I’m feeling moody.

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