Lia Kantrowitz

The Deep Connection Between 'Twin Peaks' and Heavy Metal

From Big Four thrash to Finnish death/doom, Laura Palmer's ghost has provided inspiration for a wide variety of metal tributes.

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May 22 2017, 10:33pm

Lia Kantrowitz

(Spoiler alert: If you've never seen Twin Peaks or plan to watch it in the future, it's wise to stop reading now. Don't worry, we won't take offense.)

Upon its 1990 premiere, the television series Twin Peaks—named after a fictional logging town in Washington state where the program took place—initially resembled a prime-time soap opera disguised as a murder mystery, but it didn't take long for the show to reveal its true colors. With a disproportionately high crime rate for a town with a population of just 5,120.1, residents of Twin Peaks engaged in murder, rape, incest, arson, kidnapping, blackmail, assault, prostitution, domestic violence, extortion, international drug trafficking, insurance fraud, adultery and, for lack of a better term, bird-slaughter.

It's little wonder, then, that the macabre overtones of the series—whose cult following among hipsters has become something of a cliché, but whose kvlt appeal has heretofore been less examined—found a warm reception among heavy metal musicians, whose tastes traditionally gravitate toward the dark side. What's more surprising, though, is the breadth of its appeal within the genre. Twin Peaks has served as a muse for a variety of bands in the seemingly disparate subgenres of power metal, doom metal, traditional metal, black metal, industrial metal, deathcore, and avant-garde alt-metal. In addition, the series inspired a notable song by one of thrash's "Big 4," as well as another by the preeminent shock-rock act of the 1990s.

More than a quarter-century after it was canceled by ABC, Twin Peaks returned to the airwaves last night with the first installments of an 18-part revival directed entirely by the show's co-creator, David Lynch ( Eraserhead, Blue Velvet). While many of the original cast members will reprise their iconic roles, a number of new characters will be introduced, including two portrayed by rockers Trent Reznor and Eddie Vedder. (Casting notable musicians is par for the Twin Peaks course, as David Bowie and Chris Isaak starred in the series' 1992 feature-length prequel, Fire Walk With Me.) Although it remains to be seen whether the show will inspire a new generation of metal bands, the series' relaunch seemed like an appropriate time to recap its enduring impact on the genre.

Anthrax - "Black Lodge" (1993)

On Sound of White Noise, their first release with new vocalist John Bush, thrash pioneers Anthrax visited the Twin Peaks well twice. First, the music video for lead single "Only" featured actor Frank Silva, a set dresser on the series' pilot episode who went on to portray one of the show's most memorable characters, the parasite-like Killer BOB.

Another track from the album showed the full extent to which drummer and primary songwriter Charlie Benante was a card-carrying "Peaks Freak." In the series' second season—a litmus test of sorts that separates casual fans from die-hards—the show's tone shifts toward the supernatural, with a primary plot line revolving around an evil spirit world called the Black Lodge, described by one character as "a place of almost unimaginable power, chock full of dark forces and vicious secrets." Perfect fodder for a metal song, in other words.

Co-written with Twin Peaks' Grammy-winning composer (and frequent Lynch collaborator) Angelo Badalamenti, "Black Lodge" opens with a minor guitar chord that's drenched in reverb and delay, which Benante described as "the total Twin Peaks tone." The song's surreal music video stars a young Jenna Elfman ( Dharma & Greg).

Marilyn Manson - "Wrapped In Plastic" (1994)

When local lumber mill manager Pete Martell heads out one morning to go fishing only to find a dead body on a nearby beach, he promptly phones the sheriff. "She's dead... wrapped in plastic," he reports drolly. The "she" turns out to be Laura Palmer, a troubled 17-year-old homecoming queen who serves as Twin Peaks' so-called MacGuffin, as well as a six-degrees nucleus of sorts to whom the rest of the town is variously connected. And yes, her dead body was indeed wrapped in plastic, a description that also applies to some of the fashion choices of Marilyn Manson around the time he recorded this track for the group's Reznor-produced 1994 full-length debut, Portrait of an American Family.

The song opens with several samples from the series' original 1991 finale, perhaps the biggest mind-fuck to ever grace the airwaves (so far, anyway). That episode is dominated by the journey of the show's protagonist, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, into the Black Lodge. There, he encounters a terrifying doppelganger of Laura, who unleashes a series of blood-curling screams after somehow making the word "meanwhile" seem like the most sinister adverb in the English language. Those screams and additional samples of distorted dialogue from the Black Lodge sequence provide an ominous 50-second introduction for the track before its lumbering guitar riff kicks in.

Three years after the album's release, Manson and guitarist Twiggy Ramirez would have cameo roles as porn stars in Lynch's film Lost Highway.

Blind Guardian - "Black Chamber" (1992), "The Ninth Wave" (2015) and "Sacred Mind" (2015)

As noted by Reddit user shankdown, the veteran German fantasy power metal act has referenced Twin Peaks on three occasions, two of which occur on their 2015 album Beyond The Red Mirror. There, both opening track "The Ninth Wave" (4:13) and the introduction to "Sacred Mind" (0:51) contain the phrase "fire walk with me," words that were found scribbled in blood in the abandoned train car where Laura Palmer was killed. Those same words also compose the final line of a haunting poem later recited by the character Mike, a one-armed "familiar" of Killer BOB.

1992's "Black Chamber," meanwhile (see what I did there?), was written entirely about the Black Lodge and (major spoiler alert) the toll it takes on Agent Cooper in the original series finale. "I am lost in the black chamber," Hansi Kursch sings. "I'm possessed by the old creature who had planned all to take my soul... now he's in me."

In an interview conducted prior to the group's first American tour in 2002, Kursch was asked if he looked forward to performing in any cities in particular. "We tried to get a gig in Twin Peaks because we've been fans of the TV series," he said, "but someone told us that Twin Peaks isn't named Twin Peaks anymore, so we said, 'OK, then forget it.'" (Apparently unbeknownst to Kursch, much of the Twin Peaks pilot and Fire Walk With Me was filmed in Washington's Snoqualmie Valley, not far from Seattle—where the group did indeed play on that initial U.S. tour.)

Fantomas - "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me"

On their second album The Director's Cut, Fantomas—the experimental super-group featuring Mike Patton (Faith No More), Buzz Osborne (The Melvins), Dave Lombardo (ex-Slayer) and Patton's onetime Mr. Bungle bandmate Trevor Dunn—adapted themes from a number of notable films, including Badalamenti's haunting "Theme From Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me." In their rendition, Patton vocalizes the song's muted trumpet melody line and adds some evocative lyrics ("Your breath / my air / fog lifts / I stare") while a fuzzy, hypnotic guitar riff creates a sense of foreboding.

Swallow The Sun - "The Giant" (2005), "Ghost of Laura Palmer" (2005), "These Woods Breathe Evil" (2009)

The Finnish death-doom outfit Swallow The Sun might be the biggest Twin Peaks fans of all, as the band has acknowledged the show on numerous occasions as a primary inspiration both lyrically and musically. Their 2005 sophomore album Ghosts of Loss featured two songs with titles that reference characters from the series—"Ghost of Laura Palmer" (which the band admits had "nothing to do with [the] real Laura Palmer or Twin Peaks, but the feeling is there") and "The Giant," a mysterious figure who appears at key moments during season two to offer Agent Cooper helpful (if cryptic) advice.

Four years later, the group's "These Woods Breathe Evil" referenced the Black Lodge and its "red rooms of insanity," and also included a line initially delivered by The Giant that became central to the Twin Peaks season two mythology: "The owls are not what they seem." The group subsequently appropriated a number of quotes from the series when giving a track-by-track description of their album Emerald Forest and the Blackbird.

Chimaira - "The Flame" (2007)

After opening with a sample from Fire Walk With Me, Chimaira chugs their way through a song about (again, spoiler alert) Laura Palmer's revelation of her longtime abuser and his state of mind as he takes her life. Not every lyric is Twin Peaks-related—"I'm going to pound you into oblivion / I'm going to make you fucking bleed" might as well be from any other Chimaira track—but the majority is directly inspired by the film's documentation of her final seven days, with multiple lines (e.g., "And now the angels have lost their wings") lifted straight from the script.

Enforcer - "Walk With Me" (2010)

It would be difficult to cram more Twin Peaks allusions into one song than in this blistering trad metal anthem, which incorporates the entirety of Mike's "Fire, walk with me" poem and several other key lines from the series in addition to referencing the sycamore trees that surround the entrance to the Black Lodge.

Select additional Twin Peaks references in heavy metal:

Hammerlord - "The Ballad of Rusty Tomarski" (2010)

These Kansas thrashers humorously memorialized a "Heavy Metal Youth" played by Ted Raimi ( Evil Dead) who fell victim to Cooper's partner-turned-nemesis, Windom Earle.

Audrey Horne

The award-winning Norwegian hard rock group featuring members of Enslaved and Sahg takes their name from one of the series' most memorable characters, the seductive teenage daughter of a local bigwig who gave new meaning to the phrase "tongue-tied."

Armagedda - "Ghostwood" (2003)

This Swedish black metal outfit borrowed the name of the forest surrounding Twin Peaks for the title of the outro of their 2003 release Only True Believers – an album which begins with a sample of dialogue from the Black Lodge sequence in the season two finale.

Benighted In Sodom - "Laura Palmer" (2010)

A one-man industrial doom act from Portland covers Badalamenti's "Twin Peaks Theme" for 16 epic minutes.

Aborym - "Fire Walk With Us!" (2001) and "Raped By Daddy" (2013)

The blatantly Twin Peaks-inspired title track of the second album by the Italian industrial black metal act (who at the time featured Mayhem's Attila Csihar on vocals) cites lines from Mike's "Fire, walk with me" poem. A dozen years later, the group revisited the series for a spoiler-heavy song, the lyrics of which nod to dialogue from Fire Walk With Me (the movie, not the poem).

Cripper - "Fire Walk With Me" (2007)

We couldn't find any further Twin Peaks allusions in the lyrics to this song by the Teutonic thrashers, but the title alone is sufficient cause for inclusion here.

Dødheimsgard - "Traces of Reality" and "Wrapped In Plastic" (both 1998)

On their EP Satanic Art, this Norwegian industrial black metal super-group – which then featured Galder (Dimmu Borgir, Old Man's Child) and Apollyon (Aura Noir, Immortal) – samples dialogue by Mike ("touched by the devilish one") and Pete Martell ("wrapped in plastic").

Solefald - "Speed Increased To Scaffold"

Blink and you'll miss it, but this track by the Norwegian black metal act includes the lines, "Agent Dale Cooper won't take you any higher / c'mon little boy and play with the fire."

Dan Briggs - "Twin Peaks Theme"

A few days before Showtime premiered the series' third season, the Between The Buried And Me bassist posted a cover of "Falling," the ethereal Julee Cruise song co-written by Lynch and Badalamenti that, in instrumental form, provided the soundtrack for its opening credits. (Briggs called the original "probably the most gorgeous three-chord song in existence" and said he wanted the end of his rendition "to feel like you were getting sucked into the Black Lodge.")