DIABOLUS IN MUSICA The Truth About Satanism and Heavy Metal I
Heavy metal is the Devil’s music. It’s a well-known stereotype that has haunted the genre since day one. Even people who have no experience with metal are aware of the genre’s reputation as a proponent of occult and satanic teachings. But how much truth is there to this assumption? Let’s take a look at this issue a bit deeper to see just how much validity there is to this generalization. Though bands from all across the metal landscape have invoked Satanic imagery, the following four seem to have contributed the most to this infamous stereotype: Black Sabbath was the most sinister band on Earth in the seventies. With frightening cover artwork, an eerie atmosphere, and heavy use of tritones (a note progression banned in the middle ages for its supposed Satanic intent), Sabbath truly scared a generation. Naturally it didn’t take long for some people to see the band as crude and Satanic but such accusations seem strange with hindsight. Looking at their lyrics will reveal not an espousal of satanic ideas but a Christian fear of demons and the occult. Countless younger bands took Sabbath’s example one step further, quickly turning metal into a landscape of occult imagery. Venom: In the early 80s, this British trio took ‘Satanism’ in music far beyond anything that had been seen before. Realizing their lack of skill in both musicianship and songwriting, they sought to make up for these deficiencies with sheer speed and silliness. To do this, they took Black Sabbath’s satanic imagery and cranked it well past eleven, turning Venom into an intentionally goofy, over-the-top mockery of itself. Though they proudly bore their overtly satanic image like a badge of pride, they never took themselves seriously and didn’t expect anyone else to. Satanism for them was nothing more than a ridiculous joke. Slayer: It’s hard to think of a band that’s been more frequently or unjustly accused of satanic sensibilities than Slayer. Throughout their career, the seminal thrash band has released a multitude of songs with questionable themes like murder, the Third Reich, and, of course, the occult, something conservative groups constantly criticize them for. The band is very vocal about responding to these accusations, always stating that the band members merely find Satanism to be an interesting topic. Though their singer Tom Araya is Catholic and the others are Atheists, the belief that Slayer is in league with the devil refuses to go away. Bathory: Essentially a one-man project spearheaded by a Swedish musician calling himself Quorthon, Bathory unleashed itself upon the world with its eponymous debut in 1984, a record filled with croaking vocals, blistering speed, and abysmal production primarily influenced by the early Venom recordings. Taking another page from Venom’s book, the songs are rife with gruesome lyrics of devils and unholy rites written in surprisingly literate English, though Quorthon didn’t stick with this image for very long. By the early nineties, he had changed his music and his lyrics, focusing instead on slower, more orchestrated compositions and the world and myths of his Viking ancestors. He claims that overzealous fans, taking his lyrics at face value, started sending him letters in blood and dead animals in the mail, leading him to abandon his early satanic façade.
NORDLAND Throughout the eighties, satanic ideas appeared in countless metal songs but were never used as anything more than just a joke or a commercial ploy. But in the early 1990s, a handful of young Norwegian men took the fascination for the occult of their metal forebears and put their own deadly serious spin on it. Led by a musician calling himself Euronymous, Norway’s infamous Black Metal scene, taking cues from earlier ‘satanic’ acts, most notably Bathory and Venom, set out to create their own genre with unprecedented harshness in its sound and an extreme opposition to Christianity and everything else society saw as good at its heart. And they did more than just sing about their beliefs. Many youngsters caught up in this genre showed their dedication to its message by desecrating old graves and burning centuries-old churches. Throughout the early nineties, there are more than fifty cases of church arsons (both attempted and successful) in Norway and numerous hate crimes throughout the world stemming from this extreme movement. Varg Vikernes of Burzum is, without doubt, the most infamous member of the movement’s Black Circle. Slammed with a twenty-one year prison sentence (the maximum legal punishment in Norway) for burning four churches and murdering Euronymous, Vikernes has been demonized in Norway, becoming his home country’s equivalent of Charles Manson. Though he took his dedication to Black Metal’s core tenets farther than any of his contemporaries, his beliefs are very Above: Euronymous circa 1991 much in line with the rest of the Norwegian scene. Vikernes asserts that what lay at the heart of Black Metal was not Satanism but a hatred of Christianity for its role in erasing Scandinavia’s native culture at the end of the Viking age. The satanic image most bands adopted was nothing more than a tool used to spread fear and lash out at their percieved enemy. Church arsons and grave desecrations were not satanically motivated as the Norwegian press has suggested but were seen by their perpetrators as a sort of long-overdue revenge for Christianity’s role in eradicating a proud pagan heritage. Left: Varg Vikernes in jail Right: Burzum EP Aske, bearing a picture of the ruinns of the Fantoft Stave Church, which Vikernes burned and photographed himself
FORCES OF SATAN Besides Euronymous, there are a few metal practitioners that are also professed Satanists but they are much more rare than most outside observers suspect and almost all of them have something to do with the 90s Black Metal scene. Jon Nodtveidt of the Swedish band Dissection was a member of the Misanthropic Luciferian Order and in 2006 committed suicide in a circle of candles with a satanic grimoire by his side. Infernus, leader of Black Metal band Gorgoroth, is a theistic Satanist. Aside from his commitment to Gorgoroth, the Norwegian musician also keeps busy maintain his own independent record label, Forces of Satan Records, which only produces bands with “a clear satanic attitude or commitment.”
Satanism, as it turns out, bears little resemblance to the general public’s preconceptions of the left-hand philosophy. Most satanic sects are a far cry from the virgin-sacrificing cults that most people think them to be. Theistic Satanism, the belief and worship of Satan as an actual entity, is rare. Most of its practitioners view it as a philosophy, not a religion. Adherents, even if they only think Lucifer to be a fictional character, admire his free spirit, sense of self-determination, and see him a symbol of humankind. They typically believe in individualism and the pursuit of one’s own happiness and self-completion. Thus, modern satanists are not the hooded cultists we see in movies but average people that walk around and go to work every day. Even as the public perception of heavy metal seen as sinister by people who don’t truly understand it, so too are most people’s views of Satanism much more negative than is truly warranted.
RIGHT HAND PATH
Where heavy metal harbors a few genuinely satanic practitioners, the same is even truer of the opposite end of the spiritual spectrum. Metal bands that praise Jesus and espouse Biblical morals are far more numerous than the few that stand at the left hand of God. Christian Metal has been around for almost as long as the bands falsely accused of Satanism and unlike their more (artificially) sinister contemporaries, are completely serious about the lessons they teach. No group epitomizes Christian Metal more than California’s Stryper. The first band of its type to achieve widespread success, Stryper was truly over-the-top in its evangelical mission. The band wore yellow and black stripes on stage, which they say is a reference to the lashings Jesus took before his crucifixion and represented themselves with the number 777 as opposed to the more popular 666 (7 is a holy number in Hebrew numerology). And to top it all off, they were known for throwing Bibles into the crowd at their shows.
Though they weren’t the first Christian metal band, Stryper’s rise to prominence resulted in a stream of other bands that have subsequently taken up the mission of evangelizing the metal community. In nearly all subgenres, bands like Tourniquet, Holy Soldier, Theocracy, and Narnia have been preaching the gospel to their fellow headbangers. Even Black Metal has a small subsidiary (known as Unblack Metal) dedicated to preaching the Bible. Christianity in metal seems to be having something of a revival right now with an especially prevalent Christian presence in the metalcore scene. Underoath, The Devil Wears Prada, and As I Lay Dying are just a few of the bands of this new subgenre who identify themselves as Christians.
The Devil Wears Prada