Tag Archives: Alice Cooper

“The New Satanism” in heavy metal

Pelle Forsberg, guitarist for black-metal band Watain. Photo by Flickr user Tiffany Peters/TiffanyFoto.

Heavy metal has always had a reputation for being Satanic. That reputation came from a number of places: the stage makeup used by Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper, KISS, King Diamond, and others in the 1960s and 1970s, the moral panic sparked by folks like Bob Larson and Tipper Gore (and echoed in churches nationwide), the explicitly Satanic lyrics of bands like Slayer.

But how many heavy-metal musicians are Satanic? Fewer than you might think. Many bands play up the demonic/evil angle because it’s theatrical and emotionally resonant. But these are metaphors; it would be a mistake to assume the musicians themselves practice Satanism in any form. As in mainstream society, among metalheads there are Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, atheists, pagans, Hindus, and so on — in proportions that are not widely out of sync with the culture they live in. The primary exceptions may be among those in the early Norwegian black metal scene. There, a number of musicians claim loyalty to Satanic ideals, in part to rebel against the dominance of Christianity and the takeover of old Norse and pagan traditions.

Over at Invisible Oranges this week, Joseph Schafer examines what he calls “The New Satanism” in heavy metal. As Schafer points out, metal and Satanism actually had very little to do with each other until recently:

Only a handful of pre-’00s metal musicians profess to be actual Satanists. Even fewer claim to worship the devil—most out-Satanists in metal music follow(ed) Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, which does not believe in Satan as an actual entity.

More contemporary bands talk about satanism than ever—the Decibel tour celebrated theistic satanism as much as the magazine that sponsored it. And art fueled by genuine faith has a powerful character -— one distinct from music just about opposing the conventions of others.

And perhaps theistic satanism is the most interesting thing about these bands. Musically, Watain, The Devils Blood, and In Solitude all harken back, instead of pressing their genres forward. Performing in live animal blood is not new, neither is torches—that’s all descended from Mr. Brown. Their individual knacks for excellent songwriting is overshadowed by their collective ability to work the press in their favor while keeping up mystique.

Still, what’s behind that “mystique?” Many fans claim it’s just smoke and mirrors; that Watain, for example, probably really isn’t Satanic, they’re just trying to maintain an image. Still, many outside — let alone inside — the scene would be hard pressed to tell the difference. How do you know when all the blood and animal bodies are there for theatrics, and how do you know when they’re there as part of a genuine ritual?

In an interview with Invisible Oranges in 2010, Watain frontman Erik Danielsson had this to say:

These things have been used throughout all of mankind’s existence as a way to commune with something that is greater than life. What we’re using is, as the way I see it onstage, not a bunch of dead animals. … The important thing is that it has lived, and now it is dead. And therefore it represents a state of in-between. It represents a state of putrefaction that is very relevant in the magickal context, in the context where you actually can correspond with something that is beyond life, that is beyond reality. That is what these things are onstage for.

On the one hand, that sounds like a perfectly legitimate spiritual explanation. On the other hand, it seems like Eriksson is tipping his hand, since on the whole, Satanists do not practice animal sacrifice. Watain isn’t claiming they kill the animals (and they certainly don’t do so onstage), but the use of these animals seems to serve the same purpose. So perhaps it’s primarily theatrics, after all.

Ultimately, does it matter if heavy metal musicians are practicing Satanists? Satanism, whether it’s LaVeyan, theistic, Setian, or something else, is a legitimate and protected spiritual practice in many places (even though it is also in a minority position in those places, and is treated very poorly). Will these bands “convert” listeners to Satanism? That’s not particularly likely — listeners who were already drawn to the faith are probably also going to be drawn to music that echoes what they feel, just as Christian metal bands don’t make fans Christian; Christian fans seek out Christian metal.

We have to remember that there is no harm in listening to music, in celebrating music in the arena, in engaging in theatrics to express shared feelings about the world. For every example of “Satanism” in heavy metal, there are other examples that we revere: Greek Tragedy, Japanese Noh theater, horror movies. It is our understanding of heavy metal music, and of the use of Satanic imagery within it, that is the problem — not Satanism itself.

Horrorcore didn’t swing the hammer: teen’s music blamed for violent attack on sister

A 16-year-old UK boy has been sentenced to prison after hitting his sister in the head with a hammer. Some say his interest in horrorcore rap and the occult led him to attack. Photo by Flickr user bitzcelt.

A UK teenager will spend the next 4 and a half years behind bars after attacking his 18-year-old sister with a hammer, hitting her in the head 13 times. She was knocked unconscious, but made a full recovery.

To make matters worse, his sister’s name was first on the list of many people the teen planned to kill, including other members of his family, schoolmates, and people he knew through his family’s church.

In court, the jury heard how this teen calmly attacked his sister, “in a … manner which was chilling,” while their parents watched television downstairs. He meticulously planned other attacks, particularly on classmates. The judge would not release his name to the public, claiming the “publicity would increase his narcissism.”

Once again, we have a violent teen with all of the hallmarks of sociopathy. Shouldn’t that be enough? It wasn’t. The court also had to hear about the boy’s interests, as though they were relevant to the case:

The court was told that the boy was brought up as a strong Christian by his family but rebelled against the faith and developed an interest in the occult through listening to “horrorcore” music, a type of hip hop with lyrics on horror-influenced topics.

It’s true that horrorcore rap is influenced by horror fiction. There are songs inspired by films such as Child’s Play and Halloween, among others. For the most part, horrorcore is not a popular genre, but some acts — the Insane Clown Posse and Eminem included — have made big names for themselves. These guys are the Alice Coopers and GWARs of the rap world. The genre unwittingly linked itself to real-life violence when one horrorcore musician, Syko Sam, allegedly bludgeoned four people to death in Farmville, Virginia in 2009.

Horrorcore rap is meant to be fun in the same way watching a scary movie is meant to be fun. All of us like a little thrill now and again — even teens. And there’s not a shred of evidence that this music makes people murderous. There’s not even any evidence that horrorcore would lead someone to be interested in the occult — not that there’s anything wrong with being interested in the occult, either.

Prosecuting attorneys do their best to cast doubt on a defendant, if they think doing so will secure a conviction and prison time for that defendant. Anything to make an attempted killer look bad — including music or spiritual practice — is fair game. But that doesn’t make it relevant to the crime. All it is is character assassination, particularly once the press picks up on it. And, since this particular teen’s name is not associated with the accusations, the effect is to cast doubt on every other teen who listens to horrorcore or explores the occult. Nevermind that 99% of them will never pick up a weapon with the intent to harm another person. It’s no wonder we don’t trust our teens.

What do you think, readers? Should attorneys be barred from questioning the character of a teen accused of violence? Why or why not?