There have always been people who believe rock and roll is the music of The Unholy One, and over the many decades rock music has been around, countless musicians have done their damnedest to give the Devil his due — scaring parents and selling records along the way. Whether or not Lucifer is the architect of rock music and all the genres it has spawned (like demons!) I'll leave to others to decide, but here are a few bands who seemed intent on raising some literal Hell.
9. Aleister Crowley Appears on a Beatles Album
"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will." So reads Aleister Crowley's law of Thelema, the basis for one of the more potent magical currents to emerge in the early 20th century. While Crowley wasn't specifically a "Satanist," he was a highly influential occultist, and infamous for a debauched lifestyle that shocked the conventional society of his time. By Christian standards he probably qualified as a "devil worshipper," but the Beatles seemed to admire the man enough to put his photo on the cover of their classic album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, giving religious folks plenty of crazy conspiracy material to run with. Did the Beatles worship the Devil? Well, if The Lord of Darkness exists to spread evil and horror in this world, a devotion to him would explain the success of Wings a few years later.
8. The Rolling Stones Show Some Sympathy for the Devil
In 1968, the Rolling Stones released a song portraying a sympathetic first-person account from the Devil himself, and it became one of their most famous songs. Around the same time, Mick Jagger began to flirt with a kind of Mephistophelian image himself, both onstage and in the film Performance. Soon after a fan was stabbed to death at Altamont while "Sympathy For the Devil" was played, the band ditched their Satanic Majesties tendencies, and swung into more conventionally debauched rock stardom. The song has aged well, and has been covered by bands ranging from Jane's Addiction to Laibach.
7. Coven Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls
In 1969, Chicago's Coven recorded their debut album, Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls, a heady mix of hard rock, psychedelia and folk music that veered straight into dark territory with a gatefold photo depicting Jinx Dawson, the band's singer, nude on a satanic altar surrounded by the other band members. With song titles like "Pact with Lucifer," "Dignitaries of Hell," and "Satanic Mass," it's not surprising the album scared some people. It's viewed as a sort of classic today, and is probably not as well-known as the music of some satanic bands, simply because the music isn't the type of heavy metal most associated with that stuff, and it was also pulled from many store shelves because of controversy over its content. It has the distinction of "out-Sataning" Sabbath, and Coven also beat Sabbath to the diabolic punch by releasing their debut album a few months earlier than Ozzy and company. A couple of years later, Coven would contribute the decidedly non-Satanic song "One Tin Soldier" to the Billy Jack soundtrack. Maybe the Devil made them do it.
6. Black Sabbath Takes Lucifer's Hand
In October of 1969, a band of working-class guys from Birmingham, England, recorded their first album in 12 hours, and basically created the genre of heavy metal. Black Sabbath's debut album was released in 1970, to mostly bad reviews from critics, but their heavy, detuned and dirge-laden style quickly became popular with fans. Black Sabbath also steered clear from the type of lovey-dovey lyrics that many late-'60s/early-'70s bands grooved to, instead singing about wizards, satanic masses, war and the Devil. The bad-trip lyrics and heavy guitars served up a dose of something dark and dangerous. While the dudes in Sabbath were probably more inspired to drinking and drugging than they were to actual diabolism, they seemed serious enough with their tales of devilry; plus their spooky-looking album cover had a gatefold featuring an upside-down cross. Sabbath got the 1970s started in style, giving young misfits a soundtrack fit for cavorting with demons. Around the same time, other pseudo satanic and occult-oriented rock bands took their shot at musical darkness, most notably Black Widow and White Witch.
5. Jimmy Page: Guitarist for Led Zeppelin; Dedicated Black Magician
Part of Led Zeppelin's mystique has always been the rumor that the band had a little help from Beelzebub himself, and that they planted clues in their albums to show their affection for Lucifer. Some have gone to the extent of searching for backwards messages in songs that reveal Led Zeppelin's pact with the Devil, but it seems a bit pointless to go to such efforts, since Jimmy Page has never really made it any secret that he's an occultist...or, at least, he's never really covered his tracks. In 1970, Page bought Boleskine House, an estate that Aleister Crowley once owned and where he performed magical ceremonies. Page is a student of Crowley, and while that doesn't make him a Satanist, it does establish a link to Led Zeppelin and the occult.
4. The '80s Satanic Panic and Heavy Metal
Even though the late '60s and '70s spawned several classic "satanic bands," it was the '80s when the Devil really got his due in popular music. By that decade, plenty of rock bands had learned that they could reliably sell a few records by at least feigning allegiance to the Prince of Darkness. This was especially true of hard-rock and metal bands, whose image could benefit from a bit of satanic posturing. AC/DC seemed more like a working-class party band than any kind of satanists, but that didn't stop Angus Young from appearing on the cover of Highway to Hell with devil horns and a forked tail, and Bon Scott seems to be wearing a pentagram necklace on the same album. Bands like Mötley Crüe were more interested in chasing strippers than they were in black magic, but Shout at the Devil, with its pentagram cover, scared the hell out of religious parents. The big-hair decade was rife with satanic bands, or at least bands employing satanic imagery, and since there was a kind of culture war over satanism going on, that made for a potent tug-of-war between rock bands and the clueless folks who thought all of the make-believe was real. By the time bands like Venom and Slayer came along, it was hard to imagine how bands could appear more satanic. Until...
3. Black Metal and Burning Churches
In the early 1990s, a second wave of black metal arose in Scandinavia, particularly in Norway and Sweden. The extreme-metal scene of the '80s had spawned several proto-Black Metal bands such as Venom, Bathory and Celtic Frost, but the newer scene took a highly publicized turn toward criminal activities, most notably murder and the arson of ancient churches. While those crimes were carried out by a relatively small group of deranged outsiders, they certainly got the world's attention in a way that Ozzy's singing about a black mass never did.
2. Marilyn Manson Gets a Little Help From His Satanic Friends
In the mid-1990s, a goofy-looking singer named Marilyn met the Church of Satan's Unholy Pope, and was ordained as an honorary priest. While it's hard to remember a time when Marilyn Manson was "scary," he probably helped sell a few copies of The Satanic Bible during his heyday, frightening parents and sending middle-school kids scurrying for their nearest Hot Topic store. Anton LaVey would probably be proud.
1. Spinal Tap Records a Satanic Christmas Song
Hey, ’tis the season and all. When veteran mock metal band Spinal Tap decided to record a holiday song, they made sure it was a special one. "Christmas With the Devil" may be their finest recorded moment, and is on my holiday playlist every December.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.