Halloween is our culture’s darkest holiday. It’s the only time of year when we openly celebrate evil in all of its gloriously disturbing forms. Yet there’s one subgenre of metal that seemingly celebrates all that is dark and satanic every day of the year. Yes, call it what you want — death metal, doom metal, dark metal, death core, occult metal, whatever — but these bands bring the horror at every show.
But is the imagery real, or is it a marketing gimmick solely found in the darkest depths of metal?
Some musicians are most certainly dark and disturbing in real life, such as Gaahl (formerly of Gorgoroth) and his crime of beating a man and threatening to make him drink his own blood. Not exactly an act of theater. But other dark metal gods are simple men in their daily lives. It’s a well-known fact that Slayer’s front man, Tom Araya, is a practicing Christian. Ozzy Osborne, once called the Prince of Darkness, is really just a family man with a collection of toy dog breeds. Hardly the stuff of doom and gloom that they famously croon about.
We gathered three of the seemingly most evil bands we could find to give us the lowdown on what’s real in their shows and what’s not. Are these guys sacrificing young virgins between sets to Lord Lucifer himself, or are we entertaining the macabre for the sake of shock art? We need real answers on this darkest of holy days…
First up was Mike Caputo of Houston's Desecrate the Faith, who describes his band’s sound as “Brutal Slamming Technical Death Metal." Also along for the ride into the abyss was founding member and bass player of Mirror Tas Danazoglou (formerly of Satan’s Wrath and Electric Wizard), whose sound is described as “Occult Metal Alchemists." Lastly, we spoke to Darrell White, drummer for locals Uncleansed, who describes his band as “death metal." Fair enough…
Houston Press: Metal is full of symbols, some dark, some openly Satanic. What, specifically, is the appeal in presenting this kind of imagery? Do you think it draws fans in or repels them? Tas Danazoglou: Heavy-metal music was always connected to dark themes, musically or lyrically. From the moody dark blues of the '50s to the rock and roll madness of the '50s, '60s and '70s, Satan had always a special place. Is it a coincidence that the first heavy-metal band is called Black Sabbath? Or the second Judas Priest? I think not. Rock and roll is the music of the devil, and the people who don’t like this connection are obviously lost.
Darrell White: I think it does both. Many people are drawn to dark imagery in metal and in life/art in general. The appeal, I believe, has a lot to do with rebellion. The desire to defy and go against the grain. It’s actually a positive thing, although some may find it very appalling. Every person has a different reality and perception of what is both physically and mentally appealing. This is a great thing, and only becomes problematic when an individual starts to believe that their opinions are actually facts.
A common critique of metal is of its lyrically violent themes. Do you think these things (metal and violence) are inseparable? Can metal divorce itself from anger, or is that impossible? White: Well, for the most part, it’s all for the sake of our art…it’s an expression. But when your art is your life, it is hard to deny the fact that certain characteristics of your creation(s) will mimic the self on an emotional and personal level. Lyrically, we’re not as straightforward or blunt as others may be…we try to present things in a way that provokes the thought process. A line of one of our songs comes to mind — “serpents bleeding on the sun." Now, it’s not really physically possible to make this a reality, is it?
Do you think (for your band specifically) that the dark themes are really just theater, or is that a reality? Mike Caputo: It's half and half for us. We enjoy the dark themes that we write about, but we don't take them too seriously.
Danazoglou: Fantasy and reality are not so far apart as people think. Sometimes one creates the other. A musician into dark music is connected to dark realms in many ways. Even unconsciously.
Are you Satanic, or is it all an act? How do you respond when people ask if you’re a Satanist? White: Define “Satanic." I think misconceptions about Satanism are quite common among most people. Do a little research, and you’ll find it is quite the opposite of what most believe to be true. Is Uncleansed specifically promoting Satanism? No. Are we presenting dark themes, free will and thinking? Yes.
Danazoglou: My new band Mirror is not purely Satanic, although we cover dark concepts, but my other bands surely are. What is a Satanist, anyway? If you pay 100 bucks, you get a card from the Church of Satan. Is that Satanism? I don’t think so. Many bands, of course, use it as a theme like Venom did, for example. To my eyes, though, they promoted Satanism more than anyone. So....
Caputo: I've had people that I get along with great, and then they find out that I'm an atheist or that my band is called Desecrate the Faith, and they immediately want nothing to do with me. Our rule as a band and as individuals is that if you're cool with us, we're cool with you.
What is your darkest song? I’m curious to know if it’s also your most popular song. White: One of our darkest songs, I would say, is the title track of our upcoming EP, “Defacing the Deity of Filth." Most popular? I don’t know about that, but it’s a crowd-pleaser.
Danazoglou: Probably our track “Madness and Magik” that deals with a Satanic ceremony.
Caputo: All of our songs are pretty dark as far as the music is concerned. Both “Pray For Degradation” and “Let Us Burn” seem to be pretty popular. "Let Us Burn" is more technical and has some catchy riffs, whereas “Pray For Degradation” is more straightforward and brutal with some heavy slams and pit riffs in it.
So, any Halloween plans? White: Probably hand out candy to cute little trick-or-treaters and be in bed by 9 p.m.
Caputo: The band as a unit doesn't have any plans for Halloween. However, Tyler DTF (guitarist) and John Hull (lead vocals) just got together the other day to have a pumpkin-carving session, actually. John carved Baphomet, and Tyler made a TXDM [Texas Extreme Death Metal] pumpkin!
Danazoglou: Well, rape and sacrifice, of course!
Check out Uncleansed's new EP, Defacing the Deity of Filth, coming soon. Catch them December 12 at Fitzgerald’s with Deicide.
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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.