Foes of fun have blasted rock-and-roll as “The Devil’s music” since the earliest days of Chuck Berry and Elvis, and especially in light of seemingly possessed, pioneering wildmen on the order of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
From there, the rock-driven cultural revolution of the 1960s incorporated not just sex and drugs, but an expanded approach to spirituality, including massive new interest in the Dark Arts. The flower power era, in fact, turned out to be speckled with seeds of evil.
One prime example: supreme occult guru Aleister Crowley appears on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Another instance: the Rolling Stones then responded to the Beatles’ breakthrough by blatantly titling their next release, Their Satanic Majesties Request.
Come the decades end, Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page launched Led Zeppelin, propelled as much by his musical genius as his endless fascination with the occult (Page would later even buy Crowley’s castle on Loch Ness).
All this rattling against the Gates of Hell ultimately unleashed a monster. Heavy metal erupted forth from below, loud and proud to explicitly be the Sound of Satan.
Join us now for an unholy celebration of this devil’s dozen of the most gloriously hell-spawned and hell-bound hell-raisers in the anti-hallowed halls of heavy metal history.
We must begin at the beginning. Satan himself would want it that way.
Chicago-based occult cabal Coven featured a bassist named Oz Osborne and their seismic 1969 debut LP, Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls, opens with a sonic declaration of intent titled—no sh-t—“Black Sabbath.” Eerier still, Coven made it to vinyl a full year before Black Sabbath themselves did.
Alas, as Black Sabbath properly invented heavy metal, per se, Coven’s landmark WDMARS doesn’t fall under that dark shroud. It’s a wicked psychedelic storm, though, and without it, heavy metal would likely sound and feel very different—specifically in terms of infernal inspiration.
In fact, Coven is so committed to espousing the dire gospel of the Dark Lord on WDMARS that side two is nothing but the sound of an “authentic” black mass.
Even more compelling, Nordic front-witch and ungodly awesome ant-Bible belter Jinx Dawson is spread full nude atop a sacrificial altar on the album’s gatefold, while her ceremonial robed bandmates and fellow left-hand path travelers loom above, ready to liberate her unto hell with the plunge of an anointed dagger.
Coven’s unholy influence has reverberates in every satanic artist since. Of particular note is how Jinx Dawson reigns as the Anti-Blessed Mother of our current wave of excellent female-fronted occult metal groups on the order of Blood Ceremony, Purson, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Christian Mistress, Witch Mountain, Sabbath Assembly, Jex Thoth, and the tragically disbanded The Devil’s Blood.
It's tempting to be obvious and open a paragraph about a band called Satan with the question, "What's in a name?"
Alas, as the horn-headed fallen angel from which Satan takes its moniker is all about temptation, let's go ahead and pose that query.
In this case, then, the name Satan perfectly sums up the punk-paced, proto-thrash potency of these New Wave of British Heavy metal heroes. They'll take you to hell and back, and you'll deliriously sell your soul just to take the ride one more time—or even 666 more times.
As corpse-painted, leather-and-armor-clad soldiers for Satan, Dark Funeral arose from Sweden in 1993 with The Secrets of the Black Arts, high atop the crest of European black metal’s second wave.
Fronted by songwriter, guitarist, and avowed Satanist practitioner Lord Ahriman, Dark Funeral was co-founded by fellow guitar player Blood Moon. Since their debut, the group has unleashed four platters of Latin-titled sheer terror, and they continue to rock stages worldwide with uniformly Heaven-quaking live shows.
The very air of Morbid Angel’s home base of Tampa, Florida routinely scorches like hellfire.
As one of death metal’s original and most ferocious fronts in the War Against God, the band has invoked that damning level of heat on each of their eight incendiary long-players since 1989, as well as in concerts that continue to win converts.
In 1994, black-hearted Slovenian industrial marauders Laibach remixed Morbid Angel tracks for an EP that united two of music’s darkest forms into a soul-shattering blow on behalf of Beelzebub.
Norrköping, Sweden’s black metal bombardiers Marduk take their name from an ancient Babylonian deity, but titles on the order of Serpent Sermon and “With Satan and Victorious Weapons” leave little doubt as to in which direction the group’s spiritual inclinations point.
Akin to Slayer, Marduk has lyrically explored World War II in general and Nazi atrocities in particular as evidence of the true, frequently church-blessed evil that grips humanity.
Expanding way out past, say, Slayer’s “Angel of Death,” however, Marduk fixation on the Third Reich prompted them to call their 1999 album, Panzer Division Marduk, associating themselves explicit with Hitler's signature tank squadrons.
However, every time the fascist, white supremacist National Socialist Black Metal movement aims to claim Marduk as one of their own, founding guitarist and spokesman Morgan “Evil” Steinmeyer Håkansson publicly tells them, appropriately, to go to hell.
In a general sense, the masked marauder of Brujeria and their Spanish-language outrage celebrates devil worship, violence, murder, intoxication, and hatred. More particularly, Brujeria (their name means “witchcraft”) waxes rhapsodic on human trafficking, narcotics smuggling, drug kingpin warfare, calls for homicidal revolutions, and savage sex, all with an explicitly satanic spin.
Brujeria established themselves as instant legends in 1993, when they emblazoned the cover of their debut Matando Güeros with what is apparently an actual severed human head.
Members of the group have long been said to include bona fide Mexican drug lords and their gunmen. Among those who collaborate or even play regularly with Brujeria are Shane Embury of Napalm Death, Adrian Erlandson of At the Gates, Jeffrey Walker of Carcass, and Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys.
Polish pulverizers Behemoth merge black metal and death metal into a scalding sound all their own.
Their Christ-hating, Lucifer-lauding music and philosophy are also laden with gushes of Nordic Paganism, and the group’s sartorial appearance is profoundly more complex that merely splashing on corpse paint.
All these elements add additional layers to Behemoth’s brutal assault. In the best, most challenging sense, Behemoth is some truly scary rock-and-roll.
King Diamond/Mercyful Fate
Kim Bendix Petersen—best known for his ferocious falsetto and frightmare face paint as King Diamond—has reigned as Denmark’s supreme voice in the metallic war to dethrone gone since 1983.
That’s when Mercyful Fate, the extreme metal group fronted by King Diamond, set loose the two-pronged LP attack of Melissa and its ’84 follow-up, Don’t Break the Oath. The following year, King Diamond, the singer, broke off to spearhead King Diamond, a brand new band.
Since then, King Diamond has never ceased brilliantly wailing in pursuit of the ultimate metal peak, nor has he ever failed to champion his core philosophical practice, LaVeyan Satanism, a system of libertine/libertarian thinking and ritual practices based on The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey.
That doesn't mean King Diamond worships the devil—in fact, as an avowed atheist, he doesn't believe in any kind of literal deities, good or evil. It's really about the mythological symbol of Satan as the first rebel and, really, the first headbanger.
There’s no black metal like Norwegian black metal, and no Norwegian black metal brigade evangelizes the forms quite as spectacularly as Gorgoroth.
Named by group leader Infernus for a geographical patch of utter horror and despair in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga, Gorgoroth looks and sounds like the actual house band from those deepest pits of Mordor.
Gorgoroth is expressly Satanic in every aspect of their existence, the most astonishing of which may well be their no-holds-barred nightmare-in-Hell theatrical live performances.
In 2004, Gorgoroth pulled off one of the absolute most metal feats in the history of hell-spawned music when they mounted a “Black Mass” concert in the profoundly Catholic city of Krakow, Poland.
The band doused the crowd and themselves with 80 liters of animal blood, while raging on a stage lined with real decapitated sheep’s heads on stakes and four live, fully nude female models hung from crosses behind them. On DVD, the show, known as Black Mass Krakow 2004, became an instant classic.
In 1987, power-growling vocalist Glen Benton and blast-beating drummer Steve Asheim formed Deicide down in the ungodly swelter of Tampa, Florida. The Sunshine State saw itself turning pitch black from its exploding death metal scene shortly thereafter.
Deicide pushed its pro-Satan agenda to previously unimaginable extremes, beginning with their name alone, which means “the murder of God.” Glen Benton along hurled himself so deeply into the cause that he scorched an upside-down cross into his forehead with a flaming branding iron.
The group’s 1992 classic, Legion, remains a singularly punishing beat-down so severe you’ll swear you can hear it making the Prince of Darkness smile.
Norwegian black metal shocked the world in the early 1990s when its various devotees donned corpse paint and medieval battle gear to commit real-world destruction in the name of cosmic evil, culminating in a chilling rash of historic church arsons.
Mayhem, one of Norway’s very first black metal outfits, may not have torched any actual houses of worship, but, in cultural terms, they ignited NBM’s most destructive and, indeed, Satanic fuse.
Guitar player Øystein Aarseth, better known as Euronymous, co-founded Mayhem in 1984 with bassist Necrobutcher. After juggling vocalists and drummers, Mayhem fully clicked with the addition of a singer called Dead and a blast-beater named Hellhammer. The group’s name came from the Venom song, “Mayhem with Mercy,” which is semi-ironic as there was absolutely nothing merciful about Mayhem.
Years before the band’s first major release, Mayhem redefined the concept of heavy metal terror and chaos. In 1991, Dead slit his throat and wrists just prior to blowing his head off with a shotgun. Euronymous found Dead’s very much dead body and immediately took photographs of the carnage. Credible rumors endure that he cooked and ate his friend’s brain matter, and fashioned Dead’s bone bits into jewelry.
Two years later, death came for Euronymous when his chief local music scene rival, Varg Vikernes, fatally stabbed him to death just outside his apartment. Norwegian black metal has been keeping Satan and his minions busy ever since.
When extreme metal pioneers Venom first charged out of Newcastle, England in the late ’70s, they were deemed “punks with long hair.” This resulted from the group's brutishly crude technical skills and fever-brained drive to make music on their own terms.
However, Venom was a metal band, to be sure, as evidenced not just by their horror-film biker stage-wear, but also from their devotion to rushing past the mere occult underpinnings of even the most seemingly devilish of previously existing groups, and to becoming Satan’s frontline power trio on Earth.
The classic Venom lineup of Cronos playing bass and singing, Mantas manning guitar, and Abaddon on drums rendered forth Welcome to Hell in 1981, followed a year later by one of hard rock’s all-time most influential platters, Black Metal. At War With Satan intensified the impact even more in 1984.
From those foundations, Venom launched evil seeds that would flower into thrash, speed metal, death metal, and, of course, black metal—and those ungodly gardens are still mutating and expanding.
Okay, right off, let’s make it clear: Black Sabbath was not, is not, and never will be a “pro-Satan” band, at least not in the manner of this list's other uniformly devil-deifying groups.
In fact, Venom's Cronos says his robustly Satanic band resulted from his love of Black Sabbath’s petrifying sound, which he said was always ruined when Ozzy Osbourne would “sing about evil things and dark figures, and then spoil it all by going: ‘Oh, no, no, no, God, help me!’”
Still, when even mentioning the notion of satanic heavy metal, one force comes immediately to mind and one force will always overwhelm any such discussion: Black Sabbath.
It all begins with the very first notes of the group’s aforementioned very first song on their very first album: guitarist Tony Iommi converts “the devil’s tri-tone”—three notes said to be banned in medieval times for their diabolical capabilities—into the riff from which will emerge the entirety of heavy metal.
There’s also Black Sabbath’s name, of course, and the spooky green girl on that first album cover, and the continuing appearance of occult themes in their music, and their overall sound that truly feels as though it could only have been channeled from the Kingdom of Darkness itself.
That nightmarish might has continued through every Black Sabbath incarnation across the decades, straight on up to the present band embarking on its farewell tour.
As such, Black Sabbath is Satanic metal—no matter how many times Ozzy (or future vocalists Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan, Tony Martin—or anybody) screams, “Oh, no, no, no, God, help me!” or not.