When I started The Devil’s Roots, it was with the intention of exploring the myriad of Satanic belief systems metal encompasses in order to distinguish their differences and find out if there is anything that unifies them. Since then, I’ve discovered that even though each school does contain a specific set of individual ideas, most do share the common theme of valuing free thinking. Like the multiple branches of Satanism itself, for the most part the Dark Lord is a metaphor for autonomy and the rejection of religious establishment having any impact or influence on our lives. A few extreme right-wing interpretations aside, I think the Devil’s influence in metal has been a positive one; His name is used to inspire individuality and symbolic poetry which has made for some pretty stellar music. And the fact that artists have used it to rifle a few feathers has only added to metal’s irresistible rebellious allure.
Growing up in the ‘90s, I was around to experience the golden age of Marilyn Manson – back when he was America’s most feared Boogeyman and the media’s favourite scapegoat. When the Columbine massacre happened in 1999, he became the public enemy of a nation who pinpointed him as the inspiration for the atrocities committed by teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on their classmates. His membership to Lavey’s Church of Satan – which Manson accepted as an honorary title as he promoted similar ethos, even if he didn’t agree with every LaVeyan philosophy – meant that devil-worship was often cited by news outlets, religious bodies and misinformed/outraged citizens when listing off the shock rocker’s list of transgressions. A year later when Holywood dropped, he unleashed a response which called out the naysayers out for their hypocrisy, while simultaneously attacking the media, government, religious authoritarians, and American gun culture.
At the time, I was drawn to the devilish allure of that album; my childhood gullibility led me to believe that Manson was the personification of pure evil and it made his music feel forbidden and dangerous. As a blossoming adolescent going through those awkward stages, tired of having prayers forced upon me by school teachers for a God I didn’t believe in, Manson – and metal as a whole for that matter – really spoke to me. Upon listening to that album, I realized that if anybody was dangerous, it was the very people and organisations Manson was lashing out against, and Satan didn’t seem so bad after all. To this day, very few albums have felt as important as Holywood; in the face of insurmountable controversy Manson responded with a declaration of war against his accusers and the real wrongdoers in society. Still, Holywood was an album that his haters criticised for endorsing the murder, suicide and devil-worship he’d been accused of countless times before. However, when you listen to the accounts of many of Manson’s fans, his music has a track record of saving people from the brink, and never has that message been more evident than it was in Holywood.
Now, you’re wondering why the hell am I talking about Manson and what this has to do with Satanic beliefs in metal? Well, if you want a prime example of the misconception of Satanism in metal music, all you have to do is look at Marilyn Manson during that period. In the eyes of the misinformed and judgemental he was the embodiment of pure evil; but to those who actually understood what he represented, he embraced individuality, taught people that it was OK to be ‘different’ and typified the free thinking philosophies which have been the bedrock of most Satanic schools. All of which are pathos which have existed in metal since its roots in the Romantic Satanic literature of the Enlightenment period.
Romantic Satanism and metal are like kissing cousins; the rock stars who have portrayed the Devil as an antihero in their music aren’t all that different to the writers, poets, artists and intellectuals who did the same when the movement emerged at the turn of the nineteenth century. However, throughout the years, countless metal bands have used the Fallen One’s name in their music for a variety of reasons: Venom, for example, are one of many who used ol’ Beelzebub to shock and appal for their own amusement and a bit of publicity. Motley Crue, W.A.S.P. and other acts from the heyday of hair metal used it to shock and pick up chicks, while also exuding their own devilish and rebellious allure. King Diamond, another member of the Church of Satan, merely considers Satan as an extension of his atheist philosophy and this is the most common Satanic ideal you’ll find in metal. The atheistic elements can also be extended to Thelema, the school of thought popularised by Aleister Crowley often mistaken for symbolic Satanism even though it’s entirely different, while also being pretty much the same in many ways.
Of course, there is also the theistic Satanists who do believe in the Devil as a physical or supernatural entity. Some, like the Temple of Set, do not associate Him with Judeo-Christian interpretations either, and while they do believe he exists, they still associate his teachings with the self-preservation and critical thinking other branches entail. On the other hand, you have Euronymous from Mayhem who worshipped the evil Satan we grew up fearing, and believed that his followers should be slaves to His will. His bandmates had conflicting views… Additionally, you have other theistic believers who practice black magic in the name of Lucifer, such as Watain, while others interpret his existence as literal and a reason to advocate white supremacy, like some NSBM acts. Like all belief systems, Satanism means something entirely different to different people and, as a result, has bred a few fringe extremists, even in metal.
That said, for the most part, Satan has been a positive influence in metal. For every idiot who’s burned a church, slaughtered animals or called for a Third Reich in His name, countless more decent human beings have used him as a metaphor for the critical free thinking we need to keep society functioning and hold the bodies which try to govern us with their biased ideologies in check. He’s also been used to poke fun at the establishment and piss off a few serious types, which in itself is worth commending. After all, what is the use of the Devil if not to cause a little mischief from time to time? Whatever your interpretations of the Dark Lord may be, however, there is no denying that He’s ingrained in the lifeblood of the genre. Metal really is the Devil’s music, as no other genre has portrayed the diversity of Satanic ideologies as thoroughly. Long may the symbolic romantic antihero live on and continue to inspire some kick ass tunes, for that’s a Satan we can all hail.