While most Satanists worship Satan believing he is a “good” character, bringing liberation to humanity, some musicians hails him as Pure Evil.
by Massimo Introvigne
Legends of talented musicians who had sold their souls to the Devil are as old as music itself, but it was in the 1960s that Satan started being consistently mentioned in rock music. “Sympathy for the Devil,” a 1968 song by the Rolling Stones where the Devil tells his story in the first person as a “man of wealth and taste” is just one among many examples.
Within the so called Gothic milieu, a literary and musical scene privileging dark atmospheres and the theme of death, the first musical references to Satan were introduced almost simultaneously by Coven, an American psychedelic rock band founded in Chicago in 1967, which explicitly sought the patronage of the Church of Satan, and Black Widow, a British group in the progressive rock current that debuted in Leicester in 1970 as the new version of a band active from 1966 under the name Pesky Gee. At the end of their first album, “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Soul” (1969), Coven included thirteen minutes of a spoken word ritual they called a “Satanic Mass,” largely derived from popular novels. Coven may also have been the first band to routinely “throw horns,” i.e. salute its audience with the two-finger sign of the horns, although the sign already appeared in The Beatles’ movie “Yellow Submarine” (1968).
Black Widow came into contact with the flamboyant Alex Sanders (1926–1988), the controversial self-styled “King of the Witches” who started the “Alexandrian tradition” within Wicca. Sanders even “loaned” his high priestess, and later wife, Maxine Morris, for two Black Widow live shows. While Christian critics later mentioned the Sanders connection as evidence of Black Widow’s Satanism, in fact in Sanders’ magical system Satanic elements were conspicuous mostly for their absence.
“Heavy Metal” (or simply “Metal”) originated as a label for a distinctive kind of music, characterized by heavy drums and bass, distorted guitars, and a macabre and transgressive vocal style including screams and growls. In fact, within the general category of Heavy Metal, several violent subgenres appeared such as Speed Metal, Thrash Metal, Doom Metal, and Death Metal, some of them mentioned together as Extreme Metal, and it is often difficult even for the specialist to classify each band in the appropriate category.
The group more often credited with creating, or at least defining, the earlier incarnation of Heavy Metal, Black Sabbath, included mentions of Satan in its songs since the foundation of the band in Birmingham around Ozzy Osbourne in 1968. Its vocalist Ronnie James Dio (Ronnie James Padavona, 1942–2010) popularized the gesture of “throwing horns.” Dio, however, maintained that the gesture was not Satanic and was an old Italian protection against the evil eye. Black Sabbath’s bassist Terence Michael Joseph “Geezer” Butler and lead guitarist Anthony Frank “Tony” Jommi were raised Catholics, and maintained that their worldview always remained Christian. They mentioned Satan and evil in their songs as part of a grim and pessimistic vision of the world, but their lyrics ultimately affirmed God’s power over Satan.
In the mid-1970s, the so-called “British New Wave of Heavy Metal” (BNWHM) emerged, defined by bands such as Iron Maiden and Motörhead. The BNWHM in turn influenced the first American Heavy Metal groups and the birth of Extreme Metal. The latter became popular with two American bands that debuted in 1983, Metallica and Slayer. The subgenre, in this case, was Thrash Metal, but Death Metal, Speed Metal, and Doom Metal followed in the mid- and late 1980s. Slayer emphasized a Satanic image from the start, as did three German Thrash Metal groups created in the same year, 1982: Kreator, Sodom, and Destruction. It has been argued, however, that Slayer’s Satanism was almost exclusively for show and provocation.
Death Metal was the most radical form of Extreme Metal available before Black Metal was born. Several leading Death Metal bands had Satanic lyrics, including the American group Morbid Angel, which contributed to make Tampa, Florida, a world capital of the subgenre between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s. Another American Death Metal band, Deicide, had a singer, Glen Benton, whom Swedish scholar Per Faxneld described as “the most vocal and fanatical Satanist in music, before being surpassed by Nordic radicals.” Entombed, a prominent group within the Scandinavian branch of Death Metal, debuted in 1990 and stated that it had found inspiration for its lyrics in LaVey’s “The Satanic Bible.”
Black Metal emerged in the 1980s as the most extreme subgenre of Metal. The relation of Black Metal with the other subgenres is not one of total discontinuity. However, although occasional mentions of Satan and occult interests may be found in all the subgenres of Heavy Metal, the focus on Satanism became a trademark feature of Black Metal. Generally credited with starting Black Metal is a British band, Venom. Formed in 1979 in Newcastle by members of previously existing bands, including Guillotine and Oberon, Venom introduced Satanism as a main Heavy Metal theme. Venom’s “Welcome to Hell” (1981) was the first Black Metal album.
Groups like Black Sabbath merely described scenes of Satanism and witchcraft. Venom wanted to move from the third to the first person and proclaim to the world that the band’s musicians were actually Satanists. Venom started what is often called the first wave of Black Metal, characterized by frequent references to LaVeyan Satanism, while the second wave was critical of LaVey. After Venom, the most important groups of the first wave were Mercyful Fate, Bathory, and Hellhammer. Mercyful Fate was formed in 1981 in Denmark around Kim Bendix Petersen, who had already performed with other bands under the name King Diamond. Besides using on stage a microphone stand made of human bones, Diamond was the first Black Metal musician who actually joined the Church of Satan and met LaVey.
By contrast, the Church of Satan was not an acceptable form of Satanism for the group of Black Metal musicians, primarily Norwegian, who came to dominate the movement as it evolved from the first to the second wave. Varg Vikernes, a leading second waver, wrote that the “so-called Church of Satan is not in my view a church of Satan… It’s rather a humanistic individualistic organization that worships happiness and life… I worship death, evil, and all darkness.” Another leader of the Norwegian second wave, Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth, 1968–1993), criticized LaVey by stating: “I believe in [a] horned devil, a personified Satan. In my opinion, all other forms of Satanism are bullshit.” Not only did the Norwegians believe in Satan as a personal being rather than a simple metaphor, as it was for LaVey. Unlike the great majority of modern Satanists, they worshipped Satan as the God of evil and darkness, not as a humanistic liberator of men and women.
The readers of LaVey’s “The Satanic Bible” aspired to happiness, and were told that the Satanist is a good citizen who tries not to violate any laws. But this, the second wave of Black Metal objected, was only “idiotic humanism.” Real Satanism does not create a climate of happiness but of despair and terror, of crime and suicide, is proud to violate the laws, and wants above all that whoever would meet a Satanist would be “really afraid.”
The second wave of Black Metal was born in Norway, and spread to Sweden, Finland, and Poland as well as to other countries. Its center was a music shop in Oslo called Helvete (“Hell” in Norwegian), where in 1991 musicians from various Black Metal groups began to meet. The owner of the shop was Euronymous, the founder of Mayhem in 1984. On April 8, 1991, Per Yngve Ohlin (1969–1991), better known as “Dead,” Swedish-born Mayhem’s vocalist, killed himself by cutting his wrists and shooting himself in the head. Upon discovering his colleague dead, before calling the police, Euronymous took a series of gruesome pictures of him, one of which will later be used as a cover for a Mayhem bootleg (i.e. a non-official recording of a live performance), and allegedly also ate a part of Dead’s brain.
Taking macabre souvenirs from a corpse might have been against the law, but, starting in 1992, more serious crimes were committed. Members of Black Metal bands set fire to ancient wooden churches, and between 1992 and 1996 deprived Norway of around fifty ancient religious buildings, often of great artistic value.
What distinguished the second wave of Black Metal, at least in Norway, was its stated need of “passing into action.” As opposed to LaVey, and also to the earlier generations of “Satanic” musicians, they believed that talking, or singing, was not enough. It was a question of acting to spread death, destruction and terror, all in the name of Satan and against Christianity. Some musicians took their knives and started to stab imaginary or real enemies. On August 21, 1992, Norwegian drummer Bård G. Eithun, “Faust,” killed a gay man who had tried to seduce him in a park in Lillehammer.
To replace Dead after his suicide, Euronymous enlisted the co-operation of a young bassist, Kristian Larssøn “Varg” Vikernes, born in 1973, who also had his own project, Burzum, and a strong interest in Satanism. While Euronymous was a self-styled Communist, Vikernes preferred Nazi references, and they also quarreled about money and women.
On August 10, 1993, Vikernes, accompanied by another musician, Snorre Westvold Ruch (“Blackthorn”), who will later be sentenced to eight years in prison as an accomplice, went to the apartment of Euronymous in Oslo and killed him with twenty-three stabs. Arrested, Vikernes was sentenced in 1994 to twenty-one years of incarceration, both for the murder and for setting fire to four churches. Vikernes remained until 2009 in jail, where his ideology evolved from Satanism to Nordic neo-paganism.
As for Euronymous, he always advocated “a genuine theistic approach, literal devil worship, as opposed to the approach of organizations such as the Church of Satan.” He told the “Orcustus” magazine that in his opinion this kind of Satanism defined the very concept of Black Metal: “If a band cultivates and worships Satan, it’s black metal.” If musicians “are not Satanists,” theirs “is NOT a black metal band.” For Euronymous, Black Metal was not defined by the sound: “black metal has nothing to do with the music itself (…). It’s the LYRICS, and they must be SATANIC” (capitals in original).
After Euronymous’ murder and Vikernes’ arrest, “anti-cosmic” Satanism continued in Norway with groups such as Gorgoroth, whose most scandalous performance was the so-called “Black Mass of Krakow” of 2004, where the band shocked Catholic Poland by playing on a stage full of Satanic symbols, blood, decapitated sheep, and crucified naked models. In France, several Satanist Black Metal groups joined in France to form in 1991 Les Légions Noires, a unique if short-lived attempt to create in a forest a communal Satanist movement within the Black Metal milieu.
In the second half of the 1990s, Sweden was perhaps the most important country where a “religious” and actively Satanist Black Metal was created. A key player in the Swedish scene was Dissection, a Death Metal band (with some Black Metal features) founded in 1989 around Jon Nödtveidt (1975–2006). In 1995, Nödtveidt and another member of Dissection, Johan Norman, joined The Misanthropic Luciferian Order (MLO), later renamed Temple of the Black Light, a “theistic” part of the Swedish small Satanist scene. Norman left the MLO in 1997, but Nödtveidt remained.
In 1997, Nödtveidt and the MLO leader, Amir (Shain) Khoshnood-Sharis (“Vlad”) killed a randomly selected gay man, the Algerian immigrant Josef Ben Meddour (1960–1997) in Göteborg. Nödtveidt received a ten-year sentence but was released in 2004 and Dissection started again its musical activities.
In 2006, however, Nödtveidt committed suicide. It was a ritual suicide. The musician had told the Norwegian fanzine “Slayer” that “the Satanist decides over his own life and death and prefers to go with a smile on his lips when he has reached his peak in life.” Real “anti-cosmic” Satanists do not only hate everybody and everything. To be coherent, they should hate themselves, too, and suicide is a logic solution.
A final caveat is that not all Black Metal musicians, and certainly not all nor even most of their fans, are Satanists or celebrate Satan. Some are actually Christian. However, a significant number of Black Metal musicians developed a serious interest in Satanism. While some read LaVey and a few had some contacts with the Church of Satan, a larger number was more oriented toward an occultist or theistic Satanism. Some Black Metal musicians were among the few Satanists who really accepted the Christian theology depicting Satan as evil, and worshipped him as such.