In 1970, the death knell for the Love Generation was sounded. And it sounded like down-tuned guitars.
Low and leaden, rugged and rumbling, the self-titled debut album from those crucifix-festooned heavy metal birth-givers of Black Sabbath was a shadowy, shockingly raw shot of gloom and grim grit that hammered home the final fate of happy and horny hippie music with a resounding cataclysm. What the ultra-satanic American group Coven had started, Black Sabbath finished, closing the cemetery gate and locking it behind them, with the withered, rotten remains of the floral, fluffy 1960’s buried beneath six feet of stone and dirt.
The band’s essence was defined by the song from whence they adopted their very name. Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” was a bombastic, apocalyptic epic driven by unrelenting nihilism. Relaying a nightmarish end-of-the-world scenario that was equal parts H.P. Lovecraft and biblical Book Of Revelation, the track runneth over with oppressive occult horror. Claustrophobic, even suffocating, it remains one of the band’s finest cuts, and a definitive contribution to the pantheon of horror-themed rock music.
Similarly spooky Sabbath songs like “Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” “Hand Of Doom,” and “Wheels Of Confusion” helped design the D.N.A. for the burgeoning heavy metal genre, and inspired legions of doom-drenched occult rockers to cannibalize the writings of Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey for lyric ideas. Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore began wearing a pointed witch’s hat onstage, and groups as varied as Bloodrock, Pagan Altar, and the imaginatively named Satan started blending somber sonic sadism with supernatural imagery and tenebrous black magic themes. Tony Iommi, the riff-wizard guitar-player whose lopped-off fingertips were largely responsible for the seismic shift in Black Sabbath’s sound, lent his own stamp of approval to the Cumberland, U.K. outfit Necromandus, whose progressive approach to Sabbath-style metal won them critical acclaim but little commercial success.
Over the subsequent decades, heavy metal and occult rock would become practically synonymous. From the mustachioed leatherheads in Venom and Pentagram to the greasepaint-faced terror yarns unleashed by Mercyful Fate and, later, the solo King Diamond, the devil had found a perpetual playground in the harrowing halls of heavy metal. Old Scratch’s ventures out into other genres would often be too few and far between from here on out.
There were exceptions, however. Goth rockers like Bauhaus and Siouxsie & The Banshees dressed mournful portraits of moonlit morbidity in oozy, moody layers of black latex. The band Danzig would do the same years later, injecting the proceedings with an extra-potent undercurrent of eroticism while simultaneously tempering their music with an old-fashioned blues rock sound. Before that, though, bandleader Glen Danzig would first jettison anarchy symbols and safety pins in favor crimson ghosts and Universal monster rallies with his punk rock dark ride experiment The Misfits (in between Glen’s departure from The Misfits and the formation of his woozy, bluesy namesake band, he would also serve as the frontman for the Halloween-celebrating outfit Samhain, who did indeed sound like a halfway point between the two groups, but would never reach the fame of either). Shortly thereafter, bands like The Meteors and The Guana Batz would blend The Misfits’ horror punk aesthetic with a more rockabilly-influenced flavor and subsequently give birth to the psychobilly genre. Disappointingly, many of these groups were more interested in summing up z-grade horror movies or composing love letters to Leatherface with their lyrics, rather than delving into the realms of the mystical and macabre themselves.
Ironically, as the music world’s interest in the occult became more cartoonish, the mainstream’s fear of the supernatural would grow absurdly out-of-hand. Youthful rebellion and satanic shock tactics would lead to moral, mortal terror in the pure white souls of the god-fearing right wing. That terror would, in a limited capacity, resurrect the witch hunts of earlier centuries, with musicians and fans alike put on trial to sink or swim, occasionally even being accused of actual witchcraft themselves.
In some cases, the accusations would lead to little more than frivolous wastes of time. In other cases, those on trial would not be so lucky, and would learn that flirting with the occult, even in the most superficial, innocent way possible, could have very drastic consequences.
…to be continued…