The Demon Rock 'n Roll

23 February 2008

Rock ‘n roll’s never sat well with organised religion; the music’s anti-Christian, anti-establishment leanings have been accused of everything from instigating school shootings to turning American youths into Communists. This week, Thursday highlights some of the most controversial artists (and demonic influences) in popular music history.

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BURZUM – LOST WISDOM

(Det Som Engang Var, 1993)

Norwegian Varg Vikernes, aka Burzum, is one of the most infamous criminals in rock, currently in prison for not only the murder of his former friend but the arson of several churches, motivated by a desire to return to pagan ways. “Other planes lie beyond the reach / Of normal sense and common roads…”

MARILYN MANSON – ANTICHRIST SUPERSTAR

(Antichrist Superstar, 1996)

He’s an ordained minister in Anton LaVey’s Church Of Satan, calls himself the God of Fuck and said of this album, “I think every time people listen to it maybe God will be destroyed in their heads.” The poster boy for occultism in modern rock ‘n roll, Manson lets all out on Antichrist, merging a distorted choir, aggressive drumlines and fantastic industrial guitar licks. Not for the easily offended.

CURRENT 93 – ANTICHRIST AND BARCODES

(Soft Black Stars, 1998)

In Current 93’s Word, David Tibet’s gentle, surreal spoken lyrics waft over disturbed acoustic ostinatos. His voice sounds like a hippy narrator of a 60s wildlife documentary. Mystical themes run through the career of the band, and this song is no exception: “Alpha and omega / The great in the small…”

THE BEATLES – WITHIN YOU, WITHOUT YOU

(Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967)

The Beatles’ work with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968 came just before they released The White Album, but this track from Sgt. Pepper’s, with more sitar than you could shake a joss stick at, comes complete with transcendental couplets like “try to realise it’s all within yourself/ no one else can make you change”. Just goes to show that with enough LSD in tow, you don’t need a Guru to become one with the universal tofu-block.

ROBERT JOHNSON – ME AND THE DEVIL BLUES

(King of the Blues, 1937)

If the Blues were the devil’s music, then Robert Johnson, Delta Blues’ most influential son, was his composer in residence. Legend has it that Johnson sold his soul to Satan when they met at a crossroads: in return, Johnson became the most influential Blues artist of all time. Whether or not you put any stock in the Faustian pact, Johnson’s been covered by everyone from Dylan to the Chili Peppers.

LED ZEPPELIN – STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

(IV, 1971)

Jimmy Page was such a fan of Victorian occultist Aleister Crowley that he bought his castle near Loch Ness and adopted a Crowley-esque rune as his personal sigil, alongside the astrological symbols of his band members, on the cover of Zeppelin IV. Stairway intersperses folk-arpeggio with demonic guitar solos, apparently says “here’s to my sweet Satan” if you play it backwards, and is (probably) the greatest piece of music of all time.

YES – THE REVEALING SCIENCE OF GOD

(Tales From Topographic Oceans, 1973)

From the original and best purveyors of lengthy, high-minded classic prog at their most unfathomably conceptual, this twenty-minute epic features what may be either deep, old arcane magick or a never-ending spiral of poppycock. Fans are divided on the subject.

THE MARS VOLTA – OUROBOROS

(The Bedlam In Goliath, 2008)

According to prog-punk band The Mars Volta, the whole of their recent album The Bedlam In Goliath was an attempt to rid themselves of the bad mojo they’d incurred by playing a ouija board while on tour. “The album is sort of like the Ghostbusters,” said frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala. “It serves as a bunch of little traps for bad luck.”