In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

An LV-426 Typhonian View on Heavy Metal

Heavy metal is a subcategory of rock music that comes in many forms, but which always features amplified distortion, extensive guitar solos and emphatic drum beats. It can be fast or slow, simple or complex, happy or angry, but it’s always very thick and aggressive sounding. And while it might include synthesizers or even a full orchestra in some cases, the electric guitar always takes center stage. Metal also includes certain visual and verbal trappings; in terms of imagery, it’s full of chains, dangerous animals, electricity, fire, leather, motorcycles, scantily-clad people (of both genders), switchblades, swords, whips, and/or the color black. In terms of lyrics, metal songs usually explore themes of death, occultism, religious blasphemy and/or unbridled sexuality. The entire subculture essentially invokes an atmosphere of extreme and brutal power.

It all started in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when certain bands started (1) playing bluesy psychedelic rock and (2) creating stage personas for themselves that were “off-putting” (to say the least). There were already precedents for both of these things (e.g., Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison of the Doors being prime examples), but they weren’t really combined to create what we think of as “heavy metal” today until Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath came along. (Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin certainly had the sound part down; but metal is defined in terms of image just as much as its sound.) Since then, numerous subgenres of heavy metal have been developed. I can’t possibly list all of them here (there’s just too dang many, and I haven’t really investigated any of the newer ones that much), but some of my favorite examples would include:

Black Metal

Sound Quality: Lo-Fi, ambient
Tempo: Fast
Vocal Style: High-pitched shrieking
Lyrical Content: Anti-Christianity, Nihilism, Odinism
Imagery: White corpse paint, snowy mountain forests, burning churches
Examples: Burzum, Darkthrone, Emperor, etc.

Death Metal

Sound Quality: Crisp, hot and fiery
Tempo: Fast
Vocal Style: Low-pitched growling
Lyrical Content: Cannibalism, Gore, Mutilation
Imagery: Demons, meat hooks, torture devices, zombies
Examples: Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel, etc.

Doom Metal

Sound Quality: Thick and sludgy
Tempo: Slow
Vocal Style: High-pitched whining or screaming
Lyrical Content: Drugs, existentialism, the Occult
Imagery: Goats, Lovecraftian monsters, marijuana, pentagrams
Examples: Electric Wizard, Pentagram, Witchfinder General, etc.

Glam Metal

Sound Quality: Slick, crystal-clear
Tempo: Moderate
Vocal Style: Medium-pitch singing
Lyrical Content: Rebellion, sex
Imagery: Eyeliner, hairspray, platform shoes, sparkly things
Examples: Dokken, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, etc.

Industrial Metal

Sound Quality: Slick, distorted, lots of sampling
Tempo: Moderate
Vocal Style: Medium-pitch singing, screaming
Lyrical Content: Drugs, BDSM, rebellion, suicide
Imagery: BDSM, electronics, machines, gothy-looking stuff
Examples: Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, etc.

Power Metal

Sound Quality: Slick, crystal-clear
Tempo: Fast
Vocal Style: Operatic
Lyrical Content: Magic, mythical quests, warrior lifestyle
Imagery: Barbarians, dragons, dungeons, swords, wizards
Examples: Blind Guardian, Helloween, Manowar, etc.

Thrash Metal

Sound Quality: Warm and fuzzy
Tempo: Fast
Vocal Style: Screaming, yelling
Lyrical Content: Beer, demons, sex, political corruption
Imagery: Denim, garages, leather, long hair, tattered clothes
Examples: Megadeth, Metallica, Nuclear Assault, etc.

Again, this list of subgenres is nowhere near exhaustive; these just happen to be the major categories that I’ve listened to the most. (And believe it or not, but glam metal is my personal favorite. Go ahead and call me a sissy, but I tell ya, I’ll take Cinderella over Burzum any day!)

The most persistent accusation against heavy metal is that it’s “satanic.” Many bands like to use occult imagery in their songs and album covers, and some of them discuss the Christian devil and other mythical figures in their lyrics. Yet the word “satanic” is highly problematic, since I’ve seen it used in reference to each of the following categories:

  • Anything that involves Satan (regardless whether it’s pro- or anti-Satan)

  • Things that are clearly pro-Satan (like Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible)

  • Anything that evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christians don’t like (including Buddhists, Democrats, and books by Charles Darwin)

The third definition is useless since it can even include things like Sesame Street. While bands like Black Sabbath and Slayer might qualify for the first definition, they don’t qualify for the second (since they’re actually Christians in real life). The list of bands that are actually “satanic” in the second context (e.g., Deicide, Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, etc.) is surprisingly short.

Most metal musicians who use occult themes and symbols only do so to evoke a particular kind of atmosphere in their art; it’s really no different from telling a ghost story or making a horror film. Is it logical to assume that Tod Browning seriously believed in vampires simply because he directed the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula in 1931? No; only a total idiot would believe that, and the very same principle applies to bands like Black Sabbath and Slayer. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, however, often think this nuance doesn’t matter. Ozzy Osbourne might not actually be a fan of Aleister Crowley, but by writing the song “Mr. Crowley” (which is actually very critical of the British occultist), he gave Crowley lots of free publicity and introduced him to a whole new generation of fans. There are Thelemites today whose very first exposure to Crowley was through that song (or through any of Led Zeppelin’s various Crowley-inspired songs), and Christians cite this as evidence that heavy metal is truly “satanic.” They believe Satan uses these musicians to indoctrinate youth into his lies, whether the artists realize what they’re doing or not.

I agree that occult references in heavy metal music can influence listeners regardless of whether musicians believe in the occult or not, but I don’t agree that this is a “bad” thing or that the Christian devil is behind it all. It seems to me that the Buddha, several Pagan Deities and even Jesus Christ also have Their fingers in this pie. If some metalheads are drawn to Thelema through Ozzy’s “Mr. Crowley,” then others are drawn to Asatru through Manowar’s “Sons of Odin,” to Mesopotamian polytheism through Karl Sanders’ “Of the Sleep of Ishtar,” or even to Christianity through Stryper’s “To Hell With the Devil.” Virtually every form of spirituality in the world has been used for at least one metal song somewhere…which brings me to my final point.

I love heavy metal for many different reasons, but I especially love it because it’s the one form of music today that most often gives polytheist Deities fair shake. When’s the last time you ever heard a hip hop song about Thor bashing frost giants with His hammer, Mjollnir? When’s the last time you ever heard a country song about reciting the 42 Negative Confessions before Osiris at the Weighing of the Heart? Whenever spirituality is mentioned in these other genres, it’s almost always expressed in a Judeo-Christian context. Heavy metal is the only genre in which you’re just as likely to hear songs about Odin and Marduk as you do about Jesus or Satan. In fact, there are quite a few people who first learn about Paganism through heavy metal music. This is exactly what happened with me; my first encounter with Seth was a result of listening to Marilyn Manson.

Black-Sabbath-black-sabbath-12808753-500-380

The death metal band Nile’s 2005 album, Annihilation of the Wicked; an example of how heavy metal music often incorporates Pagan themes into its content

I’ll be reviewing my all-time favorite metal albums on this site, and as with my horror film reviews, I will focus on how these albums appeal to me spiritually. Also, my plan is to include something from each of the subgenres I described above. I’m not exactly sure what anyone should expect to learn from reading these reviews, but I hope that someone will at least find them entertaining.

My Heavy Metal Reviews

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One response to “An LV-426 Typhonian View on Heavy Metal

  1. theherdlesswitch July 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    There are a surprising amount of voodoo/hoodoo references in popular music. I don’t practice, but the more I learn, the more it fascinates me. Phrases that sounded like mumbo jumbo before now make sense hehe Although I’m guessing these singers are from the eastern side of the country where it’s just a part of the culture now.
    I’ll check out your reviews, I listen to a great variety of music myself. I am rather partial to Marilyn every now and then ; )

    Meno

    Liked by 1 person

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