In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Category Archives: Metal

Bathory: The Return… (1985)

The album cover for Bathory's The Return... (1985)

The album cover for Bathory’s The Return… (1985)

I have to admit, I love me some black metal. Generally I’m into the early stuff, everything from 1981 to 1987 or so. I’m talking about Venom, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost; all those satanic or dark pagan barbarian dudes from Europe who came before Mayhem. (Though I admit to enjoying some Darkthrone and Cradle of Filth, too.) But Bathory’s The Return… from 1985 is probably the quintessential black metal album for me personally.

Bathory is named after Erzsébet Báthory, of course, a Hungarian serial killer who lived during the 1500s and who murdered and drank the blood of several women in an effort to stay perpetually young. She is often compared to Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as Dracula, and she is the subject of several classic horror films (especially the gothic vampire thrillers of Hammer Studios in Great Britain). That’s probably where Venom got the idea for their 1982 song “Countess Bathory,” to which Quorthon chose Bathory’s name in tribute. (How many more times can I fit the name “Bathory” in this paragraph, do you reckon?)

I think of Quorthon as being the Trent Reznor of black metal. He was pretty much the main creative force behind the band at all times; I can’t even tell you the names of anyone else on a Bathory record off the top of my head. And as far as I can tell, Quorthon loved him some Hammer, some Venom, and some Hellhammer. Bathory is very much a starker and colder permutation of what began in those bands; raw, low-fi mixes that sound like they were recorded in somebody’s garage; echoing, distorted guitars; tempos running like terrified heartbeats; vocals shrieking like ghosts in the wind. Listening to The Return… in particular is like hearing what actual Nazgûl might listen to while they’re hunting for hapless hobbits in a dark mountain forest.

The first several Bathory albums are like soundtracks for low-budget satanic horror films that would have been shown on Elvira’s Movie Macabre back in the 1980s if they had ever been made. Quorthon later lost interest in the satanic stuff and started writing material that drew from Northern European mythology instead. That’s when he invented Viking metal, and his most famous song is probably “One Rode to Asa Bay” from the 1990 album Hammerheart, which is about the forceful Christianization of Scandinavia in medieval times. I’m not exactly sure if Quorthon really believed in the Gods, or if he even considered himself a Pagan; but spreading knowledge of Odin and His fellow Aesir was certainly important to him, and he’s practically revered as a saint among Heathens who also happen to be metalheads. Sadly, Quorthon passed away from this earth to become Odin’s court musician in Valhalla back in 2004.

The Return… opens with an instrumental ambient track, “Revelation of Doom,” that’s pretty terrifying to listen to at 2:00 a.m. with all the lights off. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) This leads into “Total Destruction,” in which Quorthon describes the beginning of Armageddon and the end of the universe. “Born For Burning” is dedicated to the memory of Marrigje Ariens, a Holland woman who was burned for witchcraft in 1591. (I especially dig this song because Quorthon depicts Ariens as fearlessly facing her cruel fate.) “The Wind of Mayhem” is about standing at the edge of a cliff at night and invoking the powers of darkness during a thunderstorm. Then Quorthon gives us a kinky sex fantasy in “Bestial Lust” and a description of demonic infestation in “Possessed.” In “The Rite of Darkness,” we get a good summary of every European Protestant fever dream about the Witches’ Sabbath there ever was, with naked witches singing songs, casting spells, and preparing to commit the obligatory human sacrifice. “The Reap of Evil” announces the beginning of Armageddon and of Satan’s rise back into the heavens, while “Son of the Damned” is like a Jack Chick comic strip about devil worshipers put to music. “Sadist” is about a serial killer who’s about to die and pay for his sins in hell, and “The Return of Darkness and Evil” sums up the entire album with its account of satanic rituals causing the end of the world. The album closes with “Outro,” a 30-second instrumental that makes me think of a Viking funeral (complete with a burning boat). This same track appears on every Bathory album from the 1980s, making them feel like episodes of an anthology TV show with the same song playing over each end credit sequence.

I was first introduced to Bathory in general (and to this album in particular) by the Tonester, the righteous Bard of LV-426 (and the lead guitarist and vocalist of Hexlust). In fact, The Return… was one of our favorite albums to listen to after meeting for Sabbath on Friday nights, back when it was still just the Tonester and me. We’d close our weekly ritual, blow out our candles, and sit in the dark and talk about life, the universe, and everything while this music played. We felt there was something especially sacred about doing this during the winter months, when we had to stay up much later than normal to see the Big Dipper. Thanks to psychotic right-wing extremists like Varg Vikernes, black metal will probably always be associated in most people’s minds with racism, church arson, and murderous violence; but for me and the Tonester, it was always much more innocent than that. For us at least, it was just about revering the dark and nocturnal aspects of nature through music, which made a lot of sense to us as Typhonians. I feel that Quorthon himself would probably agree with this sentiment as well.

Rest in peace, Quorthon, and Sutekh bless you.

Rest in peace, Quorthon, you hilarious bastard. Sutekh bless you!

Trick or Treat (1986)

The original 1986 poster for Trick or Treat

While this is indeed a horror film, it’s not very scary at all, and most people wouldn’t even consider it a “good” film. (Most people aren’t even aware that it exists.) That being said, I’ve decided to review it anyway because (1) it’s topical to Samhain, (2) it’s one of my all-time favorite films ever made, and (3) it has played a significant role in the development of the LV-426 Tradition. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat, which was released in theaters by the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG) in October 1986.

Trick or Treat is about a teenager named Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price, a.k.a. “Skippy” from Family Ties), who’s also known as “Ragman” to his friends. Eddie’s a metalhead, and he’s especially dedicated to the music of Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), a glam metal shock rocker who’s obviously inspired by Alice Cooper. Eddie absolutely worships Sammi, and he’s friends with a radio DJ called “Nuke” (who’s played by Gene Simmons of KISS), a nerd named Roger (who’s played by Glen Morgan, one of the head writers for The X-Files, Millennium and the Final Destination films), and a pretty girl at his school named Leslie (Lisa Orgolini), who seems to like him as well. Unfortunately, Eddie is also bullied at school by a bunch of jocks (led by Doug Savant of Desperate Housewives fame) who think he’s creepy and weird. These guys apparently see nothing wrong with stealing Eddie’s clothes from the boys’ locker room or trying to drown him in a swimming pool.

Eddie’s reason for worshiping Sammi Curr becomes apparent when we see how he’s treated by his peers. We can’t be sure if the bullies mock him because he likes Sammi, or if he likes Sammi because the bullies mock him. Either way, the shock rocker’s music helps him cope with his feelings of subjugation. In a strange way, Eddie’s rock hero seems eerily prophetic of Marilyn Manson, who took the whole shock rock thing to a new level in the 1990s. Not content with just scaring or pissing off parents, Manson made himself into a full-blown culture war iconoclast (i.e., a self-proclaimed “Antichrist Superstar”) and declared war on the American Religious Right (and even the Christian God Himself). In a similar way, Sammi Curr uses his music and his fanbase to declare war on society. He offers his fans a future in which “Rock’s Chosen Warriors will rule the Apocalypse,” and he promises all who try to ban his music that “We will bring you down.” For Eddie, Curr is more than just a rock icon or a hero; he’s a counter-cultural messiah who promises that people like Eddie will be fully emancipated from Christian society very, very soon.

But this apocalyptic prophecy seems to vanish right into thin air when Eddie turns on the TV one morning to learn that Curr has died in a hotel fire. Naturally, the boy is instantly crushed and descends into despair. But when he visits his friend Nuke at his local WZLP radio station, Nuke gives him something really special. I should point out that Sammi Curr appears to have grown up in Eddie’s own town (a place called Lakeridge, which is actually Wilmington, North Carolina), and that Nuke was friends with him while they were growing up. As it turns out, Nuke just so happens to have a demo recording of an album Curr was still recording when he died. (The album’s called Songs in the Key of Death.) Nuke gives the record to Eddie, telling him that Sammi would have wanted him to have it. While listening to it later that night, Eddie discovers that the record contains a bunch of baskmasked messages (i.e., messages that have been recorded backwards). When he plays the record in reverse to see what the messages say, he gets the shock of his life.

Eddie and his “hero,” Sammi Curr

The voice of Sammi Curr speaks to Eddie through the backmasked messages, and he tells the boy to do certain things while he’s at school the next day. When Eddie does them, he outsmarts his foes and gets them in trouble (while getting away scotch free). It then seems to Eddie that he and Curr will get to realize their shared vision of a world without bullies after all. But as Curr’s ghost continues to help Eddie “nail” his tormentors, he also demands Eddie’s help in “nailing” everyone who ever tried to ban his music. Things start to escalate and their little Halloween pranks start to become deadly, leading Eddie to realize that his beloved demigod is really a demon. It’s not much of a spoiler for me to say that by the end, Eddie must stop Curr from potentially killing everyone when Nuke plays Songs in the Key of Death backwards on his radio show (on All Hallows’ Eve, no less).

Now I know what you’re thinking; Trick or Treat sounds like something that was made by evangelical Christians, right? It sounds like the whole point of this movie is to say that heavy metal really is evil and that kids who listen to it are opening themselves to satanic influences. So as a devoted metalhead myself, I probably shouldn’t like this film at all, should I? None of this is true, and I can prove it. Consider the fact that Ozzy Osbourne later appears as “the Reverend Aaron Gilstrom,” an anti-rock televangelist. Yes, you read me correctly; Ozzy fuckin’ Osbourne plays a Jimmy Swaggart-type of guy who preaches that heavy metal musicians are all Satanists brainwashing our kids. (Now that’s irony for you). I might also point out that Trick or Treat doesn’t quite end the way you’d expect. If this were an evangelical Christian propaganda film like Rock: It’s Your Decision (1982), Eddie would swear off metal for good after defeating Sammi Curr at the end and “give himself to Jesus” (as they say). But after he defeats the ghost of the man who used to be his hero, what does he do?

By Gods, he plays a goddamn Sammi Curr record!

Yes, that’s right – and this is where I think Trick or Treat really shines. The film never treats heavy metal as something that’s inherently “evil,” but as something that’s greatly misunderstood – not only by parents, preachers and politicians, but even by some metal enthusiasts as well! Eddie eventually sees that Sammi Curr is really a much worse bully than any of the jocks that torment him at Lakeridge High. But when Eddie tries to take Sammi down, he isn’t turning his back on metal (or even on Curr’s music in particular); he’s just going after one bad pumpkin that’s trying to spoil the whole patch. In other words, Eddie learns to divorce the art he loves from the artist who created it; the artist might be a major asshole, but his art can still be meaningful and enjoyable.

I can identify with this because I used to worship the ground Marilyn Manson walked on; but then I learned that he really isn’t the all-powerful “Antichrist Superstar” he used to present himself as being. At first, this revelation made me feel like I could never listen to his music again; my sense of disappointment was just too much. But after a while, I learned that a person’s art can still be deeply meaningful and magical even if the person who created it is not who (or what) I want them to be. I went through the exact same thing with Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne. In heavy metal especially, it’s easy to confuse the people writing the music with the characters they play. Marilyn, Alice and Ozzy aren’t real people; they’re bigger-than-life personas that were created by Brian Warner, Vincent Furnier and John Osbourne, respectively. And the funny thing is that once I finally began to understand this principle, I started to enjoy their music even more.

Promotional photos for the film

In Trick or Treat, the problem is not with heavy metal itself, but with the fact that Curr takes his hype and his stage persona way too seriously. When Eddie fights him, Sammi accuses him of being “false metal” – but in reality, Sammi’s the one who’s false. Part of the fun to heavy metal is that it’s basically a huge power fantasy that can be taken to some truly ridiculous extremes. What’s more, this is usually done while keeping one’s tongue planted firmly in-cheek. Sure, there are some who, like Sammi Curr, take themselves too seriously (e.g., Burzum). But this genre was built on the work of guys like Coop and Ozzy, who sing about strangling people or having sex with the devil while winking at their audiences. It’s all make-believe, like a Halloween party that never ends, and the people who take it too seriously – including both the Pat Robertsons and the Varg Vikerneses of the world – are completely missing the point.

Now of course, most people who’ve seen Trick or Treat think it’s a total dud. After all, it’s full of bloopers (there’s even one scene where you can clearly see the boom mike at the top of the screen), and its direction probably isn’t the best. The movie also can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a genuine horror film or a comedy with horrific overtones, and I can see how this might annoy most people. But with all that being said, the film is very well acted, the music is phenomenal (both the rock songs by Fastway and the score by Christopher Young), and a great deal of creative effort was very clearly put into it. They weren’t just trying to make a quick buck with this one; they were actually trying to make something witty and intelligent. Granted, I probably over-think this movie quite a bit. (It’s actually a ritual of mine that I watch it every Sunday night before bed, which drives my poor wife nuts.) But for what it’s worth, I think Trick or Treat is actually quite brilliant.

I know some folks will probably roll their eyes at this (and honestly, I can’t blame them, for I realize how it sounds), but we consider Trick or Treat to be sacred here in the LV-426 Tradition. While Alien (1979) and The Hitcher (1986) might tap into aspects of Seth-Typhon’s ancient lore (e.g., His daily battle with Apophis), Trick or Treat eerily reflects our own personal histories with Him. We were all like Eddie Weinbauer when we were kids; we were alienated youth and we coped with our problems by listening to angry and aggressive-sounding music. That same music became one of our “doorways” into Paganism, the occult, and ultimately our Typhonianism; as a result, we came to view our rock heroes as ineffable Typhonian “messiahs.” Big Red had to disillusion us of this notion over time, but like Eddie at the end of the film, we eventually learned how to continue enjoying our favorite art on a spiritual level without resorting to blind hero worship. This sounds almost stupidly simple to me now as a full-grown adult, but it was a very difficult lesson for us to learn when we were still kids, and Trick or Treat reminds us of what it was like to go through that.

It may not be the greatest film ever made, but you can sure do much worse than Trick or Treat. If you’re looking for a decent Halloween-themed horror flick to enjoy this Samhain, I highly recommend this one. And while it’s rated R, I think it really only deserves a PG-13 rating. There’s one scene with brief nudity and there’s a few F-bombs here and there, but there’s no gore or explicit violence to be seen, and it isn’t very scary at all. So if you’re looking for a Halloween movie you can watch with your kids (say from about 10 years and up), Trick or Treat will do nicely. It’s currently out of print and is exceedingly difficult to find, but you can probably find a used copy of the 2002 DVD edition for real cheap on Amazon. If nothing else, the entire film is available on YouTube (as no one seems to care enough to defend the copyright).

(And as a final note, if John Carpenter’s idea for making the Halloween movies an anthology series had actually taken off, I think Trick or Treat would have made a decent Halloween 4.)

Alternate poster art for the film

Marilyn Manson: Antichrist Superstar (1996)

 

Heavy metal’s avenging angel!

During the late 1980s, heavy metal was reduced to a shallow and over-commercialized “rock ballad” perversion of itself. “Big hair” bands like Cinderella, L. A. Guns, Poison and Whitesnake drove a stake right through the genre’s black corroded heart. Then a band called Nirvana suddenly became extremely popular. This immediately boosted the commercial viability of the grunge rock scene, and black leather, crazy makeup, and flashy theatrics were rendered obsolete. Now everybody wanted plaid shirts, jeans riddled with holes, non-shampooed hair, concerts that resembled local coffee house jams, and songs about being depressed. Which is fine with me; every decade needs its predominant form of popular music, and I actually enjoy a few grunge albums here and there. But the annoying thing about all of this was that it became very typical for teenagers of this era to criticize anyone who preferred older styles of music.

There used to be this live radio show that was broadcast around the country late on Sunday nights, and it was called Modern Rock Live. Every week, the host of that show would have a different band on and they’d take calls from listeners while the host played tracks from their new albums. I would listen to the show on Sunday nights while lying in bed and falling asleep. One weekend, a radio commercial mentioned that the next guest on Modern Rock Live would be “Marilyn Manson.” For some reason, I thought they were referring to Shirley Manson from Garbage, which I loved. (Man, I had a crush on Shirley so bad back in those days.) So I stayed up that night to listen to the interview…and imagine my surprise when “Marilyn Manson” turned out to be male. Imagine how much more surprised I was when I found out his new album was called Antichrist Superstar. And imagine how freaked out I was when Mr. Manson started discussing Satanism and the idea of removing his lower ribs so he could perform fellatio on himself.

Man, this guy was weird.

Born as Brian Warner in Canton, Ohio back in 1969, Manson attended a hardcore Christian school from first to tenth grade. This – along with the fact that his grandfather was obsessed with bestiality and sadomasochism – apparently warped young Warner’s mind to such an extent that he fantasized about becoming the Antichrist when he grew up. He started reading books by Friedrich Nietzsche, Aleister Crowley and Anton Szandor LaVey, and he listened to music by artists like Alice Cooper, David Bowie and Kiss. After his family moved to Florida, Warner became a journalism student; then he met a guy named Scott Putesky, with whom he developed the idea of a shock rock band that would poke fun at the American media’s tendency to obsess over supermodels and serial killers. This led to the formation of “Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids” in 1989. The band played an interesting fusion of industrial and psychedelic rock, exploring themes of sex, drugs and religious hypocrisy in their songs. They also wore androgynous clothing and make-up that made them look like characters from nightmarish versions of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang (1968) and any number of books by Dr. Seuss.

After developing a sizeable cult following, the Spooky Kids were soon discovered by Trent Reznor, who so enjoyed their frightening performance art that he immediately offered them a contract with his new record label, Nothing Records. Then the band shortened their name to just “Marilyn Manson” and cut their first album, Portrait of an American Family (1994). As great as that album is, it fared badly in stores at the time; so the band went back to the studio for round two. They went in meaning to produce a single for the song “Dope Hat,” but they ended up creating an hour-long EP filled with cover songs, remixes, tapped phone conversations and audio clips from daytime TV shows (in which the band had appeared). The result was Smells Like Children, which featured the band’s very first hit: a cover of 1983’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics. A music video was made for the song, and it spread like wildfire all over MTV back in 1995. That’s when Marilyn Manson suddenly became a force to be reckoned with.

By this time, Brian Warner – who was the band’s vocalist – was now going by the name “Marilyn Manson” in public. He had also met one of his heroes, Anton Szandor LaVey, at the Church of Satan in San Francisco. LaVey predicted that Manson would “leave a dent in this world” and he made the performer an honorary Reverend in his Church. And suddenly, Marilyn Manson was something more than just another heavy metal shock rocker whom evangelical Christians could only accuse of being “Satanic” (e.g., Ozzy Osbourne). In interviews and other public appearances, Manson actually endorsed Satanism – as taught by the Church of Satan – and proclaimed that he wanted to “bring an end to Christianity.” While many religious conservatives already believed that America was involved in what they called a “culture war” (i.e., an imaginary “war” between Christians and everyone else), Manson gave them something real to rally against. He styled himself as a culture war iconoclast, an “All-American Antichrist,” and his next album – Antichrist Superstar – would be a “musical ritual designed to bring about the Apocalypse.”

The album cover for Antichrist Superstar

While recording this album in New Orleans (the Vodun capital of the United States), the Marilyn Manson band deprived themselves of sleep, used drugs constantly, and dabbled in weird Qabalic rituals. The songs they composed in the middle of all this were unlike anything anyone had ever heard before. Collectively, they form a three-part semi-autobiographical escape fantasy in which a boy eventually becomes Friedrich Nietzsche’s ubermensch. Part One (“The Hierophant”) includes the songs “Irresponsible Hate Anthem,” “The Beautiful People,” “Dried Up, Tied Up and Dead to the World” and “Tourniquet.” These detail the childhood of Manson’s Antichrist character, who begins as a powerless boy in a society controlled by rich and sexually desirable uber-Christians. As he is increasingly alienated from this oppressive society, Antichrist rebels, deliberately identifying himself with everything that his society fears (e.g., abortion, Satan, suicide, transgenderism, etc.).

Part Two of the album (“The Inauguration of the Worm”) includes the songs “Little Horn,” “Cryptorchid,” “Deformography,” “Wormboy,” “Mister Superstar,” “Angel with the Scabbed Wings” and “Kinderfeld.” These follow the rise of Antichrist, who has transformed himself into a counter-cultural role model and gained a large enough following to strike fear in the heart of his society. Many of the poor, the “ugly” and the non-Christian are drawn to his message of reckless self-empowerment, but they eventually prove to be just as shallow as their oppressors. Antichrist wants his followers to become their own Gods, but they continue to mindlessly worship him as their God, and he begins to resent them for it. This leads into Part Three of the album (“Disintegrator Rising”), which includes “Antichrist Superstar,” “1996,” “Minute of Decay,” “The Reflecting God” and “The Man That You Fear.” In this part of the cycle, Antichrist becomes the ultimate nihilist and resolves upon destroying everything, including all opposites (e.g., Jehovah and Satan, feminism and sexism, gays and homophobes, abortion and pro-lifers, etc.). The album ends with Antichrist telling anyone who survives his holocaust that “There’s no one left to hear you scream.”

This was some really heavy stuff for 1996, and it effectively murdered the grunge scene’s stronghold on popular music. Once again, it was “cool” to be heavy metal, and newer artists like Korn, Rob Zombie and Coal Chamber all reached the height of their success soon after Antichrist Superstar was released. They ushered in a new wave of metal (or “numetal”) music that came to dominate the market in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The careers of older artists who had inspired Marilyn Manson in the first place (e.g., Alice Cooper, Slayer, Kiss, and Rob Halford of Judas Priest) were revitalized during this period as well. Many of these artists had received little to no serious attention during the 1990s and were consigned to classic rock radio stations (if they were played on the radio at all). But Manson fans took an interest in them and bought many of their older albums, encouraging them to release new material. And due to Manson’s success, contemporary rock stations quickly started playing their new singles. I’ll never forget the day in 1998 when I heard Black Sabbath’s “Psycho Man” and Kiss’ “Psycho Circus” on a station that normally played cuts from bands like Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. Heavy metal was back from the dead, and as far as I’m concerned, Marilyn Manson’s the ghoul who reanimated it.

At the time that Antichrist Superstar was released, I was still an agnostic; aside from researching a few things I heard about in horror movies (e.g., Samhain, Neodruidism, Wicca), I really didn’t think about spirituality very much. That changed when I heard Marilyn Manson say that Satanism is about “being your own God” and that it “doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with worshiping the devil.” I thought this was just about the nuttiest thing I’d ever heard anyone say; of course Satanists worship Satan! But I decided to research the matter for myself. Not only was Manson correct about the Church of Satan, but I learned that the Church had an offshoot called the Temple of Set. This is the very first group I ever learned about that actually believed in an ancient Egyptian God. (I didn’t know about the Church of the Eternal Source, the Ausar Auset Society or the House of Netjer yet.) Up to that point, I’d always wanted to be an Egyptian polytheist but felt this wasn’t a viable option since no one else seemed to agree. Finally, here were some people who agreed. That was what triggered my religious conversion, and Marilyn Manson was my initiator.

(Considering how many people I’ve known who became occultists or polytheists of one kind or another after listening to Antichrist Superstar, I think quite a few Deities were probably using Marilyn Manson to attract some new followers. Since he was playing around with ceremonial magic while recording this album, I don’t think this idea is very far-fetched at all.)

In Antichrist Superstar, Manson observes that popular culture values appearance over substance and that true creativity and meaning come from the self. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to matter how innovative or revolutionary an individual’s way of looking at the world may be; as soon as that perspective is adopted by the masses, it becomes resistant to change. This is most likely what happened to Jesus Christ, whose anti-establishment teachings were later used to justify new establishments that were equally as oppressive as their predecessors. Through Manson’s Antichrist persona, we learn that even if something like LaVeyan Satanism – or Thelema, Paganism or atheism – were to replace Christianity as the dominant philosophy on Earth today, the end result would be exactly the same; people would still value appearance and predictability over substance and innovation. Mainstream popularity breeds complacency, and dissenters are always troublesome for the powers-that-be (regardless of whoever’s in charge).

In my interpretation of Egyptian religion, the God Horus’ primary objective is to preserve the cosmic status quo; yet He’s also blind in one eye, meaning that His vision of reality is severely limited. We see this in our own human tendency to make everything about appearances, to let the egos of the privileged run wild, and to let institutional religion legislate “the meaning of life” for us. On the other hand, Seth-Typhon’s job is to challenge the status quo (by killing Osiris) and to prevent the future from being aborted (by protecting Ra); yet He’s also been castrated and can’t reproduce. He can transform things that already exist, but He can’t produce entirely new things like Horus can. This causes situations in which appearances become mirages, egos are stripped bare and we’re left to create a new “meaning of life” all by ourselves (whether we want to or not). As nephew and uncle, Horus and Seth are arch-rivals; but as twin brothers, They’re two sides of the same coin. Seth appears to challenge Horus, and Horus appears to domesticate Seth; then the cycle begins again. And without both of Them, Ma’at will end and Apophis will win.

The Alice Cooper of the 1990s

The way I see it, Manson’s Antichrist is a true Typhonian hero for the first two parts of the album; he’s an emissary of Seth in the realm of Horus, and he becomes a catalyst for the transformation of that realm. Yet Antichrist fails to realize that Horus and Seth are both necessary, and as his gospel of Antichristianity becomes more mainstream, it inevitably becomes a part of Horus’ realm. Instead of just allowing this to occur and waiting for the next emissary of Seth to start the creative cycle all over again, Antichrist becomes a completely evil agent of Apophis and tries to dissolve everything back into Nun. Of course, Marilyn Manson had the good sense to make his lyrics as ambiguous as possible, allowing his listeners to interpret Antichrist Superstar in almost any way they please. But for me at least, the album doesn’t end on a positive note at all; I don’t think the final destruction of the world is something that anyone should want to have happen.

One could argue that Antichrist Superstar succeeded as a “musical ritual designed to bring about the Apocalypse” in that it caused a cultural, psychological and musical “Apocalypse” of sorts. The world didn’t end it when it was released, but certain ways of understanding the world definitely ended for some of the people who listened to it. Of course, the word Apocalypse itself means nothing more than “Revelation” in ancient Greek, so perhaps this is just as well. All I know is that this album changed my life significantly; it opened the final door between my agnostic childhood and my adult life as a polytheist. (I even keep an unopened copy of the album on my altar to Seth as a reminder to me of how we first met.) It also transformed me into a metalhead, leading me to track down all of Manson’s influences and eventually become a hardcore Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Dio, Judas Priest, Kiss and Ozzy Osbourne fan. For these reasons, Antichrist Superstar is on my list of the top 10 all-time greatest heavy metal albums of all time.

 

KISS: Lick It Up (1983)

I’ve already reviewed a KISS album on this website, and I told myself when I first launched In The Desert of Seth that I would only review one album per recording artist. But there’s a pretty big difference between 1970s KISS and 1980s KISS, and most people only know about the former. That’s the version of the band that included Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, who each wore their now-famous quasi-kabuki makeup. But as popular as KISS became during this phase of its existence, its success was bound to run dry eventually. Let’s be honest, here; these guys were never musical geniuses. Beneath their demonic-looking makeup, each member was only a mediocre musician at best, and their songs were child’s play compared to their contemporaries. The most musically advanced album they ever released in the 1970s was Destroyer (1976), but that’s only because it was produced by Bob Ezrin, who more frequently collaborated with Alice Cooper. And since Ezrin was practically a member of the original Cooper Group, Destroyer sounds more like KISS covering an unreleased Cooper album than anything Stanley, Simmons, Frehley or Criss would have concocted by themselves. Hell, their most successful single from that album – Peter Criss’ “Beth” – isn’t even a rock song; it’s a goddamn orchestral ballad! (Pharaohs preserve us!)

Appeasing Peter’s desire to branch outside of KISS’ usual scope is what led the band to release their four solo albums in 1978. While this seemed like a great marketing gimmick at the time, it proved to be a terrible idea in the long run. For one thing, three of the four solo albums totally blow (i.e., Ace’s album is the only one that’s good); for another, it led the band to divide and collapse upon itself over creative differences. Their next three albums ranged from just sucking (i.e., 1979’s Dynasty) to really sucking (i.e., 1980’s Unmasked) to totally sucking (1981’s Music From The Elder). By the time Gene Simmons appeared on TV to cry in his makeup and wail over an orchestra about “A World Without Heroes,” Ace and Peter had both quit the scene. (Peter’s reason – that he had too much artistic merit to restrict himself to KISS anymore – was absolute bullshit, as one may deduce from listening to his dreadful solo album. But at least Ace’s reason – that he missed playing straight heavy metal, rather than the pretentious orchestral stuff – was legitimate.) So Paul and Gene soon hired guitarist Vinnie Vincent and drummer Eric Carr to replace them, and then they recorded Creatures of the Night (1982).

An unusually bare album cover for a KISS album, don’t you think?

In my opinion, Creatures is actually KISS’ best album by far; it’s musically superior to anything else they’ve ever released, and it’s all thanks to Vincent and Carr. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ace Frehley; I think he’s a great human being, and I’ve always appreciated him for not taking himself too seriously. But Frehley isn’t much of a guitarist, while Vincent is. His riffs and solos on Creatures make you feel like someone’s firing a nail gun through your skull. As for Carr, listening to him makes you realize how shitty a drummer Peter Criss really was. To illustrate the 180 degree difference that hiring Vincent and Carr made, think of it this way: the first KISS album from 1974 sounds like four kids jamming in a garage (which is enjoyable enough, to be sure). But on Creatures, KISS sounds like a 400-megaton death machine that’s ready to blast the nearest metropolis into orbit with a full nuclear arsenal. I think we can all agree that there’s simply no room for comparison with that; Creatures of the Night represents the point in “KISStory” when the band’s music finally started to catch up with its image.

But KISS’ image also worked against Creatures in its own way. They hadn’t announced that Ace Frehley had left the band yet, and they even paid him to appear on the album cover. So it must have been frustrating for die-hard Ace Frehley fans to learn that Ace wasn’t really on this record. Even more importantly, the fact that KISS looked more or less unchanged led most people to ignore the new album’s release, leaving the general public unaware of the band’s new monolithic sound. While Creatures would eventually attain gold status, it would not do so until twelve years later; the album tour also failed to make very much money, so the band became desperate. As soon as their tour was over, they rushed back into the studio and pumped out another album that continued what Creatures began. Then Paul came up with a crazy idea: “Why don’t we finally take our makeup off and reveal our true faces to the world? We can even make it a big televised event on MTV, on the very same day that the album’s released!” And so Lick It Up came forth into this world on Friday, September 23, 1983.

Thanks to this shameless publicity stunt, the new album was a roaring success, being certified gold in December 1983 and then platinum in 1990. It also introduced KISS to a whole new generation of fans, successfully rebooting the band’s career for the rest of the decade (or at least until Hot in the Shade came out in November 1989 and ruined everything). Granted, the band would never reach the same high point it had reached during the 1970s; but the peaks it did scale were nothing to scoff at. Two of their subsequent non-makeup albums – Animalize (1984) and Crazy Nights (1987) – went platinum as well, which was no small feat considering that the market was oversaturated with glam metal at the time. With bands like Whitesnake and Motley Crue reaching their commercial peaks during the same period, it’s impressive that KISS could take home a slice of that pie at all. They also took full advantage of MTV, releasing several great music videos (with some of the most ridiculous neon pink outfits you’ll ever see, as well as some of the most gorgeous women) and having Paul Stanley host video countdowns as a “guest VJ.” Sure, KISS weren’t as successful during this period as they were during the Destroyer era; but to say they weren’t successful at all would be a bold-faced lie.

Well, I guess they weren’t entirely without makeup…

In my opinion, Lick It Up is not only the best KISS album of the 1980s; it’s also the most blatantly demonic (for lack of a better term). The opening track, “Exciter,” is a balls-to-the-wall rocker about a superhuman being that descends to Earth to court a young woman. It makes me think of the story of the Watchers in the apocryphal book of Enoch, who were these angels that abandoned Yahweh’s heaven in favor of marrying mortal women. “Not For the Innocent” is about KISS traveling the world, scaring the shit out of parents and being a general menace to society; yet it could just as easily be about Seth and some other antinomian Gods tearing a great big hole in the fabric of Judeo-Christian society. The title track, “Lick It Up,” might as well be a theme song for Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club; it’s all about not feeling guilty for our natural desires and enjoying our time on Earth as much as we can. (I’m also pretty sure that the chorus is a reference to oral sex.) “Young and Wasted,” on the other hand, sounds to me like it’s describing a pack of wild se’irim (i.e., Semitic goat demons) that like to raise hell in the Mesopotamian wilderness, while “Gimme More” combines the idea of having steamy hot sex with driving over 100 mph through a desert wasteland.

The second half of the album begins with “All Hell’s Breaking Loose,” an admittedly goofy track that’s about taking a stand against the confusion in this world and becoming part of a greater revolutionary force. It’s perfect soundtrack material for anyone who feels out of step with the rest of Western culture for some reason (especially those of us who are allied with subversive non-Abrahamic Deities). The next song, “A Million to One,” is a breakup song, which means it’s much slower than the preceding tracks; but while songs of this sort tend to be rather whiny in most cases, Paul Stanley still manages to evoke a sense of real primal strength here. Then, in “Fits Like a Glove,” Gene Simmons gives us a stirring homage to anal sex, which is of course a very Typhonian province (given that it doesn’t result in reproduction). This is followed by “Dance All Over Your Face,” which is probably Gene’s reply to Paul’s breakup song above. (Instead of sounding morose, it’s very triumphant-sounding, as if Gene’s been looking for an excuse to ditch his lady friend for quite some time.) Then the album concludes with “And On the Eighth Day,” a rock anthem in which Gene basically says that heavy metal is a holy sacrament ordained by the heavens. (Naturally, I enjoy interpreting the “God” in this song as Seth, and the number eight is significant to me since there are eight stars in Seth’s asterism, the Big Dipper. There are also eight points on the Star of Ishtar.)

Lick It Up strikes me as having a very carnal sort of spirituality to it, evoking an atmosphere of scorched desert sand and shameless human “sin.” Indeed, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons both strike me as being better LaVeyan Satanists or even pre-Judaic Ba’al worshipers than they are religious Jews. Certainly Lick It Up is one of the very best glam metal albums ever produced, and certainly glam metal in general is very Ishtarian, with its various poster boys painting themselves up like Jezebels and hollering hymns to the sex industry. Of course, glam metal isn’t the only musical genre that obsesses over human animal mating behavior like this; and as far as channeling Ishtar goes, artists like Tina Turner, Madonna and Lady Gaga are probably much more to Her liking. But I can’t help it; whenever I listen to Lick It Up and other albums of its ilk (including Animalize, Asylum and Crazy Nights, the next three albums in KISS’ discography), I feel like I’m a Typhonian nomad who’s stopping by the nearest Temple of Ishtar for an enchanted evening with some of Her holy qadishtu.

For some reason, listening to Lick It Up always makes me think of ancient Babylon.

It’s somewhat understandable to me that neither Paul Stanley nor Gene Simmons are very kind to themselves about their non-makeup period today. For one thing, it was a very rough time for them in private. They never got along too well with Vinnie Vincent, and things deteriorated with him so badly that they had to fire him in 1984. They soon replaced him with Mark St. John (who plays guitar on Animalize), but Mark unfortunately came down with Reiter’s Syndrome and had to be replaced as well. The band stabilized a little when Bruce Kulick joined the band later that same year, but then Gene Simmons became a problem. He developed some kind of identity crisis and became obsessed with launching a career for himself in Hollywood, appearing in films like 1984’s Runaway and 1986’s Trick or Treat. And then, as if that weren’t enough already, poor Eric Carr passed away from heart cancer in 1991. (Gods bless you, Eric!) So I can see why Paul and Gene might not have the highest opinion about what was happening to them from 1982 to 1991; there was definitely some bad juju going down.

But the thing that really sticks in my craw is that Paul and Gene have both gone so far as to denounce their non-makeup albums as mere cash-ins on what bands like Motley Crue were doing at the time. My question to them is, “Just what the hell do you geniuses think you were doing in the 1970s? You were ripping off Alice Cooper, that’s what!” KISS have always been hacks, but at least when they took the makeup off, they felt a lot more pressure to produce some tunes that were really heavy and really tight. It took exposing their adorably ugly mugs live on MTV to finally get them out of that godawful disco/pop/orchestral rut they’d been stuck in since 1976—and if you ask me, Lick It Up, Animalize, Asylum and Crazy Nights are each more enjoyable than anything Motley Crue’s ever done.