Heavy Metal and the Satanic Panic
The myth behind metal and satan
Heavy metal, a genre of music that is familiar to most, has often been closely associated with Lucifer despite not actually being “the Devil’s music.” This popular genre of music didn’t always have dark connotations—at least not in the beginning. According to New World Encyclopedia, the literal definition of heavy metal “is typically characterized by a guitar-and-drum-dominated sound, strong rhythms, and classical, blues-like, or symphonic styles.”
Heavy metal began in the 1970s growing from the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and blues. The first three bands to define the genre were Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Deep Purple. It wasn’t until the 1980s that other bands started to become more popular and forge the name that is now known as classic heavy metal. This is also when the genre started to branch out and began to form different subgenres, although heavy metal remains synonymous with metal.
In the 1980s, some of the big-name bands such as Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, and MÖtley CrÜe started to experiment with lyrics about the occult, but these lyrics were primarily rooted in fantasy—although this experimentation ultimately led to the genre’s association with Lucifer. Shortly thereafter, devout Christians and the church began to accuse bands in this genre of worshipping the devil. Some claims went so far as to say that playing the song backward will reveal messages of the devil or cause chaos.
There was also another epidemic going on in the 1980s and that re-emerged in the 90s—the Satanic Panic. These eras marked a distinct period of teenage mutiny. Children no longer wanted to confine to societal norms and started to rebel against their parents by listening to heavy metal.
“It was a transitional time, and not everyone handled it very well,” Kim Kelly from Noisey wrote. “In fact, many Christian parents viewed it quite literally as the Devil’s work.” These parents were not as close to their children in this era, and the media talking about devil worship created a fear in their hearts which then led to more blame on popular heavy metal bands of the time. The frightened conservatives of the 1980s armed themselves with explicit content stickers on albums and witch hunts of wrongly accused artists, but it ultimately didn’t bring down heavy metal.
Iron Maiden has had its fair share of occult songs, like “Number of the Beast” and “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” but not all of their songs share that imagery. In fact, most of them are inspired by stories and lore from history like Alexander the Great, as heard in their album Somewhere In Time. Even subgenres that are specifically coined as satanic aren’t what they seem, and black metal is one of them. By the definition from mapofmetal.com, black metal, “uses fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, raw recording, and unconventional song structure.” Black metal started when a few experimental bands popped up around the 1980s, although it didn’t technically have its own classification until the 1990s when Norwegian black metal allowed for a revival.
Christianity had all but wiped out the original belief system of paganism that Norway had once had. All of the dark imagery black metal bands referenced was to show contempt for the order of things. But at the most extreme were the church burnings that started later on in the scene, and the media pinned it on bands like Mayhem and Burzum being Satanists even though they weren’t. It was a means of provocation and lashing out—albeit vastly inappropriate—not a confession of the worship of Lucifer. This second wave of musicians made music that surrounded topics of anti-establishment and Norwegian folklore more than anything else.
The association of heavy metal and Satanism may seem to go hand in hand, but they are actually quite different. From branching out to darker subjects to embracing them to make a point, this genre isn’t as close to the claims as it seems.