13 Artists Who Actually Scared People
If any piece of art is sexy, honest or interesting, chances are it’s going to freak a lot of people out. Any good artist knows that being hated and feared is just as important as being loved, because nothing good is created in this world that doesn’t elicit cries of revulsion and horror from the status quo. Few art forms have run with this premise quite as well as rock’n’roll, whose inherent brashness and respect for rebellion make it dangerous to anyone who benefits from everyday people keeping their mouths shut and going along with the plan.
But upsetting people is one thing — genuinely frightening them is another entirely. Only a certain handful of bands and artists can be said to have instilled real fear in the hearts of the moral majority, and even fewer in those of their own audience. Here are 13 bands and artists who have achieved this dubious distinction…
Photo: Paul Harries
Sometimes, a band walks the walk. Though they’re considered more of a genius art collective today, Slipknot left American genuinely disturbed after they rolled through on Ozzfest ‘99 in their scarlet jumpsuits and slasher masks. But it was the band’s unspeakable behavior — huffing roadkill, beating each other half to death, vomiting onstage — that earned them a reputation as an actual threat to society that might devour your children. Only in Iowa.
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In the ‘70s, Alice Cooper achieved the ultimate shock rock dream: he started getting blamed for things he’d never done. Speaking to Kerrang! earlier this year, rock’n’roll’s greatest showman revealed some of the craziest things people told him he’s done, saying, “We get into one town, and the guy says, ‘Hey, we have one problem here…we just can’t have you setting German Shepherds on fire onstage.’ And I said, ‘Ah, darn it, we were going to do that. Where’d you hear that?’ He said he’d just heard it through the grapevine.” Nothing spreads like fear.
You’d think that by the 2010s, most people would be wise to the theatricality of satanism in heavy metal music. Yet when Nergal, frontman for Polish death metallers Behemoth, tore up a Bible onstage, he was charged with blasphemy. The singer was even thrown out of a YMCA for wearing a black metal shirt earlier this year, a move which is lighter than a blasphemy charge but is definitely driven by the same motives. Wow, it’s almost like the person you should actually be afraid of…is God?
Unlike a lot of the other bands on this list, Madball didn’t scare people with their imagery or shock rock stage show. Instead, it was the rumors of dogged that have followed both the band and its fans that make this hardcore act intimidating. Whether or not this is one of the “choices of habits and lifestyle” that inspired Jay Weinberg to quit the band is unclear, but the reputation remains: if Madball are pissed at you, you might get your face broken. We’re even a little on-edge writing this.
Occasionally, all one has to do is listen to a band to understand why people were afraid. Slayer’s satanic thrash metal started off a little fantasy-oriented, but soon adopted a stark viciousness that understandably freaked out thousands of religious leaders and parents. More so, their arch-evil personas, bedecked with battlefield imagery like barbed wire, gasmasks, and mass graves, took satanism into psychological realms unknown to your average ‘80s headbanger. When evangelical nutcase Bob Larson toured with the band, he was genuinely disappointed to find out they weren’t actually footsoldiers of the apocalypse — almost as if scary things are kind of cool.
Insane Clown Posse
The fear most prudes felt about the Insane Clown Posse wasn’t simple courlophobia — it was apprehension about their fanbase. ICP’s Jugglos were so dedicated to the band, and so vulgar and confrontational, that they were declared a gang by the FBI in 2011. At the end of the day, though, what really seems to upset most moms and dads about ICP was their tendency to swear and describe filthy sex acts with thick women. Heavens.
It’s funny to think that anyone saw King Diamond’s theatrical get-up, or heard his operatic falsetto, and thought, That guy’s going to serve my children to Lucifer medium rare. But his Majesty really hit his stride right in the middle of America’s Satanic Panic, when talk show hosts like Geraldo and bullshit “memoirs” like Michelle Remembers made bored parents see Beelzebub around every corner. King Diamond’s outright satanism seemed like a grand declaration of cultural war to these idiots, and his Halloweenish get-up was taken way too seriously. What a bunch of maroons.
The real terror behind GG Allin’s performances was the fear of getting poop on you. The punk iconoclast’s performances often included GG dropping a deuce onstage and doing any number of repulsive things with it. As NOFX frontman Fat Mike told us, “Apparently, GG prepared by drinking whiskey and taking Ex-Lax the entire day…As soon as G.G. took the stage, he took this shit that came out like water, and it hit the floor and pulled out in a circle. He got down on his knees, sucked it up, and spit it onto the crowd.” Even we’re scared.
Honestly, it wasn’t Black Sabbath’s fault that the world was afraid of them when they first appeared on the scene. When the band’s self-titled debut was released, their label Vertigo had an inverted cross and a bizarre, macabre poem included in the gatefold. The band weren’t all that pleased to discover this, and took to wearing crosses whenever they could to remind fans that they weren’t actually occultists. That said, even if you hadn’t seen the gatefold, one spin of the album’s opening track would do plenty to convince you that Sabbath knew about the Devil from first-hand experience.
At the end of the day, Illinois’ Oceano were a pretty run-of-the-mill deathcore act. But a photoshoot they did in 2008, in which the band were graphically depicted butchering a live Seran-wrapped model, definitely resulted in some reared-back heads and gags of disgust. The photos were summarily banned from MySpace, and earned Oceano a reputation for pushing the envelope in a less-than-appropriate way. At least it got people’s attention?
The entire black metal movement frightened fans of heavy music in the ‘90s, but Mayhem had a special aura of intimidation around them due to their central role within it. Sure, Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes are jailed for murder and arson, but it was quickly understood that Varg (Kristian to his mom) was just kind of a loudmouth Nazi. Mayhem’s Euronymous, on the other hand, felt like the warlord of a gang, influencing those around him to commit the satanic atrocities he never would himself. Portraying the role in 2018’s Lords Of Chaos, Rory Culkin did an admirable job of exuding that mixture of mystery and psychological manipulation.
Unlike most of the acts on this list, Black Flag didn’t need any sort of mystique or elaborate stage show to make people scream. No, all Black Flag had to do was put their frontman onstage and let him go. Henry Rollins’s live performances was like watching a man wrestle three lions at once, all while wondering whether or not the sweaty, shrieking maniac is going to lock eyes with you and leap offstage. Yeah, Devilocks are cool, but have you tried being frightening with just who you are?
How could we possibly forget? Marilyn Manson has built a career on scaring the absolute shit out of proper adults across the globe. The minute one of his frightening personas becomes passé, he finds a new one to adopt. Scabby satanism becomes normalized? Try an agendered cocaine god! Glam comes back? Put guns everywhere around you! While some artists scare people incidentally, Manson has made an art of it. Hail to the king, baby.