13 essential occult rock albums
Rock music has always gone hand in claw with The Devil, witchcraft and all manner of occult shenanigans. From Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to The Rolling Stones, many have dabbled, but some musicians choose to immerse themselves more fully in the darkness.
This fascination with the occult spans genres. Extreme metal has been particularly steeped in the arcane and the diabolical, but here we’re only considering the bands that hark back to occult rock’s roots. We’re talking ’60s psychedelia, ’70s retro fuzz and Sabbath-style riffage – as well the influence of classic horror movies, witchcraft, real-life occult practitioners and the books of Dennis Wheatley. As a result there’s no Behemoth, King Dude or Twin Temple on this list. You should definitely check them out, but these are 13 essential occult rock albums to quench your esoteric thirst…
Coven – Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls (1969)
Forget Gene Simmons and even Ronnie James Dio, Coven were flicking the Devil’s horns sign at live shows as far back as 1968 and can be seen doing so on the back cover of this obscure yet hugely influential album. The Chicago-based band are the unholy godparents of occult rock, and their debut album was part psychedelia and part dark ritual. Oh, and the opening track just happened to be called Black Sabbath while their bassist was one Greg ‘Oz’ Osborne. Spooky, eh?
Black Widow – Sacrifice (1970)
The UK’s answer to Coven was Leicester’s Black Widow (while Italy had their own offering in the bizarro Jacula). Black Widow incorporated Satanic imagery into their music and stage show, which wasn’t well-received in some quarters. “We were going to tour in America but Charles Manson did what they called his ‘black magic murders’ and suddenly we weren’t allowed in,” frontman Clive Jones told the Guardian. “Our management looked after Black Sabbath at the time, too, and sent them in our place.” Speaking of whom…
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
By second album Paranoid bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler was concentrating on socio-political issues but Black Sabbath’s classic debut was steeped in occult imagery. There was the tritone-led title-track of course, while N.I.B. name-checked Lucifer himself and Beyond The Wall Of Sleep referenced a HP Lovecraft story. “Ozzy gave me this 16th Century book about magic that he’d stolen from somewhere,” Geezer said in the liner notes to live album Reunion. “I put it in the airing cupboard because I wasn’t sure about it. Later that night I woke up and saw this black shadow at the end of the bed. It was a horrible presence that frightened the life out of me! I ran to the airing cupboard to throw the book out, but the book had disappeared. After that I gave up all that stuff. It scared me shitless.”
Ghost – Opus Eponymous (2010)
Okay, Meloria is a better piece of work, but if any one album is responsible for disinterring the corpse of occult rock in the 21st century then it’s this one. Ghost are the indisputable daddies (or possibly Papas) of the modern-day scene and this was where it began. Their sound borrowed as much from the polished, progressive Blue Öyster Cult as Black Sabbath, and it was this juxtaposition of slick melody and evil imagery that bit so deeply on their debut.
Lucifer – Lucifer I (2015)
When previous group The Oath disbanded, singer Johanna Sadonis went looking for new collaborators and fate (plus Rise Above founder Lee Dorrian) would bring her together with Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings. The result was a wonderful mix of occult doom with just a touch of NWOBHM oomph. The line-up and approach would change for Lucifer II, with Nicke Andersson from The Hellacopters bringing more of a scuzzy hard rock flavour. They’re still an excellent band but the debut retains a certain sense of Satanic grandeur.
Blood Ceremony – Lord Of Misrule (2016)
Toronto’s Blood Ceremony are steeped in ’70s horror flicks and the vibe of the original occult rock harbingers, with a dash of Jethro Tull thrown in for good measure. They’ve been described as ‘flute-tinged witch rock’, which pretty much sums things up. As well as possessing a darkly mellifluous voice, Alia O’Brien’s sudden bursts of flute add an archaic sense of surreal Wicker Man oddity to proceedings.
Jess And The Ancient Ones – Jess And The Ancient Ones (2012)
Like Blood Ceremony, Finland’s Jess And The Ancient Ones reach back to the ’60s and ’70s for inspiration. There are plenty of other modern bands that do so to be fair, but few with the psychedelic aplomb of the Ancient Ones. The fuzzed-out riffs of their debut are surrounded by crazily see-sawing banks of organ, plus a touch of Hawkwind’s expansive space rock for goo measure.
Jex Thoth – Blood Moon Rise (2013)
You may have noticed that much of this list is from the last decade. Yes, there were plenty of doomy bands keeping the Sabbath dream alive through the ’80s and ’90s, but the full-on occult rock revival has really taken hold over recent years. Jex Thoth stand out from the clouds of incense-wafting rivals with a dreamy, droning take on doom that occasionally veers into nightmare territory. Jex Thoth is the name of both band and singer, and Jex’s smoky delivery is the perfect foil for the atmospheric drawl of the music.
Bloody Hammers – Bloody Hammers (2012)
The husband and wife duo of Anders Manga and Devallia offer a different take on occult rock, with a dark gothic sheen that’s closer at times to Type O Negative or Inkubus Sukkubus than the rampant psychedelia of their contemporaries. There’s a theatrical bent to their horror-obsessed delivery as well, plus a sense of adventure that sees them bring together a range of different styles under the Bloody Hammers banner.
Electric Wizard – Come My Fanatics (1997)
Electric Wizard are heavyweights in every sense of the word. They’re the cornerstones of modern doom and, by the blood on Satan’s claw, are they heavy. “We were in the middle of Dorset, so no one was going to give a shit unless we sounded like some horrifying beast crawling out of the abyss,” frontman Jus Oborn told the Guardian. Job done there as the hulking Come My Fanatics emerged from a sea of bad vibes and mangled occultism like some eldritch Lovecraftian horror. It’s been matched (by their own follow-up Dopethrone), but never bettered.
The Devil’s Blood – The Thousandfold Epicentre (2011)
Many of these bands borrow occult and Satanic aesthetics, but Dutch band The Devil’s Blood were driven by founder Selim Lemouchi’s deeply held Satanic beliefs. Ghost have said they wrote the track He Is in response to Selim’s suicide in 2014 at the age of 33, but his art lives on in the The Devil’s Blood. This was their second and final finished album, mixing the darkest of rock’n’roll with a more experimental flair for progressive songwriting and soundtrack-style splashes of colour.
Devil’s Witches – Velvet Magic (2017)
There are loads of bands with Devilish names and just as many witchy ones – so one named Devil’s Witches was always inevitable. Fittingly then, the one-man project sounds like an amalgam of all the ’60s and ’70s fuzz and B‑movie worship rolled into one knowing and lovingly created pastiche. Velvet Magic is a concept album, which creator James Abilene has described as being full of magic, the horrors of the Vietnam War and, uh, full-on astral coitus. It’s a modern classic stranded out of time.
Luciferian Light Orchestra – Luciferian Light Orchestra (2015)
This is every bit as grandiose as you might expect given the name and the fact that the project and album originate from Therion guitarist and composer Christofer Johnsson. In a years-long process, he siphoned off the material that was too retro for the full symphonic metal treatment and channelled it into the magnificently towering Luciferian Light Orchestra. The full line-up of the project remains shrouded in mystery, although it’s rumoured that members of the magical order of Dragon Rouge feature prominently.
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