Yielding a similar effect to the great horrors that left cinema-goers delicately balanced on the edges of their seats, the wave of shock rock would offer dark thrills to all those in favour of pulses racing – eventually reshaping society’s perception of extremes. With Ghost headlining London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall later this week, breathing new life into an old tradition that stems all the way back to the mid-’50s, we doff our caps to the greatest shock rockers in history…
1. Alice Cooper
Like rock’n’roll’s answer to Jason Voorhees, Alice Cooper is the man that refuses to die. He’s been decapitated, electrocuted, stabbed, poisoned, hung, you name it – only the latter proving to pose any threat to his livelihood one freak night at Wembley Stadium when a safety wire snapped. But even when things go wrong, Coop always lives to tell the tale. Long before society became desensitised to the macabre, his death-defying displays of performance art in the late ’60s were both provocative and shocking, pushing audiences to their limits alongside a healthy serving of devilishly catchy music. While the man born Vincent Furnier didn’t quite invent shock rock – a title bestowed upon the mystic sorcery of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in the mid-’50s – he was, however, the world’s first shock rock superstar. Things would never be the same again.
2. Papa Emeritus / Cardinal Copia
Sweden’s Ghost have become rock music’s fastest-growing cult – the sinister ministers headlining festivals, winning GRAMMYs and topping their national charts in the process. Now with their biggest headline show to date booked at the Royal Albert Hall, all eyes will be on Cardinal Copia – the latest incarnation undertaken by singer/mastermind Tobias Forge following a series of satanic priests by the name of Papa Emeritus to front the band on each album. Still with us? More importantly, beyond all the mystery and drama, behind the masks and the robes, lies a knack for earworm melodies and heavy pop that feels as eerie as it does catchy.
3. Marilyn Manson
The Antichrist Superstar. The God Of Fuck. The Angel With The Scabbed Wings. One-time journalist Brian Warner would transition into something that’s been given many names over the years, but as Marilyn Manson he terrified America perhaps more than any musician before, and indeed since his rise to infamy in the mid-’90s. It culminated with the bulk of the blame for the Columbine massacre at the end of the decade, when two senior students carried out executions in their own high school. Cue newspaper headlines like ‘Killers Worshipped Rock Freak Manson’ and ‘Devil-Worshipping Maniac Told Kids To Kill’ – turning the shock rocker into America’s public enemy number one overnight. When asked what he would have said to the Columbine students by filmmaker Michael Moore in 2002’s Bowling For Columbine, Manson stated, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say and that’s what no one did.”
4. GG Allin
A performance artist like GG Allin – if indeed such a term applies – simply wouldn’t have been able to exist in today’s world. And for the most part that’s a good thing. Despite being born Jesus Christ Allin in 1956, his communions during the mid-’80s were far from holy, involving acts of self-mutilation, defecation, violence, sexual depravity and the rest. Little is said of the man’s music – which, truth be told, wasn’t quite as memorable in the legacy of disgrace that met an ugly end when he overdosed on heroin aged 36.
5. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Entertainment of this variety simply did not exist before the likes of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. After being offered $300 by a radio DJ to start one performance out of a coffin, he soon began to embrace the voodoo appeal of songs like I Put A Spell On You, incorporating other props that included a battery-powered crawling hand, chattering teeth, firecrackers and a toy skull called Henry that he regularly set on fire. Not long after, the original musical witchdoctor’s bizarre exhibitions would be of valued inspiration to ‘The God Of Hellfire’ Arthur Brown and London eccentric Screaming Lord Sutch – who, along with embodying Jack The Ripper on stage, would also form the Official Monster Raving Loony Party and hold the record for number of elections lost.
6. Oderus Urungus
When Dave Brockie died after a heroin overdose in 2014, heavy metal lost one of its most warped minds and conceptual visionaries. The man portrayed Oderus Urungus – the humanoid barbarian son of a petri-dish and supercomputer with a penchant for intergalactic warfare – and would also devise equally ludicrous backstories stretching back some 50 billion years for an entire cast of freaky characters. While performing with Foo Fighters in GWAR’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia some months later in 2014, Dave Grohl would raise a loving toast to their notoriously outspoken leader. “One of the greatest compliments, or non-compliments, that I have ever gotten in my life, I remember seeing this interview with Dave Brockie where he said ‘Dave Grohl, he’s actually had his teeth removed so he could fit more GRAMMY dicks in his fucking mouth.’ So, right now, I give it up to Brockie… he would fucking hate that I dedicated a fucking song to him.”
7. Rob Zombie
As heavy music’s very own Dr. Frankenstein, Rob Zombie has welded together a firebrand of robotic horror through his usage of industrial rhythms, spiky guitars and B-movie samples. And the man’s own filmwork, most notably directorial debut House Of 1000 Corpses and sequel The Devil’s Rejects, has been regarded equally as disgusting – tapping into his most violent imaginations of torture, necrophilia and flaying. “The scene where they’re skinning the guy alive, that’s all pretty much missing,” bemoaned the musician/director upon his first release. “The stabbing scene was edited way down. Any scene that has violence in it used to have a lot more violence.” You’d probably be right in guessing Disney night is not a thing at Chez Zombie.
8. Till Lindemann
Anyone that’s seen the video for Rammstein’s 2010 single Ich Tu Dir Weh or the German industrial heavyweights performing the song live, will have surely spotted the lights inside singer Till Lindemann’s mouth. He had the option to run a flesh coloured wire along his cheek to illuminate from the outside, but instead went for a surgical incision to have the light fed into his mouth directly. As you do. Thankfully for his lawyers, the penis spraying out jets of white liquid into the eyes of the crowd is somewhat less realistic – though his classic stunt did land him in jail for a night in Worcester, Massachusetts on the inaugural Family Values tour of 1998.
9. King Diamond
Just like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins before him, King Diamond’s early stage shows would involve a skull as one of the props – the only difference being his came from a real-life human and was called Melissa, the title of his then-band Mercyful Fate’s 1983 debut. As a trained lab assistant with no money for effects, he engineered his own explosives using oxygen and magnesium powder before stabbing the stomach of a doll filled with pigs’ guts, pulling the entrails out and launching the bloody mess at unsuspecting audiences. “It was completely gross, I wouldn’t do that today,” he remarked in 2014. Most of these legendary shock rockers have sung about death, but few can say they’ve experienced it as closely as King Diamond – who underwent a triple heart bypass in 2010, nearly died and felt like he brought something back with him from the other side. Thankfully in the years since, he has returned to the stage, written new music that’s currently being recorded and even become a father for the first time aged 61.
10. Gene Simmons
What was it about KISS that so deeply penetrated the minds of teenage rock fans in the late ’70s? The cartoonish silliness? The Japanese Kabuki makeup? Gene Simmons’ nightmarishly rubber tongue? Or was it writing an entire album of solid gold rock hits with their self-titled debut of 1974? In truth, it was all of these things – but rockets being launched out of guitar headstocks, bloody eruptions of vomit, 50 pounds of armour and eight-inch heel boots certainly lent a helping hand too. All these years on, most recently drawing criticism in his attempts to trademark the devil horn hand gesture, their demon bass player still knows how to court controversy. “The most important thing in life is to be a selfish asshole,” he famously once stated.
Words: Amit Sharma