Shout At The Devil: A brief history of Satan in rock music

As The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It hits cinemas on May 26, we look back at Satan’s on-again-off-again relationship with rock’n’roll, and how he inspired some all-time classics.

The Devil moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes The Great Horned One’s presence is so prevalent in an event that it even comes up in court during a murder trial. In The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – the seventh tale of terror in The Conjuring Universe that brought us the titular movies, as well as Annabelle and The Nun – paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren open a case like no other, in which a young boy is possessed and driven to kill, and during his day in court becomes the first person in U.S. history to attempt to point to Satan as the evil puppet master responsible for his heinous crime. 

It’s a chilling, gripping way to reintroduce yourself to the cinema. When it opens on May 26, you won’t just see the terror on the big screen, you may well also feel something in the shadows of the theatre. And as the story reaches its grim conclusion, you and your friends will be glad you didn’t go out alone…

Black Sabbath in 1970

And then you get home, stick a record on, and realise that there’s no escaping these forces of evil. As the saying goes (immortalised by God’s favourite crooner Cliff Richard) The Devil has all the best tunes’. He even wrote one himself, Devil Woman. And the list is much longer than that. Most famously, on their 1970 debut album (released on Friday 13th for maximum spooking), on their signature tune that opened the record, Black Sabbath spun a tale of a Figure in black which points at me’, about a real-life encounter with Old Nick. Bassist Geezer Butlers interest in the dark side and the occult led to him hoovering up books by horror author Dennis Wheatley (famed for his accuracy on his subject) and infamous British magician and Wickedest Man In The World’ Aleister Crowley (who signed his name The Beast 666’). 

Naturally, Geezer eventually painted his bedroom black and hung inverted crosses on the wall. All fine, until one night when he awoke to find a dark figure at the end of his bed pointing accusingly at him. To this day, the bassist believes it was none other than Lucifer himself, telling him to pick a side. Geezer’s decision can be judged by his next move: taking down the crosses and repainting his room orange.

The Devil is in thrall to a bigger force: Iron Maiden’s mascot, Eddie”

Not everyone has been so dismissive of the upsides of turning to the dark side, however. At a similar time to Geezer realising he’d gone too far, occultist Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page purchased Aleister Crowley’s old residence on the shores of Loch Ness, Boleskine House, in which the magician had attempted to perform a six-month long ritual. Strange occurrences have been reported at the property ever since, and eventually it burned down in mysterious circumstances. 

Equally keen on pledging allegiance to him downstairs were San Francisco occultists Coven, whose 1968 debut album Witchcraft Destroys Minds And Reaps Souls had a sleeve featuring the band at a Satanic altar, with singer Jinx Dawson holding a real human skull, and finished with a recording of an actual black mass. 

Coven Artwor

The 1980s would become something of a boom-time for Satan in rock music, especially in metal. Geordie black metal pioneers Venom laughed in the face of those who looked far too hard to find flimsy evidence with which to accuse bands of being evil by putting a pentagram on the cover of their Welcome To Hell debut and writing a song with the bare-faced title In League With Satan. In Denmark, Mercyful Fate singer King Diamond freely talked about his dedication to Satanism, and carried a human skeleton named Melissa on tour for use onstage, and in Sweden, young diabolists Bathory (featuring one Jonas Åkerlund on drums) announced that they were In Conspirasy With Satan’.

Mötley Crües Nikki Sixx, meanwhile, changed the intended title of the band’s second album Shout With The Devil to Shout At The Devil, after the bassist found that mucking around with black magic and saying it was just meaningless, cool symbols” actually resulted in weird stuff happening in his house. Like cutlery flying around.

Motley Crue 1982

Iron Maiden would pen their own tune about being similarly careful around dark forces – The Number Of The Beast. Though its Six six six, the number of The Beast’ chorus and depiction of The Devil on the artwork would draw attention from folks accusing them of being in cahoots with evil, the song is actually a cautionary tale of stumbling across a terrible ceremony. In the artwork, yeah The Devil’s on there, but he’s actually in thrall to a bigger force: the band’s mascot, Eddie.

This fascination with The Dark Lord would also rub off on thrash, with Slayer most famously coming in to bat for The Devil. But these bands’ legacy would find its most diabolical blossom as black metal became a scene of its own. In the early 90s, churches across Norway were burned down, with the culprits turning out to be members of Emperor, Mayhem and Burzum, while Britain’s Cradle Of Filth succinctly boiled blasphemy down to a succinct and, er, rather controversial T‑shirt slogan.

Cradle Of Filth in 1999

Today, the Devil’s music is that of bands like Dorset doom legends Electric Wizard, Swedish fanatics Watain, the shining, Luciferian light of Ghost, Hammer-Horror-Gone-Death-Metal hedonists Akercocke and countless others. He’s even found his way into hip-hop, making a smutty appearance in the video for Lil Nas X’s MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).

He’s everywhere, and he wants your soul. Just remember that when the credits roll and you leave the multiplex with your headphones in…

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is in cinemas from May 26book your tickets now.

© 2021 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.

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