Reach For The Stars: 10 must-listen covers of David Bowie songs
In honour of the Starman’s birthday, here are 10 covers of David Bowie songs by the likes of Nine Inch Nails, My Chemical Romance and Motörhead…
From serial killers to Satan, we pulled out the ouija board and summoned the 50 most evil songs of all time. Spoiler alert: this gets incredibly grim…
(Shout At The Devil, 1983)
The title-track from Crüe’s breakthrough second album caused the kind of controversy that would define the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. Penned by bassist Nikki Sixx, its lyrical preoccupation with the horned one, coupled with the LA bad boys’ burgeoning mainstream success, meant Christian groups were up in arms. Despite their protestations, the most evil thing about this song was the misguided re-reworking on 1997’s sinfully bad Generation Swine album.
(Casus Luciferi, 2003)
Nothing less than an open hymn to the Devil himself and doing his dirtiest deeds, Devil’s Blood boils with the fanatical delight of those caught in religious fervour. The sheer force of nature of the music is staggering, but it is nothing next to Erik Danielsson’s rabid, demonic vocals as he revels in Luciferian power and living, ‘In the glorious light of the five point star.’ Truly diabolic.
(Seven Churches, 1985)
When The Exorcist hit cinemas in the early ’70s, reports of audience members vomiting and losing consciousness circulated. So it’s only right that a song of the same name evokes teeth-chattering terror in those exposed to it. Written from the point of view of the possessed individual, and welded to breakneck thrashing, it was a formative track in the soon-to-be-born death metal genre. Unfortunately, things don’t end so well for the song’s protagonist.
(Death Valley ’69 EP, 1985)
The 1980s were the age of the music video, a time of glossy movie-budget promo blockbusters from the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince. Not so for Sonic Youth. As a standalone song, Death Valley ’69 is intriguingly ambiguous, a thing of darkness in which the narrator may or may not have murdered his girlfriend. In the accompanying video clip, never to be played on primetime MTV, the song’s inherent violence is given full expression in a series of explicit images of lifeless bodies covered in gore. A thrillingly subversive dose of yuk.
(Opus Eponymous, 2010)
If the Devil were real would he be banging his horned head to the brutal death metal of Deicide or sipping a cocktail and twirling an exquisite mustachio to the altogether slicker sounds of Ghost? On first listen this is just one beautiful wash of melodies, but that only makes the lyrics underneath all the more disturbing. ‘This chapel of ritual smells of dead human sacrifices,’ croons Papa Emeritus. The stench of decay has never been sweeter.
(The Beatles (White Album), 1968)
In August 1969, homicidal cult-leader Charles Manson (you’ll hear that name plenty down this list…) told his followers, known as ‘The Family’, “Now is the time for Helter Skelter,” an assertion that heralded the most infamous mass murders – the Tate-LaBianca murders – in American history. He had become obsessed with The Beatles’ White Album, and with Helter Skelter in particular, the lyrics of which he misinterpreted in bonkers and ultimately homicidal ways.
Greek proggers Aphrodite’s Child – featuring crooner Demis Roussos and Blade Runner soundtrack genius Vangelis – had big ideas for their 666 album: the apocalypse itself. This account of The Four Horsemen’s arrival is amazing, but it could have been improved if surrealist artist Salvador Dalí had gotten his way with the album’s release. He wanted to declare martial law in Barcelona, where swans stuffed with dynamite would be unleashed, before elephants and “Archbishops carrying umbrellas” bombarded the city’s cathedral from the air. Oddly, this didn’t come to pass.
Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone album bears the striking slogan ‘Legalise drugs and murder’. The Dorset doom misanthropes may have been grouped with the groovy vibes of the stoner rock scene, but lines like ‘So I’ll take my father’s gun and I’ll walk down to the street / I’ll have my vengeance now with everyone I meet’ were a long way away from songs about shagging and cars. It’s a truly nasty sentiment, but as an indiscriminate spray of bile against everyone, this is untouchable.
(The Time Of No Time Evermore, 2009)
“They warned me Satan would be attractive,” quoth Ned Flanders upon being offered legal marijuana. Indeed, at first listen, Dutch diabolists The Devil’s Blood sound like the coolest ’70s-revival band you’ve ever heard. But, covered in blood, treating gigs as rituals and with heavy occult lyrics, The Anti-Kosmik Magick finds them tricking you into loving Lucifer without realising it. Seductive, rather than aggressive, this is temptation and sin presented in all its decadent glory.
(Highway To Hell, 1979)
On the evening of March 17, 1985, 25-year-old Texan drifter Richard Ramirez broke into the California homes of Tsai-Lian Yu and Dayle Okazaki and murdered both women. Dayle’s roommate Maria Hernandez was also shot in the face by Ramirez, but survived, and provided police with a pen portrait of a young man wearing an AC/DC baseball cap. It would be a further five months, however, before Ramirez, dubbed the ‘Night Stalker’, was apprehended, bringing to an end a 14-month reign of terror in the Golden State during which a total of 13 people were murdered and 11 more sexually assaulted in their own homes.
Ramirez’s childhood friend Ray Garcia subsequently told the authorities that the killer was obsessed by AC/DC, and specifically the creepy, chilling, voyeuristic closing track on the band’s 1979 Highway To Hell album, Night Prowler, leading to sensationalist media headlines such as “‘AC/DC Music Made Me Kill At 16’, Night Stalker Admits.” The Australian band were understandably horrified at the implication, with vocalist Brian Johnson (who joined the band after the song’s recording) telling VH1 television, “It sickens you to have anything to do with that kind of thing.” In the same Behind The Music special, AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young claimed that Night Prowler is actually about “things you used to do when you are a kid, like sneaking into a girlfriend’s bedroom when her parents were asleep”, but lyrics such as ‘No-one’s gonna warn you / And no-one’s gonna yell attack / And you don’t feel the steel / Till it’s hangin’ out your back’ rather undermined the idea that this was merely a paean to adolescent horniness.
In court, Ramirez played up to his monstrous image, greeting the courtroom with the words “Hail Satan” and telling the judge, “I am beyond good and evil. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells in us all.” After a four-year trial, Ramirez received 19 death sentences for his crimes, a punishment he shrugged off with the words, “Big deal… I’ll see you in Disneyland.” AC/DC naturally distanced themselves completely from the serial killer, but shaking off the association with what is undoubtedly their darkest, nastiest song would prove impossible.
(Apocalyptic Raids, 1984)
Hellhammer mainman Tom G. Warrior has described his childhood in nightmarish terms. Living in a rural Swiss village with an unfit mother who was frequently absent smuggling jewellery, he started playing music to get away from it all. But imagine if this near-10 minute dirge of funereal guitar was what you did to escape. Every negative human emotion is vomited up in Tom’s strangled vocals, and when a couple of years later Tom asked the lyrical question of ‘Are you morbid?’, his answer was already a horrifying ‘yes’.
(Storm Of The Light's Bane, 1995)
When thinking of ‘evil’ the words ‘Satan’ and ‘murder’ come quickly to mind. Put those two together and you stumble into territory Dissection inhabited in the mid-’90s, with band leader Jon Nödtveidt and an accomplice jailed for murdering a man who had allegedly expressed an interest in Satanism. Night’s Blood was given its unholy birth two years prior to that incident, and it’s hard not to feel unsettled by the gleeful bloodlust haunting it.
Having released seminal albums titled Satanica and The Satanist, you can be fairly sure that everything Behemoth do is pretty damn evil, and mainman Nergal’s abuse of the Bible has landed him in Polish courts on more than one occasion. That being the case, it’s unlikely that this ditty went down overly well with churchgoers. Backed up with the band’s inimitable blackened death savagery, Nergal makes it clear which side of the God/Satan divide he falls on, viciously celebrating the death of the former and rise of the latter.
(A Blaze In The Northern Sky, 1992)
A Blaze In The Northern Sky marked a dark watershed for the black metal genre. Eerily pre-emptive of the spree of church-burnings that would go on to hallmark the genre it might’ve been. But Darkthrone’s second LP was, in actuality, fixated on the primal evils of the past. Its howling second track would prove definitive. Seven minutes of defiant lo-fi production, frostbitten purpose and blunt-force simplicity, In The Shadow Of The Horns still sounds like “abyssic hate” incarnate.
Always ones for adding theatrics to their music, here Dani Filth paints a picture of a Sodom and Gomorrah scenario with no small amount of skill. But how to really bring out the hellish chaos erupting all around? You get one of Hell’s stewards to lend their terrifying voice to the track. That is to say, Hellraiser actor Doug Bradley, whose performance makes you worried to look out your window, lest you see Hell emptying itself onto the lawn.
(The Spaghetti Incident?, 1993)
There aren’t many songs that have been released in order to help pay for the legal defence costs of its author who is facing a multiple murder rap. Originally written in 1967 and released on the album Lie: The Love And Terror Cult, Look At Your Game, Girl is the work of Charles Manson. Twenty-three years after its original 1970 release, the always provocative Guns N’ Roses placed the song as a hidden track on their covers album The Spaghetti Incident?. “People are trying to paint me like I worship Charles Manson,” said Axl Rose in 1994, “but it’s exactly the opposite of that.”
(The Goat Of Mendes, 2001)
‘Blast For Satan’ ran the slogan on Akercocke’s shirts. It was a statement that summed up the intensity of both their music and their allegiance to Him downstairs. With their Savile Row suits and mysterious manner, they gave the air of men who actually dabbled in the black arts, something reinforced by their instruction to ‘drink of the chalice of ecstasy’ here. This furious concoction is as intense as metal gets, while also revelling in the decadence of the band’s beliefs.
(Under The Sign Of The Black Mark, 1987)
Across their first trilogy of albums, Sweden’s Bathory redefined just how evil metal could sound. Crudely welding the darkness of Black Sabbath to the roar of Motörhead, the sound mainman Quorthon came up with could freeze blood, and nowhere more so than on Call From The Grave. With all the atmosphere of a freshly-dug burial site at midnight, the diabolic, two-chord riff and Quorthon’s demented vocals make this a haunting paean to all things evil and hellish.
(Once Upon The Cross, 1995)
As you would expect from a man who once branded an inverted cross into his forehead, Deicide’s Glen Benton has no problem with blasphemy. Here, he mocks Jesus Christ’s struggle as he dies on the cross, which tied in really well with album Once Upon A Cross’ original artwork, which features Jesus with his insides on the outside. Oddly, this was considered too salty for the public.
(Lucifer Rising And Other Soundtracks, 2012)
So obsessed was Jimmy Page with occultist and ‘Wickedest Man In The World’ Aleister Crowley that he bought the Scottish residence, Boleskine House, where the magician had attempted (and failed) to perform a six-month long magic ritual. The Zeppelin guitarist was therefore the perfect choice to soundtrack Lucifer Rising, a Crowley-inspired film by occult director Kenneth Anger. When after years, Jimmy’s contribution was still incomplete, he was acrimoniously removed from the project. Regardless, this bizarre music remains the most unsettling the man has ever created.
Tiny Midwestern town Jordan, Minnesota entered the national consciousness in the U.S. in the mid-’80s when a number of school children claimed to have been ritually abused and to have witnessed multiple murders perpetrated by more than 20 townsfolk. The hysterical media coverage prompted Big Black’s Steve Albini to write this disturbing, pitch-black indictment of small-town corruption and perversion, complete with heavy breathing and lyrics such as, ‘This is Jordan, we do what we like.’ Ultimately, the accusations were dismissed as pure fabrication, but the song remains a horrifying and sickening dissection of humanity’s darkest impulses.
(Cross Road Blues single, 1937)
Legend has it that Cross Road Blues is about a highway intersection in the city of Rosedale, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical talent. While this classic song’s lyrics make no mention of this shady Faustian pact, the song – most likely about making the choice between good and evil – fuelled the myth of the Delta blues legend, who made references to the Devil during many of his songs. Plot twist: Robert died under mysterious circumstances aged just 27 years old.
(Good Mourning, 2003)
While many other popular punk bands of the time were singing songs about farting and penises, the always cut-above Alkaline Trio cast their gaze on darker matters. This Could Be Love is a tale of murder, the twist in which lies in the fact that it is told from the victim’s point of view. It’s grizzly stuff, too, with soiled beds, scenes of torture, delirious joy at acts of violence and the arresting image of a crazed lover washing blood from her hands in the waters of Lake Michigan. As audio-nasties go, this is a superior offering.
(Symphonies Of Sickness, 1989)
Dying sucks, but Carcass have done a bang-up job of making you hope to be vaporised at your moment of death by luridly detailing the process of decomposition. It’s hard to compute just how unsettling the Liverpudlian’s lyrics were, and it’s safe to presume that someone with delicate sensibilities raised on a diet of Madonna could well be revisited by the contents of their stomach after exposure to this belch of aural horror.
(The Downward Spiral, 1994)
Despite appearing on The Downward Spiral, an album chronicling the destruction of man, Piggy isn’t necessarily evil in and of itself. It’s the context in which the song was created that makes it truly unsettling.
In 1992, Trent Reznor scrapped his original plan to record the follow-up to Nine Inch Nails’ debut Pretty Hate Machine in New Orleans, decamping instead to 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles’ Benedict Canyon. It was here in 1969 that actress Sharon Tate (the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski) and four others were brutally murdered by the Charles Manson ‘family’. Although Trent suggests he only discovered the address’ grisly history after he’d decided to record there – claiming it was chosen for the suitability of the space – he subsequently read up on the incident, suggesting ‘The Tate House’ “didn’t feel terrifying as much as sad.” Despite the sense of melancholy, Trent would use it to record 1992’s Broken EP, The Downward Spiral and Marilyn Manson’s debut album, Portrait Of An American Family, which Trent produced.
The song’s title has been the subject of speculation. Former live guitarist Richard Patrick, who would later form the band Filter, has suggested he was once given the nickname ‘Piggy’, while The Beatles’ song Piggies was said to have had considerable influence on Charles Manson. Despite Trent redubbing the address ‘Le Pig’, a reference to the word that was written in blood on the front door by the murderers – and The Downward Spiral also featuring a song called March Of The Pigs – Trent denies either was directly related to what had taken place at the site of their makeshift studio.
In a sobering postscript, Trent ended up meeting Sharon Tate’s sister. She asked him about whether he thought he was exploiting her sister’s death – an encounter Trent admits caused him to breakdown, having suddenly seen things from her perspective.
(The Wretched Spawn, 2004)
No-one pens gleeful murder and mayhem anti-anthems like Cannibal Corpse, and those taking the time to read the lyric sheet often wish they hadn’t eaten beforehand. Famously stirring up controversy with both their lyrics and artwork in the late-’80s and early-’90s, CC have never once modulated their approach to making horrifying music, and Frantic Disembowelment has to stand as the pinnacle of their nastiness. What’s it about? The title makes it pretty clear, and nowhere will you find a more graphic description of innards becoming ‘outtards’.
(Nothing's Shocking, 1988)
The track opens with a quote from American serial killer Ted Bundy (a man who kept severed heads as trophies), recorded shortly before his 1989 execution and wrapped up in off-kilter jazzy beats. “There’s gonna be people turning up in canyons, there are gonna be people being shot in Salt Lake City. Because the police there aren’t willing to accept, what I think they know. And they know I didn’t do these things,” he claims. The rest of it is hardly easy listening with frontman Perry Farrell intoning ‘Sex is violent’ over and over again like a man possessed.
How do you end one of the most bleak albums in history? By recording a 15-minute doom jam that hints at necrophilia. Corey Taylor – who describes the Iowa album as the “darkest fucking period” of his life – explores the mind of a man who finds himself alone with a corpse: ‘You are mine / You will always be mine / I can tear you apart / I can recombine you.’ And to really get into that fucked-up mindset, he sang naked and cut himself with broken glass. The screams you hear on the song are quite real.
(Fallen Angel Of Doom, 1990)
There are many rumours about Canada’s Blasphemy, none greater than the ones concerning their activities in Alberta’s Ross Bay cemetery. A place with a long history of satanic goings on, legend has it that the band carried out satanic rituals, desecrations and headstone theft on the site (supposedly the stone was returned after guitarist Black Priest Of The 7 Satanic Blood Rituals suffered demonic attacks). It would certainly explain Ritual’s suffocating darkness.
(Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectere Me, 1993)
Euronymous from Mayhem once described Sweden’s Abruptum as “the audial essence of pure black evil”. As 20-ish minutes of raw, evil noise rather than a song, Obscuritatem… is certainly dark. Especially considering that the screaming sounds you hear are apparently band members IT and Evil violently torturing one another. True or not, this is diabolic stuff.
(Billion Dollar Babies, 1973)
In his time, Alice Cooper caused outrage with the theatrics of his live show and songs like this tender track about stiffs. ‘I love the dead before they rise / No farewells, no goodbyes / I never even knew your now-rotting face,’ he crooned, prompting calls for a UK tour to be banned. MP Leo Abse accused the singer of “peddling the culture of the concentration camp”, adding, “Pop is one thing, anthems of necrophilia are quite another.”
The character of Melissa was a witch who was burned at the stake. She appeared a number of times throughout Mercyful Fate’s career, but here, on the metallers’ debut, it was to inspire her lover to seek out satanic revenge. The initial inspiration for the song came from a skull that frontman King Diamond (more on him soon) ‘acquired’ from a medical school. It had suffered a brutal injury, and the name Melissa came to the singer as he stared at it. Melissa also formed part of the stage set until she was stolen at a gig.
(Altars Of Madness, 1989)
If that title doesn’t tell you what side death metal legends Morbid Angel’s bread was buttered, how about the photo in the Altars Of Madness album sleeve of guitar wizard Trey Azagthoth shredding while bleeding profusely, looking as though he’s playing for the Great Horned One himself. Or you could just listen to the demented musical maze with lyrics literally attempting to summon Lucifer, and realise that whatever Morbid Angel were doing in the studio, they did not learn it at Sunday school.
(Blizzard Of Ozz, 1980)
When Ozzy Osbourne was fired from Black Sabbath in 1979, many wondered whether he’d be able to muster the same dark magic again. Just a year later, people got their answer in the form of debut solo album Blizzard Of Ozz. Mr Crowley, its second single, refers to legendary occultist Aleister Crowley, who founded the religion of Thelema and considered himself a prophet. Dramatic stuff; so it’s a good thing it’s got a grandiose organ intro – and guitarist Randy Rhoads on monumental form.
(Walk Among Us, 1982)
We’d love to hear Freud’s take on Glenn Danzig’s colourful relationship with his mother. Before the diminutive behemoth’s maternally-titled solo smash (see #7) he penned this ditty for the Misfits about a student driven to homicidal mania by his playground tormentors. But only if ‘Mommy’ says he’s allowed, obviously. Captured raw, the serrated tape-deck live recording only adds to the unhinged bloodlust. And packed like a meat locker with lurid promises to ‘rip the veins from human necks’ we can’t see how Glenn’s old lady could’ve possibly refused…
(Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, 1969)
Released in 1969, the same year U.S. occultist Anton LaVey published The Satanic Bible, Coven’s Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls album was the perfect soundtrack to the hippie movement taking a step down the left-hand path. Following nine tracks of Satan-themed psych, it closes with this, an actual satanic mass, conducted by the band. Even if you think it’s hokum, it’s hard to get to the end without feeling weird.
(Black Metal, 1982)
These days somewhat overlooked, more than any other band Newcastle upon Tyne’s Venom were the chief progenitors of metal’s most bloodthirsty subgenre, thrash metal. Couplets such as ‘Freaking so wild / Nobody’s mild’ may suggest the aid of a rhyming dictionary, but either way Black Metal would prove to be wildly influential on a range of young American musicians with a taste for the extreme. The track has been covered by no fewer than 11 different bands, and is loved by musicians as disparate as Dave Grohl and Kerry King.
(Stained Class, 1978)
Can a cover of a bouncy ’60s pop song really be evil? According to a couple of grieving parents and their lawyers it can, and in 1990 Rob Halford and the boys were hauled into court over it. With hidden, subliminal messages allegedly buried in the song, which supposedly inspired two fans to shoot themselves, the trial itself was quickly sensationalised by the media. Though the charges were ultimately dismissed, the judge insisted there were such messages on there, though not necessarily powerful enough to incite suicidal actions. Stealth evil, maybe?
(Morbid Tales, 1984)
Easily one of the most evil bands of their time – and essential to the evolution of extreme metal – Celtic Frost could conjure images of the Devil with a single chord. However, never did they sound more monstrous than on this brutish tune. Lurching along on a hulking riff and with twisted lyrics that scare Christians and excite all those who reject religion (‘If God raised the abyss, you’d procreate your own / Abolism of death is abolism of life’), this is music gloriously devoid of anything that could be considered ‘good’. Sepultura’s take on the track also stands amongst the best metal covers ever.
This is a piece of ritualistic industrial-metal primal force that was recorded in the Great Pyramid Of Giza after Killing Joke allegedly bribed the Egyptian Minister For Antiquities for access. “Our engineer fell asleep in the King’s Chamber,” frontman Jaz Coleman told Kerrang! of the sessions. “He suddenly had some vision, sprang up, banged his head and ran out screaming. After this he said he’d never go back in again. He said there were thousands of alien eyes staring at him, and after that he had a stroke. It affected him, the place…”
King Diamond is no stranger to strangeness.
“I’ve had a ton of supernatural experiences. I feel like I brought something back with me from the operation [a triple heart bypass in which he nearly died] but I was having supernatural experiences long before that,” he says.
Many of these real-life experiences have been channelled into his music, both with Mercyful Fate and his self-named outfit. The Family Ghost might just be the only song to have incorporated an element of the supernatural into its very recording, however.
The song is a crucial part of King Diamond’s classic horror concept album, Abigail. The story for the album, which involves murder, possession and dark family secrets, came to King in a dream on a suitably stormy night.
“I woke up during a thunderstorm in my haunted apartment in Copenhagen and I had this story in my head. It was also influenced by my own family history. My mom told me how she was left on someone’s doorstep and she later found out she was the child of a professor’s son. He got my grandmother pregnant and she was sent away to have this child. That was all sort of wound into this story,” the singer explains.
On The Family Ghost, protagonist Jonathan La’Fey is warned by the ghost of his ancestor that his wife is carrying the vengeful spirit of the stillborn Abigail and that he must kill her in order to stop the rebirth.
Even spookier than the story is an unexpected and unexplained addition to the recording that may or may not have originated from somewhere beyond the grave.
“There’s a vocal part on The Family Ghost that I never recorded,” explains King. “It’s a part that goes, (adopts bestial growl) ‘Ohhhh damn,’ and we couldn’t find it on any of the tracks anywhere. I have no clue what it was, but it’s certainly not the only weird or even seemingly impossible thing to happen to us.”
(Portrait Of An American Family, 1994)
Inspired by watching public access TV shows, Marilyn Manson has described Cake And Sodomy as “an anthem for the hypocritical America slobbering on the tit of Christianity”. Indeed, the lyric ‘I am the God of fuck’ went down a treat with the religious right. The song appears on debut album Portrait Of An American Family, which was recorded at 10050 Cielo Drive – where the Manson Family slaughtered five people (see #26).
(Black One, 2005)
What could be more evil than a song jointly inspired by black metal progenitors Bathory and the 16th century serial killer Elizabeth Báthory – who reputedly bathed in the blood of virgins – from whom they took their name? Perhaps one that also consisted of 16 minutes of tortuous drone and bleak lyrics like, ‘Decompose forever, aware and unholy, encased in marble and honey from the swarm.’ Oh, and legend has it the band locked claustrophobic guest vocalist Malefic from occult metal act Xasthur in a casket to make his performance more anguished.
‘Mother…’ Don’t warble it, we dare you. Glenn Danzig’s post-Misfits mega-hit has gained such ubiquity, it’s easy to overlook its evil underpinnings. Peel away a million hoarse-throated rock club sing-alongs, however, and it’s still devilishly apparent. A tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale targeted squarely at Tipper Gore, the (parental advisory committee) PMRC and 1988’s other moral crusaders, its promise of a scene ‘not about to see your light’ pierced the mainstream like a sacrificial dagger. Chuck in the MTV-banned music video (animal sacrifice and inverted-crosses smeared bloodily onto nubile torsos = bad press, apparently) and we’ve got probably the most subversive song of its era.
(Reign In Blood, 1986)
Given that their entire oeuvre revolves around war, murder and general unspeakable wickedness, finding evil Slayer songs is hardly difficult: in fact, it’d be significantly more of a challenge to identify songs by the LA thrash metal pioneers that aren’t rooted in despicable, debased acts of inhumanity. That said, while the likes of Dead Skin Mask (based on the exploits of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein), Jihad (‘Fuck your God!’) and Necrophiliac (erm…) are gruesome and terrifying in equal measure, it’s the notorious opening track of the masterfully malevolent Reign In Blood album which will forever remain the Californian band’s most noxious and black-hearted artistic statement.
Perhaps the most chilling aspect of Jeff Hanneman’s lyrics detailing Nazi physician Josef Mengele’s abhorrent experiments on patients at the Auschwitz concentration camp (‘Burning flesh drips away / Test of heat burns your skin / Your mind starts to boil / Frigid cold, cracks your limbs / How long can you last in this frozen water burial?’) is the fact that they’re so clinical, unemotional and detached, leading to accusations that the band were glorifying the horrors. The controversy actually led to Columbia Records, the distributors for producer Rick Rubin’s Def Jam label, to insist that the track be removed from the album, a demand which both the band and their label boss flatly refused. Ultimately, the label washed their hands of the release, leading Rick to take it to Geffen Records instead.
Jeff always denied accusations that the song exhibited Nazi sympathies, calling it “a history lesson”. “There’s nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily he was a bad man, because to me – well, isn’t that obvious?” he stated, not unreasonably. His guitar partner Kerry King was even more brusque, saying, “Read the lyrics and tell me what’s offensive about it?” The band’s lack of repentance is understandable, but it’d be a dead soul indeed who can listen without flinching at the visceral horror.
(Lightning To The Nations, 1980)
‘My mother was a witch,’ barked Diamond Head frontman Sean Harris in 1980, lighting a fire under the fledgeling NWOBHM genre, ‘She was burned alive!’ Fusing the occult themes of Black Sabbath to the ragged energy of early punk, the Midlands metallers laid a proto-thrash template that’d be picked up by Metallica (who famously covered the song as a B-side for Creeping Death), Megadeth and Slayer. For all those bands’ stadium-packing pedigree, though, there’s still something untouchably (im)pure about the original. ‘Am I evil?’ came Sean’s immortal question. ‘Yes I am!’
(The Number Of The Beast, 1982)
It seems strange to recall, but in the U.S. in the 1980s heavy metal often found itself under assault from religious groups convinced that the genre served as a Trojan Horse for the enslavement of the nation’s youth in the name of Satan. Few songs fostered this misbelief as resoundingly as The Number Of The Beast. Iron Maiden helped fan the flames of the song’s reputation by reporting various strange goings-on in the recording studio, while protests and album burnings greeted them when they headed Stateside for a 1982 tour.
(Liebe Ist Für Alle Da, 2009)
Rammstein have always courted controversy, and 2009 album Liebe Ist Für Alle Da proved to be no exception. It was initially added to Germany’s Federal Department For Media Harmful To Young Persons index, partly for the sadomasochistic song Ich Tu Dir Weh. The real darkness, however, can be found in Wiener Blut. The song is a first-person retelling of the evil perpetrated by Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned and abused his daughter in the basement of their home for 24 years. That’s all you need to know.
(Black Sabbath, 1970)
Bassist Geezer Butler once painted his home black and hung inverted crosses and pictures of the Devil on the walls and claims that he saw a “black shape” by his bed after reading a book about witchcraft. The incident inspired one of metal’s most potently evil songs, which opens with a thunderstorm and ominous church bell and is propelled by that tritone riff – a collection of notes named diabolus in musica – which guitarist Tony Iommi describes as “really evil and very doomy”. Indeed, this six-minute song birthed an entire genre. Thanks, mysterious intruder.
(De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, 1994)
By the time Freezing Moon was released on the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album, Mayhem’s legacy was already the darkest of any group in history. Two people were dead, one by his own hand, while a third person was serving a 21-year jail sentence for the murder of the other. Late Mayhem guitarist Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth had often spoken about the need for greater extremity and more evil in black metal. At great expense, he got it.
Two versions of Freezing Moon exist. The first remained unreleased for years, and was one of only two recordings of vocalist Dead (Per Yngve Ohlin), a young Swede who had moved to Norway to join Mayhem. A depressive boy who often spoke of a near-death experience as a child, he would talk about suicide in disarmingly casual tones. For early gigs, he would bury his stage clothes underground and smell dead birds in plastic bags. His lyrics for Freezing Moon were unsurprisingly morbid – ‘Everything here is so cold / Everything here is so dark… I remember it was here I died’ – while his vocal performance was unhinged and chilling.
He would never see it released, however. On April 8, 1991, aged just 22, Dead took his own life in the house he shared with the rest of the band. Euronymous, discovering the body, took photos and collected skull fragments to send to friends as necklaces, before calling the police.
Work continued on what would be Mayhem’s debut full-length, with Burzum’s Varg Vikernes enlisted to play bass, and a Hungarian singer, Attila Csihar, drafted in to replace Dead. Following the recording in early ’93, Attila returned to Hungary. What he would next hear from Norway was unthinkable: in the early hours of August 10, 1993, Varg stabbed Euronymous to death in his apartment. He was arrested and sentenced to 21 years.
The song itself, with its chilling, minor-chord intro where icy notes hang like corpses in the gallows, its scything main riff and demonic atmosphere, already showcased perfectly black metal’s musical abyss. But with so much genuine darkness behind it – killer and victim playing together, despite Euronymous’ parents’ request that Varg’s parts be wiped – it now stands as a chilling document of perhaps the most horrifying time in the history of music.
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